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, September 24, 2011

Balancing the Budget on the Backs of the Military

According to Tom Philpott's latest "Military Update" (published today in our local paper), the Obama administration's budget balancing plan includes annual TRICARE fees, substantial increases in pharmacy co-payments, and a civilianized military retirement system.   Under the White House plan, according to Philpott, servicemen and women "are expected to share in the fiscal sacrifices to be asked of millions of Americans drawing federal entitlements."
        Let me get this straight:  following 9/11, our Armed Forces went to war while the rest of America was told to go shopping.  No sacrifices were asked of the American public at large. Now, after ten years of fighting two wars, our small All-Volunteer Force is being told that "their benefits are just too generous and must be brought nearer to what civilians receive."
       As a former enlisted Marine and a retired Marine officer, I would be okay with that as long as "millions of Americans" start sharing in the same sacrifices and hardships currently being endured by the less than one percent of our population currently shouldering the burden of national defense.
        Yes, America reveres and supports its troops!  Think of how Curly, of Three Stooges fame, used to pronounce "certainly," followed by "nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!"   --EFP     

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Take on American Exceptionalism

American exceptionalism has been much in the news of late.  All the presidential hopefuls lining up against Obama seem to want to reaffirm it, and not the least of their grievances is Obama’s apparent apparent reluctance to extol it.
            The problem, as Obama Knows, is that there is a fine line between exceptionalism and chauvinism.  America is distinctive for lacking a formal class structure, and Americans are generally more upwardly mobile than people in much of the rest of the world.  But we are no longer the land of unlimited opportunity, and moving on up in America has always been largely a matter of chance and circumstance. We value rugged individualism and reward self-reliance—to the point of social Darwinism, some would argue. We were founded on the principle that “all men are created equal,” but people of color were excluded from that formulation at the time of our founding.  We are still struggling with that legacy.  The right to own private property has long been considered especially American—so much so that we tend to equate the fulfillment of that right with the “pursuit of happiness.”  The American educational system, once second to none, can no longer claim even second place.  On the world stage, we have long touted the right of self-determination, but the Vietnam and Iraq Wars called that commitment into question. 
             As a child of the fifties and sixties, I always thought that what truly put America on the path to exceptionalism was the so-called “Establishment” and “Free Exercise” clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  Acutely aware of the religious strife that had torn Europe apart for centuries, our founding fathers had the wisdom, as Jefferson himself termed it, to erect a “wall of separation between church and state.”  To maintain otherwise is to do violence to the text:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” 
            In the America I grew up in, these two provisions were generally understood to mean that religion should be a private and not a public affair.  I remember when then-Senator John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, was running for president.  Some worried that he would allow the canons of the Church to trump all other considerations.  He reassured the nation that he could compartmentalize his faith and act in the best interests of all Americans, not just Catholics.        
           Whatever his shortcomings, Obama seems capable of such compartmentalization.  So many of his critics, by contrast, seem virtually pharisaical in their public professions of faith.  Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum have all been pandering to the religious right for potential votes.  Should one of them get elected, the debt for that support will come due.  The last thing America needs right now is an evangelist in chief.
            Despite what the religious right would have us believe, America, in its most fundamental sense, is not a Christian nation.  Our founding fathers were sons of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason.  The prevailing religious sentiment of the time was deism. Deists put their faith in the “laws of nature” and believed in “Nature’s God,” not a personal God who intervenes in human affairs. They conceived of God as the “great clockmaker” who set up the universe to run according to rational laws and principles and who expects us to use our God-given reason in governing ourselves. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were products of this prevailing sentiment and not divine revelation. 
            Someone needs to remind our born-again politicians and their supporters that even Christ drew a distinction between the secular and the sacred, counseling his followers to “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”  Our founding fathers were wise enough to ground our republic in a consensus of humanistic values and ideals that owe as much to ancient Greece and Rome as to our Judeo-Christian heritage. America was founded as a secular humanistic nation.  That was an inspired choice.  It set us apart from European history, making America truly exceptional.  --EFP

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Les Is More" Revisited: A DADT Story

Today marking the official end of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, I thought I would dust off two essays I previously published on the issue.  The title to this post is a link to one of the essays.  I've copied the other one below.  --EFP
"Les Is More:  A Don't Ask, Don't Tell Story"

 [The following appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on 17 Dec. 2007.]

"Lighten up on 'don't ask, don't tell"


Call me "Les."

My real name is "Ed," but I was always Les to the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division when I was a major serving on his staff in the late '80s.
     The recent news reports about 28 retired admirals and generals calling for an end to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy have led me to reflect on how I came to be Les. Personally, I think it is long past time for the Department of Defense to lighten up on this issue, as I learned to do in the 1st Marine Division.
     The entire time I was on active duty as a Marine officer, there was only other officer named Palm, and he was always at least three ranks ahead of me. His name is Les Palm.
     Now, the Marine Corps, compared with the other services, is a small place. Senior officers tend to know one another -- by reputation, if not personally. Les Palm enjoyed a superb reputation throughout the Corps. Ed Palm -- "not so much." This was mainly because of my own career choice. As an enlisted man, I had served in Vietnam as a rifleman and patrol leader with the Combined Action Program. But later in life, as an officer, I became an "adjutant," a professional administrator.
     The general clearly had me confused with Les Palm. Whenever I would brief him, he would close the briefing with "Thank you, Les." Or, when I would encounter him in the hall or in the club, he would say "Hi, Les."
     For the most part, I was content to be "Les." But one day I did ask the division adjutant, an ironic young captain, if he thought I should set the general straight.
     "Hell no, sir!" my young friend replied. "Les Palm is a heterosexual -- an artillery officer. You're just an adjutant," he reminded me.  "The confusion can only do you good!"
     I retired -- still a major -- in 1993 and went on to an academic career. Les Palm would go on to become a lieutenant general. We never actually met. But my young friend was right; the confusion did do me a lot of good. It prompted me to think seriously about whether having gays serving openly would really be a detriment to good order and discipline.
     Later, in interviewing for academic jobs, when people would ask me where I stood on the gay ban, I knew just what to say. I told them that I had seen far more boy-girl problems than problems caused by gay Marines.
     I told them that, gay or straight, we have an obligation to keep our sex lives private and separate from our professional lives. And I told them that, should the Department of Defense change the policy and allow gays to serve openly, not only would we adjust but we would lead the way, just as the Armed Forces had done with racial integration in the '50s.
     I still believe that. I also still wonder if anyone anywhere has ever confused Les Palm with Ed Palm the adjutant turned academic.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dragonflies, Clear Creek Trail, Silverdale, WA (9-20-11)

Dragonflies are nature's helicopters.  They can hover, fly backwards, and pivot on their own axis.  I love the challenge of trying to photograph them in flight.  Click on each photo for a better view.  --EFP


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Deficit Be Damned--for Now at Least!

Today's "This Week, with Christiane Amanpour" featured an interview with Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, one of the few large American companies still hiring.  We keep hearing that businesses are sitting on large surpluses because they are afraid to hire.  The right wing, of course, attributed that fear to strangling government regulation and the socialistic designs of the Obama administration.  Schmidt doesn't see it that way.  The problem is simply a matter of supply and demand. People are not buying.  Hence, demand is down.
       Businesses are not going to hire people to meet a non-existent demand for more goods and services.  Schmidt recommends that the government put people back to work on infrastructure programs.  That would stimulate the demand that businesses need to see before they will hire more people.
      It makes sense to me.  I don't see how the Republican/Tea Party solution of "getting government off the backs of businesses" could get our economy growing again.  That alone will not create the additional demand for goods and services that would require businesses to hire more people.
      The irony is that Schmidt is not the first business mogul I've heard advancing this solution.  It would seem that conservative ideologues are quick to speak for the business community but not to listen to it. --EFP

The Superannuated All-Volunteer Force Revisited

This morning, during the "In Memoriam" segment of ABC's This Week, I noted that a 40-year-old Army PFC was killed in Afghanistan.  This is just wrong.  I said as much back in 2005 on NPR.  The title to this post is a link to that commentary.  --EFP

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Mantra of the Far Right

An opponent of a proposed veterans’ services levy here in Kitsap County has been quoted as saying this:  "We do not need continued government support to do what we need to do in our lives. . . .What we need is for government to get the hell out of our way." 
            I’m getting really tired of hearing variations on the Reaganesque mantra that “government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.”  It was more rhetorical than real--just a clever sound bite--when Reagan first uttered it, and it is less than helpful today.  To be sure, we need to root out fraud, waste, and abuse at all levels of government.  But the fact remains that there are some needs that only government can meet.  There are other needs that government has a moral obligation to meet.  Given that we have relegated the burden of national defense to less than one percent of our population, the obligation is undeniable, and only government has the mechanisms to ensure a  consistent, widespread approach to meeting the need. I support the levy.   
            And as for our country at large, clever sound bites—especially the mantras of ideologues—are not the solution to our problems.  --EFP       

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hijacking/"High-jacking" Peanuts

I finally got a couple decent shots of blue jays hijacking (or should I say "high-jacking") peanuts from our squirrel feeder.  Click on the photos for a better look.  --EFP

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Blackberry Season at Chez Palm

Our blackberries are finally ripe, and just as he did last summer, "Phineas" is helping himself.  Be sure to click on each photo for a better view.  --EFP