Monday, March 31, 2008

Sick to my stomach

Someone, as yet unknown, I believe, lodged a complaint about A Soldier's Perspective. When I checked CJ's site late this evening, instead of his normal site, this was in its place. This is my public support for both CJ and Marcus until this horrendous miscarriage of justice is satisfactorily resolved. From everything I know of CJ, I cannot believe he, or Marcus, have done anything wrong. And the person or persons who lodged the complaint should be ashamed of themselves.

Update: Okay, we've all been had. CJ came up with a "good one" for April Fool's Day... I just hope that's the case with Chuck Z. over at From my position... On the way!, too.

Asia Times Online: The mustard seed in global strategy

I do not know that I would have the physical and moral courage to set myself up for potential martyrdom in the way that newly baptized by Pope Benedict XVI convert Magdi Allam has. From The mustard seed in global strategy by Spengler in the Asia Times Online:

A self-described revolution in world affairs has begun in the heart of one man. He is the Italian journalist and author Magdi Cristiano Allam, whom Pope Benedict XVI baptized during the Easter Vigil at St Peter's. Allam's renunciation of Islam as a religion of violence and his embrace of Christianity denotes the point at which the so-called global "war on terror" becomes a divergence of two irreconcilable modes of life: the Western way of faith supported by reason, against the Muslim world of fatalism and submission.

As Magdi Allam recounted , on his road to conversion the challenge that Pope Benedict XVI offered to Islam in his September 2006 address at Regensburg was "undoubtedly the most extraordinary and important encounter in my decision to convert". Osama bin Laden recently accused Benedict of plotting a new crusade against Islam, and instead finds something far more threatening: faith the size of a mustard seed that can move mountains. Before Benedict's election, I summarized his position as "I have a mustard seed and I'm not afraid to use it." Now the mustard seed has earned pride of place in global affairs.

Magdi Allam tells us that he has found the true God and forsaken an Islam that he regards as inherently violent. Magdi Allam has a powerful voice as deputy editor of Italy's newspaper of record, Corriere della Sera, and a bestselling author. For years he was the exemplar of "moderate Islam" in Europe, and now he has decided that Islam cannot be "moderate".

The article continues with this interesting bit:

Magdi Allam presents an existential threat to Muslim life, whereas other prominent dissidents, for example Ayaan Hirsi Ali, offer only an annoyance. Much as I admire Hirsi Ali, she will persuade few Muslims to reconsider their religion. She came to the world's attention in 2004 after a Muslim terrorist murdered Theo van Gogh, with whom she had produced a brief film protesting the treatment of women under Islam. As an outspoken critic of Islam, Hirsi Ali has lived under constant threat, and I have deplored the failure of Western governments to accord her adequate protection.
Yet the spiritual emptiness of a libertine and cynic like Theo van Gogh can only repel Muslims. Muslims suffer from a stultifying spiritual emptiness, depicted most poignantly by the Syrian Arab poet Adonis (see Are the Arabs already extinct?, Asia Times Online, May 8, 2007). Muslim traditional society cannot withstand the depredations of globalized culture, and radical Islam arises from a despairing nostalgia for the disappearing past. Why would Muslims trade the spiritual vacuum of Islam for the spiritual sewer of Dutch hedonism? The souls of Muslims are in agony. The blandishments of the decadent West offer them nothing but shame and deracination. Magdi Allam agrees with his former co-religionists in repudiating the degraded culture of the modern West, and offers them something quite different: a religion founded upon love.


One does not fight a religion with guns (at least not only with guns) but with love, although sometimes it is sadly necessary to love one's enemies only after they are dead. The Church has lacked both the will to evangelize Muslims as well as the missionaries to undertake the task. Benedict XVI, the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, has thought about the conversion of the Muslims for years, as I reported just before his election in 2005 (The crescent and the conclave, Asia Times Online, April 19, 2005). Where will the Pope find the sandals on the ground in this new religious war? From the ranks of the Muslims themselves, evidently. Magdi Allam is just one convert, but he has a big voice. If the Church fights for the safety of converts, they will emerge from the nooks and crannies of Muslim communities in Europe.

Go read the whole thing.

H/T: Instapundit

Sunday, March 30, 2008

SEALs in Iraq

Doing my behind-the-scenes for The Victory Caucus, I often come across articles that are very interesting but aren't quite the kind of news and information pieces we're looking to highlight on the front page there. I found one of those this evening: Bravery (and How to Master It) by Bob Drury, from Men's Health.

I have just interrupted the disquisition of the square-jawed and, yes, ruddy-faced executive officer of SEAL Team 10, the lean and muscular Lieutenant Commander Mike H.

"What are you guys doing here anyway," I ask, noting that there's not a hell of a lot of water in and around Fallujah to justify the presence of the U.S. military's waterborne special operators.

We're inside the makeshift (and air-conditioned -- it's 117°F outside in the Anbar desert) Special Operations Task Force command post. Before I blurted out my question, the 36-year-old Mike H. had been delineating which details I could and could not write about in regard to the previous night's "kinetic" -- or lethal -- mission, a gunfight with al-Qaeda zealots clad in suicide vests. All six insurgents, eager to die, did so. Mike H. stops, exasperated.

"Because the L stands for land," he says. "SEAL: sea, air, land." At 6'5'' and 230-odd pounds, Mike H. has the build of a classic college tight end. "You're right, though," he quickly adds. "With Afghanistan and Iraq, we have been very land-centric over the past couple of years." He sweeps his left arm, a gesture encompassing the gated and gritty tent-and-trailer SEAL compound tucked away in a hidden corner of Camp Fallujah. "But there's plenty of water in the showers."

Here, I suppose, is a good a place to explain the restrictions that were placed on me and our photographer, Max Becherer, for this story. SEALs are notoriously elusive with the media. It took a year of lobbying to secure access to the SEAL base in Fallujah, and no other media outlet has been here. During our stay last September, we weren't so much welcomed as tolerated. Chilly graciousness.

The SEALs are a semicovert organization, deployed in countries from Colombia to the Philippines, and all special operators in Iraq and Afghanistan are high-priority targets of insurgents. Because a SEAL scalp is a major enemy coup, you'll notice that this article contains almost no last names or photographs of faces or other identifying features.

The real SEALs are nothing like the Hollywood ones -- the "knuckle-dragging Charlie Sheens," as one officer put it. Established in 1962 by John F. Kennedy, the U.S. Navy SEALs are a separate, elite force charged with clandestine reconnaissance and unconventional warfare. To a man, they are tough and smart.

Go read the whole thing.

H/T: Michael Goldfarb at The Blog of The Weekly Standard

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Give blood to our military

I was completely unaware of the U.S. Armed Force Blood Program until I saw this post by Greyhawk over at Milblogs. I followed the links and read the article about the blood drive at FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC. I wanted to see if there might be a blood drive I could participate in. But, knowing my sisters had been unable to participate in campus blood drives while they were in college, I also need to look into whether or not I actually could donate. Turns out I can't, due to living in Europe for extended periods of time post-1980 (mad cow, don't you know - the beef in the commissary came from European cows...); I am "deferred from donating indefinitely". But, most people in the United States didn't spend more than 3 months total in England or more than 6 months total in Europe between January 1980 and December 1996, or more than 5 years total in Europe between January 1980 and today (we were in Germany from 1978 to 1982, and again from 1986 to 1990 - like I said in a previous post, I've spent more time living in one city in Germany, total, than any other city I have ever lived in...). There are, of course, other restrictions (a few other travel restrictions, and of course, medical restrictions), but please go find out if you might be able to give blood to those who risk shedding their blood for the freedoms we enjoy here at home.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

American Veterans Traveling Tribute

This past Saturday, I was able to go see the American Veterans Traveling Tribute which had come to Georgetown, Texas. This tribute was sponsored by the Williamson County Sheriff's Posse. One very nice lady I met there, whose elderly father had served (I believe in the Air Force) and whose brother was lost in Vietnam - serving as a Marine helicopter pilot, helped me out. She gave me the supplies to do a rubbing of the name of my adopted Vietnam MIA, MSG James W. Holt, and also provided me with the weekend schedule, and an information sheet about AVTT and The Traveling Wall Foundation. They call their exhibits the "Cost of Freedom" Memorials. The main piece of the memorials is the replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, which is one of several that travels the country (the others being known as "The Moving Wall", "The Dignity Wall", the "Wall That Heals").

The next most notable exhibit is a "Cost of Freedom Memorial", which is a series of displays of gold dogtags with the names of all service members "who gave their lives for our freedom, since Vietnam". It is here I found Kile's dogtag.

A 9/11 Memorial is incorporated into the standing displays of dogtags.

Also part of the exhibit is the "Walk of Heroes" - a series of stand-up boards that "pay tribute and educate all about our country's history and the conflicts the USA has been involved in to insure our freedom", going back to the Revolutionary War; and a World War II "display of pictures and information to pay specific tribute to these veterans."

When I arrived, General Graham, a local retired 2-star, was speaking. I wish I could have heard all of his remarks, instead of just the end of them. After General Graham, someone from the Sheriff's Posse acknowledged the military service of members of the posse, followed by the Retiring of the Colors by some Boy Scouts. There was a bit of a break from speakers, when I was able to take some photos and do the rubbing.

About one o'clock, they began the ceremonies for the Ride to the Wall. It included a member of AVTT speaking, including the reading of a very moving story told from the perspective of someone whose name is on the wall, speaking to those of us, particularly veterans, "on the other side" of the Wall. Before the Ride to the Wall for those with motorcycles, there was a "Wall Touching Ceremony", where everyone was invited to go to the Wall or one of the "Cost of Freedom" displays and touch it, or a particular name. I chose to find Kile's name.

After the touching of the Wall, it was time for the motorcycle riders to begin the Ride of Honor, in while those of us who weren't riders were invited to form a sort of "receiving line" for the riders. General Graham volunteered to stand at the apex of the Wall and salute each rider as they passed. Some other veterans stood either against the wall, or on opposite the Wall, also saluting each rider.

I was glad I was able to catch this moment with my camera:

Also, I can help but smile when I see this smiling old veteran, sitting on a bench with one hand holding onto his cane, offering a salute to each passing rider with the other. I did not speak to him, or what I assumed were his family sitting by him, but I can only wonder what this fine gentleman had seen during his service to our nation:

Villainous Company: Hope, Realism and the Obama Doctrine

I am so very glad Cassandra decided to start blogging again. I am no longer denied her astute insights and great writing. Today, she posted something that should be read widely:

In today's borderless world, some want to resurrect an isolationist stance which became obsolete as soon as international air travel, telephony and the internet erased the barriers that separate America from the rest of the world. We can no longer afford that pipe dream: the very people who argue most vigorously in favor of it are the ones who refuse to allow us to protect ourselves from outside aggressors via electronic surveillance, profiling, aggressive law enforcement, and military intervention. They believe it a legitimate function of the media to publish classified documents, including the vulnerabilities of Marine body armor. And yet, oxymoronically, they argue we can somehow protect ourselves from the outside world while not giving up any of our freedoms.

Barack Obama has said he would not hesitate to go into Pakistan, even against the will of its government, after al Qaeda. What reaction, precisely, does he expect from a sovereign state when it is militarily invaded by a foreign power?

Passive acceptance? What reaction does he expect from the most radical Islamist elements within Pakistan? Would this not give them all the excuse they need to stage a coup and topple a government which at present cooperates with us, if not to the extent we desire?

And if military intervention in Iraq was unrealistic, what bizarre realism governs the Obama Doctrine's refusal to distinguish between military intervention where there is at least a demonstrable American security interest and situations (like Darfur) where there is none? Who in Darfur ever tried to assassinate a former U.S. President? Who in Darfur ever gave shelter to the architect of a World Trade Center bombing? Darfur doesn't fund terrorist organizations worldwide. America hasn't paid tens of thousands of dollars for decades to man a no-fly zone over Darfur. Darfur has no history of using weapons of mass destruction - several times - on its own people and on neighboring states:

Saddam launched more than 350 chemical weapon attacks across the border. Iraq has since admitted using 1,800 tonnes of mustard gas and 740 tonnes of the highly toxic nerve agents sarin and tabun. It was the worst use of mustard gas since the First World War and the first use of nerve agents. Iranian soldiers often had inadequate masks and little detection and decontamination equipment. Civilians had nothing.

Does Barack Obama see no moral problem with asking an all volunteer force to give their lives when there is no national security interest to protect?

Because this Marine wife damned well does. I believe in freedom and democracy promotion, but the United States cannot free the entire world single-handed. Where is the much-vaunted realism steely-eyed Progressives have been calling for now? It appears to be a function of political convenience.

Go read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Freedom Never Cries

You can help support Operation Homefront just by going here to watch the video of Freedom Never Cries by Five for Fighting.

H/T: TigerHawk, who was moved to donate $50

Fellow Marine's Heart Saves Another in Transplant

A Marine who survived two tours in Iraq was murdered in a case of mistaken identity in Chicago. In death, he saved the life of another Marine.

My sisters' favorite UT basketball fan EVER

My sisters were able to go to a UT basketball game recently. One of my sisters noticed this guy in the aisle, doing the routine that the dance squad was doing to the Wabash Cannonball. Now, it's on YouTube:

Then, I think it was the last home game of the season, that same guy was apparently invited to dance with the girls on the court during one of the game breaks:

Here he is again, from a different angle:

What I can't believe is how high that guy can kick, and in blue jeans, no less!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Vets for Freedom National Heroes Tour stops in Austin

When I found out the Heroes Tour would be passing through, I made myself unavailable to sub so I could go down to the Capitol to see the event. I would have liked to stay in bed this morning - technically yesterday morning; it's Good Friday and there's no school ;-), so I was just a smidge late walking up to the Capitol steps, but they hadn't gotten started yet, so I hadn't missed anything. It's a good thing I decided to take surface streets instead of messing with 35 or Mopac - then I'd have been late for sure! Anyhow, I wanted to introduce myself to Uncle Jimbo, and I knew he was going to be running a video camera. I found him easily enough. Guess it's a good thing he posts all those videos, else I would have had to ask all the different camera people "Are you Uncle Jimbo??" We didn't get to talk much, but it was nice to meet someone I read regularly in the blogosphere. Since I had a decent view standing behind the riser set up for all the video equipment, and it was in the shade, I stayed put during the event. I took a few pictures with my digital camera as each new speaker took to the podium, but I didn't take notes. I don't have specifics about what everyone said, and I'm just going from memory. Uncle Jimbo will be posting video as soon as he is able, but he might not include everything (one is linked below). It started with Pete Hegspeth.

He introduced David Bellavia, author of House to House: An Epic Memoir of War and nominee for the Medal of Honor. David speaks with passion and conviction about why we need to win The Long War.

One thing I hadn't known about Marcus Luttrell was that he is a Texan. He kept his remarks brief, knowing, he said, how Texans like it better that way. If you notice how he is standing in the photos above, he pretty much stood that way throughout, except for one instance I will discuss later...

One detail about Marcus I couldn't see until I was looking at my pictures: Take a look at the pin he is wearing on his jacket:

After Marcus Luttrell spoke, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson spoke. Mr. Patterson talked about Texas' history of taking care of her veterans, long before Texas was even a state, referring to a document granting land to Davy Crockett and/or his descendents, owing to his service to the Republic of Texas in the Texas Revolution, Davy Crockett's service having ended with his death at The Alamo on March 6, 1836. That tradition apparently continues, without the use of taxpayer dollars, allowing Texas veterans to access low interest loans for homes or land. Mr. Patterson also served in the Marine Corps during Vietnam.

The person who spoke next was Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas' 10th Congressional District. He is an ardent supporter of our troops and their mission. Towards the end of his remarks, he wanted to read something to the crowd. He wanted to read a passage from Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. As soon as he said that, I could see Marcus starting to fidget, as if he would prefer to be anywhere else at that moment instead of having to stand there as his own words were read aloud to a group of strangers. My thoughts on that? He is a little uncomfortable with people calling him a hero and he would just as soon not have special attention called to himself. After the event concluded, I mentioned this to Uncle Jimbo, and he'd noticed Marcus' reaction as well.

Governor Rick Perry spoke next. I also learned something new about him: he had served in the Air Force. He is also a strong supporter of our troops, but tends to do so out of the spotlight.

Once the Governor had concluded his remarks, the Texas VFF chairman Nunnally (I am not sure of his exact title) presented three Vets for Freedom Guardian Angel Awards to persons who do much in support of our troops. The first was a Texas State Representative (I can't recall his name) Mark Strama [ed. - thanks, again, Rejenia!], along with two of his staff, for their work in improving Texas veteran benefits, so that if the GI Bill will not cover all the costs of higher education, Texas veterans can access support from the state concurrently with the federal GI Bill funds. Next was General (ret) Leroy Sisco of the Military Warriors Support Foundation, an organization that helps wounded warriors through educational scholarships, job re-training and job placement, financial assistance and recreational programs (he noted he had 4 donated front row tickets to Friday night's Spurs game, tickets that cost $900 each, and those seats would be filled with 4 wounded warriors). I'm not sure who the last recipient was. Again, I can't recall the name, but I think she may be a Gold Star Mother. We'll see if UJ put up video of that presentation... The final recipient was Rejenia Anderson, a civilian member of VFF who assisted with the San Antonio and Austin stops of the National Heroes Tour. (Thanks, Rejenia, for the email!)

Another gentleman who had not previously spoken James Crabtree, Texas VFF Central Texas Vice Captain [ed. - again, thanks, Rejenia], offered short closing remarks. I suppose I could have joined in for the tour of the Capitol that was to follow, and maybe tried to speak with Pete, David or Marcus, but I would have felt like I was intruding. So, I hung back by the video riser and spoke to Jimbo a little more.

Blackfive commenter DeltaBravo came up to introduce herself once the event had concluded. We commented about the moonbat tendencies of Travis County, and I noted I was surprised no anti-war protesters had shown up. She said they probably didn't know about it... I'll have to find out if Jimbo got that lawn chair to sit out and enjoy the gorgeous spring day we had today or if he changed his mind about going home for the Easter break from the Heroes Tour. Then, it was back to the car and on to the Blanton Museum (it's free on Thursdays). I think that deserves a separate post, as I am hoping to get a bit of information on a particular piece that raised my blood pressure a little...

I cannot more highly recommend attending one of the public Vets for Freedom National Heroes Tour events if they are coming to your area: the speakers are inspiring. Unfortunately, I was unable to take the time to drive up to Pfluggerville for the dedication of the Sgt. Norwood Memorial Post Office [ed. - Rejenia Anderson reports that the ceremony was very, very nice], or on to Killeen for the wreath-laying at the Central Texas State Veterans' Cemetery where 1LT Kile G. West is buried. I am glad I was able to hear for myself the words of Pete Hegspeth, David Bellavia and Marcus Luttrell.

Uncle Jimbo's video of Governor Rick Perry's remarks
Uncle Jimbo's YouTube channel: watch videos from stops along the Heroes Tour

Update 3/21/08 - Local news coverage:
Austin American-Statesman video report
Austin American-Statesman print report
Austin American-Statesman photo essay
Fox 7 News report
KVUE News report

So, far I've found nothing for KEYE (CBS affiliate), KXAN (NBC affiliate) or News 8 Austin (local cable news channel). And, I can't say the KVUE report was completely objective, refering to "growing anti-war sentiment" when in fact polls indicate anti-war sentiment is actually dropping...

Update 3/24/08 - A Soldier's Mind's reporting on the Fort Hood book signing event

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

American Veterans Traveling Tribute comes to Central Texas

I want to thank Kile's mom, Nanette, for letting me know that the American Veterans Traveling Tribute (AVTT) was going to be in the area this weekend. You've probably heard about it before, likely more commonly known as the "Traveling Wall".

However, this traveling exhibit isn't just the Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall (created to an 80% scale, but still 8 feet at its tallest point, and more than 370 long). The exhibit also includes something they call the Cost of Freedom displays, which "are 9 large memorials represented in gold dog tags under glass to remember and honor all who died in service since Vietnam, including 9/11", as well as "a large art display; Vietnam Remembered and a Walk of Heroes' display".

The AVTT is being hosted by the Williamson County Sheriff's Posse. Events begin on Thursday, March 20 with the tribute's arrival and building of the Wall. Friday will include Reveille, exhibit viewing all day, an opening ceremony at 1pm a the laying of a Gold Star Mothers' Wreath, to which Nanette has been invited. Saturday will also include Reveille and all day exhibit viewing, and will have ceremonies at noon and 6pm, as well as music and speakers. Easter Sunday repeats Reveille and exhibit viewing, but will also include a church service at 5:30, a candlelight vigil and a reading of names of the fallen from the surrounding counties. Monday begins with reveille and includes the final day of viewing the exhibits and a closing ceremony at 5pm.

All events will take place at the Williamson County Sheriff's Posse arena grounds which are located at 415 East Morrow Street, San Gabriel Park in Georgetown, Texas. I hope to be able to at least stop by to see the exhibits, but I don't think I'll be able to make any of the special ceremonies, what with my other commits this weekend.

In Jane Austen's world...

I am Anne Elliot!

You are Anne Elliot of Persuasion! Let's face it; you're easily persuaded, particularly when friends and relatives try to use "the Elliot way" against you. But this doesn't mean that you don't have conviction. Actually, your sense of duty is overwhelming. And though you won't stick your neck out too often, you have learned to speak up when it counts. To boot, you know how to handle sticky situations. You love deeply and constantly.

Guess I should either read the book or watch the movie... I've not a clue what Anne Elliot is like...

H/T: Emily, wife of CJ of A Soldier's Perspective

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Interesting suggestion to get the debate in the public forum

"Weather Channel Founder: Sue Al Gore for Fraud" was a headline that got my attention. Seems John Coleman, the founder of The Weather Channel, thinks the only way to get a real, honest debate between actual climate scientists is to sue Al Gore and other global warming alarmists (to include those companies who profit off it through the sale of "carbon credits") for fraud.

"Is he committing financial fraud? That is the question," Coleman said.

"Since we can't get a debate, I thought perhaps if we had a legal challenge and went into a court of law, where it was our scientists and their scientists, and all the legal proceedings with the discovery and all their documents from both sides and scientific testimony from both sides, we could finally get a good solid debate on the issue," Coleman said. "I'm confident that the advocates of 'no significant effect from carbon dioxide' would win the case."

Coleman says his side of the global warming debate is being buried in mainstream media circles.

Interesting concept, so long as you don't end up in something like the Ninth Circuit, or end up with a activist judge on the case...

The article continues:

"As you look at the atmosphere over the last 25 years, there's been perhaps a degree of warming, perhaps probably a whole lot less than that, and the last year has been so cold that that's been erased," he said.

"I think if we continue the cooling trend a couple of more years, the general public will at last begin to realize that they've been scammed on this global warming thing."

Of course, the global warming alarmists will find some other way to justify their prescription to "fix the climate". Probably blame the cooling on the warming (I've already heard such arguments). I still stand by my belief that the earth's climate is far to complicated to make long-term predictions, as it is far too complex and we have no idea what we don't know that we don't know about it. Heck, the meteorologists have been having trouble accurately predicting how active the hurricane seasons will be, post-Katrina. And, that problem has taken the form of predicting far more activity than has actually developed, resulting in them having to revise downward their predictions for the number of named storms. [Knowing climatologists and meteorologists aren't exactly the same thing, they are related scientific subjects:] If they can't get short-term predictions right, their long-term predictions' accuracy must be called into question.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Could be a good idea...

I was taken aback when I saw the headline "Colorado School District Drops Grade System". But, after reading the very short story, I might could get behind such an idea for both primary and secondary education. Following the link to the local coverage of the story gives a little more detail:

The move includes traditional letter grades and grade levels.

The Adams County School District 50 school board approved a new system that lets students progress at their own pace.

Students will need to master 10 skill levels to graduate. They could end up graduating earlier, or later than fellow classmates. It just depends upon how long they need in order to master the skills.

District administrators says the new system will focus on students' competence, rather than achievement for grades.

They'll be doing this for both K-8 and high school. I would be curious about what the skill levels are, and how students are evaluated as they progress. What happens is they are excelling in one area, but are woefully lacking in another? I'm all about making sure students can gain competence in the skills necessary to succeed in life. One of the hardest parts, I think, about educating children today in the public school environment is that a teacher (especially a general education classroom teaching in elementary school) will have students with all different kinds of skill levels, and the teacher is expected to meet the needs of all of them. Some students just don't learn as fast as others; some students learn much faster than their classmates. So, it often seems that teachers have two options: to keep moving ahead, which leaves the slow students to fall further and further behind (and often developing into students with behavioral problems because they desire to avoid school work that they don't understand or is too difficult for them), or to slow down to make sure those slow students can keep up, which is "dumbing down" education for all the rest of the students (and this can lead to those other students getting bored and getting into trouble as a result).

"Tracking" became un-PC somewhere along the line, but the kids know, whether or not they are "tracked" by their abilities: they know who the smart kids are, and who are the kids who have trouble comprehending the work. Put all the really bright kids in one class, all the "on grade level" kids in another, and the kids who need extra help in yet another class. Going back to "tracking", especially if it allows students to progress at their own pace (while giving them goals to reach to keep them encouraged and engaged), could go a long way towards saving failing public schools around the country.

Marine Combat Artists

I don't recall exactly how I found Marine Combat Artist CWO Michael Fay's blog, Fire and Ice, but it was while he was in Iraq. He would post photographs and sketches along with commentary about his experiences. Somewhere along the line, his Blogger site got hijacked, but I did find him again after he'd been able to restore his site with a new Blogger address. At the time he was in Iraq, he was the Marine Corps' only combat artist. Now, CWO Fay is not alone. If I recall correctly, he recruited SGT Kris Battles to help share the load of recording the Marine Corps' history in the War on Terror through art.

CWO Fay posted an update Monday with a photo of his current work-in-progress sculpture, and a link to a story his local paper, The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, did about him and SGT Battles.

Fay and Sgt. Kristopher Battles, 39 and a Spotsylvania County resident, are part of a long tradition of military artists--fighting men who portray their war experiences in sketches, prints, watercolors and oils.

Both Fay and Battles are assigned to the National Museum of the Marine Corps' Combat Art Collection and tasked with going to war and making art.

When they're not traveling fully armed and ready to fight alongside their fellow Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq, they work on the Quantico base.

Their studio is a cavernous World War II-era warehouse filled with the sounds of classical and rock music and the rattling of metal doors in wind.

If you have the time, check out both Fire and Ice and SGT Battles' Sketchpad Warrior to see some of their work. They are both very talented.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Task Force Marne: Iskandariyah vocational school benefits residents

This will help Iraq become a peaceful, stable democracy.

From the Task Force Marne website:

The vocational school opened in 1972. Almost 500 students are currently enrolled.

“We are hoping in April to have 850 and in May more than 1,000,” Abbas said.

The end goal of the school is generating employment, said Lt. Col. Robert Bobinski, deputy team leader for the embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team attached to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

“That means sustainable employment, not part-time jobs; full-time jobs that pay money,” Bobinski said.

The short-term goal is to bring students from the Mahmudiyah Qada to the school to teach them skills. Mid-term is to provide opportunities for the students to hone skills, perhaps by on-the-job-training.

“Long-term, as demand for employees grows, we will work with the Government of Iraq to make more (vocational schools),” Bobinski said. That way, there will be a pipeline of trained employees with sustainable, marketable skills, he said.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Gold Star Mother’s opinion on the Presidential Election

Posted with permission

March 2008

A Gold Star Mother’s opinion on the Presidential Election:

I am writing to you because I feel that we need to take more action to try and educate America on what the Operation Iraqi Freedom War is really about before people vote in the November election. I know everyone has their own opinion but this is mine.

I feel that if people understood all the circumstances surrounding this war maybe they would change their electoral vote and help the military make this world a better place. If the democrats win this election and withdraw the troops from Iraq then my son and all the other soldiers that have sacrificed their lives, died for nothing. If everyone took the time and really looked at all views of this war then maybe our armed forces could get more support so that they can do their jobs. People need to remember these soldiers volunteered and signed up to go to war because they believe in America and what it stands for. Without brave people like this in our world there is no telling where we would be right now.

My son Kile called me the first month of his deployment and asked me to get everyone that I know to gather up as many toys and school supplies that we could and send them to him. He said “Mom it is like trading a crayon for a bullet here and we need more crayons.” I was told by other soldiers that worked with Kile that handing out toys to the children was his favorite thing to do and that he always encouraged other soldiers to take toys out with them on their patrols. My son understood that it was the little children in Iraq that needed our help. The older children and the adults have already been convinced that America is bad. Those individuals are then convinced to fight, which makes it impossible to reason with them at this point. Kile knew that these little kids are the voice of Iraq’s future and they are witnessing firsthand the kindness of our soldiers and will remember the crayons and the support they were given by America. When these kids are old enough to go to school and the teachers try and tell them America is bad, they will know in their hearts that it is not so and they will be the ones that will make the difference for their country. It may take 20 -30 years but changing a culture takes time and if we give up on them now, these children will not ever have a chance to make their world a better place. My son also told me before he died that the sacrifice of a soldier is a much broader thing then anyone can imagine, it is not about the politics or President Bush, it is about people helping people that cannot help themselves, it is about understanding that no matter what color, race, or religion you are we are all the same. We need to remember the foundation of our existence; which is family, love and compassion. It is not about how much money you have or how big your house is because in the end these things do not matter, we are all family and we are all linked together in one way or another.

The death of a child is the worst nightmare that a parent could ever go through and I unfortunately had to be one of those parents. But the pride and the honor of who my son was and what he stood for and all that he accomplished, is what gets me through each day.

Whether you are a democrat or a republican, please take the time out to do your own research about this war. Talk to a soldier, get another view for your own knowledge before you vote, so that you can make a decision on who you want for president. Remember we do not live in a safe little bubble where no harm can be done to us. We have had war on our land before and we have had many lives lost to terrorist activity. If something happens again in America, who are you going to expect/demand to help you?

Please support our troops so that they can support your families.

Sincerely, Nanette West

Mother of 1LT Kile Grant West of the United States Army, who sacrificed his life on Memorial Day, May 28, 2007.

Update 3/8/08

One of Kile's favorite photos from Iraq, of him giving a toy to a little Iraqi girl, courtesy of Mrs. West.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Marine Corps News: Proactive PSF takes fight to enemy

Checking up on my favorite Major in the Marine Corps at Any Soldier, and see that he had emailed in a link to this article. Things are getting better in Iraq:

“The PSF immediately responded to the incident and requested our support,” said Sgt. Robert K. Breese, the Co. G watch officer during the attack. “The PSF battled and neutralized the insurgents, with the Marines providing security just in case (the firefight) turned bad.”

This incident shows how the Iraqis are no longer relying on the Marines to come in and eliminate threats; rather they are taking matters into their own hands, fending off enemies themselves, for the safety of their country.

“Golf (Company) showed tremendous discipline when they arrived, allowing the Iraqi police to finish what they started,” said Maj. Gary A. Bourland, the battalion watch officer at the time. “A year ago, the Marines would have shown up to a situation like this and immediately eliminated the enemy themselves. Now, it’s almost as if we look over their shoulders and, if necessary, take down the enemy.”

Vets for Freedom's National Heroes Tour

Click here for details on the tour itinerary and stop details. I hope to be able to make it to one of the stops in Texas and meet Uncle Jimbo, who will be documenting the tour.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


When I saw a trailer for the movie Eragon, released December 2006, I thought it was something I would enjoy seeing, but I also knew it was based on a book. I wanted to read the book before going to see the movie. Eragon, written by Christopher Paolini, can be found in the "Young Adult" section at the bookstores, so it isn't really a "children's book", although I know of at least one third grader who was reading the book when I subbed in her class earlier this school year.

Eragon, Book 1 of the Inheritance Cycle, is the story of an orphaned farm boy who has grown up in his uncle's household, in Carvahall, a village at the farthest reaches of Alagaësia. When we first meet the 15-year-old Eragon, he is out in The Spine hunting to help feed his family. With his bow and arrow ready and a doe in his sight, there is a sudden explosion - the herd of deer are gone, and trees and grass have been burned. "In the center of the blast radius lay a polished blue stone. (p. 7)"

That polished blue stone will change Eragon's life in unimaginable ways. He returns to his village without any game, but he does bring back the stone, hoping to sell it in order to buy the food his family needs. He goes to the village butcher, Sloan, before going home and attempts to trade the stone for meat. Sloan is interested until he find out Eragon brought it back from The Spine. Days later, when the traders have come to Carvahall, Eragon and his uncle, Garrow, try to sell it. The trader examines the stone, making the observation that the white veins running through the blue are of the same material, and that it is hollow. The stone is not a practical item, and the trader doesn't want to risk not being able to sell it. Eragon informs him that the stone was brought back from The Spine, to which the trader tells Eragon and his uncle of other strange happenings throughout Alagaësia. While still in the village, Eragon hears other traders talking among some of the villagers about how the king, Galbatorix, is working hard to protect the people from the rebel Varden, and their supposed new allies, the Urgals. Not everyone is buying that, though - they hear the Varden would seek to help the people of Alagaësia.

A while later, Eragon hears Brom, the village's old storyteller, spin tales of Dragon Riders - those whose responsibility it was to protect and guard the people. The Dragon Riders were immortal, but could still be killed. Then, a boy named Galbatorix was accepted as a Rider. One day, Galbatorix's dragon was killed in an ambush. "Then were the seeds of madness planted. (p. 32)" Galbatorix eventually finds his way back to the Riders.

"Unconscious, he was taken to their holdings, and his body healed. He slept for four days. Upon awakening he gave no sign of his fevered mind. When he was brought before a council convened to judge him, Galbatorix demanded another dragon. The desperation of the request revealed his dementia, and the council saw him for what he truly was. Denied his hope, Galbatorix, through the twisted mirror of his madness, came to believe it was the Riders' fault his dragon had died. Night after night he brooded on that and formulated a plan to exact revenge. (p. 33)"

Brom continues the story of how Galbatorix, through treachery and deceit, destroyed the Riders and "anointed himself king over all Alagaësia.(p. 34)

With the completion of the story, Brom shuffled away with the troubadours. Eragon thought he saw a tear shining on his cheek. People murmured quietly to each other as they departed. Garrow said to Eragon and Roran, "Consider yourselves fortunate. I have heard this tale only twice in my life. If the Empire knew that Brom had recited it, he would not live to see a new month.(p. 34)"

Once back on his uncle's farm, Eragon examines the stone as the trader had done, and just before putting the stone away, he thinks he heard a squeak. Eragon is awakened in the middle of the night. He listens, but does not hear anything. Nonetheless, he decides to grab his knife from under the bed before drifting back to sleep. A squeak wakes him up again, so he gets out of bed, unsheathes his knife and lights a candle, but he can't find where the noise is coming from. Eragon picks up the stone, and the next squeak, he realizes, is coming from it. He puts it away again and goes back to bed, only to be awakened yet again, this time by the stone moving on the shelf. Deciding the stone is trouble, Eragon is going to take out and bury it. The stone falls off the shelf and rolls toward him.

Suddenly a crack appeared on the stone. Then another and another. Transfixed, Eragon leaned forward, still holding the knife. At the top of the stone, where all the cracks met, a small piece wobbled, as if it were balanced on something, then rose and toppled to the floor. After another series of squeaks, a small dark head poked out of the hole, followed by a weirdly angled body. Eragon gripped the knife tighter and held very still. Soon the creature was all the way out of the stone. It stayed in place for a moment, then skittered into the moonlight.

Eragon recoiled in shock. Standing in front of him, licking off the membrane that encased it, was a dragon.(p. 36-37)

The dragon was the same sapphire blue as the stone, which he now realizes was an egg. It begins exploring the room and jumps up onto the bed. Eragon reaches out and touches it "A blast of icy energy surged into his hand and raced up his arm, burning in his veins like liquid fire(p. 39)." The pain incapacitates him for a while; when he is able to move, he finds "the middle of his palm shimmered and formed a diffused white oval (p. 39)." He also begins to feel something in his mind, but withdraws from it. He suspects the dragon. It rubs against him, but he does not feel the same pain again, so he touches it on its head. His mind is touched again, but with a feeling of hunger. He finds some dried meat and begins feeding the dragon. The new hatchling eats its fill and falls asleep, and Eragon ponders what to do. Could he become a rider? The Empire wouldn't like it if they learned he had a dragon. He rejects killing the dragon out of hand. He must hide the dragon until he figures it all out. The next day, he sneaks the dragon out of the house and into the woods. He feels that presence in his mind again, and thinks back "stay here" (p. 42). The dragon grows quickly, and the link he shares with it strengthens. Eventually, it speaks his name.

Eragon has the chance to go into the village with this cousin, Roran, and is able to seek out Brom. He has questions. He wants to know about dragons and Dragon Riders. Brom had much to tell him, to include the fact that dragons were much more than mere animals. On the way home, Roran informs Eragon he's accepted a job with the miller in a neighboring village and he'll be leaving soon. He wants to marry and needs to have something to offer a bride.

Returning home, Eragon goes to see his dragon. He now realizes the dragon is his equal. The dragon calls his name; Eragon begins trying out names for his dragon. All are rejected. Then, it dawns on him that all the names he'd offered were male names; his dragon must be a she. He tries out more names, until he recalls the last name Brom had told him. Eragon's dragon is Saphira.

It becomes time to Roran to leave. Eragon accompanies him back into Carvahall to see him off. Eragon learns from Horst, the blacksmith, that someone has been asking about a stone like the one he'd found in The Spine. Horst tells him to get rid of it and go home until after the strangers who are asking questions leave Carvahall. Before going home, Eragon sneaks around the village; he overhears Sloan talking to the men about the stone. The strangers see him, but they walk away after Brom calls out to him. Brom, who seems to suspect something, escorts Eragon to the road back home. He races home - he sees his uncle and decides he must tell him about Saphira. He sneaks into the woods to find her. When he does, he tells her about the strangers. Her reaction? "Fire! Enemies! Death! Murderers!" (p. 70) She roars and then continues "Oaths betrayed, souls killed, eggs shattered! Blood everywhere. Murderers!" (p. 71)

In an effort to calm Saphira, he climbs onto her back. She launches into the sky and heads into The Spine, all the while Eragon insists they return to the farm to warn Garrow. Saphira ignores him and eventually returns to the ground. Eragon's legs have been rubbed raw by her scales. Even if he was fit to ride her again, he's not in much condition to do so. Eragon knows it will be too long before he can get back to the farm and his uncle: the strangers might get there first. He thinks to himself "What have I done?" (p. 74)

He awakens the next morning and convinces Saphira they both owe a debt to Garrow and must go back. They find the farm in flames. Eragon finds his uncle in the wreckage of the house, still alive. He asks Saphira to carry the two of them to the village so he can get help for Garrow. Eragon must make the last part of that journey without Saphira's help. He sees Brom approaching just before he passes out.

The next thing Eragon sees is the inside of the village healer's hut. He learns that it has been two days since he came to the village. His uncle still lives, but he is not healing. When he goes to see his uncle, the villagers ask about what happened. Eragon can't be completely honest because he can't let them know about Saphira. She is finally able to get through to him, now that he is awake. Eragon is invited to stay with the blacksmith's family, who are caring for Garrow. In the middle of the night, Eragon wakes and learns that his uncle has died.

Eragon is grief-stricken; Saphira says he should go after those responsible. Eragon wants to stay. Saphira gives all the reasons they must go: her tracks have been seen, there is nothing left for Eragon, he would have to explain what really happened and tell his cousin how and why his father had died. Eragon sneaks out of the house and gathers supplies before leaving Carvahall with Saphira. Before he can get away, Brom finds him. And, he knows about Saphira. And, he has talked to her... Eragon agrees that Brom can come with them, and Brom has already prepared a letter for Roran explaining some things.

Once they have set out, Brom presents Eragon with a sword that had belonged to another Rider. There is much about Brom Eragon does not know. How does he know so much about dragons? How did he come to possess a Rider's blade? He admits to being more than just the village storyteller, but he will not divulge his story, at least not yet...

So begins Eragon's new life as a Dragon Rider. Does he avenge his uncle's death? Does he elude the clutches of the evil King Galbatorix? Where can he find sanctuary for himself and Saphira? Read the book and find out. As in most cases, the book is much better than the movie...

The amazing thing about Christopher Paolini and Eragon is this: he began writing it at the age of fifteen. Christopher is a homeschooling success story. He's also got a website up devoted to The Inheritance Cycle, although it doesn't seem to be updated to reflect the fact there is going to now be a fourth book in the series. Don't let the "young adult" label scare you off from reading this book - I very much enjoyed it, and look forward to reading the continuing story as future books are released.