Archive for June, 2010

A wonderful feel-good video found at Nicole Stamp’s blog she calls [pageslap].*

* She lists her interests as:
“the internet, playing dodgeball, evolutionary biology, public speaking, scrabble, embarrassment, office supplies, brunch, bran, saving time, performance, chicken mcnuggets, inquisitive cats, sans serif fonts, hive minds, doodles, hypochondria, breakfast cereals, curly hair-care tips, feral children, perception, decluttering strategies, delicious things to eat, caffeine, tutorials, movies & plays & teeveeshows- especially funny ones where the characters occasionally address the audience, leftover Chinese food, indirect lighting, subtext, being nice to the environment, what happens in the emergency room, dollar stores, how to do things, how not to do things, stereotypes, exceptions, chewing gum, recycling, hacks, Barack Obama, oxford commas, and the internet.”
Ever thought about taking up golf, Nicole?

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Talking and talking more to avoid war is always better than war and more war, but then, anything is better than war, which I hate with a passion. I especially hate it when my country is so casual about getting into it, and we’ve gotten into it time after disastrous time since WWII.
But like it or not, we got war. Still.
And here’s two views from the same edition of (supposedly librul) New York Times, which is not so much a “librul” newspaper, by the way, as it is a serious newspaper. I post enough anti-military views here. So here’s those two serious military views from a couple of serious military writers:

Lose a General, Win a War

FOR most of our nation’s history, the armed services have had a strong and worthy tradition of firing generals who get out of line. So for most of our presidents there would have been no question about whether to oust Gen. Stanley McChrystal for making public his differences with the White House on policy in Afghanistan. If President Obama had not fired General McChrystal, it would have been like President Truman keeping on Douglas MacArthur after his insubordination during the Korean War.
Some analysts fret that losing General McChrystal will mean sacrificing the relationship he had developed with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. But the general’s dysfunctional relationship with the other senior American officials in Kabul, painfully laid out this week in Rolling Stone, is more significant. If President Obama is to be faulted, it is for leaving that group in position after it became apparent last fall that the men could not work well together.
No policy can be successful if those sent to put it in place undermine one another with snide comments to reporters and leaked memorandums like the cable disparaging Mr. Karzai written by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry last year. For this reason, the president should finish cleaning house and fire Ambassador Eikenberry and the special envoy, Richard Holbrooke.
Mr. Obama should then replace them with a team that has a single person clearly in control, with the power to hire and fire the others. And he should send that new group to Kabul with clear orders that they should get along, or expect to be relieved.
In the longer term, the Army has to return to its tradition of getting rid of leaders who are failing. The Navy has shown more fortitude; in the first two months of this year alone it fired six commanders of ships and installations. On Tuesday, it fired the skipper of the frigate John L. Hall, two months after it collided with a pier at a Black Sea port in Georgia. The Navy stated simply, as it usually does in such cases, that the officer’s superior had lost confidence in him. That is all that is needed.
The Marine Corps has also largely kept the tradition of relieving officers — most notably during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when its top ground officer, Maj. Gen. James Mattis, fired the commander of the First Marine Regiment. During his tenure, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has fired secretaries of the Army and the Air Force and an Air Force chief of staff.
Back in World War II, the Army had no qualms about letting officers go; at least 16 of the 155 generals who commanded divisions in combat during the war were relieved while in combat. George Marshall, the nation’s top general, felt that a willingness to fire subordinates was a requirement of leadership. He once described Gen. Hap Arnold, chief of the Army Air Forces, as a fine man, but one who “didn’t have the nerve to get rid of men not worth a damn.”
Marshall had plenty of nerve: in 1940 and ’41, as war loomed, he forced into retirement several hundred officers he deemed too old and slow to be effective. When the commandant at Leavenworth, Brig. Gen. Charles Bundel, told him that updating the complete set of Army training manuals would take 18 months, Marshall offered him three months, and then four months, to do the job. It can’t be done, Bundel twice responded.
“You be very careful about that,” Marshall told him in a telephone conversation.
“No, it can’t be done,” Bundel repeated.
“I’m sorry, then you are relieved,” Marshall said.
We tend to remember those who were nearly relieved but ultimately weren’t, most notably Gen. George Patton, who came closest to being fired during the war after slapping two American soldiers suffering from combat fatigue. But that sort of exception illustrates another aspect of the lost tradition of relieving commanders: the military had some flexibility in enforcing it. Patton was seen by his superiors as having unusual weaknesses but equally rare strengths, so he was kept on.
One advantage of having a more flexible attitude toward removal from combat command was that it did not necessarily mean the end of one’s career. During World War II, three Army division commanders — Orlando Ward, Terry de la Mesa Allen and Leroy Watson — were relieved of command of divisions in combat but went on to lead different divisions later in the war.
The old system may seem harsh in today’s light, and certainly some men were treated unfairly. But keep in mind that job losses were dwarfed by combat losses: In the summer of 1944, 15 of the 20 battalion and regimental commanders in the 82nd Airborne were either killed or wounded. In World War II, a front-line officer either succeeded, became a casualty or was relieved within a few months — or in some cases, within days.
The tradition of swift relief provided two benefits that we have lost in today’s Army: It punished failure and it gave an opportunity to younger, more energetic officers who were better equipped to adapt to the quickening pace of the war. When George Marshall heard of a major who really was doing a general’s work, he stepped in to make the man a brigadier general overnight. Under this audacious system, a generation of brilliant young commanders emerged, men like James Gavin, an innovator in airborne warfare who became the Army’s youngest three-star general.
But that tradition was somehow lost in the Korean War and buried conclusively in Vietnam. Nowadays, dynamic young leaders can’t emerge as quickly, because almost no one is fired. In a much-discussed 2007 article in Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling wrote that “a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”
In Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, most of our commanders have “rotated in” for a year, led their units and gone home. This skews incentives away from risk-taking and toward not making waves. Consequently, the only generals who are fired are those at the very top, who do not serve one-year tours of duty and so must be removed by firing or forced resignation.
Had Army officers been managed in the Afghan War as they were during World War II, we would be seeing a new generation of leaders emerge. Instead, a beleaguered president once again is sending David Petraeus to the rescue, making it appear as though he is the only competent general we have.
Thomas E. Ricks, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of “The Gamble: General Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq,” is writing a history of American generalship since World War II.

June 23, 2010
The Unsentimental Warrior
Franklin, Tenn.
THERE’S one moment in the Rolling Stone article that led to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s dismissal on Thursday that truly concerned me — and it’s not one of the reproachful comments about administration officials that have been clucked over by pundits and politicians. No, what stood out for me was the scene in which General McChrystal points to the members of his staff and says: “All these men, I’d die for them. And they’d die for me.”
General McChrystal got it entirely backward: generals definitely don’t die for their soldiers, and soldiers don’t die for generals. They die because generals order them into battle to accomplish a mission, and some are killed carrying out those orders. General McChrystal’s statement is that of a man who is sentimental about his job, and who has confused sentimentality with command.
For too long, the Army has been led by sentimental men, by peacocks in starched fatigues and strutting ascetics surrounded by public relations teams. But the Army doesn’t need sentimental generals; it needs generals who can give the kind of difficult and deadly orders that win wars.
I’ll tell you how I know this. In 1967, when I was a cadet at West Point, I met entirely by chance the journalist Will Lang, who had written a Life magazine cover story about my grandfather, Gen. Lucian K. Truscott Jr., during World War II. Grandpa didn’t like having a gaggle of correspondents following him around, because you had to feed them and house them and otherwise take care of their needs, including giving them interviews, and that took away from the mission, which he described in his memoirs as killing German soldiers. But the Army wanted him on the cover of Life, so he allowed Will Lang to follow him around while he commanded the VI Corps in its invasion of southeastern France in 1944.
After more than a few drinks that night, Will Lang told me a story. Grandpa had once allowed him to attend his early morning meeting with his division commanders; Lang watched, a little bewildered, as Grandpa moved pins on a map and ordered his commanders to advance up this road or take this town or destroy that German brigade. When the commanders eventually left, Lang and Grandpa sat down to breakfast at a field table just outside his command trailer. Lang proceeded to ask Grandpa a series of questions about what, precisely, had gone on in that meeting.
Grandpa apparently grew frustrated with these questions, so he grabbed Lang by the arm and hauled him back into the trailer. He pointed to a pin on the map and asked Lang if he knew what it meant when he moved that pin an inch or two forward. Lang admitted that he didn’t. “It means by nine o’clock, 25 of my men will be dead, and a few hours later, 25 more of them will die, and more of them will die until that unit accomplishes the mission I gave them,” Grandpa said. “That’s what it means.”
Then Grandpa led Lang back to the table and they finished their breakfast.
After more than 30 years of nearly continuous war, every Afghan — whether Taliban or friendly — knows the lesson that Grandpa taught Lang that day. Unless we put generals in command who aren’t sentimental, generals who are willing and able to give the deadly serious orders to accomplish the mission they are given, who know that men die for a cause and not for them, we will get no respect from friend or foe in Afghanistan, and we may as well pack up our stuff and go home.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a journalist, is the author of “Dress Gray.”

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Posting some Steve Martin comedy videos (and one of him showing serious mojo on the banjo) because:
1) We’re just a huge fan of his comedy (and his serious banjo playing side) and,
2) Because it’s our blog and we can post whatever the Holy Spirit moves us to post, and,
3) Why not.

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You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
—- Mr. Ghandi

You think we’re in turbulent and angry times now?
I would argue that we’re always in turbulent and angry times because change for the better is always being resisted by those who’d prefer time and the sun to stop and stay right where we are. Never hurts to have some historical perspective on resistance to change.

Memphis, Spring 1968, marked the dramatic climax of the Civil Rights movement. At the River I Stand skillfully reconstructs the two eventful months that transformed a local labor dispute into a national conflagration, and disentangles the complex historical forces that came together with the inevitability of tragedy at the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This 58-minute documentary brings into sharp relief issues that have only become more urgent in the intervening years: the connection between economic and civil rights, the debate over violent vs. nonviolent change, and the demand for full inclusion of African Americans in American life.

In the 1960s, Memphis’ 1,300 sanitation workers formed the lowest caste of a deeply racist society, earning so little they qualified for welfare. In the film, retired workers recall their fear about taking on the entire white power structure when they struck for higher wages and union recognition.

But local civil rights leaders and the Black community soon realized the strike was part of the struggle for economic justice for all African Americans. Through stirring historical footage we see the community mobilizing behind the strikers, organizing mass demonstrations and an Easter boycott of downtown businesses. The national leadership of AFSCME put the international union’s full resources behind the strike. One day, a placard appeared on the picket lines which in its radical simplicity summed up the meaning of the strike: “I am a man.”

In March, Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Memphis as part of his Poor People’s Campaign to expand the civil rights agenda to the economy. The film recreates the controversies between King’s advisors, local leaders, and younger militants – debates that led to open conflict. When young hotheads turned King’s protest march into a violent confrontation with the brutal Memphis policy, King left.

King and the nation realized his leadership and nonviolent strategy had been threatened. King felt obliged to return to Memphis to resume a nonviolent march despite the by-now feverish racial tensions. The film captures the deep sense of foreboding that pervaded King’s final “I have been to the mountaintop” speech. The next day, April 4, 1968, he was assassinated.

Four days later, thousands from Memphis and around the country rallied to pull off King’s nonviolent march. The city council crumbled and granted most of the strikers’ demands. Those 1,300 sanitation workers had shown they could successfully challenge the entrenched economic structure of the South.

The 1992 fires of Los Angeles, the endemic inner-city unemployment and the growing disparity between rich and poor, make clear that the issues Martin Luther King, Jr. raised in his last days have yet to be addressed. At the River I Stand succeeds in showing that the causes of (and possibly the solutions to) our present racial quandary may well be found in what happened in Memphis. Its riveting portrait of the grit and determination of ordinary people will inspire viewers to re-dedicate themselves to racial and economic justice.

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As if the ocean isn’t being trashed enough from the oil gusher–oil “spill” became a misnomer weeks and weeks ago–there’s that huge mess of bottles and other plastics piling up in the so-called Pacific Garbage Patch mentioned in the article below. Publicity years ago about the the Pacific garbage inspired me to make sure I recycle plastics and water bottles and avoid plastic water bottles every chance I get. Turned out it wasn’t hard to give up bottled water anyway.

There’s no excuse in this day and age–not anymore–not to be conscious of what we throw away that could be recycled, and to be aware of the scores of other virtually effortless things we can do to minimize damage to God’s green earth.

Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times story about an independent old cuss of a woman on a mission from God. She contends that a Thermos bottle will do just fine for holding water while an old-fashioned water fountain provides water just as wet and as hydrating as what we’re getting from store-bought water anyway*:

Where Thoreau Lived, Crusade Over Bottles
CONCORD, Mass. — Henry David Thoreau was jailed here 164 years ago for refusing to pay taxes while living at Walden Pond. Now the town has Jean Hill to contend with.

Mrs. Hill, an octogenarian previously best known for her blueberry jam, proposed banning the sale of bottled water here at a town meeting this spring. Voters approved, with the intent of making Concord the first town in the nation to strip Aquafina, Poland Spring and the like from its stores.

In orchestrating an outright ban, Mrs. Hill, 82, has achieved something that powerful environmental groups have not even tried. The bottled water industry is not pleased; it has threatened to sue if the ban takes effect as planned on Jan. 1. Officials here have hinted that they might not strictly enforce it, but Mrs. Hill, who described herself as obsessed, said that would only deepen her resolve.

“I’m going to work until I drop on this,” she said. “If you believe in something, you have to persist and you have to have a thick skin.”

Tom Lauria, a spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association, questioned why Mrs. Hill would single out bottled water when there are so many other things packaged in plastic. “Some people in the industry kind of respect her because of her age and her vision,” he said, “but we believe that vision is distorted. There are far worse products to pick on than water.”

Mrs. Hill’s crusade began a few years ago when her grandson, then 10, told her about the so-called Pacific garbage patch, a vortex of plastic and other debris floating between California and Hawaii, thought to be twice the size of Texas.

She researched and homed in on bottled water, finding that millions of plastic bottles were disposed of daily and that most were not recycled. While most opponents of bottled water have sought piecemeal change, like getting government agencies to stop buying it, Mrs. Hill wanted her affluent, erudite town to take a bolder step.

“The bottled water companies are draining our aquifers and selling it back to us,” she said, repeating her pitch from the town meeting in April. “We’re trashing our planet, all because of greed.”

*(If you read the whole story you learn that Mrs. Hill doesn’t drink that much water anyway, preferring liquids like orange juice, and Scotch. This is my kinda woman.)

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So what it’s not Tuesday anymore? We been busy, OK people?
And anyway, that peacemaking hippie of the sixties and seventies who went all Muslimy and stopped performing for a long time in his devotion to his religion and to Islamic social services –we’re talking about Cat Stevens — he was worth waiting for today.
If the Cat Man was before your time, you may not know that he was one of the real rock and folky icons back in the day — a great lyricist and singer and engaging entertainer who was all about his era’s peace vibe. Everybody loved Cat Stevens for his love and peace sensibilities and his obvious passion for the music he made.
And you longtimers of the Jitterbug cult know that “Morning Has Broken” is yer Jitterbugger’s favorite Christian hymn of all time, and that Cat’s singing and arrangement of it is so wonderful that it makes me want to drop to my knees and be glad that God made me.
I’m glad God made me anyway but enough of this.

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(*TEMENOS IX, Kathleen Holder)

We all have our place in this world, even the most severely disabled among us.
We all have a place in God’s magnificent world.
We all are here for a purpose.

Sonnet (on his blindness)
by John Milton (1608-1674)*

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, thought my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Make, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide:
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own grist, who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve, who only stand and wait.”


From The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse, pp. 97-98
Oxford University Press, 1981

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