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.)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Graffiti--Western Washington Style

One thing I can say about Western Washington:  Even the graffiti artists are literate.
(Found at one of the old coastal artillery battery gun emplacements, Fort Worden, near Port Townsend, WA)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Caught in the Act!

Recently, a suet feeder--and the suet cake, of course--disappeared from our bird feeding station.  I bought another one, and it too disappeared.  Also, I began noticing that our bird feeder is completely empty every morning, no matter how much seed was left in it at sundown.   
      I set up a camera with a wireless controller and kept a watch out the window.  Sure enough, at about 8:30 p.m. I caught this bandit in the act.  Repeated flashes didn't seem to bother him.  He remained on station, eating until the feeder was empty. 
      I couldn't get him to return our suet holders.  --EFP

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Portrait of an "Ugly American"

[William Lederer, Peacham, Vermont, June 27, 1996]
A 97-year-old ugly American was buried today at Arlington.  He wasn’t physically “ugly.”  He was “ugly” in the ironically positive sense of the enduring catch phrase he and the late Eugene Burdick contributed to the American lexicon.  He was William Lederer, a retired Navy captain and co-author of The Ugly American.   
                Published at the height of the Cold War, in 1958, The Ugly American is an interlocking set of stories about a group of American innocents abroad losing the Cold War contest for hearts and minds in a thinly veiled Vietnam Lederer and Burdick call “Sarkhan.”   Their principal targets were the Foreign Service professionals and political appointees alike who were “ugly Americans” in the commonly understood sense of the term.   These were the officials who couldn’t be bothered to learn the language or honor the customs of the countries to which they were assigned and who isolated themselves in American enclaves.   Their opposite number was the title character of the book, a physically unattractive and unassuming man who committed himself to making a difference by living and working alongside the Sarkhanese on their own terms.   
                The Ugly American, Lederer and Burdick claimed in a prefatory note, was a “rendering of fact into fiction.”  The claims of venality and malfeasance, to be sure, were exaggerated.  And the book did rest on a dubious neo-colonial premise—that “all over Asia . . . the basic American ethic is revered and honored and imitated when possible.”  Today, we know better.  But, for those of us of a certain age, to reread The Ugly American is to feel a nostalgic longing for a time when we really believed that “truth, justice, and the American way” was a redundant phrase and that America would never torture or start a preemptive war.
                In June of 1996, I had the honor of interviewing William Lederer in Peacham, Vermont.  He was 85 at the time and still in good shape, mentally and physically. But he was generally wary of interviewers by then.  More than one researcher had suggested that he and Burdick belonged in the same literary camp as Harriet Beecher Stowe--“the little woman” whom Lincoln reportedly charged with “starting the great big war.”  Lederer clearly resented the insinuation that he and Burdick were in any sense responsible for the Vietnam War.  He told me, in no uncertain terms, that “The Ugly American was about incompetence in the Foreign Service—period! “
                I found Lederer to be just as defensive about the veracity of The Ugly American.  He told me a colorful but disingenuous story about the genesis of the book.  Supposedly, he and Burdick had first written an actual exposé, complete with names, dates, and places.  But, dissatisfied with that first attempt, they decided that fiction would have a greater impact.  On the spur of the moment, Lederer claimed, they burned all the copies of the manuscript, along with their documentation.  This colorful account, unfortunately, is at odds with certain letters and other documents I found among his papers housed at the University of Massachusetts. 
                Books, unfortunately, do have a way of taking on a life of their own—often one quite apart from that which their authors anticipate.  There was widespread concern in those post-Sputnik days that Americans were going soft and that we needed to stand up and be counted.  The Ugly American inadvertently contributed to the general sense of urgency and helped to make Vietnam seem like our theater of opportunity,    
                Still, The Ugly American is a call to action, not a call to arms.   Lederer and Burdick insisted that we could not prevail in Asia with “guns and money alone.”   It would take individual commitment at the grass-roots level.  Then-Senator John F. Kennedy was so impressed by the book that he bought a copy for each of his fellow senators.   The book’s legacy was the Peace Corps, not the Vietnam War.        
                Lederer and Burdick, however, were well-connected.  They could see that some in high places had a different Vietnam agenda.   Their next novel, Sarkhan, published on the eve of our direct involvement in 1965, was a fictionalized account of behind-the-scenes manipulation in order to justify a large-scale military intervention. 
                 One of the saddest fates that can befall a once prominent and influential man, I have come to realize, is to outlive his time.  Such was Captain William Lederer’s fate-- a warrior who understood that the pen could indeed be “mightier than the sword” and an “ugly American” in the best sense of the term.   --EFP 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The U.S. Postal Service Revisited

Back in early January, I posted this comment by my friend and former Papa Three colleague Larry Scroggs:

Thanks for your Christmas card which I received today. I notice it was postmarked 12/19. It only took 11 days to get here from Washington. Coincidentally, the same time it took the Pony Express to ride from Missouri to California in 1860. Don't you just love the progress the United States Postal Service has made in the last 150 years. I can hardly wait until the government takes over our health care. Thinking about it just gives me the warm fuzzies all over. (grin)
Semper Fi
     Today, I can go Larry one better.  The photo is of a Christmas gift mailed from Portland, Oregon, on December 26th.  It was sent "First Class."  Portland is about 150 miles from my home in Bremerton, Washington.  The gift arrived today--February 9, 2010.  Note that it was not returned and forwarded from an erroneous address.  It has somehow been in transit for 45 days.
      Also, it arrived with two letter-sized first-class mailings, dated December 28th.--only 43 days ago.    
      You do have a point, Larry.   --EFP

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Toyota's Troubles

[American technology, circa 1950:  A Hudson Hornet, Lubeck, Germany, July, 2004]
Shakespeare put it best:  "Striving to better, oft we mar what is well."
       Mechanical accelerator mechanisms have been working well for over 50 years.  Likewise, hydraulic brakes were perfected long ago and work just fine on my wife's Saturn and my Sebring.  I have to wonder why Toyota thought they had to replace both of these time-honored, proven mechanisms with sensitive high-tech electronic systems that are now proving problematic.  I'm no Luddite, but it seems to me that Toyota succumbed to the lure of technology for technology's sake. --EFP

Sarcastic Sarah Strikes Again!

[Douglas Squirrel, July 18, 2008, Silverdale, WA]
Sarah Palin's back in the news again--this time for giving the keynote speech at a "Tea Party" convention.  As one wag recently put it, Palin has indeed emerged as the self-appointed leader of the national "Know Nothing Party."  Yeats put it best, in his poem "The Second Coming":
      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity.
It's called the "force of ignorance."  It's easy to be full of "passionate intensity" when you don't know what you're talking about.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Revisited

[Christiana Commune, Copenhagen, 2004]
I was heartened today to hear that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has come out in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the Armed Services.  The Secretary of Defense, however, seems to want to apply the brakes.  He said they first needed to conduct a study and to poll the troops to determine how they felt about it.  I suspect that the majority of today's troops, being young, will have no problem serving alongside gays and lesbians.  But I also wonder if the Department of Defense polled the troops before integrating the Armed Services in 1950--or did they just do it because they knew it was the right thing to do and an idea whose time had come?
      In any event, I can't resist dusting off what I had to say about the issue sometime back:   http://www.seattlepi.com/opinion/343620_firstperson17.html