Friday, January 31, 2014

Today In the History of Bad Ideas...'s one I never thought about.

I mean, the headline kinda writes itself, doesn't it?

"Two killed, three injured in nude hot tub waterfall plunge"

And, of course, the now-traditional phrase whenever this sort of fucking Darwin-award idiocy is reported:

"Investigators suspect alcohol was involved."


Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Army I Knew: Panama

In the middle Eighties I was getting bored with the Army, where I was, and what I was doing.

I'd been at Ft. Bragg since the early part of the decade, and had been at the 82nd Airborne for most of that time. I'd roamed around Area J playing medic, jumped onto Sicily DZ with the rest of the battalion,
(and even the 3rd Brigade from time to time; I never saw a Division-level mass tactical jump and, so far as I know, there has never even been one since something like 1944, probably because to jump the whole Division with artillery and the band and everybody would have taken every single transport aircraft in the Military Airlift Command...)
been to Egypt and even frolicked through a splendid little sort-of-Special-Olympic-war in Grenada
(where hardly anyone got hurt and everybody got medals just for showing up)
and, frankly, was developing a very pronounced been-there, done-that attitude.

I needed to change my scenery.

In the U.S. Army this isn't all that simple. You can't just send your resume out to other units looking for a better gig, it's kind of frowned on. Your options are pretty much limited to 1) waiting until your enlistment runs out and then re-enlisting for a specific post or unit somewhere, or 2) putting yourself down on a list as willing to accept a "levy".

A levy - in the Army of 1984 - meant that if the Army needed bodies somewhere you could be sent to that somewhere.

When you placed yourself on the levy list you got to state your "choice" of where you'd like to be levied to. This was fundamentally no different than publicly announcing that if you were to be selected by the Army to be paid to have sexual congress with someone you wished to have said congress with (insert name of fantasy object here) and just about equally effective at gaining you the object of your desire.

As I recall, my three choices (in order) of levy destinations were: Japan, Germany, and Italy.

I got Panama.

What I didn't know - because I was too stupid and self-centered to bother to look around and find out - was that the U.S. Army was in the process of reconfiguring its units assigned to Southern Command - USSOUTHCOM - which at that time was still home-stationed out of the Army posts located in what-had-been-until-1979 the Panama Canal Zone, a strip of honest-to-Jesus-God-Bless-the-You-Ess-Ay that ran right across the nation of Panama and enclosed the canal itself, the defense posts around it, and even the drainages of the waters required to operate the locks.

(See the yellow on the map above? Those were roughly the military posts around the Canal when I arrived in 1984. The Army had Fort Sherman and Fort Davis on the Atlantic side to the northwest, Ft. Clayton and Ft. Kobbe southwest of the Big Ditch on the Pacific side to the southeast. As I recall Ft. Gulick had already been abandoned as had all the former coastal batteries such as Fort Randolph and Fort Grant - nice slide show of images of the old coastal gunsites and their post-handover conversions here, if you're interested - and a number of other service installations such as Albrook AFB on the Pacific side and Coco Solo Naval Base on the Atlantic Side)

Oh, and speaking of oddball Panama's kind of a fascinating little site all about the "Coins of Panama" which include a ton of military "tokens" (a sort of scrip that seems to have been common in Panama during the pre-WW2 era) along with some very cool photos of the old installations. A bit of a fun fifteen minutes for a slow evening.

To give you a quick bit of background on the place I was going - the Big Deal was that the U.S. was in the process of turning the Canal and all its appurtenances over to the Republic of Panama.

I suspect that practically nobody today - outside real tinfoil-hat Teatards and related paleoimperialist National Greatness "conservatives" - remembers the Carter-Torrijos Treaties of 1977, but back in the Eighties the Treason of Turnover was a huge big fat hairy deal. Carter was still a dirty word in the former Zone and in the lexicon of the Reaganauts and their even-more-whackadoodle compatriots on the loony Right.

Every Bircher and lapel-flag-waver hated that we had "given" the Canal and all its appurtenences to the dirty greasers with the burning intensity of one thousand suns, conveniently ignoring that "we" had strongarmed the thing away from said dirty greasers back in T.R.'s day and that, in an anticolonial time, the notion of trying to cling to a piece of extraterritorial real estate reeking of Ragtime Era colonialism just wasn't really sensible.

Yeah, like that made a difference. Even back then, arguing sane foreign policy with radical reactionaries was like trying to teach German irregular verbs to a cat...

But regardless, "Given back" we had, and even as the Army was preparing the instruments to transfer my ass down to the tropical paradise it was devolving its holdings in Panama back to the Panamanians and reconfiguring the Army stationed down there.

Y'see, starting back in the Sixties the Army had a full infantry brigade stationed in the Zone, the 193rd BDE. It was the full-meal deal; three infantry battalions (including a mech battalion, 4th of the 20th Infantry, at Fort Clayton) and an FA battery, engineer and MP companies, an aviation battalion, you name it.

That wasn't the end, either; the Army had pantsloads of ash-and-trash all over Panama, including a Special Forces battalion (3rd/7th SFGA) and, briefly, the "School of the Americas", although this rascal departed as I arrived taking with it its reputation as a place where you could get instruction on how to torture people you didn't like.

Or not - with the Escuela de las Americas, who knew? Like the snake-eaters, if they told you what really went on there they'd have to kill you.

The important outfit in all this congeries for me, anyway, was the infantry battalion stationed at Ft. Kobbe, on the southwest bank of the Canal on the Pacific - the Panama City - side.

Now at the time I put myself down on levy this outfit was the 3rd Battalion 5th Infantry. The 5th is a hell of an old regiment as U.S. Infantry outfits go. It dates back to before the War of 1812 and has fought pretty much everywhere the United States has fought.

Various Indian tribes, Mexicans, Southern traitors, Filipinos, Germans, Koreans, Viets, Iraqis, and Afghans...the 5th U.S. Infantry has gone to their exotic foreign lands and killed them all. For over 150 years the "I'll Try" boys played no favorites. If the U.S. decided you needed killing the 5th was on the job.

3rd of the 5th had been a straight-leg infantry outfit in Panama through the Sixties and Seventies, but in the Eighties the entire brigade was being converted over to a "Light" brigade MTO&E and the plan was to convert the 3/5th Infantry into an airborne unit.


Well, there had been a jump unit there until 1968, one of the 508th battalions. This unit was broken down into a straight-leg outfit and reflagged as 3/5th...but one company, A/3/5, was retained as an airborne infantry outfit.

These characters called themselves "Moatengators" and were, in my strictly personal opinion, in-fucking-sufferable. According to them they invented the airborne infantry, perfected it, and were its ultimate practitioners and as such the epitome of studly cool. I suspect that when the word went around that the Army was looking to reconstitute the 3/5th as the 187th Infantry (Light) (Airborne) the boys of Alpha Company figured that they were going to be King Shits of Turd Hill, the "original airborne" of Ft. Kobbe, Panama.

So it had to be pretty damn deflating when suddenly all these jokers from Ft. Bragg started to show up who seemed to actually know where the jump doors in a C-130 were and everything and who were less than impressed by a hundred or so tropical static-line hangers whose drop zone was about the size of a first-class postage stamp and whose idea of a "mass tactical" jump meant that you had another guy drifting around the sky within a couple of hundred feet of you or so.

And, as it happened, one of those jokers was me.

(Next: Paracaidista!)

Friday, January 24, 2014


I've got a question for the readership. Specifically, the female readership.

We're foot—slog—slog—slog—sloggin’ over Africa!
Foot—foot—foot—foot—sloggin’ over Africa—
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up and down again!)
Here it is; is there something particularly enjoyable about high boots? I'm talking about you're basic over-the-calf to just-below-the-knee sort of boots.

That kind of boots?
Seven—six—eleven—five—nine-an’-twenty mile to-day—
Four—eleven—seventeen—thirty-two the day before—
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up and down again!)
I ask this because I've noticed something for years now in the wet winter and spring months in Portland.

I understand why all the pretty colorful toes disappear; it's freakin' cold and wet out there! So boys and girls alike toss the Tevas and the flip-flops in the back of the closet.

But us guys tend to fall back on what we wear when we're not at the beach; running shoes and sneakers, many of us. Low quarters. Ankle boots, if anything boot-like.

But a LOT of you gals seem to break out the riding boots.

I'm talking everything from cowboy boots through fluffy Ugg footwarmers and strappy motorcyclist specials all the way to the classic German infantryman's jackboot.
Don’t—don’t—don’t—don’t—look at what’s in front of you.
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again!)
Men—men—men—men—men go mad with watchin’ ’em...
And I've always wondered - as someone who used to wear combat boots and now has to wear steel-toed boots for a living - why these diceboxes are so popular with our Portland gals.

Don't get me wrong; most of them are very practical and many of them are even flattering and pretty. But they' Big. Heavy. Hard to put on and take off.

So I guess I just don't get it.
Try—try—try—try—to think o’ something different—
Oh—my—God—keep—me from goin’ lunatic!
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again!)
So, with so many other options for leather to put on your feet, gals...

What's with the boots?

’Tain’t—so—bad—by—day because o’ company,
But—night—brings—long—strings—o’ forty thousand million
Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again...

(The lovely ladies of Portland and their boots from Urban Weeds

Friday Jukebox 2: Your High-heeled Sneakers Edition

A little tasty Seventies jazz-funk to clean that lingering muskrat flavor from the palate.

While I've got you here, I should tell you my Steely Dan story.

I loved these guys in the Seventies. I loved the sleek technical skill of their music, the rasp and funk of the bass, the sly intelligence of their lyrics. I think I played Pretzel Logic until the cassette tape simply broke and spooled itself into the guts of my Onkyo tape deck.

So when they came to play in Philadelphia in the middle Seventies (1974, I think...) I morgaged my body and soul to get a ticket. I think I must have begged every penny I could from my parents and mowed about the equivalent of one-third the land area of Rhode Island in lawns to scrape together the jack to go see the guy in concert. I rode into downtown Philadelphia on the Amtrak local in a quivering, fanboyish frenzy.

And the band - other than "Skunk" Baxter on lead guitar - was superbly mediocre.

Not awful. Not even that bad. Just...not as good as their studio perfection.

Some musicians don't need that perfection. They make up for it with energy, or by providing bits of individual brilliance too wiggy, or wandering, or peculiar, for the studio.

Becker, Fagan & Co. didn't do that. They played their tunes straight-up.

But they just weren't tight, weren't full of the hard, slick, funkalicious drive that they packed into their studio recordings.

Well; lesson learned. Ever since then I've made sure to listen to several live recordings of any band or musician I'm thinking of dropping some coin on to see live, and through that I've enjoyed a great deal of great music.

And every time I cue up "Hey, Nineteen" or "Show Biz Kids" on the CD player the tight harmonies and interlocking bass and guitar lines are as perfect as they were coming out of my old speakers back in 1974.

"Worry the bottle, mama, it's grapefruit wine.
Kick off your high heel sneakers, it's party time.
The girls don't seem to care what's on,
As long as it plays till dawn.
Nothin' but blues and Elvis
And somebody else's favorite song...

Give her some funked up music, she treats you nice.
Feed her some hungry reggae, she'll love you twice.
The girls don't seem to care tonight.
As long as the mood is right

FM - no static at all...

Friday Jukebox: Sometimes It Won't Edition

The dream dies.

I'll never be able to listen to "Muskrat Love" again without weeping.

(Who am I fucking kidding? I cry every time I hear it now and not from sentimental goopiness...)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Black (Rat) Sails!

This story is entirely composed of 100% awesome:
A ghost ship carrying nothing but disease-ridden cannibal rats could be about to make land on Britain’s shore, experts have warned. The Lyubov Orlova cruise liner has been drifting across the north Atlantic for the better part of a year, and salvage hunters say there is a strong chance it is heading this way. Pim de Rhoodes, a Belgian salvage hunter who is among a number looking for the Lyubov Orlova off the UK coastline, told The Sun: “She is floating around out there somewhere. “There will be a lot of rats and they eat each other. If I get aboard I'll have to lace everywhere with poison.”
Oh my fucking God; if nobody else is going to make this movie I will personally sell all my worldly possessions to ensure the story is immortalized on film.

I mean, can you just picture the scene where the horde of verminous, cannibal zombie rats come swarming ashore in Leith like some sort of horrible rodent D-Day?

It's just too perfect.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sherman's March

I watched the Seattle-San Francisco football game this past Sunday. I watched the whole thing through the final whistle so I got to see Sherman, the Seattle right corner, make a hell of a play to send his team to the championship game, and also enjoy his hyperkinetic rant after time ran out and some sideline reporter was stupid enough to jam a microphone in his face.

I didn't have the same reaction my friend Labrys had or, frankly, that Charles-whose-wordprocessor-I-am-not-worthy-to-reboot-Pierce had.

Because I used to play soccer goalkeeper.

Because of that I completely understand exactly where Rich Sherman was that night, and, no, I don't think it had anything to do with brutality (and, yes, it is a pretty goddamn brutal sport) and, no, I don't think it had anything to do with racism or being an uppity Negro (and, yes, he was rude and loud and obnoxious, and in this country if you're black that will earn you a pantsload of ignorant racist bullshit).

It had to do with playing on the side that doesn't have the ball.

Attackers, whether they're soccer strikers or football receivers, get to do one particular thing that we football cornerbacks and soccer goalies don't and usually can't do; they get to score points.

In most sports let's face it; that's the fun shit.

That's the glory noise, the big news that makes the headlines and gets you on cereal boxes and into lucious television contracts. How many cornerbacks can you think of sitting in the ESPN booth right now? Kasey Kellar is the only keeper I know of that works the booth and that's largely because soccer in the U.S. is frankly weird and keepers are often the only player most Americans outside soccer fanatics actually know.

But playing offense is a self-licking ice cream cone.

Any sports nut can tell you how many points so-and-so scored, how many assists, how many yards he ran for or threw for, how many goals he scored. Any casual fan remembers the quarterbacks and the receivers, the strikers and the wingers, the goal-scoring centers and the point guards.

Who the hell remembers whose tackle saved a sure goal? The stick save, the deflected pass, the steal? Who recalls who batted the possible winning touchdown pass away for the interception that saved the game and the conference championship?

I'll tell you this; they'll damn well remember who did that for Seattle in 2014.

But it's more than that.

Defending is about plain and simple defiance.

It's about raging and hating to lose. It's about pure anger.

It's personal. It's about wanting to ruin the other person's day.

Stopping his best shot. Tackling him when he's got a clear run at goal and stripping the ball off his feet. It's about getting out to full stretch and palming his sure game-winner around the outside of the post. Pushing his slam-dunk back in his face. Sending him to the ice with the puck skipping away.

Sure, you saved your team the points, or the game. But other than that what's the reward for this hard work?

I'll tell you.

It's looking at the striker's face, seeing in that quarterback's eyes, the knowledge that you bested him. That he gave you his best shot and you were better. That he came straight at you with all his skill and strength and you slapped it down like it was a little baby's patty-cake pat. It's watching his sad little face get all puffy and red, watching him watch you with cautious hatred, and loving the feeling that you crushed his hopes and blighted his dream.

We all feel that way.

Sherman just said it.

I know, because of the night the striker on the team sandbagging down to our sad, low co-ed Division 4 level ran in on me as I collected the ball on the ground and kicked it straight back into my face and broke my nose.

(Then had the gall to complain to the referee that I was bleeding on the field.)

So after I stonewalled the sonofabitch the rest of the match - making save after save to deny him the win he so badly wanted - I walked up to him with the bloody twists of paper sticking out of both nostrils and got right in his face and smiled.

He shoved me and I cocked a fist and both teams jumped on us and hauled us away.

And, broken nose and all, I was a happy man.

Because I owned his sorry ass, and he knew it, and I knew he knew it, and that knowledge filled me with joy.

That's a very low human emotion, I'll admit, but that's the sort of thing that builds good defenses.

And empires.

And to make this about race or civility or something like that is just silly. If you did, or do, you really need to borrow my gloves and go get between the posts and I'll hammer some shots at you and dare you to stop me and we'll see how you feel about that.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Door Into Summer

You may not remember back in the day when we were turning the bizarre back hallway-closet-room into Missy's bedroom.

Well, Missy has her bedroom now, and thoroughly enjoys having her own space.

There's one thing she still doesn't have, though.

A bedroom door.

Here's where you see two imperatives collide. The Girl wants privacy. The Parents want the illusion that we don't live in a teeny tiny 1,000-square-foot house, which is why we took off the old exterior door that the Former People
(may the Black Curse of Sheleigh wither their genitalia!)
left in the hallway when they added the Bizarre Back Hallway Closet-Room.

Here's what it looked like after we took the door off the back room but before we took out the back wall and put in the window:

The overall effect what just what you'd think; very closed in and dark. We tried what we could; attractive paint schemes and lighting, replacing the dank old carpet with wood flooring.

But the back hallway window is what really made the difference.

With the door gone and a window opening directly on the hallway the entire house seems airier and brighter. On a sunny winter day you could almost think you were in some sort of mild, temperate climate instead of in the rainy Northwest in the midst of the Black Months.


The Girl is rising eight, and with a big brother who at almost-eleven has discovered the joys of tormenting little sisters who are too young to resist rising to that teasing-bait, wants a way to shut out irritating brothers and paternal noise. And that involves a door to the hallway.

There are more problems with that that you'd think.

For one thing, the Girl's bedroom lies athwart the only inside avenue of approach to the basement.

For another, it blocks off Nitty Kitty's only way into the house (since her cat flap is in the back door that leads to the basement and the back entrance to Maxine's room.


While not minimizing the irking drawbacks, the Girl does deserve some privacy.

So the other week we went down to our local Rebuilding Center and found a used door.

It was a real treasure; purple on one side, white on the other. One thing we wanted to ensure is that it would have a window so that we'd still get some light through from the back. The little sticker said that it might have some lead paint left on it, but the Girl has hopefully grown out of the days when she'd lick inanimate objects, so we're not as stressed as we might have been about that.

Sunday was cool but sunny and dry, so I dragged the door out onto the porch and slapped on the paint stripper. The orange stripping gel we use is less toxic than those gawdawful nerve-gas-based strippers that make your eyes tear up just looking at the can, but its still not a pleasant thing to use when all the doors and windows are closed.

Hoppy Belgian beer helps cut the aroma, too.

By the time the early-setting sun had fled the sky the purple was largely gone, and half the Girl's future door was ready for sanding.

Sadly, I think that she will find, as we all do, that having a door changes you life less than you think it will when you're wanting a door; no matter how many times you open it you will not find new seas and new skies, and no matter how often you close it you will not shut out troubles and grief.

But I'm afraid that she will have to learn that lesson - as we all did - for herself.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

108 Years of Silence

Fascinating collection of composite photographs of San Francisco; juxtaposing scenes from the city today with the way they looked after the April morning in 1906 when the world changed for the City by the Bay.

Lovely, and yet ominous.

Living on the edge of the great abyss as we do here in the Pacific Northwest we often ignore how close we all live to the Day of Wrath. Our own fault, like the San Andreas, the Garlock, the White Wolf and all the others, waits silently with the patience of all true predators for the moment that it is no longer patient, the moment when it will reap whatever it will.

No, no; blow is only a TERM...

Apparently this poor woman's vintage LP album cover has become something of a recent Internet sensation.

One suspects that Ms. Gruebbersolvik's native tongue was not English and that neither she nor her record label had enough familiarity with English idiom to understand the smutty implications of the translation of her album title.

Simply proving, once again, that while a filthy mind can be a handicap at times it can also help prevent embarrassing gaffes and bevues such as this.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A sort of a battle, and not so long ago.

For some reason I've been recently fascinated with the events of the 1947 Partition of India.

I realize that this wasn't a military campaign or a "battle" per se but there was a tremendous amount of force used in one form or another and, it seems to me, that this event "changed history" (in the sense that it was seems as a vast political and social event at the time and has continued to effect the politics and, it seems to me, pretty much every other aspect of life in the subcontinent area today) as much or more than anything we typically think of as "war".

What would be the interest in the readership here of a "battles" treatment of Partition?

It might have to be in several parts to address the immensity of the subject; one post on the political background of Imperial India and the forces in play,
(the British, both eager to be shed of her expensive Empire and reluctant to retreat to being just a small nation at the northwest edge of Europe , and the various factions within the colony ranging from the Congress through the Muslim League to the Sikhs and the various princely states and ethnic groups looking for advantage - or just safety - in the sudden collapse of a 200-year-old polity...)
another on the actual events of the Partition, and a third on the aftermath and how effects Partition still has on south Asia today...

...even Google, it seems.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Love and loss

Wintertime in the U.S. is usually a slow time for soccer players and soccer fans.

We gather in clusters like starlings around the soccer websites to argue and speculate and fantasize about our teams, while they do some workouts or hit the trainer's table to work out the bruises and tears that playing has beaten into their legs.

Not today, though. Our Portland Thorns had one hell of a busy Monday today.

Well, actually, they've had a very busy autumn and early winter; you can read about all the goings-on at the new Slide Rule Pass website, here. I have a new post up there talking about the surprising number of changes that have occurred in what is, after all, a championship team.

Typically sports teams are no different than politicians or armies; if they win they usually aren't much arsed about changing things up. Perhaps a tweak here or a nudge there, but otherwise? No.

The Portland women's soccer team, however, has seen some fairly big changes over the four-months-and-change since lifting the ugly-ass National Women's Soccer League trophy, and today was more of the same.

First, the team signed the German national team goalkeeper, Nadine Angerer.

The keeper we had, the player in goal for the 2013 Thorns, was a wonderfully energetic young woman named Karina LeBlanc who plays her international soccer for Canada. She was Portland Thorns from the top of her bright red mohawk to the tips of cleats on her boots and as such she won the hearts of many in this town, including it must be said, my own.

She just seemed to live inside a world shot full of life, and energy, and love for her sport and everything around her.

That said, as a 'keeper she was not perfect.

She was caught off her line several times during the 2013 season. She seemed to have problems with "distribution", which is a fancy way of saying that when she had the ball in her hands or at her feet she had trouble getting it to one of her teammates.

Perhaps the single biggest issue was not so much about her as about the Thorns defending as a unit; more often than not the Thorns defenders seemed disorganized, unsure of what to do, who to mark, where to go and how. That's a big part of the goalkeeper's brief. She can see the entire field from her goalmouth, and most keepers are expected to organize their backline.

Angerer is known as a very good organizer and tactician on defense.

So, given what happened last season I'm not surprised that the Thorns signed Angerer or, once that deal was done, traded LeBlanc to the Chicago Red Stars for a draft pick in 2015 - a return so small for a starting keeper as to be practically insulting and suggesting that the entire business was part of a backstairs deal that got Angerer to Portland at the price of shipping LeBlanc to Chicago.

On a sporting level this deal makes excellent sense; Chicago sent their keeper to the expansion Houston team and then, in return for not contesting Portland's signing of a new keeper, gets Portland's old keeper. Keeper for keeper for keeper and everyone's happy.

Except...that a lot of people here in Portland genuinely liked, enjoyed, or loved Karina, forgetting that she was a playing piece on a playing field.

Until today.

I know I've said this before, but if sport has any value at all it is as a distillation of human spirit. Sometimes the spirit is the exhilaration of achievement, often it is the grim disappointment of failure.

Today the sport reminds us that anytime we love someone, or something, Fortune holds it hostage against us. If we do not love we cannot lose, and yet we must either choose to love or protect ourselves by not chancing the loss and, in effect, forfeiting the gains of love. Love and loss; for in life as in sport the end of the story is always the parting of ways, the terminator of delights, and the separator of companions.

And yet, if we do not love, what value do we gain?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday Jukebox: Simple Perfection Edition

Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, 1975.

I prefer the simple opening and closing sections of this number.

Yes, Ella can swing it, yes, Peterson is pure magic on the piano, yes, yes, but...Ella's voice is so perfectly clear and cool that I don't think she needs to swing this tune. On its own merits - and on her voice - it stands alone.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014


Yesterday I put up a post about the Whacking of The Nancy that included this comment about the woman who was (depending on who you believe) either the éminence blonde behind the entire plot or an innocent wee slip of a girl betrayed by bad company:
"These were people who were just brutally...marginal; sad, hardscrabble fuckups who were often just one mishap away from being human trainwrecks, deadly combinations of barely-bright, poorly-educated, undisciplined-to-the-point-of-undisciplinable. In the Army we called these sorts of people "shit magnets". “Bad stuff” just “happened” to them; car wrecks, arrests...lost time, lost jobs, lost husbands and wives, lost lives. Tonya was a kind of patron saint for those people..."
This is and was a sad fact rather than an opinion; the world is full of such people, and the wreckage that their shit-magnetry leaves behind.

But I should add this:

It's important to distinguish between the effects of behavior and environment, between the hard work of fucking your life up and the good luck of having a life that's fundamentally hard to fuck up.

Unbolt the tits off Tonya and put the resulting body in an Andover and Yale sweatshirt and you pretty much get George W. Bush; an intellectually stunted, emotionally impaired, ethically flat-lined, greedy, egotistical peckerhead.

Tonya is a convicted petty crook. A substantive case can be made, based on the grounds upon which an international tribunal indicted, tried, convicted, and hanged Hideki Tōjō, that Dubya should be a convicted Class A war criminal.

Not just that little pecadillo binds the two together. Look at the pattern of their lives. One fuckup after another, one stupid decision followed by a period of complete nonreflection followed by another stupid decision. These two people made careers out of putting themselves in positions of public confidence only to do something incredibly boneheaded that made it clear that said confidence was utterly and disastrously misplaced.

So why is it that Tonya is living in an anonymous trailer somewhere east of Terrebone while Dubya is still booking speaking tours and lounging about the in-ground pool at one of the family mansions?

You know why as damn well as I do.

So, while it's popular and entertaining to sneer at the Tonyas of the world - hell, there's a whole business of trumping up television and movies and books - and even a gawdawful checkstand magazine sneering and leering at these poor mooks - the only real difference I see between them and the Dubyas and the William Kennedy Smiths and the Alice Waltons and the Kenny-Boy Lays of the world is what Ernest Hemingway supposedly said when Scott Fitzgerald told him that the Rich are Different:

They just have more fucking money.

So I don't want you think that I'm slagging off on Tonya. Yes, she fucked up.

But when she did she had nothing there to protect her from the consequences of her fuckedupitude. She got one shot and when she screwed it up she fell, like Lucifer, never to rise again.

Whilst here in the Land of the Free one of the great privileges of great personal or family wealth is the "right" to fuck up - over and over again - and never pay so much as a moment's regret or a day's liberty for it.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Twenty years ago yesterday...

...was the "Whack Heard 'Round the World."

I had moved to Oregon barely three years earlier, at a time when Tonyamania was nearly at its height.

The muscular little woman from southeast Portland was Oregon's best known resident at that time, I recall, so as it unfolded the whole appalling saga of Tonya, her porn-star-wannabe husband, the security guard with the bizarre fantasites, the strange little man with the club who did the actual whacking, and the toothy ice princess who was suddenly the Maiden in Distress for the popular press made for fascinating viewing.

It was like a bloody freeway collision; horrible but almost impossible to look away from.

Twenty years on Tonya is still an odd sort of demi-celebrity out here in her home state; many Oregonians feel a sort of schadenfreude about her.

Yes, she's awful, but awful in the same way as the uncle who turned out to be a flashy, high-rolling embezzler, or the aunt who turned out to be a shameless and brazen grand horizontal; awful, yes, but sort of...our awful, an awful so close that it becomes almost loveable in its awfulness.

She and her little gang of fellow idiots turned out to be the spokesmodels for "Keep Oregon Weird".

What I recall thinking then, and still think now when I bother to think about her, was how completely and utterly she reminded me of all the other people I knew who came from the same parts of Clackamas County she came from.

These were people who were just brutally...marginal; sad, hardscrabble fuckups who were often just one mishap away from being human trainwrecks, deadly combinations of barely-bright, poorly-educated, undisciplined-to-the-point-of-undisciplinable.

In the Army we called these sorts of people "shit magnets". “Bad stuff” just “happened” to them; car wrecks, arrests...lost time, lost jobs, lost husbands and wives, lost lives.

Tonya was a kind of patron saint for those people, and I think that's where a lot of the love came from.

She WAS them, just a little bigger, a little sparklier, a little more famous. Lots of people really wanted to love her because she seemed to be the little comet-that-could-escape the merciless gravitational pull of the trailer-park-stop-n-rob-highschool-doper-and-hootchie-mama Death Star. By her existence, by her celebrity, she gave those poor fuckers hope that they, too, could escape the nightmare that was their Fate.

Of course, she didn't.

The odd thing is that Nancy Kerrigan, the elegant and slender antithesis of the muscular little backstreet tough girl, got dragged into TonyaWorld and it had the nasty effect of showing her worst qualities, as well.

The little hints of self-pity we saw as she held her leg and moaned "Why me?" became a full-blown hissyfit after the gold medal loss to Baiul, herself something of a gawdawful wreck and I agree with Nancy Nall; you've gotta watch all the way through the banner at her site; it's perfect in the unspeakably perfect way it fits into this whole fucking perfect-head-on-collision of egomaniacs.

I think the final nail in Nancy's PR coffin was when she was caught pissing and moaning about the indignity of having to appear at some event at Disneyland. I have to agree I would have loathed having to caper around with a costumed mouse, but, hey, that's the price of fame.

The revelation some time later that she had been screwing around with her then-married-then-manager wasn't exactly a deal-breaker; she had been pretty well exposed as someone whose sense of entitlement was larger than her overbite.

The anniversary of this sordid little business yesterday was very strange. No one seemed to want to revisit the events of 1994 with any real zest, or re-examine the robust awfulness of the whole tacky little conspiracy and the unpleasant revelations it brought about a whole bunch of different people we had hoped to celebrate.

There was a certain amount of domestic pleasantry surrounding Kerrigan, who does seem to have matured into a nice woman with a nice family.

Poor Tonya, still the fallen star, was barely visible; she appears to be back down where she started, married to an itinerant carpenter and living with her husband and son somewhere in the hinterlands of the eastern part of the state. The World's Worst Newspaper quotes her third husband's description of her: "She's kind, she's loving, she's a little rough around the edges. She's a redneck, but she's my redneck."

The bulk of the local stories made no mention of Tonya's other classic Clackamas County shit magnet escapades: the arrests, or the bizarre shenanigans like the putative kidnappings and hubcap (or was is an ashtray) assaults, no mention of the sad little wedding-night-porn-video, of the freakish foxy boxing "career". I got the sense that the public, and the public press, was trying to quietly apologize for making this poor sad little woman into a public freak show for a decade or more.

So. Myself? I kind of hope that Tonya finds something like happiness. Wherever and however she can.

We all deserve a little mercy before the end, don't we?

Down in southeast Portland her old skating rink in the Clackamas Town Center mall has gone, like Tonya, victim of hard times, bad choices, and bad luck.

So in their perfect, blandly awful mundaneity, perhaps the best last words on The Tonya and Nancy Story could be those of a nameless "Yahoo Contributor", who advised:

"So, don't come to skate but, the new 2 story Barnes & Noble and Macaroni Grill are worth the visit."

Yes, indeedy.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Waiting for Bob...

I've got a confession to make.

I an on an artificial testosterone medication.

Yeah, I know; sorry, TMI. But that little fact is fairly critical to the rest of this post, so I had to start with it. Try to scrub the image out of your brain. I'll wait.

OK, so, we good now?

Alrighty, then.

So, anyway, the bottom line is that as I headed into my forties I noticed that I was having some problems just dragging my ass out of bed in the morning. That and, well, the usual sort of problem associated with not being packed with robust man-juices, but we won't linger on that particular issue.

I went to see my internist, who ran the usual blood tests and pronounced me perfectly functional, 100% mission-capable.

Which left the issue of "Why the hell is my dead ass dragging so badly?" and I asked for a referral to a urologist. Since it didn't cost my GP a nickel she happily wrote out the referral and off I went.

The dick-doc then ran the same blood tests and proceeded to inform me that my natural testosterone levels were down there with those usually associated with very masculine women and pre-pubescent boys. I could creep up into the low three figures on a good day with a following wind and a strong current, but that was that.

So he prescribed me one of those artificial testosterone medicines that help professional bicycle racers win the Tour de France and off I went.

And the stuff works as advertised, let me tell you. In a couple of days I felt positively bursting with masculine energy; I wanted to seduce something or go start a war.

Kidding. But, seriously, the man-juice works. I felt "back to normal"; my energy levels in all respects returned to what I expected to feel given how active I was and how hard I worked to keep in shape and eat a healthy diet.

Well, OK, except for the whole pork-rind thing. But, damn, who can resist that crackly, greasy goodness? Seriously.

And because the urologist explained that this stuff was to restore my testosterone to natural levels as a matter of health and quality-of-life issues and not because I wanted to become some sort of mad harem-tester in my off-hours my insurance - after some initial suspicious sniffing - proceeded to cover the damn stuff.

Dick-stiffeners, though? Viagra? Cialis? Not a chance. Despite the usual whining about how all those boner pills are covered and female products aren't...they're actually not. That's just so you know the deal here.

Anyway, this was some ten years or so ago. I've been taking these testosterone supplements regularly ever since and, although the damn co-pays go up and up every year, paying just a portion of the actual price of the stuff.

Which is pretty ridiculous, mind you, given that the drug is decades old and is manufactured at some sort of drug-maquiladora in Mexico for probably pennies a dose. I mean, we're talking hundreds of dollars for a little pump-bottle that lasts about a month; well over $3,000 a year at full price.

Three. Thousand. Dollars.

But the damn insurance has been paying for this, so for the cost of $500/month or so in premiums I get a reliable supply of man-juice.

Until yesterday.

When my Bride returned from the grocery pharmacy without the testosterone bottle, explaining that the pharmacist had input the prescription and it had spit out that the drug was no longer covered by my Blue Cross/Blue Shield formulary.


Now I am faced with the unlovely prospect of having to call my goddamn insurance company and 1) find out why the hell they are no longer covering my drug after ten years of doing so and 2) figure out how the hell I can get the goddamn insurance company to stop dicking around (if you'll excuse the expression) and cover the goddamn drug again. This will undoubtedly involved repeated conversations with unpleasant insurance company phone-bots whose purpose will be to find reasons not to spend the money I have been ladling into the goddamn insurance company's bank account on my health care.

And to make it as difficult and unpleasant for me to find a way to jerk that money out of their ass a nickel at a time.

And as I'm staring at my phone with a sense of deep loathing for this entire process, I keep thinking: remind me - this is that "best healthcare system in the world" we keep hearing about, right? Because we don't have some faceless bureaucrat deciding what and how we will get for our health care. Right?

Because right now I'm about ready to shove every goddamn insurance company up the gigantic bung-hole of the Universe and replace them with a single faceless government health care organization just like the one I had when I was a GI that paid for whatever my docs said I needed without so much as a whimper.

That, or go score some fucking Enzyte.

What a goddamn disaster.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Friday Juke Box 2: Baghdad Falls Edition

Lovely and haunting:

"I could tell you stories like the past was dead and gone
But I know nothing changes in this world.

Every day the muezzin calls,
Sun comes up and Baghdad falls,
Before the eyes of storytelling girls.

She was just a poor man's daughter
Going down into the sultan's bed.

He was desert, she was water,
And he remembered every word she said.

She said and I say;
Grandma, grandma,
Be with me
In your tragic wedding gown
With your long hair hanging down
And the stories tumbling out..."

~ Anaïs Mitchell

Friday Jukebox, Insinuating Seventies Bass-line Editions

One of my favorite Steely Dan tunes, a classic bit of skritchy Seventies grind-and-slide cabaret rock with the usual infectiously insinuating Steely Dan bass hook.

Extra credit to the YouTube creator, someone named Daniel Aragão, for the delightfully bizarre old cootchie dance images. And let's not leave without a tip of the hat to Dave Parks for the awesomesauce talk-box guitar solo.

I should note that I saw these guys live back when they were actually "Steely Dan" and they were...well, pretty much all over the place. That driving, polished tight sound you hear? All in the studio.

Some people really shouldn't play their music live.

And since I'm in a sort of over-produced, here's one of my favorite Seventies covers; the Pointer Sisters' version of Fleetwood Mac's Hypnotized:

Their 1978 album Energy had a slew of great covers, including the one that got all the radio airplay in that summer of my junior year in college, Springsteen's Fire.

And it's a damn good cover, mind you. But I remember making out with Kimi Yokoyama with Hypnotized playing on the radio in the background and that's a damn fine memory and a damn fine song.

Monkey Meat

In the Eighties the main post exchange for the whole Pacific side was located at Corozal on Fort Clayton.

(The image above is well before my time, by the way, but the funny thing is that the PX really didn't look that different in 1985, something of a tribute to the way the U.S. Army tried its damndest to remain inside the Leave-It-To-Beaver-Father-Knows-Best world of the late Forties and Fifties to early Sixties that had been its heyday).
Inside it was in every way an unremarkable PX, no different from any Stateside version. Which was the idea, of course. Heaven forfend that the GI families or GIs themselves whould actually have to encounter, you know, foreigners in the foreign country they were stationed in.

Outside, however, was Panama, red in tooth and claw.

And meat.

Specifically, there always seemed to be a street vendor on the approach road with his rolling barbacoa stand and his skewers of what were universally known as monkey meat.

Nobody actually knew - at least, nobody I knew actually knew - what animal this meat originally belonged to although there was lots of pointed and imaginative speculation. The seller, when you asked him, usually claimed it was beef.

All you had to do was taste it to know that whatever the hell it was it surely wasn't beef.

Cat was a popular guess, as was iguana.

One critter that we should have probably suspected but didn't was coatimundi; there were assloads of them around Panama, they are slow and easy to catch and probably produce fairly innocuous meat.

I myself wasn't sure if it wasn't really monkey until I went to the then-Panamanian Army's "jungle school" and had actual monkey and, no, it wasn't monkey.

Whatever it was, though, was spicy and savory and went well with fried plantains and cold beer.

Which, I suppose, is really the moral of this little story if a moral you're looking for.

Friday randomness.

Just some musings on a slow Friday at work.

Yes, I know it's old and has been floating all over the Internet forever.

And, yes, that's pretty much how I feel, despite the good work the present Pontiff has been doing shaming the shit out of the plutocrats. If you want a God to hug because it makes you a happier, gentler, kinder, more humane person? Good on you. You are part of a lovely, inconsequential majority. The relatively small minority of Bible- (or Koran-, or what-the-hell-ever-Buddhists-bash) bashing, snake-handling, sectarian-hating religious nutjobs out there are doing a terrific job of making you all look like credulous tools.

What the fuck, over?

We risked our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor...for this?

And yet the fuckin' Teatards are all pissed off about the wages paid to public schoolteachers.



One of the many things I love about living in the Northwest is our weather. Yes, the Black Months are gruesome (try spending weeks in the gray drizzling rain with temperatures that rise from a low of 44 Fahrenheit to a high of 46 and back and see how you like it...) but the rest of the year we enjoy some moments of aching beauty.

Winter mornings are often among them.

The combination of cold ground and cool are produces dense fog. The mist enfolds the land, softening the hard surfaces of civilization and returning us to those pre-Conquest dawns when the only noises were the slow dripping of the dark fir-boughs and the calling of the wild geese rising from the morning waters.

I love to emerge from the house to see my little street dim and cool with whorls of miniscule gray beads of vapor, hot coffee steaming in my hand and all the sounds of the city around me dampened and far away.

Makes for some lovely sunrises, too.

(To give credit where it's due, both the above images are from a wonderful little photoessay by Thomas Boyd from the World's Worst Newspaper. Even the deepest dungheap produces the occasional gem.)

I am so fucking totally going to name my next garage band "Chinese Donkey Meat".
(And I should add that the whole question of "Who put the fox in the can of delicious donkey meat?" does sort of highlight how foolish the notion that usually goes under the general heading of "small government".

China - and the U.S., and Brazil, and Australia, and about every other goddamn polity outside Andorra - is an immense, complex, insanely complex and interconnected industrial state. This isn't the fucking colonies circa 1789. We are, daily, constantly, confronted with things we don't control, made by people we cannot see and cannot influence, in places we do not know or understand, that can, if they are badly made, or poorly designed, or simply capable of being shipped, or stored, or used, in certain ways that will injure, maim, or kill us.

And, frankly, those that make them may not understand the actual dangers. Or, worse, may know and not care, counting on the distance from source to destination, the weakness of the intervening polity, or their own desperation and/or greed to shield them from the punishment appropriate for their negligence.

There is no other organization other than ourselves acting in concert (that is, as some sort of public corporation - which is more-or-less the same thing as an arm of government) that has the power to prevent this malfeasance or the power to punish it if it occurs.

It's really just that simple.)
The silly season for soccer here has been more-than-usually-silly. Especially with our women's soccer club, Thorns FC. After winning the league in 2013...

First we parted ways with our manager, Cindy Parlow Cone, who guided the team to championship in it's very first year of existence.

Then we added another U.S. Women's National Team player, Amber Brooks.

Now we're looking down the barrel of the first expansion draft gun next Friday; the new team in Houston gets to pluck a yet-unknown number of players from our team. And right now we, the supporters, have no idea how many players we can protect.

And speaking of footy, did I tell you I scored the awesome Cat Scarf?
Nitty Kitty seems unimpressed, having never had any balls to begin with. But I love this, perhaps the silliest soccer scarf I've ever come across.

And with that I really have to go clean out the equipment storage room. Back with some Friday jukebox in a bit.