Thursday, September 26, 2013

Heady brew

From a painting by Myrna Yoder that hangs in the Kennedy School. It refers
to another McMenamins revival project, Edgefield near the Columbia River
northeast of Portland, once a poor farm for the elderly. Mirthful yet menacing.
Source: McMenamins Website.
Serendipity loves company, and if it weren't for jobs to do and the dog to feed back home, I might still be in Portland, Oregon, staring at the walls.

And doors and brew kettles and transoms and bedboards and ceilings and floors — stuffed floor to ceiling with beguiling, entrancing, unsettling art. And maybe sucking on a beer all the while, trying not to spill on my shirt.

My friend John from elementary school (!) (another wonder of facebook®©!) who never lost his schoolkid wonder and zeal, had the gracious sense to take us out to a place called the Kennedy School in Northeast Portland during our visit.

John could have taken us to a nice Portland pub, because he knows beer and this is Beervana, and I
Source: McMenamins Website
would have been happy, drinking to learn. But Kennedy School is ecstacy.

Not for the beer. The beer is great. I craved its eye candy.

The Kennedy School spent most of the 20th Century as an elementary school, built in the Italian Renaissance style, stately and dignified — you know, a school.

Then it closed in the mid-1970s and the neighborhood fretted what to do with the space while fending off attempts to tear it down.

Lyle Hehn sketch for McMenamins' signature
Hammerhead Ale. Source:
The Beer Here Column
Brothers Brian and Mike McMenamin proposed turning into it into a hotel-restaurant-event complex. The place lives again as a result, probably more boisterous than its first go, yet nestled in its old neighborhood, a part of the place.

The McMenamins established Oregon's first brewpub, having helped usher legislation allowing retail brew establishments, and created the first fruit-infused beer in the state. McMenamins also distills liquors and roasts coffee and markets music.

(Why yes, this is a barefaced plug for McMenamins, if you want to frame it that way …)

A fellow serendipitor, John slowed our roll before dinner to show us throughout the school, from the bottom up. The boiler room in the basement had been turned into a restaurant, the classrooms subdivided into hotel rooms with chalkboards intact. The cafeteria is another restaurant, one gym a movie theater, another a banquet hall. Tiny equipment closets are now tiny cigar and liquor bars.

And everywhere — everywhere! — art runs riot.

We'd been to a couple of McMenamins pubs in Eugene, where our daughter goes to school. Wood paneling, semi-dark, ferns, somewhat ornate, quirky, what looked like clip-art on the menu, enough graphic sameness to lend the vague sense that the two places are connected. Pubby — nothing extraordinary. We knew nothing of McMenamins, which sounded like a made-up name, like Betty Crocker or Häagen-Dazs.

Detail for headboard at the Crystal Hotel in north Portland. Each headboard
gets inspiration from song. This one by Lyle Hehn honors Merle Haggard's
"I Think I'll Just Sit Here and Drink." Source: Willamette Week.
But spellbound by what I found at Kennedy School, I craved to learn more: That the McMenamins like to rescue historic (even if only to the neighborhood) rundown places and grow them into neighborhood anchors, honoring each place's first life with art and architectural flourishes.

A fifth of the McMenamins' 56 sites across Oregon and Washington comprise such rescues, including a former poorhouse north or Portland now named Edgefield, a closed Catholic school in Bend, and soon a former Elks Lodge in Tacoma.

All are different but linked in small measure by the rune-inspired typeface of the McMenamins logo above the sign for each place, and in large measure by the art.

McMenamins boasts a staff of fine artists and graphic designers who festoon the nooks and crannies and drainage pipe elbows and wide open spaces with their art. Not for art's sake, but to immortalize the history of each place. McMenamins hires historians and artists consult artifacts to imbue sense of place and people.

Olivia Behm's whimsy on a waterpipe. Source: McMenamins Website
Each artist does so mixing surreal, German expressionism, Alphonse Mucha-inspired Art Nouveau, 1960s psychedelia, American folk art, African contemporary art, Seussian goofiness, Magritte illusion, tromp l'oeil, Hopper grit and their own styles — and riffing off each other. Throughout the art, icons repeat — all-seeing eyes and torches, suns and stars and Masonic symbols and hammerheaded people (the last a nod to McMenamins' signature Hammerhead Ale).

It's all silly and secretive and irreverent and oh-so-slightly sinister, and given McMenamins' expansion within sites and to new sites, the work expands exponentially.

In a word, I'm jealous.

Not for myself alone — that's a wonderful life's work — but for my town. I can't think of anything that comes close to the McMenamins' vision in Sacramento. Sacramento is boosting its downtown nightlife, to be sure, but I don't fit the nightlife demographic in too many ways to count. The Kennedy School makes all welcome without making anyone feel they need fit someone else's social peg.

Why can't Sacramento have something like this?

Serendipitous disappointment: Wandering through downtown Portland, Nancy and I wandered past the Lompoc Tavern, one of several sites for Lompoc Brewing. I'd heard about it — couldn't help it, really, since I come from the town of Lompoc, California — and here it was. We had to go in.

The beer is terrific, and so were the people running the place. It's the name! Not only is it pronounced LomPOCK here (as opposed to the correct LomPOKE), but it's named after the town in a W.C. Fields movie, "The Bank Dick," which was filmed in and set in LomPOKE but called LomPOCK throughout the film.*

My hometown already has the second worst name in the country (Oxnard is the answer to your question, which is just over in the next county), so mispronouncing it does not help.

Our waiter said we were the first people from LomPOKE he had met. He won't meet anyone from LomPOCK.

Travelogue finis: Our journey home and a last hug with our daughter brought us to Oakshire and more beer. Oakshire is in a semi-industrial Whiteaker neighborhood region just northwest of the University of Oregon — with Ninkasi Brewing and Hop Valley forming a brewery district. Good beer, but no food. Instead, a semi-permanently parked burger truck serves meals in the alley alongside the brewery, which also lists all the places that will deliver to your table while you drink Oakshire beer. Patrons can bring in their own food too, and eat on the sanded but rough-sawn plank tables throughout the place.

A sculptor was wall-hanging her human figures, made of thin steel plates and bolts and enough hinges to create a myriad poses with each hanging, while we drank.

My head is spinning.

*OK, my killjoy of a sister [;)] wants you to know the truth, that "The Bank Dick" wasn't filmed in Lompoc (reports the Lompoc Valley Historical Society on its Website); also apparently W.C. Fields just liked to call the place LomPOCK (maybe it was funnier?). He was not popular in LomPOKE, I think.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

While you're busy making other plans*

This gets personal.

Three dozen sketchbooks threaten the integrity of a high shelf in my office closet.

The books mesmerize me, not for their number alone (have I really filled that many books all this time?) but for their content.

These are my everything books, for notes and sketches and scraps, part of my glacial epiphany of keeping it simple, Stupid. I used to have notebooks for notes and sketchpads for drawing, and would bring the one I didn't need and vice versa. Enough! Hence, the one-book system. Which is also the closest I get to a smartphone.

The books have become the wrinkles of my brain, where I go for reference and remembering — names and phone numbers, but mostly sparks for upcoming projects.

But they are grossly inefficient in that way. Unnumbered and out of any sensible order, they require I leaf through six or seven books at a time. In such large dosage, and susceptible as I am to serendipity, they are poison. In their intoxication, I can lose parts of workdays to reverie.

Here is a perfect example. Finally finding a long-ago drawing style experiment to resurrect, I turned one more page and found this. It's a journal-less journal entry, the summary of a day camping 13 years ago this summer.

We have mostly camped for vacations, and I used to get cheap composition books and write about them, trying to elevate the trips to a high plane of providence: Life-changing escape.

Then, life being what happens while you're busy making other plans, I stopped.

I brought my sketchpad on this camping trip, I'm sure, because I had a carry-over project to finish. I can never quite leave work at home. For whatever reason, I used this one page to record our trip. The preceding page contained vague notes for a project, and the following page held the experimental drawing swatches.

Here is that entry, enhanced with running commentary (I'll spare you the handwritten version):

Aug 14, 2000

Camp is quiet and we're glad — me, Mom, Maura and Liam. It is our second day here @ Reversed Creek Campground and what we feel is the pick of the place. Our site is secluded @ one end of the campground, set against a hill and deep in a grove of aspens toward the creek (which we have not found) and pine up on the hill. We can hear the cars on the road, but that's about all. Last night, Maura said, "It'd be nice out here without all the cars going by," and we had to tell her it was the wind in the aspens.
We try to pick a new destination each time we camp. This time, the June Lakes area near the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. The mountain range gradually rises from the west, but then drops sharply stark and treeless in the east. June Lakes is a last oasis of cool green peace before the breathtaking drop.

I was reading Farewell to Manzanar at the time, and saw the stark beauty of the eastern Sierra in a new light, the massive jaw of a wild dog, forbidding U.S. citizens of Japanese descent from thinking their country would welcome them back.
Wind drove us here, about four miles from where we were @ Silver Lake Campground, up in the eastern Sierra southeast of Sacramento. Teeta gave me a book of campgrounds for my birthday, and we took its advice.
"Teeta" is my sister Tara. Auntie Tara became "Teeta." She is reliable for the right gifts at the right time.
At first we liked Silver Lake, even though we got the last site (on a Sunday afternoon!) out in the middle of a small grassy plain. A small, windswept grassy plain. We put up with the wind the first night, since that is what you do when you're camping. The breeze squeezed our tent to the ground until nightfall. We were entranced by being in the cradle of such steep, sawtoothed mountains, and the way they glowed by the nearly full moon.
Funny how fast I dismissed the squeezing-tent image. I can't remember if we had the giant tent with aluminum poles, or a dome tent with plastic poles. We camped big and sloppy back then, before Scouting taught us economy and austerity. Either way, the wind was so strong that it pressed the tent flat, right on top of us, our weight being the only thing that kept it earthbound. A pole broke, I remember; I also remember I was upset, but the journal entry makes it sound like I carried on with breeze and blithe.
By Monday morning, we were lulled into thinking the site would suit us, until the wind picked up and never let up until early af before we finally decided to look elsewhere.

This new site is so good, we wondered what the catch is, since the other people were holed up in lesser sites.
Truly, this is the Site of Sites, a place so perfect it makes campers jealous the world over. It had a long driveway off a hairpin turn, just enough sun, just enough shade, out of view from the campground road and other campers. We thought it must have been bedeviled by sewage backup or bubonic plague, because we couldn't believe our good fortune. Not absolutely quiet — nature-quiet. The wind in the aspens really was wind in aspens, blowing high above our perfect shelter.
So now all is right with us. With a quiet site, no breeze to frustrate us, we can get busy camping. This morning, Maura and Mom took an hour-long horse ride while Liam and I hiked four miles round trip into the sawtoothed mountains to a mountain lake. Each pair had fun, and we capped the day at a crystal clear beach on June Lake.
Liam would go into fifth grade a couple of weeks after, Maura into third. For me as a parent, particularly where our son was concerned, school was still reaching the "Lord of the Flies" fever pitch, the flaws and hypocrisies of Catholic school starting to reveal themselves. But both kids, one in and one out of college, will tell you they made out all right. At this trip, on this summer, they were still children, hopeful and at play.

Liam was not yet in Boy Scouts, but we were both anxious to learn how to backpack. Though we didn't go far up the mountain trail, we might have gone farther than what we had provided for in food and water, and we were wearing the wrong clothes for the task. But the reward was great: Towering views of the lakes around us. A group of backpackers came down the trail, their bear bells ringing. We longed to have gone on the trip with them. Someday. On my office wall I still have the panorama I shot of the trail, assembled David Hockney style, Liam slightly out of focus in his San Francisco Giants spring training hat on the right end of the spectrum.
@ the moment, Maura, Liam & Mom are busy making furniture for Maura's Playmobil™© people. It's quiet time that makes us reflect on the week ahead, tasks waiting for me, and about the journals of Lewis and Clark I'm reading.
God bless Nancy, always up for play, for setting the safety net for imagination to leap far above the earth. Maybe the journals (I had finished Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage and wanted to read the primary sources) inspired this page.

The campsite inspired us to return, but we never have. In fact, family emergencies and various expenses and circumstances prevented us from camping or even taking more than a few days off this year.

What John Lennon said.

* most popularly attributed to John Lennon in "Beautiful Boy," but others apparently said it first. Spot on wise, no matter the source, and this version still gets me.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A toe in the water

Vicarious swim buddy* Anna and I kicked around an idea, destination unknown.

Its genesis — maybe a t-shirt image for an ad hoc committee of women uniting soon for a swim.

But maybe it's something else, we yakked. Something more.

So mermaid right became merman (not Ethel, but Poseidon or Pontos or u-pick the deity) and mermaid left is Ceto or naiad (or Nyad) or whomever, to cater to wider interests.

Maybe it's more than that, even, we bantered. A group identity for a yet-undetermined group. Most sovereign states claim their spaces before sending someone off to knit the flag. It's refreshing once in a while to get it all backward.

Still working on a name to fit the art … aquae, in the loosest possible interpretation of Latin, "waters," to embrace swimmers of the sea, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, catfish ponds and cement ponds. Also lochs, puddles, inlets, marinas, straits and narrows. Everybody, in other words, into the pool!

As solitary and lonely an endeavor as it is — water enveloping, sloshing, heaving, splashing in your ears, echoing your heartbeat — swimmers long for community.

Plus, a ligature!

Though I took it as an exercise to see how quickly head and hand and heart could take a concept to finish, this has gone through several iterations, including color. This is the iteration that has grown on me.

*so named by swimmers from around the globe in an established identity, DYST?, who swim with each other vicariously.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Just right

Thanks to my swim buddy Doug, I no longer drink just "lawnmower beers," golden and light, gulped like replenishing water.

Doug's swim persona is a cover: He's really a mad brewer bent on taking over the world. Short of that, he'll settle for bending Northern California taste buds to his will, and teaching a few philistines like me.

I now prefer porters and stouts, which long ago I described as tasting like motor oil. I'll drink IPAs, his favorite, but the piney flavor still stops me. Which, it turns out, is a big problem, because the piney flavor is from hops, the flower of the beer gods.

I'm trying. Doug's trying. It's a work in progress.

I know I've made progress when, for beers after a swim, I ordered Guinness and could not believe how weak it really was compared to the dark beers to which I've built a tasty tolerance.

Could I parse the components of a beer, and tell you the individual flavors that uphold its harmony?  Could I tell you whether this or that beer is, as they say in the business, "hoppy?" No, I could not. Like I said, work to be done.

This art (guoache and transparent watercolor on line-art-photocopied bristol board) for a story on mad brewers juggling multiple varieties within constraints of time, space and budget, reminds me of Doug.

Who, by the way, says "lawnmower beers" have their place. Such as, after mowing lawns.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The last word on Diana Nyad*

*Not because I claim any authority on the subject. Hardly that!

(nervous laugh)

This is the last word on Diana Nyad's 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida last week because it comes long after everyone else has exhausted the subject … and shortly before before Nyad goes on Ellen or ESPN with her odyssey, and launches the companion book/documentary/app/cologne.

(My friend Bob said he expected a Nyad post from me last week when I had instead gnashed about Syria. Though I told him I wouldn't, the story kept gnawing at me — in a different way than it bothers some others.)

You know the story: 64-year-old Nyad completed her fifth attempt to cross from Havana to Key West, a feat that took 53 hours — more than two days. After trying first in a shark cage in 1978, Nyad made three more attempts in the last two years — stopped by illness, weather, sharks and poisonous jellyfish, sometimes in combination — before last week's success.

She is the first person to have swum from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. An Australian woman, Susie Maroney, completed the swim in 1997 in a shark cage.

You might have seen video of Nyad stumbling onto the beach in Key West, a meld of Rocky Balboa after 10 rounds and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, parting the sea of supporters and the curious before falling into the arms of a supporter.

You might have heard her inspiring words right after:
"I've got three messages. One is, we should never ever give up. Two is, you're never too old to chase your dreams. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it's a team …"
The crowd cheered each message. The world watched her talk through swollen lips, her voice a sandpaper slur, her face crusted and red and misshapen, her fingers, numbering her messages, wrinkled and crooked.

I take her message to heart, having several projects on my desk and in my head, all worth doing, all trying to work against my horrible lifelong habit of giving up. The roar of time grows louder.

I compare swimming more than a hundred miles with the longest I've swum, six miles, and try to imagine swinging my arms for more than two days, let alone two or three hours, and I can't — not without shrugging my shoulders against phantom pain, anyway.

In a word, her swim is incredible.

Some others take that word literally.

I don't know how much news of this event reaches the swuggle (what some British swimmers I know call the non-swimming) world, but Nyad's swim is a point of controversy, notably for a group of competitive long-distance swimmers closely analyzing what details they can gather.

Chiefly through the Marathon Swimmers Forum, some — not all — of the elite marathon swimmers raise questions about the swim, and want answers and information from Nyad and her support team.

(Nyad reportedly will answer critics' questions today.)

The questions arise in the context of the marathon swimming culture, and the rules that govern the sport, in spirit if not letter. Competitive marathon swims usually abide by English Channel rules, which limit swimmers to a latex cap, goggles, a standard swim outfit, and maybe some body grease to prevent chafing. That's it. No touching the support boat or kayak or kayaker or any human during the swim. Feeds must be taken from a pole or tether extended off the support boat. Swims must start on dry land, and swimmers must reach dry land unassisted to complete the swim officially.
[The so-called Ocean's Seven swims, the most renowned of long-distance swims, are the English Channel between Britain and France; the Catalina Channel from Catalina Island to the California mainland; Cook Strait between New Zealand's two islands; the Irish Channel between Ireland and England; the Tsugaru Strait in northern Japan between Honshu (the main) and Hokkaido islands; the Strait of Gibraltar at the opening of the Mediterranean Sea; and the Molokai Channel between the Hawaiian islands of Molokai and Oahu.]
Nyad didn't follow all these rules (not that she said she would). She wore a special full-body suit and a custom rubber facemask at night to protect against box jellyfish, for one thing. She followed a streamer trailing alongside her pilot boat, and swam between kayakers trailing devices designed to deter sharks, more no-nos.

The critics have questioned the objectivity of the feat's independent observer, which is a requirement among major marathon swims.

With some data available but no released video of the swim, some critics raise questions about apparent discrepancies. Among them:
  • Nyad's speed during parts of the swim, which appear to have exceeded — and sometimes doubled — her established swim speed.
  • A 7 1/2-hour period in which Nyad did not take any feedings, which to some critics suggest she might have spent time on a support boat, or have been towed by one. Swimmers at long distances take feedings hourly if not fractions of hours.
  • The imagined difficulty of putting on the anti-jellyfish suit in the water without assistance.
Nyad is quoted as saying she didn't cheat, if that's what critics suggest, and her support staff said at times she benefited from fast current that sped her above her normal pace. The observer said she swam the entire route.

I don't think the critics are saying Nyad cheated, despite a lot of online vitriol and sneer over her swim. As close as I can tell, critics are essentially asking, "What was your game? Because there may be some swimmers who want to beat you at it."

Aside from the immense distances, the elite marathon swimmers desire to be first to complete a treacherous swim, or the fastest if they can't be first. Or cover the course two times, or even three times, or reverse the route.

Some of these swimmers would like to be first to swim that distance by Channel rules.

But Nyad's swim may demonstrate that's next to impossible. Stopped each of the last three swims, Nyad and her support team regrouped and devised other ways to mitigate dangers, hence the body suit and the Skeletor mask.

Age may not be the limiting factor. 49-year-old Penny Palfrey, an Australian, was thwarted by strong currents — plus jellyfish stings and threat of hammerhead sharks — in her Channel rules attempt last year. Swarms of jellyfish stymied 28-year-old Australian Chloe McArdel's Channel rules swim earlier this summer.

Money may be a major limiter, though. Nyad has said the four attempts cost about $1 million, though one source pegged her second attempt, in 2011, at more than $300,000. An English Channel swim costs somewhere between $4,400 and $4,700, according to the Channel Swimming Association — not counting travel and potentially lengthy lodging. 

I see the marathon swimmers' concern, though as more of a swuggle than a swimmer I have difficulty appreciating their viewpoint. Some of these same critics also raised ire among themselves last month over footage of Australian Trent Grimsey's record-setting English Channel crossing, which showed him flinging an empty plastic feed cup into the water has he twirled back into his stroke. A battle of words ensued over whether champion swimmers get leniency in trashing the environment to pursue records.

But Nyad's feat will prevail over the criticisms, even if some prove true.

Why? Because Nyad is Nyad. And that's my problem with the whole thing.

Diana Nyad is engaging, a masterful storyteller, a wit — a motivational speaker, sometime reporter, occasional National Public Radio commentator. She is brash and loud and brassy and opinionated. I get it, such people get things done, squeaky wheels and all that. Lacking such personality, I chafe at personalities like hers, especially sports personalities.

Nyad will not let this feat stand on its own merit. She will smother it with the mother of all promotions. Just wait.

Her latest string of Cuba-to-Florida swim attempts coincided with my use of facebook™©. Through one connection and another, I came across some item about Nyad and her swim.

Interesting! I said to myself. I'll click "like." This was immediately before I realized that liking an entity or a business opened me up to an onslaught of advertising and constant chatter promoting the entity or business.

I clicked "Diana Nyad" and the woman. Would not. Shut up.

Even when she was not swimming she was broadcasting ruminations on the most mundane moments in her life. Hers is the epitome of social media corruption, in which people think other people crave to know their everyday doings and thinkings.

They do not, I can assure you.

Much of Nyad's meditations had nothing to do with swimming. They had nothing to do with anything. They were just variations on "Me! Me! Me!" Unrelenting and loud. Nyad's the best, and that ain't good.

Palfrey and McArdel may be well known among marathon swimmers and occasional swimmers like me, and revered in Australia where the sport itself is revered, but they don't transcend the sport the way Nyad does. Maybe they don't want to. Maybe they don't know how to.

I finally figured out how to block Nyad after she posted a selfie of her naked bronzed back, the tan lines from various swimsuits forming a freeway cloverleaf across her scapulae.

I've done such a good job of blocking Nyad that I didn't know about each swim attempt — and subsequent vow that each would be the last — until she was already in the water.

So it was with this swim. I followed it vaguely online, heard she made it, saw the video, reflected on her messages of perseverance. Then, through the same facebook©™ that put me face to face with Nyad's media machine, I started reading the chatter of criticism.

I think deep down we're all just jealous, for different reasons.

You can learn more than you want by simply googling "Nyad criticism."

I'll leave the last word to The Onion, a satirical media machine, and its unique angle on the story, headlined, "Jellyfish Falls Short of Dreams to Kill Diana Nyad."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

You lose some

Scab picked bloody, toothache sucked, bug bite rubbed raw … yep, the deed is done:

In a weak moment I visited the Website for which I had been commissioned to create a pinup-inspired woman for a startup establishment.

Against my inner voice of restraint, I just wanted to see what the start-up got that was different or better than what I was working to give. The client canceled the project, said we were on different tracks, and paid me for my time to that point.

What the start-up got was better: It used the very art it supplied as inspiration for the illustration they wanted from me.

What's better than riffing off Vargas or Elvgren to create a custom illustration? Why, ripping off Vargas or Elvgren, of course!

Maybe the images used are royalty-free. Maybe they're low-cost stock images. Maybe they're just pulled off the Internet, already in low-rez jpeg format suitable for use on a Website. Who knows? Either way, none of the artists get credit on the site.

With pin-up girls, I've come to learn, ownership of art may be scattershot and frazzled. Vargas' and Elvgren's and others' work shows up in tattoos and modified on the Internet. Credit? Recompense? Hardly.

I sketched some of the famous poses hoping to help the client decide which kinds of poses were wanted.

One Elvgren painting I found originally shows a woman kneeling forward in a sheer low-cut coral-colored dress, bare beneath. Without too much work I found a version of the painting, identical in every way except someone has applied an intricate tapestry of tattoos over her breasts, down her arms and over a thigh. The result looks organic, as if part of the original art.

Sorry, Alberto and Gil, your work appears to be fair play.

I don't know what the start-up is doing for its ancillary promotional items, for which it wanted a two-color image from me. Maybe I don't want to know.

It reminds me of when I developed a logo for proposed establishment near the Gulf Coast. The clients had seen a logo I created for a classical guitarist and wanted that same look, a guitar turned into a crowing rooster. I drew them many many images incorporating their establishment's name and the story behind it, varying the basic bird-cum-guitar concept.

OK, but we really like that other logo, the clients told me. I mean, we really, really like that logo! Why can't we have that logo?

Because … someone owns it … ? You'll have to talk to the owner of the logo. Oh, he doesn't want to sell? Whatcha gonna do? They dropped off the earth. Every once in a while I check to see if that establishment ever got off the ground, and if so, whether it just pulled a jpeg of my logo off the Internet.

Sometimes in this business, I'm dead where I stand.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Trust us

It was ever thus … it will be ever …
So … Syria.

Down we go again.

Led by the bloodied nose. Led by lies again? Who knows?!
(I started writing this last Friday, thinking by now U.S. missiles would have struck classified targets in Damascus. Apparently they haven't, but again, who knows?

(This, more than most posts, is me just mulling through my fingers, the half-thoughts of a halfling — no military experience, poor participant in the practices of citizenship.  As always, you're welcome to ride along, maybe advise and consent.)
Let's resume our magical thinking. Where were we? Oh yes:
  • Iraq would greet us as liberators. Our enemies, shocked and awed, would relent after a week of heavy bombing. Peace would bloom anew.
  • Though decades of history confirm utter futility in anyone conquering Afghanistan, it'll be different for the United States and coalition forces. Just you wait and see!
What have been the cases for war? That's right:
  • To clear the way for Desert Storm, we learned of newborn babies snatched out of incubators and left to die on the floors of Kuwaiti hospitals. Which turned out to be a fabrication whipped to froth by a global public relations firm on Kuwait's behalf.
  • The second time 'round, of course, it was weapons of mass destruction. They gotta be around here somewhere! Oh well!
  • Also, whoever destroyed the World Trade Center has to be Iraq itself, or hiding in its boundaries!
  • Or maybe Afghanistan!
Now the case for war is evidence Syria's Assad government used sarin gas on its own people.

This conjures two thoughts, diametrically opposed:
  1. Why should we trust our government anymore? We have marched our children again and again into long horrifying wars begun on lies, and we have barely received our children, our countrymen and women, broken in body and mind, from these wars.

    This news comes out of the mouth of John Kerry, secretary of state, who after fighting as a Navy officer during the Vietnam exhorted Congress to stop that senseless war. Incredible. Literally, incredible.
  2. So what?
I am a callous monster, no better than the bat-shit crazies who gassed innocents. If the gas attack is true, I cannot modify the depravity with my words. It's pure evil, a "moral obscenity" on innocent children and women and men, as John Kerry called it, whoever the culprit.

But so is conventional warfare. So are bullets, bombs, mines, grenades, torture, rape — all of which go on throughout the world, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands. We do nothing, have done nothing, unless and until doing something suits our needs and national interests, depending on who "our" refers to at the moment.
(As to that — what's "our" interest? — I refer you to All the President's Men: Follow the money.)
I grew up thinking the United States, as the force of right, should be the world's big brother, battling inhumanity everywhere with our almighty might. Now I'm grown up and know the United States doesn't act that way, of course. My cynicism has callused over: When my government tells me we are fighting for good to triumph over evil, that we call heavily armed personnel "peacekeepers," that we have declared mission accomplished when really we have just begun to descend into hell — including U.S. white phosphorus attacks on Iraqi people — I barely raise my lips anymore in a knowing smile.

When we turn our backs on atrocities around the world, then express grim indignation at this or that certain savagery as if we have never heard of savageries — as if savageries have never been committed in our name — then I know what really is truth, justice and the American Way.

Now President Obama urges that we must respond to this chemical attack as a violation of the Geneva conventions against such use. And in our magical thinking we should expect:
  • Other of the world's despots and tyrants will get the crystal-clear message: This airstrike against Syria is solely in response to the chemical attack on its citizens.
  • So chastised, the despots and tyrants will refrain from using chemical weapons ever again. Mines, rocket-propelled grenades, machetes, machine guns, rape, yes, but not chemical weapons.
  • Syria's government will reform, its lesson learned.
  • Democracy will bloom.
  • Syria's allies will do nothing in response.
President Obama wants Congress and us to know this response "is proportional, it is limited. it does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq, this is not Afghanistan."

Until it does. Until it is.

So we will send weary warriors into another war, send them in again and again in our stead. One more war from which, if they return, they will have to fight their own government for the means to heal from the wounds they suffered in our stead.

We will wage more war with a military torn up from within, faced with its own atrocities of widespread sexual assault with impunity, of broken morale.

We will leverage war from the shaky ground of our broken economy, repairing too slowly for the gashes to close.

It's a schoolyard melodrama. President Obama said he would do something if Syria used chemical weapons, and now that it allegedly has, the other allies in the world's school yard, and bullies of his own clique, are calling "ba-GAWK! Chicken! Do something, or are you chicken?!"

We are made to believe that what few friends we had on the schoolyard will loose all ties of loyalty, will spit in our general direction, if we don't walk our talk. As supposedly happened to Great Britain when Parliament chose (even if for ulterior motives) not to help with any strike against Syria. Supposedly.

But — we are assured — whatever it is, it is not war.

Until it is.