Sunday, April 29, 2012

Why transparency matters—building equity in your personal brand

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

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

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

It's about trust

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

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

How people perceive your brand

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

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

Using a descriptive moniker along with your name

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

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

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

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

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

Changing your moniker 

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

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

Maintaining consistency in your avatar and your brand

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

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

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

Trust is the foundation of real relationships

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

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


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

Un dimanche après-midi à l'Parc des Donnezsur

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

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

Kicked in the face

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

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

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

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

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

We were a fucking disaster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does a True Supporter do, then?

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

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Prius Dementat

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

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

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

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

Ceterum censeo GOP esse delendam

Lead-pipe Cinch

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

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

If you ingest it, it's a poison.

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

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

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

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

But, still...interesting tidbit of history.

Loquiris Latinae?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But! I refuse to repine! After all,

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Regina Quondam et Futuram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They do the dragon boat races, and nothing else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ars Amatoria

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

Just sayin'...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 20, 2012

New Coke

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

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

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

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

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

Okay then.

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

Friday Jukebox: ¡Oscile los timbales!

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012


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

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

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Small World: Super Secret Spy Edition

Unearthed an odd bit of buried past the other day.

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

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

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

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

And I knew her when. Howboutthat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will she say?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mailbox Monday: Bratz

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

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


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

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

Because the bottom line on education is this;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Spring of Our Discontent

"THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer Timbers Army soldier and the sunshine Portland patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their club; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. The MLS Cup, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Rose City 'Til I Die!"

~ Timber Tom

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hard Work II: Electric Boogaloo

Apparently the latest D.C. flame war is the Ann-Romney-vs-Hillary-Rosen Chain-Cage Death Tweet Grudge Match.

This sucker kicked off after the Romneybot trotted out the Little Woman to try and display that, yes, indeedy, he DOES understand that Wimmens Are People, Too, and so they should vote for him because he married one of these women-things so he can do women-positive stuff like cut people off those oh-so-demeaning entitlement programs and refund the money saved to the wealthy (like...Ann Romney!).Ms. Rosen pointed out, rather obviously, that Mrs. Romney wasn't exactly wet-nursing a dozen toddlers in a go-down off of Gin Lane; she was (and is) an insanely rich housewife who could afford to "stay home and raise five boys", as opposed to 95% of the rest of the moms in the U.S., who would quickly be reduced to standing on a streetcorner with a baby on one hip and a basketful of matches on the other if their family lost their share of the income.

This pisses me off on a number of levels.

It pisses me off because of the ridiculous assumption that stay-home moms "work" harder than moms who, y'know, work.

Which is ridiculous, because stay-home moms are way at the bottom of the work food-chain, below the working moms and far, far below the single working moms, for whom there are simply not enough hours in the day.

It pisses me off because of the way it automatically genuflects to the "traditional" wife and mother without any thought of how difficult it is to "choose" to be a stay-home mom after the relentless thirty-year cramdown of wages for the non-two-yacht family.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about.

I wanted to talk about this.

That's the Twitter feed from Rosen's original post. Go and read the comments from the Obama people walking Rosen's comment about how Ann Romney "never worked a day in her life" back; "I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly.", "Families should remain off-limits" (because...Romney trotted out his little wifey for no reason other than personal pride?) and especially this one: "i personally believe stay at home moms work harder than most of us do."

To which I say; great gigongeous flaming titanic planetary-sized balls of horseshit.

And I speak with some authority because I've been a stay-at-home-dad. And a paratroop sergeant. And a diesel mechanic, a jumper stable undergroom, the downstairs guy in a JiffyLubeTM, a high school AND a community college teacher, and a professional geologist.

And I will freely tell you this; every single damn one of those jobs. Every one. Every fucking moment of every one.

Was harder than being a stay-at-home-dad.

Oh, there were things about being a SAHD that kinda sucked.

The hours often aren't great. The clientele is not always friendly. Flat-out the WORST thing is the fucking boredom; raising a kid is often like playing catch with a dog - trust me, you're going to get bored waaaaaayyyyyy before the dog (or the kid) does. Remind me I said that after reading "Thomas the Train and the Blustery Day" to your toddler for the eight zillionth time.

So at-home parenting is sort of like one of those brain-killing data entry jobs people with "computer science" degrees used to get in the Seventies and Eighties. Long, insanely dull, repetitive, occasionally panicky, sometimes stressful.

But "hard"?

Fuckety fuck, no.

And the reason this "Ohhh, those sweet stay-home mommies, they work so haaaard!" crap drives me so nuts is because - while they're doing their best to make things harder for the sort of people who don't have the Ann Romney kind of cash to hire nannies and au pairs and cleaning services and diaper services and all - the GOP sorts of people luuurves to talk about how wonderful and hard-working all those SAHMs and SAHDs are (though good luck expecting them to get excited about, you know, the people with penises staying home with the kiddos - how the hell you gonna hang with the Tea Party Commandos with that baby bag, there, dad?)

But here's the Big Reveal; staying at home with the kids really ain't hard work.Physically the worst nuisance is between about 18 months old and five or six; as babies they're basically noisy luggage - you can take them with you wherever you need to go as long as you remember their mountain of kit (diapers, wubbies, change of clothes, Cheerios...) - and after that they're in school most of the day. It's a pain again when they're older - starting in the late-grade-school tween years - because of the emotional headaches; you have to worry about herpes and smoking weed and drunk driving and on-line predators.

But the "work" part throughout pretty much consists of feeding 'em, cleaning them, and cleaning up AFTER them, and word up - nobody reading this is living in fricking "Little House on the Prairie".

And sure as HELL not Ann Romney. Little Mansion on the Hudson, probably.

Laundry? You got a machine for that. Dishes? You got a machine for that. Cleaning? How the hell long does it take to vacuum a floor and wipe down a countertop? You've got a fridge and a microwave and a range/over - you don't exactly have to hunt, kill, butcher, and roast a mammoth haunch over an open fire.

When my kid was little and I was out of work I swear, I could get pretty much all the housework done in the space it took for him to nap; maybe an hour, tops. I could toss him in the car and do the marketing, with stops on the way for the library and some coffee. Hang out at the bookstore, go to his fave indoor play place. I pretty much had a leisurely day with the kiddo, tantrums and the hour or so of housework aside.

Now...what I couldn't do was the stuff I liked doing; I couldn't sit and read (unless he was sleeping), or exercise, or watch a movie or a soccer match on television, or blog. And that was frustrating, no kidding.

But it was not effing hard work.


So this pisses me off because it's a plain and simple attempt by a hereditary rich couple to try and con the marks suckers "independent" voters into believing that the RomneyTron 2000 is really a warm, empathetic humanoid that loves him some good ol' plain folks because he's, you know, a family man with a Hard-Working Li'l Woman just like them!

But instead it tells me the opposite.

Because as a guy who's been one; if this gomer and his wife think she was "working hard" when she was staying home with the kiddies and the nanny and the housekeeper and the gardener?

They need to go out and learn about real hard work.

'Cause hanging around the house vacuuming the carpets and wiping the baby's ass ain't it.

Nasty?Yep. I'll give you nasty.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cleaning up at the Y

I was born in 1957, meaning that, like most of you, I've lived my entire life in the Television Era. So over the course of more than a half-century I've seen some very odd things advertized on the cathode-ray tube. But this one is perhaps as peculiar as I've ever seen:Apparently it's from India, where, shockingly, Indian people live.

And some of these people are, surprisingly, women. And, even more stunning, some of these women have dark skin which is - astounding, yes, I know - somewhat darker in places. Specifically, around their crotch.

So here's how the blogger Deepanjana Pal at Mumbai Boss Explains it All to You:
"The ad shows a woman...looking mournful because her vagina is dark, like the cup of coffee she’s holding in her hands. The suggestion is that her depression is intensified by the fact that she has a disinterested partner who would rather drink coffee than, well, her. Cut to the depressed woman looking much happier as she goes for a shower. At this point we see an animation. It shows us a hairless, feminine crotch (with gravity-defying rose petals in the background, if you please)...once the animated crotch is whitened courtesy Clean and Dry, the woman emerges in a pair of shorts and proceeds to jump on a sofa and stuff her partner’s car keys into her shorts. This is, apparently, how women communicate they are available and have suitably tinted vaginas. Mine, incidentally, is thoroughly disapproving of such products and actions. (The only place that a car key should be stuffed is in the ignition.)"
This is entirely mystifying to me. What IS this bizarre obsession we hairless monkeys seem to have with...well, our hairy bits?

I mean sex, yeah, I get it. We're obsessed with each others' swiving equipment, and I can understand that. But it's the bizarre need we men - and it is men; first because both television and advertising are still largely run by guys and, second, I can't for the life of me imagine a woman standing at the bathroom mirror staring down at her groin and musing "Gee, I wish I was...not so...dark down there..." - seem to have with fiddling with our mom's, wives', girlfriend's, daughter's, and female strangers' reproductive areas.

I mean, first it was "merkins", and now..."Clean and Dry", so your puff-puff
(which, by the way, is what we call the lady parts around the Fire Direction Center; for some reason the Boy decided that while he had a "wiener" the former was the correct terminology for his mom's wedding tackle. After we stopped giggling hysterically we decided we liked the silliness of the term so it stuck. Hence a 54-year-old man referring to his lover's Mount of Venus by what sounds like the given name of a calico kitten...)
can be delicately pale and dainty?




It just seems truly damn strange to me, in an intellectual fashion.

But...I think if I was female I'd feel a little more strongly about it;But maybe that's just me. Opinions, gals?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Battles Long Ago: Operation Vengeance 1943

"Operation Vengeance" (Solomons Campaign - 339th Fighter Squadron mission over Bougainville) Date: 18 APR 1943Forces Engaged: - United States (Army Air Force) 16 x P-38G (Lightning) fighter aircraft大日本帝國海軍 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun (Imperial Japanese Navy) 2 x G4M1 medium bomber aircraft 式陸上攻撃機, 一式陸攻 Isshiki rikujō kōgeki ki, Isshikirikkō (Allied designation: "Betty")6 x A6M2 fighter aircraft (Allied designation: "Zeke" - but better known as the "Zero")A Brief Note: I have considered writing this engagement up - although it is already relatively well-known in WW2 lore (a war which is already over-documented as well as effectively supporting the operations of The Military Channel on cable television...) - ever since the recent assassination of Osama bin Laden. I simply thought that it would be worth noting that the regular military of the U.S. has, indeed, been used to rub out a specific enemy leader before, and talk about the actual incident and the various counterfactuals and implications of the event and how it played out in the larger context of a genuine global war.The Sources: Well documented, especially from the U.S. side with photographic (including gun-camera) footage and a wealth of primary sources.

You can find a wealth of information on Operation Vengeance on the internet, including the decently organized Wiki entry, and the U.S. Naval Institute has a decent blog post about the operation.

And there's this: The second part appears to be from a Japanese documentary on the mission, with much of the film other than stock footage from U.S. sources. But the first part is a delightful trip down memory lane to the days when Our Boys in Uniform really were all heroes, our enemies were Evil, and killing them was not just necessary but really, really good.The Background: Even today, most Americans with any sort of knowledge of history know the story of Pearl Harbor, the broad outline of the course of Great Pacific War (as they know it in Japan) and the role of ADM 山本 五十六 (Isoroku Yamamoto) in crafting the attack on the U.S. fleet that opened the conflict.ADM Yamamoto was unquestionably a gifted military leader. He was also an interesting contradiction, a very able naval commander who disagreed strongly with his country's geopolitical aims.Yamamoto had spent some time outside Japan - atypical for the Japanese political and military leaders of the Thirties and Forties - and had some better sense of his nation's extreme vulnerability to an economic war of attrition. Resource-poor, Japan was dependent on surface shipping for pretty much all its industrial materials. An enemy with a powerful navy - the United States, for instance - would be extremely likely to put Japan in danger through a campaign of commerce raiding.

This, in turn, led Yamamoto to oppose the Army leadership's desire for conquests both in China and elsewhere in southeast Asia.

But the man was not big enough to force the issue. While he considered his nation dangerously reckless in seeking war with the United States, he continued to plan that war.And Yamamoto's great innovation was to overthrow the strategic thinking of Japan's naval planners. The 軍令部 (Gunreibu) - the Navy General Staff - had always thought in terms of fighting a Mahanist battle against the USN in the western Pacific, after using light forces to attrit the American fleets advancing to meet the IJN near the Home Islands, where the IJN would smash them in a classic Tsushimaesque gunbattle.Yamamoto dryly noted that even in the Gunreibu's own wargames this cunning plan had worked like a fucking sieve spoon. The U.S. simply had too much shipbuilding and force-construction might. Given the time and the space the USN would just load up, steamroller west, and overwhelm the IJN.

The cost to the gringos might be be enormous, but the end result would always be bloody defeat for Japan.

What's my understanding that Yamamoto honestly believed that there was never any real means of defeating the U.S.

He is said to have remarked that if he was allowed to fight the war his way that he could run wild in the central Pacific for half a year or so; then the U.S. would begin putting the squeeze on and the endgame would begin.

His idea was said to be, rather, to force an immediate decisive battle on the USN in the central Pacific, defeat it, and - with the prospect of a Japanese invasion of the U.S. west coast (which he knew in fact to be logistically impossible and strategically suicidal) - frighten the Americans into a negotiated peace.

The other thing to remember is that the U.S. didn't really have anything the Japanese wanted in 1941. The war didn't happen because the Japanese wanted to fight us.No, the real objectives of the Army and militarist-civilian cabal that ran the country were territorial gains in China. In order to keep the Japanese war machine running, though, the Army needed petroleum. The nearest, and most seizable, petroleum producing region was in the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia).But to get to this region the Army would need command of the South China Sea and there, like a great big fucking unsinkable aircraft carrier, was the Philippine Islands just sagging with U.S. aircraft and warships.

So the Japanese government needed the U.S. to stay out of their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. But the signs at the time weren't good.

For one thing, the Japanese were their own worst enemy. The Army really was a brutal disaster in China, murdering, raping, and generally acting like the Ugly Japanese. Add to that stuff that showed their contempt for the whities like the Panay Incident, and the result was that the Americans had already embargoed a number of critical war materials to show Japan their dissatisfaction; Miss America was not a happy gal.

And then, worse. No, the worst; in July 1941 the U.S. stopped oil exports to Japan.

For the Imperial war machine this was hell and fucking disaster. At the time the Japanese purchased 80% of their petroleum products from the U.S. (Hard to believe now, innit? But we were one of the major oil producing nations in the Forties).

The end of American oil meant the end of mechanized war and the end of the conquest of China, unless the Indonesian fields could be seized. And all that lovely dinosaur wine from the "Southern Resources Area" would be practically unuseable if the U.S. fleets and aircraft from the Philippines were in place and the command of a government furious at Nipponese aggression, and capable of attacking Japanese shipping.

So the Americans had to go.

Well, we know how that went.The screwups began 7 DEC; Yamamoto's boy Nagumo missed the American carriers at Pearl, failed to smash the tank farms and drydocks.

And, true to his prediction, in June 1942 the IJN was viciously hammered at Midway. In general terms Midway meant that the IJN's air arm was no longer capable of inflicting the decisive defeat on the USN that Yamamoto had hoped for. But in human terms, Midway meant that Yamamoto was no longer the Golden Boy of the Gunreibu; the General Staff wanted no more of these grandiose flotillas across the Pacific.

Now they would play the game they had all during the Twenties and Thirties. The Army would capture the islands of the Solomons and New Guinea, and then the Japanese would await the coming of the Americans.This plan, in turn, fell apart.

The Imperial Japanese Army proved unequal to the task of securing New Guinea and Guadalcanal
(One thing I don't think really receives enough attention - which is fairly amazing, since all things WW2 have been scrutinized and re-scrutinized and re-rescrutinized - is the strategic and tactical crudity of the IJA. In short, the Japanese Army really was almost comically inept. Of all the major powers in 1941 the IJA was virtually incapable of sustained strategic mobility and on the tactical level was largely pathetic at combined arms warfare. The infantry was decent and the artillery was crude but effective but its armor was already antique before the beginning of the Pacific War and the Japanese never figured out close air support. For a bunch of impulsive, arrogant racist hotheads who dragged their country into a war they couldn't win, tactically the Imperial Army generals generally were a bunch of worthless fucking oxygen thieves.Worse, the Army had very little intellectual horsepower involved in war planning and was violently bitten with senshobyo ("victory disease"; the intellectual conviction that one's own military is incapable of being defeated) and thus tended to completely overestimate its own capability)
and the Navy, reeling from the loss of pilots and carriers at Midway, continued to bleed from naval battles that, while often victories or at least favorable draws, cost it ships, sailors, and especially planes and pilots it couldn't afford.So by April 1943 Yamamoto was a very diminished man. He is said to have been retained as commander of the Combined Fleet more because of the Japanese government's fear that his sacking would be admission of defeat - Japanese never lost, senshobyo, remember? - and therefore a blow to morale than for his strategic abilities.

In fact, the Tojo government cancelled Yamamoto's planned attacks down the Solomons chain - Plan FS - after the defeat at Midway. The supposed commander of the Combined Fleet was informed that he would fight the battle of attrition he loathed.By the spring of 1943 Yamamoto must have known that the clock was counting down his navy and his nation; the mindset of the man is hard to imagine, but I suspect that he was resolved on seeing what he saw as his duty through to the end.Certainly that must have been in his mind when he decided on an "inspection tour" of the southern Solomons in that spring. Guadalcanal had been abandoned in February, and the losses there and in the surrounding islands must have been eating away at the Japanese troops enjoying the lush tropical islands (read malaria, beri-beri, jungle rot, and starvation rations) of the Solomons chain.

In the United States of 1943 the architect of the Pearl attack was a symbol of Japanese treachery; the ultimate in Charlie Chan villains, sneaking up bowing and hissing only to stab the honest cowpoke in the back.Along with the Emperor himself and the leader of the military cabal that ran the Japanese civil government Yamamoto symbolized the Ultimate Evil that we were fighting.I have never read anything that suggests that the U.S. government or any of the military branches of the U.S. War Department had any sort of ideas, much less a pre-prepared plan, to assassinate any of the Japanese leadership. Certainly there must have been some idle sorts of coffee-table speculation; there definitely was in the case of Hitler (and the decision, I understand, was that - logistical and operational difficulties aside - the geopolitical value of Hitler in place, making mistakes, was more valuable than Hitler assassinated) and may well have been on the part of the Japanese leaders.But the nature of the war, and, in particular, the geography of the fighting areas, meant that an enemy leader was typically located well behind a thicket of armies, fleets, and/or aircraft. And operational security meant that the physical location of the enemy's higher was often a matter of conjecture; you might know where their headquarters was, or where they were likely to be found, but getting a man or a bullet within the same room? A lucky bomb might dispatch one or two but nothing specifically directed at these leaders was either practical or even really possible. It wasn't that the U.S. wouldn't have liked to - the Japanese leaders were hated as few enemies in U.S. history have been;But the technical and tactical capabilities just weren't there.

Until...on 14 APR 1943 at least three U.S. radio intercept stations picked up a broadcast cyphered in the Japanese naval code "D" that the U.S. cryptanalysts called "JN-25". It began:
The achievements of the Allied codebreakers are now art of the public record, so this interception - part of the overall cryptanalysis war against the Japanese that has been called "Magic" - was pretty much part of business as usual for the American electronic warfare people.

The critical parts were in the message itself. From other traffic the analysts knew that "RR" was the Japanese main installation at Rabaul on the island of New Britain, and that "RXZ" was the airfield at Ballale, a tiny island in the Shortlands chain to the southeast of New Britain.

For perhaps the only time in the entirety of WW2 one side knew, to the minute, where one of their enemy leaders would be. And not just any leader, but the man who, to many Americans, symbolized the evil treacherous enemy they were fighting.

The authority for the mission went all the way up the chain to President Roosevelt, who ordered the military to attack the flight carrying Yamamoto. The order was relayed from the War Department through CINCPAC to ADM Halsey, CINC South Pacific Area, and from there to the 13th Air Force on Guadalcanal, the so-called "Cactus Air Force".On 17 APR 1943 the commander of the 339th, MAJ Mitchell, was briefed on the concept of operation by the naval officer commanding the Guadalcanal area, VADM Mitscher, and his staff. Here's how the U.S. Navy account describes that morning;
"Most of the disagreement centered on whether to shoot his plane down or try and get him on the sub chaser. Eventually Mitchell was pulled back into the planning discussion, and asserted that the P-38’s would go for an air- vice ship-borne intercept (“My men wouldn’t know a sub-chaser from a sub. It’ll have to be in the air,” Mitchell said).

Special long-range tanks would be needed, and of course, weren’t’ available on Henderson. They were, however, at “nearby” Port Moresby and were quickly located, placed on a transport and flown to Henderson where the modifications to fit them to the P-38s immediately began.

Mitchell, wary of the long overwater distances involved and mindful of the importance of precise dead reckoning navigation would have on mission success, asked that the “wet” magnetic compass in his aircraft be replaced with a larger and more reliable Navy compass."
In fact, the mission profile was extremely complex due to the problem of flying around the Solomon islands still held by the Japanese. The route looked like this:
Leg # Compass Miles Time
1 265° 183 miles 55 min
2 290° 88 miles 27 min
3 305° 125 miles 38 min
4 020° 16 miles 5 min + 16 min loitering
5 090° 69 miles 21 minThe P-38 fighter was a critical element to the success of the mission. Huge for a fighter, with twin engines and enough fuel space to fly long distances overwater, the P-38 was a perfect fit for this attack. The only potential problem was at the actual site of the ambush; while the P-38 was fast and well-protected it couldn't "dogfight" with an A6M; the "Zero" was simply too nimble. So surprise was critical; a swarming defense of Zekes might make interception too chancy. The assassination team had to get in unseen.

Eighteen aircraft were prepped for the strike; at 0700 local time sixteen took off from "U.S. Airfield Lunga Point Guadalcanal" - Henderson Field - and rose into the bright April sky, headed northwest.Operation Vengeance had begun.

The Engagement: The U.S. aircraft flew their long route at very low level; the flight was, as military flights often are, remarkable only for its boredom. About two hours later the aircraft approached the southern tip of the island of Bougainville, Point Moira and began looking for their target.The Japanese flight had taken off on schedule (0600 Tokyo time, about 0800 local time), and about an hour later were approaching Ballale from the northwest. The U.S. fighters sighted the Japanese about 0930.The pre-flight briefing had told the American pilots to expect a G4M "Betty" twin-engined bomber and small escort; the approaching aircraft included two "Betty"s and six A6M "Zeroes", but were right on time and in the right place. The U.S. fighters had their target.One of the 339th pilots, 1LT Caning later wrote about the brief gunfight:
"Mitchell later said that he was not sure that we had our target as we had been briefed that there would only be one Betty bomber. However, he quickly realized we had our enemy in sight and said, “Skin em off” meaning to get rid of our belly tanks and then said “go get em Tom”.

At that time it appeared we still had not been seen by the enemy. As I later read in the mission report, Tom and his flight immediately turned towards the enemy with max power and climb. As he neared the Jap formation, Tom saw that if he turned left into the nearest Zeroes he could divert them allowing Rex to go in and shoot at the lead Betty bomber. Rex did so coming out of his right turn slightly to the left of his target. He corrected and began shooting at the bomber getting hits on the fuselage and right engine. Shortly after that the bomber crashed in the jungle."
"The second bomber made a right turn toward the ocean. Besby Holmes who had had trouble dropping his belly tanks now was able to get on the tail of the second bomber getting numerous hits on it. In the meantime Rex turned to his right, but was being pursued by the second vee of Zero’s, however he was able to get enough distance to where he was able to shoot at the second bomber too. It then crashed in the ocean. Besby Holmes at this time was chasing Zero’s off of Rex’s tail. After the crash of the second bomber there were three survivors, one of whom was Admiral Ugaki, Yamamoto’s chief of staff."
With both the potential victims down and dusted the U.S. attackers accelerated out southeast before support from the nearby Japanese airfield at Kahili could arrive.

One U.S. pilot died, his aircraft damaged in the fight with the escorts and was then lost en route to Henderson.

All nineteen passengers and crew on G4M1, tail number T1-323, were killed either in the air or on impact.A patrol from the IJA post near Aku on Bougainville, is supposed to have arrived the following day to secure the crash site. In the Wiki entry one LT Hamasuna is described as finding the Admiral's body:
"Yamamoto had been thrown clear of the plane's wreckage, his white-gloved hand grasping the hilt of his katana, still upright in his seat under a tree. Hamasuna said Yamamoto was instantly recognizable, head dipped down as if deep in thought"
. The website Pacific Wrecks adds a ghoulish detail.In its entry for the wreck of the bomber, the website's author claims that "Next, a Japanese Navy patrol was sent to the site to recover the Admiral's body. When they arrived, they found Yamamoto's sword and Admiral rank insignia (shoulder bars) missing. They have never been located to this day."

I have no idea what to make of this tale or whether it is true; frankly, it sounds implausible. The only people hanging around the wreckage that day would have been Japanese soldiers, and a private Japanese soldier found in possession of a dead Japanese flag officer's personal sword and uniform items, especially that Japanese officer, would have suffered a particularly nasty fate.

Again we have a discrepancy between the standard accounts and the Pacific Wrecks website. Most published accounts describe the admiral's injuries as fifty-caliber bullet wounds, either one to the head and one to the upper torso (or only one, to the chest), either of which would have been fatal.

But the Wrecks account states that
"According to the the Navy doctor who examined his body at the crash site and performed his autopsy, Yamamoto's had no visible wounds aside from a small cut above his eye. This caused speculation he might have survived the crash, but died hours later from internal injury or shock."
Again, I have not idea whether this is correct, and it disagrees with most of the other accounts; I think that it should be treated with skepticism.

In accordance with Shinto tradition the admiral's body was burned, and his ashes returned to Tokyo. His death was announced on 3 MAY 1943, and he received a "state funeral in June. Some of the remains of the man still lie at Tama Cemetery in the countryside west of Tokyo, while the remainder of his ashes were buried in his family shrine at Nagaoka.

The reaction in the United States is said to have been a sort of muted satisfaction. There was little of the excitement that surrounding the assassination of bin Laden, up to and including the T-shirts. The American people of 1943 knew perfectly well that there was a lot more war and a lot more dying yet to come.

Perhaps the most ridiculous sideshow associated with the assassination was the minor USAAF conniption about "who killed Yamamoto". The credit at the time was given to two officers, 1LT Barber and CPT Lanphier. The latter then went on record as claiming the "credit" for the assassination which provoked a nasty little scuffle in which his claim was largely debunked. LT Rex Barber, of the little town of Culver, in eastern Oregon, is now officially credited with the shootdown.He and Lanphier were both awarded Navy Crosses for the action in 18 APR 1943.

The Consequences: It's interesting to speculate about the larger effect that the death of Yamamoto had on the Pacific War.On the one hand, Yamamoto was a very gifted officer, and there is no reason to assume that he would have ceased to fight for his country before the atomic bombs fell. Such a commander might have made the eventual defeat - and, as he himself understood, by 1943 defeat really was unavoidable - much more painful and bloody than it was, for both sides.

Plus the man was still an important symbol for the Japanese nation and its armed forces. By reaching out and striking him down the U.S. military seemed to prove that no one, not even the feared artisan of Pearl Harbor, was safe. Several historians have claimed that the news of Yamamoto's death was the equivalent of a major military defeat in shaking the resolve of the Japanese fighting forces.

So his killing might well have helped shorten the war.

On the other hand, by April 1943 Yamamoto was a much-diminished factor in the war. His carrier strike force had been largely destroyed at Midway, and his pilots were being decimated; the Battle of the Philippine Sea the following year would finish the Japanese naval air arm as a combat force. Even at the time the IJN was reduced to trying to fight the war of attrition its own forecast predicted it would lose.

And for all the claims that Yamamoto's death was a crucial blow to morale the U.S. had still to fight on for more than two years. Tens of thousands of U.S. and Japanese soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines would die at places like Biak, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, retaking the Philippines, and Okinawa. Yamamoto himself said; "To die for Emperor and Nation is the highest hope of a military man. After a brave hard fight the blossoms are scattered on the fighting field. But if a person wants to take a life instead, still the fighting man will go to eternity for Emperor and country. One man's life or death is a matter of no importance."So the death of this one man may not have so much as knocked a single day off the war.

One thread of commentary that I consider an extreme counterfactual is the notion that a living Yamamoto in 1944-45 brings a moderating force into the decisions of the Tojo government, possibly even pushing them into accepting unconditional surrender earlier in the war and avoiding the hideously bloody battles of the spring of 1945.

Given what we know of the man's intellectual objections to the initial attack but involvement in the planning I find it impossible to believe that he would have seriously pressed for surrender late in the war, even as Japan's position became untenable.His attitude was always one of obedience to his country's political leadership, and I can't think that he would have had the gumption to change, even with disaster apparent and no end in view but a sanguinary defeat. No, the entire idea is extremely weak sauce; Operation Vengeance may not have had a decisive impact on ending the war, but what it did not do was lengthen it by removing Yamamoto as a voice for surrender...

What is hard to escape is that in a sense, everyone involved in Operation Vengeance got what they wanted.

The U.S. - from the public to the Roosevelt Administration to the fighting troops - got revenge and a fearful victory to boost their spirits.Yamamoto died facing his enemies, before being faced with the choice between betraying his nation by continuing the hopeless war and betraying his military oath.

Idle Thoughts and Random Speculations: When I started writing this I had a small tangle of ideas bouncing around inside my head.

One was that the thing that strikes me about Operation Vengeance, the thing that got this post started, is the similarity between it and last year's Operation Neptune Spear, the military operation directed against bin Laden.

In both cases we had the use of strategic intelligence and communications interception to pinpoint an individual high up in the enemy chain-of-command followed by a military mission tailored to kill that individual. The only real difference I see seems to have been in method; somehow the air-to-air scrap seems more impersonal, makes the 1943 event seem more like a "battle" and less like cold-blooded murder.

The 1943 assassination seems to me to stand on its own as a legitimate military operation.

The U.S. had no idea where Yamamoto stood in the IJN heirarchy in 1943, but they knew he had hurt them badly before and might again. As an enemy commander he seems to me to have been a legitimate "target" the same as any other Japanese troop.The bin Laden operation seems less straightforward.

First there's the entire question of whether the U.S. was "at war" with bin Laden's organization or "terror" in general. I don't buy the nonsensical "War on Terror", and think that we would have done better to show up at his door with a Pakistani cop backed up by the local SWAT team.(Isn't that a great image, by the way? "Knock, and the door shall be opened"? I guess the graphic artist wanted us to know that Gott was really mit uns.)

While it is not always good to confirm your enemy's vision statement, in all honesty there seems little chance that law enforcement could have worked, given the conditions in Pakistan.

And I cannot second-guess the acts of the troops on the ground; it is highly likely that the possibility of capture for his crimes was not ever possible.Interestingly, I also think in both cases the benefits of the success of the operations were and are overstated.

Both targets were past their prime as enemy leaders.

Both of the deaths had, or currently appear to have had, little active effect on the geopolitical situations of the factions the two leaders belonged to.

Both were, to some extent, I think, vanity projects; designed more than anything else to please the U.S. public.

And, in the end, both men died as they would have preferred, at the hands of their enemies as soldiers in combat, rather than being hung for war criminals after a victor's tribunal.

Perhaps the most difficult part of judging these two events is that we know the outcome of Operation Vengeance; we have run out all the threads of possibility to their ends, while the conflict between the West and his faction still continues so we are yet unsure what the effects of the killing of bin Laden will be.For us the stone in the Tama-Reien 多磨霊園 lies quiet beneath the pines, and in the deep forest of Bougainville the vines grow thick on the wreckage of airframe aluminum and shattered glass that slowly returns to the fecund jungle around them.