Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rubes

Portland is a funny place to live sometimes.(This, by the way, is something called the "Urban Iditarod" and is best left further unexamined)

One of those times is whenever we turn up on the electronical television or in the glamor of the Silver ScreenTM.Other cities accept that they are, well, cities; notable places where many people live, work, and play, and that the notion of such a place appearing in a movie or a television show is not inconceivable or even unusual.

But for all that we live in a city - the largest in our state, and the second largest in Cascadia - a lot of us are rubes about getting on camera.

For one thing, we are utterly foolish about our contributions to film despite our track record as the location of some of the most craptacular shite ever to curl down out of a projector.

I'll sort of give you "Goonies", although I'm not a fan and have never managed to make it through the entire thing in one sitting. And there are several Portland locations in a very sweet and funny little film called "The Favor" with one of my favorite comic actresses, Harley Jane Kozak; it's silly and clever and well worth a look in my not-so-humble opinion. But...Madonna's "Body of Evidence"?

Seriously, this may be one of the worst movies of all time. It's hard to make a film that makes sex look so unpleasant that getting a root canal or getting your legs waxed appears preferable, but this one manages. Come to think of it, there IS wax involved in the thing, and not in a good way.Yike.

Throw in some of the worst acting and worst dialogue ever filmed, and Portland should be ashamed to get hung with this dog. It's really awful. Beyond awful. Unspeakable. Eye-searingly horrible. Satan's stool sample.

It's BAD.

And the rest of our resume isn't much better, although I'd love like hell to get a look at "The Fisherman's Bride" from 1908 Astoria; it has to be better than "Kindergarten Cop". For "Jackass, The Movie", "Twilight", and "Mr. Brooks" we should ALL get a spanking; even "Coraline" can't save us from immortal shame.With that sort of record you'd think we'd shy from more public exposure, but, no; the latest Big Thing is the comedy series "Portlandia"and Portlanders, unquenchable, are once again in our silly swoon over all things cinemagraphic.

I've seen a couple of these. It's sketch comedy, so it's hit and miss; some of the little scenes work terrifically. Some fall flat, some are cringe-inducing awful. Some are just strange; the creators are getting better in their second season at nailing a certain type of Portland; hipsters, the earnest and twee, the ecoNazis (the sketch with the twenty recycling containers each carefully identified by color for every possible subcategory of material was perfect).

But the quality of the material seems...immaterial. What matters is that in the "Timbers Army" sketch the two comedians appear at CopyPilot - the copy store right down from our house! Squeeeeeee! - and at our soccer match with our very own Timbers Army! Squeeeeee!And the New Yorkers and Los Angelinos, used to seeing themselves on film and television, sniff audibly and pretend to find something interesting in the middle distance. They are the sophisticates, and we have just shown ourselves to be gormless, hopeless, shallow goofy rubes.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Abyss Peers Back

This is why sometimes I think I'm so shot full of luck I can't deserve it; I get paid to do this.Now, admittedly, I'm pretty leg-weary, and skittering across this iced-over log bridge was a little hairy, but look at this place!Can you imagine - someone pays me to spend a beautiful sunny day hiking here? That a part of my living consists of visiting places just this gorgeous?I try and remember that when I'm sitting a drill rig in a trash dump in the pouring cold rain. Those days? Hell, I don't get paid enough.But let me tell you a little story as you enjoy the pretty pictures.This morning I stopped at the Super 8 Motel comp breakfast to fuel up. The morning was cold, I needed something hot to start the day, and I didn't want to spend the time it would have taken to go across the road to the Denny's or whatever chain crapateria was open at six o'clock.The motel breakfast was belly timber without being particularly good. But to get outside of it I had to spend about fifteen minutes in the same room with a television set to FOX at ear-pounding volume.I generally try and avoid Rupert Murdoch's vanity project just because I've seen enough in snippets here and there to know that I have no patience with it; I prefer my tall tales with heroes or fairies, thanks. But this morning I had no escape.The three avid viewers were a drill crew from Jensen, and they were cheerfully gutsing the nasty waffles and the FOX "news" with equal gusto, and it was something of a revelation to me; I don't think I've ever watched an entire FOX "news" story before.

And this one was one I was somewhat familiar with; gas prices.

Like most geologists, I started out in the oilpatch, and my academic training included a fair bit of petroleum geology, so I know a bit about both the mechanics and the economics of getting dinosaur wine to the fuel pump nozzle. But what came out of the television this morning bore no real resemblance to anything I have ever encountered.First there was a screaming headline about how fuel prices were skyrocketing and might even reach (gasp!) five dollars a gallon by June. Some sort of FOX news numbnut came on to explain to the rubes marks viewers that this was like a tax that hit them right in the wallet. There was a completely gratuitous reference to state gasoline taxes (without the mention that they are typically mandated by law to be used for gasoline-related projects such as roadwork). And something about how the switch to "summer blends" was involved (without mentioning that the summer is high-demand time for fuel as people fly and drive more - I guess FOX doesn't do "supply and demand")Then for the "opinion" portion of the story FOX produced that internationally-respected petroleum economist, Definer Of Civilization's Rules and Leader (Perhaps) Of The Civilizing Forces (as Charlie Pierce likes to call him) N. Leroy Gingrich. The man who personally turned the entire legislative branch of the United States government into a ludicrous raree sideshow in pursuit of a blowjob proceeded to do to the oil industry's pursuit of domestic petroleum leases what Monica did to the 42nd President and just for entertainment threw in some jabs at the Kenyan Usurper's general ickiness.-30-, as Jack Webb said in the movie of the same name; end of story.

Now, I don't pretend to be a brilliant petroleum savant, but where in Spindletop's name in this ridiculous farrago were the CAFE standards, international speculation in petroleum futures, the current fiascos in the Middle East, the drop-in-the-oil-barrel tininess of the "domestic oil leases" relative to U.S. demand, and that perennial Republican favorite, the Magic of the MarketTM?Especially the latter; what's the point of having a Market if it doesn't do what markets are supposed to do - respond to increased demand relative to supply by raising prices?I mean, the entire six minutes or so of supposed "news" left you with the following information; gas prices are going up (why? who knows - magic, maybe, or because Obama hates oil companies), states tax gasoline and that's BAD, high prices are BAD, drill, baby, drill, and N. Leroy Gingrich is an expert on oil production.And the thing is, the three Jensen guys sat there and ate it up. Their comments suggested that what they got - gas prices are going up, states tax gasoline and that's BAD, high prices are BAD, drill, baby, drill and N. Leroy Gingrich as expert on oil production - was what they wanted.Sometimes when you gaze into the abyss for six minutes the abyss peers back, and fuck me with a tri-cone bit if it isn't as fucking stupid as a fucking ginormous bag of fucking hammers.No wonder We Are So Fucked.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Who Do You Admire?


Jack Dorsey on the cover of Fast Company —
 Our new hero-archetype?
When I was a kid, it was pretty easy to identify heroes. They were policemen and firemen, soldiers and astronauts. They were President John F. Kennedy, Miss America, doctors, teachers and others who showed courage or strength. They were people who were, in some way, extraordinary. 

Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and founder of Square, is on the March 2012 cover of Fast Company, and seeing him made me wonder — who do people admire today and why? Are entrepreneurs the new heroes?

The fortunes made by innovators today might make a 20-something MBA's heart beat a bit faster because they have realized the American dream — using brains and hard work to achieve success and enormous wealth.

But is the ability to turn ideas into money what we should admire or strive to emulate? 

Having aspirational goals propels us to achieve. And the ability to innovate, and at times create a need for things we didn't know we needed, fuels the economy through the creation of jobs and the manufacturing of goods as well as their transportation and distribution. 

In other words, innovators make it possible for many people to live and thrive, and we all benefit in some way. But inventing the iPhone, Facebook, Google or Twitter isn't a realistic goal for most of us.

My father-in-law, Rich
My father-in-law, Rich, was a real hero to me. An ordinary guy with lots of heart, he was a WWII veteran who worked 30 years for Boeing, selling airplanes to Lufthansa, El Al and other airlines around the world.

Shortly before he retired from his very successful career, I remember him telling me it was good he was getting out before anyone "found him out." At the time I marveled that someone who was so good at what he did, was so self-effacing, but it spoke to his character. He was modest, not boastful. He was confident, but not full of himself. He didn't need to throw others into the shadows on his way up the corporate ladder.

By today's standards I wouldn't describe him as rich except by name. He made a very good living and provided well for his wife and 4 children. He lived by example. He was kind. He was generous. And he had a way of making every person he met feel very special.

But today I feel as though many of the qualities and values he embodied, which made him a giant in my estimation, seem low on the list of things people aim to achieve. Because today it feels like it's not enough to simply strive to be a good person.

Who are the roles models of today? I would love to know who inspires you. 






Wuss

There were Two Little Bears who lived in a Wood,
And one of them was Bad and the other was Good.
Good Bear learnt his Twice Times One -
But Bad Bear left all his buttons undone.
I think I've mentioned once or twice that parenting is one of those things that are not for the fainthearted.

I'm not really thinking of the physical sort of issues that greenlighting the Kid Project will raise, although between back pain, frequent urination, night sweats, and stretch marks the gross physical problems begin early and continue right through into childhood. This adorable baby toes you kissed in his cradle will stank right through the sneakers when he's eight. Just sayin'.

Disgorging dinner at midnight, frantic nosebleeds, random incontinence; puke, blood, and shit - as a parent you are and will be expected to deal with every loathsome aspect of our human frailty and do so with the sort of revoltingly cheerful perkiness that you thought was the province of Cherry Ames, the student nurse in the old hospital stories.
They lived in a Tree when the weather was hot,
And one of them was Good, and the other was Not.
Good Bear learnt his Twice Times Two -
But Bad Bear's thingummies were worn right through.

Then there's the time-management aspect of parenting.

Which is; you won't have any when the little eyes are open, from birth to about age fourteen...at which time you'll spend that time worrying about whether the little eyes are looking into a beer bong, or down the barrel of a gun, or at a naked fourteen-year-old promising to love her forever if she just lets him...

Let's not go there.

You will become a warm-blooded entertainment system and jungle gym. You will read a million stories, tickle a thousand tummies, run a hundred races. You will be soccer team, bridge partner, video-game target.

Plus there's the whole "get through the day" question. Sadly, the genetic programming of hairless monkeys does not include the instincts to tie shoes, comb hair, find classrooms, eat lunch, complete homework, pick up clothing, brush teeth, or invent bedtime stories. So you, the Potentially Responsible Party, need to be on hand to make sure that the progeny do not show up at the classroom door looking like a shoeless inbred from Hootin' Holler trailing a scrap of paper and a broken stick.
They lived in a Cave when the weather was cold,
And they Did, and they Didn't Do, what they were told.
Good Bear learnt his Twice Times Three -
But Bad Bear never had his hand-ker-chee.
And this never stops.

I think I've told you the story about asking my mother when she stopped worrying about me (and I was a difficult and fretful child, I should say; there was never an instance when I had the opportunity to do something that I didn't choose the most fraught, difficult, and fatheaded way to go about it and then insist, when advised that there WAS an easier, simpler, less chancy way to do whatever the thing was jam my fingers in my ears and chant "lalalalalala" as I went on my hardheaded and difficult way) and the look that I got in return which would have curdled fresh milk.

We never stop being parents. When our kids are adults we'll STILL be fretting about their choices, just unable to do more than suggest an alternative.

And what seems like the most unkind and unfair part of the transaction is that we don't get the guarantee of a Happy Ending.

They lived in the Wood with a Kind Old Aunt,
And one said "Yes'm," and the other said "Shan't!"
Good Bear learnt his Twice Times Four -
But Bad Bear's knicketies were terrible tore.
I have a friend; a truly brilliant, put-together woman, funny, inventive, just a great woman. She was cursed with a fairly worthless bag of stupid for a husband but put up with him for twenty years to raise two kids. And one of them, the older girl, is a shifty, treacherous grifter. Charming in her way, much like her father with the ability to deploy a certain amiability as long as it doesn't cost her any effort, but an untrustworthy slacker who lied and cheated her way to getting locked out of her own home.

I have another friend whose son has just stopped giving a shit about his schoolwork. He's a great kid; not dangerous, not angry, or mean, or rebellious, but he just stopped caring about his grades. She has been unable to convince him that in three years he's going to have to earn a living and that without a high school diploma that will be somewhere between difficult and nightmarish.
And then quite suddenly (just like Us)
One got Better and the other got Wuss.
Good Bear muddled his Twice Times Three -
But Bad Bear coughed in his hand-ker-chee!
I could go on and on...the ordinary tales of domestic woe that seem to visit every family in some way or another. When you think about it, it's rather amazing that any kid manages to get into young adulthood sane, unmaimed, and without an arrest record.

My littles are, thank Zoroaster, too small yet for me to have those sorts of worries.

And yet, there are always enough troubles in the world to spawn more.

In their cases, I look at them and try to peer down the road towards adolescence to divine who will have an easy puberty, who a hard one? Who will find themselves the narrow road through the mountains of teen age to the broad, sunlit uplands of a happy and prosperous adulthood, who the broad path down to the hell of trouble and pain?

If you'd asked me a year ago I'd have said the Girl was a likely candidate for the former and the Boy the latter.
Good Bear muddled his Twice Times Two -
But Bad Bear's thingummies looked like new.
Good Bear muddled his Twice Times One -
But Bad Bear never left his buttons undone.
Because Missy had the happy, sunny, open, loving sort of personality that lends itself to happiness. People loved her easily, were charmed by her instantly. The black keys of bossiness and touchiness were well hidden as she cheerfully played her preschool arpeggios.

The Boy, at seven, was already showing the kinds of things that made me such a heart-attack for my parents back in the day. Sulky, hard-headed, touchy, easily angered and disappointed, easily frustrated and discouraged. Those two touchstones of school failure; laziness and combativeness.

The negatives tended to outfight the positives for the Peep; his loving, clever, artistic, creative side would just get buried under the weight of the miserable little guy who seemed to lack the facility for happiness.

I dreaded his walking the same road I had, and, yet, seemed unable to do anything about that.But.

(And you knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you?)

Lately the little Bears have been trading places.

Take yesterday.

The Boy and I had a terrific day. We went all around Portland in the truck, spent time together looking through Pokemons and buying a new game at our favorite hobby store, agreed that the line at OMSI was, like, crazy long so went down to the Nickel Arcade and shot the hell out of some Terminators (where the Boy drove home the fact that twenty years of military service doesn't make you a better shot than ten months of playing first-person shooter games) and then stopped off at Burgerville for some fries.

Back home we ran down to his school and had a chilly kickabout under the covered training area where he showed me how to head the ball (grin...) and then out for coffee and cocoa and bowling(!) - the only blip; he didn't do well and was pretty sullen about it.

But then we went home for dinner, a movie, and then a couple of games, which he won with glee and good sportsmanship.

He was a great kid and a good companionWhilst we were about that, The Girl and her mom were having a truly difficult day. They went to our little North Portland consignment craft store, Scrap, where Missy was clingy and sulky, then home, to where she was whiny and cranky. She glumped, fussed, and whined through most of the day, only perking up in the evening to become more like her happy self.

She snarled and complained about being asked to pick up her toys and clothes. She was instantly sullen if she was denied a moment's attention from her mom. She was, more than she had ever been, much as she had been lately, something of a jagged little pill.
There may be a Moral, though some say not;
I think there's a moral, though I don't know what.
But if one gets better, as the other gets wuss,
These Two Little Bears are just like Us.
So I think I've come all this way just to settle upon another Hazard of Parenting they don't tell you about in "What To Expect When You're Expecting"; the uncertainty of it all.

Not only can they not promise you the happy ending, I'm starting to think there's no real way to figure out where the damn thing is, or how to get there, or to feel confident you'll know when you have arrived, or even whether you've already achieved it and are coasting into the winner's circle.

In short, we're back where we started; parenting is a contact sport, and anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.
For Christopher remembers up to Twice Times Ten ...
But I keep forgetting where I put my pen.*

*So I have had to write this one in pencil.

~ A.A. Milne
Oh, and the last picture? That's the church where Mojo and I were married ten years ago this October.

Full circle.

Or, let's hope, at least halfway.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Melian Dialogue

In his comment on the post about the ghostly photographs from Hiroshima my Ranger buddy jim has some trenchant questions (which I have edited purely for spelling - jim tends to go for function over fussy correctness):
"I constantly marvel at the easy way in which we justify our use of WMD's (the real stuff) and then slap people in jail for life because they had 83 grams of home made PETN in their shoes or under wear. Don't we remember Curtis LeMay?

It confuses my simple mind.

But how do we justify the Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Tokyo firebombing...throw in Hamburg, Dresden and any other that warms your cold heart, AND THEN have the balls to condemn the 9-11 event? Please correct me , as I know you would, if I'm wrong.

The rule as I see it is-if we do it it's OK, but if they do it = no go.

OT - thinking of japan - how did we fuck that up? Things started off well. TR even got a Nobel peace prize supporting them versus the Russians. The cherry blossoms in DC are gifts from the grandparents of the Japanese WW2 fire bombing victims.How did we get from cherry blossoms to nuclear blossoms?"
As usual with jim's thoughts, there's layers upon layers there to ponder - the guy has done some deep thinking during his down time. I'm not sure I can help, but let me at least try and add some of my own, poor as it is, in answer to some of his questions and respond to some of his ideas.

Relations between nations are often as complex as between people, and people are as twisty as a corkscrew. So I think that, first, you have to expect utterly nonlinear and often completely whack thinking and acts from people in general.

In Japan's case I think it had something to do with two Great Powers sharing different edges of the same ocean, with the result that for sixty years or so we were in the positions that Churchill, I think, ascribed to the Germans and the British; someone was either at the others' feet, or at their throats.

Add in the dramatic changes in economic and military power and a healthy slug of racism going both ways and you get what if it had been a celebrity marriage Entertainment Tonight would have called "volatile".

So for all that TR got them a peace treaty the Japanese felt like he'd help shike them out of what they felt they had (and they had in fact) legitimately by the standards of 1904 beaten out of the Russians. Add in the gripes going all the way back to ADM Perry, and you end up at Pearl and Bataan forty years later. And then Tokyo and Hiroshima forty years after that.

We hung Yamashita for the things his troops did, and Tojo for starting the war...but LeMay said flat out that if we had lost he expected that he'd have been tried and executed for the fire raids.

We could - and do - make the excuse that we were the victims of aggressive war. And we were, let's not let the Japanese and Germans off that hook, but that's not particularly germane to whether we needed to incinerate hundreds of thousands of women and kids. We were winning without the fire raids - the USN submarine and naval air forces were seeing to that by sinking everything that floated - and we would have won without the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

But for all their horror we can't counterfactual what might have happened had the U.S. had to execute Operations OLYMPIC and CORONET, the invasions of mainland Japan.

What we did know - the example of Okinawa - was frightful, both for the Japanese civilians, who killed themselves in droves, and for us. More than 200,000 people died in the "steel wind"; 65,000 Americans and well over 150,000 Japanese.

So we all acted like beasts in war. When people fight we often lose sight that there must be an end to the fighting and then we'll have to own up to our atrocities. And when we DO see them, like people often do, we usually try to find a way to justify our own horrors while mopping and mowing over theirs. That's fucked up, but that's people and always has been.

When the killing does stop nations, like people after fights, find ways to live together. I think it helped that we as a nation really do tend to try and put together the places we wreck. Especially after WW2; we really did help put the conquered Axis people back on their feet.

Out of self-interest as much as altruism, sure, but still...I think the the survivors of the fire raids and the nuclear cities had a sense of what a Japanese occupation of a defeated America might have been like, and had some gratitude that the strong hadn't done what they could and they, the weak, suffered less than they must.

So in a sense the cherry blossoms DID come from a nuclear blossom, or, at least, the trade-off of the horror that occurred for the one that hadn't.

But - also like people - nations also tend to see their own slights and their own injuries as more grievous than others'. So we still remember Bataan and Malmedy - atrocity done retail - and tend to forget the wholesale killing of innocents in the fire raids over Tokyo and Dresden. I had a commentor some while back actually remind me of the evils the Japanese did after the capture of Wake Island in 1942, where they executed almost 100 civilian captives, an atrocity that has (obviously) not yet slipped down the memory hole!

So with 9/11.

On the scale of human atrocities from St. Bartholomew's Day to the Bataan Death March it's kind of a blip, really.But a spectacularly dramatic one, and one that - largely because we in the U.S. have been insulated from what our policies have done and are seen to have done in the Middle East - seemed to come out of nowhere. And it coincided with the rise of the red-meat Right that saw the possibility of using public anger against the ragheads as a way of moving towards a Greater American Century...combined with a liberal interventionist Center who saw it as a way to mobilize U.S. might against potential or existent dictators and similar nasties abroad. The strong would do what they could, and the damn weak Ay-rabs would suffer what they must, because that's the way of the world.

So it's a bit of a perfect storm of hypocrisy, innt? Bin Laden attacks the Towers, not because of U.S. engineering the 1948 coup in Syria or the 1953 coup in Iran or the tacit support of the Israel invasion of Lebanon, or before that the 1958 coup in Lebanon (it really does go on, doesn't it?) but principally because of the U.S.'s stationing of troops in his dear "sacred" Saudi Arabia, home of the burka. And the U.S. uses bin Laden's attack to go completely fucking bugnuts, occupying Afghanistan for longer than Alexander did, invading Iraq for no reason at all (perhaps in order to prove to Tojo that he died in vain...) and shooting and bombing all over the Middle East trying to kill our way to peace.It all seems very...human.

Sometimes I wish that people as groups weren't as smart as the IQ of the smartest person in the group divided by the number in it. But we are, and we always seem to have been. So nations seem to be doomed to be like a giant four-year-old; perpetually greedy, perpetually grieved, always ready to laugh at others' pain and weep furiously over their own. A gross, foolish, rapacious machine for turning food into excretia.

The only excuse for a four-year-old is that occasionally it's cute and eventually it grows up.

I'm honestly not sure what OUR excuse is.

But I expect that we'll always have one.

I'm afraid that's not a good answer to your questions, jim. But it's all I have.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Custodes?

Most of the world is ignoring - except as a topic for idle comment - the bloody business going on in Syria.Mind you, the usual suspects (the Arab League, the UN) are saying the "right things"; they'd like to see the killing stop, they'd like "someone" to step in. The West, including my own country, is deploring all this nasty killing though rather sotto voce so as not to have to, you know, do something about it. So, as usual, it seems like everyone would like to guard the nice people being so brave and anti-dictator-y in Homs but no one really wants to BE the "guards", the actual guarding process being so messy and all.

And the Syrian government, having taken as a parole another Latin maxim - oderint dum metuant; let them hate so long as they fear - goes on its merry way killing those in opposition to it.

And I have only one real question; if Syria, why not elsewhere?

I mean, the Syrian government is rather nasty, although by historical measure not all that vile, and even by much of current global practice not so much more so than many, including some that my country lavishes public affection and tax largesse upon.

But if the current ratissage in Homs (and elsewhere in Syria) is not practically the very definition of civil war, then, what is it? Yes, the rebels are getting hammered in a very bloodily unequal fashion. Since when has the suppression of rebellion become a non-contact sport?After the failure of the Third Servile Rebellion Crassus crucified 6,000 slaves along the Via Appia. In the aftermath of Sherman's Atlanta and Savannah campaigns thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Southern civilians suffered hellacious hardships. Many probably starved, or died of various diseases, or exposure. Rebellion is, and by political calculus must be, a hazardous thing; Tokugawa Ieyesu is said to have claimed that nothing justified rebellion other than success.

So perhaps I'm a fool, or being deliberately obtuse, but I fail to see in this ugly little civil war a casus belli for anyone not a Syrian in the same way I didn't get the enthusiasm for jumping into the Lybian fracas. While the al-Assad government is a pretty bad guy I don't see a "good guy" here any more than the Lybian TNC looked plausible as "good guys."

And, frankly, this current enthusiasm for leaping into other people's civil wars seems to be setting up a bad idea as conventional wisdom. It took a long time to set up the current Westphalian state system. It has a hell of a lot of flaws, but right now it seems about the best idea we have for providing people with the things government provides. And one of the fundamental pillars of the Westphalian state is the assumption that rebellion against the state is just that, and that unless a foreign state wishes to ally with the rebels in hopes of helping them become the state - with all the subsequent diplomatic and political connections that implies - the best thing that foreign state can be is neutral.

If we want to attack Syria, to my mind we'd be better off - as I insisted we should have done in Lybia - to just make a treaty with the rebels and jump in on one side. The notion of "fighting for peace" seems silly to me in that it promises to expend at least treasure if not blood for very little tangible gain.

Hey, I don't like bullies, either. But I've been in enough playground fights to know that stepping into family fights to try and stop the hurting usually just gets you nothing but bruises while seldom solving the problems that started the fight in the first place.So you might say that everything I needed to know about Syria I learned in third grade. Not that I expect that anyone is going to listen. Just sayin' so I can say "I tol' ya so." I'm kind of an asshole like that.

(Cross-posted to MilPub)

...et pacem appelant

More ghost cities. This time, Hiroshima, 1945.I can't help thinking the same thing the woman in the article muses:
“The thing that affects me most about the photographs is what isn’t there. The absences, like the photograph of the chalk marks of the feet on the bridge. People know what we did at Hiroshima,” she says pensively, “but we just don’t want to think about it.”
We never do. We like to think we make decisions based on "facts" and "reason", that the fact that we are in "control" is a good thing. And don't get me wrong; penicillin, flush toilets, clean food...these ARE all good things.But the default setting for almost all of us - if I do it, if it benefits me in some way, it must be good - is a dangerous foolery, and we would do well to be more suspicious of our own intentions and more skeptical of our rationalizations.Because once you get to the point of standing there on the Aioi Bridge looking into the sun appearing 1,963 feet above your head, there is nothing you can do except become part of the sunrise.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Solitudinem faciunt

One of the commentors on the previous post about Verdun (thanks, Leon!) gave us this; a website showing views of the abandoned city of Pripyat, killed by the implosion of the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant.While it doesn't have quite yet the same time-haunted loneliness or the loom of the awful destruction visited on Fleury-devant-Douaumont there's still something of a similar, frightening stopped-clock desolation there.

I think one of the things that frighten us so badly about these places is the awful familarity about them. We can get angry or frustrated about the destruction visited on the wild places, the Deepwater Horizons, or the Exxon Valdezes, but somehow these places don't seize our hearts and minds like the scattered homework in the Pripyat elementary schoolor the empty field where the little village of Kopachi used to bebefore ionizing radiation made it too dangerous to live in, or near, and the Soviet engineers buried it and sowed the ruins with grass and poplars...These sorts of man-made wastelands always come to mind whenever I hear some fathead (and, sorry, Republicans, but most of the fatheads saying this stuff are your fellow Republicans) talking about how the real problem is "too much regulation" and how the job creators and the Magic of the Market needs to be unleashed to get us all to the Magical Happy Money Place, or when some idiot (see Santorum, Rick) flaps his gums about what a great fucking job humans have done "controlling" their world.

You'd think that "conservatives", who are supposed to be skeptical of human altruism and motives and grounded in a realistic assessment of human failings, would be the first to look at places like this and demand that there always be a second, disinterested, opinion about the gains and costs of human risktaking.

But, as humans always have, we will probably continue to fuck up and then blame everything but ourselves. Being optimists, we will believe ourselves to live in the best of all possible worlds.

Being a pessimist, I tend to agree.