Monday, March 24, 2008

Pat Buchannan...

Pat Buchanan has posted a response to Obama's race speech which is good reading (if only for a laugh). Here is an excerpt:
First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.
ha ha, that's an argument I haven't heard in a really long time...slavery was good, because it brought you christian salvation! Hell, wasn't that the argument used to justify the inquisition--that bodily harm, if it brought your soul salvation, was not just OK, but good?

a changing Army

My Battalion Commander is on Facebook. Some years ago, a Battalion Commander was someone who would only elicit be into his office (as it was normally a he) meant trouble and pain. If you did not see him, or he you, you were probably doing something right. Yesterday, I got a Facebook message from her linking to a video on YouTube of Lieutenant General Caldwell on The Daily Show.

Times have changed. Mentorship, Professionalism and interaction have replaced fear and unquestioning obedience as the Army's modus operandi. (Can you imagine General MacArthur going on a late night television show to talk about how they train soldiers?) Some people think the change is not a good thing (read The Kinder, Gentler Military: Can America's Gender Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars?) but I would disagree with them.

I think our Army is more flexible, more dynamic, and leans towards rewarding critical thinking and innovation because of these changes. Like society in general, once we allow Officers and Soldiers to bring in new styles of leadership, new ideas and innovative ways of doing business, the Army will be able to pick and choose those ideas which work and leave those that don't behind.

If leadership happens over Facebook, so be it, and if the civil-military gap is bridged over the Daily Show, then God Bless it. Maybe the culture will forever change and the stories of WWII and We Were Soldiers and similar ideas of a military ethic will forever be lost, but a new culture is emerging and a new ethic which, I think, serves the country better, makes the military stronger, and makes it more adept at fighting the kinds of wars (both conventional and unconventional) that we will fight in the future. So, despite the obvious, it is a rather exciting time to be a part of the Army.

chaos and continuity...

I have found that my life has been changing, quickly, due in large part to being in the Army. However, because I am a West Pointer, I am constantly surrounded by other people who are constantly changing in very similar patterns. It makes for a very strange dynamic wherein even things which, in normal society, and amongst people not in our situation, we would, I think, more often stop and

An example may be a better way to help explain...

One year ago, I was going to a bar every night with friends, drinking a pitcher of beer, eating onion rings and cheeseburgers and always went to sleep at 1130 at night. I wore wool pants and plastic shoes everyday. My friends were always right around the corner and talk was of papers and studying...

one month later, I was living in Oklahoma firing weapons and driving around in trucks....

another month put me in the middle of Arizona where I was living in a hotel and learning about Russians...

and now, I'm here, at Fort Hood where conversation is about "deployment schedules" and soldiers and leadership and the pains and pleasures of being a decision maker. We have friends who go to Iraq and friends who come back and I rarely stop to question the fact that I've just spent two months exclusively with a group of people that, literally, overnight, I will not see again for years.

But...we're all going through it at the same time, so it doesn't seem strange or odd to me because, for my peer group, it's not. So, by virtue of where I went to school and the job I perform, I now have a life that is anything but normal, and yet...feels incredibly stable and natural. Strange really, but nice.

Soldier and the State...

I have just finished reading Samuel P. Huntington's The Soldier and the State, a book which I've been meaning to read since I began in the Sosh Department. It's one of those books that, like the bible to modern day literature, agree or not, you have to know it to understand the language today.

It was a very compelling read which I found challenged me in very many ways. He throws down the gauntlet of what is expected of a Professional Officer (before that term had all the implications it does today and before it became a cliche) in a way that forces me to evaluate not only myself, but my superiors, subordinates, peers and institutions. One of his premises, however, is that the professional officer ceases to be professional when he embarks upon non-militant activities. He gives some leeway to officers, understanding that sometimes non-military issues (economic, social, political, environmental, etc.) must be taken into consideration to achieve the political aim of the civilians appointed above you, but very little.

Interestingly, there is a really great article in Newsweek right now, which I commend to everyones reading list. It is all about young Officers in today's army and how they are winning, losing, fighting and executing the war on terror. The Officers have had to do exactly what Huntington warns against, which is give up their warfighting expertise and take up politics. They are building schools, talking to sheiks, making political, legal, ethical, judicial and police decisions along with the decisions to shoot or don't shoot.

I wonder what Huntington would think about the new understanding of the "Professional Officer". His book was written decades ago and, in many ways, is rather prescient. For example, he argues that West Point should abandon its engineering heavy courses and focus on creating a more liberal arts school which would better prepare officers for fighting wars, something which has now happened. However, I wonder if he would think our Army has grown more or less "professional" in the terms he set out. Or, has the "warfighting" function that the professional soldier provides simply become even more multi-faceted. Has "soldiering" really become an all encompassing one man show? If that is the case or not, America has unwittingly built a whole generation of Army officers who, if they get out, will be able to lead America in ways we haven't seen in decades. The soldiers fighting today's wars have an understanding of political, interpersonal, economic and military skills that has not been afforded generations of officers in the past. I would not be surprised if another Eisenhower is currently wearing Captains bars.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


OK, this too is political. Has anyone else read this comment by President Clinton?
"I think it would be a great thing if we had an election between two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interests of the country and people could actually ask themselves who is right on the issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics."
So, now there's all this hullabaloo about how this means he is saying Obama doesn't love our country. Seriously? Come on, someone asked what he thought of his wife running against McCain and he simply said that they both love America. Do we really have to read so far into that that it's a personal assault against other people? It's truly sad the state of politics these days.

home buying...

So, everyone knows I want a house, but with the market as it is, it would probably be a poor time to buy (at least, it would be better to wait until I'm back from Iraq when things have gotten really bad for sellers, then I can capitalize on others' misfortune). However, I want a house. Renting sucks, I don't like carpet, I don't like vinyl and I don't like the crappy cheap ceramic and fiberglass bathrooms I'm stuck with. So, I've been thinking of ways I can accomplish my goal of having a house without losing everything. To do so, I had to consider what and why I want a house.

I was thinking about this as I went climbing yesterday. The gym was a pre-fabricated steel structure most often used as a warehouse or a barn, but as I climed, I suddenly realized that it could very easily be a residence. The register area = kitchen. There was already a bathroom

the "party areas"? bedrooms.

I like industrial looking design and, frankly, the outside of the building doesn't even have to be all that cool, it's the inside, fixtures and the like I'm most concerned about (I'd give up a fake brick facade so popular here for a decent stove and kitchen any day). I also like very open floor plans...this would allow me a completely open floor plan--a blank slate really. Also, at the price (8-15k), I could put one up and then, when I leave in a few years, if it doesn't sell, it's really worth it to me, plus, I could take all the guts (faucets, sinks, stove, fridge etc.) and either take them with me to start somewhere else or sell them all on the e-bay.

Sure, it sounds crazy, but hell, sometimes crazy is the way to go right?

Friday, March 21, 2008


Maybe it's time I take a trip? Lots of writers, artists and crazies have, and I think it's time for me to.


OK, I'm venturing into nearly politics again, so, I realize I am toeing the line. In any case, I read this article and found myself incredulous. So, here we have a married couple, one of whom is trying to go to Africa to help AIDS babies and we wont let him get a passport because he is married to a man? Seriously? Come on now people, what kind of "message" does that send our kids?

Friday, March 14, 2008


I went to Jordan.

It is a country composed almost entirely of limestone blocks and aspirational buildings. Aspirational buildings are those similar to what you would find in many parts of Mexico, where the top floor has a staircase that goes up to a non-existant floor and there is rebar sticking out to build another floor if the fancy strikes. Aaman is a Westernized city (relatively speaking) and the women there don't wear full burkas (I only add this detail as the clothing of women seems to be the first question asked and the first thing noticed).

After driving through the country and seeing city after city on the way to the place where Moses saw Israel and died, I realized that I missed seeing color. The shops have color...blankets, scarves, shoes...everything. But, outside of what can be dyed with pigment, there is little color in Jordan.

We made our way to the baptismal site of Jesus which had a mosaic of Jerusalem and across the top, in mosaic, I think that part was new. I also think Jordanians don't know a whole lot about natural geography. The part where Jesus was baptised was not on the riverbank as it exists today...rivers move in 2000 years. Then again, Easter and Christmas aren't on the days that we say either, and it's all spiritual and only means as much as you let it anyway, so I let it mean something to me.

Interestingly enough, I got my first site of a well built, non-aspirational building at the river also. There, across the river, was a gleaming building of polished marble standing in stark contrast to the cloth and stick shed we were in on the Jordanian side. Gleaming with cameras and blue and white flags, Israel's "baptistmal site of Jesus" site was much nicer.

Support the Troops...

A bumper sticker...a slogan, it normally makes me think, "uh...sure you do. And, how exactly?" I flew to Jordan a week ago and found out how some do, and it was rather touching.

The flight to Jordan took 24 hours and four legs. The first leg landed in New Hampshire where, we were told before disembarking, that there would be a crowd of "Pease Greeters" waiting to see us. I didn't know what that was or who they were, but, when we got off the plane, lining the off ramp were at least two hundred people. Families, VFW types, seeing eye dogs, children, soldiers and others. They cheered and hugged us and waved small flags. They gave us candy and ribbed one another...they were, in many ways, a family themselves. The group came out every time a military flight landed or took off with militant dedication. I saw their schedule which, considering their average age (older) and the fact they were civilians doing this on their free time was rather grueling.

They saluted us (literally) and said a prayer and, as we boarded the plane, they gave us packages of good dark chocolate (which Lindtt chocolate had donated to them), Bose headphones (yes, the nice expensive kind, which had also been donated) and candies and flags. They were there to tell us they supported us. There was no politics, other than to say that it didn't matter what any of us or any of them believed, but that we were all there together to pay our respect to one another.

On the wall were the service flags and emblems (the Army crest had been dedicated by USMA AOG, which I found rather coincidental) and photos of every group which had come through. It was nice for me to see and experience as the odds are slim I will get a similar send off or reception when I do leave in November, and it reminded me that just because something is cliched doesn't mean it isn't true. Some people really do Support Our Troops, bumper stickers or not.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Expect no new posts until 15 Mar, which is when I will be returning from Jordan.  Yeah...that's right...I'll be in Jordan.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

tragic beauty

There are a lot of things going on with work, life and love that I'd like to write about right now, but can't, so I thought I'd share my thoughts as I drove home tonight.

I have been taken recently by buildings lit at night. Specifically, buildings that are alone in a field or against a night sky. I don't know why, but something about them seems both beautiful and tragic. They are beautiful for the obvious is an easy way to evoke emotion, but the reasons for their more tragic beauty is less obvious.

The idea that I am sitting here safe and comfortable right now is hard to shake. There is a ceiling over me, an air conditioner and a rug underfoot. Seeing these buildings lit up at night against a dark sky, however, makes me realize how really transitory and alone we are. Lighting buildings seems, suddenly, to be a completely arrogant act. As though, against the will of the universe itself, we--mankind--will stave off even darkness. However, no matter how powerful a light we build, it only goes so far before the dark of the universe and the unknown and emptiness swallows it hole.

I imagine kings and emperors felt as safe as I do now. Probably right before their kingdoms fell.