Sunday, July 31, 2005

The War on Terror is over... On with the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism!

Good lord. I'm listening to NPR, and they're talking about how the White House has changed monikers for whatever's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It has been, in the past, referred to "The War on Terror." Now, it's the "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism."

More than a year ago, I was informed that I was going to be putting a new award on my Class-A uniform - a medal being awarded to every soldier in the Army, called the "Global War on Terror Service Medal" or GWOTSM. I guess we're now going to have "GSAVEOSM" now. Let's hope I don't have to get a new one at U.S. Cav now.

What's this all about, then? We've dropped the "war," dropped the "terrorism," and replaced them with "struggle" and "violent extremism." Does this strike anyone else as more dancing around the issue? Does anyone think it's strange that the language we use has to be so carefully and sensitively constructed?

I can't help but think of George Orwell's 1984.


UPDATE: Open Posting at Mudville!

Friday, July 29, 2005

NYT takes another look at Basic Training

I mentioned a while ago that the New York Times had a reporter here doing a revisit to the trainee abuse story, which resulted in courts-martial for several drill sergeants here - including now-Staff Sgt. David Price - and their company commander, Capt. William Fulton.

The story is here, and I think Mr. Eckholm did a decent job of it.

Pentagon leaders reject the notion that training is aided by humiliation and hazing. And now, as the military struggles during wartime to fill its ranks, commanders appear to be more sensitive than ever to accusations of abuse.

Their rapid, public response in the Fort Knox cases reflect a concerted effort to demonstrate, to the public and to the trainers, that such behavior will not be tolerated.
The piece goes on to include quotes from Staff Sgt. Michael Rhoades, who was convicted by a court-martial and given a bad-conduct discharge. He says he felt that his conviction was part of an "agenda" to do anything to keep the Army from "getting a black eye."

Eckholm watched a few Basic Training exercises, including one I never went through:

In one exercise on a recent morning here, recruits carried rifles retrofitted with lasers and watched filmed simulations of scenes from Iraq, like cars approaching a checkpoint and a forced entry into a house. The recruits had to decide if and when to open fire.

When they shot without clear cause, the special instructor, a combat veteran, told them they could face jail for a "bad shoot." When they were too slow to kill an attacker, the instructor told them he would send condolence letters to their parents.
It's a worthwhile read.


UPDATE: Open Posting at Mudville!
UPDATE: Open Posting at Citizen Smash!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

"Over There" met with some hostility

Like Blackfive, I missed the premiere of FX's new show "Over There" last night. However, he's opened the comments section of the post up to readers who had seen it and want to comment on the program, and comment they have.

Not many people are very pleased with the pilot episode, which, they say, relies on worn-out military stereotypes, including an NCO who yells to make up for unprofessionalism and a clueless but eager lieutenant.

Naturally, comparisons to "Over There" and "every negative cliche-filled Vietnam film between The Green Berets and We Were Soldiers" were drawn.

The dialogue is trite, the readers say, and some monologues could have been lifted straight out of M*A*S*H.

Well, I guess I'm not completely surprised, by the content of the show or by the reaction of the MilBlogosphere. [N.B.: Wouldn't it be more fun to call it the Blog-O-Sphere? Or the Blog O'Sphere?]

Anything less than a glowing account of professional soldiers going into a tough situation and consistently doing the right thing was going to draw fire from military supporters around the world, and that's understandable. But it seems a lot of people are upset with the depiction of soldiers falling into hackneyed archetypes. I think I know why this might have happened.

In the movie M*A*S*H, and basically any other movie about wars set in Vietnam or before, one of the boons given to writers was the fact that the draft was in place. You could include a definitively non-military character like Donald Sutherland's Capt. Hawkeye Pierce and explain his presence away by saying, "Oh, he was drafted."

Now, however, times are different, and we've got an all-volunteer force (which, by the way, I don't think is going to change, recruiting shortfalls notwithstanding).

This forces the writers to answer an important question for each character - Why is this person in the military?

Based solely on the comments in Matt's post, it looks like the "Over There" writers went about it in the wrong way -- at least, sort of. The soldiers joined out of economic desperation, money for college, and in one case, a "rash decision."

I think the reason they've wound up with the cast of characters they have is that they aren't asking the question the right way. Instead of "why did this person join the Army," they're really working off the question "whose fault is it that this person is in the Army?"

Being completely honest here, I'll say that pure, unfettered patriotism is not a leading cause for enlistment. But senses of patriotism and duty are not completely divorced from any decision to join the military, either. You need at least a little of both just to walk into a recruiter's office.

That said, I've met my fair share of rotten soldiers -- but this is a garrison, and the sense of connection to the war -- and sometimes, to the rest of the Army -- can be strained, at best. I walk to work past an elementary school, rows of red brick officer housing, a huge green parade field, and come in to work on the sports section of a weekly newspaper. It can be hard for me to identify with the guys clearing buildings in places called Najaf and Fallujah, at least on a down-to-earth, day-to-day basis.

And yes, in an environment like this, there are soldiers who fall prey to the temptation to "get lazy," and I'll be the first to admit that I've done it, too. I may know cerebrally that when I fire my weapon to qualify, I'm doing it so that I'll be able to hit whatever I'm aiming at in a combat zone. But viscerally, the connection is strained and weak.

I've gotten a bit far afield here. My point is that while a certain amount of stereotyping and archetyping is understandable in a one-hour show, it isn't fair to the multitude of individuals who make up the Army (and spare me the "Army of One" garbage -- that was maybe the worst idea to come out of USAREC, ever) to boil everyone down to retreads of characters from "Hamburger Hill."

It's worth noting, as well, that sergeants do yell in many cases, and that there's a cadence that includes the phrase, "You can't spell 'lost' without LT." Lieutenants, in some cases I've seen, are somewhat reviled for their rather unique mixture of authority and inexperience. But you certainly can't make that a character-defining attribute, since the same lieutenants who insist on laminating maps are usually also consummate professionals and are willing to learn from the experience represented in their Non-coms.

Ack, I'm getting bogged down into specifics again. Here's my final point.

Don't forget that "apolitical" or not, pro- or anti-war or not, "Over There," at its core, is exploitation. Yes, this is a "war is hell" show about the horrors of armed conflict, but it exists solely for entertainment. It uses the still-raging war in Iraq as a means to guarantee solid ratings, and whether it's out to "make a point" is immaterial. It's sheer exploitation, pure and simple, for the sake of American audiences who are interested in the war without really wanting to commit anything to it.


UPDATE: John at TheDonovan reports with "'Over There' Report, by Ry. " Citizen Smash has an Open Post.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sports Commentary, July 28

Here's the commentary I did for this week's edition.

Can Ricky Williams save the Dolphins?


The Miami Dolphins should be interesting to watch this fall when the NFL kicks back into gear, thanks to the return of prodigal Fish son Ricky Williams.

Williams disappeared about a year ago, a week before the Dolphins started training camp, reneging on a $5 million per year contract and turning instead to the study of holistic medicine in California.

In an interview with 60 Minutes' Mike Wallace six months later, Williams revealed that hed fled football not just to explore alternative theories of life as he's claimed at other times, but to avoid the public humiliation associated with failing a third 'holistic medicine' test.

So he ran off to Australia and lived in a tent, which sounds a lot like the 1972 kids' book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" by Judith Viorst, where the main character wakes up with gum in his hair and wishes he could run away to Australia.

Come to think of it, lately Williams has looked like he may very well have gum in his hair, too.

Fast-forward to now. A conciliatory Williams showed up for Miami's training camp (despite expressing an interest in playing for the Oakland Raiders during his 60 Minutes interview), and now has an $8.6 million tab to pay off for breaching his contract last year.

The Dolphins, so far, haven't pressed him for it, and they may very well keep it around to hang over Williams' head if he ever develops that pesky wanderlust again.

It would take him a while to pay off even if they did, since Williams will be playing for just over $400,000 this season after his contract violation disqualified him from most of the bonuses and incentives he earned in years past, and the four-game suspension he has yet to serve will axe about a quarter of his base pay.

Yes, poor Williams has dug himself quite a hole to climb out of, but he just might be able to pull it off. The Dolphins foundered at 4-12 last season without him, and if -- IF -- he's still got what he had before he took off on his vision quest, he could turn this year into a very different season for Miami.

During his two years on the Dolphins, he rushed for 3,225 yards, with 25 rushing touchdowns. Those definitely are not numbers to thumb one's nose at.

Williams' return to training camp isn't going on in a vacuum. Its almost poetically ironic that while he's playing this season, it's anybodys guess as to whether wide receiver Terrell Owens, who was the shining hope of Philadelphia last season, will show up for camp. Last I heard, it's a 50-50 chance.

Same thing for the Colts' running back Edgerrin James and a host of other players. What's the issue? Contract renegotiations. They want more money.

I suppose players who don't have Ricky Williams' history of self-medicating are entitled to a chance to go back to the contract drawing board, but I'll be excited to see if the NFL's Prodigal Son can show them all up for just 400 large a year.


West Point picks up BroGonzo photo

Hooray! The United States Military Academy at West Point has put one of my photos on their website, here. It's the one by the headline "Combat vets train cadets." Three cheers for exposure!


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Discovery heads into orbit

Shuttle Discovery has taken off and is headed into orbit, signalling the United States re-entry into space.

Why was it we needed to be in space again? Oh yeah... 12-day mission to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

Which does what, exactly?

Here's an idea. Let's quit sending people, monkeys, and supplies into orbit, and let's quit sending remote control cars to Mars. I think I know how we can minimize the risk to everyone involved. We'll take NASA's entire $16.2 billion budget and put it in a pile on the tarmac in Cape Canaveral. Get everyone to back up, soak all those greasy bills in gasoline, and burn 'em. We'd get about as much done.


Monday, July 25, 2005

Grand Theft Auto: A showcase for American hypocrisy

Long story short - the PC version of the third "Grand Theft Auto III" game, subtitled "San Andreas," hit stores, and geeks somewhere discovered code that "unlocked" a secret part of the game, where characters engage in sex. Apparently, three-dimensionally-rendered breasts are present in the game, and only need a special "mod" to be unlocked and foisted upon impressionable video-game players everywhere.

I haven't played the game, but I've seen it in action. Players take on the role of a young black man in a fictionalized version of early 1990s-era California, starting out in a Compton-esque ghetto. One of the character's buddies is never seen without a joint in his mouth, "foul language" is the order of the day, and most of the game time is spent collecting weapons, stealing cars, and shooting people, including random pedestrians. Apparently, there's a gang-warfare element, but most of the people I've seen play any of the Grand Theft Auto games get the most delight out of finding a baseball bat to beat hookers to death with. Interestingly, the game designers took the extra effort to make sure you could continue to beat the prostitutes (who you can also pick up in your car and do business with) after they're dead.

But no one really had a problem with all that, at least not until this new "mod" came out. Sure, plug-airating cops, stealing military vehicles, covering sidewalks in civilian blood, dealing drugs, and the rest are fine. But we certainly can't have any sex involved, right?

Certainly not! In fact, the good New York Senator Hillary Clinton has demanded that a special team "investigate" the presence of the raunchy material, and find out if it was indeed "maliciously" coded into the game by perverts on the order of Michael Ja... wait, he's innocent. On the order of Pee-Wee Herman, people intent on warping the minds of our young generation.

It got so bad that the body who rates video games for content has moved the game from "M" (Mature) to "AO," for Adults Only. Practically speaking, this means that the age required to purchase the game without parental consent goes from 17 to 18.

What the hell is going on here?

This is by no means the only example of American strangeness when it comes to public perception of the appropriateness of violence versus that of sex. "Frank Miller's Sin City" came out a while back, and while the movie does contain numerous instances of cannibalism, castration, decapitation, and other bloody examples of brutality (some of which may not even have names yet), there isn't (I don't think) an actual sex scene in the film. So it ran, and it ran with a standard "R" rating.

Five years ago, I spent a semester in Austria. During that time, I was surprised to learn that while Austrians, Germans, and the French don't televise much graphic violence, they're more than willing to broadcast ads (at least late at night) that would be considered obscene pornography in the U.S. From what I gathered, Europeans are shocked by the violence on American television, and at the same time, completely befuddled as to our hang-ups over sex.

Certainly, I'm not saying that Austrians, Germans, or French people have everything figured out. What I'm saying is that we've got a bit of a screwed-up attitude when it comes to sex. Honestly, I really don't think that seeing Janet Jackson's (that's another one in the same post!) ninja-starred breast at the Super Bowl was as traumatic, in the grand scheme of things, as seeing... well, what's a good example? Russell Crowe's "Gladiator" slicing an opponent's head off? Mel Gibson eviscerated in "Braveheart"? Keifer Sutherland's Jack Bauer character in "24" gunning down anyone who gets in his way in some Machiavellian quest to save the country from nuclear disaster?

Why are breasts so damn bad, anyway? Look, I appreciate the whole "private parts" thing, but I'd think that killing someone is worse by at least an order of magnitude than seeing their naughty bits.

The concept is traceable back to our Puritan ancestors, who thought, with the best of intentions, that the human body was by nature defiled and dirty. We've come to where we're at, centuries later, with the underlying idea that sex is something bad, dirty, naughty (these are really the words we use to describe it!), and ought to be hidden and never discussed. That's the premise on which it's used these days -- it's the forbidden fruit, which is why it sells so much beer.

My rant has run out of steam. But seriously, am I alone in thinking that it's funny that the first time people get up in arms about a video game that features "wanton and gratuitous violence" and casual drug use is when they find out that there's sex in it? Shouldn't the watchdogs have gotten pissed off a while ago?


UPDATE: Open Posting at Mudville!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Rogers deserves what he got

Kenny Rogers
what he got

By SPC. IAN BOUDREAU/Turret Sports Editor

Kenny Rogers seems intent on remaining in the Danger Zone.

No, wait -- not him. That's Kenny Loggins. I mean the guy who has it out for TV cameramen.

The whole story, with which readers are no doubt familiar, started June 29, when Rogers took it upon himself to channel the spirit of Ron Artest (with maybe a little inspiration from Randy Johnson) and "lash out" at two cameramen who were trying to get some footage of pre-game stretching.

The footage has been playing on sports television ever since -- and it's clear to anyone that Rogers was in the wrong. He tore the camera off of KDFW cameraman Larry Rodriguez, throwing it to the ground.

The photographer wound up in the hospital, and Rogers eventually wound up getting booked into the county jail.

I'm well aware there are Rogers apologists out there; people who want to make sure everyone understands all the factors that went into what he did, who want us all to know he's not only the Rangers' best pitcher and a 16-year Major League veteran (he pitched the league's seventh perfect game), but also a great guy. He just "shuns publicity" and wants to "play the game."

I almost bought that version of the story when I watched Rogers' emotional apology after the fact. He seemed deeply troubled by what he'd done, and I figured maybe he was just a serious baseball player with a short fuse. That's certainly nothing new.

But that theory came crashing down this week when Rogers showed up to appeal the 20-game, $50,000 penalty that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig slapped him with.

According to an Associated Press' MLB wire story released Monday, while Rogers was being booked in the county jail on misdemeanor assault charges, he turned on cameraman Mike Zukerman from Dallas-Fort Worth station WFAA, saying, "You're getting pretty close, you know that? You hear me?"

Rogers may or may not have been implying that Zukerman would have done well to remember that the pitcher had put another cameraman in the hospital only a few weeks before.

The AP story has it that when Zukerman said, "It's just my job, Kenny," Rogers retorted with "Yeah. Your job. That's just your excuse."

Maybe it's true that Rogers just hates publicity. But doesn't it seem strange that anyone involved in professional sports for 16 years -- particularly a starting Major League pitcher -- could think that he could completely avoid television cameras? Shouldn't Rogers know by now that publicity is part and parcel with being a key player on a professional team?

And seriously, picking a cameraman to take out pent-up aggression on seems slightly unhinged to me. I'm sure Rogers is familiar with how those things work n they take moving pictures of what's going on in front of them, including rage-filled tirades from angry players, and put them on videotape.

Whether those tapes show up on Sports Center or in a courtroom, it's a pretty bad way to "shun publicity." Regardless of the penalty assessed by law enforcement or the league, Rogers has thrust himself into the public spotlight, not by playing the game, but by breaking the rules.

Shouldn't he know better by now?


Johnnie Walker Red

The night before I left for Basic Training, nearly three years ago, my mom took me around town to say a couple goodbyes and pick up some last-minute supplies - soap, a comb (which turned out to be pretty damn useless), stationery, socks, the usual load-out.

That evening, after we got home, she produced a brown paper bag and slid out a fifth of Johnnie Walker Red Label scotch.

"Thanks," I said, considerably surprised. During university, I'd been quite a drinker, which was a habit I brought home with me during the summers, and which caused my parents, I'm sure, no small amount of dismay. I remember once, that summer, my dad asking me about a smashed bottle of Baileys and a broken brandy snifter he'd found on the back porch steps. All I could do was shrug.

But I guess Mom knew that day was going to be my last hurrah before a drastic change in my life. She gave me a hug and told me she loved me.

That night, I sat out in back of the kitchen door on the breezeway between the house and the garage, taking long, leisurely draws off the bottle of Johnnie Walker. I thought about my home and my family, my friends, the four years at university that had flown by so quickly, the friends I'd made there, and mostly, the big, dark, immediate future.

As I drank, I thought about what I might have done instead of enlisting. I thought about where I might be in six months if left to my own devices.

Some of my friends from town stopped by as the moon and the fireflies came out. I was about two hours into the scotch and there were perhaps four or five fingers left in the bottle.

We had a long, awkward, surreal conversation. I hugged them when they left, and I knew it would be a long time before I saw them again.

I sat there for a long time, not knowing how to feel or what to think, standing at a crossroads or milestone... some major point, at least for me.

I sat until the sun came up. My recruiter pulled in, and it was time to go.

* * * * * *

I've cut down on the drinking since, mostly in the past couple months, mindful of a New Years' resolution I made seven months ago. But I bought a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red, just because I'm feeling nostalgic, and sometimes I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I'd told my recruiter to turn his GOV around.

It's not that I completely regret joining the Army, not at all. It's more that I'm intrigued by the idea of what my life might look like now if it hadn't been for the Army. Would I be a better person? Worse?

Different, certainly.

And there are changes yet to come.


Explosions in London

More explosions in the London mass-transit system.

This looks more like a "copy-cat" prank at this point, but in any case, Tony Blair has cancelled appointments for this afternoon and instead will meet with the COBRA emergency group.


Wear body armor

This is slightly outdated, but watch this video at GoJackArmy.

Then go read
this commentary at for the whole story and some perspective.

Pfc. Stephen Tschiderer should be all over every news outlet, but he's not. I suppose he'd only warrant attention if he had "tortured" his would-be murderer by
hooking him up with a lap dance or something.

Not too far away from the New York Times' offices, there are places where people pay good money to be "touched" by women in uniforms.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It's Mary Jo Kopechne Day!

Check out this site for a reminder of what happened involving a certain well-related Massachusetts senator, a river, and a certain young woman on this day in The Summer of Love, 1969.

Thanks to Gonzo's Bar and Go-Go Grill II (a different Gonzo, apparently, but I'm still the one with the tattoo) and NZ Bear's John Roberts tracking page.


Friday, July 15, 2005

"Live 8 was an insult to Africans"

Someone in Africa thinks the same way I do about the contribution Sir Bob Geldof and company made with Live 8.

Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme writes for the Cameroonian Le Messenger, reprinted by the New York Times, that Africa doesn't need debt relief or food aid, it needs revolution:

Don't insult Africa, this continent so rich yet so badly led. Instead, insult its leaders, who have ruined everything. Our anger is all the greater because despite all the presidents for life, despite all the evidence of genocide, we didn't hear anyone at Live 8 raise a cry for democracy in Africa.
But the truth is that it was not for us, for Africa, that the musicians at Live 8 were singing; it was to amuse the crowds and to clear their own consciences, and whether they realized it or not, to reinforce dictatorships. They still believe us to be like children that they must save, as if we don't realize ourselves what the source of our problems is.
Strong words, and as great a song as "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is, I'd say Mr. Bono should probably consider Tonme's perspective.


UPDATE: Open Posting at Mudville!

Ann Coulter and the Moral Equivalency Game

My mom sent me a printout of this Ann Coulter article in the mail: "Thou Shalt Not Commit Religion." In it, the aggressively conservative Coulter attempts to put displays of the Ten Commandments in federal and state buildings in the same category as obscene NEA-funded "art exhibits."

Rotten argument: "Well, they get to do what they want!" It's petulant and pointless, and Coulter is clearly preaching to her own choir. But let's look at a couple of her points, shall we?

To put the Supreme Court's recent ban on the Ten Commandments display in perspective, here is a small sampling of other speech that has been funded in whole or in part by taxpayers:

- Graphic videos demonstrating how to put a condom on and pep talks by "Planned Parenthood educators." -- sex education classes at public schools across the nation

Okay, we can discuss the validity of sex education methods - curriculum, starting ages, and all of that - at some point, but to trying to glibly equate all sex education methods with pornography is ridiculous. Moving along.

Korans distributed to aspiring terrorists at Guantanamo. -- U.S. military
This one's telling. The implication, of course, is that the Koran (Islam, that is) causes terrorism. Well, there are certainly those who use radical forms of Islam to justify terrorism, but I don't think I'm alone when I say that I'm not willing to condemn the entire faith for the actions of a few murderous fanatics. Anyone think she might be a little disingenuous?

Besides, the comparison is ludicrous, since U.S. prison inmates are given access to Bibles and Korans, and allowing prisoners access to religious material is different than prominently displaying a religious code of law or symbol in the court house of a supposedly religiously-impartial government.

- "If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers (than the attack of 9/11), I'd really be interested in hearing about it." -- Ward Churchill, professor, University of Colorado

- We need "a million more Mogadishus" (referring to the slaughter of 18 American soldiers during a peacekeeping mission in Somalia in 1993). -- Nicholas De Genova, assistant professor, Columbia University
As much as I'm sure it grates on Coulter that people are allowed to say things like this, tough luck. Freedom of speech, Ann. That includes nutty college professors broadcasting their insanity, as well as people like Jerry Falwell pointing out gay cartoon characters and Telle-Tubbies for us.

- "The entire federal government -- the Congress, the executive, the courts -- is united behind a right-wing agenda for which George W. Bush believes he now has a mandate. That agenda includes the power of the state to force pregnant women to surrender control over their own lives. ... If you like the Supreme Court that put George W. Bush in the White House, you will swoon over what's coming. And if you like God in government, get ready for the Rapture ..." -- Bill Moyers' commentary on PBS' "Now"
PBS is given a government grant, but the government doesn't control what PBS does. I think that's a pretty good deal.

"Kiss it." -- governor of Arkansas to state employee

Oooooh, how intimidating. How about: "Fuck off," as said by Vice President Dick Cheney to Sen. Patrick Leahy?

The rest of her bullets are a bunch of examples of NEA-funded art exhibits, posters, and novels that all contain obscene, vulgar, or adult material. Figuring out what the NEA can and can't fund is another discussion altogether (although it wouldn't be much of an "art" endowment if there were censors around, right?)

But by this time, Coulter's taken her readers pretty far afield, and a long way away from the idea of posting religious symbols in a federal court house. The only argument she's making is "Look at all these nasty, dirty, evil forms of speech we allow! If they can do that, then surely we should be able to have some good, wholesome, Christian commandments in our courthouses! It's only fair!"

Is this the kind of school-yard rhetoric that passes for punditry these days? Damn, I can pull stuff out of my ass, too! With a blonde wig, I could be famous!


UPDATE: Open Posting at Mudville!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Photoblog - Paladins

I shot this today at St. Vith range.

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Cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point watched as Paladin self-propelled artillery fired at St. Vith range on Fort Knox. The cadets were getting a "hands-on" experience with the Field Artillery branch, courtesy of combat veterans from Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, part of the 1st Cavalry Division's DIVARTY.


UPDATE: Open Post at Mudville!

UPDATE II: Here's a shot of a round impacting on the range hillside:

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Sports commentary - What are wristbands really supporting?

Here's the sports commentary I did for last week's Turret. I got a significant amount of hate mail about this one - meaning three emails. At least people are reading!

What are wristbands
really supporting?

By Spc. Ian Boudreau
Turret Sports Editor

Wednesday morning, Lance Armstrong seemed poised to take his seventh consecutive win in the Tour de France, leading by 55 seconds over American David Zabriskie.

Also, leaders of the world's wealthiest eight nations began talks yesterday in Scotland to discuss aid to Africa and world climate change. The conference was preceded by Sir Bob Geldof's Live 8 worldwide concert series, billed as the biggest gig ever.

What do these two seemingly disparate events have in common?

Rubber wristbands.

Yes, you can see the yellow "Livestrong" bracelets everywhere now, advertising to the world that the wearer has donated some pocket change to cancer research. The newer white "One" bracelets demonstrate that the wrists they surround belong to people who have donated something to the cause of African debt relief.

Even more pervasive are the magnetic ribbons people place on their vehicles. There are a whole rainbow of colors for theseyellow for "Support the Troops," pink for breast cancer, black for POW/MIA, and others I haven't catalogued, including camouflage, yellow with the Stars and Stripes, blue, ochre, and mauve.

Admittedly, all of these are ostensibly in support of worthy causes (except, perhaps, the sarcastic black wristbands that say "Livewrong").

So why do they bug me so much? It's because wearing a bracelet or putting a magnet on a car is a meaningless act in itself, at least as far as the "cause" is concerned. All it does is say, "Look at me! I support something!"

I think charitable donations are a great way to give back to the world, but I think something is lost when you get a prize for making them. It reminds me of being a kid and asking for a specific brand of junk-food breakfast cereal just because there was some kind of transforming robot or decoder ring at the bottom of the box -- not because I really liked the cereal.

Furthermore, just wearing a bracelet or displaying a magnet on a vehicle isn't really supporting anything, practically speaking. I see "Support the Troops" signs everywhere, but it would be good to know that the support went further than mere words.

Before anyone gets too indignant, I want to say that I think supporting the troops is a vital and wonderful thing for those of us in the United States. All I'm saying is that a magnet on a Volvo scooting up Dixie Highway isn't doing anyone in the Green Zone any real good.

So support cancer research. Support the troops. Support African debt relief. But do so in ways that really make a differenceby contributing your time and income and encouraging your friends, family, and community members to do the same.

Showing off only cheapens your contribution.

It's been said that virtue is its own reward.


Monday, July 11, 2005

Photoblog - Marines MOUT training

After an already-busy morning, I wound up heading out to one of Fort Knox's proudest fixtures: the Zussman Urban Combat training center, one of the U.S. military's premier MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) sites. I shot photos of Marine Reserve Company E, 4th Tank division, working on anti-insurgent operations in driving rain. Here are some photos:

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Two Abrams tanks headed down the south road to gain position on the site of a "disabled" M-113 personnel carrier. The bridge in the center is rigged to "blow," and comes complete with pyrotechnics and hydraulics to simulate.

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Marines dragged a simulated casualty of sniper fire behind the cover of some disabled vans. The vehicles might have provided some cover from small-arms fire...

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But not from mortar fire, which the insurgents "walked" onto their position. Several more Marines were assessed as casualties after this hit.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was a rocket-propelled grenade strike:

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It was exciting to watch real training again after so long. I used to cover 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment's exercises on the Korea Training Center back when I was in 2ID, and strangely enough, I ran into a major who used to work as their operations officer shortly before I headed out to Zussman today. I was waiting to do a retirement interview with our post command sergeant major (who gave me his coin afterward), and I noticed the familiar namestrip. He looked at me and squinted with vague recognition -- "You're a reporter, aren't you?"

"Yes, sir," I said. "I think I know you from Korea, sir... 4/7 Cav?"

"That's right! I knew I remembered you from somewhere!"

It's strange to shoot the breeze with staff officers, but sometimes it happens. He said his squadron had always been excited when the Indianhead staff came up to cover 4/7's live-fires, and I thanked him for having made it easy for us to do, since he'd always made a point of facilitating any coverage we wanted for the paper.

So in the spectrum of Mondays, which are known usually for running from bad to worse, this one was pretty damn good. I should be in good shape tomorrow as well, since I got most of my deadline stuff done today. We'll see, however. Wrenches have a tendency of being thrown into the works when deadlines get close, hence the saying, "another deadline, another miracle."


UPDATE: Taking advantage of Mudville's Open Posting! Thanks, Greyhawks!

Friday, July 08, 2005

London bombings

I haven't posted anything yet on the bombings in London, and I'm still not sure what to say. What's happened is a crime against humanity, and a great tragedy. My sincerest condolences to those who have been affected by this in any way.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

Will the real George Steinbrenner please stand up?

The Finch pointed me to this awesome article on New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner by Bill Simmons, one of the best sportswriters (and comic writers, really) around:

Has anyone seen the Boss?

Check it out:

Classic George -- he loved twisting the knife with Boston fans. The Red Sox had two months to acquire A-Rod, couldn't and wouldn't do it, and then they left the door open just enough for the Yankees to come barging in. When it came right down to it, Steinbrenner always went the extra distance for his fans. If he could kick the Red Sox as it was happening and inject some of his trademark pomposity, all the better. I remember reading that quote two winters ago and hanging my head.

And that's what made the last eleven months so inexplicable. Maybe he's old, maybe he's worn down ... after all, he did turn 75 this week.

Read the whole thing.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

O'Connor resignation "good" for the Ten Commandments?

Well, I was going to leave well enough alone on this Ten Commandments in public areas issue, but another article, at National Review this time, has inspired me to lay this out as best I can once again.

The piece's author, Vincent Phillip Munoz, says that Supreme Court justice Sandra Day-O'Connor's recent resignation from the United States' highest court could mean that those pesky obstructionists who want to remove religion from the public square will now have less power to... oh, I don't know, maybe hand the nation over to the sweaty palms of the American Civil Liberties Union or something. Whatever it is, he seems happy that the possibility of prayer in public schools and religious symbolism is perhaps stronger now that O'Connor, who voted against Ten Commandments displays in both the Kentucky and Texas decisions, is out of the picture.

I don't want prayer in schools. I don't want the Ten Commandments in courthouses. I don't want the word "God" to appear in the pledge of allegiance or on our currency. And here's why: mixing religion in government has not been a demonstrably positive influence on world history, and regardless of our "political and cultural heritage," I'd rather stay away from it altogether.

The conservatives who argue that the "establishment clause" of the Constitution prohibits only "establishment" and not "endorsement" usually share one common trait -- they're Christian. There's nothing wrong with being Christian, but one wonders what these same conservatives would be saying about allowing endorsement if the majority of our population was Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu. I sincerely doubt they'd be crowing as loud if it were the Pillars of Islam that were being posted in state courthouses.

The next point is that posting religious symbols in public areas does nothing to enhance the religious experience of individuals. Nothing. Again, anyone whose personal faith is so weak that they require something like the Ten Commandments posted where everyone can see them probably does not give even a fraction of a whit whether they're posted or not.

How about this? When it comes to posting the commandments in courthouses, doesn't it seem strange that the Ten Commandments are a different set of laws than the ones being enforced by the state or federal government? I might be a little rusty, but I don't remember seeing any United States law requiring citizens to respect their parents, regardless of how good an idea that is. Nor does the United States prohibit coveting the goods or the spouse of neighbors, or the taking of the Lord's name in vain -- Heck, the FCC will even let you do that on television now.

Most importantly, if and when I have children, I don't need them to learn about God, religion, faith, or anything spiritual from a government institution. Some may feel that it's failure on the part of parents when their children don't learn about God, but that certainly doesn't mean that it's the government's responsibility to pick up the slack. If kids are going to pray, then they should do it in the tradition their family has upheld or decided upon. Even those who are Christian should resist playing along with the version "endorsed" by the government.

Now, that being said, I want to make it clear to those who will call me a heathen, communist, ACLU-loving Jesus-hater that while I don't want our government to endorse any religion, I similarly don't want the government taking away anyone's right to freely express and practice their religion. That means that you should be able to mention God in commencement addresses and speak your mind about religion in public without fear of being censured by the government or by lawsuit-thirsty "special interests" who feel that their sensibilities have been offended by someone else's protected free expression.

This isn't "subjective," as Munoz seems to think. It's simple separation of church and state, and it's the way our country's supposed to operate.

The real thing for me is that this insistence on state-sponsored religious activity and demonstration bespeaks a reliance on the government to act as a parent. If someone's going to say grace before they eat, then let them. But we certainly don't need a reminder from our congressman, senator, Supreme Court justice, or president to do it.


UPDATE: Open Post at Mudville!

Slightly outdated photoblog

I shot this June 14, the morning of the Army's birthday.

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Two scoops of fun

I have learned from our esteemed colleagues in the Public Affairs Office side of the house that People Magazine and The New York Times are both here on Fort Knox today, and both are covering stories I've worked on already.

People, which I don't mind saying is a salacious rag, is covering the issue of marriage in the military - which is a hot issue since numbers released by the Army last month reveal that officer divorce rates nearly doubled in the past year.

Here's my story on the subject. Excerpt:

Multiple deployments are hitting Army families hard, particularly officers, according to numbers released by the Department of the Army.

Divorce numbers for Army officers nearly doubled last fiscal year, from 1,866 in 2003 to 3,325 in 2004. That's a jump from 3.3 percent to 6 percent of total officer marriages.
And then NYT is doing a piece on drill sergeants, which I covered here and here.

Watch for the NYT's take on drill sergeants. I'm doubtful that they're interested in helping the Army's flagging recruiting numbers. We'll see.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The tragedy of Live 8

Aha! Someone's hit the nail I've been looking for on the proverbial head. Here's Mark Steyn's take on the misguided beast that was Live8:

"Let's take it as read that Sir Bob and Sir Bono are exceptionally well informed and articulate on Africa's problems. Whey then didn't they get the rest of the guys round for a meeting beforehand with graphs and pie charts and bullet points in bright magic markers, so that Sir Dave and Dame Madonna would understand that Africa's problem is not a lack of 'aid.' The tragedy of Live8 is that its message was as cobwebbed as its repertoire."
Steyn praises capitalism in his piece and suggests that in the same way that Linda McCartney protected her estate from the Royal Treasury, so too could our own contributions to African poverty be protected by being kept out of the hands of government -- in other words, private donations are more efficient than raising taxes and GNP percentages.

The problem, as Steyn says, isn't a lack of "aid," anyway -- it's gross mismanagement of the aid once it gets into the hands of the self-serving dictators who run much of the African continent. Watch Blackhawk Down or Hotel Rwanda for background on this.

Besides, isn't devoting more tax dollars to overseas poverty relief a bit of a slap in the face to our nation's own poor? It's not as if the United States is short on people who are without homes or meals -- downtown Philadelphia, one of the Live8 concert sites, is a prime example.

Geldof has said that we can help relieve global poverty for the price of half a stick of gum. But if we go about it the way Live8 and have proposed, how much of that stick of gum is actually going to wind up in the hands of the people who need it? Once all the layers of the bureaucracy have have their handling fee, I don't suppose it would be very much.

Effort should be redirected to deposing the corrupt and greedy leaders who hold their populations hostage in Africa instead of strengthening and validating them by providing them with more global funding, however well-meaning. Cash is cash, and the same dollars that could be used to buy sacks of grain and irrigation can just as easily be spent on AK-47 rounds.


UPDATE: Open Post at Mudville.

UPDATE II: John O'Sullivan has a much more erudite way of saying this at the Chicago Sun-Times, via RealClearPolitics.

Monday, July 04, 2005

My Fourth

In the great American tradition of Independence Day, I went with some friends to a barbecue for a Fourth of July celebration Saturday.

We brought beer, bourbon, sausages, hamburgers, and fireworks, because you can't have a proper Fourth of July celebration without blowing something up.

I'd had CQ all day, and I was glad to get out of the barracks. I rode the 40 minutes out to our friends house with Ken and his new wife Joyce in their Explorer, and while Joyce drove, Ken fiddled with the radio and ashed his cigarette out the passenger side window.

We hit I-65, and he found a classic rock station. All three of us in the car were excited about the upcoming party, the weather was beautiful - the sun was streaming down in the early evening over the Kentucky fields, and "Baba O'Reilly" by The Who was blasting out of the speakers.

We listened to Roger Daltrey belt out the lyrics to the anthem, "Don't cry.... don't raise your eyes... it's only teenage wasteland!" while the rest of The Who hammered on drum kits, basses, and keyboards, and Pete Townsend thrashed his guitar in signature style.

Rush was next, with "Freewill," followed by Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads with "Crazy Train."

We had the windows rolled down as the Explorer crept up to 70 miles per hour, and sitting in the back with a smoke lit and the wind blowing past my face, I had the first profound sense of well-being that I'd had in a very long time.

I'm not sure what it was. Not the music on its own, that's for certain. I think it had something to do with the nostalgia I felt swept up in during that moment, which for one reason or another was enough to cover completely all the present-day frets and concerns that are on my mind all the time.


Hey, a quick break here - did anyone else know that Live 8 loudmouth Bob Geldof has three daughters, who he has named Fifi, Peaches, and Pixie? Doesn't that sort of limit their career options to the "exotic dancing" field?


I'll finish this later. Right now, I'm catching up on news.


Friday, July 01, 2005

The Holy Grail

... of horrible videos.

I've found it. It's the worst music video ever made. I really think that it's a joke... isn't it?

Watch it
here. Get tissues, because it's going to make you weep.

Also, if you'd like to lose your mind, go


UPDATE: Okay, I wasn't going to do this, but I have to. A Healthy Alternative to Work proudly presents "Dschingis Khan," a cult/German disco group from the late '70s, courtesty of WFMU's "Beware of the Blog."

I'm exhorting everyone to please watch this video, "The Rocking Son of Dschingis Khan." It'll change your life.