Friday, February 28, 2014

Into the Crimea again...

I've been fascinated and sort of apalled watching the southeastern Ukraine delaminate and the Russian Federation do...well...something. With marines. Or soldiers. Or both. Somewhere.

The whole thing reminds me of the sorts of bizarre wars the South American countries used to fight, where armies would just disappear into the Atacama or the Chaco or some other damn place and the New York Times would print some sort of vague description two months later full of errors and guesses and the whole business would eventually be described in histories as something completely different.

I honestly have no idea what the hell is going on in the Crimea, but whatever it is it does not appear to be a Good Thing. Another reminder of the immense pile of clusterfuck that was Russia and then the Soviet Union and then Russia again. Whatever else the place has or is - and it has been and is many wonderful and admirable human things - what is has never had and does not have now is a decent form of government. Neither does Ukraine, for that matter. Or a hell of a lot of the rest of the world. My country is no prize, but, fuck, we're better off at the moment that these poor bastards.

Mind you, Teabaggery could still change that.

Still. Troops are matching through the Crimea. Again. Some places seem to attract history like a pretty girl on a barstool late on Friday night.

Crimea seems to be one of them.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Funny Shit My Kid Says (Slightly Ominous Edition)

So the Boy is sitting watching television the other evening in a classic young-adolescent-boy pose; scrunched down with his bare legs thrown over the side of the armchair.

I don't recall what the hell he was watching (which reminds me that I need to really do a Kid Vid update with the latest kiddo faves) but it was probably something loud and irritating like Spongebob or the even-more-loathsome "Uncle Grandpa".

Anyway, I'm over working at the laptop about five feet away, so when he talks I can just barely hear him over the ruckus of the damn boob-tube, but he says almost to himself:

"A 15 millimeter sniper rifle is the intercessional tool of my life."

Yeah, I had to look it up, too;

in·ter·ces·sion [in-ter-sesh-uhn] noun
1. an act or instance of interceding.
2. an interposing or pleading on behalf of another person.
3. a prayer to God on behalf of another.
4. (Roman History) the interposing of a veto, as by a tribune.

I'm not sure what the Boy meant and I'm not really sure I want to know, either.

Meanwhile, Fifth Grade is becoming something of a struggle.

The Boy has always been a sort of slap-dash kind of kid. He'd rather do something, anything, really, half-assed and quickly rather than spend any sort of time on it and do it well. He's managed to slide through the first four grades on pure smarts, - because he IS a smart kid - and charm, the goodwill of his teachers. And because the first five grades in Portland Public Schools don't get A-F marks for their work.

But in Sixth Grade all that nonsense stops. And this year he's got a teacher that has been pounding on his tendency to turn work in late, or not at all, and half-ass his way through what he does turn in because she's telling him that next year he's going to get pasted with F's for that.

The Bride and I are trying to hammer it into his hard little head - because he's ALSO a hardheaded little bastard - that, in the immortal words of Dean Wormer, "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son..." And that he will soon find out that you tend to get out in grades what you put into your schoolwork in intelligent effort.

Right now, things aren't looking good. He's fighting this hard. He doesn't WANT to work, and for some reason seems to believe that some kid magic will see him safely through.

I hate seeing this, because this was me forty years ago. I took damn near a quarter-century to get my shit together and on the way took some damn hard hits, some of which are still with me, limiting my options and choices to this very moment.

I don't want to see my own son repeat my mistakes - real intelligence is learning from the mistakes of others - but I have yet to figure out how to convince him of this, and I'm not sure he will be convinced short of some teacher's intercessional tool putting one right in his ten-ring.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Jukebox: Jumpin' at the Woodside Edition

Count Basie and his Orchestra in the 1938 recording of "Rockin' at the Woodside:

Thought of this because I was listening to a Basie tribute on KMHD on the way home last night that talked about how a lot of Basie's musicians didn't learn their parts from printed scores. Apparently Basie would lay down the theme and then the various sections would split up and riff on it until they'd got a track they liked, then the band would reassemble and jam.

As someone who never could play music without a printed sheet, I find that fucking amazing. These guys were some pretty incredible musicians, and that, along with the backbeat, is why I'll always love the hell out of jazz.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

White Man's Neighborhood

My friend Kimi reminded me that today was the seventy-second anniversary of FDR signing the now-infamous Executive Order 9066 that sent more than 100,000 people, most of them American citizens, to prison without charge or trial.

Call it what you want; internment, protective custody. If you send me to a place where barbed wire keeps me in and I will be shot if I try and escape?

That's a fucking prison.

I just talked about the total fuckupitude of other places; today is a reminder that the price of our own liberty and our political freedom is eternal vigilance, and, especially, vigilance that we don't allow ourselves the freedom of our worst ideas and our most ignorant convictions.

We know now that the U.S. government knew then that the Japanese-Americans it imprisoned were not a threat to national security. The imprisonment was driven by racism, pure and simple.

That the U.S. in 1942 was racist as all hell isn't exactly news. But what I want to remember today is what a hell of a racist place Portland, Oregon was.

Remember, this was the home of the "Coon Chicken Inn", a place where it was illegal to be black and Oregonian. So it shouldn't be a shock that many of the Good People of Stumptown had rather low opinions of their Japanese neighbors.

Yeah. Just like that.

Here in Portland we even came up with a real special bit of nastiness; we shipped all our Japanese Oregonians to an "assembly center" the North Portland stockyards.

That's right. We shoved our neighbors and fellow citizens into fucking cattle pens. It was, by all accounts, as utterly miserable as you'd expect:
"Dysentery broke out and there was a desperate rush to use the limited toilets. One can imagine the agony and desperation suffered by those afflicted. One day, a Military Police cook came through the gate to borrow food items from the center's kitchen. A Military Police guard shot him in broad daylight-a sobering sight for the internees. The incident that everyone remembered later occurred on a hot day in the spring of 1942, when the Center resembled an oven. The fire department came up with a solution. They would hose down the hallways and, as the water evaporated, the surfaces would cool down. It was a good idea, but they forgot one variable. As the halls were doused, water seeped through the plank floors and moistened the dirt and manure mixture underneath. The result was stench and hordes of flies. For days, thousands of flypaper rolls hung throughout the Center."
Finally the Oregonians were shipped off to the camps in the California desert. While they were gone many of them had their land stolen and their property looted.

Then there's this; Korematsu v United States.

Pretty straightforward. Fred Korematsu was the Rosa Parks of internment. He refused to move out of his home and was arrested. His case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a 6-3 majority upheld the government's right to imprison you without charge or trial in the cases of national security. Justice Black wrote the majority opinion, stating:
"...the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and, finally, because Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders — as inevitably it must — determined that they should have the power to do just this."
This decision has never been overturned.

In 2011 the U.S. Department of Justice issued a "Confession of Error", which concluded that the decision rested, in part, on a conviction that the U.S. government had valid reasons for interning American citizens which was not only incorrect but known to be incorrect at the time.

Regardless of this, Korematsu remains law.

There is no legal basis at this time for opposing a similar incarceration of Americans based on suspicion. Regardless of grounds or, as has been shown, no grounds at all other than fear seasoned with racial hatred.

I love my home.

But in many ways, both gross and subtle, Portland and Oregon remain very much a White Man's Neighborhood.

Russia Gets Pucked

I won't pretend that I wasn't quietly satisfied at the hockey "Winter War" when I got up this morning.

The 2014 Sochi Olympic Games as Putin's pet project always irked me. I know, I konw, the guy is no worse than many another politician, just another grifting thug, but he's a grifting thug in charge of a hell of a big country with pretensions of global power and seeing the Finns piss in his morning kvass was as satisfying as watching a Gingrich marriage fail or a Wall Street CEO perp-walked.

No matter how painful the failure, if the object of the pain is really loathsome you just can't help smiling when they get booted in the nuts.

I don't pretend that my country is a treasure. But Russia is, by all accounts, a goddamn mess.

That made me think about how many of the world's nations and governments are similarly completely screwed, at least for the people who have to live with them.

My friend Labrys mentions a couple of the more visible of these sorts of screw-jobs this morning: Ukraine. Syria. North Korea.

The amazing thing I come across is the number of people - largely on the Right but extending across the political spectrum to the "liberal interventionists" - who seem to think that the United States should use its Green Lantern powers of armed force to "straighten out" these fucked-up places.

In most of these people it seems to me that their "analysis" completely elides why these places are so damn fucked up right now. Which is, simply put, that they were always fucked up for one reason or another (or a cascade of multiple reasons..!) and are just showing the latest symptoms of that total fuckedupitude.

I mean, how the hell was, short of a massive sociopolitical and economic makeover, Ukraine every going to be a haven of social peace, economic dynamism, and political good-government? Ukraine is an internally divided pseudostate suffering from the usual post-Soviet hangover of thugokleptocracy and economic malaise. The conflict between the West-leaning “Ukranian” western part and the Soviet-leaning, “Russian” eastern and southern parts was almost inevitable and almost equally doomed to messy political breakdown.

How the fuck is anyone, let alone some helicopter foreign power, going to change that without an investment of blood and treasure that would make the Roman or British Empires look as brief and shallow as a Hollywood marriage?

Syria? Gee…autocratic rule by a Shiite minority over a Sunni majority in a part of the world where the lagacies of Ottoman and colonial rule range from dysfunctional to toxic and are constantly rubbed raw by the irritant of Israeli and U.S. (and Soviet) fucking-around? Who’d have thought that THAT would end up being fucked up and difficult to fix?

North Korea? What sane person even wants to stick a fist in THAT tar-baby? The best possible outcome from intervention – nearly immediate collapse of the Kim regime – still leaves the neighbors China and South Korea with an impoverished and desperate mess on their hands that makes the unification of Germany look like child’s play by comparison.

The worst possible outcome is so nightmarish to make anyone but a complete idiot shudder.

My Bride, lovely woman that she is, is perhaps a great example of this. She has recently become fascinated with North Korea, and was glued to her tablet as the U.N. laid out its case against the North Korean government. And what a case it is: Murders, judicial and otherwise. Rape, torture, infanticide, starvation, confinements that make the Cell of Little Ease look like a chaise lounge...

She was, as any decent person should be, appalled. But what appalled her more was my cynical response to her report of the U.N.'s call to action.

"Yeah. Sure." I said. "And who the hell is going to do that?" She asked what I meant.

"The Norks won't do anything, the people are beat-down and the Kimistas like things how they are. There's almost no economic or political leverage strong enough to make the Kim regime people chance making reforms that will end with them getting Ceaușescued.

The Chinese don't want to prod them in case the place falls apart and they get overrun with a gajillion starving Norks. The South Koreans want that even less plus with the possibility of nerve gas sauce on the side?


We, the U.S., already have too damn much on our plate to want a potential geopolitical disaster on the Pacific Rim. Nobody else has either the give-a-shit, the muscle, or both."

"Plus, frankly, what the hell could you do?

North Korea is a fucking black hole of bad governance and economic disaster that has intentionally cut itself off from the sane world. It's never had a moment of civil society or modern democracy, not a scintilla of economic sanity, or social normality since some time before the Japanese invaded a-way the fuck back near the turn of the 20th Century. North Korea is a complete fuckstory, and simply arriving with an M203 in one hand and an Ipad in the other? Ain't gonna change that."

"Regardless of what happens to the Kim regime, North Korea is destined to be fucked up for generations unless the North Korean people can manage a miracle AND some combination of foreign powers can help them and not fuck up somehow, which is more likely than not."

She desperately wanted to believe that there was something that the Good People of the World could do to change that. And in that she's no different than the other good people of my country who want the U.S. to "help" Syria, or Ukraine, or Egypt, or Nigeria, or Venezuela.

Or the assholes that just want to nuke 'em until they glow and then pick off the survivors in the dark.

Neither approach is an actual sane foreign policy.

Which needs to accept that a whole lot of the world is utterly screwed, politically, and pretty much all those of us in the relatively-unscrewed portions can do is stay the fuck out of their nuthouse and learn from them that good government is precious and not to be taken - or thrown away - lightly.

By, for example, electing idiots, grifters, and morons who will reject things like science and rationality in favor of religious nonsense and economic snake-oil. By pretending that economies are magic and not created by humans with human failings and, thus, liable to reward thieves and charlatans if not judiciously managed. By blundering about the globe expending blood and treasure trying to unfuck places that can only be unfucked by those living there with a critical stake in accomplishing and preserving the unfucking.

By ignoring that social and political divisions are far easier to create than repair, and that once the social, political, and economic cohesion of a polity is wrecked it may be impossible to reassemble.

Once we've figured that out then we might simply be able to sit back and just enjoy watching a gang of plucky Finns take an axe to their asshole neighbor's motti.

That and enjoy watching the Russian autocrat forced to listen to the organ in his hockey palace play him a sad, sad song.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A'maelamin*, get me rewrite!

Came across a - to me, anyway - fascinating little piece of literary trivia over at Mannion's site today the sheds some rather different light on the whole issue of J.R.R. Tolkien's work and the Peter Jackson adaptations that I've been sorta-reviewing here (for Part 1 of The Hobbit) and here (for Part 2).

If you remember, The Boy and I pretty throughly enjoyed Jackson's first installment; good Middle-Earth thud and blunder and some clever character development, in particular Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins.

The second film, however, seemed to go off-track quite a bit more, especially in the roaring under-the-Mountain action sequence at the end and, as I observed particularly, in Jackson's insistence in making the Ring the Ring from Lord of the Rings instead of, as I saw it, a pretty gimmick for Bilbo to sneak around and trick others. Regarding that I said:
"I see Bilbo as Ringbearer as completely different. He's a bit of a wideboy, indeed, to him the Ring is nothing more than a nifty gimmick he uses to turn invisible to steal stuff. It's a burglar's tool to him, and he uses it as nothing more than a tool.

He spends the years between The Hobbit and the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring using it to duck local busybodies and prank his neighbors.

That's how he manages to stay free of the corruption of the Ring; he treats it like a shiny gold lockpick.

He's not a hero, not hungry for power. He's a retired wideboy, a former-burglar in slippers with his pipe, and his comfort, and his gold gimmick to play tricks and outdeal people. A tragic hero? A Boromir? An Isildur?

Not our Bilbo."

Well, as if to prove that no matter what we think we know we never know as much as we think we know, Mannion's post has a bit of incunabula that suggests that Tolkien himself was a little more like Peter Jackson that I knew. He cites Corey Olsen's work Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (which I now absoultely HAVE to read...) as showing that the old professor himself ended up making the Ring more like the Ring from Lord of the Rings and, in the process, Gollum more like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, as well.

I apologize for quoting so extensively from Mannion's work, but this entire bit is pretty important to get the sense of Mannion's argument. The emphasis in bold in the following, however, is mine:
"In the original version of The Hobbit Tolkien published 1937, Bilbo doesn’t steal the ring from Gollum or trick him out of it. According to Corey Olsen, in Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Gollum gives it to him as the prize for winning the game of riddles. And it is a prize. Tolkien himself didn’t know the ring the Ring because he didn’t know yet what he was going to do with it when he got down to writing the story that became The Lord of the Rings.

When Tolkien set down to write The Lord of the Rings as a sequel to The Hobbit...(h)e wanted...some link that he could establish between the story of The Hobbit and the later story, some seed that he could take from The Hobbit and grow into a new story.

The link he decided on was Bilbo’s magic ring, but in the process of developing the story of The Lord of the Rings, he decided that Bilbo’s ring would be much more than just a very useful invisibility ring. That change in the nature of the ring did not conflict with all of The Hobbit** but it did require a significant reconsideration of the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter, and of the character of Gollum in particular.

When Tolkien sent his publisher some corrections to the text of The Hobbit in 1950, therefore, he made some very important changes to his original depiction of Gollum, making him much more like the [wicked and miserable] Gollum that we read about in The Fellowship of the Ring and finally meet in The Two Towers.

Thus, though the story of Bilbo and Gollum’s meeting was published twenty years before The Fellowship of the Ring, I think it is fair to say that the Gollum in The Hobbit, as it now stands, is actually based on the Gollum of The Lord of the Rings, and not the other way around."

**[Note: I'd argue that while changing the ring from a shiny gimmick to the Great Ring of Power doesn't really change the Tolkien Hobbit it does change the Jackson Hobbit due to the relative importance to the whole Necromancer storyline in the latter.

In the original the Necromancer is a very shadowy figure that primarily functions as a way to get Gandalf out of the story so that Thorin & Co. can get captured first by the spiders of Mirkwood and then by the sylvan elves.

The film version makes the Necromancer the Phantom Sauron Menace and an important plot point, so you can't really have the One Ring being the One Ring and not introduce that to the story of the Hobbit. You can argue that as such it distorts the story - in fact, you can argue that it distorts the story past the ability of the original to sustain the distortion - but you can't really argue that its not appropriate to make the change...]

So perhaps Jackson's interpretation isn't quite as wrongheaded as it seems to me; Tolkien himself retconned the original meeting between his two characters, the hero and the villain (or perhaps the tragic victim, depending on how you see ol' Slinker/Stinker...), to make his older story hew closer to his larger work.

At the very least it makes me willing to think a little harder about all of that.


The whole giant-dissolving-molten-gold-dwarf-statue bit?

THAT still sucked ass.

*[A'maelamin: Elvish for "beloved"; in other words, "Darlin' get me rewrite!"]

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Army I Knew: Panama, Part 2, or, Hootchie Mamas, Push-buttons, and Peace Brides

So if you recall we left young SP5 Chief getting off the aircraft down in Panama in the late autumn of 1985, having asked the Army to send him to Japan or Italy and ending up instead assigned to HHC, 2nd Battalion (ABN)(LT) 187th Infantry when the old 3rd Battalion, 5th Infantry was reflagged as a jump outfit.

Another time I'll talk about what I did during my time there. But tonight I want to talk about who I met there.

The Americans were the usual gang of nice kids, assholes, hardasses, goofballs, tough professionals, ambitious careerists, weirdos, manics, and wild men you find in any military outfit.

It was the Panamanians that were new to me.

They locals came in two basic varieties (like all people): men, and women. The men I'll talk about in the next installment; tonight I want talk about the women.

The women I knew mostly as business girls (since prostitution was one of the major commercial activities of Panama City and probably had been ever since de Lesseps showed up with a bunch of horny Canal diggers) or as girlfriends, or wanna-be girlfriends, of my fellow GIs.
(Here's an odd fact; many of the working girls in Panama were Colombian. One of them claimed that she was, like many of her competitors, working in Panama to pick up enough money for a dowry after which she was going to return to Colombia and settle down. I have no idea if this was true, if she believed it to be true, or whether it was the sort of bullshit a working girl thinks a john wants to hear. But that was her story, anyway)
The working girls were part of the scenery in the GI clubs down on Calle J, "J Street"; the Ancon Inn, the Ovalo (or Ovalvo, I honestly don't recall which; we called it the "Oval-Oh"), the Buffalo Bar, where a chunky young woman once offered me the use of her body for five dollars (and where I recall I gave her the five and recommended she value her favors more dearly if she wanted others to do the same), and the bizarrely-named "Blue Goose" near the edge of the city.

(This photo of the Ancon is from the Sixties, BTW: it looked considerably dumpier when I knew it.)

At this point I should mention one of the freakish parts of this pay-for-play side of Panama was the "push-button".

Here's a very sweet little post about one foreign couple's adventure in a Panama push-button.(
I want to stop here and recommend this blog, Along the Gringo Trail, for anyone interested in modern Panama. Clyde and Terry really do a nice job of describing my old home station, and they seem like fun people, besides. Well worth the visit, and you can say I said so)
Here's another one that's a little less polite.

The bottom line on these places is that they're the Panamanian equivalent of a Japanese ラブホテル (rabu hoteru), a "love hotel", a place where a couple - living in a place where typically all four generations share a shotgun shack and everyone from abuela to the littlest niños know when anyone in the family sneezes, farts, or scratches their ass - could go to knock off a piece in the afternoon or spend a couple of hours romantically entwined.

You basically drove into a garage and pushed a button to close the door. Then you got out of your car and opened a door and there was a room. With a bed.

There was a slot for payments, and usually a sort of small alcove where you could get food or drinks. You did your business, picked up the phone, someone invisible totted up your bill, you payed, they opened the garage door and you drove away.

While I've got you here I should tell you the story of Doc Pollo and the Pushbutton.

One of the 2/187th medics had a sort of salt-lick scheme for Panama dating that involved fried chicken.

I don't know if this is racist or sexist or what but it was a fact: Doc Pollo used to run down to the local Kentucky Fried Pollo (and, yes, that was the actual name; it was your regular U.S.-type Colonel Sanders KFC complete with the red-and-white face of the goateed old cracker on the sign and the greasy fried chicken inside) and pick up a bucket and then go stand on a corner downtown.

He'd take off the paper lid and waft the aroma of the stuff all around and within ten minutes he'd have half a dozen cuties hovering around him. The lucky girl would receive her first wing and she, the wing, the rest of the chicken, and Doc Pollo, would be bundled into his little Ford for a drive to the nearest pushbutton.

One afternoon Doc promised an infantry pal that he'd demonstrate his special catch-and-release methods, and the buckets of chicken were purchased, the designated cuties selected, and the two bold paratroopers and their ladies retired to adjoining garage-suites in the "Fuente de Amor" pushbutton.

Story goes that Doc and his bride-for-three-hours chose to snack first and were reclining on the mattress nibbling and sipping when they heard the first distant cannons of the other couple's 1812 Overture.

The two of them paused, greasy fingers pressed to their smiling lips, as the thunder in the next room rose to a crescendo when Doc Pollo sat up, grinned at his paramour, dropped a half-eaten drumstick back into the bucket, and seized the headboard and started hammering it against the wall.

"Oh, baby!" he roared "Yeah, baby! Do it! Harder! Faster! Wider! Bigger! Ride me like a wild mustang, my mad angel of lust!"

The angel stared at him for a moment in pure incomprehension, suddenly snorted with laughter, and began pounding on the mattress shrieking "Aieeee! Mi caballero! Martillo me como un clavo, mi jinete loco de las llanuras!"

They kept up this din for a couple of minutes, until the noise from the adjoining room had stopped. Then Doc and his giggling chicken-lover slowly subsided.

In the quiet they could hear some scuffling around next door and a faint "What the fuck they doin' over there..?"

Things were calm for a while after that and slowly the couple in the other room began working up a head of steam again.

But when the noises indicated that the two alpinists had almost summited the Matterhorn of Love Doc Pollo and his galpal began their pounding clamor of simulated insane monkey sex.

Again, the noises from the other side of the wall ceased and Doc and his partner quieted down.

This time the only comment from the other rooms was a heartfelt "GodDAMN!"

According to Doc Pollo this alternating attempted-concupiscence and simulated-rodeo-sex went on several more times, until he and his chica finished their chicken and, growing bored with their game, decided to sate an entirely different hunger.

But he says the driving the girls back to their corner, driving back to post, and even for a couple of days after that when he and his pal would run into each other every so often the other GI would just give him this...look.

Aside from the casual encounters with the women of Panama interested in GIs either just for fun or for profit there were other ladies who had more long-term interests in mind.

These were the girls who were the girlfriends, or wives, or wanna-be-wives.

I'm sure that many of these peace-brides probably loved their GI husbands and married them for love. But it's hard not to suspect that at least some of them married for a passport, a ticket to the Land of the Big PX, an escape from the grinding poverty that was life for most Panamanians.

The one of these peace-brides I knew well during my time in Panama was engaged one of my medics, a very sweet kid we nicknamed "Diesel" because he forgot that the M151 quarter-ton jeep ran on Mogas, the Army's version of gasoline, unlike the M792 GAMA Goat ambulance that ran on diesel fuel. He put the latter into the former with predictable results.
(This is the cartoon version of the two of them from something called "Raiders of the Lost Parts" that I drew when I was station in Panama. Have I posted this yet? No? I should; it's very strange.)
Diesel was a sweet, kind of simple kid from rural North Carolina; Panama was the furthest he'd ever traveled outside the town of his birth. He was decent, kind, and not especially clever - as you can imagine from the whole diesel-in-the-jeep thing - and he was completely enthralled by his unparalleled romantic good-luck.

This luck consisted of a drop-dead gorgeous Panameña named Noris; I kidded her by calling her General Norisiega after the pock-marked caudillo of Panama of the time, and she was also razor-sharp, witty, ingenious, and intelligent.

I could no more see her as the wife of a small-town kid from Cornhole, North Carolina than I could see her as the Dragon Queen of Bhutan.

Their entire relationship seemed founded on the fact that they could barely speak to and, thus, get to know each other.

She spoke no more than scattershot English and Diesel spoke no more Spanish than a GI could; cerveza, por favor, gracias, but the two of them rubbed along in their fashion. She was affectionate, and attentive when he needed attention, and whatever they needed and couldn't get from each other they seemed to find amongst their several friends; his platoon buddies and her local pals.

I liked them both dearly but, frankly, didn't think that they had a hope in hell of making it to their tin anniversary.

The few times I spent alone with her General Norisiega seemed to be aware of the the unspannable gap between the two and slightly apologetic about it. But she also seemed determined to make them work and I don't know, or know if she knew, whether this was because of Diesel himself or the opportunity he presented her, or perhaps even a little of both.

The one little vignette of them I still remember, and the one that I want to leave you with, is of Noris driving around Panama in Diesel's Subaru.

This rig was one of those ridiculous early-Eighties "Brat" things that always seemed to me to symbolize the most gooberish qualities of the cars of the time, right up there with the AMC Gremlin and the Ford Pinto.

Apparently her driving combined all the caution of a demolition derby competitor with the sedate pace of a carjacking.

Poor Diesel, strapped into the passenger seat as his novia seemed determined to see how far she could bury a utility pole between the front seats, would bark with fear as she feathered around the trench-like streets of Panama Viejo at speed.

He didn't know how to tell her to suave - "slow down" - or frenos - "brake" - and what little more of her language he knew had been driven completely out of his head by sheer terror.

All he could do was every so often punctuate his panic with screams of BREQUES! BREQUES! - pronounced "bray-kays" - which, so far as I know, in Spanish means absolutely nothing.

Next: The Men of Panama, or, Salto al Pino!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Jukebox: Coolin' Love Edition

Very cool Ray Bryant work - Blue Scimitar - for Valentine's Friday. To which I should note that this:

...was the Bride's card from me this morning.

She laughed out loud.

And for the record, Kay Jewelers, fuck diamonds; more kisses begin with a laugh than they do with a sparkly piece of compressed carbon. Thr original was from this Buzzfeed post about "weird and creepy" Valentines. Worth a look for another laugh or two, I suspect.

Hope you and yours are feeling as tender and twining as young pea plants today.

Touch of Gray

I've been having a difficult time working up the energy to blog lately.

A hell of a lot of it has to do with what my friend Labrys discusses in this post.
"At a certain point, one wonders, if opinion — expressed in writing to friends, the public, elected officials — reaps no positive result, why bother? What is the use of participation at that point? To keep inundating myself with the horrors happening around my country is maddening; this IS the sort of thing, with no relief in sight FROM government that makes people go a bit loony."
It doesn't help when the first thing I come across in scanning the Intertoobz is stuff like this: "Banks are no longer just financing heavy industry. They are actually buying it up and inventing bigger, bolder and scarier scams than ever."

After tanking the global economy. And walking away whistling. Except when they whine that people talking all mean about how they managed to fuck up, loot, pillage, and burn, and still get paid waaayyyyy too much.


The world outside my little house and my home city just seems eaten up with idiotic dickishness, and this small forum seems utterly inadequate to deal, or even comment on, the vast wasteland of appalling dickitude on display; everything from gigantic, existential threats like anthropgenic global warming to this, a silly pair of articles about men and women.

This was the first I came across, a wife's blogged reply to attacks on her husband's confession that he had begged her to keep dyeing her hair dark because he "...didn't want to be married to the Queen of England."

Putting aside the insanely immense skweechieness of imagining sex with the zillion-year-old-royal-sourpuss Elizabeth Windsor-nee'-Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the rest of the guy's rant is fairly standard. Gray is old, I'm not old, I don't want you to look/be old, because then it will mean that I'm sticking my dick in old and then I will be old and that's fuckin' horrible and scary!

Read it if you want. Meh, same old, same old dickish whine that every guy has whined ever since he looked around and realized he wasn't as rich, or as powerful, or important, or fucking the sleek girl he thought he deserved.

The wife's reply, though, is kinda sweet and kinda stupid, in my opinion. She starts by noting that many of the readers of her husband's original piece commented that he sounded like a jerk and a narcissist.
(And for the record, if you're married to a smart, funny, active, sexy woman and you're pissing and moaning because her hair is gray? You are a big ol' fuckin' narcissistic dickish jerk. Just one man's opinion.)
She goes through what a nice guy her husband really is, not objecting to her wearing ratty old sweats and a T-shirt to bed and generally being a Nice Guy. She concludes:
"The dyeing or the not-dyeing is ultimately irrelevant to my point, which is that it’s okay for one member of a loving partnership to care about looking attractive to the other, but in the end, the decision belongs to the one whose body it is. May we all be honest and kind to each other, not necessarily in equal measure, but in the exact right proportions for marital bliss."
Which is the summation of both the sweet and the stupid part of her take on this.

Sweet, because I think she genuinely loves this guy and sees him as "caring about" how she looks.

Stupid, because, frankly, this screams to me (as a kinda-dickish-late-middle-aged-white-guy) as another very-dickish-late-middle-aged-white-guy getting all dickish about sex and death and the death of sex.

He's looking at his wife's gray and inside there's this guy-siren shrieking "Warning! Warning! Incoming Grannie Panties! Sexual Shutdown Imminent!! Warning!"

He even admits to thinking what we all try and pretend we don't think; that while we see your every line and wrinkle, your every sag, droop, and softening we look at ourselves in the mirror and our brains sort of airbrush away OUR sags, wrinkles, and bloat. "Dammit, I'm still a fine figger of a man!" we dickishly preen to ourselves, while looking at the slight loosening at the top of your thighs and thinking...aaaagh! Old Queen Bess!

That thought isn't far from, as the dickish saying goes, "breaking a forty for two twenties" and is pretty solidly behind the whole dickish business of trying to pretend that the women's bodies we're intimate with are not supposed to get older because even as old men we don't want to have sex with old women.

It's a dickishly bad attitude, and I don't think this woman gets how corrosively dickish it is, and, yet, there she is not seeing that this dick is probably going to dump her for some sleek barista with a nose stud and a tramp stamp because he's a dick who is scared to pieces by his own inevitable death.

And that's just one couple's domestic business.

Don't get me started on the destruction of the world for fun and profit, the serfening of the world's workers (though I highly recommend the Economic Penguin's recent series on the whole business of how the 99% of us are in the process of being bent over as an inevitable function of how our current crony capitalist system works), and the overall boneheaded political and economic dickishness of human beings in general and in the modern U.S. "conservative movement" in particular.

So, as I told Labrys...I just find it hard to work up the give-a-shit enough to write political posts anymore. Or economics.

The critical mass of dickish stupidity, greed, and indifference seems so huge that I just don't see what there is left to say.

That the Public is an Ass?

That the rest of us are going to hell in a handbasket because a critical mass of our fellows are dickishly unconcerned about anything outside their own groins, or religious delusions, or hates, or prejudices, or greed to look around and fucking see that?

That about a third of our fellow “citizens” appear to be perfectly happy to left the Radical Right turn the 21st Century U.S. into a bad parody of the 1890s only with more domestic spying and blowing up random foreigners? That we’ve dug ourselves into a ginormous global-warming hole and can’t even work up the concern to agree that we have, much less actually DO anything about it? That we can’t get the same 27-percent-toxic-stupidz to agree that taxes are the price of civilization, that, no the Zombie Negroes are not coming to Take Their Stuff, that more guns doesn’t = more Freedom, that you can't kill enough brown people to make the survivors love (or fear) you unless you kill a kajillion of them?

Lots of people who are smarter and better read and have bigger fora than we have have been banging these drums for days, months, years, decades, and what the hell have we got to show for it?

I still enjoy writing about things I enjoy and the small incunabulae that please me.

Nature. My family. Soccer. History. The Army I knew. Current-event-oddities and silly humor.

But politics, or economics, or the current State of the Union and the World?


All it does is get me pissed off. Pissed off realizing how utterly fucked we are and pissed off realizing that there’s not a goddamn thing I can do about it that won’t end up with me either dead or in prison.

All the more when I write about those issues I just feel very old and tired and sad, and it's not helping me write anything here that I don't end up hating even as I write it.

I'm sorry, but there it is.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Cock o' the North (Portland)...

Driving out of the 'hood today (finally) I caught a reminder that, yes, I do live in a college town:

Kinda makes the ordinary snowman and his little carrot look like brine shrimp, no?

Seems like a thousand years ago I would have taken the time and effort to construct this sort of magnificent snow-herm. But I would have, sadly, because college guys do shit like this.

Today the thaw has begun. In drips and runnels, the mighty Shaft of Snow melts away like every other symbol of male pride, beaten down by time and the hard light of day. Tomorrow the Pride - or is it the Shame - of North Portland will be just another wet spot.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Dead Horses and fun with the Internet

I won't kid you; the Snowpocalypse has transitioned to the Icepocalypse but the effect is the same. We're pretty much trapped inside with little hope of release until some time Monday. So I've been reading, and puttering about the house, and goofing around on the Internet.

And from there I was reminded about why I enjoy living in the Internet Era. It began with this post over at Lawyers, Guns & Money, captioned "Man sitting on dead horse, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1880":

From there one of the comments in the thread lead me to this post, where the investigators use various clues from the photograph to pinpoint two dates that the photograph could have been taken: "Since the tree looks like it is in full foliage, the picture must have been taken on either August 10, 1873, or August 10, 1879."

To pursue all this through pre-digital means would have taken days at the very least, pulling through almanacs and historic mapping and things like building records and old photographs.

And that's assuming that I would have come across this fascinatingly bizarre photo in the first place - it's easy to forget that the pre-Industrial ages were brutally hard on domesticated working animals like horses and mules. When you see beater vehicles on the road today (and I don't know where you live but Oregon, which lacks a state regulation requiring vehicle inspections, has tons of them) think of what would happen if these people drove a horse like they drive their cars and trucks. Only instead of going without oil changes and replacement brakes these poor animals would go hungry and cold and get driven far beyond their strength.

The death rate for urban horses must have been horrific.

And then think about the number of abandoned vehicles you roll past parked in side streets or down dead-end alleys. Translate that into the corpse of a 1,500-pound drayhorse; something that's too big to move with anything smaller than a large mechanical hoist, the Victorian or early 20th Century equivalent of a tow truck.

We tend to think of our times as The Most Awful Ever, and I agree that the Automotive Age has brought with it some fairly awful side-effects. But the advent of the automobile also brought with it the solution to some fairly awful problems, and the carnage of these animals was one of them.

Still doesn't explain why some joker was photographed sitting on a dead horse in the middle of a Sheboygan street in August 1873 (or 1879).

But some mysteries will and probably always should remain mysteries.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Snowpocalypse 2014

We have had the first real snowfall of the year. Yes, its pathetic compared to the avalanche of snow that has buried the Midwest and East coast. But, for Portland, this is a natural disaster;

The children are heartsick that Portland Public Schools has already called off classes for tomorrow.

You'll note, however, the Boy's costume includes nothing but shorts and knee socks. Pants? Yeah, right.

The Girl, child of the sunny south of China that she is, claims that she "is never cold".

Where-ever the recent snowfall rates on the overall scale of winter adventures, for Portland this is a Big One. We're effectively snowed in and reduced to eating lasagna and watching bad cartoons and the post-Soviet Olympics on the television.

Saturday, February 01, 2014


Outside the barracks now the bugle called, and woke
The morning wind, which rose, making the lanterns smoke.
It was that hour when tortured dreams of stealthy joys
Twist in their beds the thin brown bodies of growing boys;
When, like a blood-shot eye that blinks and looks away,
The lamp still burns, and casts a red stain on the day;
When the soul, pinned beneath the body's weight and brawn,
Strives, as the lamplight strives to overcome the dawn;
The air, like a sad face whose tears the breezes dry,
Is tremulous with countless things about to die;
And men grow tired of writing, and women of making love.

Blue smoke was curling now from the cold chimneys of
A house or two; with heavy lids, mouths open wide,
Prostitutes slept their slumber dull and stupefied;
While laborers' wives got up, with sucked-out breasts, and stood
Blowing first on their hands, then on the flickering wood.
It was that hour when cold, and lack of things they need,
Combine, and women in childbirth have it hard indeed.

Like a sob choked by frothy hemorrhage, somewhere
Far-off a sudden cock-crow tore the misty air;
A sea of fog rolled in, effacing roofs and walls;
The dying, that all night in the bare hospitals
Had fought for life, grew weaker, rattled, and fell dead;
And gentlemen, debauched and drunk, swayed home to bed.

Aurora now in a thin dress of green and rose,
With chattering teeth advanced. Old somber Paris rose,
Picked up its tools, and, over the deserted Seine,
Yawning, rubbing its eyes, slouched forth to work again.

~ Charles Baudelaire (trans. Edna St. Vincent Millay)