Photo by Edward F. Palm)

About Me

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Forest, Virginia, United States
A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Our First Granddog

Our son Daniel just got engaged, and his fiancee Heather has a new Jack Russell Terrier puppy named "Brandy."  Here she is playing with our nephew's dog "Malcom."  --EFP

Thursday, December 24, 2009

General Cucolo and the Problem of Pregnant Soldiers

(Korean-American woman Marine and Korean orphan, Yechon, Korea, 1984)
Preface:  This one will jeopardize my standing as a card-carrying liberal. But I've always thought that Emerson was right:  "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
     I’ve been following the consternation created by Army Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo III in threatening to court-martial female soldiers who get pregnant while serving in Iraq. It seems to me that all the people denouncing the general’s decision—including four women senators and the National Organization for Women—are missing the point. I’ve long been a supporter of equal opportunity for women in the Armed Services; witness my op-ed in the Seattle Times (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2004131071_edpalm18.html) . But along with equal opportunity should come equal responsibility. The tour of duty in Iraq these days is 12 months—for men and for women. The problem is that a pregnant soldier must be sent home immediately, leaving her unit short-handed.
     A cynic might charge that female soldiers are getting pregnant on purpose in order to claim their “Get-out-of-Iraq-free (or early) card.” I doubt that many would go to that extreme. But the fact of the matter is that pregnancy is an eminently avoidable, combat disqualifying condition. And fair is fair. Male soldiers can be, and have been, punished for sustaining injuries or contracting illnesses while engaging in reckless behavior with reasonably foreseeable consequences. Hence, to my mind the matter is simple and the order equitable. Male or female, soldiers are expected to remain steadfast in the performance of their duty and to see the mission through until completion.
     The argument could be made, of course, that pregnancy is hardly an injury or illness and that it results from the exercise of a basic human right. But the consequence is the same: a soldier goes home early, and other soldiers have to take up the slack. Again, the fact of the matter is that military service demands a certain abridgment of personal liberties and even human rights. The exigencies of operational deployments, moreover, have long demanded that men endure temporary periods of enforced celibacy. If that’s what it takes for men and women to cohere into an effective fighting force, so be it.
     I hope General Cucolo doesn’t back down. He has made a decision whose time has come. He is striking a blow for gender equity through equal commitment. --EFP

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Port Orchard Ferry Leaving Bremerton

Another test of my 8 mm fisheye lens--a dramatic rendering of the Port Orchard Ferry.  Click on the photo for a better view.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cassie's Floating Head

(I couldn't resist having a little fun with my new 8mm fisheye lens.  The models are Cassie and Sarah Allen, daughters of our Portland friends Mark and Cindy Allen.  Click on the photo for a really good look.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Me and Michael Steele

[A Patriotic Caddy, Smyrna, DE, 2003]

Michael Steele, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, recently wrote to me by name. I don’t know how he got my name. I’ve never registered as a Republican, but somehow, Steele seems to feel that I’m a kindred spirit. He wants me to fill out a survey form—which, again, is registered to me by name and by a “verification” number.  
     Just to be a contrarian, I was tempted to fill out this form—until I read the questions closely. Most of the questions exhibit the logical fallacy those of us who have had the pleasure of teaching freshman composition call “begging the question.” To “beg the question” is to ground a question on a premise explicitly or implicitly assumed to be true but which is unproven or still very much at issue. Here is an example from Steele’s survey:

Are you in favor of creating a government-funded “Citizen Volunteer Corps” that would pay young people to do work now done by churches and charities, earning Corps Members the same pay and benefits given to military veterans?

Only three answers are possible:  "yes,” “no,” “no opinion.” The strategy here is especially insidious. Whichever box I checked, I would in fact be lending credence to not one but four dubious premises: First, that the approval and formation of such a Corps may be imminent; second, that our charitable and service needs are already being adequately met in the private sector; third, that this Corps would push aside the churches and charities that have been meeting the need; fourth, that the stay-at-home members of this Corps would be given the same benefits and entitlements that military veterans receive—a real hot-button, emotional issue.
     Other questions raise the specter of a 23.1 trillion dollar national deficit, amnesty for illegal immigrants, retroactive Social Security benefits for illegal immigrants granted amnesty, unlimited eligibility for welfare, and increased educational funding without accountability.
     Predictably, at the bottom of the survey instrument was a place to enter my credit card information and to specify the amount of my donation. The Republican National Committee, Steele explains in his cover letter, very much needs donations in order to head off this brave new socialist world the Democrats are trying to impose on all of us.
     The funding, of course, is needed to put out more fear-mongering demagoguery. Steele’s rhetoric reminds me of the sort of hysteria I’ve been hearing lately from Glenn Beck and his disciples. These people are convinced that we’re losing our liberties and being oppressed. The other day, I actually heard one of Beck’s callers wondering how much more “the people can take” before “law enforcement and the military” begin to rebel. While Beck said he could not “yet” envision such a day, he agreed that the people are indeed angry and right to feel that way.
      Bizarre, and more than a little scary that conservative pundits are trafficking in such agitprop! Once again, I’m reminded of that rhetorical question my friend used to pose whenever he heard a politician make some disingenuous claim: “How goddamned dumb do they think we are?” Pretty damned dumb, I guess. We can only hope that not too many of us are all that dumb.
     Some of us are sort of smart. --EFP

Thursday, December 3, 2009

No More Vietnams?

[I took this photo at the annual "Mummer's Parade," Middletown, DE, Jan. 1, 2002]
George Will's column in today's Washington Post is a must-read.  Will makes a cogent case for why our Afghan war cannot end well.  He points out that the principal excuses for waging this war--to defeat Al Qaeda and to stabilize the Afghan government--are invalid.  Al Qaeda is not concentrated in Afghanistan, and it would take decades to establish an Afghan government that could keep Muslim extremists out of the country.  Then there is the problem of our announced intention to begin withdrawing in 2011.  Obama, ironically, is pursuing the same surge strategy in Afghanistan that Bush pursued in Iraq.  But here is the paragraph that really caught my attention:

The president's party will not support his new policy, his budget will not accommodate it, our overstretched and worn-down military will be hard-pressed to execute it, and Americans' patience will not be commensurate with Afghanistan's limitless demands for it. This will not end well.

I was happy to see such a prominent commentator acknowledge the toll this latest surge is going to take on our troops.   
     Just the other day, I head someone suggest that "this," after all, is what the troops volunteered for.  Not quite.  We don't have "volunteers" in the sense that the French Foreign Legion of old had "volunteers."  Our young "warriors" didn't enlist in search of a good war or, failing that, whatever war we've got.  Most carry a set of decidedly mixed motives, and even family ties, in their Alice Packs.  Their new service anthem should perhaps be Credence Clearwater's "Fortunate Son," which poses and answers the following musical question, Whenever I ask how much should we give,/The only answer is more, more, more!" 
      Obama, of course, insists that Afghanistan will not be another Vietnam.  We'll see.  But even neo-cons Michael Medved and Michael Savage seem to be worried about the parallels.  At the same time, some dismiss the comparison, pointing out that the number and rate of casualties in Afghanistan pale in comparison to Vietnam.  My answer:  Give them time.  We may get there yet.
      And if we do, I'd like to suggest an appropriate memorial.  We could just build another V-shaped wall parallel to the existing Vietnam Memorial.  Viewed from above, it would resemble a corporal's chevron, visually driving home the parallels between the two wars.  --EFP 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"It's Deja Vu All Over Again"!

I very much fear that historians will someday look back on President Obama as the LBJ of this era. 
      President Johnson, I have come to realize, really was intent on creating a kinder, gentler America with his “Great Society” social programs.  But thanks to that “bitch of a war,” as he was wont to call it, Johnson found himself caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  If he had begun to disengage from Vietnam, his political enemies would have branded him soft on Communism.  If he had fully mobilized the reserves and the National Guard, his political enemies would have used that as an excuse to reject Johnson’s social programs.  They would have argued that we can’t afford both guns and butter. 
     Now, over 40 years later, Obama is falling into the same trap.  I believe that he would genuinely like his legacy to be an America in which adequate health care is guaranteed.  But Obama’s political opponents are already complaining that his proposed health care reforms would greatly increase an already huge deficit created by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as his government bailouts and stimulus programs.   Had he opted to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan, however, the pushback would have been ugly.  Cheney and his ilk would have attacked Obama--again--or leaving America vulnerable. 
     Moreover, I worry that, like Johnson before him, Obama doesn’t really understand the war he is waging.  As George Will and others have reminded us, we’re not at war with a nation state.  We’re at war with a freelance group of ideologues who don’t need a safe haven in Afghanistan.  The fact that the 9/11 group trained and plotted in Afghanistan is irrelevant.  They can just as easily train and plot in Somalia and a number of other countries. 
     This is not to say that we shouldn’t go after the Al Qaeda still in Afghanistan, but I believe that George Will and General Krulak are right in recommending that we limit our efforts to small, elite killer teams and predator drones.  A large-scale commitment only plays into the enemy’s hands.  The so-called collateral damage we’ll inevitably inflict will help al Qaeda recruit, as will the appearance that we are indeed mounting a crusade against Islam. 
     Of course, in all fairness, Obama claims our main objective is to build up and train the Afghan forces to take over.  This too was tried in LBJ’s day; it was called “Vietnamization.”  So are we now pursuing a course of “Afghnistanization”?   Awkward terms aside, I haven’t heard that Afghan troops are any more into it than the Army of the late Republic of Vietnam was.  Even more troubling, I have heard that a sense of nationalism or national loyalty is alien to most Afghans. 
     So “the more things change . . . .”
P.S.  Where are the additional 30,000 troops going to come from?  But that’s another topic.