Saturday, October 31, 2009

10 Scary Things

Well, I waved goodbye to the Dark Lord of the Sith, his sister fairy-princess-ballerina, scary Dead Guy (Peeper's friend Vincy), Vin's parents and Mojo as they set out to rid North Portland of candy.

The trout saute'd up delightfully in butter with garlic and Hawaiian alaea salt, the basmati rice was rich and savory, and the snap peas crisp amid the abundance of mushrooms and onion. I'm still anticipating the pumpkin pie and whipped cream as I write this.

So far the trick-or-treaters have been thin on the ground, which gives me a little time to reflect on the week past and the weekend thus far.

1. Enjoyed the company of my friend Brent as Arsenal took advantage of some incomprehensibly awful Tottenham defending to take the first game of the North London "darby" as the British incomprehensibly pronounce what we'd call a "derby". Not sure what it said about the Arse, whose fragility and lack of focus has been remarked on severally, including over here at Pandagoal (hey - how about some new postings, Pandagoalians?) but it said something fairly personal and pretty uncomplimentary about the Spurs place in the English "top four".Tottenham looked awful; tentative, mazy and generally lost. They never threatened, they never even looked in the match. Fortunately the Talisker and Brent's delicious fig-and-vanilla (and clove-and-cinnamon) infused bourbon made up for the sloppy Spurs play.

Of course, my Newcastle United lads aren't even in the Premiership this season...but we'll be back! Toon Army !

2. In other soccer news, I see that the USWNT managed to sneak past the German gals 1-0, predictably on an Abby Wambach header.I'm not sure I like this; the idea that the women are again relying on Wambach up front to provide them with their goalscoring...and, since the match report said that "...Germany earlier wasted a half-dozen clear opportunities and dominated most of the match..." we can assume that the U.S. midfield was swanning about or simply absent.

There's no real challenge ahead, given the span until the next WWC. But I reflect grimly on the U.S. gals' returning to the dreary "Wambach-and-three-days-of-rain" style that typified the pre-Sundhage Era. Let's hope the result is just a blip.

3. Important safety tip: DO NOT carve your jack-o-lanterns ten days ahead of Halloween if you live in a Mediterranian climate. The foul resulting wilt, mold and collapse will not endear the holiday to you.

4. I'm excited for the Rose City Rollers, and yet, frustrated because they sold out the Hanger for their last bout! We tried to get in and failed, which sucked for us, but is terrific for the rollergirls. Get some, Rollers! Great to see a genuine sport played by gals who hustle for love of the solid hits - as opposed to the whatever-their-name-is outfit that plays for big money at the big barn next to I-5. Go, Rollers!

5. I think I've found the answer to a parenting dilemma: how do you deal with your kids' desperate need to go to Chuck E. Cheese without going utterly mad? Here's four simple things that help:
a. Feed them first - so you don't have to touch the awful food there.
b. Make the expedition part of a larger agenda, so you don't have to linger.
c. Go in the late morning or early afternoon - the mob scene is less.
d. Restrict their tokens, so they play their games and go.We've been to the Chuckster thrice in a month now, and every time it was quick, easy and painless. I think we've got that sucker wired.

6. Important safety tip #2: do NOT let your son hand out Halloween candy. We had an immense 8-quart saucepan full of the stuff until a half dozen spirits and spooks showed up and the Peep took charge of the candy pot. The thing came back from the front door with two - two - tiny Snickers bars inside. We had to raid the little girl's swag when our neighbors' kids arrived and then quickly tun out the porch light.

7. Which reminds me of my favorite Halloween story. I was living in Wilmington, Delaware at the time, and our apartment was at the edge of a pretty sketchy neighborhood so we had few few little trick-or-treaters. Late in the evening I heard a knock and opened the door to find two little kids in their street clothes, one about seven with a black oval party mask on, the other about five without any trace of a costume at all.

"Trick or treat" the older kid mumbled slightly ashamedly.

I dropped a couple of candy bars on them.

"What is your costume, dude?" I asked the older boy. He looked up at me like I was slightly retarded, like I'd asked him whether it was dark out.

"I'm Batman" he rasped, in a pretty good imitation of Michael Keaton or whothehellever was playing Batman that year. I nodded to what I assumed was his little brother. "Who's he supposed to be?"

"He's the Joker." replied big brother. I laughed.

"No way, kid. I've seen the movie, the Joker has a white face and purple clothes, little guy doesn't look anything like the Joker."

Big kid gave me that slightly-retarded look again and replied;

"That's the joke."

He got an extra Snickers for that.

8. Mmmm. Pumpkin pie is what the Gods ate on Olympus.

9. I had something really witty for this one but I forgot it.

10. Oh, yeah, wait. Here it is.

Three guys are arguing about humanity's greatest invention. The first insists on fire, the second on atomic power. The third suggests the thermos bottle.

"WTF?" his buddies ask.

"Think about it!" says the first guy; "It keeps the hot stuff hot AND the cold stuff cold."

"No shit, Sherlock" reply his pals, "What do you think a thermos bottle does?"

"Yes..." replies the guy, "...but how does it know?"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Brain that Wouldn't Die

One of the most common, and yet the most difficult, thing that any man or woman can do is to bring hardship or pain to someone they love.

Yet life tends to creep up and headbutt you with this sort of moment every so often, however.

My life, anyway. Mine and my beloved's.

Fortunately the mountains of agony are usually inselbergs, single peaks of loss and suffering so tall, so sharp and icy cold that you can feel your heart hang and tear on them, feel yourself swing out over the dizzying, horrible emptiness knowing that the weightless drop is only a caesura, a moment of suspended time before the final slip of the straining fingertips, the sickening swoop of the fall, the impact with the shattering wasteland below.

Much more common are the little daily speedbumps of conflict, the knolls, drumlins and kames of confrontation that make the day bumpy, that sends one to bed in tears and leaves the other shaking his or her head in rueful acceptance of that bump on the head, the small pellet of bitterness dissolving under the tongue, the residue of the collision between needs and wants, between greed and restriction.The Peeper had a nasty spill on one of these little bumps the other night, refusing to leave his computer game when it was time for bed, nastily arguing and finally spitting hateful words at his mom when she insisted gently that he listen to her instructions.

I was already in bed, exhausted after a long, cold day working in the rain. But the raised voices, and my little boy's vicious tone, brought me upright with my loathed reading glasses slipping down my nose as if they, too, wished to avoid the coming defenestration.

"Mister Peep?" I said in my sternest drill sergeant voice, "I need to see you in here for a moment."

There was a moment's awful silence and then the sound of a little boy bursting into tears.

"No, mommy, no! I'm sorry! I'm shutting it down, see! I'm listening to you! I'm listening!" and his mother's caustic reply "You're not listening to me, you're just afraid of your Daddy.", the truth of which was attested to by another rain band of weeping. It was a crumpled-faced little fellow that shuffled into the doorway of the bedroom pushed by his mother.

"I'msorrydaddyI'msorryreallyI'msorry!" he whimpered, fearing the dreadful punishment I represented more than honestly regretting his harsh words and unpleasant attitude towards his gentle and loving mother, who really does try and understand, cajole and entice him towards responsibility.

Unfortunately for him I am more of a kinetic sort of parent."Go and brush your teeth and get in your jammies and come back here, son." My level look always produces more floods of tears at this point, and it worked to its usual effect here. A sobbing child staggered off to the bathroom to ablute and dress for bed.

By the time her returned the fear had subsided to jerky sniffles, but the boy still refused to come sit by me, retreating to the end of the bed until I promised not to scare him AND his mother sat beside me. Then he crawled into our arms and lay snuffling soddenly.

"What are we going to do, little man?" I asked one pink ear "It's not OK to use mean words and be unkind to your mommy. When she asks you to do something, the best thing to do is do what she asks, or, if you have to, talk to her and explain why you don't want to do that thing."

The Peeper sat up, wiped his nose and looked at us earnestly.

"I don't want to be mean, daddymommy... (when excited, little man tends to conjoin his parents as a single noun)...I really don't, but...it's my brain does bad things."

"Your brain does this stuff itself?"

"I try and be nice, but my brain doesn't always listen!" His sweet, rounded little boy face was a model of sincerity, his eyes wide, his lip almost trembling. "I'm not being bad, I don't want to be mean, but my brain just DOES it..." He really believed what he was saying; perhaps what he was saying was the truth. As he saw it.

We both hugged him and told him we loved him.

We told him that part of being a Big Boy was mastering his brain when it was bad. Perhaps when he felt that brain trying to make him snarl hasty and angry things that he might put his hand over his mouth, count to ten, think of something nice until he could talk to his mom in a less angry tone. And that he would have to work hard at this, and in return his mom and I would be a little more patient, give him a little more time when asked to do things he didn't like to do, like putting away his toys, washing his feet, or trimming his fingernails. He agreed to try that.

So he went to bed, still sniffling a little but with a hint of a smile. He gave his mom a big hug, and me a slightly smaller one.

As I tucked him under his beloved (and now slightly frayed and dingy from all the love) "kitty" quilt he roiled a little under the covers."Sometimes I don't always like my brain, da-da." he said in his small "sleepy" voice.

"Yeah, I know, kiddo." I said, thinking of my stern voice and the face of a little boy reduced to fearful tears. "Sometimes I don't always like mine, either."

And I turned out the light.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Decisive Battles: Yorktown 1781

Yorktown Dates: September 28-October 19, 1781Forces Engaged: American Colonial and French:

American - 15 battalions of the Continental Line, organized into three divisions each of two brigades (about 4,500 infantry); three brigades of Virginia state militia (roughly 3,000 infantry); 17 companies of artillery (400 artillerymen) as well as a small number of pioneers, cavalry and odds and sods - a total of about 8,000 troops under GEN George Washington.

French - (Land Forces) 15 battalions of regular infantry (including two of marines) and a "legion*" of 1 battalion-equivalent (about 8,000 infantry but including 2 squadrons of light cavalry and a small number of artillerymen); eleven companies of artillery (670 artillerymen) under LTG Comte de Rochambeau.

French - (Naval Forces) 1 x 110 gun battleship, 3 x 80 gun battleships, 17 x 74 gun battleships, 3 x 64 gun small battleships, 1 x 36 gun heavy frigate, 3 x 32 gun frigates, 2 x 26 gun light frigates, 1 x 16 gun brig under RADM Comte de Grasse.

British, American Loyalist and German:

British - (Land Forces) 14 regular infantry battalions including 2 of marines in three brigades, 230 artilleryman, 20 cavalry (roughly 5,250 troops - note, however, that many of these are down with disease and assorted "fevers"); 2.5 loyalist militia battalions (about 500 troops all arms)

German - Anspach-Bayreuth: 2 regiments regular infantry and an attached artillery company (about 1,000 infantrymen, 40 artillerymen and 3 light cannon) Hesse-Kassel: 2 regiments regular infantry, 1 light (jager) company and an attached artillery company (930 infantrymen, 50 artillerymen, 4 light cannon)

Total: 7,750 all arms under LTG Charles, Earl Cornwallis

British (Naval Forces) 1 x 98 gun battleship, 1 x 90 gun battleship, 12 x 74 gun battleships, 1 x 70 gun battleship, 4 x 64 gun light battleships, 1 x 50 gun cutdown battleship, 2 x 38 gun frigates, 2 x 32 gun frigates, 2 x 28 gun light frigates, 1 fireship under RADM (Red Squadron) Thomas Graves

(*Note: one of the military fads of the late Eighteenth Century was something called a "legion", a sort of combined-arms force that, in the case of Lauzun's Legion was nominally composed of 8 companies: four infantry (one Grenadier, one Chasseur, two Fusilier), one Artillery, two light cavalry (Hussar) and one Support (Artificier) company.The French brought Lauzun, and the British had a loyalist outfit called the "British Legion" which is better known as "Tarleton's Legion" after its commander, LTC Banastre Tarleton (aka "Bloody Ban").

Strength returns for the British Legion at Yorktown list 25 officers, 216 troopers, of which probably more than half were dragoons (heavy cavalry/mounted infantry), leaving less than 80-100 light infantry.The 18th Century legions were something of a military oddity, given that either the cavalry had to move at a walking pace or take the infantry up behind them to stay together, and the tactics of light infantry and light cavalry or dragoons were sufficiently opposed as to make the combination difficult to operate effectively. In practice the legion infantry was usually brigaded with other infantry and the cavalry acted in the scouting and shock roles with other cavalry. By Napoleonic times the legion system had effectively been abandoned, a victim of the increasing specialization of the military arms)

The Powers and Their Intentions: One thing that makes Yorktown so interesting is the intersection of the warring entities. Each had their intentions, several of which they had no intention of disclosing even to their own allies and which, in many cases, worked against their allies' interests.

The British: had perhaps the most straightforward mission; put down the rebellion and return the American colonies to their (in British eyes) proper position as a vassal to the Mother Country. But...the British position had been immensely complicated by the entry of France and Spain to the war as allies of the American rebels. For one thing, Britain's already long supply lines were made even more precarious by the threat of French warships, and British trade (as always, crucial to British prosperity) threatened by privateers of all nations.

And in the long view, Britain had colonies more vital to its world power, economic security and national pride than the American littoral. In particular India and her associated dominions, Gibraltar, and her Caribbean colonies were highly valuable, and much at risk were the American venture to soak up too many troops, too many ships and too much interest...Another thing that became a major factor in deciding the fate of British America was the political game-playing between the Secretary of State for the American Department, Lord George Germain (officially the CINC for North America), GEN Henry Clinton, the commander of the British expeditionary force in the colonies in rebellion, and LTG Cornwallis. We will discuss this further when we talk about the Yorktown Campaign, but suffice to say that Germain was a man of many illusions, one of which was his military acumen; Clinton was a man of many resentments, one of which was his inability to play well with others, and Cornwallis was a man of many doubts, one of which was NOT in his own opinions. The collision of these three men would serve the Crown poorly in the American colonies.

The French: intended to "help" the upstart Americans to the extent - exactly and no further than humanly possible - that they served to discomfort and dismantle the British Empire. Remember, the French and their native American allies had fought a war with the American settlers and their British then-patron as recently as a generation. France was not just a monarchy but a Monarchy, whose Bourbon rulers had little affection for what, to them, was a congeries of backwoods lawyers and mobocrats addled on the writings of levelers and anarchists.France's ambition in North America was to use the American rebels as cannon fodder for the British; to tie down as many British maneuver units and naval vessels as possible while scooping up British possessions elsewhere. The crucial part of this strategy was the official abandonment of any claim on the former French dominions in what is today Canada. No matter what Rochambeau and de Grasse might tell the Americans, France's sugar islands in the Antillies were infinitely more important to the French than American "liberty"; the freedom of a Philadelphia scrivener wasn't worth the bones of a single Alsatian grenadier.

The Americans: had a simple but maddeningly complex task - stay alive and stay unconquered. It was said of the British Admiral Jellicoe that he could lose the First World War for Britain in an afternoon. Well, the commander of the American field army could lose an entire continent in a day's fighting. Washington can never be considered a tactical genius; pretty much every British commander in the American theatre kicked his ass at some point or another. But he also knew that tactical defeat was, in the long view, immaterial. He had his gaze firmly fixed on the single thing he needed to accomplish; keep the Continental Army intact, in the field, and effective. He didn't have to win, much, (and he didn't) but he had to keep the British from cornering him and destroying the Continental Line.His relationship with his "allies" was more complex. He needed the footsoldiers, artillerymen, sappers and engineers the French provided. Even more, he needed the money, the supplies and...absolutely most of all...he needed the warships. The United States wouldn't assemble an effective Navy for another twenty years, and by effective I mean a navy with capital ships, ships-of-the-battle-line, battleships. The stories of the exploits of the big American frigates are all very heroic and good for sparking naval tradition, but the reality was that the British 74-gun man-o-war - in her masses - had closed the American ports and stoppered the American coast. British seapower enabled British landpower to move strategically at will and forced American land forces to defend more area than they could reasonably cover. We will see...the famous name and famous date is Yorktown in October, but the real decisive battle was an inconclusive engagement fought in the shallow sea off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay in early September.

But while accepting all this assistance, he also couldn't afford to be seen as an auxiliary or vassal of the powerful foreigners, either. Even while the French troops outnumbered his own, when the French were acting as the navy the Americans didn't have, he needed to act - and be seen as acting - as the commander-in-chief of the allied forces. If America were to do anything but trade subservience to Britain for subservience to France, Washington had to do more than just fight - he had to LEAD, and be known and seen to lead, those forces to strategic victory.

The Campaign: Lord North, the Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1778 and Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for the American colonies, cherished three illusions about the war they were waging.

1. That the war would be a conventional war in the European sense - that is, that by defeating armies, taking and holding major cities and similar high-value terrain that they would discourage the rebels.

2. That the American colonists included a sizeable and virulent breed of Loyalist that needed merely the discouragement of the main rebel armies to arm themselves and take the field against their rebel neighbors.

3. And that all this could be run out of London; done relatively quickly, easily and cheaply; and would not require any particular effort to involve the population of the British Isles.

It's said that we pay a price for everything we believe that is not true. I'm not sure if that's always the case - certainly there is a large part of the American public that seems to be trying to live in the 21st Century as if it were not - but in North's and Germain's cases it certainly was. Germain in particular was the real artificer of the war, to the extent that any control was asserted from London, and his beliefs made fools of him and his commanders from 1775 until the last trooper sailed from New York harbor eight years later.

In the case of the "Southern Campaigns", what got him in trouble was misconception #2; the notion that the Southern colonies were a Loyalist hotbed. To some extent this was as true as anywhere else in the colonies. Modern scholarship estimates that somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of the total white population of the colonies was actively royalist. But in this case the decisive factor was the loyalist exiles in London, several of whom had access to Germain, and had convinced him that a solid body of King's troops in the Carolinas and Georgia would be sufficient to raise a genuine mass of loyalist forces.

Today these people would be telling you about cash for gold and male enhancement products.

The reality was that from 1775 to 1778 the American rebels held most of the positions of power and influence south of the Potomac River, and they had used them ruthlessly, merely suppressing loyalists when merely unruly, bleeding and scattering them when in arms. By the time the British returned, in late 1778 and 1779 many of the loyalists who might have armed themselves were either in flight, dead, dispossessed or afraid enough of the possibility of the former to prevent them from turning out. The British and their Tory partisans also learned the lessons of guerilla war; being strong in one place means nothing in another. While the main British armies succeeded at Augusta, Georgia in 1779 and Charleston in 1780, the backcountry - and, remember, most of the colonies were backcountry at this point - was a deadly dangerous place to be a Tory.

But near the British main force was a dangerous place to be for a rebel in 1780. First MG Lincoln went into the bag with 5,000 patriot militia and Continentals in May of 1780. Then, after another defeat at Waxhaws in May, came the worst defeat in the open field of the Southern campaigns; Camden. MG Gates, the hero of Saratoga, lost the battle and most of his little army, probably as many as 2,000 out of 3,700 engaged. Gates himself fled with the first routing Virginia and Carolina militiamen. It was disastrous at the time, but, in the long run, possibly the best for the patriot cause. Lincoln and Gates were out of the way, replaced by men like Nathaniel Greene and Daniel Morgan, and the British confidence in aggressive stand-up engagements was raised beyond any rational bounds.

The British, meanwhile having already divided their forces upon France's entry - Germain dispatched 5,000 men to the West Indies - had divided them again, and the command of those forces as well. Clinton had returned to New York, where his 14,000 were pinned down overwatching Washington's army and the newly-arrived French forces under Rochambeau. Cornwallis had been left behind in the Carolinas with 8,000. which, after the rout of Camden must have seemed like more than enough to secure the entirety of the Carolinas and Georgia.

At this point the hopes of the rebellion must have seemed very slim, indeed. It was in this dismal autumn that the patriots surrounded MAJ Ferguson and his loyalist militias at King's Mountain in the hinterlands of the western Carolinas.

The destruction of Ferguson's forces was the first of a series of bloody hammerings inflicted on the British and Loyalists. MG Greene had, like Washington, realized that victory or defeat were not nearly as important as bleeding out the British troop units, 3,000 miles from their recruit depots. So first at Cowpens in January, then northward towards Virginia in February, and finally at Guilford Courthouse in March, Greene made Cornwallis divide his forces even further, abandon his supplies and lose men to ambush, desertion and disease. By the time the losses of Guilford had been absorbed, Cornwallis was finished with the Carolinas. It was his intention to march into Virgina, the colony he perceived to be the source of most of the rebel supplies and untroubled by war since 1776. Cornwallis believed that cutting the Virginia-Carolinas links would take both in a coup de main.

In this he was acting against GEN Clinton's - his nominal superior - direct orders to concentrate at a port city and await naval support. Here the weird British command structure was at fault again, as Germain and Cornwallis planned this in a series of letters, bypassing Clinton (as at Saratoga) without informing him that the strategy Clinton thought he was effecting had been changed. As Cornwallis marched north from Wilmington, North Carolina in April he set out on the road that led to Yorktown.

The Sources: Again, we're dealing with a major event that occurred amidst a literate culture and engaged two major European and an emerging North American government(s). Aside from official records we have letters, diaries, histories and personal accounts of the campaign, the various engagements and the siege itself. Among the better recent concise works is part of the Osprey campaign series by Brendan Morrissey.

The Engagement: It wouldn't have been right, given that so much of the war in the American colonies was precipitated and exacerbated by mistakes, illusion and error to have the final campaign begin on any other note. So it should be understood that the entire rationale behind Cornwallis' move from North Carolina to Virgina in April, 1781 was an utter fuckup.

As we're discussed, the only significant rebel force in the South at the time was Greene's army. Cornwallis, like the British commanders before him, thought along conventional lines. Greene had fled the field at Guilford; therefore Greene was beaten. It only remained to mop up his army and flay the rebel logistical base in Virgina. He was ready to do the latter...and reports from Carolina led him to believe that his subordinate Rawdon had done the former at Hobkirk's Hill. Confident that the elusive devil Greene had been sent back to Hell, Cornwallis marched on.In fact, Greene HAD been defeated but, as always, defeated but not dismayed remained at large in the Carolinas, proceeded to mop up the British garrisons of North and South Carolina, and pen up Rawdon in Charleston. Cornwallis had abandoned the southern colonies in the mistaken belief that they were secure while his abandonment lost them to Britain permanently.

Cornwallis, who had burned his supply train to try and catch the elusive Greene, marched from Wilmington to Petersburg, Virginia in just under a month. Dry weather and a hostile countryside ran up his sick list and ran down the morale of his troops. By the time he closed in Petersburg more than 2,000 of his 7,000 troopers were down with heat exhaustion, typhoid and other "fevers" endemic to the insalubrious Virginia tidewater.

And his Continental opponent, Lafayette, was playing Greene's Fabian game, refusing direct engagement, harassing, and delaying.

And if this was not frustrating enough, GEN Clinton was back in action again, worried about Franco-American actions against the New York garrison and displeased at Cornwallis' march into Virginia. He demanded that Cornwallis obey his instructions to establish a naval base on the Chesapeake Bay at Portsmouth, as well as sending reinforcements to support New York. Cornwallis, frustrated at his inability to pin down the rebel field army and determined to obey Clinton's orders for a change, marched down to the Chesapeake tidelands. His chief of engineers having determined that Portsmouth (and the alternative, Old Point Comfort near Hampton, Virginia) were unsuitable, Cornwallis embarked his force for the small town of Yorktown, arriving in early August.In New York, GEN Washington was meeting with his French counterpart, LTG Rochambeau.

The partnership was an especially amicable one, particularly since the Frenchman, though a very experienced soldier, was willing to defer to his host; he is said to have told Washington that he had come "to serve, not to lead".

What he could - or would - not do was enlighten Washington as to the movement of the French fleet. Every late summer and autumn since 1778 the French West Indies squadron had sailed north into American waters to escape the hurricane season. This year the venue of American operations would depend on the arrival of the French warships. In May and again in early July Washington and Rochambeau met and discussed their options. Washington wanted to attack Clinton in New York, whom he outnumbered 3:1; the British were stronger in the South than they had been since 1779, while being weaker in the north than ever since 1775.

Finally by mid-August Rochambeau had definite news; de Grasse would be in American waters only for several months, and no further north than the Chesapeake.

That was that. Leaving MG Heath with the New England militia and most of the New England battalions of the Continental Line, Washington and Rochambeau marched south across the middle colonies, feinting at Sandy Hook, and the first elements of allied cavalry reached Lafayette outside Yorktown on 12 September. This meant that the allies were equal in numbers - and especially in mounted troops - to Cornwallis' force.

But none of the parties knew what had been happening out at sea.

The French Royal Navy had an unenviable history. Never much more than a poor second to the British fleet it had been hammered flat in the Seven Years' War. Although materially rebuilt, the French warships also suffered from what might be termed an "excess of strategy". They are described by Morressey as seeing "the overall objective more important than risking all in the uncertainty of battle" and to the extent that it affected their tactics and gunnery to their detriment.The record of the French Navy in the American War was undistinguished, their inaction partially stemming from their own predilictions and partially from the Bourbon's unwillingness to sacrifice their strategic gamepieces for their dubious American "ally". So the tactically indecisive "First Battle of the Capes" on March 16, 1781 was a pretty typical example of the French naval style; Commodore Destouches was outfought by British RADM Arbuthnot, turned back from his attempt to force entrance into the Chesapeake, and though even at Versailles he was considered to have done poorly some of his officers whined that no decorations were issued for the mess.

But another officer was joining the fight, and ADM de Grasse had orders to engage the enemy if needed in order to support Rochambeau. He arrived at the mouth of the Chesapeake on August 30, set up a blockade of Yorktown, and prepared to await the arrival of his counterpart ADM Barras, en route from Newport, RI, with Rochambeau's siege train. In the late morning of Sept 5 a French frigate reported the sighting of RADM Graves fleet from New York.

The ensuing "Second Battle of the Capes" wasn't exactly Trafalgar. In two hours of gunfire the British sustained serious damage to six battleships, the French to four. Graves did an indifferent job of leading his squadron, was accused of contradictory and misleading signals, and allowed the action to be dictated by de Grasse even though the British held the "weather gage", that is, were upwind of the French and could choose to run down upon them or stay away. The two fleets maneuvered southeast over the next three days, looking for an advantage and unwilling to accept combat on less than opportune terms.

Finally de Grasse, worried that the faster British ships could turn and outrace him to the Chesapeake, turned at night and sailed back to the bay. Unbelievably, Graves had not set a single frigate to observe de Grasse's squadron. The French, now reinforced by Barras' squadron, gained the mouth of the Chesapeake, and after several more days Graves sailed away, defeated.

Once trapped inside Yorktown the actual siege was methodical and typical of the sieges of the 18th Century. The lines of circumvallation were closed between September 30 and October 2. A sally by Tarleton's British Legion was messily repelled by Lauzun's Legion on October 3, ensuring that the surrounded garrison would not be able to acquire food or fodder. The "first parallel" was begun on October 6 and was completed October 10, the "grand batteries" opened fire the previous day, and the "second parallel", less than 400 yards from the town itself, was begun on October 11.

The night of October 14 came the final formal engagement of the war.

A composite battalion of the Royal Deux Ponts and the regiment Gatenois stormed Redoubt #9 and another composite unit, Hamilton's and Lauren's Light Infantry, took the neighboring Redoubt #10.

Cornwallis sallied a trench raid in the early morning of October 16; light infantrymen and guardsmen stormed into a battery in the second parallel, spiked seven guns and killed or wounded some 21 men. The guns were in battery by sunup.

That evening the British commander attempted to break out to the the eastern shore of the James, but was defeated, this time by an autumn storm. Near 10am on October 17th a drummer beat the parley. After two days of meetings and commissions, the instruments of surrender made the British and German troops prisoners of war. They were allowed to march out "with the honors of war", the officers to be paroled and Cornwallis could use HMS Bonetta to ferry his belongings to New York without inspection. The British troops could not play a French or American tune on the march to surrender (to prevent a mockery in song) and had to keep their colors cased.

So in the 19th the garrison marched out, supposedly to a regimental band (probably no more than fife and drum) playing "The World Turn'd Upside Down", although there is no contemporary source for this. Cornwallis himself claimed to be to sick to lead the surrender, but deputised his 2IC, COL O'Hara, who surrendered his sword first to Rochambeau who declined and pointed to Washington, who in turn deferred to his own second-in-command, MG Lincoln.The British troops refused to salute the American colors, and after the surrender many American officers, few owning real uniforms and broke what with Continental pay months in arrears, were treated to the aggravating sight of their nominal allies and enemies entertaining each other and fraternizing as professional soldiers. The memory would run deep.

In early November Washington proposed that de Grasse assist in attacking and taking Savannah and Charleston to clean the British out of the South. De Grasse, however, had a secret agreement with Spain to winter in the Caribbean and eventual defeat at the Battle of the Saintes in April, 1782. He sailed in the first week of November to leave Washington to slope off north to pen Clinton in New York while Rochambeau wintered in Virgina.

The Outcome: Tactical and strategic American rebel victory, and tactical French victory.

The Impact: The real impact of the defeat was to the people and the polity of Great Britain, where Lord North cried "Oh God! It is all over!" on hearing the news of Cornwallis' surrender. The French and Spanish were in arms, India and the Caribbean colonies in danger (remember how much of British foreign policy was made around India?) and the national debt increasingly ugly. Lord George Germain resigned in February, 1872. In March the North ministry lost a general election and was replaced by a less intransigent group of Whigs, who made peace and acceptance of American independence a condition of forming a government to the Crown.

Ironically, in the peace treaty negotiations that followed the French tried to undercut the American alliance by negotiating a separate peace with the British, while the Spanish were more actively hostile to the establishment of a separate American state than Great Britain. The British found themselves more than willing to negotiate with their former subjects as "13 United States" if it meant an end to the Franco-American alliance. Indeed, after the passage of the Jay Treaty in 1794 and France's own Revolution in 1798 France and the United States would fight an undeclared "Quasi-war" in the waters off North America and the Caribbean.

Of course, the new nation's troubles with her old mistress weren't over, either...

Touchline Tattles: There's not much funny, odd or cute about this battle. It was desperation and deception all around, and even the victors found much to be dissatisfied about.

Perhaps the saddest tale contained within the siege lines of Yorktown - as well as within the greater story of American independence - was the fate of the least considered of all the people on that battlefield; the black men, women and children who had chosen to follow Cornwallis' army to escape chattel slavery.

The British were no abolitionists. Slavery was legal in Great Britain, her dominions and territories until 1802. But, much as Lincoln did in 1862, the British could use the American colonists' fear of their own property as a weapon. After Governor Dunmore's acts to tempt rebel slaveowners' black wealth from them in 1775, many slaves saw the British forces as liberators. And, in fact, to give him credit, GEN Carleton, the commander of the New York garrison in 1782, refused American demands for the return of their "property", and embarked with any black man who wanted to leave. Most did.

But there was no such hope for the black men in the trenches of Yorktown. Their American masters showed up with a flag of liberty that brought them only chains, that would not fly for them for another eighty-four years.



Rather than to dwell on this grim picture, I prefer to contemplate Madame Le Comtesse Rochambeau; plainly the Hubba-Hubba Girl of 1781 or whatever the 18th Century catchphrase was for a very lovely woman. M'sieu le Comte was obviously not just a homme de la guerre; it appears he had some skill in the arts as a maitre de l'amour as well. So on that note, let us leave the soldiers, the lovers and the diplomats to history. Their day is done, and we have now to deal with the world they have bequeathed to us:

"The serving men do sit and whine, and think it long ere dinner time:
The Butler's still out of the way, or else my Lady keeps the key,
The poor old cook, in the larder doth look,
Where is no goodnesse to be found,
Yet let's be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn'd upside down."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Red Shoes II

Maxine and Mojo had their first ballet class yesterday.What is it about little girls and ballet? Its so hard to remember the frightened little orphan we met at the luxus hotel on Shamian Island just a little over two years ago when watching the gleeful preschooler in her new ballet dress prancing and twirling, or listening to her croon her favorite phrase "It's SO beautiful!" at everything from her new dress to the cats to a cheap plastic bracelet.

Oh, and about that new ballet dress.

Mojo took Friday night off, and I took the littelies to dinner and the Nickel Arcade and to the big Goodwill down on Grand, where we found the pink ballet dress. Missy fell in love instantly, we hooked it into the cart and carried it off, and I recall she went to bed wearing it that night.

She had to wear it to her first class, and so she and her mom were headed out to Bob the Subaru when little girl saw some wonderful rarity ("It's SO beautiful!!") on the ground. She bent down to look...

...and her groin started to sing.

OK, not sing, but play; play an instrumental piece of music, part of the pas de deux from Swan Lake, I think. Missy loved...I mean adored...this unexpected treat. She has been playing her little dress-music-box ever since, and demanding it when we remove it from the dress for things like sleeping and washing. Generally speaking we have been entranced by her enchantment. Although because I am who I am I wonder from time to time about the dress designer who found nothing bizarre in placing the music box so that it made it seem as though the wearer's little prepubescent genitalia were picking up and retransmitting the local classical station in the fashion of orthodontic braces in urban legend.Anyway, please enjoy the little girl's first encounter with the classical art of dance.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Someone Had Blundered

Yes, yes, I know, I should be blogging; I've got a "Yorktown" piece about half finished and I should chase it down and stab it to death with a keyboard. But Mojo and Missy are off ballet-ing and I HAVE to take The Boy to Chuck E. Cheese and then to the grocery store.

And it's sunny out. Sunny! In late October!

Sorry, I have to go.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Slammed

I'm way behind on everything but work this week - we're out on a big drilling program for Portland Water Bureau (and, of course, everything ELSE we need to pick up) so just as an example I left the house before sunrise yesterday at 5:30, spent the day drilling holes in southeast Portland, then back to the shop to drop off logs and samples, e-mail data to the client...and then back in the truck to ride up to north Portland to read the inclinometer at the north portal of the BES "Big Pipe" project. I got home some time after 8:00.

Whew.

But I had to post this. Understand that the Peeper is SO over "Thomas the Train". Done. Finito. Thomas is as stale as last month's bread. His little sister does give Thomas a prop or two but way less than she's all about Barbie or Dora or even Little Ponies, dear God may I claw my eyes out before I have to watch another "Little Pony" video... So last month the Peep put all his Thomas wooden trains up for sale on Craigslist and raked in a bundle - seventy bucks, which is wealth beyond dreams of avarice for a six-and-a-half-year-old. The entire wad was blown, incidently, on a monster Star Wars LEGO toy. Six-and-a-half-year-olds have the financial self-control of a Goldman Sachs investment banker. But then, you know that.

Anyway, the nice woman and her little boy who bought the lot were very...Portland. Intelligent. Polite. Well-informed. Clad in fleece, natural fibers and Gore-tex, and probably active in good causes, like fair-trade coffee and the public option for health care reform. And Nice Mom knew exactly which of the made-in-China Thomas toys she didn't want; that is, the ones that some nameless Chinese toymaker had slathered with enough lead paint to retard an entire daycare.

One of these was "Old Slowcoach", who we had bought back when the Peeper was about four or so knowing that he was over the whole "toys taste so good, let's put one in our mouth and relax" thing.

So Old Slowcoach stayed behind, sadly, while all his other train friends went to their new home to play with the Groovy Girls and gender-neutral blocks and balls that Portland parents prefer - we are ones ourselves, or at least were before the ur-boy butterfly emerged from the gentle toddler crystalis and spread his armored wings, flying off to blasters and lightsabers and everything that explodes or shoots something.

But the entire farrago brought one thing home to our little family: the lead-paint issue as it relates to toys, ingestion and brain development. And, also in typical Fire Direction family style, the way it settled into the family patois was more than a little warped. So now, when one of the children is going a bit out of control, or being extra silly, or funny, Mojo or I will roll our eyes at them and ask:

"Has one of you been licking Old Slowcoach again..?"

So...here are the kids after an Old Slowcoach lollipop:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Night Jukebox 2: Yes, I'm STILL fucking working.

But at least I can get some entertainment from this:In case you're...ummm...wondering, this song, and the band playing it are complete fictions of Tom Hanks, who wrote and directed "That Thing You Do", and who must truly love the music and the music business of the pre-late-Sixties. The whole thing is a massive valentine to the times, and musicians and the music. Worth a look for the good work done by Hanks himeslf, Tom Everett Scott as the drummer who leads his group to fame as one-hit wonders, and the luminous Liv Tyler as The Girl.

Sunday Night Jukebox, or, "It's Sunday at 8:30pm and, yes, I'm fucking working"

And this is on the CD player:The Eighties were in many ways a musical wasteland, and yet...

...I was young and energetic and bounced through the Eighties like Tigger. It seemed then like a happy time (and I was too young and, like many of the young, too self-absorbed to worry about things like Reaganomics and the Cold War and poverty and all the Troubles in the world). In all I found the Eighties enjoyable enough, and the music likeable enough, like Julie Brown, here. Call it silly, call it disposable, but she and her music sure were fun. My tastes in music aren't particularly complex, and "fun" seems like enough for me to conclude that Julie's contribution to the ouvre of Bach and Verdi and Sid Vicious was not an entirely risible one. So brava, Julie.

And just to show you that I'm not just a big ol' dopey Pinin'-for-The-Eighties goober, here's what's finishing up my evening; Jann Arden's "Insensitive".Beautiful song.

"How do you numb your skin
After the warmest touch?
How do you slow your blood
After the body rush?
How do you free your soul
After you’ve found a friend?
How do you teach your heart
It’s a crime to fall in love again?"

Mm. Beautiful.

All Cozy

After we got home from IKEA little Miss found her kitty Lily sleeping on the couch and decided that they should both take a nap.So she made a cozy towel nest for the cat, who tolerated it with the indifference that has made her the most kid-friendly of the two furry little moochers for whom we provide support staff, and then snuggled down herself.Which lasted all of four minutes, of course, since once the TV was on the girl climbed up on her stool to stare at the screen from six inches away.We need to get that girl's vision checked soonest. We really do.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Big

Who didn't love the scene in "Big" where Tom Hanks and Bob Loggia dance out "Heart and Soul" and "Chopsticks" on the giant floor piano?

Yeah, Stockholm, too, it seems.

Cool.

(h/t to Group News Blog)

Money! It's a crime...

I love the ideas here:

Starting with the whack abstract sawbuck...I love the idea of replacing that homicidal sonofabitch Andy Jackson with Duke Ellington, gentleman and creator, on the $20. Emily Dickenson on the ten-spot? Yowza. And Sam Clemens on the fifty? Mark twain, brother.

And the very notion of a Lady Day Dollar?

Testify, home slice! Amen, spanky!

Hey, I love the Founders; Lincoln and Grant were stand-up guys and all besides having some damn fine facial hair. But politics and politicians aren't all we are. We're also musicians and artists and writers and sculptors, scientists and poets, actors and ballplayers. Why shouldn't they be on our money, too?

Ok, the Jack Torrence/Nicholson #100? Not so much.

But with the dollar in danger of losing its position as the world's reserve currency, what the hell...why not? Let's ditch the greenbacks we've been carrying since the last Great Depression and go space age/new wave/coolfunkyhipcrazy. Let's put Cadillac Ranch and Enrico Fermi and the Space Needle on there. What the fuck.

It's not like the politicans we have now - the ones not on the money - are going to spend it any less foolishly.

A Little Touch of Django in the Night

...from the Stolen Sweets.Haven't come across the latter-day Boswell Sisters?Well, you should. They kick more ass than a crazy monkey with a size twelve tap shoe.(a h/t to KMHD 89.1FM, where I first heard them, and to my friend Brent, who went to their CD release party and is just generally a righteous dude.)

Prisons of our own devising

I spent a frustrating day in southeast Portland today.

The cold, wind and the intermittent rain wasn't really discouraging. But we were supposed to be drilling a one hundred foot rotary boring to obtain geotechnical data for the new emergency communications site, and the driller ran into trouble before he even arrived.

First, he started late, and starting late got snared in the usual awful traffic on I-205, the east loop route through East Portland. When he arrived he discovered that he was lacking the "sub" - a small metal cylinder - that connects the kelly bar to the top of the drillstring, in this case standard AWJ drill rod.

That meant another 45 minutes we had to wait to drill.

The guy's boss finally arrived with the sub and we got to drilling...and there the poor bastard got another nasty slap, because the East Portland substrate is an ugly pottage of sand, silt and gravels all the way up to boulder size, a real nightmare for drilling, and drillers.

The only real silver bullet I've ever seen for East Portland is something called a "sonic" drill rig, that uses a high-speed vibratory casing advancer. It can jackhammer through the big boulders while the casing stabilizes the hole and prevents the caving or collapsing that almost no small mud rotary drill can prevent.

And our driller today was no exception. Almost immediately below the asphalt he got caving, and lots of it.

Here's where my observation for today came in; when we are unable, or unwilling, to consider options or ideas outside our experience we make ourselves stupider than we are. We imprison ourselves in our incapability. And my driller today was that sort of man.

He couldn't, or didn't, stop and try to figure out a better way to deal with the caving gravels, even when we encountered a truly rotten loose quarter-inch to half-inch gravel (what your commercial rock store calls "pea gravel"). Instead he tried to weight up the mud - adding bentonite to the water to thicken the drilling fluid and hold the gravels out of the annular space - and cooked up such a thick glop that he plugged off his own suction hose and lost another 40 minutes or so trying to clear it.

This poor gomer fought the caving sand and boulder gravel for about 20 feet before he snapped the threads off the kelly and had to admit defeat. My own boss was first frustrated, then impatient, then dismissive. He, in effect, tossed the driller's company off the job; I'm back there tomorrow but with another driller who seems to understand the conditions better.

The saddening thought is that my driller today was not a stupid man, or a bad one, or an incompetent one. But he started badly and then became caught up in his work troubles, and could not or did not try and think his way out of his distress. Bill James wrote once about a man he worked with who was like that; when confronted by an obstacle he'd go from force to more force to maximum force without ever stopping to think if brute force was the best solution to the problem. He wasn't being tricked or led or driven; he was crafting his own failure, using only his impatience and his inability to create ideas to construct the bars.

What a sad, very human business. Haven't you made one of these little lockups before? I have. I think we all have. How many times a lifetime do we set to work, busily hammering away, intent on our task, every stroke confining us more tightly and directing us more narrowly into the mental bastille that when we have completed it and ourselves within it, will hold nothing but defeat and dismay?



(Needless to say, the accompanying photos are NOT from a rainy Wednesday in East Portland - that's last Friday and the job I got to do over in Redmond on the sunny east side of the Cascades. Parts of Highway 26 are very lovely, and I just had to show them to you. I'm not so lovely, but it's my blog, so I get to show you me, too.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Wordy Silence

This blog - ever since late summer 2006, when I started mouthing off over the electronical Internets - has been about three things: My family. Whatever amuses and entertains me. And geopolitics.

The sixth post ever - and I'm inching towards 900 now - was called "Saturday morning 4am" and was about the utter fucked-up-ness of a Western democracy trying to make a Western democracy out of the Ottoman dogs-dinner that was and is Iraq.

Since then I've posted, hell, I don't know - hundreds of little snippets about war and peace, the Middle East, politics and policies. And I've read hundreds more, written by others who have studied and learned a lot more about war and peace, nations and policies than I ever will. And talked with dozens of smart people, many of whom have commented here, about all of this.

And y'know what?

It doesn't seem to make a difference.

Letters and phone calls to representatives and senators, letters to the editor, comments on blogs and websites...it just doesn't seem to make a difference.

Because it seems to me pretty simple. This isn't fucking rocket science. I can't believe that the people in power here in the U.S. don't know this stuff. IT has to be that there are other reasons - good reasons, for them, but... - for the decisions they're making.

Let's take Afghanistan, for example.

First of all, let's deal with the "all in or all out" nonsense that seems to have suddenly become conventional wisdom inside the Beltway lately. Horseshit. Nations and people have been doing little and limited and "cabinet" wars since the first Sumerian satrap send a gaggle of his expendable young studs off to the next kingdom to conquer (fine, more loot for me) or die (also fine; fewer of the horny little bastards making babies and raising the number of poor and untaxables...).

The bottom line for us in central Asia is that the whole "all or nothing" mantra is the WORST two options we could take.

So what IS going on in Afghanistan?

A civil war, basically, between one group of Afghans we don't like (the Talibs, plus various assorted Islamic and/or Maoist and/or who the fuck knows groups plus tribal bands and outright mercenaries, probably) and a group that we can "work with" (the "Northern Alliance", pretty much a perennial band of also-rans and never-weres, Tajiks, Hazaras, etc., who typically got ass-raped by the Pashtun tribes in that traditional Afghan sport/home entertainment "Double-cross your enemies and take their stuff".

Anyone but a fool could figure out that shoving 20,000 (or 40, or 60,000) foreign troops into the middle of a civil war would be dicey. You risk getting dry-gulched if you're not Roman enough and getting stuck with a dysfunctional ally unable to rule his own country without you if you're too Roman. Add to that the honest history of this voodoo warfare we've taken to calling "counterinsurgency", which has two tracks:

1. The "native" track, where the local hard boys murder, rape and burn out their insurgents until the latter are all dead or wish they were, and at that point (as George W. Bush would say) "let freedom reign"!

2. The "foreign" track, where a Western invader tries to do the same thing.

The native version of COIN can work pretty well lately. It succeeded in Sri Lanka, in several Latin South American nations and shows no signs of wearing badly. The foreign version worked pretty well up until 1945, when the land mine, the automatic weapon and the mass media effectively prevented the Westerners from doing it the Roman way - making a desert and calling it peace.

So if we were looking at this rationally, we'd figure out that:

1. The only way we can "win" a conventional military fight is if we depopulate much of the country, which we cannot and will not do.

2. BUT...assuming that we have a national interest in who rules Afghanistan (arguable and which presumes that 9/11 was a direct outgrowth of who ruled and that preventing future attacks on our country depends on ensuring that the world is entirely populated by nations that either love us, fear us or defer to us) then the commonsense solution would be to...find a "native" partner, arm it to the teeth, and then step back and let it do a Sri Lanka and the Talibs get to be the Tamil Tigers.

As my six-year-old would say...DUH!

So why don't we?

Look, in the big picture, the amount of blood and treasure we're spending in central Asia is pretty tiny - it pales, for example, next to the truly silly amounts we spend on "Star Wars" antimissile crap, designed to foil the next invaders for Mars or something.

No, I'd opine that the only real damage is to ourselves (and the dusky heathen we kill, burn out and otherwise fuck over), in that to really do COIN right you have to assume that you know better than the locals what is good for them.

That's the attitude of an imperial power. And since our nation is supposed to be about liberty and justice, to let ourselves become an imperium would be to betray our very selves.

So the real reason we seem determined to ram our maneuver unit weenie into the Afghan warp drive has nothing to do with Afghanistan and everything to do with our own fucked-up inability to make rational political decisions because domestic politics now drives the bus the way his boner drives a 16-year-old's personal behavior.

But none of this seems to come up, anywhere other than the oddball fringe of the blogosphere.

As with Afghanistan, so with "health care reform", financial regulation, economics, employment, geopolitics. There seem to be a number of common sense options available. But the U.S. public seems confused, stupid or indifferent and the people in power seem to have no interest in the commonsense solutions - they're too busy scoring debater's points and racking up electoral wins to, y'know...govern.

I just don't know what more to say. I feel like I've said it all, to all the people who should be listening...and they shrug, or, worse, don't seem to even hear.

I don't feel like I can make a difference anymore.

So maybe it's a good time to sit back and see what the next couple of months are like. Post about my family, whatever interests me, soccer, keep up with friends...talk about various fucked-up political news comes across the wire. But as for geopolitics, economics...the "big picture" issues? I think I need to stop talking and just look and listen.

A lot of people voted for Obama last year because they wanted "change", because they were sick at heart of what Dubya and his cronies were doing. I was skeptical then and I'm skeptical now; Bush wasn't the disease - he was the symptom. I truly believe that this nation has gone too far down the road to oligarchy to "change". I think Obama's people may be the last chance, short of violent revolution, to make any sort of change.

So I think we need to see what happens in the next 13 months. Because if the current wars in central Asia, warrentless surveillance, trial-less detention and economic kleptocracy continues?

What do you think..?

"War is peace. Freedom is slavery." - that's right...we're going there, in our own slow, meandering way.

So this is my way of saying that the reason you haven't been reading much about war, or politics, or economics around here lately is because I just don't have any more to say. I've said it all. I'm still blogging, but those subjects - unless something REALLY interesting and new and unusual turns up - just don't animate me any more. I want to see what happens, and I don't feel ready to comment much until I do.

But stay tuned. It'll be an interesting year.

Steiner ist nicht angekommen

I spent a large part of what the easily led might describe as my "formative years" in a place called Glen Ellyn, a very wealthy, whitebread suburb of Chicago.

Glen Ellyn was a nothing; pretty, a nice place to live, but we lived every day in the shadow of the Colossus to the East. And you couldn't live in Chicago in the late 1960s without knowing Dick Daley.

Da Mare was a corrupt, rotten old bastard whose only redemptive quality was that he genuinely loved his city and did his level best to save it (and did, to a great extent, from becoming another Detroit or Cleveland or Pittsburg), but apparently his son, little Richie, is a REAL piece of work.

So when I came across this over at driftglass' place, I laughed until I cried.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Uptown Saturday Night

I know that you must imagine our life here in North Portland as a sort of Noel Coward-like round of parties and scenester hipness, an opening here, a gala there, a cocktail soiree' everywhere, with Mojo and I lending cachet and tone to what would otherwise be a vulgar NoPo menage.

But in fact, we are a sadly domestic little pottage. Today, for example, we went down to the Build-a-Couch place in Sellwood to pick up our new ottoman and then to the freakishly huge Goodwill Outlet on SE McLoughlin. The Bins.This place is...well...it's...

Hard to categorize, is what it is. There's a great story about it in the Portland Mercury here, which I'll just excerpt a bit from:
"...an ancient warehouse on the desolate McLoughlin highway. The Acropolis strip club resides across the street and rickety trains rattle by daily, filling the air with piercing whistles. Inside this warehouse, the floors and walls are concrete, and the windows are painted over so that no natural light can seep through. Flickering fluorescents cast a yellowish hue over the already pallid shoppers, who sort through piles of dusty discards with fierce intensity and hollow eyes."
No, we didn't find a stuffed monkey in a clown outfit, syringes, cash or a pair of pants full of diarrhea. We found a couple of clothing items (a little snowsuit for Missy, soccer shorts for the Peep, a Cruz Azul jersey for me), some books, including an awesome Young People's Guide to Celibacy from the Sodality of St. Mary circa 1961, fake flowers and this terrific souvenir coconut from Hawaii.It was also filthy in a kinda skanky way, and as advertised, smelled unfresh and featured a truly outstanding selection of beater vans in the parking lot. We retreated back up to North for treats and lunch at the Grand Central Bakery on North Fremont. Everybody got their cookies (sandwiches for the grown-ups) in order to regain enough energy to go run and play on the playground over at Boise-Eliot Elementary next door.

Kids, little and big, enjoyed playing in the last warm sun of October. Mom and Dad enjoyed lazing like cats in the sunlight and stretching out on the picnic table.

Finally we got back in Bob the Subaru to get home and nap (for Missy) and relax (for Daddy) and to head out for yet another Goodwill - this one our little neighborhood GW - for Mom and the Peep. Who returned with two nearly-new IKEA armchairs! Score, Mom and Peep! (oh, and the Peep also tracked down a wooden sword, all the better for smiting sisters with...)At which point I was struck with some sort of kitchen madness. So as Mom and Boy played with the computer or played chess......I went into the pantry and started hauling out stuff and cooking it. We had a lovely rump of "Honeybaked Ham" which was cut up and made into a quiche Lorraine. And since there was then a leftover pie crust...and it is October...it was time for pumpkin pie, of the classic "made-with-evaporated-milk" variety. I'll be the first to say that evaporated milk is Satan's bile duct drippings, but the one thing it IS good for is making pumpkin pie.After the hambone was flensed for quiche, here I was with the lovely bone itself...and there was a carrot...and split peas...and an onion. So there had to be rich, savory and smokey-ham split pea soup.Mmmmmm. So the house is quiet now, and the only remains are the litter of little Miss' "art project" on the floor by the television, where juice and quiche and pizza and art and Kai-lan had made for a perfectly wonderful evening.Hope you, too, had an uptown Saturday night.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Lifeguard's Revenge

I admit to watching "Baywatch" back in the day to a) ogle the scantily-dressed babes and b) revel in the utter doofiness of The Hoff. At the time, the actress in this video, someone named Nicole Eggert, was just another skinny California blonde. And apparently even California blondes put on a few pounds when they pass 40. Hence the subject of this...But y'know the real odd thing to me about the thing?

Nicole is NOT fat.

Nowhere CLOSE. She's got a little belly, and is a little soft around the hips. Does she have the truly unhealthy dewlaps of flesh, in the sagging gut or under the arms or on the thighs, of the dangerously obese? C'mon. She's a gorgeous woman in her middle forties. How the hell is that fat? Add to that the fact that the woman has apparently had a serious back injury, is still in some lingering pain and probably can't maintain her the kind of fitness you need to stay actress thin.

And she's had a baby.

So this little vid doesn't work for me; you have to start from the concept that a couple of extra pounds makes you...FAT. That a woman who is a little extra curvy is disgusting because of that. Not me, Giacomo; that's not a bug, it's a feature. I'm with her; let 'em drown, the dumb bastards.

No, y'know what does kinda squick me out?

The tramp stamp. Ewwwww. Sorry, ladies. Tats look good on bikers...no, wait, they don't. Tats are tough; they have to fit you and your personality, they have to be part of you. The strange little butterfly or whatever that is you wear over your right kidney, Nicole. Ick. It just doesn't work for me.

Strange, isn't it, what the human eye and mind finds to delight in or reject? The makers of the video apparently think that Nicole's weight is unpleasant. For me, it's the scrimshaw on her skin; it's like painting grafitti on Venus di Milo.