Photo by Edward F. Palm)

About Me

My photo
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.)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Palm's Progress

[Palm-Print of the Day:  The Jungle Room, Graceland, Memphis, TN, March, 2002]
I outdid myself yesterday.  I ran 3.1 miles, covering 6.7 in all.  But I really felt it, and I'm still feeling it.  I ran only one mile today, covering only two.
     The good news is my weight:  182.2 yesterday and today.  --EFP

Monday, March 29, 2010

Palm's Progress

[Wade Wessell's birthday party, Marin County, CA, 1986]
I've been lying low, finishing my grading, for the past two days.  But I am done now, and it's spring break.
      Weighed in today at 183.8, but I only ran 1.2 miles out of my standard 4.15 mile trek.  Weather permitting, I'll try to hit it hard tomorrow.  --EFP

Friday, March 26, 2010

Palm's Progress

[Blue Jay swallowing a peanut, my backyard, March 26, 2010]
Weighed in today at 183.5 and ran two miles out of 4.5.  --EFP

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Palm's Progress (toward running and identifying squirrels)

[Douglas squirrel, my backyard, March 22, 2010 (No need to belabor the connection to today's comment.)]
Weighed in today at 183.8 and ran 3 miles out of 6.62.  For the first time, I felt fairly comfortable and didn't have to strain to make three miles.  I'm making progress. 
        Last night, when I was channel surfing, I caught a few minutes of Glenn Beck.  I was surprised--at first--to discover that Beck was not ranting about health care,  His topic was immigration, and I found myself agreeing with much of what he said.
        Beck said that he loves and welcomes immigrants because they believe in what America stands for and they are excited to be here.  Ok, I can go with that.
        Beck was quick to add that he was talking about legal immigation.  He is very much opposed to illegal immigration, which he considers to be immoral.  OK, I can go with that too.
        Beck added that, when they come here, immigrants need to be willing to respect and adjust to our culture.  I'm fine with that as well.
        Then he stressed that immigrants need to learn English.  I agree.  Even though I'm not especially a "language, culture, and borders guy," I think that learning English is a practical necessity for anyone who would live and thrive in this country.  We liberals do tend to subscribe to some notions of cultural relativism that aren't always in our best interests as a nation.
         Beck went on to stress that becoming really proficient in our own language is the work of a lifetime and that we all need to keep working at it.  Otherwise, we won't fully understand the issues and won't be able to contribute to the debate.  I'm definitely down with that--since I teach English.  Beck, however, was clearly implying that conservatives need to be better prepared to counter liberal rhetoric.   
         But then Beck revealed his real agenda.  He implied that the so-called "progressives" are welcoming immigrants with limited English skills because they are easy to dupe and will therefore support liberal causes. 
         That's where I part company with Beck and his paranoia.  There is no liberal conspiracy to overwhelm conservatives with people who don't know enough English to understand what is really going on and who will therefore support the liberal agenda.
          I should have known that the man who would accuse Obama of "hating white people" would put such a spin on the immigration issue.  Glenn Beck is a demagogue through and through.  --EFP

Kristallnacht Revisited

[The handiwork of some others committed to uncivil discourse, the burned out center of the ROTC building, University of California Berkeley, February, 1985.]
According to a letter in today's Kitsap Sun, an Alabama militiaman is calling for the smashing of Democratic windows, and obviously, some are heeding his call. I wonder if the word "Kristallnacht" means anything to these people as well as to all the people who are styling Obama and his supporters as Nazis?  Somehow, I don't think that those of us who support the new health care legislation are on the wrong side of history.--EFP

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Palm's Progress

[Gracie in her prime, 2002, St. Louis]
Weighed in today at 184.3.  I took a day off from running but walked a mile--with Gracie.  I would have walked farther, but Gracie just wasn't up to it.  She has really aged over the past year.  Sad to see!  --EFP

Palm's Progress

[In February, 2006, I was part of an educator's trip to China.  We visited a number of Chinese educational institutions, including a medical school, where we were introduced to this high-tech resuscitation simulator named "Medi-Man."]
Weighed in today at 185.7.  I'm pleased to report that I ran 3 miles, covering 6.55, and I caught up on my grading.
      The big news today is that 14 states, including mine, have filed suit against the federal government, charging that the new health care plan is unconstitutional.  The principal argument seems to be that the federal government cannot compel people to purchase anything from a private company, much less health insurance.  
       By extension of that logic, is it not unconstitutional for the states to compel drivers to purchase automobile insurance from private companies?   Of course, one could argue that requiring drivers to be insured serves a compelling public interest.  Uninsured drivers who have accidents drive up insurance rates for the rest of us.  But the fact of the matter is that people with no health insurance drive up health insurance rates by receiving emergency medical care they can't pay for,
       Of course, one could argue that the analogy doesn't hold because driving is a privilege and not a right.  I still remember that the Delaware state driver's manual of my youth made that point most emphatically.  I have to wonder, therefore, if the people so upset about the new legislation hold health care to be a privilege and not a right.  If so, what sort of comment would that be about America? 
        Also, I  have to wonder just what we've become when the opponents of health care reform engage in ad hominem attacks grounded in race and sexual orientation instead of the issues.  The demagogues and hate mongers have whipped their followers into a frenzy.  I keep hearing Obama and his administration called fascists and Communists both.  (The people mouthing this rhetoric don't seem to understand that these two political philosophies are antithetical.) The irony is that the Tea Baggers and Obama's other populist opponents have more in common with the mobs that helped Hitler to power than Obama and his supporters.  Yet Obama is the one we see caricatured as Hitler.  I humbly submit that either Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh's image would make a better caricature of Mussolini than Oama does of Hitler. 
       It's time for people to get a grip.  --EFP

Monday, March 22, 2010

Palm's Progress

[An impressionistic look at some Skagit Valley Daffodils, March 21, 2010]
I weighed in today at 185.4.  I felt sluggish today, so I ran only 1.5 miles, covering 3.89 before I got back.  The problem was that I waited until 4:00 p.m. to set out.  I resolve to go out no later than noon tomorrow.  I can always resume grading when I get back.  --EFP
[Early tulips, Skagit Valley, March 21, 2010]

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Palm's Progress

[La Conner (Skagit Valley), Washington, March 21, 2010]
Weighed in at 185.9.  No time to run today.  Andrea and I spent the day with friends in the Skagit Valley. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Palm's Progress (and Gracie's Progress)

[Gracie, October 2, 2008]
[Gracie today.  She seems to do this a lot.  It must be an existential thing.  Perhaps dogs too begin to wonder about their existence as they get older.]

Weighed in today at 185.5.  I think I may take the day off from running.  I need to rebuild from yesterday.  --EFP

Friday, March 19, 2010

Palm's Progress

[Getting a Leg-Up, Quantico, Summer, 1992]
Weighed in today at 184.7.  Since I took yesterday off, I really pushed it today.  I ran four miles, covering 6.89 before I got back home.  I hadn't intended to run that far; I was only hoping to push it to 3.5.  But when I finally looked at my pedometer, I realized that only a quarter of a mile more would get me to 4 miles, so I went for it.  I made it, but it was too much too soon.  I'm really feeling it now.  I just took some Vitamin "I."  It will be some time before I push it that far again.  --EFP

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Palm's Progress

[Cottage Industry, Khe Sanh, Vietnam, July, 2002]
I've been remiss.  For the past few days, I've been so busy keeping up with my teaching that I never got around to posting my P.T. progress.  
      On Tuesday, weighed in at 185.7 and ran 3.33 miles, covering 4.5 in all.       
      Yesterday, I weighed in at 184.4 and ran one mile, covering 4.2 in all.  
       I weighed in today at 185.6 and decided to have a down-day in order to rebuild a bit.  I'll hit hard again tomorrow.  
       One of the things I had to do this week was to write a five-paragraph essay as an example for my students.  I assigned them to write one, and I always try to rebut the stereotype of the teacher who teaches what he or she can't do.  Hence, I wrote a little essay on digital versus film photography and my conversion to the former.  It's certainly not the best thing I ever wrote, but it does explain why anyone serious about photography has to go digital.  Just for grin, I'm posting it below.  --EFP
      I was a reluctant convert to digital photography.  My wife, however, finally forced my hand.  She had seen a demonstration of digital photography, and she immediately recognized a way of turning my photo addiction to her advantage.  She had long wanted to be able to email photos home to friends and family who live on the other side of the country.  So, in December, 2001, she denounced my Leica and my Nikon as “antiquated” and presented me with a digital camera for Christmas.  It was a simple point –and-shoot Pentax Optio, but I was so impressed with what it could do that, within three months, I had upgraded to a Nikon digital single-lens reflex.  And I haven’t turned back.  I now know that digital photography is superior to film photography in terms of cost, convenience, and creative controls.           
       “Film is cheap; your reputation is priceless!”  That is the advice professional photojournalists used to give to aspiring amateurs hoping to turn professional.  And good advice it was as long as someone else was paying for the film and processing.  A National Geographic  photographer , for instance, will typically shoot hundreds of photos in order to get the five or six best that the editor will choose to illustrate an article.  But a 36-exposure roll of Kodachrome slide film was going for about $7.00 before Kodak decided to phase it out, and processing ran another $6.00 or $7.00.  At those prices, the average cash-strapped amateur of old could hardly shoot with reckless abandon.  Digital photography has changed all that.  Today’s memory cards will hold hundreds of photos, allowing anyone to shoot to his or her heart’s content.   And the cards themselves are getting cheaper as the manufacturers keep coming up with bigger and faster versions.   Admittedly, the initial outlay for a good digital camera may seem high.  Digital single-lens reflex cameras start at $500, with good fixed-lens digitals going for about $200.  But the digital quest for stunning images will prove far cheaper than film photography in the long run.  A serious photographer cannot afford not go digital.     
         In addition to saving money, digital photography pays undeniable dividends in convenience.   One-hour processing seemed to be a great boon when it became available about 20 years ago, but today’s digital photographer does not have to wait even an hour.   The results can be viewed immediately, offering not just instant gratification but the ability to check on composition and exposure before a photo opportunity is lost.  The digital photographer also does not to have to carry as much as a Luddite stubbornly committed to film.   The 2 GB memory card I have in my Nikon D-2H will hold 888 exposures.  I would have to carry 25 36-exposure rolls of 35mm film in order to equal the capacity of my digital memory card, which is smaller than a matchbook.  Today’s digital point and shoot models can easily fit in a pocket and be carried anywhere.  And no longer do photos have to be printed or projected in order to be enjoyed.  Nor do they have to take up storage space in albums or drawers.  Digital images can be stored in and viewed with a computer, and they can easily be shared with friends and family through email.   
         But the greatest advantage to going digital—bar none—is the creative control I have over the image itself.  Digital cameras typically come with photo editing programs that offer all the features the average photographer will ever need.  With a few clicks of a mouse, I can adjust the exposure, the contrast, the color balance, the composition, and even the size of an image.  I can crop out, and even erase, distracting background elements.  I can sharpen or blur the image, and I can eliminate red-eye.  I can even turn off the color channels and see if the image looks better in black and white.   Dust spots and scratches were always a discouraging facet of film photography.  No matter how careful I tried to be in drying and dusting my negatives, it seemed that a few spots always showed up on the final print.  I became good at covering these with “spotting dyes,” but it was tedious and time-consuming.  Now, with the cloning tool of my editing program, I can cover up spots and scratches in a matter of minutes.  More importantly, all these adjustments and fixes are undetectable, resulting in a completely professional looking finished product. 
         Of course, anyone who has spent a lot of time in the darkroom--watching images magically appear on blank sheets of paper immersed in the developer solution--cannot help but feel a bit nostalgic.  Every now and then, I wish I hadn’t sold my Leica M3 or my Contax G1 outfit.  They were fine cameras.  But then I remember that darkroom work is tedious, time-consuming, and expensive.  And, if I still had those film cameras, what would I do with them?  The slides, prints, and negatives I have produced over the years take up too much space already, and I would just end up scanning the best images, converting them to digital files.  But that takes a lot of time.  I could put that time to better use.  I could be out shooting pictures, lots of pictures, in order to try to get a few really memorable images.  And that, finally, is what photography is all about.   --EFP

The Church's Problems Revisited

[The Maryville University Chapel, St. Louis, 2003]
The Church's problems are back in the news.  I think it's time to recycle my insight into why so many priests of my generation went astray.  The title is a link to a piece I published a couple years ago in the late, great Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
       The Seattle P.I.'s fate seems to represent the story of my life.  Every time I seem to find a forum for my twisted ideas it folds.  --EFP

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Palm's Progress

[The Palm-Print of the day:  The town of Khe Sanh, July, 2002]
I weighed in today at 185.7, so I decided to hit it hard on the P.T. trail.  I ran 3.33 miles, covering 4.5 in all.  Not bad for an old guy!  --EFP

Monday, March 15, 2010

Palm's Progress

[My first serious camera, a Nikon F2]

Weighed in today at 184.3--holding my own.
      In view of yesterday's effort, I had a bit of a down-day today.  I ran 1.1 miles, covering 4.5 in all.  I felt a bit stiff and sore today.  I needed to take some "Vitamin I,"as my friend Chuck Armstrong calls it.  Vitamin I, of course, is Ibuprofen.  --EFP

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What Makes Eddie Run?

[By happenstance, on October 2, 2009, I turned out to be the first jogger to use a new boardwalk section of the Clear Creek Trail here in Silverdale.  Larry Steagall, the lead photojournalist for our local paper, caught me in action.]
Just about 15 months ago, my wife and I decided to make a major change in our lives.  We started on the South Beach Diet the Monday after Thanksgiving, 2008, and I resolved to stop drinking every day (Scotch was my weakness and major calorie source) and to start exercising.
       My wife has lost over 30 pounds, and I've lost nearly 50.  I now weigh in at about 185--which is 7 or 18 pounds lighter than I was when I got off active duty in 1993.  (I am exactly 6' tall.) But what I'm especially proud of is my exercise regimen.
      I started running again last June.  My progress has been slow but steady.  I typically walk to a trail head almost exactly a mile from home--a segment of Silverdale's Clear Creek Trail.  At that point, I start to run.  When I first began last summer, it was all I could do to run .8 of a mile down to where that segment of the trail ends at Silverdale Way.  And then I would walk back home, covering about 3.6 miles in all.  Now, I'm pleased to report, I can keep running across Silverdale Way and on to the next segment of the trail and back to Silverdale way.  That's exactly three miles--without stopping.  I may not be breaking any speed records yet, but I can keep running until I reach my distance goal for that day.  And then there is the walk back, which adds considerable distance and also does me some good, I'm sure.
     On Friday, I managed to run 3.2 miles out of the 6.75 I covered.
      (I took Saturday off.)
     Today, I managed to run 3.4 miles before stopping, covering 6.75 by the time I got home.
      Why do I do it?  I suppose something that happened last week put it in perspective for me.  As I was running in place at an intersection, waiting for the light to change, I struck up a conversation with a man who was holding a sign identifying himself as a down-on-his luck Vietnam vet in need of help.  He seemed to be surprised to see an old white-haired guy out running, and he asked me how old I am.  I told him I'm 63.  He said he was also 63 but that he could no longer work because he has suffered three heart attacks.
       The encounter made me thankful for the good health I still have and for what I can still do to hang on to it for as long as I can.  
        That's what makes Eddie run--that and the fact that I am now 63, the age of the title character of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman.  To quote one of my favorite lines from that play, "Attention must be paid!"
        But I am not just showing off in running or claiming bragging rights in posting this to my blog.  It occurs to me that a good way to keep myself from slacking off is to report the day's weight and distance every day.
        Today, I weighed in at 184.7, and as I reported above, I ran 3.4 miles, covering 6.75 in all.
        This will also be a good way to ensure that I do at least some writing every day.   I find myself thinking about a lot of things as I'm running along.  Today, for instance, I found myself thinking about what the right-wing commentator Monica Crowley said last week on "The McLaughlin Group."   The answer to our economic woes, she insisted, was to "unleash the private sector."
        Pardon me, but isn't that how we got into this mess in the first place?

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Public School Blues

President Obama came out this week in favor of accountability in our educational system.  He even endorsed the Rhode Island school district that recently decided to fire all the teachers in a substandard school.  I am reminded of something the Chancellor of the District of Columbia's Public Schools, Michelle Rhee, said about a year ago in justifying her own pogrom against teachers--that the single most important factor in a student's success is having a good teacher.
      I beg to differ.  I am all for holding schools and teachers accountable for all that they can reasonably do.  And I certainly wouldn't defend incompetent, apathetic teachers. But the sine qua non of student success is the home environment.  In my experience, successful students generally have parents who understand and care about education.  The real problem is that young people are not being held accountable for their performance in school--either by their parents or their schools.
       No one is left back anymore; they get social promotions lest their self-esteem suffer or they bully the younger kids.  Parents coddle their kids when they flunk out or drop out of school rather than send them out to work.  We no longer have a military draft to motivate kids to stay in school.  Instead, our high-school drop-outs are swelling out the ranks of the underclass so deplorably represented on Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, and other train-wreck TV shows.
        We can beat up on teachers all we want, but it won't fix the problem.  We need to beat up--metaphorically, of course--on the kids who are blowing off school and the parents who are letting them. --EFP

The Bon Mot of the Week

And the Bon Mot of the Week goes to Anthony Lane for his New Yorker review of the Matt Damon film "Green Zone."  Damon plays an Army warrant officer whose job it is to search for those elusive weapons of mass destruction in the early days of the Iraq War.  Lane gets off a good one in remarking that "he might have had more success looking for live unicorns."
        One of the rallying cries of the Obama haters these days is "no more apology tours."  But shouldn't we be feeling just a little apologetic about invading a sovereign country for no good reason?  -EFP

Monday, March 8, 2010

Today in History

The Seattle Times reminded its readership that today is the anniversary of the introduction of U.S. combat troops in Vietnam.  It was on March 8,1965, that 3,500 Marines landed at Da Nang--initially just to guard the air base.
     Now there was a Rubicon we shouldn't have crossed.
     Who knew how it was all going to turn out?  William Lederer and Eugene Burdick did.  Lederer, in particular, tried to warn us against turning Vietnam into our own war.  But the decision makers just weren't listening.
      I sometimes wonder what America would be like today if we hadn't gotten involved in Vietnam.
      And what if President Carter had treated the takeover of our embassy in Iran as an act of war?
      And what if we had not supported and encouraged the Taliban in their war against the U.S.S.R. the 1980s?
      In the words of the poet, "Ah me, I fondly dream."  --EFP

Sunday, March 7, 2010

An Afterthought

In addition to his other accomplishments--which are significant and enviable--Chuck Armstrong holds the record for giving me the rarest and most unusual gift I've ever received--a mummified cat.  But that's another story, and a long one.
      What was it Hallmark used to say?  "When you care enough to give the very best!"  That was it.  --EFP

An Informed Opinion

My friend Chuck Armstrong, LtCol., USMC (Ret.), responded to my last post, giving me an informed view of the Female Engagement Team project.  Chuck was my program sponsor at Headquarters Marine Corps when I was the Marine Officer Instructor at Berkeley.  (In other words, he was my real boss.)  We became friends, I suspect, because he found it fun to watch me flail around there at Berkeley (a matter of idle curiosity on Chuck's part, I'm sure).  In any event, Chuck went on to get professionally involved in counterinsurgency, first as a Marine officer and later as a civilian consultant.  --EFP

Ed and All – There was an article in today’s Dallas Morning News about AFG “female engagement teams.” It reminded me of my own “Lioness Team” in Anbar Province, Iraq, 2008-’09. 
      Shortest possible story – our Provincial Reconstruction Team based near Fallujah had excellent support from Marine Regimental Combat Teams with which we were embedded. Augmenting our personal security detachment was a 4-person team of Women Marines. Their missions included interface with Iraqi women we encountered ‘outside the wire;’ and protecting us from women suicide attackers (we were equally likely to encounter women ‘martyrs’ as we were men at that stage of the war). These Women Marines were completely undifferentiated from their male counterparts. They lived on the same FOB, carried the same weapons and equipment, took the same risks, and produced the same results. 
     Since returning to CONUS I have had numerous discussions about our Female Engagement Team. An occasional article in US media addresses – inadequately – the contribution these Marines are making to the war effort. As a career-long advocate of women’s participation across the spectrum of Armed Forces’ activities, I’m always interested in commentary like this.
     Just FYI, since you included me on copy…
 Semper Fi, 
Chuck Armstrong

Everything Old Is New Again!

{Korean-American Woman Marine visiting an orphanage, Yechon, Korea, 1984)

I was intrigued to read in today's Seattle Times that the Marines are forming and training "Female-Engagement Teams."  These will be teams of four or five enlisted women Marines (WMs) whose mission it will be to try to win the hearts and minds of Afghan women living in traditional villages, which bar women from speaking with men outside their families.  As part of their cultural sensitivity training, these WMs are being told to allow their pony tails to stick out from behind their helmets, so that the villagers will be able to tell that they are women; to wear head scarves under their helmets, or to don them upon removing their helmets; and to make small talk (through an interpreter, of course) and to play with the children before asking direct questions.  According to the article, the main question they are to ask is what the village most needs.
       Talk about "deja vu all over again," this was the very same question that we in Combined Action were supposed to ask in an effort to ingratiate ourselves with the people in traditional Vietnamese villages.  As I recall, when we asked this question at Papa Three, the answer was "nothing."  The village chief couldn't think of anything the village needed that we could provide.
       I wish the dedicated women Marines volunteering for this endeavor well.  I really do.  But I do have to wonder about two possible impediments.
      First, is the traditional Afghan culture as xenophobic as the village culture of Vietnam in the 1960s?   If so, Afghan women are not likely to open up to young American women, especially women who have embraced roles essentially alien and perhaps unimaginable to Afghan women.
      Second, I wonder if Afghan villages have a well-entrenched enemy infrastructure largely invisible to us, such as we faced in Vietnam?  Even if they don't, these Female-Engagement Teams, and the grunts accompanying them, are only passing through.  They're not settling in to say.  ("Clearing and Holding" is the phrase for it.)  Hence, the village women may be afraid to open up to these WMs, knowing that the Taliban could soon return to punish even the appearance of collaboration.
      The article also mentions that these WMs will be armed with M-4 rifles, a shortened version of the standard M-16s carried by the men.  The subtext seems to be that the smaller M-4, in this case, is gender appropriate.  Should they also be pink?
      Sorry,  I couldn't resist that one.  But, on a serious note, I see a mixed message that may undercut the mission here.  On the one hand, these women are supposed to be putting a kinder, gentler face on our presence.  On the other hand, they are dressed and armed like warriors.  Can these two roles really be reconciled?  It occurs to me that this was essentially our liability in CAP.  We were supposed to be both warriors and ambassadors in green.  But in our case, at least, the disconnect was not accentuated by gender.
      I worry that our cultural overtures in Afghanistan are grounded in the same naive presupposition that led to our defeat in Vietnam--namely, that, deep down inside, people everywhere are just like us.  It's just not true.  You'd think we would have learned that by now.  --EFP  

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Palm the Film Pundit

[Yours truly, doing push-ups on the very spot where "Zack Mayo," portrayed by Richard Gere, had to do them in the film An Officer and a Gentleman.  It was filmed near us, at Fort Worden, in Port Townsend, WA.]
I was telling a fiend today about the two best films I've seen recently, The Messenger and The Hurt Locker, and he asked if they are "antiwar films."  I had to say "no."  They certainly are not pro-war films.  But to their credit, neither film is a preachy anti-war polemic.  They let our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan speak for themselves.  In the manner of the best imaginative recreations of past wars, these two films simply use the current wars as the backdrop for human drama.  They depict ordinary human beings doing their best to cope with extraordinary pressure.  In that respect, these films do more to call our current commitments into question than any overtly anti-war statement could do.
      The Hurt Locker, in my opinion, is the better of the two.  The portrayal of a young man who is addicted to living life in extremis, and who just can't come down from that high, certainly rings true in my experience.  As Woody Allen says in one of his films, "When you know you can die at any moment, your life becomes terribly authentic."  Ordinary life, as lived back here in "The World," can seem so shallow and phony compared to that terrible authenticity.  The Hurt Locker's director, Kathryn Bigelow, obviously understands that pull and has done a great job bringing it to the screen.  I could see The Hurt Locker winning best film at tomorrow night's Academy Awards.
      I could likewise see Woody Harrelson winning best supporting actor tomorrow night for his role in The Messenger.  He does a great job portraying an Army captain who has been only marginally successful in his career and whose bluster barely conceals his embarrassment at having drawn such a distasteful duty.  He can also barely conceal his envy of the young combat veteran assigned to assist him in making casualty calls.  They have their ups and downs, and they eventually have a somewhat predictable, drunken rapprochement.  But I think it's still a fine film, especially since the captain's young sidekick, we learn, has some demons of his own.  He wishes he had never has the experiences his captain yearns for.
     The Messenger, I must confess, did strike a personally responsive chord in me.  After Vietnam, I was stationed at Camp Lejeune with a fellow Vietnam veteran who had almost lost his left hand to a booby trap.  He spent a year in the Philadelphia Naval Hospital undergoing a series of surgeries that would eventually restore full function and sensation to his hand.  But, because he was ambulatory throughout much of his stay in the hospital, he was repeatedly assigned to accompany the bodies of enlisted Marines killed in action back to their hometowns.  He would have to stay near the body, and be at the family's beck and call, until the funeral was over.
      The stories he used to tell about those experiences appealed to my Vietnam-fueled sense of black humor at the time.  Most of the families were OK, he told me; some were actually good to him.  But others acted as if he had killed the dead Marine he had brought home.  And there were occasional perks.  He claimed to have bedded one casualty's little sister.  In another case, he had to help break up a knock-down, drag-out, hair-pulling and clothes-tearing fight at graveside between the dead Marine's mother and wife over who deserved the guy's G.I. insurance.
        It's a shame that I didn't keep a journal in those days.  I'm sure he told me other stories that would have been worth sharing.  --EFP