Friday, June 30, 2006

Redfish Morning

One of the things I like most about my life at the moment is the freedom I have to set my own hours. It is one of the things that I dreamed about during my Marine Corps career. In those days, I didn't have set hours either--I was just on duty 24/7. But now, my work allows me to work at my own pace and when I need to. The only problem with that arrangement is I end up working at very odd hours. The thing I really like about my work schedule is the ability to hunt and fish during the week when I am not competing with the crowds.

This morning the weather forecast called for calm winds and an incoming tide, so I launched Semper Fish before sunup and motored to one of my favorite redfish spots. It is a great spot and I am going to tell you just how to find it. Take a left leaving the boat ramp and look for a flat place on the water. Cut the motor and look over the side. I marked an X on the side of the boat to show you right where to fish.

First cast this morning with a top water bait was rewarded with a redfish strike that looked for all the world like someone had thrown a cinder block in the water. Spaloosh! The line cut through the water and instead of the squeal of my drag, I heard, Ping!, and my line went slack. Somebody forgot to check the drag on the new reel! There is nothing more frustrating than a good fish lost due to stupidity.

A few casts later, with an appropriately loosened drag, another red inhaled a new top water bait. The fight was on! There is nothing more exciting than the first run of a big fish on 8lb test line! The fish bull-dogged around the boat and made several long runs, and I just let him have his way. Finally, after ten minutes of some of the most fun you can have standing up, the big red was boatside and I kneeled to bring him to hand. He rolled on his side, looked me straight in the eye and spit out the plug like a redneck discharging a used wad of chew.

Just as well. I was gonna let him go anyway.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tipping Johnny Reb's Cap

I have a calendar in my office from the Ole Miss Alumni Association. It, like most calendars, contains reminders of holidays and such, but also has references to significant events in the history of the University of Mississippi. My calendar tells me that tomorrow is a red letter day in the annals of my alma mater. On the 28th of June in 1882, Ole Miss became co-educational. As one who can personally attest to the joys (and frustrations) of sharing a campus with the feminine flowers of Mississippi's (as well as neighboring state's) gentility, I am of a mind to celebrate the occasion. I will, of course, keep my celebration to myself. My fond memories of flirtatious southern belles are not nearly as cherished as the peace I enjoy with my own beautiful bride.

As I was engaged to the woman I married for the first two years of my matriculation at Ole Miss, and married for the last two years, my experiences with other coeds was purely platonic, and my observations regarding the same, safely second-hand. I will admit, however, to living a somewhat wild and frenetic dating life vicariously through my buddies. While they often related to me that they considered me extremely lucky to have won the heart of Miss Brenda, an observation with which I heartily concurred, I was keenly interested in the relation of their extra-curricular exploits with the distaff side in the great game. It was not a completely prurient interest, mind you. I considered it part of my undergraduate educational experience, nay, requirement, to catalog as much knowledge as possible regarding the chase. Hadn't we always been reminded that our social education was just as an important part of our college tenure as was our book learning? Okay, that's all Barbara Streisand. Hearing some of my more talented story-telling friends' retelling of critical moments in the hunt for honey was actually some of the best laughs I can remember.

At the entrance to the campus on University Avenue, a statue of a Confederate soldier stands atop a memorial to the sons of Mississippi who fought and died in the War for Southern Independence. He holds a rifle at order arms in his left hand and with his right, shades his eyes to the rising sun. My first week on campus, I stopped to read the inscription and stood gawking upward at the face of the soldier as only a freshman would. A voice from behind me broke my reverie. "Legend has it," an upperclassman intoned sagely, "that if a woman leaves this campus for the last time with her virginity intact, he'll tip his cap."

As promiscuously promising as that legend was, the truth was not in it; if the frantic frustration of my friends was any indication. In fact, owing to its location in a dry county, and the rejection of amorous intentions suffered by the testosterone fueled half of the student body, Ole Miss was not so affectionately referred to as "The Home of Hot Beer and Cold Women." But, oh, the energy expended in search of that moniker's reverse.

One thing is certain, at least in the mind of anyone who has spent a waking hour on its campus, Ole Miss is home to the world's greatest collection of beautiful women. The building that now regretfully houses the Center for Southern Studies, or some such deep-fried stupidity, used to be known as McCain Hall, named in honor of a Mississippian, US Navy Admiral, and grandfather of one Senator John McCain. In my day, the building housed the Naval ROTC offices and classrooms. As it was strategically located at the nexus of Sorority Row and the rest of the campus, we proudly politically-incorrect midshipmen, when not closely supervised by our active duty instructors, would sit on McCain Hall's steps and loudly and raucously rank, on a scale of 1 to 10, the individual participants in a veritable fashion parade past our perches. I don't remember a ranking ever seriously assigned lower than an eight.

How horrible we were!

Ah, the good ole days.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Toy and Counter-Toy

Number 1, and only for the time being, grandson is officially crawling on his knees as of this weekend! For about a month now he has been belly-sliding along on the hardwood floors looking more like a penguin than man-child. But, we are in big trouble now. He has discovered knee-stabilized locomotion and is off to the races. The kid just lights up my life. Never had a clue that a grandchild would effect me the way he has.

Of course, it is amazing that he is even learning to move around on his own at all. I don't think the youngun spends much time out of the arms of some parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, church lady, etc... Little wonder--he always has a huge smile for anyone and everyone. Maybe that is what is so special to me about the little squirt.

I'm kind of envious of the boy. Growing up moving around like we did, I was never around grandparents and other extended family much. This kid has two sets of grandparents and two sets of great grandparents in town. There is a healthy competition among all of us to spoil the little rascal rotten, and it is beginning to take on the appearance of a multi-national arms race. The other set of grandparents have recently upped the ante significantly. Caleb now has, I kid thee not, his own miniature "roller coaster." He can actually ride in a little battery operated car that completes a circle on a mildly undulating set of plastic tracks. He loves it!

Humpf! Wait until he can sit a horse...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Open Letter to the Corps

The editor of the Arizona Republic fish wrap has created quite a stir among my Marine comrades, by publishing a political cartoonist's denigrating rendition of the Marine Corps' emblem. It painted, with the broad brush available to journalists, the entire Marine Corps as criminally culpable for the acts of a few. Marines have responded with fury and scorn at the audacious editorial cheap shot. As gut-wrenchingly awful as it is, however, my Marine Corps had better pay attention to the allegation and sentiment behind the scurrilous sacrilege.

Marine leadership has touted the "strategic corporal" concept for several years. We believe that the tactical actions of the most junior leader on the battlefield, particularly in this age of instantaneous information dissemination, can have strategic ramifications. We believe it, but we don't bring near the amount of resources to bear that is required to train and educate those junior leaders to bear the brunt of that awesome responsibility. Marines will immediately rise to disagree with that assessment, and I welcome their arguments to the contrary. But let me quickly outline what I think is required.

First, raise recruiting standards. Raise them significantly. Stop waiving criminal disqualification for enlistment. If one of our recruiting mottos is "Quality, not Quantity," then let's practice what we preach. It is long past time for another General Louis H. Wilson to step into the shoes of the Corps' Commandancy, raise standards, and discharge those who don't measure up. It worked dramatically well 30 years ago. General Conway, the state of Arkansas can surely provide as smart a man as Mississippi did with General Wilson.

Second, tighten the screws on the personal conduct of all Marines, 24/7. Put teeth back in the UCMJ and hold Marines to its standards for conduct. Teach young officers to be moral standard bearers. Bring back, in a more modern adaptation, the liberty card. Apply the principles of identification and restriction of liberty risks strictly, not just overseas, but stateside as well. Ask any Marine who served in the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines in the late 90's what a strictly enforced liberty risk program did for all of those NOT identified as a risk--they will tell you to a man that they had more liberty freedom because the knuckle-heads did not. And, the conduct of the entire battalion, as evidenced by dramatically low rates of NJP, was significantly improved. My gut feeling, no, my firm belief, is that the chances of any one in that battalion committing a battlefield atrocity were lower than most. By the way, lest anyone think me a braggart, the tough conduct standards I applied were not my own ideas. In preparation for my battalion's deployment to Okinawa, in the late fall of 1997, my regimental commander, Colonel John A. Keenan, said to me, and I paraphrase, "One misbehaving lance corporal on liberty in Kinville can do what several divisions of Japanese Imperial Army troops could not--kick the Marine Corps off Okinawa."

Third, do not promote a Marine to the NCO ranks and place him or her in charge of a small unit unless and until he or she demonstrates complete commitment to the standards, 24/7. Do not put a "hell-raiser" in charge of a squad, just because he is a tactical tiger.

Fourth, increase funding for, and the length of, NCO and Small Unit Leader courses and schools. Put the most morally straight officers and SNCOs you can find in charge. Decrease funding for officer candidate training and basic officer education, if you can't find the money required.

Marines, we are correct to be outraged at our emblem's mistreatment and our associated defamation. Let's channel the outrage into actions that will speak louder than any words in our defense.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I'm happy to see that the US team is neither doing well in, nor US citizens particularly engrossed by, the futbol World Cup. In the Colonel's ranking of sports, futbol (soccer to us gringos and colonists) is relegated to the middle tier alongside hockey, basketball, and golf. The bottom tier includes such unnotables as curling and, well, curling is in a tier all by its lonesome. I have always found something unnerving about the conduct of both a soccer game and the fans at said game, and futbol lacks a dimension possessed by hands-allowed sports.

Unlike the anemic academic abode to which I matriculated for my close approximation of a college education, the high school from which I graduated was first rate. Balboa High School was one of two high schools in the Panama Canal Zone that military dependents and children of civilian employees of the Canal Zone Company attended. In addition to academic excellence prompted by superb teachers, we had the opportunity to share cultures with the children of Panamanian families who could afford the tuition. It was while attending high school with the sons of Panama that I had my first real taste of futbol, and it was bad.

Panamanians are rabid about futbol in the same way we Americans are rabid about football. So, we would take turns playing each other's favorite sport. They would run all over us, scoring goals in rapid fire succession with the round ball, and then we would take out our frustrations in a bruising session with the pointy ended ball. Following each game, there would be a session of fun-making at the expense of the least proficient on each side at futbol and football. I could deliver a strike with a tight spiraling football, but could never master the footwork to control a futbol. So, just as I hate math for my inability to master it, I have no love in my heart for futbol. I wish I could remember the Spanish nickname I got from my Panamanian amigos. I do remember that it loosely translated as "tanglefoot."

If my Rebels have another horrid season like the last two, I may develop a loathing for football, as well.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


At the close of the Second World War in the Pacific theater, representatives from two of the allies, the US and Russia, agreed to partition the formerly Japanese controlled Korean peninsula into two zones for which each would have occupation responsibilities. They arbitrarily bisected the peninsula at the 38th (nice round number) parallel and set up puppet governments. In the south, the US quickly turned over responsibility for governance to a relatively benign dictator. In the north, the Soviets installed an ego-maniacal communist who turned the social order upside down and created both a cult of personality and an offensively capable army around himself. Five short years after the cessation of hostilities against Japan and Germany, war was thrust once again into the world's lap. With tacit Soviet and Chinese approval, a North Korean army attacked south in June of 1950 and quickly overran Seoul and all but a small perimeter around Pusan at the southern tip of the peninsula.

The United States responded at the first attack with a feeble force scraped together from soft occupation forces in Japan. The Americans held the perimeter at Pusan long enough for MacArthur to assemble a couple of half strength divisions, one Army and one Marine, and conduct a classic turning movement with an amphibious landing at Inchon, to the west of Seoul. The North Korean army, overstretched and now facing the prospect of two American divisions astride its line of supply, collapsed and fled back north. MacArthur pursued all the way to the Korean border with China at the Yalu River.

The Chinese, threatened by an American offensive force poised on its southern border, sent several divisions across the Yalu against the Americans. Chinese soldiers were actually told that Chinese territory had been violated and they attacked believing they were repelling an invader. US forces fell back south under the Chinese onslaught and Seoul fell again to communist forces. Later UN (the US acting as the executive agent for a UN resolution passed when the Russian and Chinese ambassadors were not present to veto) forces recaptured Seoul and a stalemate developed along a line close to the original dividing line. The war continued in a trench warfare fashion reminiscent of France in 1915, until the signing of an Armistice in 1953.

No peace treaty was, nor has ever been, signed between the participants. Technically, a state of war still exists between the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south. Each maintains huge standing armies, facing off against each other across a narrow strip of land called the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ. The United States maintains a full strength Army division and significant air forces on the peninsula, with more ready to rapidly reinforce from Japan. The DPRK practices its plan for an assault south twice a year and conducts brazen reconnaissance of ROK territory. The ROK and the US practice their defense and counterattack twice a year and conduct brazen reconnaissance of DPRK territory. The DPRK maintains an enormous stockpile of chemical weapons and sufficient delivery systems to turn the southern half of the peninsula into a toxic waste land in a matter of hours. The US possesses an enormous stockpile of nuclear weapons and sufficient delivery systems to turn the northern half of the peninsula into a radioactive waste land in a matter of hours. Oh, and the DPRK probably has 6 to 12 nukes of its own to play with.

This stand-off has been in effect for 53 years. The ROK has prospered under a mostly democratic and completely capitalistic system of governance. The DPRK has starved and frozen under the most tyrannical cult of personality the world has ever seen. The conditions in the DPRK make Orwell's "1984" seem like a description of nirvana by comparison. The next time you see a TV picture of the DPRK's massive military on parade, look at how skinny and undernourished the soldiers are, and know that these are the people getting fed in the DPRK. Kim Jong Il stays in power by diverting every scrap of food and material to his military. The rest of the population eats tree bark.

As I write this, some media outlets are reporting that the DPRK is about to test- launch a new missile with range to reach the US. The US is threatening severe consequences if the missile is launched. Japan, which had a DPRK missile overfly its territory in 1998, is warning the DPRK, as well.

As one who has relatively recently served in Korea, I can tell you without exaggeration that the military situation on the Korean peninsula has been and remains much more tense and dangerous than the rest of the world is aware. I can also tell you that the current situation is much less dangerous than it seems, if everyone outside of the DPRK will see it for what it is. The DPRK is starving to death and Kim needs outside aid to stay in power. He as been off the free world's radar screen since 9/11 and this missile test is just the thing to get our attention, and with which to gain aid for falsely promised concessions.

We should not worry too much about the military implications of this missile launch. However, we should worry a lot about what happens to a million man army when the food runs out up north. An imploding DPRK has the danger of reaching its own critical mass and the effects of the resulting explosion will not only be felt on the Korean peninsula, but round the world like a social Krakatoa spewing a human ash cloud that will screen the sun and bring another year without a summer. This is in fact the ROK government's greatest fear--they have no desire to pay the huge cost of reunification with the north (the DPRK is in far, far worse shape than East Germany; and Germany has yet to fully regain it's economic and social vitality 15 years after reunification.)

Let Kim shoot his missile and ignore it. Or better yet, shoot it down as a test of our anti-ballistic missile systems. Then let's get smart and flood both the DPRK, and Cuba while we're at it, with blue jeans, iPods, and all other manner of consumer goods. We can beat the worst enemy by turning them into soft captitalists.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Two Fathers

Two men in my family are in my thoughts this Father's Day weekend. Both of them are fathers who taught, and continue to teach, me the manly art of heading a household. One of them provided the example against which I have measured nearly every action in my life in general, and my home life in particular. The other man demonstrates a mastery of fatherhood upon which I marvel daily, and from which I derive a huge, if unjust, amount of personal pride. They are separated by a great generational divide, yet share more traits and characteristics than I share with either of them.

The elder of these men taught me the subtle art of bass fishing with a plastic worm, the practice of which provides a catechism for life with a woman--quiet presentation, tight line, small actions, patience, commitment. He instilled in me my respect for authority, my love of nature, and the finesse required to combine respect and love in a marriage relationship. He provided the example of selfless professional service to nation that guided every step I took in my career as a uniformed professional. From him, I have my do-the-right-thing ethos. In him, I have an example of quiet humility to which I ceaselessly and shamefully fail to measure up.

The younger of these two men, though 22 years my junior, possesses husbandly and fatherly wisdom rivaling, no, surpassing, my own. His attentiveness to his bride and their son is an amazing thing to me. Where did he learn that? I think back to the first years of his life and wonder at the grace of a God who gave him and his mother the patience and love to withstand my ignorance.

I am humbled at, and thank God for, the privilege of having these two fathers in my life. Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Son. Happy Father's Day.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Great Hole in the Ground Tour

Amazing how time passes ever more rapidly with the onset of advanced age. I was reviewing the last few years of my time in the Marine Corps as part of a discussion with a friend, and stopped short at the realization that the period of time in question was over ten years ago. It got me thinking about the summer adventure that began for our family in June of 1996.

I had been the junior of two Marine representatives on the staff of the Air Force's Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama. The senior Marine was a fellow Mississippian who went, and still goes, by the call-sign Tango. He was a helicopter pilot and the two of us considered ourselves the embodiment of the Marine Corps' air-ground team ethos. We had great fun poking holes in fighter pilot egos and the Air Command and Staff College was a target rich environment. We particularly enjoyed Fridays, as that was the day the commandant of the school called "Warrior Day" and allowed the wearing of flight suits. Tango and I would stand in the doorway of my office as the be-scarved jet jocks walked by in the hallway, and entertain ourselves by announcing in loud child-like voices, "Oooo, look, Daddy, a waaarioor!" By the third or fourth week of classes, traffic down that particular hallway had been reduced to a trickle on Fridays.

Tango and I had both been selected for commands earlier in the year and we left our Air Command and Staff College "vacation" that same June. He headed for California to take command of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and I had orders to Hawaii to eventually assume command of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment at Kaneohe Bay. Tango's career is still humming right along, by the way. He has two stars on his collar and will undoubtedly add one or two more. Of all of the Marine officers with whom I served, he is the only one I was sure would reach general officer rank--and that includes a few who now wear three and four stars.

My orders were for my family and me to fly to Hawaii. We could have flown straight from Alabama. But, I had never traveled across the western two-thirds of the United States and there were lots of sights out there that I had been reading about my whole life. This, I figured, was a great opportunity to visit some of them and also provide an educational opportunity for the kids. We could drive out to California, put our car on a boat, and catch a flight from there to Honolulu. So, we loaded up the five of us, two adults and three teenagers, in our small SUV, and headed west.

First stop was Carlsbad Caverns. Deep hole in the ground. Lots of bats. Real cool. Dad was in his element, dredging up all he had ever read about the caverns and spewing it out in walking lecture format to the wife and kids. They were enthralled. Well, okay, mildly interested. Alright, bored to tears. But Dad was loving it!

Next stop was the Petrified Forest. Desert. Lots of rock logs. Way cool. Dad was in his geologic glory, providing a non-stop peleolithic windshield tour as we drove through the park. The family was amazed. Well, okay, slightly aware. Alright, fast asleep. But Dad was having the time of his life.

Third stop was Meteor Crater. Deep hole in the ground. Lots of rocks strewn about. Awesome sight. Dad's brilliant two-hour monologue spanned astro-physics, the evolution of scientific thought, and the history of geologic discovery. The wife and kids were captivated. Well, okay, moderately attentive. Alright, there were enough deer-in-the-headlight stares to give an insurance underwriter the shakes. But Dad was thrilled!

Fourth stop was the Grand Canyon. Very wide and very deep hole in the desert. Lots of tourists. Dad was speechless. Kids were awed, really. We took a hike down a trail into the canyon a short ways. Suddenly, my beautiful bride, and ever attentive mother of my progeny, stopped and did a quick head count. One chick, #1 son, missing. From above us came said son's voice in the tone we had long come to know accompanied some feat of daring-do. We craned our necks up to see #1 tight-roping well out onto a ledge twenty feet above our heads and two thousand feet above the next earthly surface. His mother said what all mothers say at a time like that, "Don't Fall!" Think about the lack of synaptic functioning present in the brain-housing group of an eighteen year old, that he has to be told not to fall from a height from which freefall would easily reach terminal velocity.

By the time we reached the left coast, my ever respectful and appreciative children had begun calling the greatest vacation we had ever taken, "Dad's Great Hole in the Ground Tour." Little did they know that we would spend the next three years living on the shore of a great collapsed volcanic caldera and that their dad was a frustrated vulcanologist.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Paint is Dry

The celebration touched off in Oxford Friday night by a Rebel homerun in the bottom of the sixth, abruptly ended with a Miami grand slam in the seventh inning of the best of three rubber match last night. And, for the second year in a row, the Rebels end their season one win shy of a trip to the College World Series. There's great disappointment in the Rebel Nation this morning, but there shouldn't be. This was an improbably great season for a young team that lost a half dozen future big-leaguers from last year's squad. That they held my attention says a lot--I would rather watch paint dry than suffer through a tedious baseball game. Halfway through my second cup of joe this morning, I realized that I should hold my Rebel head high this morning and not flinch at the Miami Hurricane flag flying in front of my neighbor's house.

What I should really be worried about is whether the idiot Athletic Director at Ole Miss, Pete Boone, will let LSU steal Coach Mike Bianco. If that happens, watch for another attempt to change the Ole Miss mascot to deflect the passions of the Rebel faithful.

I have been very pleased with the improvements and most of the decision-making of the current chancellor at Ole Miss, Robert Khayat, save one--rehiring Pete Boone. This bone-head thinks that trashing traditions is a trivial matter. Worried about the politically correct sensitivities of a bunch of carpet-baggers, Boone has been trying to change the image of Ole Miss' icon, Colonel Reb, to a "less offensive, more athletic" one. Who's he worried about offending? I thought that part of the point of having a mascot was to get under the opponnents', and their fans', skin. Frankly, I'm offended by depictions of raging pachyderms and tiger eyes. But, I doubt seriously 'Bama and Auburn will ever entertain the thought of changing their mascots.

Speaking of those two very offensive schools, I am offended that they both have not one, but two mascots. A red wave and a prancing pachyderm? A tiger and a carrion picker? And, while I'm at it, what's with Georgia and Mississippi State sharing the same mascot? Or for that matter, Auburn and LSU sharing the same mascot? Is there a mascot shortage?

Somebody better let Pete Boone know.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Digital DH

That our world is a dizzying dichotomy of ages old tradition ambling along the super speedway of information technology was highlighted for me last night in a series of phone calls from #2 son. His first call at about 6:30 was on my cell phone, to remind me that the Ole Miss Rebels' baseball game against the Miami Hurricanes was on ESPN2. Ole Miss is hosting a Super Regional for the second year in a row; beating Miami 2 out of 3 will send the Rebels to Omaha for the College World Series for the first time since 1972.

#2 lives in Grenada, Mississippi, about an hour south of the kudzu-clad hills surrounding Ole Miss. He told me that he was watching the rocking overflow crowd at the game via his wide screen plasma and lamented not driving up to participate first hand. I lamented back that ESPN2 had "regionalized" its Super Regional coverage and I was only able to see Alabama's game against North Carolina. He began giving me pitch by pitch coverage, interspersed with the repeated color commentary that he should have driven up to join the party. I finally got off the phone with him and accessed a site on the web that would give me a near-real time graphic and stats of the Ole Miss--Miami game.

After a early inning lead, Ole Miss fell behind 9 to 3 by the middle of the game and I let out my traditional Rebel loss sigh, turned off my laptop, and went outside to water my garden. My cell phone rang again, and #2 announced breathlessly that the Rebels had tied the game at 9 with a six-run two-out rally in the bottom of the sixth inning. I scrambled back to the computer cave and fired up the laptop to stare at graphics depicting the game and a slow scroll of digital play by play. If you think baseball is maddeningly, excruciatingly, hypo-energetically slow, try following a game digitally. I could feel the synaptic connections in my brain-housing group rusting.

The final score was 11-9 Ole Miss, and as I gloatingly reported that fact to my long-suffering bride she gently reminded me that, "You know that they are going to let you down." This is what passes for encouragement in our home.

I am convinced that I am a jinx for my Rebels. I think that they have won maybe ten percent of all the games I have either been to or followed on radio, TV, or computer. Ten years ago, I was one of the first wave in Hawaii that plunked down the cash for a cable internet connection. In those days I was able to get a radio broadcast of Ole Miss football games for free over the net. One game, against SMU, had my Rebels down by 5 or 6 touchdowns at the half and I grumpily turned off the connection and went out and sulked on my lanaii overlooking my private beach on the north shore of Oahu (I kid thee not). Next morning, as I looked to see just how bad the final score had been, I was shocked to see that Ole Miss had staged a miraculous comeback to win the game. Had I been listening, I'm sure SMU would have won going away.

Game two against the Hurricanes this afternoon--I won't be watching. I'll wait for the call from #2.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Double Exposure

Ten days ago, I opined that Jack Murtha's grandstanding for the cameras lately was likely an opportunistic bid to position himself for a larger role in a hoped-for Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. I didn't believe at the time that he would make his intentions known so soon, however. I thought he would lead the lynch mob down to the jail a few more times and give a few more inflammatory speeches to establish his neo-liberal bomb-throwing leadership bonifides, before leveraging his new-found notoriety for personal power gain.

But the military that he claims is "worn-out" put a monkey wrench in his plans this week with the extermination of the verminous and villainous Zarqawi. He couldn't very well regain the cameras' attention by identifying himself with the left-wing conspiracy theorists who claimed that we had timed that punk Zarqawi's killing to take the heat off other issues, so Murtha, instead, advanced the timetable on his bid for more power and announced that he wanted to be Majority Leader if and when Pelosi becomes Speaker. He knew that the media would immediately turn to him for reaction to the good news out of Iraq and he took advantage. He may not have learned loyalty as a Marine, but ole Jack knows how to build a flexible strategic plan. Hope he is ready for a fight--the current number 2 Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer, immediately announced that he had no intention of surrendering the key terrain to Murtha's offensive.

On the subject of the timing of Zarqawi's demise, it is clear that the US military decision-makers in Iraq had been putting the pieces of the puzzle together for quite some time and had been waiting for a recurring pattern to emerge and expose Zarqawi. The media got it backwards when they claimed that the 17 subsequent raids the night of the Zarqawi hit were as a result of intelligence gathered at the site of the latest USAF urban renewal project. The 17 subsequent raids that night, and the 39 the following night, were against the other pieces of the puzzle through which our forces knew Zarqawi had been rotating.

Our intelligence effort on the ground in Iraq is good and getting better. Despite the obvious danger to Iraqis who assist the anti-insurgency effort, the number of tips to the authorities has increased significantly over the past year. That in itself is probably the best sign of all coming out of Iraq at the moment. But, we should remain clear-eyed about the situation in that neighborhood. Until we effectively restrict the insurgency's financial support from Syria and Iran, we will not gain enough security traction to make real progress.

Listen, I am not advocating immediately attacking Syria and Iran. Just Iran. Once we change the regime there, Syria will see the light that our old nemesis in Libya has already seen, and start dancing more to our tune. We need to take down Iran, now, while lessons-learned in Iraq are still fresh. The biggest lesson we have learned was to not disband the existing security system, no matter how corrupt. Much of the insurgency we are fighting in Iraq at present is former Iraqi security forces who we fired immediately after the invasion. No, in a post-invasion Iran, we need to keep the majority of the Iranian military and police in place. If we pay them well enough, they will become good defenders of democracy, despite twenty-five years of mullah brainwashing. The power of the dollar is an amazing thing.

I will admit that my pronouncements above are frightening stuff. Most Americans don't have the stomach for the expansion of combat operations I'm calling for. And that is exactly why we need to do it. Our enemies need to be convinced that America, even when wearied by a demoralizing war, can still muster the will to fight on and win. Let's please understand that we are already at war with Iran. The radical Islamic clerics that rule Iran declared war on these re-United States when they overran our embassy in Teheran 27 years ago, just as Usama declared war on us when he blew up our embassies and one of our warships prior to the 9/11 attacks.

And, just so all of you chicken-track wearing neo-hippies out there can relax your sphincters and go back to enjoying the gangsta rap on your iPods, we won't need to draft your sorry butts to fill the ranks. Enough real Americans are still volunteering, despite the media's and Murtha's best efforts.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Goose Music

On the road this week--a business trip that has taken me across the Florida panhandle, up into Mississippi and then over to Atlanta. Tomorrow, following a presentation, I'll strap my highway machine to my backside and drive back to L.A. (Lower Alabama). In the middle of this manic motorway mission, I managed to squeeze in a stop at Number 2 son's place in Grenada, MS. I was a bit wrung out by the time I reached his lakeside home yesterday evening. A couple of small bass on a plastic worm at sunset and I was beginning to feel human again. This morning I woke to the sound of geese assembling to feed. There is something soothing, and at the same time arousing, about a chorus of canadas. Two cups of joe, and an hour-long wild goose cantata, and I was ready to take on the world, again.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Go Rebs!

After dismal football and basketball seasons this academic year, and last, the Rebel Nation has something to cheer about with the Ole Miss baseball team's heroics. Last year's great baseball season was expected--the team was loaded with experienced and talented upperclassmen. They were eliminated by eventual national champions, Texas, in the first ever Super Regional held in Oxford (that's the Mississippi Oxford). Hopes and expectations weren't near as high for this year's team with a half dozen of the starters from last year drafted to the pros. But, this young team, after enduring a mid-season slump, has found itself (not to mention its bats and gloves). Finishing strong enough to qualify for the SEC tournament, they swept all comers and were crowned SEC Tournament Champions for the first time since the inaugural Tournament in 1977, played in Oxford that year.

I watched a few games in that 1977 tournament. Baseball has come a long way on the Ole Miss campus since that time. The 1977 tournament was played on a diamond that was not easily distinguishable from the intramural softball fields on campus. Today the rebels play in a beautiful ball park that sits on the old intramural football field where we ROTC midshipmen marched and played ball.

This past weekend the Baseball Rebels swept their regional in Oxford and expect to host the Super Regional against Miami next weekend.

Hurricanes in Oxford. There's an odd thought. But, maybe not so unusual--before they were the Rebels, Ole Miss ball teams were known as the Mississippi Flood.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Tubing Twins

My wife's twin sister was in town this week. My father-in-law had outpatient surgery and my nurse-in-law came to supervise. Things went well and the girls asked me to take them "tubing" behind my boat.

Now, my boat, Semper Fish, is a fishing machine. It lives to fish. It sends messages to me in my dreams when I haven't taken it fishing in a while. It does not like to be seen doing anything but fishing. It does not like women, and often refuses to allow any fish to be caught when there is a female aboard. When I put it in the water for our "tubing" session, Semper Fish knew it was not going fishing. It felt the absence of rods in the holders and bait in the live well and it balked, refusing to crank. When it finally relented, it sulked for five minutes; sputtering across the bay like an old man creeping out to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. By the time we got to the tubing spot, it sensed an opportunity and began to purr like a lion at a fresh kill.

Tube in the water. Twins in the water. Twins (49 going on 11) wrestle with each other for 15 minutes trying to get situated in the tube, and then, in unison, announce, "Now go slow."

Semper Fish was embarrassed enough to be pulling a tube instead of prowling the bay in search of prey. It was not going to "go slow." I eased the throttle forward gently and Semper Fish responded like a thoroughbred breaking from the starting gate. The tow rope snapped taught so violently that drops of water launched into the atmosphere have yet to return to earth. The tube literally leaped into the air, an action that was made much easier by leaving its cargo behind.

Another 15 minutes of water wrestling and the girls were back aboard the tube for another try. This time Semper Fish responded correctly to my gentle application of power and the tube wallowed in the wake for a while before planing out and bringing smiles to the faces of my beautiful bride and her ugly twin sister. I gently applied more power and began a series of slow circles and figure eights that brought the tube skimming out to port and then bouncing across the wake to skim on calm water out to starboard. The girls were yelling and had their teeth clenched in that funny little way they do when I am... I mean they are having fun.

Semper Fish endured my careful maneuvering for several laps and then took over. Responding to an infinitesimal application of a little more power and a little tighter turn of the steering wheel, Semper Fish roared into a tight series of S maneuvers which slung the tube from side to side. The girls responded with yells of delight and encouragement to apply more power.

There is a line drawn for most activities, beyond which the laws of physics step in and remind you of the order of the universe. The tube was returning nicely from one of its swings out to port, when a rogue wave appeared from nowhere and placed itself astride the path of the tube. The leading edge of the tube, rather than riding up and over the wave, dug in. The rest seemed to occur in slow motion, and...excuse me...I am...laughing too hard at...the type... The picture of two middle-aged women, spread-eagle, somersaulting across the water is one that will forever be ingrained in a favorite wrinkle in my grey matter.

When I pulled the boat back around to allow them to climb back aboard the tube, they let the tube glide past and motioned for me to bring the boat closer. I idled up beside them and cut the engine. They clambered aboard so fast that for a moment I thought maybe they had seen a shark and I reached for a weapon with which to defend myself...I mean, them. Once aboard, the girls sat silently, obviously overcome with the thrill Semper Fish and I had just provided them. Then they both recovered and asked, simultaneously, in the way only twins can, "Why did you do that?"

I caught my breath and wiped the laughter tears from my eyes and gave my standard reply, "What?"

They had recovered enough to scowl at this point. One scowl is bad enough. Twin scowls will send even the most hardened man to the farthest room in the house, and I was stuck on a boat with them. Their tone switched from query to accusatory, "You did that on purpose!"

"Girls," I countered defensively, "when you skimmed out to the sides, you were hollering for me to 'go faster!'"

From the pretty little mouth of the love of my life, a mouth from which I can count on one hand the times I have heard any foul language in 30 years of marriage, came the reply: "We were yelling 'You bastard!'"

Well, see if Semper Fish and I take you out tubing again anytime soon!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Follow the Money

My dear friend, fellow Marine, and best fishing buddy keeps me updated on ground truth in Iraq. He is in Ramadi, serving as the second in command of a Government Support Team (GST) advising the Provincial Reconstruction Development Committee (PRDC) for the Governor of Al Anbar Province. He reports that the insurgent campaign of terror and intimidation has stymied progress on most reconstruction projects. The insurgents attempt to kill anyone associated with the new government in Iraq and, most egregiously, kill anyone who tries to work on reconstruction projects that are intended to provide the basic necessities to the Iraqi people--water, electricity, sewer, health, education, etc.

The problem of security in Iraq is a vicious cycle. More people are unemployed than employed, but anyone who goes to work on a project is killed. One of the only ways to make money to support a family is to join the well-financed insurgency.

From my vantage point, the center of gravity of the insurgency seems to be funding. Insurgencies need either willing popular support or funding to thrive. I cannot believe that a movement that denies the people the basics of civilization enjoys much popular support. I have to believe that, at best, the Iraqi insurgency's support is coerced by terror and intimidation. Even if the people are not actively supporting the insurgency, they are too terrorized to resist it or assist the government in resisting it.

But, if an insurgency is well-financed, it need only cow, not win the hearts of, the population in order to succeed. As an insurgency grows, its objectives are to progressively demonstrate that the current government cannot provide security and services. It matters not that the insurgents are more ruthless and ideologically extreme than the people would like. The peoples' choice becomes either no progress under the current relatively benign government, or some progress under a more ruthless and tyrannical government. Eventually the people will accept the fact that their lot will only improve (if only marginally) if the insurgency is successful in bringing down and replacing the current government.

That brings us to the matter of funding for the insurgency. The insurgents in Iraq have several means of financing their terror campaign. The first means is self-financing, either by robbery or extortion. In this they have been fairly successful, but cannot sustain themselves thereby. An aggressive security program (police and military action) can restrict this funding stream. But, even if the government's security apparatus is successful in choking off the internal funding, there remains the external funding streams.

The insurgency in Iraq receives the predominance of its financial backing from Syrian and Iranian sources, either directly from those regimes, or from sources that are sheltered by those regimes. The Baathist holdouts still in Iraq have bank accounts in Syria, flush with cash looted from government coffers while they were in power. The border with Syria is porous at best, and cash floods across it and into the hands of the Sunni-led insurgency in the west of Iraq, like a mighty river's spring flow, fanning out across the delta that is the decentralized insurgency. In the south, particularly in the predominately Shiite city of Basra, Iranian cash and advisors cross into Iraq with impunity and the insurgency there is growing daily.

Defeating an enemy requires attacking and destabilizing its center of gravity. In Iraq, this is a matter of increasing the effectiveness and integrity of the security forces, something that is demonstrably occurring, in order to restrict the insurgency's internal funding. But, that is only 1/3 of an effective attack against this insurgency's center of gravity. External support to the insurgency must be restricted as well. And that will only happen with regime change in Iran and Syria. Sorry, dear readers and doe-eyed liberals, expansion of the war on terror, to include combat campaigns in Iran and Syria, is the only truly effective course of action.

Or, we can cut and run and leave the people of the Middle East at the mercy of the mullahs and Baathists (read Nazis). Senator John Kerry is proposing legislation to do just that by year's end. Kerry cut and ran after only three months in Vietnam, with three fraudulent Purple Hearts, abandoning his own men, in order to "report for duty" with Jane Fonda. That even one person voted for him in 2004, demonstrates the hypocrisy and ideologic bankruptcy of the Democratic party. Sorry, but that was a target too tempting not to engage!

Actually, we probably ought to pull our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and put them on our own borders!