Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Decoration Day, 2024

Yesterday, as I often do this time of year, I drove down to the southeast, to the big national cemetery up on Mt. Scott  in the Lents neighborhood to spend some time with my Army brothers.

Willamette National Cemetery was its usual peaceful, pretty self. Shining in the morning sun, colorful with rank upon rank of little flags...

(which made me think, as it always does, of the unlucky bastards detailed to work their way along the rows of markers shoving little flag-sticks into the lawn. Given the lack of available privates, tho? Probably contract workers. Shame, that's kind of a perfect distillation of Army tradition; detailed, painstaking, back-achingly wearying, and boring all at the same time)

...which the Coasties had, again, infiltrated with their special Coast Guard flag-planting strike force. What IS it with those guys? Overcompensation? I mean, I like the USCG; they are the only uniformed service with jobs that 1) they get to do 24/7, and 2) don't have to include killing people and breaking shit. They're builders, not destroyers. Isn't that good enough for government work? Why this obsessive need to let everyone who visits, on this one day we set aside to ostensibly remember our dead, those of which wore the Coast Guard blue by being the only dead people with their own little service flags?

I still don't get it.

I drove through the glossy lawns down to the back side of the hill, looking for plots X, Y, and Z, where most of the dead of my generation are buried.

I didn't find them.

Well, there was this one poor joker, an E-Deuce who'd done his time in one of the Gulf Wars and made it home sound only to go toes-up at 44. 

Damn, dude. Sorry.

But as always my contemporaries were lost amid the huge crowd of the Greatest Generation. The WW2 and, to a lesser extent, Korean War people. And, I noticed, many more of the Vietnam era folks who are now running out of time. 

But from the Little Wars of the Oughts and Teens? Hardly anyone, and (because of the crowds on this day, the only day the park sees crowds...) I got caught in the one-way traffic routing that spit me out on the far side, irked and with my can of Pfriem IPA - shit, guys, I tried! And brought the good stuff this time! - unshared.

So fuck it. I drove home.

I putzed around the house, splitting time between chores and helping my soon-to-be-ex with the divorce paperwork (and if you think that military paperwork is grueling, get divorced; it's ridiculous), until finally I couldn't stand it and threw on my gym shoes and went to PDXStrength for the annual Murph.

This is apparently huge for the CrossFit crowd and is named for a Navy SEAL officer who was KIA in one of the many "how the fuck did you even think this would work..?" SEAL operations in Southwest Asia.

But despite the CrossFit/SEAL connections that would normally give iconoclastic Army me the giggy, it's a Memorial Day thing that involves effort, so I shoved a 35-pound plate in my old rucksack and got stuck in.

(The gist of this Murph thing is that it starts with an aerobic event (a mile run, usually) followed by strength events (pullups, pushups, squats) closed out with another mile run.

Well, my replacement parts rule out running, so I rucked a half-mile and quickly recalled how much I hated humping that thing when I had to do it for a living. Christ it sucks, hammering your back and legs no matter how hard you try and glide-step instead of jogging.

And, since pullups aren't my friend (and they're more of a sailor and marine thing, anyway), I substituted situps, and knocked out my sets of ten until I reached my age in reps; 66 pushups and situps are kind of my limit these days, anyway, then rucked up again and set off into Cathedral Park.

Where I couldn't help thinking that this young woman was enjoying her holiday much more than I was:

But that's the weird thing about this "holiday"; it's not supposed to be about fun. 

It's supposed to be a reflective, sorrowful remembrance of people who died. Many of them in great suffering, and all of them because of choices We the People made, or refused to make.

But We the People kinda suck at reflective. And sorrow. So Memorial Day is what it is; barbecues, mattress sales, lolling in the grass on a sunny summer day.

Okay, then.

Finally I returned to the gym. Shook some hands, ate a deviled egg (or four. Or six; fuck, they we fine), yarded the plate out of the damned ruck, and returned home to cook dinner.

In all? It was yet another in the string of semi-dissatisfying Memorial Days I've been having. 

My connection with my service days is waning, my irritation with my nation increasing. Now that, as the old jingle runs, the "...danger is passed and all things righted/God is forgotten and the soldier slighted" it seems even more futile to pretend to mourn or revere the war dead of our recent wars.

There are so few; no wonder the silent crowd of the wars of midcentury shoves them into silence.

I can't help but worry that my generation of soldiers will always be forgotten. I will keep them in my heart, but I'm old and soon enough will join them, perhaps up on that green and shining hill, my last home festooned with tiny flags every last weekend in May, to remembrance wars and deaths my country would just as soon forget.


I promise. I will remember.

Here's to us.
Who's like us?
Damn few
And they're all dead.

As always today: this.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Commo check

 It's been so long I'd almost forgotten this place, but what seems deeply ironic is that just as I thought we had nothing more to talk about - the Forever Wars in SW Asia were winding down - the Putin government of Russia decided to re-imagine the last years of WW2 by attacking westwards into the plains of Ukraine.


Plus the Netanyahu government of Israel decided to respond to a bloody provocation raid by going from apartheid to active ethnic cleansing.

Let's say that I didn't have this stuff on my foreign policy bingo card.

Is there any enthusiasm for discussion of any of this?

Not sure what I myself can add; I don't see anything hopeful coming out of either conflict. Instead it seems increasingly likely that all the parties involved will end up worse off, proving that the destructive nature of modern warfare has gone a long way to reducing its utility as "politics by other means". 

But if there IS any interest feel free to leave a suggestion in the comments.

Saturday, February 4, 2023


 So I'm kind of intrigued by this whole "eeeeeevil tricksy Chinese spy balloon" thing.

Apparently the Chinese are having a hoot with it, too:

I mean...I guess it seems deeply weird. The oldest "reconnaissance overflight" thing in the world seems to be "when you see the enemy hide under a bush".

How hard would it be to hide from this party favor?

The PRC obviously knows that the U.S., a hugely militarized nation bristling with surveillance gadgets would track this. Was it some sort of way of drawing aerial surveillance fire? Getting the U.S. to give away it's ability to track, umm...a big fat slow moving object?

And the PRC obviously has reconnaissance satellites, too - possibly not as sexy as the USAF/Spaceies have - and those are perfectly capable of looking down at the continental U.S.

Like I say...the whole thing just seems truly, deeply weird. I'd love to know what the fuck this goofy thing is and what it's supposed to do. Is it just stupid? Or, as my old drill sergeant used to say, if it's stupid and it works, it's not stupid.

And speaking of deeply weird and stupid, this is the Republican U.S. Senator from Ohio, J.D. Vance...

...apparently guarding his woodpile from a Chinese balloon that is floating at something like 9 or 10 kilometers of altitude with an AR-15 knockoff that has a maximum effective (horizontal!) range of about 400 meters.

Don't look at me. I sure as hell didn't vote for this nimrod.

Update 2/4/22: Andy (in the comments) suggests this gasbag was basically a SIGINT thing...which sounds as reasonable as anything else. Kinda hard to go completely radio silence for the whole time this birthday party favor floats by, but who knows? 

Apparently this is a sort of thing; several more of these rascals over flew over the Trumpies' heads, too, but (I suspect) the biznay was kept on the downlow so Donnie didn't look like he was being cucked by his pal Xi.

Anyway...just kind of funny and kinda cool that here we are - flying faster and higher than anyone in the 18th Century could have imagined - but the Montgolfier Bros tech still works.

Update 2/16: Wins the Internet for today:

Friday, December 30, 2022

Last Call

 I think it's time to officially turn out the lights.

Unless there's any demand from whatever remains of the readership - and since we (well, I, since there is effectively no one left here other than me) haven't posted since April my guess is that's not much - to continue I think I'll see if I can delete this blog altogether. 

It's painful to see it just drifting here, there's nobody but me writing here, and if you want to hear from me you can stroll over to my personal blog Graphic Firing Table, where I still post about military affairs occasionally.


Time, please.

Drink up, folks. It's...

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Naval makeover! (cruiser-to-submarine)

 The cruiser Москва has passed on.

He is no more. 

(Russian naval vessels are by tradition "he's" rather than the "she's" of English or American sailor tradition) 

He has ceased to be, expired and gone to meet his maker. Bereft of life, he rests in peace, has shuffled off his mortal coil, rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.


Rule #1 of war is "Shit happens", and the fact that this vessel is now full of water is not in itself either shocking or particularly interesting. 

If one was in a snarky mood one might make the same sort of observation Bismarck might have made about continental powers like Germany or Russia wanting (let alone "needing") large capital ships: "...the fuck?" (only in the original German, of course...). 

If one was in a snarky mood.

To me there are two interesting parts about this, though.

The first is that the Russian official line is that the cruiser was lost "under tow in heavy seas after an internal ammunition explosion". 

Not because nasty enemy missiles turned him into a flaming pyre, no, no! Just your basic head-on-collision-twenty-car pileup of fucked-up munitions handling and/or storage, piss-poor damage control, and incompetent seamanship.

I kind of get the dictator-grade level of "not wanting to admit that your enemy hurt you" propaganda. But to want to make the story "our sailors are lethally incompetent" seems...a bit louche' at best. Tell me...how does that make things in your navy sound...better?

Now, that said; damage control at sea is goddamn hard. It requires constant, repetitive, realistic training led by good petty officers and planned and overseen by competent and demanding officers.

Even the best navies have their bad days; we saw that back in 2015 when we talked about the loss of HIJMS Taiho during the Battle of the Philippine Sea

The 日本海軍 Nippon Kaigun - the Imperial Japanese Navy - was one of the best-led (at the tactical level, at least...) and best-trained in the world in 1944. But that didn't prevent the sinking of one of their newest carriers because of poor damage control after a single torpedo strike.

On the other end of the military scale, though? Damage control is one of those massive-training-fail issues that seems to be endemic in "gangster" military organizations. Think Idi Amin's or Saddam's "armies" if you want a model. 

If nothing else this Russo-Ukrainian War has done a pretty good job of throwing a nastily bright light on exactly how fucking brutally bad the Russian armed services are. As bad as the Ugandans or the Iraqis.

Turns out that when your national model is "kleptocracy" your national military is just about as good as you'd expect based on that. 

When your soldiers and sailors are "led" by people - from petty officers and NCOs through general officers to their political masters - whose whole mode of thought is "steal what you can, neglect what you can't, and lie about everything to everyone both above and below you"  and those troops are either not trained for shit (or completely untrained) and their "leaders" are often incompetent, either because the system is designed to ensure the leaders are piss-poor, or unable to demand they aren't, to find that the entire organization those soldiers and sailors are part of ends up being criminally incompetent at the difficult business of war, including the difficult task of naval damage control, should hardly be shocking.

If you choose shitty crooks to "lead" you, you shouldn't be shocked when they "lead" you into shitty crookedness. 

Which leads me back from the shores of Ukraine to the shores of North America.

Because you'd think that this sort of military clusterfuckery would be a cautionary tale for those of us here on the sidelines in the United States about the whole business of being all enthusiastic for dictators because, say, they hate homosexuals and you do, too. That getting your dream of "leaders" hating on liberal soy-boys and darkies and uppity women isn't worth the sort of incompetent "leadership" that ends up getting your sailors killed and their capital ships sunk. 

Even for the most foaming-mouthed-rabid MAGAt groupies of Tubby and his crooked little weasel pals.

But, no.

They won't believe that.


And that's a problem, a problem deeper than the bottom of the Black Sea, where the Москва now rests.


Sunday, March 20, 2022

Lessons learned in blood and fire

I've been kicking this around for a while, and wanted to get it down before I wander away from it.

What have we learned from what's been happening in Eastern Europe over the past month or so?

1. Thucydides is still correct: the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

We like to think, we pampered wealthy white Americans, that there is a "justice" that transcends simple brute force. If we're Christian we like to think that there's a "God" (and his kid) who cares about people and sort of wants them to do justly and love mercy.

And then comes something like Ukraine, where the ugly reality is impossible to hide.

So no. There's no arc of history that bends towards justice. If people want justice, they need to defend it, by force at times, with their lives if they must.

That lesson is bolded by the actions of Russia in Ukraine. But it should resonate with us here, since we have steadfastly refused to take action against those who have already attempted once to use force to "do what they can" thinking that they were the strong and we are the weak. If we do not, then we ARE the weak, and they will do with us what they can.

Putin isn't the only leader of authoritarian goons in the northern hemisphere.

2. When someone tells you what they are, believe them.

Vladimir Putin has said one thing consistently since loooong before he was Donald Trump's mancrush; that the devolution of the USSR was the Worst Thing EVAH and that if he could he would get the band back together.

Well, because the successor state to the Soviet Union looked like a shitshow and its' dictator seemed full of shit like many other dictators, a lot of us got complacent about how serious he was.

Ask the resident of Kyiv how serious.

If I was a Latvian or and Estonian right now I'd be hugging everyone who insisted that the Baltics scurry into NATO as soon as the Сове́тский флаг came down.

Now the NATO countries - including the U.S. - need to accept that those former Soviet republics are all on Putin's list. That means taking Article 5 seriously. Is Riga worth Manhattan? We might find out sooner than we like, because...

3. The Russian military is proving what a bad fucking idea personal autocracy is.

We in the Western militaries listened to and, often, believed the tales the Russian media and government told about the modernization and professionalization they'd done with the successor to the old Soviet Red Army.

I'm not sure if they were fooling us, or themselves, or both, but boy fucking howdy were they full of shit.

Turns out that the Russian conventional forces are bad. Reeeeally bad. "Iraqi Army" bad.

It's hard to imagine that Putin kicked off this war knowing that Saddam's Republican Guard made his regulars look like an anime goon squad. So I suspect he's been fed the diet of bullshit and flattery that people who can kill you whenever they please tend to get. His military advisors told him what he wanted to hear, not what he needed to hear.

"Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

But the bottom line is that modern warfare is goddamned hard to do, and the Russians are no better at it than you'd think given the open kleptocracy and brutal autocracy that permeates Russia the country.

That's...actually kind of a Bad Thing for us as well as for them.

Because if the Russian armed forces would get waxed in the first 48 hours of combat with a Western military?

All Putin has to swing is his nukes.

And that should worry all of us at least a little bit.

Update 3/21: Someone named "Kamil Galeev" has an interesting thread discussing one of the main reasons that the Russian ground force is so damn bad; it's designed that way. It's a feature, not a bug. Long read but worth a look to think about why a putative Great Power would want to handicap its military in the way we've seen in Ukraine.

4. Smedley Butler is still right, too; war was a racket and still is.

No matter the outcome in Ukraine, everyone involved is likely to be the worse for it. Obviously the dead, but those wounded, or homeless, the refugees, the prisoners, those impoverished by war or sanctions or economic collapse. Those who have lost family, friends. The citizens of Russia's "near abroad", who must now fear that success in Ukraine will make them next in line for death and mayhem.

Of course, the Russian leadership is likely to be insulated from all that. War "leaders"  -unless they make the mistake of losing war and being captured by the victors - are seldom punished, no more than the "leaders" here that committed the identical war crime of waging aggressive war in 2003 were punished. 

It's always the "ordinary" people who suffer when the Great and the Good amongst us choose to use force to get - or try and get - what they want.

So, like most rackets, it's the bosses that profit and the footsoldiers - military and civilian - that die.

I wish I had a happier conclusion.

But, just like Ukraine today, there is no lightness; only ruin and hatred, the strong doing what they can and the weak, well, suffering.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The lights are going out...

 It appears that it's extremely likely that there will be war in Eastern Europe for the first time since 1944. While there is obviously no "legal" grounds for Russia's decision, it appears that the Russian leadership has decided that the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. It seems clear that Moscow has decided that to use the mere threat of force to win political gain will not achieve their political aims.

How - or if - the rest of Europe, and the world, responds will have a great deal to do with the way this plays out

Consider this an open thread to discuss.

Update 2/21: Fred Kaplan has some ideas about why the attack didn't happen Sunday.

Interesting political note; in case you're wondering why the response from the U.S. Right seems so peculiar, consider that while Putin polls at about 75% negative amongst self-identified Republicans, Biden polls at minus-90%.


Update 2/21pm: Max Seddon (Financial Times Moscow bureau chief) live-tweeting Putin's speech:

Not promising. Worth a scan of the whole thing; sounds like Putin is taking his "I alone can fix Russia by making it the old USSR again!" for a long walk.

Update 2/21 p.m.: I'm reading that Russian maneuver forces are moving into the two eastern oblasts, and particularly towards the city of Donetsk. This is consistent with Putin's speech identifying the eastern regions as part of Russia. Presumably these will complete the takeover of the entire Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts from the Ukraine government.

The real crux of the biscuit will be if the forces along the southern border of Belarus strike towards Kyiv. The distance between the border and the Ukraine capital is relatively short, and the lure for Putin and the Russian Army leadership of a "decapitation strike" must be very strong...

Update 2/24: It now appears that Putin's goal is full-on subjugation of Ukraine. 

I'm not sure if this will involve prolonged Russian occupation; if Putin doesn't, I'll bet his military chiefs remember both the Chechen and Afghan nightmares as well as the post-WW2 Ukrainian resistance. But the actual conquest is pretty much guaranteed; the relative strengths of the two militaries all but ensures that T-90s will be parked in the Maidan fairly soon.

My guess is that after a brief occupation and ratissage of Ukrainian nationalists the Russians will leave behind a Quisling government including a mini-KGB/FSB and antipartisan militia to hunt the resistance. I could see this working at least well-enough to get by in the eastern regions.

How well this will work in Ruthenia is anyone's guess. But "not so well" would be mine.

Now...my further, and more worried, question is whether the success of this move will embolden Putin to go after his other lust-objects, the pieces of the former USSR. 

The Baltics? Georgia? One of the lessons of the fascist 1930s is that once a fascist dictator is on a roll he's often unwilling or unable to stop himself. 

For a long time I thought that Putin was too canny to go full-on Hitler.

Now? I'm not convinced he has. 

But I'm not so sure he hasn't, either.

And...it's worth noting that if there are any "good options" here I don't see them. 

Sanctions on Russia? Ask the Cuban government how well that works. Military action? Against a nuclear power run by what increasingly appears to be an aggressive dictator who DGAF? 

The brutal reality that young Mr. Putin is reminding us is that in international relations the strong CAN do what they please and the weak WILL suffer what they must.

I don't have to like that and neither do you.

But that changes this atrocity not a whit.

Update 2/25: Juan Cole observes that Dick n' Dubya's Excellent Iraqi Adventure "enabled" the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Over here our reliable commentor Sven makes pretty much the same point.

I have a fair amount of respect for Cole's opinions on the Middle East, and Sven's opinions overall, but I think they overstate the case.

Reassembling the old Soviet Union has been an obsession of Putin's for as long as I've known about Putin. I can't believe that some sort of move to re-absorb Ukraine wasn't on his bucket list for a loooong time; the recent Ukrainian move to try and become more closely integrated with its western neighbors rather than Russia probably moved it up the list as well as making armed force more plausible.

(and, while we're on the subject, who the hell would WANT to be a "Russian" given the current conditions in Russia? Life as an American wage-slave sucks pretty big ass. Throw in open kleptocracy for the discreet American version along with shittier living conditions? Ugh. Our return-to-the-Gilded-Age economy may make life pretty grinding for the 99%, but I can't see voluntarily wanting to swap that for life in the post-Soviet Russia. There's frying pans and there's fires.)

Anyway, I agree with Cole that American foreign policy makes it harder for the U.S. to oppose other's military fucktardry. I agree with Sven that the U.S. and the West has done badly, both in general and in Eastern Europe.

But I disagree that Putin needed any help to decide to kill Ukrainians, or that anyone else deserves to go directly to Hell for that decision.

The U.S. was wrong in Iraq, just as it's been wrong all over the world in places like Nicaragua and Vietnam. Iraq is and was a war crime, making aggressive war, the crime for which the victorious Allies hung Nazi leaders. Dick and Dubya should be in jail, not enjoying a comfy elder statesmen's retirement.

But that simply makes Putin just as guilty. 

They all should be sharing a cell in SuperMax, and We the People of the United States should be ashamed for letting them do otherwise.

To those Russians who are trying to stop Putin...I have no words, and doubt I have that kind of bravery. I wish I thought you could succeed. I hate what I know will happen to you

And I'm just sorry, sorry for this sorry world that has so much wrong in it.

Update 2/26: The fighting continues in Ukraine, with the Russian forces doing surprisingly poorly (relative to the preponderance of weight-of-metal on the Russian side...). I still doubt the outcome is in play - poor or not, quantity has a quality all it's own (just hard on the people in the "quantity"...).

My opinion remains unchanged. As much as the U.S. has been a bad actor globally that doesn't excuse this. In the last words of the guys on Snake Island, "Russian warship, go fuck yourself."

Krugman has a column that makes a good point, though; for all that fingers are pointing at Putin and Russia right now, there's a mote/beam problem related to our own plutocratic/kleptocratic economies and the malefactors of great wealth therein that emphasizes the degree to which We the People have casually let the very sort of corruption endemic in Putin's Russia become less blatant but almost as endemic all over the West. 

That makes even economic war problematic.

"There are two uncomfortable facts here. First, a number of influential people, both in business and in politics, are deeply financially enmeshed with Russian kleptocrats. This is especially true in Britain. Second, it will be hard to go after laundered Russian money without making life harder for all money launderers, wherever they come from — and while Russian plutocrats may be the world champions in that sport, they’re hardly unique: Ultrawealthy people all over the world have money hidden in offshore accounts.

What this means is that taking effective action against Putin’s greatest vulnerability will require facing up to and overcoming the West’s own corruption.

Can the democratic world rise to this challenge? We’ll find out over the next few months."

Remember the "Panama Papers"? The revelation of the vast coterie of Western vulture capitalists that were thieving and cheating right alongside the cartoon Latin caudillos, African "strongmen", and Russian oligarchs? Remember how many of them we prosecuted, convicted, mulcted of their stolen lucre, and sent to the Crossbar Hotel?

Yeah, me neither.

I'm not saying "Oh, we're just as bad as Russia, so we can't point fingers."  Sure we can - we just need to be willing to point fingers at our own when they go wrong. We haven't done that. The fact that people like Dubya and Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney and a gajillion Wall Street thieves and, yes, Trump are still walking around free is living testimony to the degree we've failed.

Putin is still a sonofabitch.

We really need to use this occasion of naked kleptocratic criminality, though, to think hard about how much rope we want to give our own oligarchs.