Monday, June 05, 2017

Portland vents, luxuriously

Big crowd. High tension.
The Big Event went down yesterday in downtown Portland. 

You're aware I'm sure. It's been all over the news. In the wake of the horrific attack that occurred on May 26, in which Jeremy Christian, a Portland man murdered two persons and wounded a third as they tried to restrain him from verbally assaulting two teenage girls, tensions in the city were high.

A pro-Trump rally, scheduled (before the murders) by a group called "Patriot Prayer," was set to take place and many in the Portland community objected. Tensions were heightened when James Buchal, the chairman of the Multnomah County GOP (normally a low-profile job) suggested he might hire private security (read right-wing militia) to patrol the event in case Portland counter-demonstrators tried to cause trouble.

Like many indignant Portland progressives, I was determined to counter-demonstrate. Most especially in light of James Buchal's inadvisable suggestion. ("No one is going to intimidate me in my city!") So I set out from my home at about 10 am, to walk downtown, where events were scheduled to begin around noon.

It was a strange day. Lots of drama. Lots of cheap emotion.

When I arrived, just around noon, the place was already hopping. The crowd was divided into 3 factions. 

"Antifa:" Mostly skinny punks, hooked on drama
The "Antifa" folks were there, with their black bandanas. They were isolated to Lownsdale Park (the site of the "Occupy Portland" demonstrations in 2011). There weren't very many of them and the few that were there looked like kids to me. Kids with bad attitudes. 

Trump folks across the street at Schrunk Plaza
Then, there were the pro-Trump, "Patriot Prayer" folks. Not very many of them, truth be told. Their rally point was Terry Schrunk plaza, which is a federally-maintained property. The perimeter of the plaza was surrounded by very serious federal cops. James Buchal's crazy idea of hiring militias for security didn't go anywhere. Those cops weren't letting anybody cause any trouble.

When I tried to enter the plaza, to have a look at the Trump folks, an armored, helmeted, federal officer with a rifle stopped me and said he must see the content of my backpack. While I fumbled to open my various pockets, he asked if I had anything that might be used as a weapon. I showed him my leather-man tool. "You can't take that in there," he said. Flatly. " Thank you officer," I said. I zipped up my backpack, turned and walked away. Never have I felt so willing to comply with an order.

A faux-militia guy in army fatigues. He was one of the Trump ralliers and he was not happy when I took his picture.
I briefly glanced within the federal perimeter and saw 4 or 5 guys in racist costumes (Kaiser Wilhelm helmets, white capes with racist symbols on them). But they were clowns. They weren't serious. There were a few loudmouths and a couple guys with MAGA hats. And some guys with their Don't Tread on Me flags. There was also a middle-aged woman sitting by herself with her hands folded in her lap. She had an honest face and she looked upset. And there was a decent-looking fellow, maybe a bit older than me, in jeans, cowboy boots, and a clean, western shirt standing off to one side. He looked to me like an Eastern Oregon rancher. I admired those two. It seemed to me that they were sincere, well-intended. I felt for them.

The biggest faction was the Portland Progressive group
By far, the biggest faction were what I'll call the "mainstream" Portland progressives, who had gathered across 4th Street at City Hall. These were the folks with whom I identified. This faction spilled out onto 4th Street and extended across several blocks. Most of them were sincere, it seemed. But there were plenty of people who were angry and just looking for someone to scream at. 

I met a bald man with a white tee-shirt and an Old Glory cape who wanted to debate politics. We were in the thick of the crowd, and there was movement all around. "Buddy," says I, "I really don't think this is the place." (Ignore the irony.) He appeared stymied for a moment and then disappeared into the swirl.

Heat was on.
Tension was high. And in highly emotional situations, I detach. It's a defense mechanism from my youth. The dispassion that comes with detachment reveals things.

I saw that there were people there who were on the prowl. They had come because they hoped something would happen and were on the lookout to find it. They lurked around, waiting and wanting to be offended. That they might beat their breasts and wail for justice. That they might then be validated and anointed by the sympathies of their fellows. Who knows? Maybe they could even get on teevee.

I saw too that there were people who were out looking to be scared. People who wanted to be scared so they could then tell themselves they were being brave. But they couldn't be brave unless they were afraid. So they moved through the crowd looking for something to be afraid of.

Perhaps fortuitously, my cell phone battery ran low and then died completely. I'd been so busy running around taking photos and absorbing the vibe that I hadn't really assessed the moment. But when I paused amid the drums and the chants and the insults and outrage being hurled back and forth I felt an old familiar feeling. I felt sheepish. Sheepish and foolish and duped yet again. 

I'd had enough. So I went to catch the 4 bus back toward home. 

Ready for action.
We're all just strutting and fretting about we-don't-even-know-what. Just like Macbeth said. 

The thing downtown yesterday was nothing more than another tax-payer subsidized extravagance: a big stage where everyone --every teary-eyed, soap opera queen, every ardent, self-important lead man --might have his righteous moment. His time in the spotlight. His indignant soliloquy.

Foolish. That's how it all seemed to me.

I torched up at the bus stop. Some vestigial paranoia from a different time tugged at my mind as I did so. Police were everywhere.

Up the street, the drums thundered and the crowd roared.

"Relax, baby," came the thought. "Today they got other things to worry about."  Thin snakes of smoke slithered past my lenses, delighting  my eyes.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Senegal and back again

Pre-boarding Maty. Near midnight, Halloween night. Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport
Just back, last night. Sixty-two hundred miles and change. Between the tearful parting on Rue de Impasse, Senghor City, Thiés, and our determined stumble up the stairs back home, 35 hours.

Myself, contemporaneously
A grueling passage, with layovers in Paris and Salt Lake City, and, in our case, an incident with an aggressive Senegali during the exhausted shuffle from the plane to gate in pre-dawn Charles de Gaulle. The f-bomb was involved. But my woman is a strong woman and our teamwork in the moment proved itself admirably. Even if I do say so myself. It gets better all the time.

What have I learned?

Maty and Mor, admiring the monkey-bread fruit, under the baobob tree, the day we went to Gorée.
Senegalese are a courteous and respectful people. An extended hand is always taken. An as-salamu alaikum is always returned. Guests are always met with an offer of food or a glass of minty sweet, strong ataaya.

We met some North American college women in the restaurant on Gorée. Mama Nene's is an open-air venue, with a thatched roof, blessed by the breezes that come up off the water. Skinny cats prowl under the tables, alert for morsels.

The women were curious about Maty and me. How had we met? One of them said she hoped to marry a Senegalese man. I understood. Egalitarian Americans are swept away by Senegalese respect and courtesy.

It comes from their religion.  

The Great Mosque in Touba. (Construction continues, evidenced by the scaffolding.)
We went to Touba, where they're building the Great Mosque. Italian and Portuguese marble. Five minarets. Three domes. In the Moroccan style.

Within the Mosque
As we drove to Touba, Senegal revealed herself. Heat-soaked countryside. Cattle. Baobob trees. Trash.

On the road to Touba
Thiés street scene
 Thiés is where we spent most time.

Thiés is a cacophony of noise and activity. Cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and horse-drawn carts clog the streets. Engines roar, people shout and laugh, livestock bleats, cocks crow, and at intervals throughout the day, the local mosques broadcast the haunting call to prayer over public address systems. The ululating voice serves as reminder that order encompasses chaos.

Thiés grafitti
Every third or fourth car that rambled down the street was a taxi: a dilapidated economy sedan with a cracked windshield, dented fenders and windows that, as often as not, would not roll up or down. A ride downtown cost 500 CFA or about 80 cents.

Thiés, from the taxi
For dinner, Khoumba prepared chicken or fish with yams and eggplants and carrots, which she served on beds of rice or couscous. We sat cross-legged on the carpet around the platter and ate with our right hands. 

My welcoming meal on Mama Diop's patio in Sanghor City. Sengalese-spiced chicken, yassa onion sauce, and french fries.
Some afternoons, a boy appeared at the entry to Mama's courtyard with an empty coffee can. Maty or Khoumba would give him food. Whatever we had eaten or were going to eat. A drumstick. Yassa and couscous. Rice and fish curry.

One day I stepped outside Mama's gate and stood watching the people go by. Suddenly, a voice in English boomed out: "You! Come here!" I looked. Khadim was sat on a plastic chair in the street, in front of his wife's coiffure shop. "You! Come here!" He jabbed both fingers into the ground in front of him.

I called to Maty, in the courtyard behind me. "Honey, someone is yelling at me." She came to the gate and looked. "Ah, it's Khadim. He wants you to come talk to him."

Which I did. Our talk was very limited due to the language barrier. But he shook my hand and taught me some Wolof words and introduced me to the neighbors. His wife served me tea. We were friends instantly.

Some of Mama Diop's neighbors
Senegal. An immense experience. Made all the more momentous because of the love I have developed for my Senegalese family.

I had not seen Mama nor Mor since 2007, when I visited Ouagadougou in the year after Maty and I were married. Since that time, Papa Diop has passed. And my brother-in-law Pape.

Mama, plucking a chicken for dinner
Mama's limp has become more pronounced over time. Arthritis is not kind. Mor is now married to Khoumba, and they have a daughter, Khoudia, whom I loved in the first moment I saw her. My nephews, Omar and Abo, complete the household.

Mor and Khoumbah, with Khoudia
I'm humbled at the graciousness and hospitality I received while a guest in their home. And, sitting here now, in my living room in southeast Portland, I'm missing Mama's kindness and wisdom, and Mor's friendliness, and Khoumba's shy smile, and little Khoudia's sweetness and her face when she smiled. And I loved to carry her in my arms, when Maty and I went to the bodega for water or juice.

We're home. But I'm thinking about Senegal. And I'm missing my family.

My family in Senegal. Omar, Khoumba, Maty, Mama, Khoudia (on my lap), and Tonton Modou
Some more photos...

Roadside cattle.
Rolling down the highway.
Baobob tree.
On the Gorée beach
Garbage pickup service in Dakar.

Mama's courtyard
Fishermen off Gorée.
Rue de Impasse in Sanghor City

Roadside fruit stand

Neighborhood kids
Holy man

Maty, Khoudia, and Mor on the road to Touba

Inside the Grand Mosque


Swimming not adviced, in Bandia reserve
Maty and Khoudia
Au revoir, Senegal!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Now, the waiting

Storm's comin'.
Everything is prepared. What can be packed is packed. What can be arranged is arranged. Now, the  waiting.

Maty, woman of industry, had done the most of it in the days before she left. The tasks that remained to me were minimal. And now I've done. Except for the waiting. Which I am doing now.

Portland, the Rose City, is waiting as well. Heavy winds and rain are on the way. Local news is breathless with it. Typhoon residue, they say. We may lose power.

Everyone is waiting.

In twenty-four hours I'll be waiting in the airport lounge at JFK.

Not long after that, I will be in Dakar --in Senegal --with my wife. And six weeks of waiting will be over.  


Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Last night, the two major party nominees squared off for the first general election debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

It was a highly unsettling affair.

My nutshell impression is that the debate went to Hillary.

Yes, she came across as cold --almost imperious. Yes, her attempts to loosen up (for example, her "Whew! OK..." response to a Trump rant) were calculated and insincere. No, she did nothing to solve her "likeability" problem.

And yet, she won.

Or so it seemed to me.

Trump, under-prepared and undisciplined as always, appeared unhinged. He constantly interrupted Hillary, attempted to wrestle control of the debate away from hapless Lester Holt, and tossed out word salad responses that were largely incoherent. Example:
HOLT: Why is your judgment -- why is your judgment any different than Mrs. Clinton's judgment?

TRUMP: Well, I have much better judgment than she does. There's no question about that. I also have a much better temperament than she has, you know?


I have a much better -- she spent -- let me tell you -- she spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an advertising -- you know, they get Madison Avenue into a room, they put names -- oh, temperament, let's go after -- I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament. I have a winning temperament. I know how to win. She does not have a...

HOLT: Secretary Clinton?

TRUMP: Wait. The AFL-CIO the other day, behind the blue screen, I don't know who you were talking to, Secretary Clinton, but you were totally out of control. I said, there's a person with a temperament that's got a problem.
Can anyone guess what he was trying to say here?

Trump's remarks ranged from ugly to downright destabilizing. For example, consider this:
TRUMP: And, number two, I said, and very strongly, NATO could be obsolete, because -- and I was very strong on this, and it was actually covered very accurately in the New York Times, which is unusual for the New York Times, to be honest -- but I said, they do not focus on terror. And I was very strong. And I said it numerous times.
One must wonder what governments in France, Germany and the United Kingdom must think when they hear the nominee of a major party in the United States cast doubt on NATO. With his cavalier, off-the-cuff remarks, Trump has managed to shake the stability of an alliance that has held together for 70 years!

Well, as I stated, I believe Hillary won the debate. But I'll be the first to admit that I'm not objective. To the husband of an immigrant, black, Muslim woman, and to a Mexican-American, Trump's rhetoric was alarming in the extreme. From my point of view, anyone who votes for Trump is expressing hostility toward me and my family.

But here's the rub: Trump's unscripted, cynical responses are right on the money for those who are already in the tank for him. This is what those people call "telling it like it is." Despite Hillary's seeming victory, the polls (which are tight as a drum) won't likely move very much.

As of this moment, it is unclear whether most voters will be motivated by hope or by fear. Fifty-six days to go, people. Let's see what happens.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Heart in Africa

A bygone moment of bliss
Cast adrift. Aimless and sad. Maty is half a world away.

I keep myself busy with friends. I focus on work. I take advantage of the liberties afforded by her absence.

But life is dreary.

Mundane tasks (laundry, preparing meals, cleaning) are devoid of importance now she is not here to remind me that I matter. If for no other reason than to love her.

I miss it all. Not only the laughter and the intimacy, but the silly disputes: what to watch on television? Where to go for dinner?

This bereavement is part of the price one pays when one is married to an immigrant. There are times when we must be apart.

She has people, half a world away, that she loves and must visit. And loving her, I must do what I can to help.

For her, it must be worse. There is nowhere in the world where she can be close to all the people she loves. Wherever she goes, she is separated by continents and vast oceans. It is this knowledge that keeps me from indulging overmuch in self-pity.

But today, and for the next several weeks, my heart is in Africa.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

ASL: Stalinié Prostori Campaign Game (Pt. I)

Note to readers: This post won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the Advanced Squad Leader game system

Greetings, again, ASL players. I present here another series of blog posts dedicated to the hobby that we all love so much. This time, my opponent is Stewart King, another of the former Berserk Commissars, and an old friend. We have a Gentlemen's Agreement that Stewart will not read my blog for the duration of our campaign game.

Stewart and I will be playing the Tactiques Campaign Game "Stalinié Prostori" (Plains of Steel) which depicts action during the Wehrmacht's Operation Citadel. That's right: the last great German offensive on the eastern front, and the biggest tank battle in history, commonly known as the Battle of Kursk. Stewart is commanding the evil Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler, 1st SS Panzer Division. I'll have the valiant V Guards Tank Army, striving to keep the very worst of the Wehrmacht from penetrating the defenses.

Readers are encouraged to comment! Do you see a weakness? Do you have a better idea for a tank trap? Proclaim it in the comments!

Thanks to Rodney Kinney for developing the VASL gaming engine which I've used to capture images.
A ferocious fight

I've never played this CG before, but one look at the respective OBs  reveals that both sides are "loaded for bear," as the saying goes. The Germans have a huge armored force and elite SS infantry, fully supported by artillery and air support. But my Red Army heroes have plenty themselves: elite infantry, ample artillery and air support, and a horde of tanks. The Russian tanks may not quite match the German armor, but after all, for the Russians this is a game of attrition. Whittle them down in anticipation of the final CG scenario where, hopefully, they will be drained and exhausted by the time they make their push for the village in the final scenario.

In order for the German to win the CG, he must capture a huge number of strategic locations (building locations, bridges, rubble, and level-2 hill hexes). In this initial scenario, most of the strategic locations are on the northern half of board 10 and on board 24. It seems to me that, with the German forces coiled like a spring for the initial assault, there is little chance of denying them the board 10 buildings, but I'll make him earn them. My hope is to prevent him from gaining the board 24 buildings and the the level 2 hill hexes on board 18.

So, with that in mind, here is what I came up with.

Here are my initial forces:

  • Guards Rifle Coy
    458 x 12
    9-2, 8-1, 7-0
    MMG x 2, LMG x 2, ATR x2, Lt. Mtr x 2
  • Guards Rifle Coy
    458 x 12
    9-1, 7-0
    MMG x 2, LMG x 2, ATR x 2, Lt. Mtr. x 2
  • Medium AT Battery (depleted)
    45LL ATG x 3
    228 x 3
  • Heavy Artillery
  • 40 Fortification Points
All in all, not too bad. My ATG battery is depleted, but I did score a 9-2 leader for one of my elite rifle companies. I have 12 CPP to spend. My purchases are these:
  • Guards SMG Coy
    628 x 10
    9-2, 8-1
    LMG x 2, ATR x 2
  • SP ART Battery
    SU 76m x 4
  • 40 Fortification Points
  • Sturmoviks (!)
This first group of purchases may set up on board. The Sturmoviks will be interesting. Since the Germans will undoubtedly have Stukas, we have the potential for aerial dogfights, something that I've never before experienced in ASL. But honestly, I suspect that as the game unfolds, I'll be more concerned with German armor than with trying to shoot down Stukas.

My 80 fortification points are allotted as follows:
  • ATM x 7
  • HIP vehicles x 4
  • HIP squads x 3
  • Trench x 3
  • ? x 13
Then there are my reinforcements (both purchased and allotted) that are set to enter on the northern board edge on Turn 3:
  • T70 Platoon
    T70 x 3
    9-2 AL
  • T34 M41 Platoon (Inexperienced)
    T34 M41 x 3
  • T34 M43 Platoon (Depleted)
    T34 M43 x2
    8-1 AL
  • T34 M43 Platoon
    T34 M43 x 3
Boxcars on my armor leader roll for the T34 M41s! Inexperienced crews! A big disadvantage. But at least it will simplify any future decisions about which tanks to sacrifice, should the need arise. (And I'm sure it will!)

Now a breakdown of my setup.

Board 10 Village

Units surrounded by a red square are HIP
Given the strength of the attacking force, the board 10 village seems destined to fall. But I aim to bleed the Germans in the taking. And the task of the leeching falls to my largely unsupported elite SMG company. The idea here is to lure the Germans into a street fight. I've placed hidden squads at various points that seem likely to afford street-fighting opportunities as the German tanks come rolling in. I fully expect the Germans will possess this village at the end of the scenario. But the units I've placed here will not attempt to escape. They're not under any illusions. No one will be seeing them in the chow line this night.

Western defenses

Units surrounded by a red square are HIP
Here, the objective is to place fire on the Germans as they emerge from the board 10 village and attempt to push further north. If the Germans push for the board 24 village, the crest-status infantry in hexes A9-C10 will use the gully to fall back toward the village.  The two hidden SU76 M artillery pieces will protect the infantry from being overrun, hopefully. And the 9-2 with his MMG stack will attempt to entrench, but he'll be prepared to fall back to the gully post-haste against a major German thrust. I'm hoping that the board 24 village will prove to be beyond the German tether.

Eastern defenses

Units surrounded by a red square are HIP
I've strung an AT mine field (1 factor each) on the near side of the forest road that goes through 16B5 and across the gap between the woods masses to the west (16C9 through 16F10). I hope that this gap will appear inviting to the German panzer commanders who might imagine that it will allow them to advance en masse rather than through choke points like the B5 road hex.

Woe upon them! When they hit the mines, I open up with the 45LL ATG (18E5), the 2 hidden SU-76M SPAs, and the infantry light mortars to the north. That minefield is Hot with a capital "H."

The 45LL ATG is emplaced on the forest road in 19X2, aimed at the open ground to the west. But his position allows for easy man-handling to 19X1 to guard against a German advance on Board 18 as well. The infantry in the area are there to place fire on the mine fields to the south and to protect the ATG against infantry.

The hill

Keep those binoculars clean, Comrade!
Besides being Victory Locations, the level 2 hill hexes on Board 18 offer a sweeping view of the potential German approach for my artillery observer who is entrenched and hidden in 18Y7. Not only can I see important locations on Board 16, there are some long lines of sight that allow for calling down some 150mm love on the big grain field on Board 33. I have a couple squads up there to protect the field phone observer.

Nein, Henrich! Not this way....
The idea with the artillery is to drop harrassing fire on the Germans in the early game, while they are massed up. With luck, this will strip off tank riders and impede the advance for his infantry, perhaps separating them from the advancing panzers. Anything I get beyond that one fire mission I'll count as gravy. Subsequent fire missions will drop concentration on whichever tanks are foremost.
...nor this!


My armor arrives on Turn 3 and will enter to confront any German breakthroughs. My tanks are outgunned and out-armored by the big Tiger tanks, but have an advantage in maneuver. The problem, of course, is that Stewart will have plenty of versatile STUGs and PzIVs to engage my tanks as I attempt to flank the Tigers. By the time we get to Turn 3, it will probably be apparent as to where they should deploy. I'll just have to wait and see.

So, there it is: The initial Russian defense in the Plains of Steel CG. Looking at my forces, I feel very strong. Stewart would seem to have a daunting task before him. let's see how it plays out!