Sunday, October 30, 2011

Light Housekeeping

I keep meaning to post something up here but one thing or another keeps getting in the way; working Saturday and late on the weekdays is part of it, family and kiddos is another, pure laziness a third. I should have something for Halloween, since that's always good for kiddo pictures, if nothing else.

The other issue is that I just don't have much worthwhile to say at the moment. I don't want to repeat and you don't want to hear anymore moaning about the irritating combination of incompetence and moral corruption (that is, not the taking of actual payoffs but, rather, the complete voluntary subordination of the "public good" to the greedy desires of the oligarchy) that seems to comprise the U.S. government circa 2011. I've hammered away on wars and foreign policy, had the usual utter lack of effect, and am frankly bored and tired of both the moron-grade imbecility of the former and the nuclear-red-ass-grade irritation of the latter.

I have some idle thoughts, but so do you and there is no reason to assume that mine are any more worthy of consideration than yours; it's that sort of thing that gives blogging the bad name for self-indulgence it has.

Here's one thing I would like some suggestions on.

I'm also coming to the end of the "Decisive Battles" arc. No so much because there are no more battles to write about - as long as there are humans there will be battles to write about - but because the remaining engagements are either already thoroughly discussed by better writers than I or because I'm just not interested in the affairs. I haven't touched on, say, Stalingrad, or Agincourt, or Gaugamela and that's because I really have nothing to add to the mountainous scholarship already expended on them, and as a result I have no interest in even trying.

But there are a few remaining days of battle I AM interested in. I thought I'd throw them up here and let you give me some ideas, either for engagements I haven't listed or some insights on the ones I have. So, in order by month:

October - two; Milvian Bridge, more for the religious politics involved than from the fairly straightforward combat involved (how the FUCK do you take position with your back to a major river AND compromise the crossing point to ensure maximum carnage if you lose? If I were one of your troops I'd have killed you twice, Maxentius...) and Tours.

November - two U.S.-native tribe engagements; "St. Clair's Defeat" in 1791 and Tippicanoe in 1811.

December - to be honest, I got nothing for December. Any suggestions?

January - the Fall of Granada, as a discussion of the Reconquista in general and its effect on the military politics of Spain and the Spanish colonies

February - Verdun; again, not so much for the battle itself, a boring and horrific meatgrinder, but for the combination of the transition of German strategy from maneuver to bloodletting by 1916 and the terrible long-term effects the slaughter had on French politics and military preparedness (and to some extent has to this day).

March - Adowa, and the foreshadowing of the post-colonial wars of "liberation", and the "non-battle" of the Rhineland, 1936 because it SHOULD have been a battle...and that is wasn't set Europe on course for WW2 - an object lesson that peace isn't always "better" than war.

April - I've done pretty much all the battles for April I'm interested in: Panipat, Shanhaiguan, Lexington/Concord, and Culloden.

May - Canton 1841 (as the end of the Qing and a harbinger of the internal disasters that kept China in a mess throughout the next 100 years). And possibly the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, agian not for the battle itself but as the culmination of two centuries of declining Byzantine and growing Ottoman power, setting the stage for the wars of religion in southeastern Europe that culminate in the Siege of Vienna in 1529.

June - Chalons 451 (again, more as the exclamation point at the turning of the tide of Hunnic invasion of the West AND the decline of the Western Roman Empire) and the Philippine Sea (the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" - again, not so much as a battle but as the symbol of the barrenness of the Japanese war plan and the beginning of the end for the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere).

July - the Armada, 1588, and Königgrätz 1866

August - the only thing I can think of for this month is Stalingrad, and I just don't really have anything to say that hasn't been said. Any ideas?

September - Sedan, 1870.

And that's it.

So...any ideas, or suggestions?

Gotta go - have a good book that's calling to me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Last Summer Days

Gorgeous Indian-summer day in Portland; I had work up in the far northeast of Vancouver, Washington, monitoring infiltration tests though the lazy, sunny afternoon. Cool enough for crispness - the meadowgrass was white with frost when I arrived in the predawn - but warming to pleasantly shirtsleeve temperatures by afternoon. A light wind from the south bringing on it the dry tartness of fallen leaves, the sultry scent of woodsmoke, and the high, clear iciness of the late October sky.

It gave me time to sit on my tailgate, book neglected at my side, and just enjoy the beauty of the last of summer and the brief, bright autumn we pass through so quickly before the gray rains of winter begin.

XXXIX

When summer's end is nighing
  And skies at evening cloud,
I muse on change and fortune
  And all the feats I vowed
  When I was young and proud.

The weathercock at sunset
  Would lose the slanted ray,
And I would climb the beacon
  That looked to Wales away
  And saw the last of day.

From hill and cloud and heaven
  The hues of evening died;
Night welled through lane and hollow
  And hushed the countryside,
  But I had youth and pride.

And I with earth and nightfall
  In converse high would stand,
Late, till the west was ashen
  And darkness hard at hand,
  And the eye lost the land.

The year might age, and cloudy
  The lessening day might close,
But air of other summers
  Breathed from beyond the snows,
  And I had hope of those.

They came and were and are not
  And come no more anew;
And all the years and seasons
  That ever can ensue
  Must now be worse and few.

So here's an end of roaming
  On eves when autumn nighs:
The ear too fondly listens
  For summer's parting sighs,
  And then the heart replies.

~A.E. Housman (Last Poems)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

GFT's Greatest Hits: Occupy Wall Street, 2008

The discussions we've been having over at MilPub about Occupy Wall Street got me thinking "Hmmm...didn't I write something about that..?" and eventually I went rummaging around in the back of the packrat portion of my mind and, sure enough, here it is from August, 2008.

"The Public Be Damned"

Every so often I run across something that reminds me so forcibly, so violently, of the present desuetude of our republic that I lose my wind just for a moment.

Here's Glenn Greenwald describing the scene at the current Democratic National Convention, where the telecom giant AT&T throws an intimate little shindig for the very people - imagine that - who helped them evade lawsuits for their lickspittle subservience to the criminals in the Bush White House and the NSA who believe that the laws of the land are, in the immortal words of Leona Helmsley, "for the little people".

I challenge you to read it and not throw up a little in the back of your mouth. It's sickening. It's the real face of "American politics".

It's not like this is something new in American politics. The rich are always with us, and the only difference between the New Gilded Age and the Old was that back then, a man like Mark Hanna could openly say; "Come on, you've been in politics long enough to know that no man in public life owes the public anything."

Today we have to pretend to "care" about the Great Unwashed, but the reality of America is that unless we're in the top 1% of all American incomes many of us have much of the freedom of a polled Hereford being prodded up the chute towards that dark building where we await our political and economic fate. Are we better off than some Ukrainian peasant or Zimbabwean prole? Sure. Will that mean much when our job is offshored, or we get sick and run through our insurance, or the highway to our parents' falls apart and we have to drive a 40-mile detour to visit?

No.

Here's Andrew Bacevich talking some hard, cold sense that most of us will close our ears to:
"The military-industrial complex will inhibit efforts to curb the Pentagon's penchant for waste. Detroit and Big Oil will conspire to prolong the age of gas guzzling. And the Israel lobby will oppose attempts to chart a new course in the Middle East. The next commander in chief will inherit an intractable troop shortage. The United States today finds itself with too much war and too few warriors. That alone will constrain a president conducting two ongoing conflicts. A looming crisis of debt and dependency will similarly tie the president's hands. Bluntly, the United States has for too long lived beyond its means. With Americans importing more than 60% of the oil they consume, the negative trade balance now about $800 billion annually, the federal deficit at record levels and the national debt approaching $10 trillion, the United States faces an urgent requirement to curb its profligate tendencies. Spending less (and saving more) implies settling for less. Yet among the campaign themes promoted by McCain and Obama alike, calls for national belt-tightening are muted.

Will we listen? Will we act? No.

Because, in the end, short of violent revolution, with the monetary grip on the levers of power, what CAN we do?

And because, in the end, we'd rather pretend that the future holds "freedom" and green pastures and sunny skies and try not to hear the cries of the other steers and the whisper of the killing knife.

And here's the interesting thing; we had a lively little exchange in the comments section, where, among other things, I wrote this: "...our economy is deeply unsound and shortsighted, our public uninformed, venal and stupid and our "leaders" corrupted and dysfunctional and then somehow insists that our nation will slip under this scylla of disaster.

I have no doubt that there will be a thing called the "United States". I'm not so sure we will like it, or possibly even recognize it. More and more I am convinced that the grand bargain forced on the Wealthy by FDR - that they would restrain their rapaciousness in return for labor peace and domestic tranquility- has broken. The rich will soon force the middle class into genteel poverty or economic servitude. The poor (flayed by immigration, crushed by hopelessness) will become little but serfs, in fact if not in name.

In short, we are returning to the U.S. in the 1880s and 1890s.

Fabius denies this, but his arguments boil down to, in essence, "America is stronger than that."

Bullshit.

We've been there before and there's no reason we won't return."


Now...not to toot my own horn - though this blog IS my little horn and I'm gonna toot it - but with the U.S. of 2011 looking ever more like the U.S. of 1929...and the GOP bound and determined to return it to the U.S. of 1899...should the New York Times not be hammering on my door asking me to write for them, or what?

Fuck, but sometimes I'm just that GOOD.

And ask me what that's worth and I'll cadge a buck off you for a cup of coffee. I'm just as much part of the 99% as the rest of y'all.

Update 10/23: I was listening to the kiddos play LEGOS and eat seaweed for breakfast (the Little Girl, anyway - anyone else have a child that likes dried nori for breakfast?) and blogreading when I came across this, from David Atkins at Hullabaloo, which is so good that I have to quote it at length. To wit:
Simply put, in the 1970s America was hit with an inflation crisis that quickly became a stagflation crisis. There were also oil shocks involved. Simulataneously, the world was becoming increasingly globalized, which made it more difficult for American corporations to compete using American labor. Finally, as Hacker and Pierson have persuasively argued, big business banded together to begin more aggressive and cohesive lobbying efforts. These four trends were devastating politically for the middle class.

American public policy on both sides of the aisle reoriented itself away from a focus on wages and toward a focus on assets. Specifically, the idea was that wage growth was dangerous because it led to core inflation in a way that asset growth did not. American foreign policy became obsessed even more than it had been with maintaining access to oil, both to prevent future oil shocks and to prevent inflationary oil spirals. Wage growth was also dangerous because it would drive increasing numbers of American corporations to employ cheaper overseas labor.

But that left the question of how to sustain a middle class and functional economy while slashing wages. The answer was to make more Americans "true Capitalists" in Reagan's terms. Pensions were converted to 401K plans, thus investing about half of Americans into the stock market and creating a national obsession with the health of market indices. Regular Americans were given credit cards, allowing them to take on the sorts of debt that had previously only been available to businesses. Most crucially, American policymakers did everything possible to incentivize homeownership, from programs designed to help people afford homes to major tax breaks for homeownership and much besides.

Low prices on foreign-made goods were also a policy priority. This had a dual benefit for policymakers: lower prices offset stagnant wages, while keeping core inflation low. Free trade deals were also a major centerpiece of public policy in this context. Few politicians actually believed that these deals would help increase wages and jobs in America. But what they were designed to do is keep low-cost goods coming into America, while increasing the stock value of American companies exporting goods overseas, thus raising asset values.

Low interest rates were also important. Renters and savers suffer in a low-interest rate environment, but borrowers and asset owners do very well. Tax cuts, of course, are also helpful in offsetting the impact of wage stagnation.

Houses and stocks, then, are assets that rise independently of wages. Low-cost overseas goods and the easy availability of loans and credit provide offsets to low wages. Low interest rates and tax cuts help as well keep assets afloat as well. The bipartisan idea from a public policy standpoint was not simply to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. The idea was to make the American middle class dependent on assets rather than wages. I was at a conference many years back, the purpose of which was to bring corporate bigwigs together in defense of free trade against what they feared might be a protectionist backlash. One executive told me point blank that if only enough Americans were invested in the stock market, they wouldn't gripe about Halliburton and other similar companies because they would say, "Hey, I own part of that company!" When I objected that that only half of Americans were invested in the market at all, and of that figure far fewer had significant assets invested, he retorted that more Americans were invested in the market than I thought, and that policy needed to be designed to push more Americans to invest.
I've often looked at our public policy and tried to figure out "What sane polity would enact policies seemingly designed to return itself to what may have been the least-stable political conditions (the openly-oligarchic period between about 1870-1930) since before the Civil War?" And here's the answer. And Atkins has a simple and exceptionally sane solution:
"The recklessness and stupidity of this sort of approach to public policy should have been proven by the 2008 financial crisis that saw the rapid destruction of asset values in stocks, bonds, and housing. Predicating economic health on asset growth is a pipe dream: most people will never have enough assets to make it work, and asset growth is far too unstable to serve as the basis for a functional economy.

Whether they can articulate it or not, what has most progressives most incensed about the Obama Administration's domestic policy is that it has ultimately hewed to the same asset-based economic model. When the Administration could be progressive on cutting costs or ensuring equality without negatively impacting assets, it did so. That's what the ACA, the Ledbetter Act, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and numerous other left-leaning Administration moves were designed to do. But the Administration has been very reticent to take any actions that would negatively impact the value of assets.

America will only return to real economic health when the asset-crazed insanity of the last 30 years is brought to heel, and America returns to a public policy that is far more interested in wage growth and economic stability than it is in asset inflation. Until then, we can expect continued political and economic shocks from an angry electorate and an economy that has run off the rails due to 30 years of deeply misguided anti-inflation, pro-asset-growth ideology."
But sane or not, my skepticism remains. The wealthy have their hands around the neck of the government; they will not be pried loose. And they are no more prescient that their counterparts were in St. Petersburg in 1917 or Paris in 1789. They will destroy the village in order to save their privileges. And the extraordinary coalition that pulled our nation away from the totalitarian abyss that awaited it in 1932 - Soviet communism on the one hand, Italian (and, later, German) fascism on the other - shows no signs of being there to ride to the rescue.

In other words?

WASF.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cat-faced Eagle


Jim Fallows posted this, with the comment
"...owls are cats that happen to have wings. And thanks to various Chinese friends for the reminder that the Chinese word for owl, maotouying, is written 猫头鹰. Which character-by-character is "cat head eagle," or more vividly "cat-faced eagle." Long before slo-mo they got the point.

And that it's a good thing they are not much bigger than their real size."
Ummm. Yep. That'd make the whole "you humans REALLY need to get up earlier and put the fucking cat food in the fucking bowl" issue a lot more fraught.

Anyway, it's a cool video.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Here, There, and Marshmallow Mateys

I suspect I don't have much worthwhile on my mind tonight.

Largely because I've started with a new outfit (my old boss sold our little engineering firm to a much larger company based in Seattle) and I'm having to continue to do my job whilst adapting to the Corporate Engineering Way of Doing Things. Doesn't leave much time for more than work, family, and sleep.

So the glamorous fever of blogging is not on me.But I did have a couple of random things that I wanted to talk about. So.

Remember back in September when I whined about my hip packing it in? Well, in the big picture of physical health suckitude, I have it pretty damn sweet. There are other people who have it much, much worse.

"Fibromyalgia" sounds like Satan's Getaway Weekend.

I'm often amazed how MANY people I know, or have met, or see, who are really, seriously emotionally or physically fucked up. I think one of the aspects of modern urban life that is at the same time wonderful and terrible is the change that it has brought to people with awful chronic emotional problems or physical pain.For most of human history these people would have had relatively brief, thoroughly miserable lives. Unable to fend for themselves they would have been at the mercy of overwhelmed families, unscrupulous "caretakers", callous landlords, employers, and neighbors. If lucky they might have been able to exist as almost helpless wards of their families, or the state, or charity cases in crowded religious shelters, or taken to the road to beg or steal.

The combination of things like disability insurance, government "safety-net" programs, better-educated families, and modern medical care can make the lives of these poor people something less than a living hell. But nothing can make that sort of pain bearable. I still can't figure out if that's a good thing...or a great evil.

Good, on the whole, I suspect. But, still...what a shitty deal.

Oddly, while at some remove I understand the wild desire many of these poor bastards have to just have it over, there's still a big part of me that has a deep respect for the ones that keep on going.

I mean, in a case like that there's no real "hope". Sure, there's always the odd miracle, or the freakish medical breakthrough. But for most of the people with stuff like chronic pain or severe depression, they're gonna fight that all the way to the Big Sleep. When you wake up every day in pain you've been dealt a shitty hand. Period.And if you don't choose to suck the shotgun there's no real alternative except to play it, and before you lay down the first card you already know you're going to lose.

But, least to me, there is something in HOW you play out that shitty hand. It may not matter in the Big Picture. But I'd like to know, when I get the cancer that kills me and finally get laid out for my dirt nap, that I fought like a sunuvabitch over every. damn. card.

Even knowing all I was holding was a pair of deuces. I'd like my kids to think of me as someone who never gave up. Never gave in. Toughed it out.

I'd like to think of them coming to put a shot of Talisker and a rose on my headstone, look down, and say; "You done good, numbnuts. Take a break in place. Sorry you went so hard, but we miss you."

Stopped into a late-night gas station on the way back to the shop the other night. It was dark night, well towards midnight. All I wanted was to pick up the tools I needed for the next day and get on home. So I skimmed the nozzle jockey two twenties and went inside looking for something wet.

There's a sameness to those places; racks of cheap, nasty processed food under the hard florescent lights, coolers full of brand colas and beer. A bored man or woman behind the counter. The smell of linoleum and sharp cleaning fluids. I didn't think I could ever be surprised in one of them unless the Virgin of Guadalupe chose to manifest herself to me in the Greeley Avenue Kwik-Mart.

But I have to say that the shave-headed little man managed to surprise me with his choice of late night pick-me-up; "Ma's Mango" flavored Joose, which turns out to be a jacked-up sort of brewed thing whose only virtue appears that, at 12% alcohol by volume, it will get you drunk quickly.This character had two monstrous cans of this awful juice joose and a pack of Menthol Kools, which seemed like a peculiar way to celebrate a random Tuesday night in Oregon City, but, hell, nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus.

-- --

Found out today that my daughter has been turning in her kindergarten "homework" - did you know that kindergarten now comes with "homework? - dutifully every Friday like a good little student.

Only one problem; she never completes any of it.In fact, she never works on it at all.

Just turns in the blank sheet.

I'm not sure if this qualifies as some extreme form of passively naive obedience to authority or some sort of incredibly devious, extremely complex and subtly subversive anti-authoritarian defiance.

-- --

Stopped off at our local wholesale-retail grocery tonight. Do you know what I'm talking about? Our version is called "WinCo". We also have "CostCo", the national chain, and used to have something called "Cub Foods" which worked on the same principle; buy in huge job lots and sell cheap. This includes a lot of generic brands like the "Marshmallow Mateys"

, Malt-o-meal's knockoff of Lucky Charms with parrots and treasure and swords (at least, that's what the styrofoam-textured sugar lumps advertised as marshmallows are supposed to look like. The only time I ever really scrutinized them I found one that looked a bit like a bell pepper and...well, actually, if you're interested (and God knows why you should be) you can try here, where Rita, the genius behind "Fighting off Frumpy" goes waaaaay further into the whole "Marshmallow Matey" thing that I ever wanted to) in place of the bigger brand's hokey-Irish-leprechaun theme.

Anyway, this isn't really about "Marshmallow Mateys". It's about people-watching at the WinCo.

Because WinCo is, well...downmarket. It's not where you get your groceries if you can afford to get better groceries. So many of the people you meet there are in the subspecies of homo sapiens Americanus vulgaris, the common, or garden, variety of American.

And everything you've read in those dire magazine articles about "American society" you can see right there.

It's the heavy woman with the four kids who is clearly barely maintaining control of the mob; a tired and frightened lion-tamer with a cageful of energetic carnivores who are momentarily cowed only by her size. But you can see in their eyes, and in the slump of her shoulders, that the day is coming and that day, soon, when she will not have whip or chair big enough to defend herself.

It's the couple with the tats and the Orange County Chopper gear that are buying a case of Smirnoff Ice and two frozen dinners.It's...it's mostly just the way we look. Was there really once a time when people in the U.S. wouldn't go out in public without a tie? Or a clean shirt and a dress? Christ, we look terrible, and I include myself in that. We clomp around in saggy pants and tatty shirts, in pajama bottoms and nasty flip-flops. And don't even get me started on the condition of people's feet; damn, guys, if you're gonna go out in public in flips at least cut your nasty nails. Euugh.

Every time I think I'm living in some sort of rarified liberal bastion of effete Portlandness I go shop at WinCo. Cures me every time.

-- --

Speaking of fat, I'm losing some. Yesterday morning I weighed in at 208.4, down from over 235 about a year ago and 225 earlier this summer. I'm still working, though, since I'm hoping to get down to 200 or below.

The frustrating part is that it's not to look better or to troll for chicks (the one I'm trolling for is lying on the couch right now reading some sort of odd sci-fi novel about a woman who talks telepathically to cats, although what the cats would say other than "feed me some of THAT shit" and "lie down so I can sleep on your belly 'cause it's warm and soft" I haven't the vaguest idea) but because my orthopod warned me it was that or off to the hospital to have my entire hip pulled over and replaced with a titanium-and-plastic monstrosity.

The REALLY frustrating part is realizing that almost everything that tastes good is horrifically fattening, while everything that doesn't, isn't. It's not just the losing the weight, it's realizing that keeping it off means never being able to just drop into Saint Cupcake to see what's good on the special shelf.It's having that Moonstruck chocolate bar once a month instead of once a week. It's...well, it's changing the way I have eaten for thirty years. And that kinda sucks.

But then, so does a hip replacement.

-- --

Speaking of things that change - did I mention that the Peep is off "Star Wars"?

Yep. SO over that. And whilst I can't grieve that I don't get to hear George Lucas' awful dialogue every Saturday or three, I find that part of me misses the littler kid who was all about blasters and lightsabers and spaceships.Now? It's all about soldiers. He's all wrapped up in Army games and videos, likes his soldiers (and in a weird reversal, what's left of his SW fandom is about the clone troopers because they're soldiers) and battles and all things war.

I find myself reminding him that real war is not like movies or TV, and that real soldiers don't get up and run away after getting killed like in games.

And I don't think he hears a word.

-- --

And that's all I got. But I have a couple of nice images culled from around the Web - largely, I must say, from the creative folks at "deviantart". If you like, go, check them out - many of the artists there sell their work, and I'm sure they'd appreciate the visit.

So, in no particular order and for no particular reason, here they are.("Biker in Winter" by "rockmylife")(This is the Templo Mayor at Chichen Iza, a photograph taken by my talented and lovely friend, Britt)(simply called "Desert Rain")

A couple of images from this passed Timbers footy season at the old Shed:and a pensive Coach Spencer in the rain:

(Another wonderful image from Britt, this one of the city of Lisbon from the old fortress walls)

Talking about the Peep's journey away from "Star Wars" made me think of this one:

Here's a couple of images of legs and feet that intrigued me.

This one is called, simply, "The Kiss" -(by "jezustin")("Little Miss Homewrecker" by "tjosphoto")Another sexy image, this one by "The Goddess Willendorf" - I think what I love about this one is that she's obviously a big girl, to the point where she would probably be considered "unappealing" in a sexy outfit. But here she is, and every bit the seductress - proving, again, that the most erogenous zone is inside your head...)(This one I've shown before - it's Thomas Voeckler on the podium at this year's Tour, along with one of the "podium girls". I just love the contrasting shoes and contrasting lives...)(And I'll leave you with "Autumn Green" by my own Little Miss!)

Looks like I had a bit of the bloggage in me after all! A candle to Saint Kilda, then, and thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Please, sir, I want some more.

The other day the kids were a complete, utter pain in the fucking ass for the better part of the morning. By noon Mojo had just about had it as they were loading up the car to go home from downtown.At which point Missy decided she had had just about enough, too.Missy: "I wish I was an ORPHAN so you couldn't tell me what to do!"
Mojo: "Fine. You can stay here, then. Somebody should come along in a while and maybe they'll take you home with them." (Missy's eyes go wide) "So, Peep, do YOU want to be an orphan, too?"
Peep: Naw. The food sucks."For once, I was wise enough to say absolutely nothing.

Lost In Translation

There are probably a million dumb-ass stories in the Naked City of Portland. This is just one of them.

I moved to Portland in the summer of 1990. When the van loaded with household goods, me, and my ex-wife rolled to a stop it was way out in darkest Beaverton in the western suburbs of Portland proper. We lived there for almost a decade, so I didn't get to know the city the way I do now.

But driving about the town in that first autumn I noticed two things; that there were a LOT of homeless people in Portland for a place that gets something like 200 days of rain a year. And probably because of that every freeway underpass had big white signs that read "No Trespassing" in English and Spanish.

Sort of.

Because here is one of those signs;Now I drove past these things for what must have been several years without really "seeing" them. They were just part of the scenery, like the scruffy winos, the pierced hipsters, and the coffee kiosks that are "Portland". So I never really thought about them. And neither, apparently, did anyone else including the people who made and set them up.

Until the World's Worst Newspaper printed a letter that read something like;
"I'm bilingual in English and Spanish and just moved here from (blank). So imagine my surprise when driving on I-405 the other day to spot a sign that advises me that "Traspasan" is prohibited. Now I have no idea what "Traspasan" is, but I know what it isn't, and that's a Spanish translation of the word "Trespassing". Just thought that you might want to let someone at the Department of Transportation know that."
So you can imagine the result. A whole bunch of people at the City and the Oregon DOT had to go on record as saying, basically "Ummm...errr...gubaduh!"

The "No Traspasan" signs began to disappear later that year, without publicity, and it's been probably five years since I've seen one. I thought that they were all gone. Until I biked downtown with my bride (whose replacement of the woman I was married to when I first saw one, the woman we like to call "pre-mommy", is one of the great miracles and blessings of my life - you know that, right, honey?) who knew my love for the ridiculous No Traspasan story and saved this little sign as a special treat for me.

And indeed it was.

And now I pass it on as a special treat to you.

Portland; the City That Works But Not On Its Spanish Language Skills.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Buzz cuts, longhairs, and the bouffant puff

The last post got me thinking; why should I, or any sane citizen of a democracy, want to use the full majesty of the law to force his or her fellow citizens into the armed service of our nation?

I mean, isn't the whole point of a republican form of government - and isn't the definitive point of the United States form of democracy - that the individual citizen should have the broadest individual liberty consistent with the function and survival of the community and/or the nation?

And what is a military draft, if not the very lowest form of coercion? You and I in the form of our government are saying "You, other citizen, will place yourself under the military authorities of the nation (and in so doing be subject to a military law vastly more dictatorial, abrupt, and draconian than any possible under the civilian federal Constitution or any state legal system) and continue as such, hazard to injury or death, until such time as we may choose to release you" and if that other refuses we permit ourselves the authority to seize him/her by force and inflict punishment on him or her.

A draft is perhaps the antithesis of patriotism. It forces a citizen who may have vitally sound reasons for refusing to join a fighting service to do so, and in so doing forces others, who might have joined on their own terms, to join will-they-nil-they on the terms our government sets for them.

And commentor Ael pointed out on the comments or the previous thread: traditionally a draft has been used to build up a large standing Army, perhaps among the most reviled of the aspects of British rule rejected by the Founders and Framers. It was for this reason more than any other that drafting citizens was generally rejected during our wars prior to 1917. Only in the Civil War did the federal government finally accede to a draft and then only after all other methods of enlistment were tried and failed.So not just the intent of the nation's creators, not just the legal and philosophical arguments against it, but the weight of U.S. history weighs against the idea of a draft.

Why recommend it?

To explain myself, I need to...well, explain myself.

I'm a pretty white-bred sort of guy. Father a corporate type, mother a classic Fifties stay-at-home housewife. Raised in nice little suburbs, went to nice little suburban public schools with nice little suburban kids. Went to a nice-little-suburban-sort-of-college - actually a very small, very spendy, very private Eastern liberal-arts school known as a "safety school" for the Ivies with lots of people who were and are my intellectual and social superiors.

And then I enlisted in the Army.

I had a nice couple of hitches of nice little semi-peacetime active service and then got out and spent another nice little decade-and-a-half or so in the Reserve Component back when the RC really WAS a "reserve component".Here's the thing.

I've noticed that at my college reunions I'm one of a tiny handful of graduates with service time. When I go to professional meetings, or spend time with others in my social peer group; middle- to upper-middle-class white guys with college degrees - I'm often the ONLY one who spent any time as an enlisted soldier or a noncommissioned officer.

There's usually a smattering of commissioned types - though my college alums tend to have the "courtesy commissions" of JAG and medical corps officers. But I'm often the only one in a group of 200 or so with any first-hand experience as a private soldier, a dogface G.I.Think about how odd that is.

Look back, for instance, at the so-called Greatest Generation. My father - who was and is as solidly upper-middle-class as a brushcut American could and can be - was an officer-cadet, a V-7 pilot trainee in 1945. But he was called up as a draftee in 1944. His uncle died as a draftee battalion runner in the Argonne the generation earlier, and his brother was a draftee sailor in WW2 before going career as a pilot (they like to fly, my family; dunno why it passed me by. The only use I had for the contraptions was as a taxi I jumped out of when I got to where I was going...)

This sort of stuff makes me thing that the Americans of the Forties and to some extent the Fifties had less elitist notions than we have today. The idea of young men of "good families" going into the fighting services was accepted as part of being an American. Everything I've seen, everything my parents' generation says, makes me think that the idea of a well-bred young man serving as a private soldier or a foremast sailor was considered perfectly acceptable after WW2 made it acceptable.

Take, just as an example, the servicemen in William Wyler's 1946 movie "The Best Years Of Our Lives". It's a movie, yes, but it wasn't wartime propaganda or a feel-good morale-boosting fairytale; it was intended as serious postwar drama and therefore had to be recognizably realistic enough for Forties audiences, familiar to sickness with war and soldiers and soldiering, to accept with no more than moderate suspension of disbelief.

The story revolves around three men; an Army Air Corps pilot, an Army sergeant, and an enlisted sailor.The commissioned pilot was a soda jerk before the war. Okay, we're on familiar "Officer and a Gentleman" ground here. But here's where it gets interesting; the sergeant - an E-7 platoon sergeant - was a minor executive, a loan officer in the local bank.

Can you imagine that today? A banker going to war as an enlisted troop? My friend Lisa has mentioned someone she's met who was doing Wall Street-type financial work and got called up with his Guard unit. And certainly there are still a handful of unusual "social" Guard outfits like the "First City Troop" of the Pennsylvania ARNG.

But in general the guys I served with were, and the studies I've read suggest that most U.S. soldiers still are, from small towns or the rougher parts of cities. A lot of them are from the South and interior West, with a fair number from the big cities of the West. Midwest, and Northeast. Most of them are from middle- and lower-middle-class families. Even the officers are not from the sort of place I went to college - though Franklin & Marshall had a sizeable V-12 training program in the Forties it has no ROTC today - but from ag schools, Southern and Western state colleges, and places like Brigham Young University.No bankers. None of the kids I went to college with. No congressmen's kids, or senators' daughters. No doctor's sons, no lawyer's. None.

So when I think of the benefits of a draftee versus a self-selecting Army I think of the benefit more to the country than to the Army, or to the people drafted. Of having bankers serving with soda-jerks, urban tough kids with suburban mall rats, of spreading the franchise, as it were, to a wider spectrum of Americans than we take in today.Anything that forces young people into a uniformed service, or to fight, is an evil thing. But we do "evil" things all the time to keep our republic working. We force people to serve on juries. We force them to pay taxes, to submit to regulations that deny them things they want or need to do. We don't force them to vote and as a result find ourselves at the mercy of the small percentage - almost always less the half, often WAY less than half - that do vote. And now we no longer require people to serve regardless of their social class.

Which has led to the better outcome?

I honestly am not sure I'm right about this.

But when I look around me at all the other well-bred, well-fed, well-paid, white men who, like me, have to be considered the "well-born and able" who have a hell of a lot to do with running my country and don't see anyone else with a Good Conduct ribbon on their lapel...

I wonder. I really do.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Without the buzz cuts

Generally speaking I try to avoid the sorts of situations I lump under the general heading of "Support Our Troops".

Ever since my country decided that the drawbacks of having a substantial portion of its citizenry with skin in the armed-foreign-policy game exceeded the value of cheap military manpower I've watched the average U.S. citizen become about as familiar with the realities of soldiers and soldiering as a milk cow with the details of the deliberations of the Council of Trent.

But in what I have always considered a perfect slice of savage irony as those people have become less and less cognisant of what their now-professional troops are doing in their name they have developed an absurdly exaggerated veneration and adulation of those troops. And I recently ran across one of these on my "Facebook" page which pitchforked me into the question of what my country has become since it no longer requires random lots of its young people to serve in its military.

Here's a perfect example, something titled the "anxiety of a military mom" written by someone who presents herself as a military wife (I'm not saying she isn't - just that I have no way of knowing one way or the other).Her money graf sums up her attitude towards her husband's service in Afghanistan in particular and soldiers and soldiering in general;
"I for one cannot think of a better ambassador for the United States than my husband...I love knowing he’s the face of my nation on the other side of the planet. He has honor. He has valor. He’s brave. He’s an officer and a gentleman. He’s always in a freakishly good mood. Having him in Afghanistan is my small way of saying, See, world? Not all Americans are over-medicated, McDonalds-eating channel surfers with entitlement issues! We still make a few like we used to! So to this mom..."(the article is in reference to another woman who is frantic that her son wishes to join as a Marine officer) "...I say, be proud. Be ecstatic. Be blown away by your son’s determination and character. The fact is, we need more men and women like that. A lot more. A nation full. But without the buzz cuts."
I have a hard time with all the illusions summed up here, but perhaps the most perplexing to me is the notion that this woman has about how the majority of the nation feels about her husband and his comrades.
"There is a lingering perception in our society..."
she writes,
"...that the military is for those who seek a way out of a dead end life, that the only people crazy enough to enlist are those who have nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, and want to beat their chest in the process. That combined with the very real threat of death is why so many parents cringe at the idea of a child enlisting. They seek a “better life” for their sons and daughters."
Lingering perception of... In the "thank you for your service " America of 2011? Has this gal been out in public lately..?

What I would tend to agree with is that for anyone who has economic alternatives (which is to say anyone making more than $50,000 or so a year) the notion of giving a child to an expeditionary army fighting neo-colonial wars in the global hustings - which is the reality of military service circa 2011 - is not an appetizing one. The downsides of woundings, death, psychological damage and emotional distress far outweigh any possible return, given that the visible lack of an Afghan Taliban Navy or Air Force make the ridiculous canard that the enemy we're fighting in central Asia is a genuine threat to the nation.

So for a rational parent, diverting a child from a life of semi-permanent low-grade expeditionary warfare for fairly murky geopolitical objectives isn't a bug, it's a feature.Troops are dying in central Asia, true (though not many and not often) but what they are dying for is as far removed from "their country" as a Frenchman killed at Salamanca was dying for the principles of the Revolution of 1789. National interest? Geopolitical advantage? Perhaps, sure; the same reason that professional soldiers fight and die and have fought and died since Rome. But getting blown away chasing muj outside Kandahar is a very different proposition than getting shot down storming the beaches of Normandy or defending the barricades on Long Island or the ramparts of Fort McHenry. And the choice for a parent, or a spouse - to give a loved one for geopolitical advantage - is to me a hell of a lot more fraught than if the choice was one of death in defense of their home and family.

And the troops themselves understand this. They also understand that the bulk of the American public - like the poor woman quoted above - do NOT understand; "A vast majority..."(of the U.S. public) "...expressed pride in the troops and three-quarters say they thanked someone in the military. But a 45 percent plurality say neither of the post-9/11 wars has been worth the cost and only a quarter say they are following news of the wars closely. Half of the public said the wars have made little difference in their lives."

I understand that neither the military nor the U.S. government wishes to return to a draftee military. I understand the military difficulties with that concept. But when I look around me and see the vast disconnection between the public and the military forces...when I watch the public make foolish and uninformed choices based on fantasy and propaganda rather than painfully-won experience...I really wonder if we're sacrificing the public good for military expedience. I wonder if we're placing the wants of the military service over the needs of an involved and informed public.

And mind you, I'm not saying that the public needs to have a wider experience with war. I'm saying it needs to get to know what happens in armies.

Because without that we have become a nation in awe of our own military. Poll after poll reaffirms that the U.S. armed services are the best respected institution in the nation - ahead of the Presidency, ahead of the Congress, ahead of agencies great and small. Not having any real experience or understanding we loves us some GIs and tend to credit them with intelligence, diligence, and moral standing above any of the civilian institutions in our country.

Which, as any GI could tell you, is nonsense.

Soldiers are generally fitter than most people, somewhat better organized, and with a less-complicated world to understand. But no private who has spent hours standing around some worthless patch of dirt doing fuck-all only to be told that the original point of the clusterfuck was mistaken will continue in the mistaken belief that soldiers know better than civilians what should be done and how to do it. No one better than an enlisted troop - especially a draftee troop, who has no vested interest in making the Army look good - knows the meaning of the terms "SNAFU", "SUSFU", and "TARFU". No one can spend more than a couple of days in the service without experiencing some appalling clusterfuck and then hearing it described in the post paper as a brilliant success.The draftees of the French Army in Napoleon's day had a saying: "Pour se trouver comme un Bulletin"...meaning that there was fibbing and untruth and then there was the Big Lie as expressed in the official Army Bulletins. When you lied "like a Bulletin" you were really bringing the bullshit.

A democracy needs a middle course; neither adulation nor contempt for its military forces. Right now we're all in on the former. That's not sensible and it's not healthy; it encourages a militaristic way of thinking, and, if pursued to its logical endpoint, will eventually encourage both people and soldiers to contemplate praetorian treason.

And behind the larger, public, difficulties are the small individual tragedies typified by the sort of person who will read the "military mom's" account and really believe that patriotism, love, and hope will overcome the brutal effect of sending young men to fight in foreign rebellions and civil wars.Thirty years ago she would probably have seen three generations of young men go off to fight in straighter wars in simpler times and return different men with wounds both external and internal that would often twist them for the remainder of their lives.

Today she writes only what she knows. And while I understand it is her truth, as a soldier I also understand that behind that truth lies another, sterner, iron-shod truth, the truth of the heart of war. And that for many another woman - and perhaps even the writer herself, as the effects of her husband's deployments work their way inward over the years - the collision between her truth and the Truth of War is likely to become fragments that will tear into their lives like mortar shrapnel.

I wish that my country could gain the wisdom to understand this without having to bind itself into forced soldiering, the stupefyingly blunt instrument of a military draft. But it does not appear to and does not seem to wish to.

I do not love the idea of a draft, of forcing citizens to serve the state. I do not wish to give my son or daughter to one. But I do not love what I see as the lack of a draft having done to my nation, and my people. I do not like what I see of my nation when a woman whose husband is overseas enforcing the national will on an unwilling foreign land can say that her nation should be proud and ecstatic to be a nation full of soldiers.A democracy should go to war sternly, reluctantly. It should be proud and ecstatic to see its sons and daughters inventors, steelwrights, poets, and athletes. It should see its soldiers as it does its weaponry; necessary instruments of policy, good for destruction that is valuable only in that it preserves or returns the peace needed for those peaceful professions to thrive.

It should glory in its power for creation and should give its young people over to soldiering with reluctance and regret, with the stern resolve not to "support the troops" but to return them to the benefits of peace as quickly as it can.

And if a draft is needed for us to find that resolve within ourselves then by all means let us return there, and soon.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Flann O'Brien 1911-1966

"Evil is even, truth is an odd number and death is a full stop. When a dog barks late at night and then retires again to bed, he punctuates and gives majesty to the serial enigma of the dark, laying it more evenly and heavily upon the fabric of the mind. Sweeny in the trees hears the sad baying as he sits listening on the branch, a huddle between the earth and heaven; and he hears also the answering mastiff that is counting the watches in the next parish. Bark answers bark till the call spreads like fire through all Erin. Soon the moon comes forth from behind her curtains riding full tilt across the sky, lightsome and unperturbed in her immemorial calm."

This day a century ago we were gifted with one of the great strange and lyrical voices of our age. Brian O'Nolan was born in County Tyrone.

I just happen to be feeling a great deal of kinship with O'Nolan at the moment. Born just a day after my own birthdate he was the same age I am now - 54 - when he died of heart failure.

Writing as Flann O'Brien he produced one of the truly fine stories in the English tongue; "At Swim-Two-Birds", a combination of poem, stream-of-consciousness blog, and surrealist novel. It may be the most bizarre and unique things to come out of Dublin since James Joyce. He was the source of a fountain of other fine works, many published under other names as he was an employee of the government of Ireland and thus prohibited from writing or otherwise expressing political and social opinion.

If you're interested, you can find it here on-line. It's not for all tastes, but, musha, it is without doubt a very memorable flavor indeed.

Far Overhead

The date of my arrival on Earth as an individual was marked, according to Wikipedia, by "...panic overt(aking) the American public, which created an enormous sense of vulnerability regarding the United States' ability to defend its territory. Adding to this fear was the element of surprise...which left the American public in what was observed as a “wave of near-hysteria"

I wasn't responsible. Really. I wasn't.

It was this guy...

"Простейший Спутник-1"

...better known as Sputnik.

Funny, in a way; the birth of the Space Age (or at least the Space Race) the same day as my own. And here we are just over half a century later with the Space Age reduced to a sagging badly-maintained space station loafing about in high Earth orbit with no particular purpose and nothing to look forward to except obsolescence.

I hope this is not a personal commentary as well.

Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce called Sputnik's radio signal "an intercontinental outer-space raspberry to a decade of American pretensions that the American way of life was a gilt-edged guarantee of our national superiority."

No one ever described me quite so poetically.

Well, damn.

My Soviet counterpart lasted 90 days. The radio transmitter fell silent in early November when the batteries went dead. The satellite's low orbit decayed through the autumn of 1957 until on 4 JAN 58 the object re-entered Earth's atmosphere and was consumed in a fire that probably lasted no more than a few seconds.

The reentry is not reported to have been observed.And here I still am.

Little PS-1 might just have been responsible for much of the modern world. It stunned the U.S. public and jump-started much of the Fifties and Sixties science boom in my country. The Wiki entry says that Sputnik-1 "...would eventually invent the Internet, upon which this page is published, NASA, and an increase in U.S. government spending on scientific research and education. One consequence of the Sputnik shock was the perception of a "Missile Gap." This was to become a dominant issue in the 1960 Presidential campaign"

Which leads me back to last night.

As I was driving home I got to thinking.

Who am I?

What am I doing, and why?

When I was a child I dreamed like a child. Except I dreamed that I would shake the world, that I would leave a name that would echo down the years with a grandeur and a whispering, like Hulagu Khan with his pyramid of skulls.

And then I grew up into the real world.

But when I was a younger man I still had at least some pretensions to playing a part on the world's greater stage. Not inventing NASA or the Internet, perhaps, but as a soldier I was involved in events that changed the way the world wagged, for better or worse. I went places and did things that, in their small way, impacted those places and things. I had notions about the world and my ability to affect it, and those notions, while exaggerated, made me at least believe that I was changing the world and the lives of the people in it.I spent a moment yesterday reading about the people who are "occupying Wall Street". For all that I think they are a quixotic and forlorn hope they are, at least, acting out their beliefs and those beliefs - that my country is and continues to be fallen into the hands of malefactors of great wealth and that only by prying that wealth from the levers of power will there be any chance that the Lesser Breeds such as I and my family will have any chance at having a say in our own futures beyond mere random chance - while my part is to sit and read about them and then go home to my dinner.

I think about myself today; slowed, domestic, exercising myself in the public fora through nothing more than this pallid electronic medium...and contrast that with the younger man in his jump boots and aid bag.

I think about joining that group in Zucotti Park, about more; about the kind of men who fought the company thugs and the National Guards for the 40-hour week and the 8-hour day, who fought the FBI and the state troopers for civil rights, who fought the British soldiers for liberty and law.

And immediately think; but what about my family?

Who will work to pay off their mortgage, their schooling, their food? Who will help them with their homework, find their stuffed pets (my son just awoke crying that his small stuffed manatee had swum away somewhere in the bedding. At eight years old. At two in the morning. Sheesh.), who will help my bride through her transition to her next job if I am arrested, if I lose my work fighting the banksters...if I'm suddenly not there, who will be?

Thus does domesticity - and my own fears - make a coward of me.

Don't get me wrong. I've had a hell of a fucking good half-century-and-four. I've lived well and foolishly, loved badly and immoderately, sampled life here and there and liked the taste of it. I've seen the sun come up over the Red Sea and set into the mountains of Panama. I've caressed the naked skin of the woman who has borne our children, and felt the fear of violent death and the elation of its passing-by.

And I have, I hope, more yet to come; pride, and passion, the work of helping my children to grow strong and good, in fighting (still...) in what ways I can to make my house, my city, my nation, and my world more honorable, more equitable, more honest, and more realistic places than they might be without my mite's worth.

But I wouldn't be human, and I wouldn't be who I am, if I didn't regret not being...more than I am.That I didn't invent the Internet or pile up my pyramid of skulls no longer troubles me.

But still, in these quiet early morning hours, I can't keep myself as I sit at my darkened desk in my silent house from straining, just a bit, to hear the faint beep-beep-beep in the night sky far overhead.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Straightedge

I'm 54 today.

It's just another day - I was up in the West Hills drilling a soil boring this morning, stopped by the shop around noon (I did treat myself to a sushi stop for lunch...) and then legged it across the street to drop in on of our construction projects for a check. At the moment I'm taking a break from writing up a soils report to post this.

I'll be back later tonight with some more reflections on twoscore-years-and-fourteen, but right at the moment, thinking back over the people I've been and the place I've gone, y'know what I was reminiscing about?

Straight razors.

It started with a brief visit to my friends Maia and Q here, where our heroine and her husband Mike visit an old-school barber shop in their home in Colorado. As part of the treatment the barber gets out the straight razor to shave Mike, and I was instantly transported back to the Division barbershop on Ardennes Street back in the Eighties.Because back in the day I still had hair, and I got a big kick out of getting a flat-top #1 cut that made me look the spit of my old man in his Navy crackerjacks back in 1944. And the best part of the whole gig was the big finish, where the grouchy old Army barber got out the shaving gear.

He would heat up the lather and strop the straight razor, and then it was all hot shave cream from ear to ear and down the back of my neck.

But before I could relax into the smooth heat he was there with the blade.

There was always something electrifying about the kiss of cold steel along the back of my neck. Maybe it was just the zing of cold after heat...or maybe it was knowing that one slip and things would get messy real quick. But I loved the clean feeling it produced, laying my nape and sidewalls down to the skin.

He never did slip, and I always tipped him high and walked out feeling like a real hard boy with my beret pulled down to show off the high whitewalls.

Well, time and genes have combined to give me whitewalls all the way up, these days. And I do my own trimming at home with an electric razor. I never found a barber outside the service who used the old straight blade after I left the active service. One of the barbers trimming my kiddo's hair told me that it's now against most state regulations, what with fears of AIDS and other blood-borne diseases.

Too bad.

Funny, all the things you do and those you enjoy; the cold steel shave up the back of the neck would seem to be an odd thing to miss. And yet, of all things, I do.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Never Victorious Army

My friend seydlitz recently posted an excerpt from an article in which a U.S. officer lauds the performance of the Afghan troops he has worked with."I watched them run toward the sound of gunfire..." he writes, ""...despite often having only a Vietnam-era flak vest or less to protect them. These men are Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks and, increasingly, Pashtuns — former rivals now working together. They are the beginnings of a nation."And yet MAJ Lujan worries that his nation is going to abandon these hungry young soldiers; "Rather than resignation, America should show resolve...to empower those Afghans willing to lead and serve."

I don't want to use this post to take one side or another about whether the Afghan soldiers should or shouldn't get more or less support from the U.S. First, nothing I will say will have any affect one way of the other, and, second, I don't have anything near enough information about the Afghan troops involved or the tactical situation on the ground to be able to make an informed judgement about whether such U.S. investment will produce a commensurate return.

But one thing that DOES give me heartburn - and I do want to offer a comment about - is the question of how long it should and can take to create an army.One constant meme we U.S. citizens are fed is how long it takes for the training and equipping the U.S./NATO has been doing to take effect. Overall foreign forces have been in Afghanistan for a decade. Even discarding the first eight years - which, we are reminded, were the Afghan National Army's "lost decade-minus-two" - the intensified effort to create a viable fighting force has been going on for two years.

And at this point we are informed that a thundering two out of 180 maneuver battalions in the ANA are capable of combat without direct ISAF direction.

Only...they're sort of not. "Those two “independent” battalions still require U.S. support for their maintenance, logistics and medical systems,” LTG Caldwell (commander of the ISAF training command) admitted when Pentagon reporters pressed him on Monday morning. “Today, we haven’t developed their systems to enable them to do that yet,” Caldwell said.

Now that's fine. The ANA is having a tough time getting their shit together. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you, and sometimes the bear pulls your shirt over your hear, pulls your pants down and bloops you up the bunghole until the eyes pop out of your head. There are just days like that.

But can we fucking stop saying "Building up foreign armies isn’t easy."

It's not "easy". But it's not fucking rocket science, either. And because the Western publics now have very little experience with going through military training - and have NEVER had a decent grasp of history - they are inclined to believe this statement about how hard it is to build an Afghan Army and are nodding their heads rather than asking hard questions about what the hell is going on.

In fact, Western officers have relatively quickly built foreign levies into effective armies since Hernan Cortez drafted a bunch of Tlascalans to help him skin the Aztec Empire.

To take just one example. Back in 1860 the European powers were in a tight space in China. The Qing government was a shambles, and what may well have been the most terrible insurrection in history, the Taiping Rebellion, was rampaging all over the part of China that the Westerners were living in.

So a character named Frederick Townsend Ward - American sailor, filibusterer, mercenary, and general adventurer - doped up a bunch of ex-Taiping rebels and assorted random coolies into a European-style force that was eventually tagged with the awesome title "Ever-Victorious Army" by the Qings. Formed in 1861, three years later the little Army had a force of some 5,000 including infantry, artillery and even its own little brown-water Navy. Ward and his successor Charles "Chinese" Gordon, a British officer led the EVA into a series of beatings of the Taiping rebels, who were at that time the most formidable force in Qing China. The Qings rallied, the Rebellion fell apart, and the European powers continued their bitch-slapping of the Chinese "government" on their way to colonial sexy-time.

The thing is, the raw material for the EVA was no better, and probably worse, than the raw material for the ANA. And the resources Ward and Gordon had to make this rabble into a fighting force was certainly slimmer than that available to ISAF. And yet, in roughly a year - the EVA was beating the Taipings by 1862 - and certainly by two years this shake-and-bake Army was equal to or better than the toughest insurgent force in China.The ANA doesn't need to meet Manstein on the plains of the Ukraine, for cryin' out loud. They need to be able to execute the simplest Infantry 101 missions; security, cordon-and-search, movement to contact, combat and reconnaissance patrols. The Afghan peoples are among the fightingest on Earth, and the U.S. has organizations like the Special Forces that are supposed to be some of the finest trainers of foreign soldiers in the world.

So can we stop repeating how haaaaard it is to make an Army?

Because every time we say it Fred Townsend and Charlie Gordon flip us the finger in Hell.