Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Jukebox: Goodbye Edition

This torchy grind works like a mechanical ass-kicker for me this cold, rainy Friday.

First, a guy that I've worked with for years is jumping to another firm. He's a good man, and a good friend, and one of the few people at the place I now work that doesn't seem to have a delight in playing silly reindeer games. I'll miss him.

And second don't get me started about the goddamn idiocy going on in the usual idiot places about "immigration".

If I had a nickel for every bone-stupid, prion-disease-moronic thing to come out of a Republican's mouth this week...shit, I'd OWN the Nickel Arcade.

"Goodnight was just a little word you learned.
Somewhere somebody that you burned
Was all too happy with a lie.
But love, you know you never got it right.
I don't know why you say goodnight;
You only mean to say goodbye."

Hope you've had a better week than I had...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cold Feet

Yesterday the cold wind blew in.

As I was saying; we get these clear days in the Black Months every so often. This type - when the polar high blows in off the interior - is the more common. Typically we get anywhere from a day to a week of brilliantly clear, frigidly cold days and nights before the Rains return in a horrid pelter of ice and sleet and automobile wrecks. Oregonians are awful drivers in any sort of slick weather; they won't stay home but they won't chain or snow-tire up, either. Portland becomes a sort of Fellini movie only with more dented chrome.

The hard crystal-sunlight is almost worth the bitter cold.

Yesterday was Veteran's Day (you're welcome, and I happily accept American Express, VISA and Mastercard...) and the kids had the day off. We were drilling up in the West Hills and from the look of it several of the surrounding residences contained daughters in the same grade; fourth or fifth would be my guess. This little troupe came scampering out into the cold about mid-morning, raced through our work site in the winter coats and jammie bottoms - the last in line barefooted - up the steps to one of the girls' home where they proceeded to bounce shrieking on the outdoor trampoline for about three-quarters of an hour or so.

The girls slowly bounced to a stop and, after a pause for discussion and the hunting of coats and slippers (for those who had worn them), trooped back through our part of the street en route to another girl's house.

As the last girl, the one in the sock feet, reached the sidewalk she paused for a moment and looked around at the stained-glass leaves glowing in the late morning light.

"My feet are so freezing." she said to no one in particular, and then sprinted down the street to catch up with her friends.

Monday, November 10, 2014


The autumn is deep upon us and, with it, the Rains.

Once the return to Standard Time spells the end of evening light the clouds that lour upon our house seem all the lower and more lour-y, the rain more incessant, and the season chillier and more inhospitable. This isn't really as awful as it sounds; its just what happens in the Northwest in the waning of the year, and, by and large, we're both used to it and accepting of it.

But...that doesn't mean we enjoy it, and our delight in the rare sunny autumn day is the proof. This past Saturday was a lovely, sunny and mild autumn day and it seemed like all of Portland got out to bask in it.

Perhaps except for me; I had to work that morning, so I spent the first half the day in a muddy field outside the permanent traffic-tie-up that is "Tualatin" keeping an eye on people making the field less muddy.

The heavy fog lifted by mid-morning and the lowering sun strengthened from watery to warm. The dank earth steamed, the dark coffee in my hands steamed as well, and I stood in pleasant lassitude watching the work. The contractor knew perfectly well what his crew needed to do; my presence was purely decorative, a sort of large finial or an ambulatory bit of trimming designed to make the work prettier for the owner. So like any good eye-candy I promenaded about looking attractive, made an occasional note or three, and generally bided the time until I'd put in enough of an appearance to justify my paycheck.

The only upside to working a weekend is the relative emptiness of the freeways. Portland, sadly, is becoming more like our neighbors to the north and south; where once serious freeway traffic was restricted to circumscribed morning and evening "rush hours" random congestion is now both more common and vastly more random. I have encountered parking-lot-grade jams at midday and at midnight, on weekend mornings and weeknights in the early single-digit darkness.

Saturday the pavement was delightfully untenanted; I rattled north into the downtown enjoying the velocity while fretting slightly over the odd noise the old pickup truck was making. The drawback of an owned-free-and-clear-ten-year-old vehicle is that you have reached the age where anything may fail catastrophically and often will. What once was a small but annoying squeak now may be a wheel bearing announcing its imminent death or a leaf-spring suggesting that iron oxide has overcome the elastic properties of the metal.
(And I should notes that it is just this sort of fretful irruption from which wealth provides such insulation. Mister Micawber would have recognized it; the natural consequence of having to worry about whether you can manage to make ends meet on that twenty pounds. You listen to that squeak with the cold understanding that it may mean penury somewhere else, a new bearing rather than a new toaster, or a new leaf-spring rather than a coveted book. This is the reason that freedom is and always will be dependent on wealth; being forced into decision by straitened finances is not practically different than being forced into decision by a fist or a law. Being a wage-slave is, in many practical ways, less unpleasant but no different than being a chattal-slave.)
So it was with a small feeling of relief that I pulled into the sunny street outside the big bakery on 12th Avenue.

A soft white cloud of yeast followed me across the street and down the sidewalk paved with gold. The Boy's team was playing on the field beside the Edwardian pile of Portland's technical high school, and so I turned right and up the stone steps towards the noise.

The Boy's team had won that morning. The task at hand was to defeat some outfit with the terrific name of "Psychic Pineapples", which had already become my favorite kid-soccer-team name. But, honestly...the sun was warm and the turf was soft, and the crowd was happy and busy so the business of winning and losing seemed less than pressing. The Boy's team scored. The Pineapples scored. The play was, as it usually is in these upper-grade-school games, an ungainly collision of deft and clumsy.

The Boy himself is not a skilled player; certainly not the worst on his team at the fundamentals of what is, really, a very simple game but not really anywhere near as good as even the average player on his outfit. I try to retain the fond eye of a parent rather than the critical one of a long-time player and observer of the game, but there is little denying that my child will never be essential to the fortunes of his team. He plays with a lanky enthusiasm, however, and makes several good tackles and with that I am content.

The final is 3-all; the Boy's side went up 3-1 near the half but conceded twice - actually, three times but had a lucky break in that one of the Pineapples went over the touchline on the way to scoring - late in the match to settle for the draw. Scoreline forgotten almost instantly the group briefly convenes for a photo then disperses to homes and entertainments in the sunny afternoon.

In the line at Voodoo Donuts I am pleased to see that at least one Portlander has her sandals on, her bare toes defying the passing of the year. She reminds me that we here in the Rose City do not give in to the rains easily; we sieze upon the slightest hint of sunshine to shed the layers and glower of winter.

The sagging truck smells of fresh bread, and the Boy and I enjoy the sight of the honey-brown loaves emerging from the oven.

We agree that although neither of us particularly craves plain white bread that the leavened aroma has us hungering for that simple taste. The day slows to a stop as I tell my son about my fifth-grade field trip to the old Sunbeam Bread bakery in Philadelphia. He tells me about his fourth-grade field trip to the zoo. In the long light of late afternoon as golden as the loaves of bread we sit companionably together, unhurried, waiting for Missy and Mojo, listening for footfalls loud in the quiet street that announce the slow arrival of his sister and my wife.

Named in vain

"Ashkenazic Jews were among the last Europeans to take family names. Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance)."
Its easy for Americans to forget the vast weight of Jew-gentile history in Europe given the degree to which the Nazi death regime so destroyed the Ashkenazic world. But it is just this history that helps make the present relations between Europeans and Israel so fraught, and still throws out little complications to the relationships between Jews and Gentiles in general.
For centuries the Jews of Europe were in but not of the places they lived, kept apart by a combination of tradition (much of it horrible) and law (much of it unjust and punitive). The tradition of patro- and matronymics rather than surnames was just one small part of that strange world where an entire people were held at lethal distance from their neighbors through generation after generation.

In our own country we can still see the deep scars left by the imprisonment of one race by another, even now, more than a century after the formal dissolution of that bond. What scars did the imprisonment - both physical, in places like urban ghettoes as well as within entire regions such as the Pale of Settlement, and social - of the Ashkenazim leave on both the "prisoners" and their "jailers"?

It is difficult for me to imagine how this must have seemed at the time. Did a man of my age and nature resent being told to take some name that meant nothing to him in contravention of hundreds of years of tradition? Or would he have seen it as just another day in the life that offered little justice and less mercy from the goyische world the surrounded him? Would hearing his new "name" have produced tooth-grinding rage, or a resigned sigh?
We know so much of our relatively-recent past and, yet, things like this remind us that we often know much less than we think we know.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Tarnished franchise

I voted in this election a week ago.

And, no, Rush, I didn't pull some sort of vote-fraud trick. Oregon elections are now done almost exclusively by mail. I don't think I've gone to an actual physical polling place for years. The ballot shows up, you spread it out on the kitchen table, scratch your head with the eraser end and you fill in the little ovals, then stuff it in the envelope and stick the stamp on (you think the State of Oregon is gonna pay for the postage? Shame on you, you tax-and-spend liberal, you) and you've exercised the franchise. You don't get the little sticker, but nothing comes without a price.

This year's ballot was notably free of freaks and whackos (unlike last year's special election where the idiot factor went to eleven). And, as always, there was no real "race" in any sense of the word. The Oregon Republicans are an utter shitshow; in thrall like the rest of their party to the Teatards and Christopaths in a state where oligarchic fucktardry and bible-belting are about as popular as the clap. Outside of the unpaved parts where the Morlocks clutch their Rugers and their Bibles it's a blue, blue Oregon, so I never feel like my vote really counts for much.

Another grain of sand on the beach, maybe. At least I voted against the piss-poor anti-GMO measure.

Thninking about this election perhaps the most depressing part of this entire electoral season here in the Beaver State has been the Strange Tale of Monica Wehby.

The linked article does a good job of detailing how this woman's candidacy - which, given her vita, should have been a strong one - fell apart. She seems like she had some real personal flaws that her party should have picked up on. But they're a shitshow, remember? So, yeah.

That's not the depressing thing. Here's the depressing thing; Wehby's stand on the "issues".

They are, per her website and in order:

"Jobs" - which are, apparently, a problem but not a problem because of the rapacity of financiers and rentiers, regulatory and fiscal policies that favor capital flight, offshoring, and outsourcing but because of "...needless red tape, mindless regulation, tax, government bureaucracy...and mandates that come out of Washington D.C." Republican, right? Plutocracy, good! Regulation, bad! To grok these gomers you gotta think like a damn third grader.

But that's the good part. Things go downhill from here.

"Term Limits" - since the best solution to a Congress that has largely either given away its authority or is paralyzed by Dr. Wehby's party's insistence that no government is better than letting the Kenyan Usurper actually govern is to ensure that the Congress is packed with political neophytes. Can't see how that'll go wrong.

"Guns" - This one is actually labelled "Constitution/2nd Amendment" but since the only specific part of the document specified is the one about the bullet-launchers I thought I'd just correct the header to reflect what this is supposed to say to the guntards.

"Health Care" - because our emergency rooms are SO Awesum, we don't need no Obamacare negro welfare handout!

Yeah, the actual text that's in there is different, but the actual text is so bizarrely freaking meaningless that it might as well be written in cuneiform. Here's the good doctor's position on "health care":
"Monica was a prominent opponent of the ACA in 2009, when Obamacare was rolling down the legislative track. She was enlisted to be in a television commercial that ran nationwide, warning people about the dangers of that bill. Monica got a lot of hate mail for that ad campaign and had to change her home phone number, but her warnings have come to pass."
Try and figure out what the fuck that means, if you dare. You note the lack of actual ideas on, you know, "health care"? Yeah, me, too. Basically it seems to mean that "Doctor" Wehby's position on "health care" is the GOP bog-standard issue; if you have no insurance, don't get sick. If you do get sick, die quickly.

I can't make anthing else out of that hot mess. Moving on...

"Veterans" - are SO Awesum! SO Awesum that Dr. Wehby will put the "needs and care" of these "brave men and women front and center". Absolutely, positively no kidding but did she mention that not to the point of unbalancing the budget (see below). Sorry, Joe, sorry, Molly, we have to "live within out means". Because...Greece!

"Balanced Budget" - because "(i)f we don’t do something to end this fiscal insanity our entire country will end up like Greece or Detroit!" Never mind that neither one has any similarity to the federal government (which this person is supposedly wanting to get involved in running) in that in the EU Greece doesn't control its financial destiny and neither does Detroit in the US...unlike the, you know, actual US.

More GOP nonsense, like comparing the US government - that can change its income by law - with a "household" where trying that with your employer would get you, like, fired. This is third-grader economics and the second-worst zombie idea in fiscal policy but beloved of GOP rank-and-filers so, there.

"Education" - abolish the Department of Education! Again, there's a bunch of other goofy verbiage, but Doc Wehby pretty much just wants to complain about the Feds getting all up in the grille of local schools telling them that they have to educate those damn negroes an' retards an' stuff. Oh, and Common Core!

"Foreign Policy" - Big Stick.

Seriously; Doc Wehby quotes Teddy as a way of saying that our troops are So Awesum! that we need to throw them large amounts of taxpayer cash. That's it; we're not even talking third-grade level here, we're down somewhere in the preschool years or on the backside of the planet Mongo or something. Based on this the woman needs to be kept away from anything even faintly resembling foreign policy, or foreign food, for that matter. What the hell she'd do with falafel is a horrifying thought.

"Natural Resources" - drill, baby, drill!

Again, the cuneiform reads
"We know how to strike the proper balance between meeting both our economic needs and our environmental responsibilities. But for some time, however, the natural resource policies coming out of Washington have been seriously out of balance and the result has been tragic for the state we love."
but you know as well as I do that for a Republican the "out of balance natural resource policies" that have been "coming out of Washington" are the ones that keep you and me from clearcutting the damn trees and damming the damn rivers and, shit, man, God gave us the fucking stewardship of Mother Earth and what the hell good is "stewardship" if you can't bend ol' Mom over when you're feelin' frisky and sink some shaft into that hot, gooey, natural resource-y goodness, amirite?
And that's it. That's all our supposed-Republican-Senator will do if we send her to D.C.; cut the funding for everything but aircraft carriers and petroleum subsidies and make sure that your basement arsenal is safe from the BATF.

Any concern about the going-to-hell condition of Oregon's highways and public buildings? Any interest in figuring out how Oregon's rural counties manage to stay in business? Any mention of Senatorial responsibility for keeping the nation out of fucking land wars in Asia? Or any other foreign affair other than hitting dusky heathens with a Big Stick?

Not just no but fuck no.

Of course not; the woman is a general-issue Republican. She could no more stake out a thoughtful position on things like taxation, inequality, public policy, foreign affairs, and social issues than she could show up at the New Century Club naked and do the haka.
This candidate's policy positions should have made her untouchable outside the lunatic Bircher Right and a handful of Oregon plutocrats. Given what she says she believes in she should legitimately get no more than, say, 12-15% of the vote - 20% at the very absolute outside, the same level of support that the really off-the-wall nutbar got last November.

But she won't. I'll bet you right now that she'll get damn near 45% of the popular vote; nearly half. The looney and filthy-rich 20%...and another damn-near-quarter of Oregonians who should know better than to vote for this lunatic Bircher.

Tomorrow we'll see if I'm right, but that means that damn near a quarter of adult Oregonians who should know better will have voted someone whose published beliefs would make their lives harder, meaner, and more chancy.

Mind you, it could be worse.

Hell, it IS worse - in Iowa the idiots there are going to elect a moron pig-deballer who believes that the UN wants to take away our golf courses and the climate change is a scam to make us wear sweaters.

Seriously. And that is the state of our nation circa 2014 where the best lack all conviction, while the worst are fucking bull-goose-looney whackadoodle nutbars who have not just their own opinions but their own facts. Even in Oregon, where the worst are among the best of the worst, they're still the worst.

And so many of Us the People insist on trying to make them our Masters.

We. Are. SO. Fucked.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Mortem et censito

Bob Farley at Lawyers, Guns & Money has a link to a Stanford paper titled State revenue and expenditure in the Han and Roman empires (Scheidel 2012).

The entire paper is pretty wonkish but worth reading for a glimpse into half of the supposedly inescapable pairing of this stuff with death back in the day. I'll cook it down here for you into the Clif's Notes version:
The bureaucratic tax-and-spend set-up of Han Dynasty China (a period that extended about 400 years, roughly spanning the 2nd Centuries BCE to CE) included a lot of individual ("poll" or flat taxes per person regardless of income) taxes collected and disbursed by a small army of relatively low-payed local officials. A lot of the money stayed in the place it was collected, a relatively smaller portion went to pay the senior officials both civilian and military, and significantly less went to direct military costs.
The early Roman imperium (from roughly the end of the civil wars period in the 1st Century CE to before the crises of the 3rd), on the other hand, tended to try and capture more easily-extracted revenues; things like tariffs and fees on goods and transfers, the profits from imperial enterprises such as mines, and "luxury taxes" on great legacies and the enterprises of the wealthy such as slaves on the huge latifunda.

However, a very much larger proportion of these revenues was spent on "big projects" - public buildings and the like - as well as directed to Rome (the infamous grain dole, "bread and circuses"), and military expenses, as well as a proportionally much higher amount on the pay of the highest levels of officialdom.

Roman senatorial appointments such as the Praetorian prefect and consul-level provincial governors made something like 8 to 18 times what their Han equivalents made. This discrepancy gets smaller but persists at lower levels. A 1st Century BCE Han company commander (who ran an outfit similar to a modern infantry company, about 100-120 troops) was paid between half and two-fifths as much as his 2nd Century CE Roman counterpart (a centurio who ran a smaller outfit, typically about 80 guys at full strength).

The really pointed observation comes in the final section. Here's what Scheidel (2012) has to say about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two systems:
"By funneling resources towards high-level agents, a privileged capital city, and a military that were all far removed from local society, the Roman state weakened the nexus between taxation and spending. In the Han system...geography impeded massive transfer of staples, senior officials were paid less, the military less lavishly endowed and at least in times of stability more constrained by civilian leadership, and the local affairs above the village level were dealt with by formal state agents rather than self-governing urban elites.

This superficially paradoxical combination of greater cellularity and deeper state penetration may have strengthened the institution of the state at the local level. In the long term it may ultimately...explain the permanent dissolution of the Roman empire and the comparatively greater resilience or perhaps rather regenerative capacity of early Chinese state institutions."
You know I've remarked on what I see as some of the similarities of the late-republican United States and late Republican Rome. Well, here's what looks to me like some similarities between early imperial Rome and the early-oligarchic United States; a greatly increased social stratification and disconnection between the proles from whom the taxes are collected from (or who are simply too impoverished to pay more than local and state taxes - let's not forget that the really bullshit part of R-money's "47 Percent" bullshit was that federal income taxes are typically a small portion of what poor and lower-middle-class Americans pay; things like sales taxes, payroll taxes (the Social Security collection that is capped for the truly wealthy), gas taxes, state and local taxes, and property taxes (including the cost included in their rent).

In the place of the narrow Roman political elite we have an increasingly narrow American economic elite that has effectively captured the political process. Outside the truly brain-dead Teatards most Americans not in the two-yacht economy are well aware that the economic and political Game is rigged against them. It doesn't mean that they can or will stop playing. But it does mean that the tie between the citizen and the state is strained and frayed.
Add in the truly toxic Republican rhetoric about "government is the problem", the demonization of any taxation (and a deliberate drive to deflect inquiry into the actual structure and impact of taxation), and exaltation of the march towards open oligarchy as "Freedom!" and you have a system almost crafted to fail under pressure, either into a fractious anarchy or to a Man on Horseback.

I've said this before; my disgust lies not so much in the lies of the Right - after all, they're nothing but whores and whores lie to get paid - but that the rest of us, We the People, are happy to let those lies pass and let them become the language we use to "debate" our lives. At least the Romans had the excuse that they'd never seen this shit happen before.

The Short Sobs of the Violins of Autumn

The violins of autumn don't get much of a solo around here. More like a two-bar bridge and then it's off to the drizzling continuo of winter rain. "Fall color" lasts from about 2:45 to 4:50 on November 1 every year; after that the rains knock all the bright leaves down to where they form a glutineous mass in every catchbasin and a slimy coating on level ground.

I still love the autumn. But the Northwest version isn't the sort of thing that inspires poets and balladeers. It's just the introduction to the Dark Ages of winter, and much as we try and enjoy it the pleasure is fleeting.

Friday, October 31, 2014


A friend of mine - who is an intelligent, genuinely decent, loving and compassionate woman - sent me a link to this:
"The face on this week’s People magazine cover is Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old, recently married woman who went public with her plan to take a fatal prescription on November 1, rather than live with her terminal brain cancer until its deadly end. Her reasons include not merely avoiding the suffering she expects to experience, but also protecting her loved ones from the awful reality of watching her deteriorate...her decision—and the notion of assisted suicide in general—troubles me deeply, for a couple of reasons."
I'd heard something vague about this in the way that you "hear about" stories in the electronic press. I had no real thought except "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, what a fucking shitty deal for this poor woman."

And then I went and read the Ellen Dollar essay I've linked to above and read her write stuff like this:

"That death is preferable to living with limitations and pain is a prevalent attitude in our health-worshipping culture, and I worry that assisted suicide reinforces it to a frightening extreme."

and this:

"No suffering, no matter how awful, is without the potential for beauty, revelation, love."

and this:

"This makes me wonder if deep down, we understand that healing happens when we strive to live fully with affliction, rather than try to overcome it at any cost. If our life doesn’t offer us enough pain and struggle, we go find some."

And thought:


No, no, no. Nononononononono.

Fuck no.
Some suffering is just that awful. Lying in bed doped to the eyes because otherwise you'd be screaming in agony and shitting yourself has no beauty, no revelation, other than the horrible revelation of how close to an animal you are reduced when you're screaming and shitting yourself.

Writhing in bloody mud, gouging your heels into the ground because your guts have been ripped out by shrapnel, has no potential for redemption, no bright moment for reflection, has nothing to do with beauty, revelation, and love.

It just sucks hideous ass and a quick and merciful death is a benison and a release.

Anyone who has ever been around war knows people, or knows people who know people, who have shoved 20 grains of morphine into a dying man to release the poor doomed fucker from his horrible agony. I don't believe in Christ myself but I can't believe that the Christ of the Bible, the Christ who is supposed to have died himself to save every swinging richard, would want to prolong that sort of hideous torture by so much as a microsecond.

My understanding is that this Maynard woman knows exactly what Fate has in store for her and it's unspeakable agony; bowel-loosening, mind-destroying pain that will be bearable only through sedation so deep that she will be a brainless thing, a meat-sack kept alive by machines.

That isn't "living with limitations and pain"; that's a freaking nightmare, and I'd suck the muzzle before letting myself experience that sort of horrible death.

So if Ms. Dollar wanted to talk about Christ and suffering and this poor doomed woman she'd have done well to talk about how the Christian prohibition against suicide is a nasty hangover from a tribal religious past, about how God's love promises us rest after pain and suffering, and about how faith should reassure us that after we take the hemlock we will awaken to a New Jerusalem.

Or, well, maybe just STFU and let the poor damned doomed woman die in peace. But, hey, that's just me.

But - at the very, very least - not blather on about the potential for beauty and love in death agony.

Anyone who says that there is any dignity in suffering has never actually seen actual suffering.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Help a brotha' out?

For no real good reason I wanted cheering up today and I went to watch one of my favorite little videos: the Navy's VAW-116 "Sun Kings" take on the OutKast tune "Hey Ya" and, guess what..?
You can't see it anymore.

I get it; OutKast makes its money from music. The Sun Kings probably didn't bother to get the rights to use their music when they made the video. If OutKast lets anyone who wants to play it play it for free, well...pretty soon they can't make a living. I wish that wasn't true, but people are just greedy bastards and that's that.

But, geez, guys.

You couldn't make an exception for a bunch of funny squids? Give 'em permission to use it just for that video? It's goddamn funny and it makes great use of your music - I found you through them, guys!

C'mon. Help some silly sailors out, K?