Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Witchery


Atop Tabor's crown
I found evidence to prove
There is witchery up there
On that dead mountain.

A ring of round stones
A perfect circle forméd;
Broken boughs at such angles
Drew a pentagram.


The epic center
With four rounded stones was set;
Black charring at the nexus
Spoke of sacrifice.

Soft whispers betrayed
Fleeting shadows in the folds,
Witches with hidden faces...
I fled before dark.

Monday, March 28, 2011

President Obama on Libya


President Obama delivered remarks today to inform the American people about the situation in Libya.  (Video is below.) Although I haven't yet formed a firm opinion on the matter, my inclination is to oppose military involvement in that dangerous situation.   

So I was eager to hear the President's remarks.  A few thoughts about what he said:

For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act. That is what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks.

What thoughtful American can hear these words and not remember how shamelessly we were misled by the Bush administration in Iraq?

"Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world's many challenges."  Iraq makes a mockery of these words.  Just as many of us foresaw, the consequences of Junior's corruption, ineptitude, and baseness of character continue to bear fruit.

But I digress.  The subject is Libya.

At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gaddafi declared that he would show “no mercy” to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi – a city nearly the size of Charlotte – could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.

For a bleeding-heart liberal like me, this is as close as one can come to a legitimate causus belli. Preventing massacres, stopping genocides, assisting people in disasters --these instances are when I am most proud of our military.

To summarize, then: in just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a No Fly Zone with our allies and partners. To lend some perspective on how rapidly this military and diplomatic response came together, when people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians.

And it took Junior, Cheney, and Rummy a year and a half, from September 11, 2001 until March 19, 2003, to pull off their historic crime. It does seem rather impressive that the Obama administration was able to build a coalition and respond to events in a matter of weeks.

Our most effective alliance, NATO, has taken command of the enforcement of the arms embargo and No Fly Zone. Last night, NATO decided to take on the additional responsibility of protecting Libyan civilians. This transfer from the United States to NATO will take place on Wednesday. Going forward, the lead in enforcing the No Fly Zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners, and I am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on Gaddafi’s remaining forces. In that effort, the United States will play a supporting role – including intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications. Because of this transition to a broader, NATO-based coalition, the risk and cost of this operation – to our military, and to American taxpayers – will be reduced significantly.

I wonder... What exactly does it mean that NATO will assume command of operations?  How is that different than the current state of affairs?  Will American military assets be deployed?  Is it just a matter of naming a Canadian or Brit as commander?

In fact, much of the debate in Washington has put forward a false choice when it comes to Libya. On the one hand, some question why America should intervene at all – even in limited ways – in this distant land. They argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government, and America should not be expected to police the world, particularly when we have so many pressing concerns here at home.

It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country – Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.

I find it hard to argue against this reasoning.  If the opportunity was there, if there really were calls from allies for us to act, I believe (again, as a bleeding-heart liberal) we had the moral obligation to prevent innocent people from being murdered.  Or, as the President put it:

To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly – our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.

Fair enough, Mr. President.  Would that we had acted in Rwanda or in Uganda or in Cambodia!

Of course, there is no question that Libya – and the world – will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

I find these words reassuring.  But again, the shadow of Iraq makes me leery.  Are we entering another quagmire?

There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are. Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security – responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us, and they are problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.

In such cases, we should not be afraid to act – but the burden of action should not be America’s alone. As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action. Because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.

Again, we see the contrast between President Obama and Junior.  Remember Junior's version of leadership?  "My response to that is to say 'Bring 'em on!'"

My fellow Americans, I know that at a time of upheaval overseas – when the news is filled with conflict and change – it can be tempting to turn away from the world. And as I have said before, our strength abroad is anchored in our strength at home. That must always be our North Star – the ability of our people to reach their potential, to make wise choices with our resources, to enlarge the prosperity that serves as a wellspring of our power, and to live the values that we hold so dear.

But let us also remember that for generations, we have done the hard work of protecting our own people, as well as millions around the globe. We have done so because we know that our own future is safer and brighter if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity. Tonight, let us give thanks for the Americans who are serving through these trying times, and the coalition that is carrying our effort forward; and let us look to the future with confidence and hope not only for our own country, but for all those yearning for freedom around the world. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

These are fine words. Is there any chance we can live up to them?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

La Luz pronuncia las Escrituras


Yo estaba andando por el bulevar de Martin Luther King, Jr. esta tarde, y encontré un edificio llamada La Luz del Mundo.  En las paredes de la iglesia, yo leí que Isaías nos pide "¿Quien ha creído nuestro anuncio? y a quien se ha revelado el brazo del Señor?"

Como se proclama en la Iglesia de la Luz del Mundo, los efesios proporcionan la respuesta:  "Edificados sobre el fundamento de los apóstoles y los profetas, siendo Cristo Jesús mismo la piedra angular."


Mientras tantos, en el cielo, las nubes estuvieron en guerra, pero la luz estuvo más allá.  Más allá de las nubes y más allá de comprensión.  Nunca podemos comprenderla.  Pero, es bueno a tratar.  Debemos continuar probar.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

EEUU: 50 millones de hispanos

Las data reveladas por el 2010 censo de EEUU confirman un hecho increíble, si ni sorprendente. La población de hispanos en el país ha crecido alguna 43% en los diez años pasados.  Actualmente, hispanos son 14%-15% de la población en total.  Completamente un sexto de los ciudadanos de EEUU es hispano.

Bien, como la población hispana sigue creciendo, ¿qué cambios se debe esperar?

No soy experto, pero hay tendencias que parecen obvios.

En el mundo político, los Republicanos se deben pensar con cuidado antes de continuar las políticas xenófobas.  La retórica que apela a los "nativistas" es venenoso en las orejas de la demográfica creciendo mas rápido.  Ya, esta charla les ha costado muy caro en las elecciones de 2006 y 2008. Si ellos siguen hablan así, el futuro parece sombrío para ellos.  ¡Que lastima!

En la cultura nacional, vemos muchos cambios.  Considera como la cuisina ha cambiado sobre los años.  Mi mamá, que creció en la Valle Willamette en los 50s, me dijo que ella no conocía lo que es un taco hasta ella tuvo 15 años.  Actualmente, tacos, burros, tamales, y muchas otras comidas hispanas son alimentos básicos en todo el país.  (¡De hecho en toda de la continenta!)

Y ha habido cambios a la "lengua estadounidense," también.  Ahora,
casi todo el mundo saben muchas palabras españoles.  ¿Cual niño en los EEUU hoy en día no sabe palabras como "amigo," "gracias," "por favor", "lobo," "escuela," "hombre," o "muchacho?"  Están una parte del lexicón norteamericano.  

Los demógrafos predicen que en el año 2050, uno de cada tres estadounidenses se tendrá cuenta a sí mismo hispana.  Yo lo he dicho antes, y ahora lo digo otra vez, los EEUU se convierte a una nación hispana.

Hablando para mi familia mexicana (y otras razas, tambien), ¡bienvenido al futuro!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pilgrimage

You can see Ross Island Bridge, back there.
Springtime sun was out and proud on the commute home.  Cumuli piled up in billows like blinding white glory.  The sky was so blue it brought a lump to my throat, the way it had all those years ago when I was on the beach with the Irish girl and I knew it wouldn't last.  She lay on the sand beside me and things were so perfect at that moment that I was afraid to fall in love with it --with the moment --because I knew it wouldn't last.  That was how blue the sky was as I was coming home.  It put me in a mood to go walking. 
Right on up Tabor's slopes.  The path is so familiar that I venture I might make it blindfold up to the summit and never stub nor stumble. When I'm pushing up the steeper slopes --like the potholed road that runs along the south shoulder, where it is always shady because of the lay of the hill and the big Dougs standing to either side, and where the blacktop is pitted and scarred and littered with fir needles, gold, orange, and yellow, and sword ferns look suckered onto the hillside like sea anemones in a tide pool --when I push up through there, I put my mind somewhere else; focus on something other than exertion.

But not the world.  Not Libya.  Not Japan.

Aunt Jenifer, Lucy, and me
So I thought about Aunt Jenifer, and how she broke the news to Mom about her cancer.  She called Mom from her cell phone driving home to San Pedro on some LA freeway.  "The good news is that I don't have to go back to work," she said.  "The bad news is I have 6 to 9 months to live."  She passed in 2003.  At the age of fifty-nine.

There is so much beauty that can never be captured even by memory.  It's hard, but you just have to let those things go.

When I made Tabor's summit, I looked around for photo opportunities, but nothing suited.  I spent a good while walking from vantage to vantage.  I was sure I would see something.   

The sun played on the city over across the river.  A springtime haze cast a phantom veil between my eyes and the spear tip glares coming off the glass towers of downtown.  Lovers sat on benches admiring the view.  A solitary figure stood by the Julija Laenen bench, paying silent homage to the Old Man.

The sun felt good on my face, I can tell you.  But though I sought intently, I sensed no cosmic wink, no conspiratorial nudge from the Great Whatever.

After a while, I set on my way back down, homeward to my honey bee.  And naturally, that's when I finally did see it.  It was right there in front of me, plain as day.  The hopeful omen, the simple proof, the irrefutable validation.

And I got a picture of it! 

What more proof does one need?
There it is!

Do you see it?

Do you see?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Libyan quagmire

War in Libya
What a mess!  The situation in Libya, spawned from the so-called "Jasmine Revolution" erupting throughout the Arab world, has turned into a dangerous quagmire.

Synopsis of developments

Prospects seemed bright, at first.  Libyan rebels, no doubt encouraged by the success of their neighbors in Egypt, arose in revolt against Muammar Gaddafhi and his regime.  The rebels seized Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city relatively quickly, and high-level government officials and military commanders defected from Gaddafhi's regime to join the rebellion.

But then Gaddafhi, crafty, ruthless desert fox that he is, went to work.  Using his well-armed military, an indeterminate proportion of which is foreign mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa, he has gone about brutally crushing the rebellion.  There are reports of indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas and barbaric acts of desecration.  With his troops poised on the outskirts of Benghazi, Gaddafhi vowed that there would be "No mercy, no pity."

Just as he was about to drop the hammer, the United Nations, led by France, and with the supposed blessings of the Arab League, passed a resolution calling for a "No Fly Zone" over all of Libya.  Within a day of the resolution, French, British, American, and other NATO air forces struck, destroying much of Gaddafhi's anti-aircraft defenses and effectively grounding Gaddafhi's air force.  (At least, that's what the reports from NATO military commanders suggest.  Who can know the truth of it?)

Now, it looks like both sides are digging in for an extended conflict.

Is there a moral position?

As a conscientious humanist, I'm struggling to find a moral position for this situation.  It's not easy.

On the one hand, Gaddafhi has demonstrated many times in his 40+ year dictatorship, that he is not at all averse to getting innocent blood on his hands.  And, to the extent that NATO or anyone else can prevent him from doing that, I'm all for it.

On the other hand, only a country bumpkin fresh off the turnip truck might imagine that NATO and the Arab League aren't motivated by their own selfish interests.  France, especially, has a long history of heavy-handed interventionism in Africa and the Mediterranean, which French governments have long viewed as part of their hegemony.

President Obama, for his part, seems reluctant to involve the United States.  The last thing he wants is to destroy the inroads he has made into the Muslim world.  And yet, as a NATO ally, there is an obligation. 

But, aren't we already involved in enough wars?  And will military intervention really solve anything?  If the ineptitude and corruption of the Bush administration taught us anything, it is that while US military power can dominate nearly any battlefield, it can do little or nothing to create stable, peaceful environments, let alone establish democracies.

Libya is a quagmire, pure and simple.  I don't have a clue how to find a moral solution.  If there is anybody out there who does, I'm listening...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

El primer día de la primavera, 2011


Hoy día es el primer día de la primavera en este año del Señor, 2011. Ayer, una otra guerra comenzó. A veces la desesperación amenaza abrumarnos, los quienes que tendrían la paz.  Hay muchos vientos viniendo con la primavera. Vientos de la guerra, vientos de la derrota, de la ignorancia.


No tengo palabras elegantes; no tengo consuelos.  Pero, tomé algunos fotos bonitos de flores en Parque Laurelhirst.  Los vientos estaban cantando en los brazos de los arboles.


"¡Primavera, la primavera! La primavera viene. La primavera siempre viene.  Alégrate!" ellos cantaron. Esos vientos cantaron con furia.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Liberal Hamlets and Ralph Nader Syndrome


Much like the Bard's fickle and morose Danish prince, liberals and progressives unhappy with the current state of le monde politique wrestle with agonizing questions regarding their posture in this morally ambiguous age.  To support Obama or not to support Obama?  That is the question.

I know a lot of liberals and progressives are unhappy with President Obama.  Since he was sworn in, the diminution of our civil liberties instigated by Junior Bush (ostensibly in the interest of "fighting terrorism") has continued apace.  Indeed, President Obama is setting dangerous precedents!  (One need look no further for evidence than the case of Private Bradley Manning, an American citizen being held in solitary confinement in conflict with the Eight Amendment of the Constitution.)

To be sure, there is merit to liberal complaints.  In fact, I share them. And I'll join any effort to get the Obama administration to change its policies.

But, barring some Great Earthquake in the political landscape of this country, I will be voting for President Obama in 2012.

The dangers we face --we, the underclasses, the vassals --are myriad.  Our interests are all under assault:  labor rights, environmental protection, rights for GLBT citizens and for immigrants (both documented and otherwise), and, yes, civil liberties.  Liberals and progressives don't have the luxury of holding themselves apart from their natural allies (labor unions, racial and religious minorities, et alia) in order to air their pet grievances. 

The opposition, the plutocrats and oligarchs, are united against us.  They have infinitely more resources than do we, unless we unite.  And they are experts at dividing us against each other. 

As was so devastatingly demonstrated in the election of 2000, which led to 8 years of irreversible setbacks in not only civil liberties, but progress on carbon emissions, progressive taxation, and general prosperity, holding ourselves apart from our allies leads only to unmitigated disaster.  We will never regain the ground we lost under the Bush administration

Liberals, we musn't indulge ourselves in Ralph Nader Syndrome.  Not this time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fukushima: Heroism and virtue

Brave, noble humans
Yesterday, the Japanese government ordered an evacuation of the area around the Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant.  The risks posed by radiation leaks are too great to be ignored. 
Meanwhile, at least 11,000 people are reported dead or missing in the wake of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that initiated this crisis.  Snow and high winds are hampering the search for survivors.  Some 450,000 people have been rendered homeless.  Radiation traces are being reported in Tokyo. France has advised its citizens in Japan to leave the country.

In spite of all this, emergency workers in Fukushima, some 200 or so valiant souls, continue to fight in 50-person shifts to contain the disaster.  By many accounts, these heroes are living on borrowed time.  According to most of the so-called experts that I have heard and seen on the various media (and my own doctor) these courageous people, some of whom have already lost everything (families, homes, communities) in the earthquake and tsunami, have been exposed to too much radiation to hope to survive.  (Read more here.)

And yet, they continue to carry out their duty.  Nobility in the face of death.  I hope I can find it, when my time comes.

The heart-rending silver lining of this global catastrophe is simply this:  it provides humanity with an opportunity to demonstrate our virtue, our heroism, our nobility.  The 200 courageous people in Fukushima are the evidence we may present to the Great Whatever that we are worthy of the blessings with which we have been endowed; that, in spite of all our short-comings, we are part of Creation's beauty.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fukushima sleigh ride


The situation in Japan continues to deteriorate.  With all its pumps off-line and no way to get water in to cool the super-hot fuel rods in its reactors, Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant erupted again this evening.  Read more here.

The crew working to contain the disaster had already been reduced to a core 50 volunteers.  The situation is extremely dangerous.  But now, those last 50 workers evacuated the site a short while ago due to a surge in radiation.

Clearly, the situation is out of control.  And judging by the chatter from so-called "experts" on the news, no one has any idea what to do, much less what will happen next. 

We'll find out, I imagine.  Perhaps most especially, those of us living 4500 miles further down the jet stream.

The Japanese people are showing incredible fortitude and courage.  Satellite images show refugees standing patiently on queue at aid distribution centers.  There is no looting.  No lawlessness.  And the heroism of those 50 emergency workers, some of whom reportedly lost their families in the earthquake and ensuing tsunami...  They are an amazing people, so very worthy of admiration.

But the fires are still burning at Fukushima Dai-Ichi.  And no one knows what to do.

It is as if we are in a car, careening down an icy hill.  We don't know where we're going, and we can't control it anyway.  But we know the crash is coming.  Fukushima sleigh ride!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Moss, crocuses


Shiva's might. That's what we are witnessing in Kesenuma, Miyako, Kamaishi, and Minamisoma. Shiva the Transformer, Destroyer of worlds, strikes with his fist and the very Earth groans. Mankind is swept away in the shock of impact.

Satoe

I offer up another prayer to the Great Whatever on behalf of Sister Satoe.  I have no way to help her, nor indeed know how she fares.  I hope that her fate is not cruel.  


When faced with the magnitude of the power by which graces we exist, even a fool must pause.  In such moments, I find it sweet to contemplate moss and crocuses.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Distant cannons


Yesterday afternoon, walking along the river, it was curious to remember that winter yet lies upon the Rose City. The sky bright and diffused, cirrus scalloped like flavored carnival ices, was hopeful backdrop to the impermanent skyline.  Impermanent?  Short-lived is perhaps a better descriptor.

Old Man Hood glowered in the dusk, his sleep disturbed by rumblings from across the great basin where his brethren still wrestle beneath Pacifica's blanket.  The rumor of those struggles is distant cannon fire.  This play of giants visits disaster on those strange, delicate creatures, no sooner arisen than were spread across the playground.

Alas, my Japanese brothers and sisters!  Our woe is not beyond, but beneath their ken.  (And a special prayer for you, Sister Satoe, wherever you may be.)


The people living by her side brace for Pacifica's lashing tongue.  No one can know how she will respond to the wrestling of the giants.  We only know that she will be furious.

Respect her fury!  Fear it!


The sad defeat in Wisconsin reveals disturbing truths about those vassals who stood with the overlords.  For them, apparently, it is more important that no peon be given a single bread crust more than themselves.  But readily do they bow to the lords and ladies, nor dare to sup until their betters are well and fed. 

Dusk deepens on the City of Roses.  Tomorrow the rains arrive. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Peter King and Charlie Sheen

Peter King, New York Representative and Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, started his Muslim witch-hunt on Capitol Hill yesterday, in spite of the emotional statement of Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, the only Muslim member of Congress.


It's hard to attribute Representative King's actions to anything other than naked pandering to ignorant Islamophobes, which, as we have seen, constitute a decent share of the so-called "Tea Party" movement. 

Remember when the Fox News freaks were all aghast about the 2009 report issued by the Department of Homeland Security warning of the dangers of right-wing extremist groups?  Oh, how the conservatives beat their breasts and wailed that they were being wronged!

But these same "freedom-loving patriots" have no problem investigating communities of a particular religious faith, Constitution be damned!  And demagogues like Peter King are happy to accommodate.  Don't look for any congressional investigations into the various right-wing terror incidents that have occurred with increasing frequency since Barack Obama was elected president.  (Just last night, in Spokane, Washington, the FBI arrested Kevin William Harpham, a known associate of the Neo-Nazi group, National Alliance, for attempting to use a "weapon of mass destruction" at a Martin Luther King Day parade in that city.  Read more here.)

Well, we knew that the 112th Congress would be bringing a big load of sh*t in with them.  Neither John Boehner nor Eric Cantor nor any other Republican faker can rein them in.

But, from a very (very) personal standpoint, this pogrom-in-the-birthing is a huge red flag.  People like Peter King are beyond shame.  Worse, they are dangerous.  Extremely dangerous.

A man coming apart

Speaking of shame:  Why are so many people seemingly obsessed with the antics of Charlie Sheen?  The man is obviously suffering.  He's obviously in crisis.

There's nothing to see here, folks.  Why take voyeuristic pleasure in watching him dissolve?  Haven't we all seen this with people in our own lives?  Haven't we all known people who have come apart?  (Indeed, how many of us have done so ourselves?)

It seems cruel and callous.  Let the man and his family find a way through this crisis without all the public jeering and humiliation.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Wisconsin: Bitter defeat, pyhrric victory

Workers in the Badger state demonstrate in the Wisconsin State Capitol Building
The breaking news this evening is that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican majorities in the state's two legislative houses have found a way to pass their budget and union-busting legislation.

It's a startling turnaround.  Only yesterday, it seemed that all the momentum was with the working people of Wisconsin.  Governor Walker's approval rating are dropping like a stone.  Rumors were aswirl that he was ready to compromise.  And then, the GOP pulled an arcane parliamentary maneuver, somehow separating the bill into two different pieces.  By doing so, they set a lower threshold for a quorum and were able to vote quickly to pass both pieces.  There appears to be some question about the legality of the GOP tactic, but it is clear that Wisconsin Democrats are appalled by it at the very least.

I hate to say it, especially as reports indicate that angry protesters are even now gathering at the Wisconsin capitol, but this battle may be over.  A bitter defeat.  I feel the sting of it all the way over here in Portland.  How must it burn for my union brothers and sisters in Madison?

The plutocrats, the neo-feudal lords have won a victory tonight.  And it comes at the expense of the common people.

This is a defeat, brothers and sisters.  Taste the cruel, bitter dregs.   But remember, watershed events set a course of their own.

On September 7th, 1812, Napoleon's ill-fated Russian campaign culminated in the battle of Borodino.  Napoleon and all his armies crashed into the Russians on the road before Moscow.  Even in the face of the mighty Grande Armée, Field Marshall Kutuzov, the Russian commander, vowed that the invading French "...shall eat horseflesh like the Turks!"

At the end of the battle, the French commanded the field and the Russian army was in full retreat.  Napoleon rode unopposed into Moscow, apparently triumphant.

But six weeks later, the real results of Borodino became known.  The French army was mortally wounded and out of supply.  By the end of October, the Grande Armée was in full rout toward Poland with the Russian army at its heels. The French soldiers froze and starved to death along the way. Many of them did, in fact, eat horseflesh.

It could be that what happened in Wisconsin, this apparent victory by the plutocrats, awakened the people.  The bourgeoisie may yet find itself in full rout.  It may yet eat horseflesh.

That's what I believe.  I believe that we, the people, have had enough.  We've lost a battle, but the war is on.  And we're just getting started.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The politics of ASL

Note to readers: This post won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the Advanced Squad Leader game system. Also note:  This is satire!

This is my story, of course.  So I get to tell it the way I remember it.  Which is the way it happened.  Or maybe this is just the way I wanted it to happen.  You'll have to decide that for yourself.

It's one of those things we never talk about in the world of Advanced Squad Leader.  The real politique of the thing.  The world of ASL, ostensibly a world of middle-aged men play-acting as World War II commanders, is a labyrinth of deal-making, plotting, and back-stabbing.

It's been twenty years or more since any ASL championship was ever decided by the dice.  Most champions, and you'll notice I'm not naming names, are decided in a series of backroom deals between the various factions long before anyone ever lines up at the hotel buffet for opening day breakfast.

Evans versus Greenman, WWF 1997.  The daggers were out for this one.
Factions? you ask.  Oh, yeah.  There's the New York gang, with JR and Dr. Phil and GorGor.  There's the Ginnard Brothers out of Ohio.  There's the Colorado bunch, with Repetti and Snow and Hundsdorfer.  Tim Wilson and Tom Jazbutis kinda run free agent.  And there's a whole bunch of others, besides.  My group was the Berserk Commissars, coming out of Oregon.

The long and short of it is this:  ASL is a world of politics.  Pure and simple.  I'm not going to make any bones about it, and I'm not going to apologize for it.  When large sums of money are at stake (the purse at Enfilade back in the 90s reached $60 one year), there's not a man-jack among us who is content to let the dice have any say.

Skeptical, are ya? That's fine. I'm not asking you to believe me.

I got two stories for ya. 

Playing Jaren Wilson at WWF '97.  Poor kid!  He had no idea that the fix was in.

The first one is the story of my game with Jaren Wilson, which took place in Park City, Utah in 1997.  Jaren was a newbie; an inexperienced player.  We were set up to play a scenario called The Red Wave.  Standard German hedgehog defense against uncoordinated but numerous Russians.  1941.  Well, I "arranged" to win choice of sides through some intense lobbying of the tourney director, Tim Wilson (no relation to poor Jaren).  I chose the Germans.  The word on the street about Red Wave was that the Germans couldn't lose.

Then, we got to the game.  Well, imagine my surprise!  Jaren was under the illusion that, if he played a good game and had a little luck, he might win!  Gotta hand it to the kid.  He showed a lot of skill and imagination in pressing his attack.  At the end of the game, he had me all balled up in one or two stone buildings, just waiting to be overrun by his platoon of tanks. In short, he was about to win... and there were all kinds of reasons that that just couldn't happen.

And, of course, I had my contingency plan.  Before the tourney, I'd worked out an exchange of favors with Tom Jazbutis.  You know?  One of those "You help me; I help you" kind of gigs.  So, I shoot Jazz a signal and he comes and sits nearby all nonchalant.  Then, while poor Jaren is poring over the board, counting Movement Points, or calculating his odds of Bog, or something silly like that, Jazz slips me the "special dice."

From that point on, I never rolled higher than a "4."  It was the most amazing hot streak any of us had ever seen.  Poor old Jaren even laughed about it.  Tell you the truth, I kinda feel bad about it all these years later.

Backroom deal-making, WWF '95
The other story doesn't end so nice for me.   And this one will give you a better idea of just how deep the corruption goes.

This was in 2001, when the 2nd Edition of the rulebook came out.  Let me tell you, it is truly a testament to human persistence that the 2nd Edition ever made it to print.  All the lobbying and deal-making that went into that process brought out the very worst in most of us.  Bitter fights over whether or not immobilized AFV might be held in Melee by armed enemy infantry.  Vicious debates about platoon movement, LOS along cliff hex sides, half-level Height Advantage, Smoke Exponents for half-squads.

But I came away from the whole thing quite satisfied.  I had successfully lobbied Perry Cocke, the rulebook executor, to include language that made infantry crews manning Guns to be considered squad-equivalents.

You see, Dave Hauth and I were scheduled to play Red Barricades soon.  I was to be the Russians.  My plan for success involved buying howitzers and AT guns and artillery pieces and emplacing them in fortified Factory locations.

The deal with Perry would make it so that, in my game with Dave, he would be unable to advance his Germans into close combat with my gun-manning crews.

Months later, after the 2nd Edition was well-out and published, Dave and I had our game.  And sure enough, long about Day 4, the great moment arrived.  Dave had purchased Pioneers and was set to charge against my line of hidden Guns.  The day went back and forth, but as Fate would have it, the culmination came when Dave tried, on the last German player turn, to advance into a fortified building hex with my infantry crew and 76* howitzer.

"You can't!" I said.  "That hex is fortified and occupied by my Gun-manning crew.  That makes them a squad-equivalent!"

Dave calmly opened the Rule Book to page A11, rule 5.5 and read "...if an Infantry crew/HS is manning a Gun, it is considered equal to a squad for stacking purposes." As if to emphasize the extent of his triumph, he added "Stacking purposes only."

For a moment I was bewildered.  There must be some mistake!  Perry and I had a deal!

But then, it hit me.  Somewhere in some backroom of this Byzantium that I helped create, this thing we call ASL, Dave had cut his own deal with someone.  I'd been out-foxed and double-crossed.  He continued speaking:  "So, let's see, I advance in 3 Pioneer squads and a concealed 10-3 leader against your 127 crew.  Ambush roll?"

Numb, I dropped a die.  Dave went on:  "You roll 4.  I roll 2.  Minus 3 for leadership, minus 2 for concealment.  German ambush.  Odds are 25 to one.  I'll declare hand-to-hand." 

He dropped his dice into the tower.  I didn't bother looking at the result.  "Well-played," I said.  It was all I could manage.

I conceded the campaign at the end of the scenario.  No hard feelings.  Business is business, after all.

The politics of ASL, my friends.  The politics of ASL.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Coffee with Jules

State Representative Jules Kopel-Bailey (District 42) meeting with constituents
Yesterday, I attended a meet-and-greet with Jules Kopel-Bailey, state representative for my district.  The venue was Oui Presse, an elegant coffee house (with a great reading rack) on Hawthorne and SE 18th.  The event was SRO, attracting some three or four dozen people; a couple dozen more than Oui Presse could seat.  (But the staff kept up with coffee demands admirably.)

District 42
District 42 runs from the Willamette River eastward to about SE 50th, and north-to-south from Interstate 84 down to Reed College.  In terms of the red-blue dichotomy by which political parlance categorizes such things, this district is as blue as grape hyacinths.

I found folks at the event to be a bit stand-offish and my ever-active snob detector was picking up a lot of activity, but I suppose that's to be expected.  Judging by the questions and comments, there were some very smart people in attendance.

Grape hyacinths
Jules himself was amiable and accessible.  (He's a politician, after all.)  He informed us about the happenings in Salem around budgeting and revenue, displaying an impressive command of details and minutiae.  Further, he was very good at relating all this mind-numbing, wonky information in a way that I found comprehensible.  Not an easy feat!

I found his report encouraging.  He portrayed a state capitol that is getting things done with bipartisan cooperation.  This is most hopeful.  Our state is facing some big, immediate challenges.  And with our legislature split right down the middle between parties in both houses, bipartisan cooperation is the only way we're going to be able to address them.  If only the two national parties could manage it!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Cookin' up a pogrom


Republican Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Peter King (NY-03) is all set to hold hearings, which he has entitled "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response."  Read more here.  Peter King, of the Republican Party (which claims to hold that government is too intrusive), plans to scrutinize the communities of fellow citizens to determine the extent to which they are "radicalized."

American citizens, does that make you feel uncomfortable at all? 

Have a look at this report from Orange County, California (home of the original Disneyland)...



Makes ya proud, don't it?   This hits home for me, of course.  But this country has always carried with it a nasty nativist sentiment that manifests itself in ugly ways.  It's nothing new.

The problem comes when this kind of bigotry is legitimized by public officials, as with the councilwoman in the video.  That's why I find Representative King's hearings to be not only insulting, but dangerous.

Here's what  Japanese-American lawmaker Mike Honda wrote this week in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed:
Rep(resentative) King's intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia.  This should be deeply troubling to Americans of all races and religions. An investigation specifically targeting a single religion implies, erroneously, a dangerous disloyalty, with one broad sweep of the discriminatory brush.
(It's worth noting that Mike Honda spent his early childhood in a Japanese internment camp in the 40s).

We're not talking about some backwater cult here, for God's sake.  When government identifies and investigates communities based on their Constitutionally-protected religious practices, an important safeguard is violated.  As a society, we have set foot on a path toward pogrom.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Fight on, Wisconsin!

(Thanks, Robert, for the image.)

It's difficult to know who is winning the vital fight that is occurring, right this minute, in the Great State of Wisconsin.

Some media reports indicate that the "Wisconsin Fourteen," those Democrats in the state senate who have fled the state to deny a quorum (and thus, block passage of Governor Walker's regressive and cruel state budget) are wavering in their resolve.  Rumors abound that they are working to cut a deal.  And, honestly, who can blame them?  They've been away from their homes for two weeks now.  They have spouses and families. 

On the other hand, Governor Walker's intransigence doesn't seem to be playing well with public sympathies.  Polls consistently show that the American public is sympathetic to the cause of the protesters.  (You can read about one such poll here.)  And you'll notice that there are no prominent national Republicans flying in to Madison for photo shoots with the young governor.  Walker is out there on a limb, all by himself.  And, whaddya know?  None of his right-wing buddies are backing him up.  Where is Mike HuckabeeNewt GingrichSarah Palin?  

(Of course, President Obama hasn't been exactly courageous in his support of the union.  But let's put that aside for now...) 

Says it all, don't it?
Take a look at this graphic.  It clearly shows that there is a direct correlation between the decline in union membership and a fall in the share of national income that goes to the middle class.  You can read more here.  And don't forget that unions are responsible for the 40 hour work-week, child labor laws, maternity leave, paid holidays and just about every other benefit you now enjoy at the expense of the bourgeoisie.

Who are these Wisconsin protesters?  Take a look and see...



The protesters who are even now on the front lines need to know that there are others all across this country (indeed, the world!) who stand with them.  If you're so inclined, Ian's Pizza in Madison, Wisconsin, will accept orders and deliver pizzas to the protesters who are occupying the Wisconsin state house.  You can view their web page here.  Their phone number is 608.257.9248.

People, unless you're one of the top 2% of income earners in these United States, this fight is your fight.  It's our fight.  Do you hear the people sing?


Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Then join in the fight
That will give you the right to be free!

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Will you give all you can give
So that our banner may advance
Some will fall and some will live
Will you stand up and take your chance?
The blood of the martyrs
Will water the meadows of France!

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!
--Les Misérables
Fight on, Wisconsin!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Book review: Zero History


My book club selection, this time around, was William Gibson's 2010 novel, Zero History.  This was my first exposure to Mr. Gibson. 

Zero History is the third part of a trilogy, the other two parts being Spook Country and Pattern Recognition.  But, upon completing Zero History, any interest I might have in the other two books has withered.

The novel is set in the near-future.  Gibson extrapolates on today's trend of ever-expanding communication technology to create a mirror world that is easily recognizable and not very far away.

Hollis Henry, a retired pop music star and writer, and Milgram, a recovering drug addict with a penchant for noticing details, join forces in the employ of Blue Ant corporation in search of a secret brand of clothing --a "ghost" brand.  Blue Ant's chief executive, Mr. Bigend, believes the ghost brand, "Hounds," holds the key to vast riches, if it can be manufactured and marketed.  Hollis, Milgram, and some dozen or so other characters jaunt around the streets of London and Paris in a game of cellphone subterfuge, hoping to find the illusive brand and its designer.

Gibson's narrative approach is to alter perspective between the two main characters as they scramble around playing at espionage.  Odd-numbered chapters are told from Hollis' perspective; even-numbered chapters are Milgram.  This unwavering cadence results in many empty scenes that neither advance the plot nor reveal much of anything about the characters.  Gibson slavishly adheres to this pattern far past the point of being predictable.  By the end of the book, it is flat-out monotonous. 

Which brings up another point.  Gibson strings this novel together by way of a series of three-to-five page scenes, which he calls "chapters."  Gibson extracts each chapter name from a phrase that occurs within the chapter.  But the reader quickly notices that these names are not significant to the story, and comes to suspect that Gibson is just picking phrases that he imagines sound intriguing.  A few examples:  "Paradoxical Antagonist," "Post-Acute," "Always is Genius."

Gibson's apparent idea of descriptive narrative is --well, I didn't find it effective.  He does a lot of sketching and suggesting, but he's not much for detail.  Lots of empty words.  Take this passage, for example:
The lobby here suggested some combination of extremely expensive private art school and government defense establishment, though when he thought about it, he'd never been in either.  There was a massive central chandelier, constructed from thousands of pairs of discarded prescription eyeglasses, that contributed very handsomely to the art school part, but the Pentagon part (or would it be Whitehall?) was harder to pin down.  Half a dozen large plasma screens constantly showed the latest house product, mostly European and Japanese automobile commercials with production budgets dwarfing those of many feature films, while beneath these moved people wearing badges like the one Rausch had used to open the door.  These were worn around the neck, on lanyards in various shades, some bearing the repeated logos of various brands or projects.  There was a smell of exceptionally good coffee.
Am I supposed to get a picture from that

Jim Kidwell and Will Johnson are both familiar with Gibson and attested that this novel is not his best work.  But I don't imagine I'll bother with anything more.

The worst of it, of Zero History, is that it is unbearably boring.  Four hundred pages in which nothing happens.  The story is a tedious transcription of wooden characters sending email, tweeting, and playing with cell phones.

I thought Gibson himself described the book rather well in the opening passage of Chapter 79:  Dungeon Master:
...something tedious and self-importantly arcane, on multiple screens.  Something that didn't matter, was of no great importance, on which nothing depended.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it


A third Thing to think about. From For Whom the Bell Tolls:
Living was a hawk in the sky. Living was an earthen jar of water in the dust of the threshing with the grain flailed out and the chaff blowing. Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond. --Ernest Hemingway
In this passage, we read the thoughts of El Sordo, a guerrillero leader fighting for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War.  He is trapped on a hilltop with a few companions, surrounded by Fascist cavalry troopers.  There is no escape.  El Sordo and his comrades await the arrival of the Fascist air support which will bomb the hilltop and kill them all.

It is interesting to examine how El Sordo defines "living."  It is "a hawk in the sky," "an earthen jar of water," "a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it."  In the eyes of some, these things he names, these things that are "living," might seem mundane or unremarkable.  But, in the eyes of a man who is staring into the face of his own death...

Perhaps, given enough time, any of us might come to see life, to see living, in the same light as El Sordo.  Perhaps, in time, living will mean a sleeping woman's arm across your chest; a pocked, pale moon reflected on the water; and a mountain pass with a falls and a round-stone river raging down to the valley.

In a way, El Sordo is lucky, is he not?  His impossible situation has given him incredible focus.  As death bears down on him, he is able to clearly recall what life has been, what it means to him.

How many of us get that?