Friday, July 31, 2015

Fruit of the Poison Tree, Continued

I really don't like writing about Iraq. That pooch has been so thoroughly screwed - and the possibility that the United States can do anything to UNscrew it at this point being about as likely as Donald Trump recommending a national holiday for Cesar Chavez's birthday - that there's really nothing of value I can say.

But when I read this I felt almost physically sickened.

One of the stupidest of the many, many stupid things that the Bushies believed about Iraq is that there really was an "Iraq"; that is, that short of the capability for murderously violent force (and the willingness to use it) that the former Ottoman and British colonial provinces of Kurdistan, Iraqi Sunnistan, and Iraqi Shiastan could be forced together into some sort of pathetic facsimile of a Westphalian nation-state.

And that there was truly a significant political faction that stretched across those three polities that was interested in some sort of coalition of shared power.

Instead the fucking morons invaded and the fucking inevitable happened. Iraq fractured along regional and tribal lines as ambitious and ruthless men concluded that it was better to rule in Sunni (or Shia, or Kurdish, or Basran, or Tikriti...) Hell than serve in someone else's heaven.

Of the Iraqi factions my personal sympathies have always been with the Kurds. No real particular reason, just my own sense that of the groups in What-Used-To-Be-Iraq the Kurds in general - though the linked article makes good points that "Kurds" is a pretty broad blanket for the congeries of political groups fighting for Iraqi Kurdistan - seem the most "reasonable" in Western terms, the least susceptible to the sort of ethnic and religious monomania that has made the modern Middle East such a goddamn sewer of lethal grudges and yes, I'm looking at you, too, Israel.

One of the things that pissed me off most about Dubya's Most Excellent Middle Eastern Adventure was the need to pretend that there was an "Iraq" and that that "state" was something that was run through whoever sat on the gaddi in Baghdad. That weapons-grade idiocy prevented the sensible accommodations that the U.S. might have made with the varying factions to gently dismember the undead thing that was "Iraq" to cater to the fears and fantasies of the rulers of OTHER Frankensteinian sinkholes such as Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.

This sensibility to the tender fee-fees of the Saud dynasty and whoever-the-fuck is currently tending the various North African dumpster fires was, of course, rewarded with the same sort of cheerful cooperation that our Middle Eastern "allies" are known for. And that cooperation appears to be just as wanting as it ever was.

I cannot understand anyone who would advocate the the United States needed more direct involvement in the Middle East's current Wars of Religion. As Lord Chesterfield said once, the pleasure would be transient, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable.

But if any of the benighted denizens of this dangerous and incomprehensible place deserved tangible, physical help from the United States to defend themselves from the rapacious bastards all around them it is the people of Kurdistan, and the fact that the powers that be in this country cannot openly acknowledge and act on that is just another weight to the burden of grievous guilt borne by this nation and the mendacious, conscienceless scum infesting the Bush Administration that opened this Hope-less Pandora's Box in hopes of finding the glory their childish fantasy had convinced them was hidden within.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Limits of My Post

So apparently some nutter went and shot up several military facilities in Tennessee and ended up killing five troopers; four U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy logistician.

Everybody was very sad about this, except possibly for the theocratic lunatics in the Middle East that have been on the receiving end of the ordnance delivered by (presumably) USAF aircraft. The degree to which the shooter identified with and wanted to be one of those lunatics is still uncertain but likely to be considerable. That was his problem. The fact that a Muslim theocratic looney wanna-be wanted to shoot up U.S. Navy and recruiting facilities has a lot to do with the number of Muslims that the U.S. has shot up since 2001. That's our problem; when you insist on jamming your head in the beehive it is extremely likely you'll get stung by the bees.

But that wasn't what got me thinking.

It was, instead, the instinctive reaction of the wingnut politicians including Bush, Walker, and (of course) Trump to the "best solution" to the fact that Muslim nuts want to kill U.S. troopers, and it had nothing to do with spending less time killing Muslims and thereby provoking Muslim nuts.

The Donald pretty much spoke for all of these gasbags when he said: "This sick guy had guns and shot them down. These are decorated people. These are people who could have handled guns very easily. They would have had a good chance if they had a gun."

Which, as much as anything this moron has ever said, tells me everything I need to know about the room-temperature-level of his IQ.

But it also made me think about this story, which I think tells you everything you need to know about what I think is very likely to happen if every armory, reserve center, and recruiter has an armed Joe pulling guard.


When I got out of the RA - and I should really tell you the story of my first post-active duty assignment, an Army Reserve mobile hospital in Lancaster, PA - I bounced around through a couple of outfits. I finally got my bump to E-6/Staff Sergeant and in the process got shifted over to a Reserve Combat Engineer outfit. This was a "heavy" engineer unit tasked more with construction missions rather than a sapper sort of outfit, and for a former light infantryman the setup was pretty plush. We had an aid station tent with a big old Deuce-and-a-half truck to carry it and all our medical kit around in and a couple of the old M718 quarter-ton field light ambulances for evacuation. We got to drive everywhere, and as one of Ramses' medics is said to have scratched in hieroglyphics on the back of Cleopatra's Needle: "Why fight when you can hide? Why walk when you can ride?"

The best part of our reserve center, though, was that it was located on what had been an old Nike missile site, Battery PH-91, located north of the city of Philadelphia. This Cold War relic had been closed down in the early Sixties but the underground holes ("silo" is too grand a word for how these critters were stored - here's a picture of one today)
were still out back of the center, in the motor pool, three of them if I remember, and they had a creepily-cool sort of "Doctor Strangelove" feel to them.

The other interesting thing about the old 330th Combat Engineer Battalion was the intake area; it spanned a fairly huge chunk of the northern suburbs and the north part of the City of Philadelphia. Some of the troopers came from the nice, white, suburban and even fairly rural (Montgomery County still had some rural areas in the late 1980s...) areas around where the actual reserve center was located on Potshop Road. Some came from the heavily black parts of North Philadelphia and only got out of the concrete jungle one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Everybody seemed to rub along fairly decently and I recall it as a pretty good outfit, both for weekend drill as well as our summer camps.

Ah, yes. Annual training. That's where my story takes us.

I don't remember the year, but it must have been one of the two years I was there (either 1989 or 1990, since I got off active duty in December 1987 and moved to Oregon in August 1990...) and the battalion did our annual training north of Fort Indiantown Gap - "Fig", we called it, the sprawling Depression-era post that was primarily the business of the Pennsylvania Army Guard. The idea was to help the Pennsylvania Fish and Game people do some work on their hunting lands in the are north of Fig. If my memory serves me correctly it was somewhere in the red circle, probably that triangle-shaped area near the center:

It was a fairly unmemorable piece of the rural Pennsylvania Appalachians, and we drove up the mostly-dirt "gravel" road to where the S-4 put our combat trains, ran out the wire, dug our rifle pits and latrines
(which, as I recall, managed to find the only spring on the whole goddamn hillside and overflowed, washing out a couple of pounds of used GI chow downhill towards the mess tent. "Swimming back to where they were spawned..." was one joker's comment as we frantically tried to fill the damn things in.)
and our aid station tent and settled in for a couple of weeks playing Army.

OK. So now a couple of things happened. First, "spring gobbler season" opened. This is apparently a thing, and in it the local yokels don their camoflage and shoulder their shotguns to go out and stalk the elusive wild turkey. Our portion of the game lands had not been set off-limits to the turkey hunters, and we did not know that. There was an Army Reserve unit in that portion of the game lands, and the turkey hunters didn't know that, either.

Second, our S-2, who was either a smartass or a complete fucking idiot, told our guys that the OPFOR, the notional enemies, were dressed in odd-looking camoflage and might try and walk up to our positions pretending to be local people. This became part of the special instructions for our gate guards, and had been the morning one of these local Nimrods came strolling up the road to where our two Rambos were lounging around the roll of concertina wire that blocked the road through our trains area.

"Halt!" says one of the GIs. I should note that just by pure coincidence the two guards on the gate that morning were deep-city Philadelphians, born and raised within sight-line of Billy Penn's hat (that is, the statue on top of the City Hall building at the center of downtown Philly...) and knew about the central Pennsylvania countryside what a cow knows about the Council of Trent.

The would-be turkey-slayer looked at him curiously but kept coming forward. "HALT!" repeats the troop. Now the guy halts and looks around him like he's suddenly encountered a two-headed Martian baby.

"Where you think you're going?" says the soldier. "Up the hill." replies the hunter.

"Not that way." the GI informs him "You gots to go around the wire. This a secure area."

"Bullshit." fumes the hunter. "I need to get up the road. This is state land. You can't close off this road."

"Hell I can't" replies the troop, getting a little aggravated himself. "You gots to go around."

"I can't and I won't. I'm going through there." says the hunter, and starts to come at my guy. The GI, who has had his rifle slung up to this point, now pulls it off his shoulder and levels it at the dude. His partner backs him up and the hunter stops with his hands coming up, palms out, to show that he's not dangerous.

"You lie down and put your weapon on the ground!" barks the GI, now convinced that this is one of those "enemy" infiltrators. The hunter, not wanting either to lie on the wet dirt of the road or to put his shotgun down in it, just backs off shaking his head.

Now the GI is really suspicious. He comes on, rifle leveled, and then raises it to his shoulder. "Git the FUCK DOWN!" he roars, and the hunter scrambles to put his belly in the dirt, ignorant of the fact that in this confrontation he is the only one with live rounds.

The GI draws down on him as his pal circles around to snag the shotgun before retreating to the landline to call the sergeant of the guard.

"Now...what you want up that hill..?" interrogates the gate guard. The hunter looks up at him with that "how ignorant are you?" face and says "I'm going after turkey." and is stunned when this produces a snarl of derisive laughter and the blank-adapter on the rifle pushed down towards his head.

"Now I know you lyin'!" the guard sneers. "There no turkeys up that hill. You gets your turkey at the Super Fresh."

Anyway, fortunately the unit chaplain arrived at about that time along with the commander of the relief. The hunter was plenty hot, and the GI on the gate was, too, both thinking that somebody had run some serious buuuulllllshit on them (and someone had, but it was the S-2 who was safely distant in the battalion tactical operations center and wouldn't hear about this until it was just a good story...) and it took everyone's best efforts to calm them down and send them their separate ways without a fight.

As it happened, the whole thing ended up in the local paper because, well...because. It was a sort of funny story, and it all ended happily except for the turkey, perhaps.

But let's update that story. Give my GI a rifle with real live rounds in it. Put him out front of his armory or reserve center or, worse, in a busy shopping mall with a "career center", one of these inter-service recruting shop things, in the middle of the busy crowds of pedicure-seekers and payday-lender-marks. Make the turkey hunter someone who has had a couple of Bud Lite Limes for lunch and has got the wrong address and is a little more belligerent and a little less intelligent.

Gee. I wonder how THAT could go wrong..?

The point is, if we insist on treating these gun-nutter shootings like war, then war is what we are likely to get. And any intelligent soldier knows that in war usually one of the most deadly weapons is the one closest to you. That's why we train so hard, that's why we have so many rules about weapons handling and weapons safety. That's why we make such a big deal about knowing exactly who and what are where when we have a round in the chamber.

Putting Joe or Molly on door guard armed with live bullets is a hell of a lot more likely to get some other GI, or some random pedestrian, killed than putting one in the center-of-mass of Rag bin Head the IS Wannabe, and pretty much every GI whose ever carried a full-metal-jacketed round knows that perfectly well.

But it suits our current crop of "conservatives" to pretend otherwise, and that's a huge part of our fucking problem.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dark Waters

The month that we call January was a hard time for people who lived in the village they called Kutauwa, in the sand hills, at the edge of the dark forests where the great ocean of the west met the river.
The seas were often high and the winds were often strong, too high and too strong for the cedar boats that the people used to fish and hunt seal and sea-lion. The gray skies hung low and heavy with cold rain and, sometimes, even the skirl of white snow or ice that drove the cold through the seagrass capes and the sealskins into even the toughest of the people.

So January was a time to spend indoors, when you could, in the warmth and the smoky glow of the firepit and the comfortable fug of warm bodies. Let the cold rain beat against the cedar walls and the cold wind raise the white foam on the wavetops and spin the grit off the dune crests. January was a time for mending, for gambling and lying and boasting and telling stories. For lovemaking and quarreling and making up. The night came early and the dark and the cold made good excuses for taking the work and the food and the slaves inside to sit by the fire and tell stories.
That night her brother was telling stories. He was a good storyteller, and he was telling one of her favorite stories, his soft eyes glittering and his long arms dancing before him as he described how the strange, eerie seal had towed the seal hunters to a strange place:
"Now we have gone to a far place. Gone are the breakers; the breakers have disappeared now. It is just calm everywhere; the breakers have disappeared."
She loved how his voice hollowed out as he described the weird calm sea and made the happy shivers run up her back as she thought about the strange seal and the scary ocean far away. She hugged herself in eager anticipation of the rest of the story, happily frightened in the warmth of her sealskin and the cheery firelight.

So it was the emptiness as her brother's voice stuttered to a stop that shocked her more than the first light tremor that shook the roofpole behind her. Somehow the silence was more shocking than the loudest shout. The only sound was the crackling of the fir branch in the fire as she stared into her brother's eyes, now huge, and dark, and frightened.

And then the shaking came.

It seemed to her like she and her house and the whole world were taken up like a salmon in the mouth of su'ln the big brown bear and shaken, as the bear does, to kill. The horrible shaking went on and on and on. She was screaming but couldn't hear her own screams because everyone was screaming. From somewhere behind her she heard a grinding and a splintery crashing and some of the screaming stopped. Some, but only some, because the shaking still went on and on and the screaming went on and on and the horrible sounds of her home and her family dying went on and on.

Until they stopped.

She didn't know how long she was there, terrified and silent and still. It was her brother storyteller who found her, one of his arms twisted and hanging down, and pulled her up with the other, up and out not towards the door, because the door-end of the house was nothing now but a shattered wreckage of cedar planks and poles and bits of mats and baskets, but towards the forest-end where the walls gaped open to the dark. She struggled briefly until he pointed to where the flames from the scattered fire were running up the wall. Together they stumbled out of the opening into the misting rain and the night.

The clouds were thin enough and the moon was bright enough to see the village around them, or what remained of it. The great house of the headman was gone, a heap of shattered wood and worse things spattered around the huge fir that had fallen over it. More than half of the other houses had fallen or were leaning broken, or, worse, beginning to burn. In the wavering light they could see others crawling or staggering shakily from their homes, many still keening or weeping with fear.

It was the convulsive grip of her brother's hand on her arm that made her look up, then follow his face to the west, to the broad arm of the sea where it met the bay. Or where it had when they had gone inside in the sullen dusk. Now the water was gone. Dark sand gleamed wetly under the moon and the rain.

"Now we have gone to a far place." her brother whispered, "Gone are the breakers; the breakers have disappeared now. It is just calm everywhere; the breakers have disappeared."

She stared up into his face.

And then the breakers returned.

The waters rushed in upon them, rising, rising, never stopping, like some mad tide summoned by the gods. She tried to run but the waters were faster and knocked her down. She tried to hold on to her brother but the waters were stronger and ripped his hand from her arm, sank his face from her sight and his last cry from her ears. She closed her eyes and died.

Until the cold, hard bark of the great cedar slammed against the side of her face, shocking her awake and alive again. She gasped and clung to the trunk and then to the branch beside her, as thick as her waist and sturdy as a stone. The waters rose, and she climbed higher, onto another branch almost as large as the first. She lay on the wet moss and put her face into the wet softness, the cold rainwater washing away her hot tears.

She lay still as the dark waters rushed past her filled with soil and trees and the pieces of her life. She lay still as the waters rushed away home, sweeping with them all those things out into the ocean again. She lay still when the waters returned, smaller, weaker, but still higher than a standing man's head. Still full of bits of the dunes and the hills and the forests and more awful things; bits of baskets and furs and animals and people.

She lay still until the light came again, when the sky lightened over the mountains behind her, and showed her the place where she and all her people had been born, and lived, and now was no more.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Radio Check

Still here, though still without much to say. Same issues; the things that matter to me just aren't that interesting to anyone else; home, work, family, and as for the soccer I work out over at my daytime gig at Slide Rule Pass. I did enjoy the hell out of the Women's World Cup, but I know better than to try and write that one up; a lot of work and you'd get better value for your money over at The Equalizer or All White Kit...
As far as blogging goes, I'm farkling about gearing up to writing up the Battle of the Philippine Sea as a sort of send-off to my "Imperial Japan, WTF?" series. Yeah, Leyte gets all the press, but it was the Turkey Shoot that was the USN at the top of its game, that meant Game Over for the Kito Budai. I'll try and get that in later this month.
Part of the blogging roadblock is just Real Life; I've found that I don't have the burning desire to write so badly as to put off everything else I've got going on. Tonight the kiddos are upstairs playing Goat Simulator (don't ask. Seriously, there are some things that, once seen, can never be unseen...) and The Bride is reading the new Shadow Campaigns novel I bagged for her at the county library so I found some time to come downstairs - my computer is back in its old place at the basement worktable - and write.
But the other big part is just the notion of trying to talk about politics or military affairs has just really lost its grip on me. I don't know enough about the politics of places beyond the strandlines to speak sensibly and the politics of my country are, at the moment, loathsome. To me the perfect poster child for American politics is The Donald.
And even here I can't really better the Rude One in his summation of the shitshow that is Trump:
"He's like most of the other candidates rolled into one: a blithering, idiotic, climate change-denying loudmouth xenophobe who wants endless war, Christian "values" (whatever the fuck those are anymore), an economic and health care system that benefits the rich, and a big fuckin' fence with alligators or some such shit to keep out the Mexican rapists. He doesn't need to pander to the baser instincts of the primary voters. He is the living embodiment of the baser instincts of GOP primary voters. That's why he's wiping the floor with virtually every other candidate."
But I can't even find any entertainment in the idiocracy that has become the Republican Party.
Because the way our political system works we get two parties. You can try and come up with another system that produces another outcome, but the bottom line is that the U.S. first-past-the-post election setup produces two big parties instead of the lots of little ones you get in a parliamentary system.

So, given two parties it'd be nice to think that we'd have two, you know, actual parties. Organizations with smart people and thought-out policies that wanted to run a sane and healthy country.

Instead we have a bunch of fairly conservative corporatists who prefer a sort of elite, oligarchic control over the dusky masses...and a Monster Fucking Raving Loony Party of which Trump is not the ravingest fucking looney by a looooong chalk.

It's a fucking fuckstory, and what more can I say other than that..?
I've included a whole bunch of family pictures to give you an idea of what we've been doing that has kept me away from the keyboard; you get the whole spectacle of work and play, house, and kids, and pets. I've also been volunteering to help sell merch for our women's soccer team supporters group the Rose City Riveters, and help out with our friends' project to clean and paint and sell their house; here we are after a long, hot day of exterior painting:
Or pitching in at the local watering hole for soccer, Bazi Bierbrasserie. With my temporary Oregon Liquor Control Commission volunteer server credentials in hand here I am, ready to start pouring for the Women's National Team supporters...
Busy, busy, busy, that's me.

Just not here. I'm sorry.

But if you stick around I can promise you Marianas and Turkeys. This is no shit.

I will tell you one more story before I have to go.

So I go to the Thorns match on the Friday before the Fourth of July. Good match, Portland win, if you give a shit you can read all about it here. Anyway, I get in late as in late-late, nearly midnight. It's hot, damn hot as it was for nearly the entire month of June. But not hot enough to explain the expended kitchen fire extinquisher sitting on the dark front steps. Interesting, I think, and go inside.

Everyone is sleeping in the Little House. The only creatures stirring are the two expended Roman candle launchers sitting silently in the kitchen trash. Interesting, I think, before heading into the shower and the bed.

So it's not until the next morning that I find this:
My Bride explains that my son and his pal were playing in the street with the pair of fireworks they were allowed the night before the tradition of Expending All Rounds (of illegal fireworks smuggled in from Vancouver) in the paved "playground" of Astor School at the east end of Amherst Street. She wasn't sure how the fireball landed in the city strip, but she thought that one of the boys might have aimed it down and it skipped off the pavement into the grass.

Which, explosive as flash-paper after weeks of drought and days in the nineties, ignited.

This little inferno took a shovel and the extinguisher and the neighbor's hose - the lighted section was in front of the house two doors down from ours - to kill. I think my Inamorata realized that the fault was not so much in her stars or in her son but in herself for not insisting that the boyish pranks be shifted to the inflammable asphalt of the elementary school.

Missy was properly disgusted.
"I had nothing to do with this." she sniffed. "It was those boys!"

I smiled and agreed and felt thankful that all that had burned was some dead grass. And climbed into the Honda and drove away.