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, July 24, 2016

Occasional Dispatch #2, "Kitsap Sun," July 24, 2016

The shelf life for bad news

Your far-flung correspondent Ed Palm here, with my body in Virginia but my spirit still back in Kitsap County. Two recent developments in particular have shaken me out of my heat-induced lethargy and prompted me to file this dispatch.

First, once again, you can take the English professor out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of him.

Pedantic English teachers everywhere must be savoring the controversy surrounding the speech Melania Trump gave on the first night of the Republican National Convention. There is no denying it: The themes and distinctive phrasing borrowed from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech did constitute plagiarism.

As I used to tell students, you must acknowledge the source whenever you borrow someone’s distinctive ideas, opinions, or phrasing, even if you are only paraphrasing rather than directly quoting. Granted, there can sometimes be a fine line between a distinctive idea or opinion and a commonplace one that can’t be attributed to anyone in particular. “When in doubt, cite!” was always my sound advice to students.

The Trump campaign at first refused to acknowledge and take responsibility for the gaffe, denying that the similarities between the two speeches were significant. Two days into the controversy, confronted with the point-bypoint undeniable evidence, they finally offered an explanation. Melania had reportedly read sections of Mrs. Obama’s speech to her speech writer, who wrote them down and blithely used them without checking them against the original. What does that say about the competence of the staff Trump employs?

If I were speaking for the Trump campaign, here’s how I would have responded to the plagiarism charge: “Yes, we should have carefully vetted that speech, and yes, Melania did echo Michelle Obama’s themes and, to a certain extent, her phrasing. But the difference is that Melania means it!”
That last sentence, if I say so myself, is unassailable. Who can say what Melania means and intends but Melania herself? 

Not for nothing did the Marine Corps put me through the Public Affairs Officers Course. While I was there, I learned two lessons that would stand politicians on both sides of the aisle in good stead: (1) Bad news, unlike fine wine and good cheese, does not improve with age. (2) When you make a mistake, acknowledge it, apologize for it, and correct it if you can.

Trump defenders were quick to remind us that Vice President Biden once plagiarized. Biden being a homie, a fellow Delawarean, I remember that controversy. Early in his Senate career he was found to have borrowed a speech from an Irish politician. The difference is that Biden acknowledged and apologized for his lapse, and he was forgiven.

Apologies, however, are not in Trump’s nature. The initial refusal of Trump spokesmen to acknowledge the obvious reminds me of something an old friend used to saywhenever he heard a politician offer an implausible explanation or make an empty promise: “How G**damned dumb do they think we are?”

Pretty damned dumb, I suppose.

That second issue, I’m afraid, is just further evidence of my seriously unintegrated personality as both a Marine and an academic.

Every news report I’ve heard and read about the July 17 ambush of police officers in Baton Rouge emphasized that the killer was a former Marine. A recent headline in The New York Times was a case in point: “Baton Rouge shooter identified as ex-Marine Gavin Long.”

Ironically, news reports associating Marines with murder and mayhem always remind me of making Phi Beta Kappa. “Whatever else you achieve in life,” the professor officiating at the ceremony said, “this accomplishment will be mentioned.” I haven’t found that to be the case. (Thanks to grade inflation, making Phi Beta Kappa is no longer the exclusive honor it once was.) But should I ever do something horrendous, you can bet that the media will identify me as an “ex-Marine” — and a Vietnam veteran to boot.

Ever since 1966— when “ex-Marine Charles Whitman” climbed that Texas tower and shot 49 people — the uncompromising ethos of the Marine Corps has fueled an unfair stereotype: Ex-Marines, more so than the veterans of the other services, are likely to be deranged and dangerous.

The reality is that the Corps’ no-excuses discipline and legendary tough training develop the self-confidence, maturity, and resilience needed to roll with life’s punches. Frankly, the Corps has always appealed to young men with something to prove to those who may have underestimated or rejected them— but most of all to themselves.

In my own case, to quote Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky,” I enlisted to prove that I wasn’t “just another bum from the neighborhood.” It worked for me, and it has worked for the great majority of those who needed the mark of distinction denoted by the title “U.S. Marine.”

So I’m invoking the fairness doctrine: How about some headlines and news reports associating the title “ex-Marine” with good deeds for a change?

Contact Ed Palm at majorpalm@ gmail. com.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Occasional Dispatch #1 (July 10, 2016)

You just can't keep me down or out of the "Sun." The editor has encouraged me to report in monthly from afar, and I'm taking him up on it. --S/f, EFP

Expanded pursuit of happiness

Ed Palm, your former community columnist turned far-flung correspondent here, staying in touch just as I said I would in my "Farewell to rhetorical arms" column (June 5).

Something happened to me recently that, in the words of the poet, "has given me a change of heart ... and saved some part of a day I had rued."

As you may have heard, summers are hot and humid here in Virginia. Today found me not just overheated but generally frazzled over dealing with all the details of moving so much so that I reverted to absent-minded-professor type.

I had just come out of Lowes with a new weed eater and an $11 roll of laminate shelf paper. Needing both hands to load the weed eater into my truck, I set the shelf paper on the roof. (Dont get ahead of me now.) Sure enough, I drove off with the! shelf paper on the roof, and Mrs. Palm was sorely disappointed when I came home without it. So back to Lowes to see if it was still there in the parking lot. It wasnt.

I went in to the customer- service desk and confessed to carelessness, asking if anyone had found and turned in a roll of shelf paper. Sure enough, someone had a roll rendered unusable due to tire-tread marks running across it.

Would you believe that they gave me a new roll free of charge?

Mrs. Palm, who was born in North Carolina, wasnt surprised. (Ours is a mixed marriage. I self-identify as a Yankee.) "This is the South. People are nice here," she explained.

Of course, there are nice people all over in Western Washington as well as Virginia. We just need more of them everywhe! re.

But enough about my trials and tribulations. On to the passing scene.

The big news out of the Pentagon lately has been the decision to allow transgender troops to serve openly in the military. Im sure well be hearing the same objections to this development that we heard about allowing gays to serve openly that it will undermine unit cohesion and threaten good order and discipline. I remember hearing the military enthusiast and popular novelist Tom Clancy sneering to the effect that the real men in the 101st Airborne wouldnt stand for having gays in their midst. But stand for it they did, and I predict that todays young troops will roll with this reform as well.

As forme, despite being an old fogey, Im fine with allowing a transgendered person to enlist or be commissioned under the gender to which he or she has transitioned. But that should be it. My concern is that the Departm! ent of Defense will also shoulder the expense of surgery and treatment for those still in transition as well as for those who have yet to begin the process. Undoubtedly, some few will enlist just to change gender at taxpayer expense.

The irony is that the Pentagon is undertaking this reform at the same time it is whittling away at retiree medical benefits and otherwise looking to cut the exorbitant personnel costs of the all-volunteer force.

As Ive argued before, the key to having a costeffective military is simply to stop enlisting people with multiple dependents and to start restricting family benefits to career NCOs and officers. We have economic refugees enough in the ranks. We need more troops motivated to serve in the old selfless sense of the term be they gay, straight, or transgendered.

Another blip stillon my radar screen is the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Constitutional issues and societal objections aside, what I keep coming back to is our Declaration of Independence. Ever since Lincoln invoked that document in justifying the Civil War, affirming that "all men are created equal," another of Jeffersons presuppositions has done as much, if not more, to shape American attitudes and expectations. Im referring to the claim that "the pursuit of happiness" is an "unalienable" right. If marrying makes a same-sex couple happy, who is it hurting? Gaysand lesbians are merely claiming the same rights and legal protections afforded by heterosexual marriage.

The religious right, of course, will never be reconciled to same-sex marriage. "Chief Justice Roberts, tear down this wall of separation between church and state!" would seem to be what some are saying. That would be an outcome far worse th! an allowing gays and lesbians to marry. Like it or not, the Bibles strictures defining marriage and condemning homosexuality are not normative for everyone in our secular, pluralistic society.

For my part, Im content to thank God for the blessing of air conditioning. Its so hot and humid here that adhesive Mylar numbers wont stick to our new mailbox.

Give thanks back there in Western Washington for your temperate climate.

Contact the sweltering Ed Palm at majorpalm@gmail. com.