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.)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Victory in Iraq?

Back when we were mired in Vietnam, some wag—I forget whom—suggested a way out:  “Let’s just declare victory and leave.” 
                It seems to me that this is exactly what we’re doing in Iraq.  Despite what the neo-cons would have us believe, we haven’t won the war, nor are the Iraqi military and police ready to keep the peace.  And a large number of U.S. advisers and trainers are remaining behind, in harm's way.  I wish someone would poll a significant sample of average Iraqis, asking, “Do you feel you’re better off without Saddam than you were with him?”  I suppose it comes back to the old Marine Corps axiom:  "If you can't stand the answer, don't ask the question."  --EFP

Racing to the Top

The Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative, with its emphasis on teacher quality, reminds me of something my father, a career Air Force pilot, once told me. 
                It was the early eighties, and the Marine Corps was having no end of problems with the new Harrier “Jump Jet.”  There had been a series of devastating crashes, and people were beginning to wonder if there was something inherently wrong with the design.  Drawing on twenty-plus years of flying experience, my father advanced a theory that certainly rang true to me.  
                A production airplane, he explained, has to be designed to a level of mediocrity.  Even a mediocre pilot has to be able to fly it safely.  This is because no operational squadron can count on placing only exceptional pilots in its cockpits.   The Harrier, my father suspected, was just too demanding an aircraft for the average pilot.  And the reality is that the majority of pilots are going to be mediocre—just good enough. 
                The same holds true, it seems to me, when it comes to teachers.  To be sure, we need to weed out lazy, unmotivated, and incompetent teachers.   But, no matter what we do, we’ll never be able to put an outstanding teacher in charge of every classroom.  Like those operational pilots, the great majority of our teachers will be mediocre—just good enough.  And, in my view, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 
                I feel this way because I don’t believe that replacing a mediocre teacher with an inspired one will guarantee an improvement in standardized test scores—the main criteria some would use in judging teacher effectiveness.  There are just too many variables in the equation, parental support and cultural background ranking high among them.  
                For example, as I look back over my own public school education, I can’t say that any of my elementary school teachers stand out as having been exceptional or particularly inspiring.  But they got the job done, and they were able to do so for two reasons:  They were supported by parents who understood the need for discipline, and they taught within a school system that didn’t reward or promote students who failed to perform.  
              Recently, I heard the noted conservative pundit Michael Medved proclaim that class size was not a significant factor in educational effectiveness.   If I understood Medved correctly, he is all for judging teachers on the basis of standardized test scores.   It seems to me that if we go that route, if we begin to purge teachers whose students fail to score well on standardized tests, we will need to build new schools—ones with large lecture halls.  That’s because each member of that limited, elite corps of truly exceptional teachers will probably need to teach classes of 250 to 500 students.  --EFP

Monday, August 30, 2010

The New Pharisees

[I'm pleased to report that this one appeared in The Kitsap Sun on September 1, setting off a firestorm of response.  As I always say, if you can't be insightful, at least be inciteful. Here is a link to the letter in the Sun:   The Return of the Pharisees
I am amazed that Glenn Beck’s disciples are O.K. with his criticism of President Obama’s Christianity (at Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on Aug.  27)   For one thing, I don’t recall that Obama ever made anything but a general profession of faith, asserting merely that he is a Christian.   But more importantly, Beck doesn’t seem to have paid any attention to the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:  9-14).   Nor does he seem to hold with the injunction to “judge not that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:  1).   Finally, Beck is a Mormon.  Are his disciples aware that many Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church alike consider Beck’s beliefs to be outside the Christian mainstream?  It would seem that the Pharisees are back and that they are being led by Glenn Beck. --EFP

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Phiney at the Dog Park

Here are three more shots of Phiney at the Dog Park.  Please click on each photo for a better view.  --EFP

The New Spartan Mother

[Cpl. James L. Reaves, killed in action, December 4, 1967]
Sarah Palin has lately carved out a new role for herself.  At Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington on Saturday, she was quoted as bragging that “I raised a combat vet, and you can’t take that away from me.”  Palin has clearly cast herself in the role of the fabled Spartan mother, who in sending her son off to battle would warn him to come back carrying his shield or on it, and with his “wounds all before.”   That last phrase was a warning that he had best die facing the enemy and not running away or his mother would be ashamed of him. 
            Clearly, a line has been crossed in America.  Despite what rightwing revisionists would have us believe, even during the darkest days of our Vietnam War, the great majority of Americans still respected the military.  The difference is that they didn’t revere and idolize the military.  And there are at least two reasons why this new attitude is not in our best interests.
            First, as women can attest, one of the best ways to keep someone down, ironically, is to place him or her up on a pedestal.  Women were once viewed as too good, too ethereal, for higher education and for careers.  Their roles as wives and mothers were idealized.  The effect was to keep them in their male-ordained places.  We’re doing essentially the same thing to our troops.  We give them glib expressions of gratitude, but that’s all we really give them—lip service.  The average American doesn’t seem to mind that we don’t have enough volunteers and that our soldiers and Marines are enduring multiple combat tours.  The result was predictable:  widespread problems with PTSD and an alarming increase in suicides.   Yet people like Palin don’t seem to feel this.   They obviously view our troops as Spartans all--born and bred just to fight.
            Second, the country seems to have forgotten that the military has a vested interest in war.  It is a great oversimplification to view the civil-military relation in America as clean cut.  Our military does indeed answer to civil authority, but the lines between civil and military authority become blurred at the top.  Generals and admirals are ambitious people, and they usually don’t get to four-star rank without having highly placed political allies.  It is na├»ve to think that a president gets unalloyed, completely objective professional advice from the general he places in charge of a war.  Such a general is part of the administration team, and he is expected to speak only on message, to shape his opinions and assessments to fit the administration’s views.  Just ask General McChrystal if you don’t believe that.  
            There is also the problem of military careerism.  It is difficult to be a credible warrior without a war.  To its credit, today’s military seems to have curbed the abuses we saw during Vietnam.   We’re not seeing high-ranking officers pinning medals on one another willy-nilly, nor are we seeing them trying to save face with inflated body counts and chest-thumping predictions of imminent victory.   But still the military profession demands a “can-do” spirit, even when something cannot or should not be done.  Theirs, after all, is “not to reason why,” but rather to “do and die.” 
            The military is indeed an honorable profession.  Soldiers render a necessary service in this fallen world, but it is a serious business and one that should never be sentimentalized.  What it comes down to is that a soldier’s mother sends her son out to kill another mother’s son.  Sarah Palin, and all the neo-Spartan mothers like her, would do well to remember that sad necessity. --EFP
[This piece has been picked up by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:  The New Spartan Mother.]

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mere Palm Loosed Upon Seattle

I'm pleased that The Seattle Times gave me a little space to today to comment on a topic near and dear to my heart.  It is in keeping with my motto:  If you can't be insightful, at least be inciteful:  "Vietnam vets should speak up"

Grand Opening of the Silverdale Dog Park

Our new Silverdale Dog Park opened today.  Phiney and I attended the grand opening.  Please click on each of the photos for a better view.  --EFP

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Life with Phineus

Our eight-month-old Jack Russell Terrier Phineus--"Phiney" for short--has developed a taste for blackberries. Click on the photo for a better view. --EFP

More Blue Jays

I'm still moping melancholy mad, trying to take a perfect picture of a Blue Jay flying with a peanut.  Click on each photo for a better view. --EFP

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blue Jays with Peanuts

I'm still obsessed with trying to get a good shot of a Blue Jay flying with a peanut. Click on each photo for a better view. --EFP

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Olympic Game Farm Revisited

On Friday the 13th (8/13/2010), we took Andrea's brother Brian, his wife Linda, and son Evan to the Olympic Game Farm in Sequim, Washington.  Click on each photo for a better view.  --EFP