Monday, April 30, 2012

St. Valentine

"There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved. It is God's finger on man's shoulder."
- Charles Morgan"You don't marry someone you can live with - you marry the person who you cannot live without. The ultimate test of a relationship is to disagree but to hold hands."
- Alexandra Penney

Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction."
- Saint-Exupery

"A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous."
- Ingrid Bergman"To love another person is to see the face of God."
- Les Miserables

"Sympathy constitutes friendship; but in love there is a sort of antipathy, or opposing passion. Each strives to be the other, and both together make up one whole."
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"The richest love is that which submits to the arbitration of time."
- Lawrence Durrell"If you love someone, let them go. If they return to you, it was meant to be. If they don't, hunt them down and kill them slowly."
- Chief

"True love never dies for it is lust that fades away. Love bonds for a lifetime but lust just pushes away."
-Alicia Barnhart

Horseshit, Alicia. Lust and love are fire and fuel, fuel and fire, that joyous bonfire made when Love's strong Arts (of such noble individual parts) makes one fire of four flaming eyes and of two loving hearts. You couldn't be wronger.

It will be ten years ago this October, but I still yearn for you, my love, like I did when we first married; to talk with you, to work beside you, to make love to you, to make a life with you.I love you. Happy Feast of Valentine.

The Army I Knew: AIT and Jump School

So we're up to the spring of 1981.

The Army booked me a flight from Newark, New Jersey to San Antonio, Texas so as to get me to my next stage of entry training; medical specialist Advanced Individual Training, or "AIT".
(Note #1: in the Eighties the enlisted medical field jobs were given an occupational code "91"; your basic combat medic was a "91-Bravo" - the medical MOS has been renamed several times since then. The one peculiarity of military medicine is that it is one of the few MOS that is slotted into combat, combat-support, and combat service-support units. Since we were (and are) technically a CS/CSS job we were open to men and women, but the guys knew that the sweet, sweet REMF slots were going to the ladies. You had a 91B MOS and something hanging? You were going to a line unit somewhere. That was just how it worked and, I assume, still does...)
And so late in the morning after our "graduation" from BCT a handful of us were herded into a GSA van and driven to the airport, handed our travel vouchers and tickets, and pointed in the general direction of the boarding area.
(Note #2: Army commercial travel in the Eighties was - so far as I can tell - very different from today in that the only acceptable outfit to fly in was either the Class A or Class B greens. The idea of flying a commercial airliner in fatigues...well, let's put it this way; when I was permanent party in the Eighties the married guys who lived off-post could stop on the way home or the way in to get fuel. But that was it. God help you if the post MPs caught you in the Piggly-Wiggly in your duty uniform/Class C/fatigues - no matter what seven kinds of hell your Old Lady would give you for not stopping to pick up coffee creamer and tampons. Your fatigues were considered your sloppy jeans and a T-shirt, and as a professional you were expected to appear in public in the equivalent of a business suit; your dress uniform. Recruiters never appeared in public in fatigues. PAO types, ROTC cadre, career counselors...dress greens. The current enthusiasm for running around in fatigues still baffles me, but it appears to be here to stay.)
One thing I remember is how ridiculous I felt. The AG-44 "army green" Class A uniform really was a sad sack (it had only one tiny positive; it was wool, unlike the AG-489 that replaced it, which was a nasty wool-poly blend that looked and felt like a leisure suit) when you had nothing to dress it up.

The hat was the horrible stiffened-peak garrison cap, the so-called "cunt cap" which was nearly impossible to wear without looking like a conehead. The greens thenselves could not be pressed, wrinkled when you looked at them, and even when clean looked dingy and unimpressive.

As trainees were were innocent of the magic of Corfam, the insta-spitshined low quarter shoes that every trooper bought as soon as he could afford them; our black shoes looked equally dingy.

The only ornaments we sported were our bolo badges and the ridiculous "Army Service Ribbon", the so-called "Fireguard" ribbon, since it symbolized nothing more than breathing while on the government's payroll.But that is what we had, and so we shuffled onto the half-empty airplane, enjoyed our Cokes and peanuts (believe it or not, airlines actually fed their passengers in the Eighties) and arrived in San Antonio near midnight; tired, rumpled, and mildly disoriented. Luckily for us the USAMEDDAC reception had detailed a van and driver that got us onto post and into our racks before about 0300.

First call was still at 0500...

I don't want to talk too much about AIT; the training was probably very like it is today; the basics of combat first aid interspersed with some tactical advice from the cadre, the senior of which were still, at that point (as they have become once more) combat veterans. But my personal AIT had some interesting grace notes.Perhaps the best - for me, anyway - was that my little group from Ft. Dix had arrived at the very tail end of the fill for the cycle, and so the barracks of our AIT company had filled up. We ended up bunking across the PT fields in a nearly empty bay in a nearly empty barrack.

This opened up wonderful vistas for us, poor stupid trainees that we were. We were completely ignored by our trainee leaders, and the medical training cadre may very well not have actually known where we were. We "made our bunks" by folding our linens and putting them in our lockers. Inspections? None. Fire guard? Why bother?After the rigors of BCT this seemed like lotos-eating luxury, and, sybarites that we were, we lolled in it shamelessly. But we weren't fools; we knew how precarious our slovenly life was and so made sure not to draw attention to our unsupervised existence. It worked, and we remained idle bodies for ten weeks.

I hate to admit it, but I didn't take nearly the advantage of the far more lax regimentation at Ft. Sam Houston. I have no idea if the the current training environment at MEDDAC is a sort of Fellini-movie orgy but in 1981 many of the young soldiers arrived from much more strict BCT posts than the Ottoman hareem that had been FDNJ and found themselves effectively unsupervised after duty hours amid what must have seemed like a cornucopia of healthy young adults of the opposite sex.

The fucking was Homeric.

Bound up as I was in nice-middle-class-boyness and a modicum of military sheepishness I was only peripherally involved in the swiving; a kiss here, a grope-and-cuddle there...I may have been one of the handful of medics who emerged from Class 6-81 unscrewed. Alas. Si jeunesse pouvait...sigh...

I did spend a little time in San Antonio. I sat on the Riverwalk under the tamarind trees, enjoying the view and marveling at the beribboned glory of the trainees from nearby Lackland AFB (little did I know that embryonic wing-wipers got ribbon for every-fucking-thing, including marksmanship - all I knew is that the weediest of them seemed to have more fruit salad on his chest than Audie Fucking Murphy...).

I also visited the Alamo, history buff that I am, and was struck by how small it seemed, tucked away inside urban San Antonio. It was hard to picture it was standing in the middle of butt-rump nowhere as it had in 1836.

The occupiers of 1981 appeared to be exclusively middle-aged white people somewhere between 25 and 60 pounds over their ideal body weight wearing clothes that had probably looked pretty sloppy when new.

It was hard to picture it as a battlefield, and even harder to imagine it as some sort of Ground Zero for heroism.The training was fairly simple, and hours less than demanding, and it was a pleasant couple of months before I was driven to the airport and decanted onto an airliner bound, this time, for Ft. Benning, Georgia and U.S. Army Airborne School.

-----

The jump school I attended, the school that had been running as such since the Sixties, and the school (so far as I know) that still operates today, is a three-week course run by the U.S. Army Infantry School. At the time the notional military unit that comprised it was called the "4th Student Training Battalion" and consisted of four companies, 42nd through 45th.

I understand that it has been renamed after one of the old WW2 parachute infantry regiments but no matter - it's still Jump School. The round of Ground Week - Tower Week - Jump Week hasn't changed.

Interestingly, the original course as designed in the Forties was called Paratrooper School and included all the tactics needed to work in an airborne infantry unit; assembly on the drop zone, moving out as a unit, and so on. This was cut down in the late Fifties or early Sixties, perhaps largely because the school became the sole parachute jump training for the entire U.S. military (along with numerous foreign nations) and the tactical part of the POI was considered excessive.

As with AIT, the actual details of my transit were unremarkable, and there's no need to revisit them; you can find all sorts of information about Jump School on the Internets.

I will mention two moments, though.

The first was some time in the middle of Tower Week, I think. We had had a long day (they were all long days) and were somewhere in the middle of the night when one of the company cadre, one SSG Gaddy, woke us up and "cabled us down" - the formation area outside 44th Company had four long steel cables stapled to the ground on which we formed up in roster number order
(I was Roster Number 118, which says something about the bizarre sorts of things that stick in your head even after thirty-one years)
- and proceeded to bomb us with a long and not particularly coherent rant about Death, Judgement Day, and Salvation or something to that effect.I vividly remember thinking somewhere in the midst of this bizarre oration
(to this day I'm not sure if he was drunk, bored, or simply nuts, or fucking with us just because he could - unlike the dreaded Blackhats, the actual Airborne School instructors, the company cadre were a collection of casuals, transients, and (I suspect) goofballs, fuck-offs, and fuck-ups who had been assigned to babysit trainees because they could do less harm there than anywhere else - and probably never will)
that one of us - Gaddy or me, standing out there in the warm Georgia spring night when we should have been sleeping, was fucking insane and at that exact moment I wasn't sure which one of us it was.

The other incident involved a very tall Marine sergeant and the company's daily march down to Lawson Army Airfield during Jump Week.

As a private, all I had to do to get through three weeks was keep my head down, my boots shined
(and I learned very quickly that I could not spit-shine them enough to avoid the dreaded "gig pit" and scurried down to the bootblack stand at the end of the battalion area and paid up. The bootblacks painted my boots with some sort of gawdawful shiny glop (that cracked off in several hours and had the long term effect of ruining the boots with a scrofulous residue of petrochemical scurf) that got me through morning inspection and the extra pushups)
and complete five successful parachute jumps.But the NCOs and officers were graded on "leadership", which meant what the U.S. Army considered "leadership", meaning drill and ceremonies and the small change of troop leading.

Including marching.

Marching, for the U.S. Army, meant "calling cadence". This is a relatively recent feature of Army life, dating, so I understand, from the WW2 era when African-American units used chanted call-and-response cadences to keep marching step. These "jody calls" ran around the Army by the late Forties and are now considered part and parcel of "leadership" - you march troops, you gotta jody-call cadence.

Apparently this was not so in the USMC, circa 1981. The NCO in question, a very tall staff sergeant intended for a Marine Recon unit, was perfectly competent at drill commands, keeping time, and could call the step in the peculiar "'Eft, 'eft, eftrawt'eft" USMC fashion (although once, for pure entertainment, he tried to teach us an "oblique" - a disaster never repeated).

But he swore up and down he couldn't call cadence.

The company cadre (of which I've already unburdened myself) dogged him through the entire course. He had to call cadence; his "leadership" evaluation portion of the school depended on it. He needed to learn one cadence, he needed to use it, as the final week approached he seems to have been pushed harder and harder to find a way to accomplish this "critical" task...

Finally Jump Week arrived, and SSG Lanky was put in charge of the company and given the dire warning that it was this march or doom. So we right-faced and marched off on the road down through the housing area towards the airfield and our parachutes. SSG Lanky eft-eft-efting through the battalion area and past the supply sheds, with one of the cadre glaring at him and shaking his head ominously.

Finally, with less than a mile to go and the final slope through the living area and past the post elementary school in view, Lanky cleared his throat and produced his cadence, the only one I guess that he had stashed in the back of his head.

-----

Well, the story is that the adorable, tow-headed offspring of one of the majors stationed at the USAIS hopped on his mommy's lap that evening, peered wide-eyed up at her, and in his childish treble asked guilelessly:

"Mommy, what's a 'ping-pong pussy'"?

Because here's the only cadence SSG Lanky could remember:

"I know your momma,
She's a good ol' whore!
She's got a ping-pong pussy,
And a rubber asshole!
She's got knots on her titties
As big as my balls!
And the stench from her gash
Could make a dead man crawl!"

I understand that no one ever asked SSG Lanky to call cadence again.Well, the rest is nothing special; I made my jumps, got my wings, and was shoved onto a bus headed up the road for Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, where the U.S. Army intended to make me into a highly-paid, highly-trained, high-speed, air-ram, fuel-injected Special Forces soldier.

And that is a tale for the next time.

Regina Quondam et Futuram

My son ran headlong into an odd bit of Portland history last week; Queen Thelma.A group sponsored, I believe, by an outfit known as the Royal Rosarians turned up at his class to tell the kids about the history of the Rose Festival.

Now - as I've mentioned before - Rose Festival is a very odd sort of Portland thing in a place that treasures its oddity.
First of all, it's not really a "thing" at all; there's no real theme or purpose behind it, and it's span is so vague as to be almost meaningless. No one knows exactly when it begins, or ends, or what is or isn't part of it.

We know that it's not a purely musical event like, say, SXSW or Sasquatch, but there is music in it. It doesn't celebrate a historical or national event, like Cinco de Mayo or Fourth of July, or an event of significance to any particular group of people, like Kwanzaa or Christmas or Ramadan, but it has a sort of a history.

It does have parades, of several different types, and times, and themes. It has races, human and vehicular. It has an airshow, and dragon boat races, and a nasty carny (which is always held along the downtown stretch of the Willamette River and for years was known as the "Pepsi Fun Center" until one of our local weeklies published a story titled Face-down in the Fun Center, pointing out that the goddam centerpiece of the Rose Fest was a nasty carny filled with drunk frat boys and girls from fucking Beaverton and Gladstone gatoring in a vile mix of mud and used lager. I don't know what they called it after that, but it sure as hell wasn't the "Pepsi Fun Center") and several god knows what.

There's also a weekend when a small group of military and coastguard vessels turns up and ties up along the waterfront, adjacent to the whatever-they-call-what-used-to-be-the-"fun-center". This used to be entertaining for the locals, who got to visit the ships, and for the crews, who got to visit a liberty port not expressly designed around separating a sailor from his or her cash in the most nastily expeditious way possible.
That was pre-2001. Now security is so damn tight that nobody but invited guests get to tour the damn ships, which in return for very little entertainment value tie up traffic for several hours during Monday rush hour causing the bridges to raise when they head downriver. So sorry, sailor, you can stuff your "Fleet Week", in my opinion.
In fact, most Portlanders I know fall into two categories; those who sorta-kinda know that there's this "Rose Festival" thing that happens every spring but don't really care or take part in any of the events, and those who have some deep and passionate connection with one specific event that is part of the whole magilla but don't really care or take part in any of the other events.

For example, I have two friends who race in the dragon boat competition every year.

But that's all. They don't go to the parades, or down to the carny-formerly-known-as-the-"fun-center", or the air show, or the concerts. They don't know who the Queen of Rosaria is, or what the theme of the Starlight Parade is.

They do the dragon boat races, and nothing else.

And that's the way a LOT of Portlanders take this rascal.

Some get excited about one of the parades. Or the airshow. Some love the ships. Some - mostly young men from Gresham - come to get shitfaced at the carny and fall face-down in the mud and spew of Waterfront Park. But I honestly cannot think of anyone I know who gets all jiggly looking forward to "Portland's Official Festival".

So I got a kick out of my son - who has never given a rip about the thing other than the time that we got caught downtown in the middle of the Grand Floral Parade and the float caught fire, which he considered genuine quality entertainment - coming home stuffed full of information about Queen Thelma and W.J Hofmeister, her "Prime Minister", and Silas Christofferson, the ragtime aviation freak who rocked the RoseFest 100 years ago by flying off the roof of the old Multnomah Hotelin his Curtiss biplane and then, pioneering the tradition of Oregon residents fleeing to Clark County to avoid our income tax, landed fifteen minutes or so later at the Army airfield in Vancouver.

I find it mildly amusing that nowhere in the Rose Fest publicity for the centenary of this stunt is there a mention of hos insane it was and that this poor mook had only about four more year to live because of his enthusiams; like a lot of early aviators, he augered in - in his case on Hallowe'en Day, 1916;
"Silas was flying several hundred feet over the aviation field on Halloween 1916 in Redwood City, California when his engine went dead. He ‘volplaned’ but could not regain control of the aeroplane and was hurled to the ground. His plane overturned in a 100 feet fall during a trial of a new military biplane with a new innovative control system. His wife and two brothers watching the flight with a pupil of the Silas Christofferson Aviation School rushed to his aid; he was taken to a hospital were he died from his injuries."
Sucked to be him, but those guys had the life expectancy of caddis-fly larvae. It's pretty amazing when you think of how blase' we are about flying. A century ago it was like combat diving or panther wrestling, a sport only for the truly mad...
Imagine; 50,000 people stopping to watch an airplane fly overhead; it makes sense when you think that it had a damn good chance of falling ON their heads. It was a very different time

And that was not the only difference in the times. I get the sense that back in the teens the Rose Festival really WAS something. Certainly it seems to have been everything to young Thelma Hollingsworth; she spent the rest of her life connected to the thing, and appears to have had a splendid time living in the corona of the year she reigned as Queen of all Rosaria. What I find intriguing about her is how difficult it is to find her; do an Internet search for her picture; all I could find was the Oregonian shot of her "court" I have at top, this one, from about the Fifties or late Forties;

which seems to have been taken at some sort of Rose function; you'll note the skimmer-sporting Rosarian squiring Her Majesty.

The strange part about this is that all the articles about her talk about how the Queen and her court of pretty young ladies toured all over the Portland area and much of the Northwest that year, drumming up interest in the Festival. Photography was quite the rage in the Teens, and I cannot imagine that any young Portland, Seattle, or San Francisco camera-nut passing up the opportunity to get some snapshots of a pretty girl in fancy clothes amid a bevy of other cuties; men may have changed since 1914 but not in that respect...

My personal favorite, though, is this enlargement of the Oregonian photo;

It is the only one that I could find that gives you an actual sense of the young Miss Hollingsworth as a person. It's worth looking closely at her; go ahead. I'll wait.

So physically she seems to be a conventionally "pretty girl"; oval face, straight nose, dark eyes. She has a bit of a full chin, suggesting that she was pleasantly rounded in the fashion of the times, before the brutal modernity of the Twenties demanded a woman's figure lose all its womanly curvature.

It's hard to tell, since the background around her head appears to have been retouched, but she seems to have had a cloud of dark hair in the Edwardian style. The rest of her is buried under the pile of clothing she's been dressed in as her robes of "state".

But the worthwhile part is in her expression. Look at her again.

She's looking at something or someone down to her left; she's cocked her head a bit, and her glance is slightly hooded, as if she's trying not to be too obvious about not staring. But what- or who-ever it is seems to be providing her with a certain amount of amusement, given the traces of her smile.

And the smile is the good part; Queen Thelma seems to have a lovely, subtle smile, the corner of her lips tucked neatly away in a wry little curve that floats up from the old silver and black salts like a fragrant curl of smoke from snuffed candle.

It seems to contain a good deal of sense, and a good humor that bolts across the divide of nearly a century, jolting me into thinking that I would have enjoyed a lazy afternoon's company with this woman, hearing her talk of her work, and her excitement at her celebrity, and thinking up ways to provoke that fleetingly adorable smile.

I am not one of those who long for the past. For a person of my class and age 1912 would most likely have been an generally drudging and occasionally (e.g. typhus epidemic, financial panic, labor-management war in which I was beaten by strikebreakers or shot by the National Guard...) fearfully frightening time. I am very glad I live in 2012 and not 1912.

But looking at Thelma's smile I cannot but stop and think that there must have been something worthwhile about the then that made this young woman and her beloved Festival; for all that we cannot and I would not if we could, return, I wonder; what was it that has changed so that we are ourselves so much alike in so many ways, and yet in so many others so strange?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Why transparency matters—building equity in your personal brand

What if you didn't know the real names of your doctor, lawyer or accountant?

Most social media acquaintances aren't exactly on a parallel plane with professional or collegial relationships — but how about your friends?

In 2008 when I began on Twitter, it wasn't unusual to see people using descriptive monikers instead of their real names. How many people remember @TrendTracker or @TrendyDC? Today we know them as @GlenGilmore and @AnnTran_. I think they recognized their Twitter identities were going to be significant and went public at a point where their major growth was ahead of them. It enabled them to start positioning themselves as brands, and I believe they helped others feel comfortable about following suit. 

It's about trust

I think most of us appreciate it when their connections on social media are transparent about who they are.  If I'm being honest with someone, I hope they'll afford me the same courtesy. What is the point of engaging with or filling one's timeline with less-than-honest people?

A cloak of secrecy signals more than "mystery." It says, "There is a reason I don't want you to know who I am." Deceit is a shaky foundation for real connections. 

How people perceive your brand

In establishing yourself as a brand, simplicity in your name and image and consistency in the way you interact are essential. Your behavior both on and off the public timeline matters. By using your real name, you are inviting people to trust you, and by maintaining a consistent and positive presence across channels, you build relationships with people as well as equity in the recognition of who you are.

Business accounts may not identify the specific person tweeting on its behalf, though many do. Identifying who is tweeting is a good thing because most people would rather tweet with a person than an "entity." When one is responsible for engaging in conversations on behalf of a business, they need to keep in mind the reputation and personality of the company they represent. And if their identity is known, they have the opportunity to project positively for a business, but also build recognition in themselves. 

Using a descriptive moniker along with your name

Highly recognizable and respected people very successfully use non-name monikers, but self-identify using their real names. Reg Saddler, or @zaibatsu, and Heather Frey,  @SmashFit, both are well-established across social media channels with memorable handles that evoke a strong image of their brands.

If you decide to use a descriptive moniker, it's helpful and important to include your real name somewhere in your social media profile and I'll list several reasons why:
  • First—You are creating a climate of trust by using your real name
  • Second—It allows others to find you by name or by moniker      
  • Third—exchanges with someone whose name you know is more personal and engenders the creation of relationships                
  • Fourth—By using your name, rather than building equity in a pseudonym, you are building equity in the recognition of yourself and your personal brand. And at the end of the day, in social media, recognition is the form of currency that matters.
Short and easy versus long or difficult

Whatever you choose, make your identity as short and easy as you can. Abstract combinations of letters and numbers are difficult to remember.

Clever handles can be fun, but people can be difficult to locate if their monikers are not exactly memorable, or if you cannot search for them using their real names. 

The substitution of numbers for letters may be good for building a password, but expecting others to remember quirky configurations is unrealistic. Also—adding characters that require changing case on a smart device (phones, tablets), makes it inconvenient for someone to type your name. (Included are underscores and numbers or other special characters.) There are settings in some applications that will "auto-complete" a name once you begin typing, and you can also type once, then copy and paste. But still—isn't it easier when those extra motions are unnecessary?

Changing your moniker 

Once you've established the handle people are meant to recognize, try to keep it. If you change it, you will retain your friends and followers, but unless you've done some groundwork to prepare them for the change, they may not recognize you. 

Chris Luzader (@TechZader) handled this situation beautifully. Chris used to go by the name @The_Tech_Update, but he could see the value of simplifying his name as his brand evolved. He combined part of his original moniker with his actual name resulting in a shorter, simpler handle. But before making the change, he prepared by getting feedback on possible names, and gave his then-large following of 16,000 advanced notice.

Maintaining consistency in your avatar and your brand

Establishing a consistent presence across social media channels — hopefully both in name and avatar — reinforces the identity and recognition of your brand and what it stands for. Think of it this way—your avatar is your social media logo. If "Starbucks" changed its name or logo often, what is the chance you would recognize it? 

When someone changes their avatar on a daily, weekly or fairly frequent basis, it sends a message — "I don't care if you realize it's me." One friend had a maddening habit of frequently changing both his moniker and his avatar, making him impossible to find.

You might know someone on Twitter by "@whatever," but if they circle you on G+ using their real name, then send friend-request on Flickr using yet another, they undermine the chance of making connections. They might seem familiar, but who are they?*

Trust is the foundation of real relationships

By using your real name and placing trust in others, you are inviting them to trust you, too. By building recognition of your name and avatar, you establish a "brand promise" creating an expectation of what others can expect when they encounter you or your company online.
Relationships matter in personal life and in business. People DO want to know who they are dealing with. By being transparent, the potential gain is greater than the risk.

What are your feelings about transparency? Are there good reasons for obscuring one's identity? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

——————————————

*"Twitter for Busy People" will allow you to grab up to 1000 followers, by recency and by avatar. So if you are searching for someone and can't remember their names but remember their avatars, and if they've tweeted recently, you might be able to find them using this site.


Un dimanche après-midi à l'Parc des Donnezsur

Hmmm. I think I wanted to take a moment from all the angst and provide a post with no meaning beyond the sensual;
That, and every so often I take a genuinely good picture; I just love this snapshot of our Overlook Park on a sunny Sunday.

For all our troubles and toil, the world is often a lovely place. It is unfortunate that we are often to harried and busy to stop and notice that. I hope you have a moment today to do so.

Kicked in the face

Those of you who have been peeking in here regularly probably know that I'm what the British would probably call "a bit about football".

Or, if you haven't, as we say here in the Land of the Free (Providing You Make More Than $100,000 a Year), I loves me some soccer. The Army I still serve is the Timbers Army, and I'm as proud of my green-and-white scarf - in some ways - as I ever was to wear the green of that other army, the one with the condos and the yachts (OK, trivia fans - what's the movie reference there..?).

But this isn't a great time to be a Portland supporter.
To say that we've hid a bad patch would be like saying that the Titanic had a troubled evening in the North Atlantic a hundred years ago this spring. Yesterday I had the unenviable "pleasure" of watching my club get spanked by a piss-poor expansion side from Montreal, a club that we routinely demolished when we were both down in the U.S. Second Division.

And, worse, the Boys in GreenRed LOOKED like a club going off the rails. Disorganized. Lifeless. What one of my old platoon sergeants would have described as "cotton balls" - 100% sterile. Against one of the worst defenses in the league we created something like two real attacking chances.

I can't think of a moment that summed it up better than the second half collision between Montreal's Nyassi, who was lunging for a through-ball that was headed on goal, and our goalkeeper Perkins, who ended up with a cleat to the face that tore open his nose and sent him out of the match and our chances with him. The wretched Montreal team went on to thrash us, and we lay there like a head-kicked 'keeper and simply took it.

We were a fucking disaster.

And this, in turn, brings me to the dilemma of the true supporter; whether it's of Club or Country.

I hate to keep coming back to this, but soccer is a cruel game because it is so like Life itself.

As with our lives, and with our nations, there are so many, many ways to go wrong. And, once lost, our lives, our sport, our nation are damn deadly difficult to right again. Loss and ruin, like the cold, cruel edge of the iceberg, lie just beneath the deceptively still waters ahead. One moment we seem to be gliding along listening to the band and sipping our cocktail; the next, the frigid waters are closing over our head as we try to comprehend the degree to which we have been complicit in our own fate.

Whether it is as a partisan of a soccer club or a patriot of a great nation, there is always the inclination to trust in and support the object of one's devotion. To believe that the best course is to continue to have faith that the leaders of those institutions are wise, clever, and far-seeing. That they are making decisions based on great vision and broad experience, secure in their knowledge of themselves and their craft.
And as a supporter, as a citizen, there's also the problem of power; there is very little in us as individuals. A lone angry voice floating down from the North End terraces, a puny blog against the collective "wisdom" of the Village, single vote lost in a torrent of poorly-thought, misinformed, emotionally-charged herd choices...

There's no dignity there, in kicking against the pricks. The temptation is to simply close our eyes and hope.

But what if that hope is a fool's hope?
Or, worse, what if it enables those whose task is supposed to be "leading" - leading our club, leading our country - but who are blinded by self-satisfaction, or misinformation, or prejudices, or bone-stupid, or misplaced loyalty?

When does it become the task of the "supporter" to support not the Front Office but the club itself? Not the President, or the Congress, but the nation?

Or, worse; when does it become so painfully obvious that there is no solution in sight? That the entire system is so violently distorted that the answers cannot come from the inside, as the inside of the system is presently constituted.

What does a True Supporter do, then?

Because at the moment, staring over the bloodied rag that we're holding to our shattered face, we seem to be facing a crisis; one of the many we have faced, will face, in the history of our nation and our club. And a supporter, and a citizen, are called upon to lend themselves to their countries.
But how can we both support them and change them? How can we love them yet hate what they have become? Where do we cross the line, between Reformation and Revolution? Where is the divide between a rough caress and a kick in the face?



Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Prius Dementat

Briefly noted during a foray into the drive-time news - the now-inevitable GOP Dauphin Mitt Romney saying
"For every single mom who feels heartbroken when she has to explain to her kids that she needs to take a second job ... for grandparents who can't afford the gas to visit their grandchildren ... for the mom and dad who never thought they'd be on food stamps ... for the small business owner desperately cutting back just to keep the doors open one more month — to all of the thousands of good and decent Americans I've met who want nothing more than a better chance, a fighting chance, to all of you, I have a simple message: Hold on a little longer. A better America begins tonight."
and bitterly observed, to the solitude of the dashboard radio;
"And in that "better America" the policies you support - every act of your Party to date - every small-town, back-bench, mean-minded, spiteful Teabagger swill you've ingested and now claim you'll swill out to the nation if elected - will ensure that her second job will pay less for longer hours, that their gas will be exhausted more quickly and profit it's producers more richly, that those food stamps will be harder to come by and more desperately needed, that the small business will be more likely to be battered and beaten, sold, gutted, and re-sold by your crony-capitalist friends' megacorporation, and that all those good and decent Americans will be further crammed down, shat upon, disenfranchised, wage-slaved to the wealthy and connected who are your primary supporters and beneficiaries"
Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, how huge a lie does this man, and this Party, have to tell before the American public screams "Hold! Enough!"?

And I'm afraid that we all know the answer, my friends.

There IS no lie huge enough, for the vast Gadarene herd that still gobbles up this swill.

We cannot continue in this fashion without destruction. We Are SO Fucked.
Or, as one might say in Latin, were one philosophically so inclined;

Ceterum censeo GOP esse delendam

Lead-pipe Cinch

Thinking about Latin lead me to Rome, and that, in turn, lead me to remembering this oddiment of historical trivia; did you know that most Roman public water systems ran through lead pipes?
Seriously. In fact, the Romans used a LOT of lead in their daily lives; pipes, roof tiles, glazes, stoppers on wine jars...you name it, the Romans could and would make it out of lead. In particular it was used in the white cosmetic paint used by well-to-do women (and not just Roman women - the whiteface Elizabeth Tudor is often shown wearing later in life had a hell of a lot of lead in it...)

You can sort of see why they used it; it's a fairly common metal. It's really easy to work. You can use it in paints, glazes, or cast objects from it. It doesn't rust or otherwise deteriorate. there's really only one significant problem with it;

If you ingest it, it's a poison.

In fact, some historians have suggested that as such it may have played a role in the problems in the later Roman period:
"S. Columba Gilfillan proposed a theory for Roman decay in 1965 that involved "poisons esteemed as delicious by the ancient well-to-do." Spoilage was a problem in ancient Rome, and vintners discovered that wine tasted better and lasted longer if it was mixed with a concentrated grape syrup called sapa. The best sapa was boiled in lead pots, allowing lead to leach into the syrup. When sapa was mixed with wine, it sweetened it and also poisoned the microorganisms that cause fermentation and souring. Sapa was also used in fruit and honey drinks, and as a food preservative.

Josef Eisinger estimated a Roman consuming a liter of wine a day would ingest about 20 mg of lead per day, which he said was more than enough to produce chronic lead poisoning.

A cultural shift at the height of the Roman Empire made it socially acceptable for wives to drink wine, to which Gilfillan attributed a declining birth rate and a low rate of surviving children among the wealthy. Today, the reproductive effects of lead are well established, as are the effects on childhood development and learning disabilities.

Gilfillan hypothesized that the diet of the poor was not so badly poisoned as that of the rich. Although they drank the same water, they lacked the luxuries of cosmetics, lead paint, wine, fruit and honey drinks, or preserved foods."
It's difficult to say whether all this lead was a genuine problem; there were enough other problems to make things interesting long before the lead got in there - untreatable epidemic disease, widespread poverty and slavery, poor hygiene, bad diet.

But, still...interesting tidbit of history.
Thirsty?

Loquiris Latinae?

Ubi bene, ibi patria (~Pacuvius: "Where one is happy, there is one's homeland.")

I just went to the edit page of New BloggerTM to tweak a post and noticed that my last titles are in Latin, or at least dog-Latin, which is all I can really manage in that speech.

Solitudinem faciunt, pacem appelant (~Tacitus: "They made a solitude (wasteland) and called it peace.")

When I was a mere slip of a college lad, all shining morning face and that, I took a course in the language from a rabbi (seriously!) who had an odd sort of rabbinical humor and was probably a fairly good instructor but who for all his gifts couldn't overcome my sloth and inattention. Plus the irregular verbs were almost as bad as German.

Cito enim arescit lacrima, praesertim in alienis malis (~ Cicero: "Tears dry quickly, especially when they are for others' misfortunes.")

But I did pick up a lifelong fondness for little Latin tags, both for the combination of brevity and meaning as much as for the delight in showing off my erudition.

Aliena nobis, nostra plus aliis placent (~ Publilius Syrus: "We like other people's (things) the best; others like ours.")

One of my favorite military writers, Robert Frezza, created a fictional colonial infantry battalion (of a supposed Japanese interstellar empire, of all things...) whose commander liked to style his officers as possessing "Roman virtue and samurai discipline", and for effect proceeded to scour all literature for the more unusual and interesting of them.

I've always suspected that he invented the very best, but that's part of the fun - since hardly anyone speaks it, Latin is the perfect tool for creating hoary wisdom out of modern cloth.

Nemo ante mortem beatus (~ Ovid: "Call no one happy before his death.")

My enduring problem is that my Latin grammar is, well, about as good as you'd expect for someone who flunked sophomore year Latin. So I tend to mangle conjugations and tenses.

Vae victis! (~Livy: "Woe to the conquered!")

The other thing is, of course, that not many other people share my enthusiasm, so, where once I might have been reading some news item about the doings of, say, Dick Cheney, and made the comment...

Vestigia terrent (~Horatius: "The footprints frighten me.")

...and the listener versed in the same tradition would have immediately understood that in two words I was referring to the story about the fox commenting on the implications of seeing footprints leading to but not from the lion's den and, thus, observing that the doings of the Dark Lord of the Sith revealed him as an unprincipled man and a danger to our Republic, the same is not true today.

So, sadly, I'm afraid all my fondness for these little tags does is, again, to reveal my own talent for elliptical self-amusement, self-satisfaction, and a despicable fondness for useless knowledge. And after all these years, too. Sigh. Our skies may change but not ourselves.

But! I refuse to repine! After all,

Non scholae sed vitae discimus (~Seneca: "We do not learn for school, but for life.")
Ah, well. Acta est fabula. Plaudite!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ars Amatoria

My bride has - not one - but two master's degrees.
So, like the song says, she can spell s-e-x!

Just sayin'...

Caught the first half hour of "Get Yourself A College Girl" last night on TCM; a complete and utter shriek, and you can say I said so.

The title song above is so awful that it seems an almost intentional joke on what were known as "co-eds" back in the day. And compounding the joke is the scene a bit later where "Terri"'s fellow "co-eds" insist that she's, like, Joan of Arc leading them into this brave new world of female liberation. To have s-e-x, apparently. Which is, well, sorta not a real "Joan of Arc" thing, but, whatev'.

I understand that the rest of the film features some early Sixties musical brilliance (the reviewer at the link discusses perhaps the most famous; the appearance of Astrud Gilberto performing The Girl From Ipanema):
"My friends, what any viewer of this sequence has just experienced is pure -- repeat, untainted in any way -- musical perfection. Incredibly talented artists, at the absolute peak of their careers, captured on well photographed 35mm format performing their single most famous number.

It just doesn't get any better than this."
Plus some early British Invasion from The Animals and the Dave Clark Five...well, let's say that if I'd been perkier and the flick on earlier I'd have tried to watch the rest.

Instead I am left with the indelible impression of the 1959 Miss America crooning about how intellectual women are better because they really know how to screw.

Which is not how I recall it, but perhaps I went to the wrong school.

Friday, April 20, 2012

New Coke

Some things just don't really need to be "improved".
Somebody needs to tattoo that backwards on the staff at Blogger's foreheads so they read it every time they look in the effing mirror.

For example; the "enter" button on your computer is the exact duplicate of the old "return" button on the electric typewriters that replaced, in turn, the lever ("carriage return") that kicked the paper down one line on the old manual typewriters.

So for about four zillion years (or since the invention of html) a "hard return" - hitting the "return" button - has meant "space down one line and go back to the left margin".

Except for, apparently, the fucking douchenozzles at Blogger. Who have now given us an "option" - it's actually listed on the right hand side of the screen in an "Options" pull-down - to "use (the html symbol for a line break) tag" or "Press "Enter" for line breaks".

And didn't bother to explain that they did this when they forced us into the "improved" template.

Okay then.

Well, I think I'm figuring this damn nonsense out. Slowly. But it's a complete pain-in-the-ass, and so posting may go a little slowly until Blogger gets it's head out of it's fourth point of contact and I figure out what ELSE the damn idiots have fucked up.

Friday Jukebox: ¡Oscile los timbales!

Alexander Abreu - currently of Habana d'Primera - rocks the timbales:
What can I say? The sun is trying to break through, and I'm feeling muy Cubano; ohe', 'mana, dame una cerveza mas y' baje y siéntese al lado de mí, mi guapa, y mire la puesta del sol conmigo...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Carmen

I really have no excuse for this other than a) it's a truly miserable rainy day, and b) Rita Hayworth - Margarita Carmen Cansino - was an exceptionally lovely actress.
(Although let me pause for a moment, however, and just grouse: what the fuck was wrong with the official female "dress code" of the Forties through the early Sixties? Specifically, the red granny panties that come up to Rita's waist. Gah! Was a woman's navel some sort of mid-century erogenous zone, or what? Whatever it was, women in pictures and films had to wear these awful DependsTM well until the surf films later in the Sixties introduced the notion that you could appear in public with your belly showing and not corrupt the children. Sorry. /rant.)
The saddening part of the combination of beauty and rainy days is that poor Rita's personal life was a dreary as the day today; she was a drunk with serious emotional issues and a career of finding lovers and husbands who were weapons-grade shitheels.

She also suffered from Glamor Girl Syndrome; "[M]en fell in love with Gilda, but they wake up with me." she said, and might well have been speaking for every public beauty whose partners take the parts that they played for the women they are. While it's very human to see what you want to see, when you do that with another person there's no real alternative but unhappiness.

So here's to the happy laughing Margarita of her glory years in the Forties when she was young and strong and lovely - awful swimsuit panties and all - who floated across our lives as a pair of legs long enough to bestride a chasm of troubles and a smile bright enough to lighten a gloomy day. If only you could have turned that brightness inwards, Doña; "Multa ferunt anni venientes commoda secum, Multa recedentes adimiunt"

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Small World: Super Secret Spy Edition

Unearthed an odd bit of buried past the other day.

It started with one of those gawdawful Facebook "memes". Even ran into one of them? Blogging tends to get them, though I haven't run across one for ages.

This one was about "how you met me", and it was mildly entertaining hear from old friends and see who remembered how who met whom all those years ago.

But in the process a name came up; a person I knew many years ago and was slightly friendly with in a very passant sort of way.

Her name is Susan Leslie Ireland, and she was just appointed the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis. As such she is "...responsible for the receipt, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence related to the Department's mission to safeguard the international financial system from abuse and to combat threats to U.S. national security."

And I knew her when. Howboutthat?

Anyway, the interesting thing is that when we were in college together I remember her as a painfully serious, intelligent, darkly pretty young woman. She roomed in a group with a clutch of other very bright and clever women, many of whom acted in our college Green Room and, as you might expect, caprioled joyfully with the sort of creative lunacy that has characterized thespians since Aristophanes' time.

Sue - as she was known in those days - was not quite of the same metal as her sisters; "forlorn" is how one of my contemporaries remembers her. She never seemed as...vivid...as her hallmates. And she seems to have had a very fraught relation with them; another former classmate of mine recalls her saying, within earshot of those long-time rooming hall associates and companions "Those people are not my friends..."; a remark almost as sad as it was tactless.I will admit to crushing on her a bit, back in those times; even callow and stupid I had a bit of a thing for seriously smart Dark Ladies. And she was - and is, it seems - very smart. And, as her picture testifies, still Dark and serious.

But I was too immature, and she too otherwise-engaged, and so we drifted away.

But after her name suddenly returning to my attention what I recalled vividly was that several years after graduation we met for a lunch.

She was already working in D.C. in a covert position - I believe probably with the National Security Agency - and I was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, a line medic for the 1/505th Infantry. I was headed north on a brief leave, called her up, and we made the time to meet at some indifferent lunch place somewhere in Georgetown.

She was still dark, still handsome, and very excited about her work. I was less hairy - still callow, but leaner, and harder - and gaining in both worldly and emotional maturity. So there we were; the young spy and the young paratrooper, sitting chatting on a bright sunny spring morning while a Reagan morning broke across America.We talked of ourselves, and the world's wagging. We discussed parachuting, which it seems that she had to learn as part of her own "basic training" in intelligence - it seems that even in the Eighties U.S. spies still hung on to bit of their OSS heritage. We talked about old friends, and future plans.

There was absolutely not a flint's worth of spark between us.

We enjoyed a pleasant spring day and parted with the usual promises to keep in touch and, as usual, failed to keep them. I went on to become a paratroop sergeant, and then, in succession, a graduate student and husband, a professional geologist, teacher, senior NCO, husband (again) and father.

Sue - or, rather, S. Leslie, as she prefers to be known - continued to find her way through the Hall of Mirrors; "Executive Assistant to the Director and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence and in various analytical and management portfolios at CIA related to the Middle East and weapons of mass destruction....also detailed to the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Country Director for Iran and Kuwait." She also served as the "Iran Mission Manager" for the Director of National Intelligence.

It's strange to think of my old acquaintance as a Power herself; one of the Thrones and Dominations, a Beltway Insider, making reality, as the Bushies were wont to say, with the force of her knowledge, her judgement - one hopes - and her wiles at the subtle and deadly bureaucratic infighting in the halls of the great and the mighty.

But there she is, and, what's more, one of the "Iran Hands"; one of the fonts of intelligence wisdom on that contentious and troubled land.

And now, I wonder; what secrets is she telling to those seats of power?

Because had my life gone in other directions I might be one of those whose fate depended on that tall and serious Dark Lady. On what she said, and what she did not say, to those whose decrees sway the wide world.

To those whose words move armies and fleets, and who might well have sent First Sergeant Lawes plummeting out into the night sky over Qom, on the advice of the sloe-eyed young woman who thirty years ago sat across the cheap formica table from the young sergeant who was him, on that sunny spring Georgetown day, those fine eyes glowing as she described how much she had enjoyed the adventure of her brief "combat training" at Quantico, and the fearsome power she felt as the machinegun lept and thundered in her hands.And I wonder.

What will she say?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mailbox Monday: Bratz

While not neglecting the really important things in life - our under-construction raised raspberry beds and the current state of the Portland Timbers - I wanted to take a moment to mention this interview with Ed Luce in Foreign Policy.I don't agree with all of it. Starting with the title; "A Nation of Spoiled Brats"? C'mon, Foreign Policy - that's the best your editor could do? Ranger Rick magazine could beat that. Christ.

But outside the bitching I have two main problems with Luce's ideas as expressed in the interview, both of which seem to proceed from his spouting "conventional wisdom" without having any real grounds for believing it.

Specifically;

1. I think Luce (the interviewee) is just bloviating wildly about
"...the swing towards celebrating the child, elevating the child, over-praising the child, boosting constantly at every opportunity the self-esteem of the child, assuming the child is a fragile little eggshell that can be broken at any moment..."
that is supposed to be the cause of educational decline in the U.S. I have kiddos in school AND have taught at several levels and that's, frankly, horseshit.

I honestly think this whole "A Nation At Risk" crap is, well, crap. And, especially this "Nation At Risk From Self-Esteem" crap. I think the problems we're seeing in education - and I think those problems are a lot less significant than they're commonly made out to be - have a LOT more to do with a combination of a) educating more of our population than at nearly any time in our history, and b) the thirty-year cramdown on middle and lower-middle class wealth.

Because the bottom line on education is this;

- Not all kids can "do" a pre-college curriculum, yet that is the current U.S. standard. Prior to about 1975 the kids who couldn't usually simply dropped out, or were shunted aside into vo-tech tracks. Today we're still dropping them out, but a hell of a lot more kids who would have otherwise have been slotted into what when I was in grade school we called the "'tard school" (since non-mainstream kids were retards, see?) are being mainstreamed. I don't know of any parents who want their kids to get a shiny pretty "A" for doing "C" work. But the whole point of a bell curve is that you're going to get 10% of the students in the top 10% of grades. To assume that everyone who breathes can do algebra at a high level? Quit kidding yourself.

- The tighter the household budget, the tougher for the kid to do well.

We've known this since the 1965 Coleman Report. Economic class has always been the single largest factor in predicting academic achievement. There's a number of reasons for that, but as a factor it has never been seriously refuted.

Over the past three decades times have gotten tougher for pretty much everyone outside the 1%, and definitely for those below the top 25%. So I'm not surprised that their kids are not as singleminded about school success. The correlation do well in school (regardless of where you start from) = do well in life just doesn't hold up anymore, and more and more parents, and kids, can see that. IMO that still doesn't give you an excuse to stop trying. But I can see how it would increase the "bad outcome" sort of data.

Either way, I just don't buy this "OMFG, the Republic is collapsing because our schools are shit!" meme. There's no question that we have problems in teaching and learning. But I don't think those problems are anywhere near as simple as over-worked mommies and daddies insisting their speshul snowflake get preferential treatment.

2. Luce seems to start from the conventional wisdom "global is good". At least, that is the implication of his statement here: "...if globalization were put to a referendum in America, it would lose -- which is troubling, and it's one measure of the degree of alarm and distemper felt out there, which I come across the whole time whenever I'm outside of the Beltway." Now, I'm sorry, but I don't understand this whole enthusiasm for "globalization" as an economic religion.

I won't argue that "trade" is usually beneficial for those who engage in it, but how does that follow that it's good for, say, industrial workers here in the U.S. to be pitted in a wage-race-to-the-bottom with industrial workers in China, where cost of living is a fraction of what an American would consider semi-human, where acts that would cost U.S. manufacturers millions - poisoning and killing their workers, dumping hideous shit into the air and water - are simply part of doing business, and where crony capitalism is enjoying a Golden Age (where here it's barely getting back to the Silver standard of our Gilded one...)?

Luce seems to deliberately elide the fact that the greatest period of growth in the U.S. coincided with the time that the rest of the world was either a) walled off from U.S. markets by tariffs, or b) bombed into the Stone Age.

You can make all sorts of arguments about trade and tariffs, but to assume that a reasoned dislike for the sort of unequal playing field inherent in "globalization" as it currently exists is some sort of "troubling" attitude on the part of U.S. citizens is to assume that U.S. citizens are fools with no sense of self-preservation.

Which is often true! But not in this case, I would opine.But...overall the interview is damn well worth reading. Luce has some terrific observations about U.S. politics and economics, and in particular the way the U.S. seems to be politically incapable of either recognizing, or dealing, with the fairly obvious things that are bludgeoning it at the moment; social and economic stratification (and especially the grossly skewed distribution of the "recovery" since 2008), political distemper, and military hubris. And the problems he sees looming like icebergs ahead because of these. So while he's not perfectly correct I think he sure has some scary ideas, and ones that seem to fit what I see around me.And, sadly, I find myself shaking my head especially ruefully at his final paragraph:
"I hope that in the near future America will be able to remind itself that strength comes from its domestic economic muscularity and the degree to which America can again be a beacon to the world, a model worth emulating, rather than by the range and deployment of its weaponry, or by the spending power of those at the top. But I'm not optimistic -- given the trajectory of the debate today and in recent years -- that things will necessarily shake out that way. I wish I could see more cause for hope."
Because from where I see it, it is by our own goddamn feathers, and not by others' shafts, that we now stricken.