Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."

21.2.10

Review: SENATOR'S SON


Nearly 25 years ago, as a freshman college student balancing a science major with the obligatory credits in the Humanities, my English 101 professor introduced me to the concept of “verisimilitude”: the likeness or resemblance of a creative writing effort to reality. While this was a difficult feat for me in my writing assignments, it is something that Luke Larson has effortlessly achieved in his first novel, Senator’s Son.

Luke was a journalism major at a rival PAC-10 school, courtesy of an NROTC scholarship to the University of Arizona, and as a junior officer in the U.S. Marine Corps served two tours in Iraq (both in al Anbar province – first in 2005 during the election of the Iraqi Transitional Government that was to draft a permanent constitution, and again in 2007 during the Iraqi national referendum and the start of General Petraeus’s “Surge”).

Senator’s Son wastes no time hurling the reader into the breech. Written in a tempo prestissimo style, this rapid-fire novel gives you a no-holds-barred perspective of modern counterinsurgency from multiple perspectives: the families at home with a dissociated populace; the wounded warriors battling the demons of recovery, opiate pain-killer addictions and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; the careerist bureaucrats that infiltrate every large organization; and most importantly the junior officers and non-commissioned officers who must make up for “higher’s” planning inadequacies and strategic myopia. Larson’s use of a 2047 scenario in the southwest Pacific, with a lone Senator holding the deciding vote on whether or not to commit U.S. military power abroad, helps to reinforce the strategic consequences our actions today can have on future generations.

Set in 2007 Ar Ramadi, a city of nearly a half-million that serves as the provincial capital of al Anbar province just west of Baghdad, Senator’s Son is the story of the platoons of GOLF Company. GOLF is a Marine company (part of a Marine battalion tied to an Army brigade) responsible for sweeping missions in south Ramadi in the days prior to the 2007 Iraqi national referendum (and a few months prior to “The Surge”). Their early ventures from the “Snake Pit” (a heavily fortified Marine firm base) poignantly demonstrate the complexities of contemporary warfare.

The force protection concerns are palpable – one can almost smell the raw sewage flowing through the ruined streets of a dying city, and feel the peering eyes of snipers tracking you in their sights. Every piece of litter is a potential Improvised Explosive Device, and every sound a threat. And like Mayor Giuliani’s “Broken Windows” theory in late 1990s New York City, the reluctant shift from a hardened, up-armored patrol mindset to one of cooperative engagement with a foreign culture underscores the essence of counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine now codified in FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5: Counterinsurgency.

Like real life, there are few “happy endings” in this book. Each platoon commander in GOLF has his own strengths and fallibilities: from steadfast Bama’s bravery and bigotries to the maverick Greg’s ingenuity and independence. And each must face his own demons in the prose that Larson deftly weaves.

At a minimum, Senator’s Son is a brilliant primer on leadership: how to learn which rules are worth breaking, the importance of adaptability when there are no black-or-white situations but only gray, and the primacy of relationships.

But it is also a tribute to those who answer a call to serve – whether they serve in their own communities as volunteers, or have the privilege of wearing the Eagle-Globe-and-Anchor of a Marine (like my grandfather, a mortarman with CHARLIE-1-6 in Guadalcanal and Tarawa, and my grandmother, a clerk-typist at Hunters Point-San Francisco who met my grandfather after his malaria washed him out of the Fleet Marine Force). Senator’s Son is a testament to the resilience of those who carry the burden of personal sacrifice with such humility that we can take our own freedom for granted.

This book is a “must read” for anyone who cares about the greater world beyond our neighborhood – and the role that power (be it the “hard” power of weaponry and kinetic energy, or the “soft” power of relationships) can play in shaping the world for better or for worse.


(cross-posted at Antilibrary and Zenpundit)


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8.7.08

House of Representatives v. Web 2.0

(image c/o Eric Drooker)

A recent tweet from @Fantomplanet and subsequent post by ZenPundit describe an effort underway in our nation's lower legislative house to restrict Members' rights to use Web 2.0 technologies to communicate with their constituents.

At first glance, the letter from Congressman Capuano [D-MA 8th] to Congressman Brady [D-PA 1st] sounds benign: "... existing tools available within the House ... are not user-friendly or efficient" and "... server storage space within the House is currently insufficient to meet the growing demand for video."

However, the 'desired solution' smacks of totalitarianism: the establishment of "official" external channels (Cong. Capuano's quotes, not mine) that "... would allow a Member to post video material on a qualifying external website and then embed the video on his or her Member site from this external site."

Qualifying external website?!?

Congressman Capuano makes a precarious leap of logic by asserting these practices "... ha[ve] been adopted by other government agencies ...", as if Members -- elected BY THE PEOPLE -- are akin to federal employees working in the service of a single executive. As a constituent, I would be appalled if my Representative were to take his position so lightly (thankfully, Cong. Zach Wamp [R-TN 3rd] has a far greater appreciation of a Member's role than the distinguished gentleman from Massachusetts).

If Congressman Capuano (who also happens to Chair Speaker Pelosi's "Task Force on Ethics Enforcement") is concerned about the "dignity, propriety and decorum of the House," perhaps he should re-read the Declaration of Independence:
... That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed...
... and NOT the "Governing". Taking artistic license from Mr. Jefferson, perhaps the latter portion of our 232-year-old Declaration could be amended to read:

The History of the present Chairman of the Speaker's Task Force on Ethics Enforcement is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these Networks. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World.

HE has refused his Assent to Blogging, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

HE has forbidden his Members to post Tweets of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

HE has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large video files on YouTube, unless those Servers would relinquish the Right of Data Management, a Right inestimable to them, and formidable to Tyrants only.

To arms! To arms! The Censors are coming!

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3.7.08

Decisionmaking

("On They Came" by Mort Kunstler, c/o The Framery)

There has been much dialogue in the 'blogosphere lately regarding information, from Andrew Exum's recent critique of JP 3-13: Information Operations at Small Wars Journal (h/t MountainRunner) to Chet Richards on "Orientation" (the central concept to Boyd's OODA loop) and "Virtual Water Coolers". Earlier posts by ZenPundit, John Robb, Shlõk, Don Vandergriff, Kotare and Coming Anarchy's brilliant series on the Principles of War are excellent contributions to the topic of "decisionmaking", which I believe is the cornerstone of command and leadership.

What makes good leaders? Is it success? Luck? Perseverance? Or is the "harmonious association of powers" that Carl von Clausewitz described in On War (Book I, Chapter III: "The Genius for War")?

Consider the image above. On the afternoon of July 3rd, 1863, Maj. Gen. George Pickett and his division of 5,500 Confederate soldiers formed the right flank of a three-division assault across the gently rising slope from Seminary Ridge toward Cemetary Ridge in the fields south of the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. His shout, "Up, Men, and to your posts! Don't forget today that you are from Old Virginia," is inscribed on a monument at Gettysburg National Military Park. By the time Pickett's men had crossed Emmitsburg Pike and neared the Copse of Trees by the "Bloody Angle", more than half of his division would fall: 3,000 casualties in a matter of minutes, including 15 regimental commanders, six colonels and two brigadier generals.

What prompted a gifted leader like General Robert E. Lee to risk such a venture? Did the loss of Stonewall Jackson to friendly fire two months earlier at Chancellorsville neuter Lee's maneuverist spirit (a spirit that was alive and well with Hood's Texans, who defied direct orders and seized Devil's Den and Big Round Top on the Union left on July 2nd)?

Or did Bobby Lee see something his subordinates didn't? Did his rational calculus consider (a) Ewell's inability to take Culp's Hill on the Union right, (b) Longstreet's misinterpretation of his orders, thinking Lee only wanted him to turn the Union left rather than assaulting it to build on Hood's success the previous day, (c) the lack of coordination across a 3-mile-wide battlefront amongst his artillery, cavalry and infantry that dashed his hopes for a three-pronged assault, and (d) the near-breakthrough in the Union center (at the Copse of Trees) by Anderson the previous day?

The point is, complex adaptive environments have no unique solutions. Martin van Crevald, in Command in War, described two options for organizations needing to act with imperfect information: either increase its information processing capability (the choice of our modern U.S. military) or redesign the organization to allow it to operate effectively with less information (the essence of Boyd's Discourse and his "Organic Design for Command and Control" and the German concept of Auftragstaktik).

Based on the advice available to him on the scene, and his perception of the unfolding battle, Lee made the best choice he could at Gettysburg for the strategic interests of the Confederacy. Similarly, General George Meade (Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac) made great use of his subordinates (particularly Reynolds and Hancock) and -- knowing the Confederate States Army had moved into Pennsylvania -- chose the best line of defense with the Pipe Creek Line in northern Maryland.

Our challenge today is managing an ever-growing bitstream of data, and balancing our own cognitive load so that we are able to make effective decisions in high-stress, high-consequence, time-constrained environments. Some tools are useful in the context of social relationships and temporal "snapshots" (e.g., Twitter) while others give spatial correlation of resources ("Common Relevant Operational Pictures"). But none are adequate for all requirements.

The basic question we need to ask ourselves is: How much control do we really need? The most effective leaders are able to inspire their subordinates to strive for a common goal, then get out of their way. While information technology is beguiling in giving managers the chimera of perfect awareness, that awareness is a mirage on an ever-changing landscape of perception. Instead of focusing on what our subordinates are doing, or who should NOT see what we know through anachronistic classification practices, we should rather be managing our OWN cognitive load in order to anticipate emergent opportunities. MountainRunner sums up the debate nicely in his review of Exum's IO piece:
Understanding the value of shaping and managing perceptions is critical today just as it was critical throughout history. The difference is today fewer people are needed to mobilize for strategic effects, arguably making the precision and result of influence activities that much more important. We can’t afford to ignore this or get it wrong, but then we don’t have to get it absolutely right on the first cut. We must move ahead and realize that everyone is a strategic corporal and everything we do has information effects, some more than others.
Hear, hear!

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26.5.08

In Memoriam

Though it has culturally become the "beginning of summer", Memorial Day's roots are far more somber. President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (November 1863) is considered by some to be the first observance. Less than two years later, as the American Civil War was drawing to a close, two acts of charity many miles apart sowed the seeds for our present-day observance: In Waterloo, New York, a druggist named Henry Welles promoted the idea of decorating the graves of Civil War soldiers with wreaths; and in many communities across the nation Women's Auxiliaries of the North and South shifted their attention from care to families and soldiers to preserving and decorating the graves of the fallen -- regardless of their "side".

In 1868, General John A. Logan, first commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued General Order #11 establishing May 30 as an official memorial day to pay respect to all those who had died, in war or peace. My 'blogfriends at Small Wars Journal have reprinted General Order #11 in its entirety here.

Other 'blogfriends who have commemorated this day include:

Armchair Generalist (noting the impending 9/11 Pentagon Memorial)

Blog them Out of the Stone Age (linking a CBS News piece on Arlington)

Opposed System Design (A brief, poignant post)

Chicago Boys (Lexington Green links to Branagh's brilliant Henry V soliloquy)

ZenPundit (quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)

Danger Room (Noah Schachtman cites LCol McCrae's In Flanders Fields, a Remembrance Day staple in Canada)

Selil (Prof. Sam Liles on the meaning of "service" and "hero")

And most moving of all, our dear friend Melissa (aka BeeDiva) tells us about the father she never knew.

As you enjoy this day, please pause for a moment to pay homage to those who gave their last full measure of devotion so that we can live in liberty.

Update: Two more 'blogfriends have marked the day:

Hidden Unities (Anchors aweigh!)

interact (Sean critiques post-9/11 safeguards and the sorry state of military procurement)

Update 2: Two more 'blogfriends (O.K., three - but two share a site):

Abu Muqawama (AM himself laments the general public's lack of awareness of our military's service)

Abu Muqawama (Kip offers a poignant essay on what Memorial Day means to him)

tdaxp (Dan graciously links back to this post)

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5.5.08

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of México's victory over Napoleon III at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Though it is virtually ignored in México (other than in the state of Puebla, just east of Ciudad de México), it has been celebrated for more than 140 years in the U.S. state of California.

While Cinco de Mayo is not México's "Independence Day" (that date is September 16th), in America it has become the cultural equivalent of St. Patrick's Day: a celebration of heritage and culture of our southern neighbor.

So tonight, raise your cerveza or your margarita and honor México!

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27.4.08

[Moblog] Entrata Music Club

Eldest of Oz played Beethoven's "Russian Folk Song" for this season's "Entrata Music Club" recital. The Entrata is part of the Tennessee Federation of Music Clubs.

Tomorrow both Eldest and Man-Cub will perform for the Guild judge. This will be Eldest's 3rd Guild critique, with ten (10) songs to be played from memory as they are called by the judge.

____

UPDATE: I've uploaded the Treo-captured video to YouTube.


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18.4.08

Important Anniversary

Tomorrow marks an important date in American history -- one that will reverberate through posterity due to its massive impact on culture and society.

No, I'm not talking about the 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, TX (which is eerily similar to the recent raid -- in Texas also -- of a polygamist compound [h/t tdaxp]). Nor am I talking about Timothy McVeigh's domestic terror attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City two years later.

And no, I am not talking about "the shot heard 'round the world" at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts in 1775 during the Battles of Lexington and Concord that kindled the American Revolutionary War (aka "Patriots' Day" by residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and runners of the Boston Marathon).

No, I am referring to the first airing of "The Simpsons" shorts on the Tracey Ullman Show on April 19th, 1987.

It's hard to believe that Matt Groening's animated shorts, which quickly spun off into what is now the longest-running animated series in history (in its 19th season), was first introduced to us all just 21 years ago....

In the words of the inestimable Bart (an anagram for "brat"), "Cowabunga!"

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19.3.08

Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

Science fiction author, pundit, pioneer and visionary Sir Arthur C. Clarke passed away this morning in his adopted home of Sri Lanka. His short story The Sentinel (1948), which inspired his 1968 novel (and later one of my all-time favorite films) 2001: A Space Odyssey, demonstrated his keen insight into the perils of "artificial intelligence" and technological advancement.

Most notable was Clarke's professed skepticism of humanity and our inclination for self-destruction. A persistent theme in his Odyssey series (both the Space Odyssey as well as his later Time Odyssey trilogy) was the essential role "godlike" aliens played in creating -- and regulating -- sentient life in the Universe. His application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (that entropy increases over time) and the implicit justification of his aliens' "regulation of life" to postpone the ultimate heat death of the Universe is a compelling syllogism.

Sir Arthur's creativity gave us a glimpse into our own souls, and the cosmic implications of our folly. For that we owe him our gratitude, and our well wishes as he today embarks on his own Rendezvous with Rama.


Update: Other tributes from Sharon @ Danger Room, Kingdaddy, Jason S., Jay M., Soob and Cheryl R.

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5.2.08

Super Fat Tuesday

Thanks to the early Easter this year (due to the close proximity of the full moon to the vernal equinox), we get to celebrate (quite appropriately, IMHO) "Super Tuesday" simultaneously with "Fat Tuesday / Mardi Gras". So tomorrow morning, as ashes from the palm fronds from last year's Palm Sunday are imposed on the foreheads of the Christian faithful, will we also have a definitive presidential candidate from each party?

Having just left the polling place, I can say unequivocally that "electronic ballots" remain trapped in the Luddite past of paper-driven industrial age process. After arriving at the polling place at 8:30am EST, I discovered that our local polling places did not actually open until 9:00am. After the polls officially opened (at 8:00am one county to the west of us, in the Central Time Zone), I had to:
  1. Complete a "Voting Application Card" in red ink. (I told the pollsters that it was considered bad luck in China to inscribe a name in red; they didn't seem to care.) Note that though the line of waiting voters was now more than 30 people, there was only one (1) small table for completing this "Voting Application Card" -- rather than distributing them (with red pens) to the waiting voters.
  2. Present the "Voting Application Card" along with a photo ID to the kind lady with the "A-D" catalog of registered voters in that precinct.
  3. Let said lady compare the signatures between my digitized Voter Registration and the "Voting Application Card", then check some boxes and sign where indicated.
  4. Present my "Voting Application Card" to a third polling place worker, who wrote my name (in longhand) on a roster.
  5. Go to a fourth worker, who took my "Voting Application Card" and provided me with a four-digit "PIN" to activate the voting machine.
  6. Proceed to vote for one (1) candidate for President of the United States, as well as twelve (12) "Delegates-at-Large" and three (3) District delegates. Since my candidate of choice had only two "Delegates-at-Large" who had professed fealty to him, I decided to vote for all eight "uncommitted delegates". This meant I had to spin my "selection wheel" no fewer than fifteen times for each delegate, since the cursor reset to the top-left corner after each selection and the "uncommitted delegates" were at the bottom-right. (My attempts to outsmart the machine by rotating my selection wheel counter-clockwise sent me to the previous section of the ballot.)
BTW, the image at the top of this is provided courtesy of al Jazeera (found via a Google Image search for "Super Tuesday").

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21.12.07

Tagged: Christmas Meme

Local friend Citizen Netmom has been tagged by LissaKay to provide a "Christmas Meme" profile, so I'm following her lead. Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share Christmas facts about yourself.
3. Tag seven random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Welcome to the Christmas edition of "Getting to Know Your Friends."

1. Wrapping or gift bags?
Gift bags - the ultimate convenience in gift-giving!

2. Real or artificial tree?
Artificial pre-lit. (See comment on "convenience" in 1. above.)

3. When do you put up the tree?
Me? Never. My bride? Usually just after Thanksgiving.

4. When do you take the tree down?
After our annual Epiphany Party in early January.

5. Do you like egg nog?
Not as much as what you can put *in* the eggnog.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
A BMX bike when I was 12 years old.

7. Do you have a nativity scene?
Yes (a small porcelain one).

8. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
At an office "gag gift exchange", I ended up with a plastic hand pedestal that was supposed to be a remote control holder. We kept it in the closet until the follow year's gift exchange.

9. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Despite my comments on "convenience" above, this is one area where we go all out -- mail is the only way for us. Our family photo is planned months in advance (this year's card was from a February trip to Mexico, complete with Santa hats in the luggage), cards are ordered shortly after Halloween, and labels printed the week before Thanksgiving. We have made a habit (perhaps bordering on Obsessive-Compulsive :-) of mailing them the day before Thanksgiving -- sort of a green flag for friends and family of the start of the holiday season.

10. Favorite Christmas Movie?
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.

11. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Black Friday. My lovely bride, however, starts the day *after* Christmas for the next year.

12. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
My bride's crockpot turkey (never dry!). And my Grandmother's & Aunt Peggy's Secret Toffee.

13. Clear lights or colored on the tree?
Clear.

14. Favorite Christmas song(s)?
Sarajevo 12/24 by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

15. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
We usually travel -- we have family and friends scattered throughout the country.

16. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
Yes (though it might take me a while). Don't forget Olive! (As in "Olive, the other reindeer..." :-)

17. Angel on the tree top or a star?
Angel.

18. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning?
One selected gift on Christmas Eve, the rest on Christmas morning.

19. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
Some people let themselves get too stressed out -- so courtesy seems to be too rare this time of year, ESPECIALLY on the roads and parking lots.

20. Do you decorate your tree in any specific theme or color?
Classic white lights, gold trimmed ribbon, with lots of sentimental-value ornaments.

21. What do you leave for Santa?
Milk and cookies, of course. And some carrots on the lawn for his reindeer.

22. Least favorite holiday song?
Anything with "singing" animals.

23. Favorite ornament?
Our Macy's-New York City "Curious George" ornament (showing George climbing the Empire State Building in a clear glass globe) from their 75th Anniversary Parade.

24. Family tradition?
Besides what's already been described here (decorations, cards, gifts), we have an emerging tradition of performances. Both kids play in holiday piano recitals, and Renee always performs with the church choir in their Christmas performances. Also, Shelby has performed in The Nutcracker three of the past four years now -- and Jarrett has said he wants to be a "party boy / mouse soldier" in next year's Nutcracker.

25. Ever been to Midnight Mass or late-night Christmas Eve services?
Yes, a couple times (once in San Diego, when my mother-in-law visited us there; and another time in Minnesota at her church).


I will be passing this "tag" on to the following blogfriends (updated to link to their replies):

ZenPundit
tdaxp
Sean Meade
Critt
Soob
A.E.
Shlok

Can't wait to see what they post... Merry Christmas to all!

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16.12.07

Go, Speed Racer, Go!

While taking the kids to see a movie today, I was very pleasantly surprised to see a trailer for my all-time favorite cartoon, Speed Racer.

Set for release May 9th, 2008, this cartoon-to-live-action-film is being produced by The Wachowski Brothers of The Matrix fame.

The first trailer shows a compelling mix of technology and imagery, in true Wachowski fashion. And it (so far) looks true to the 'toon, complete with Trixie (Christina Ricci) providing overhead intel, Spritle (Paulie Litt) and Chim Chim stowing away in the Mach 5's trunk, and the enigmatic Racer X (Matthew Fox) silently watching over Speed.

The only drawback? Susan Sarandon is cast as Mom Racer...

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7.12.07

A Date Which Lives in Infamy

Flags across the United States are at half-mast today in recognition of "a date which shall live in infamy". At 7:52 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, the first wave of Japanese bombers reached the western shore of O'ahu (near today's Lualualei Naval Weapons Station), crested the Waianae Ridge at Kolekole Pass (which connects Lualualei to Schofield Barracks), attacking military airfields as well as the fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor to the south. More than two thousand sailors, Marines and soldiers were killed -- along with 68 civilians -- compared to just 65 Japanese airmen killed.

The photo above has been a staple of my briefings on defense transformation for years. When I show the photo cropped to show only the lower-right quadrant, nearly everyone correctly observes "Battleship Row" at Pearl Harbor. Showing the full photo (from a scale model in wartime Japan) demonstrates the challenge we in a open society face when battling adversaries who don't share our values -- nor our freedoms.

John Robb has aptly noted our vulnerability to "open source warfare" -- a challenge that is exacerbated by the openness of our society. But the solution is not to trade our freedoms for the "warm blanket of security". Rather, we should remember that it is those freedoms -- the freedom to live, to love, to pursue happiness and prosperity -- that make us strong.

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22.11.07

First Thansgiving Proclamation

By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America

A PROCLAMATION

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and fupplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wife, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington


---

Best wishes for a very happy Thanksgiving to all!

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19.11.07

Gettysburg Dedication

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought just prior to the 4th of July, 1863, between General Robert E. Lee's "Confederate States Army" and the Union's "Army of the Potomac" (led by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, who had assumed command only three days earlier). In addition to being the northernmost battle of the American Civil War, it was also the costliest in terms of lives lost.

Nearly 8,000 soldiers died, and more than 27,000 were wounded. The cemetery atop the ridge on the southeast corner of this small Pennsylvania town, the Soldiers' National Cemetery, was dedicated this day, November 19th, in that same year 1863.

The principal speaker that day was the Hon. Edward Everett, a former Governor of Massachusetts who had also served as President of Harvard University, Secretary of State under President Fillmore, and as a Congressman and U.S. Senator. He was considered the nation's foremost orator of the day, and asked that the dedication be delayed from the originally planned date of September 23rd in order to prepare an "appropriate" speech.

After Ambassador Everett's two-hour speech, President Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most well-known speeches in our nation's history: the Gettysburg Address. His two-minute long, 10-sentence, 272-word speech reaffirmed the notion of human equality, recast the ongoing war as a "new birth of freedom", and asserted the primacy of the nation-state over the rights of individual states to protect individual freedoms.

Though the Civil War would rage for another 17 months, with tens of thousands more to perish, our nation is the greater for Lincoln's tireless efforts to preserve not only the Union, but the values that make our Union great.

And again, "it is for us the living" to ensure that those words from seven score and four years ago remind us of our duty to the future -- that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.

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12.11.07

Do the Dew

My personal favorite soft drink (Mountain Dew) was invented right here, in east Tennessee, some 60 years ago. The trademark was awarded on this day, November 12th, 1948, to the Hartman brothers of Knoxville (who invented the drink as a mixer for whiskey).

Pepsi-Cola bought the franchise in 1964, and today there are nearly a dozen flavors and several brand varieties. Knoxville Trivia Blog has a great timeline on the Dew's evolution (including early marketing techniques to correlate the drink to Appalachia-distilled Moonshine), and even Wikipedia has a page on the drink.

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11.11.07

Veterans/Remembrance Day

The armistice that ended "The Great War" (World War I) was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month: November 11th, 1918. Europeans commemorate this day as "Armistice Day", Americans as "Veterans Day", and citizens of the Commonwealth as "Remembrance Day".

Poppies grow in profusion in Flanders (northern Belgium), where many many casualties of the war were buried. The poem "In Flanders Fields" was written by a Canadian physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, in the trenches on the battle front a day after he witnessed the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. The poem:


In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row
,
That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below
.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.



As we honor the service of those who ensure our security, let us also remember those who gave their "last full measure of devotion" -- in Flanders Fields, and elsewhere.

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8.11.07

ORNL Honors Vets

Oak Ridge National Lab held its 8th annual "Veterans' Day Parade and Celebration" today, which featured a rousing "military medley" by the Roane County High School Marching Band and a blunt, no-nonsense speech by GEN(ret) Carl Stiner (former Commander, Special Operations Command). GEN Stiner decried the lack of sacrifice on the part of too many Americans with respect to the "War on Terror", and equated the dwindling pool of "qualified" applicants for military service to America's declining status as a superpower.

Most of the evening has been spent getting ready for this weekend's six performances for The Nutcracker, sponsored by the Oak Ridge Civic Ballet Association. Eldest child will be in both the "Party Scene" as well as the "Snow Scene", while I have been recruited to be a "Party Dad". Should be fun....

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27.10.07

Redezvous with Destiny

At the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, California, a former Democrat named Ronald Reagan gave a nomination speech for Senator Barry Goldwater, a conservative from Arizona. This speech, called "A Time for Choosing" (televised again the week before the election, on Oct. 27th 1964), is considered one of the most effective speeches made on behalf of a candidate and catapulted Reagan into national politics.

Some key excerpts that are germane today:

There can be no real peace while one American is dying some place in the world for the rest of us. We are at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars, and it has been said if we lose that war, and in doing so lose this way of freedom of ours, history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening. Well, I think it's time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers.


and ...


This is the last stand on Earth. And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except to sovereign people, is still the newest and most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this election. Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves. You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down--up to a man's age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order--or down to the ant heap totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.


Much of Reagan's "call to arms" against Soviet totalitarianism is apt today, in our present fight against Islamofascism and the forces of nihilism. Our choice is the same: whether we will choose a "... policy of accommodation [and] appeasement [that] gives no choice between peace and war," or if "[w]e will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on Earth, [rather than] sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness."

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22.10.07

Terror vs. the Marines: Beirut

At 6:22am local time in Beirut (4:22am GMT) on Sunday, October 23rd, 1983, a yellow Mercedes-Benz delivery truck (taking the place of a hijacked water delivery truck) approached the U.S. Marine Corps compound near the Beirut International Airport. Marines from the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (1/8) were deployed there as part of an international peacekeeping force (Multinational Force in Lebanon) to oversee the withdrawal of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon the previous year.

The flatbed truck turned onto the access road toward the Marine compound, circled a parking lot, and accelerated toward the sentry post. Since “suicide bombing” was a relatively new development in the post-kamikaze age (perfected by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka in the previous few years), force protection measures pale in comparison to today: there were no “Jersey barriers” obstructing direct access into the compound, the only barricades were sewer pipes behind a raised gate, nearby perimeter fencing was simple barbed wire, and “Rules of Engagement” for the sentries were so restrictive that they could not load and raise their weapons until the truck had already crashed into the lobby of the four-story cinderblock barracks building.

Nearly 12,000 pounds of explosives were detonated by the driver, lifting the building from its 15’ circumference footings and causing it to collapse into rubble. 241 U.S. servicemen died that morning, including 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel, and 3 Army soldiers – the deadliest single-day toll for the Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.

Almost simultaneously with the attack on the Marine Barracks, an identical attack was made against the barracks of the French 3rd Company of the 6th Parachute Infantry Regiment, killing 58.

In 2003 a U.S. District Court judge declared that the Islamic Republic of Iran was responsible for these attacks, since Hezbollah was entirely dependent on Iran in 1983. Just last month (September 2007), the same District Judge ordered that Iran pay $2.65 Billion to the families of the killed servicemen.

Today, 1/8 continues to proudly serve our nation as part of 2nd Marine Division under II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF). They are currently under the able leadership of LtCol Mike Saleh, USMC, deployed to Al Anbar Province in western Iraq as “Task Force 1/8”.

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16.10.07

Selective Hearing

Last Friday afternoon, at the Military Reporters and Editors Luncheon, LTG(ret) Ricardo Sanchez -- former commander of the Army's V Corps and the top U.S. commander in Iraq until 2004 -- leveled a series of broadside blasts at the mainstream media, the ineffectiveness of the National Security Council, and the partisan bickering in Washington.

If you read any of the copious media reports this past weekend (like these gems from AP and the NYTimes), you undoubtedly read the most damning accusations of a national "nightmare with no end in sight", that "America has failed". However, of all the vitriol he let slip last Friday, the only parts covered by the major media outlets were those most critical of the war and the Bush administration.

Too bad the media didn't present the full story. Thankfully, the blogosphere is replete with pundits who have called the media on their fundamental failure to adhere to their own ethical standards of truthfulness and fairness.

First, and most importantly, is the complete transcript of General Sanchez's remarks (c/o his hosts last Friday). It clocks in at just over 3,400 words and about 10 pages, but it is well worth a careful read.

A sampling of blogs who have called the mainstream media on their "selective hearing":
As this 'blog is intended to be a forum for challenging our mainstream opinions, [and] for identifying the Wizards in our midst, I encourage you to each view all the available evidence and decide for yourself what message General Sanchez intended.

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26.9.07

Languages

September 26th is "European Day of Languages", encouraging language learning across Europe. Regretfully, I only know a smattering of words in a few languages (mostly Spanish) -- though at one time in my life I knew how to say Beer in 14 different languages. I have always been impressed by people that are able to become fluent in another language.

Like they say in France, a person who can speak two languages is bilingue, while a person who speaks only one is Américain...

Rather than wallow in my linguistic inadequacy, I decided to follow a link from blogger Layer 8 to determine "Which Ancient Language" I am. (I figured out after the test that this is a dating site, so hopefully the spam load in my mailbox won't increase...). The results:

You scored: Akkadian



You are Akkadian, a blend of the incomprehensible symbols of the Sumerians with the unwritable sounds of the early Semitic peoples. However, the writing just doesn't suit the words and doesn't represent everything needed, so you end up a schizoid mess. Invented in Babylon, you're probably to blame for that tower story. However, crazy as you are, you're much loved and appreciated, and remain actively in use by records keepers long after schools have switched to other languages.

Could it be coincidence that my characteristic "Ancient Language" is from what is today known as the Al-Anbar Governate in Iraq, the area recently stabilized in large part by the U.S. Marine Corps? And that my own ancestors (grandmother, grandfather, uncle, stepdad, cousin) are all Marines?

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