Monday, September 19, 2016

Ten Years After...

I completely forgot to mark it, but this past July was the tenth anniversary of Graphic Firing Table; July 17, 2006 was the very first post up at this joint.

Reminds me; I gotta start trying to figure out what the hell to say.

It's not going to be about this election, oh no. You ain't draggin' me into that.

Maybe a nice cat video?

Hmmm.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Our Kind

Our mother knew our worth---
not much. To her, success
was not being noticed at all.
"If we can stay out of jail,"
she said, "God will be proud of us."

"Not worth a row of pins,"
she said, when we looked at the album:
"Grandpa?---ridiculous."
Her hearing was bad, and that
was good: "None of us ever says much."

She sent us forth equipped
for our kind of world, a world of
our betters, in a nation so strong
its greatest claim is no boast,
its leaders telling us all, "Be proud"---

But over their shoulders, God and
our mother, signaling: "Ridiculous."
















~ William Stafford

(huge h/t to Lance Mannion, who posted this...)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

In memory of..?

...the Seattle dead of World War 2, apparently.
This past Saturday I finally did something I've wanted to do for a long time.

No! I didn't convince my wife to make love in a hammock. C'mon! That's nuts; you could hurt your back that way!

Nope. I rode the Portland Thorns fan bus up to Seattle for the women's professional soccer match between the Thorns and the home Seattle Reign.

The bus ride was...well, about what you'd expect from a bus ride between Portland and Seattle (though the delays in Tacoma were surprisingly few, and shorter than I would have expected...)...though the pickup soccer at the Scatter Creek rest stop was fun. First time I'd kicked a ball around since my new hip, and I was pleased with my agility.

But it was just a long, dull bus ride enlivened by the fact that we had a pony keg of Lompoc Brewing's fine Kick Axe ale broached in the left rear seat. I don't usually start drinking at nine a.m., but needs must. Mmmm. It is a damn fine breakfast drink.

We made excellent time - overcalculated those delays in Tacoma, no doubt - and arrived outside the Home of the Reign more than hour before gate time, so several of us wandered away to find another place to kickabout. Some admired the bizarre organic metal shell of the EMP music building, museum, whatever; it looks like an aluminum tumor. That and the ginormous steel stalks next to the parking lot. As art they're kind of shit. As toys, on the other hand, they're a lot of fun. It's pretty amazing how far you can get them to flex...
Finally we all regrouped outside the gate of Memorial Stadium, where upon entry we discovered that one of the local car dealers was sponsoring a scarf giveaway.

It's a sad comment on what a scarf whore I am that I instinctively scooped up one of these things before realizing that it was a Seattle scarf. Well, okay, a Seattle/Subaru scarf, but...still. A Portland fan wearing a Seattle scarf'd be like pinning a Nazi swastika on a yarmulke. Just. Wrong.

So I scarfed the first vendor I saw and trooped in to find our seats.
The Seattle organization had given us pretty good seats; down front, near midfield - way better than the far top corner we in Portland pen our visitors into on matchdays, sadly. The odd part was that there was no real attempt to segregate us from the Seattle fans. Most of the Portland supporters did stand together in a block, but the outside edges were pretty ragged, and there was a sort of admixture at the fringes where individuals and small groups of Portland fans mingled with supporters of the local club.

One oddity was an apparent drinking restriction to a "beer garden" at the outer wall; I didn't see any beer served anywhere else in the joint and, while I didn't test the boundaries I didn't see anyone with a brew outside the designated grownup space. Maybe this had something to do with the owner, Seattle Public Schools. Certainly the sign on the South Stand pier suggested that Adults and Students were not to mingle,let alone share the Temptations of Demon Drink
Perhaps the other reason was concern for the health of anyone who had drunk enough beer to need internal relief, because the Memorial Stadium bogs were truly appalling. I've used some pretty primitive facilities - I was a GI and posted overseas, remember - but this was perhaps the most noisome toilet I've ever seen in a major city. I'd be shocked if these things had been renovated since the old pile was built back in 1947.
The day was cool and cloudy, the crowd large and enthusiastic, and the match a solid grudge fight between two teams that seem to genuinely like to whip one another. Unfortunately for a Portland fan, we were on the wrong end of the whipping that day.

Thorns FC lost one of our best defensive midfielders to injury early in the first half, making it difficult to defend against Seattle's excellent midfield or fight forward through it. Just before the half hour the Reign scored a goal on some terrific buildup play. Much as we chanted and sang we didn't help; our team was frustrated and penned up in its own end most of the half.
Halftime we were down 1-nil, and by midway through the second half Seattle scored again, this time an an awful error by one of usually-most-reliable defenders and a member of the US women's team. The last half hour and stoppage time was desperate; Portland scored, finally, in added time but then fell apart trying for the equalizer and gave up a quietus to Seattle's Rapinoe to go down 3-1.

The Thorns had not played well and their body language showed it; after the traditional salute-song to the team the fans remained staring uncomfortably at the team's cool-down stretches before slowly trickling away up the steps and back to the bus.

The drive back to Portland was, not surprisingly, quiet, disturbed only by the brake problems on the bus I'd chosen (the "cider bus", named for the hard cider it was stocked with in place of beer, drove on without incident). Perhaps coincidentally it was just as we finished the last of the brew suddenly a chorus of shouts and shrieks broke out from the left rear;

"Ohmigod, the tire's smoking!" "We're on fire!" "Stop the bus! There's something wrong!"

The driver did, indeed, pull to the side of the anonymous stretch of I-5 bordered by empty fields several miles from the next exit. He opened the door and stumped out to see what was the matter. Inside considerable hilarity tinged with nervous laughter considered the possibilities of a tire-fire while the tire was still on the bus.

I texted my Bride: "FYI - brake problems with bus. May be late. On the other hand, may burst into flames. Will advise."

I love my Desdemona. She replied quickly: "In case of fiery death, assure send pictures."

But today the bus was not half in love with easeful Death. After a moment of backing and starting forward the brakes broke loose at least long enough to get us back on the road. We arrived in Portland as the sun was setting, and I walked through the windy cool of the evening back across the Broadway Bridge to my office lot and home.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Hole in my pocket

One thing that kinda drives me nuts about my Fellow Americans is the ridiculous luuuurve they have for the U.S. Army (and the other uniformed services) that lives only inside their heads.

This isn't the actual Army, the one with the dudes and gals and hosers, the studs and the spuds, the hard workers and goldbricks, the one that can cut you like a knife and then fall over its own feet like a sack of sawdust. You know...the one that is a bunch of Americans wearing the same colored clothes with all the same virtues and all the same vices you see and hear about on the evening news.

This is some sort of shiny, perfect Army populated by heroes and supermen, driving dinosaur-powered tanks that shoot laser beams from their eyes and have the sorts of powers found typically in comic books. This Army is composed of A-students who were the #1 in their Bible Study class and can deadlift 300 pounds while putting all thirty rounds into a two-inch square 300 meters away on full automatic.

I've never once seen this Army, and I kinda wish I could just to see what it'd be like.

I suspect I'd feel completely inadequate.

Anyway, the real Army managed to lose 6.5 trillion back in FY15.

Not steal. Not spend. Not waste. Just...lose. As in "...the fuck? It was...I know I had it. Where...let me look under the desk. Goddamn it..."

The Inspector General's report lays it out pretty clearly; the Army just flat-out has no idea where this jack is, or what it did with it. It wasn't criminal, it probably got put to some sort of use, possibly good use...but nobody knows. The accounting at DFAS and the associated Army financial agencies was bad enough that if a private company had done it that badly it'd have gotten its nuts thoroughly rapped by the IRS.

The IG concludes that due to a waterfall of errors and fuckups:
"As a result, the data used to prepare the FY2015 AGF third quarter and yearend financial statements were unreliable and lacked an adequate audit trail. Furthermore, DoD and Army managers could not rely on the data in their accounting systems when making management and resource decisions. Until the Army and DFAS Indianapolis correct these control deficiencies, there is considerable risk that AGF financial statements will be materially misstated and the Army will not achieve audit readiness by the congressionally mandated deadline of September 30, 2017."
The really frustrating part of all this is that you'd think, with 6.5 trillion just kind of lost somewhere the Army could have slipped a hardworking old platoon sergeant a couple of casual hundred thou. on the downlow. Y'know? Kind of a "thank you for your service" kinda thing?

But, noooooo.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Release SFC Kraken!

A friend of mine sent me a comment with the attached image that...well, it completely brought out the Army sergeant in me. And the more I think about it, the more it's so...well, so completely "me" that I had to post it.
So. Here it is:

"I'm not saying that these things can't be done. I'm saying that when Sanders says "we can't afford to stop fighting"...arrgh!

To give you an example; I got a call from the Oregon for Bernie Sanders 2016 people last week. The nice girl was asking me to come to some sort of "Rock Against the TPP" concert.

How did this do anything to stop the TPP, given that Congress isn't going to vote on it this year and the process is currently idle, but that Oregon's delegation (outside that rat bastard Walden) is already pledged to vote against it. Well, ummm, yeah, it won't, really. OK, says I, then how do we DO something to stop the fucking TPP? Ummm...I'm not sure, says the nice girl, but the Sanders meeting is Tuesday and I'll be sure to ask. OK, you do that, and here's my e-mail; you send me a quick note and tell me what they told you.

So far? Nothing.

That's my frustration. So far there's been no effort to unseat the bastard Walden and turn Oregon all blue. No efforts to secure the defenstration of the GOP in Salem. No efforts to galvanize the fucking rednecks in Clackamas County or propagandize the hicks in Gold Beach that they need to understand that public health care and a decent minimum wage and a return to the 90% top bracket will make the safer than another fucking AR-15. There's been NO LOCAL EFFORTS at all.

STOP fighting? When do we fucking stop TALKING and START fighting?

Tell ya what.

I'm gonna go to the next goddamn Sanders Tuesday night meeting and I swear to fucking God; Imma bring a piece of dimension lumber and wall-to-wall counsel those pie-in-the-sky fuckers about how you go in and win a goddamn knife fight.

I'll give you a hint: it ain't about going to a goddamn concert."

Sigh.

Sometimes the sergeant in me comes out at very inopportune times...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Bull Webbly

I was away from home last evening and had time on my hands, so what else was a fella to do?
I went to a minor league baseball game.

The game was at the Single A ballpark in Everett, Washington where the visiting Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (a San Francisco farm) played the penultimate game against the home side, a Seattle affiliate. The game itself was something of a snoozer; a 7-nothing rout for the visitors capped by a disastrous (for Everett) four-run ninth where the Volcanoes pretty much pasted the Everett closer all over the park.

I learned to score ballgames from my pop, the Master Chief, who told me as a slip of a boy that "it will make you pay attention to the game" and, yes, pop, that it does. I still record the pitch count for each batter, the direction the ball was put in play, and I tend to make my own decisions as to hits and errors regardless of the official scorer. So it was on the Salem-Keizer run in the sixth inning, when, according the the linked story above...
"Salem-Keizer capitalized on a Little League-type mental error in the sixth inning to score a run. With one out in the inning, right fielder Heath Quinn advanced to third base on a fly out to right field. The AquaSox right fielder, Dimas Ojeda, thought there were three outs on the catch and did not throw the ball in. Third base coach and manager Kyle Davis waved Quinn home emphatically and Quinn scored to take a 3-0 lead in the game."
Yeah, well, you make a bonehead play like that, Gehrig, and I'm givin' you a freaking error. That might well have been the highlight of the evening.

The location, though...the Everett ballpark is in some sort of sports complex, with a ginormous empty football field and track to the west. The entrance is down a blacktop ramp and past some sort of play field where the Everett players were taking part in some sort of kid-event in the long summer evening before the game...
The open area south of the ballfield was full of...stuff. Kids, parents...
...bouncy-houses, picnic tables, more kids, more parents, and scattered here and there players, looking ridiculously young and unformed.

But this is Single A Short Season, the lowest form of professional baseball life; there's a reason for that. Most of these players ARE young. They're are the hopefuls, the aren't-yets and the never-weres. The only lived-in faces are on the heads of the handful of the useta-bes and pluggers still hoping for a shot at the Big Casino.
This level is all about "player development" so the game, that actual game on the field, was...if not actually meaningless as near as dammit. Even if I still followed pro baseball I wouldn't have know who these players were nor did I care.

That wasn't really the point; it was a lazy evening, the peanuts were salty, the beer was colder than the wind off Puget Sound, and it was a relaxing sort of finger-mantra to tick off the little squares with the symbols of the game unspooling before me.

G 6-3, backwards K (a swinging strikeout - he "went around", got it?), little diagonal line with a black base at the end and an arrow up the middle for a line shot single to center. Idle thoughts; who taught that kid the odd half-sidearm delivery? Why the hell didn't the shortstop make that play?

The entire business was revoltingly wholesome. Unattended kids gamboled thunderously in the metal bleachers, mom and dad doucely sipping their eight-dollar beers.

I thought the young woman at left was a salacious outlier, some sort of baseball annie looking to pick herself up a young stud, but instead she turned out to be another bit of the small-town-America wholesomeness, mommy of one of the kids involved in one of the family-friendly gimmicks; in this case, out on the field with the home team for the anthem.

In fact, it had been so long since I'd been to one of these low-minor games I'd forgotten the cornball carny atmosphere; the idiotic costumed mascot
(the "Webbly" of the title - why the hell an outfit called the "Aquasox" decided that some sort of Amazonian poison tree-frog was what they needed for a mascot I have NO idea, but there he is, hideous bulging eyes and all...)
the Prozac-cheerfulness of the team employees shepherding lucky fans through a variety of silly antics; catching pizza boxes in a dipnet, two schoolkids racing around the bases dressing in hugely oversized team uniforms.

Perhaps the ultimate moment in all this goofiness came between the fifth and sixth innings, when two anonymous fans were handed radio control sets and tasked with guiding toy trucks around the infield from the third base to the first base side.

Predictable chaos ensued, with one racer getting halfway to second before turning completely around while the second circled the bag cluelessly before ramming into second base and flopping over, tires spinning.

All the while the Everett infield was warming up, looking warily about at their feet in case a plastic pickup was about to slam into them at the ankles. Sweetbabyjesus, what a circus.

My sport of choice, as you know, is soccer. I love the game itself, I love learning about it, studying it, the beauties and ugliness of it. I love being part of a culture of deep emotion, of topgallant delights and keelson-deep despair. Of thundering out love and devotion along with thousands of others, part of a thunder of voices over the hammering drums.

Baseball, though...baseball was part of my growing-up. Jack Brickhouse announcing Cubs games on my mother's cheap plastic radio during the summer of 1969, the Year of Tragedy and the Mets. Slow afternoons at the old Civic Stadium, Lois the National Anthem Lady and the Portland Beavers of AAA
(and someday I should really tell you the story of Bernardo Brito, the Beavs slugger...though I notice that the Aquasox have a kid named "Brito"...I wonder if he's a relative..?)
and filling in scorecards with the names of the Minnesota players of the Nineties.

I was a little surprised, and a little pleased, to find that all the old skills returned; recognizing the motion of fastball and curveball and slider. Acknowledging the position of the fielders, knowing where to look on throws, following the quickness of the bat.
It was an evening full of slowness, almost sweetness, like turning time down to a near stop and just being, drifting, afloat on a slow-rolling sea of silly, kitschy Americana.

Sprawled in the chill bleachers south of the gritty Everett downtown jotting down the runs and hits, listening to the hollow sound of the calls from the crowd float out across the ballyard; like finding an old scorecard from a game played long ago, a distant record of a time, and a me, that I'd almost forgotten.

Game Called.

Across the field of play
the dusk has come, the hour is late.
The fight is done and lost or won,
the player files out through the gate.

The tumult dies, the cheer is hushed,
the stands are bare, the park is still.
But through the night there shines the light
of home, beyond the silent hill.

Friday, August 12, 2016

More rubble = more trouble

Interesting study (Dell and Querubin, 2016) released this summer on some effects of "kinetic warfare" (i.e. bombing, shelling, and strafing) in the RVN in 1969.

The study's conclusion should surprise none of us who have watched the "more rubble, less trouble" approach to the Middle Eastern problems over the last two decades or more:
"While U.S.intervention aimed to build a strong state that would provide a bulwark against communism after U.S. withdrawal, bombing instead weakened local government and non-communist civic society. Moving from no to sample mean bombing reduced the probability that the village committee positions were filled by 21 percentage points and reduced the probability that the local government collected taxes by 25 percentage points. The village committee was responsible for providing public goods. Bombing also decreased access to primary school by 16 percentage points and reduced participation in civic organizations by 13 percentage points."
In other words; bombing the living shit out of people pisses them off and makes them LESS likely to go along with whatever cunning plans you have for winning their hearts and minds, or grabbing their balls, for that matter.

How well this study conflates with the current enthusiasm for various Western polities' for bombing the shit out of the Middle East is difficult to assess. But it certainly does seem to suggest that John Paul Vann may or may not have been right about the best weapon for suppressing rebellions but he seems to have been absolutely correct about the WORST.