Saturday, May 30, 2009

Nobody Can Say I Don't Know What I'm Talking About

You Got 9/10 Questions Right

You are a probably a news junkie, Obama fan, or both.

You know a lot about Barack Obama - including his politics, history, and family.

It's likely you're a very knowledgeable person and quite well read.

You can't stand ignorant people, no matter what their political persuasion is.

You Are Most Like George W. Bush

So what if you're not exactly popular? You still rule the free world.

And while you may be quite conservative now, you knew how to party back in the day!

You Are 95% Conservative, 5% Liberal

Social Issues: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal

Personal Responsibility: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal

Fiscal Issues: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal

Ethics: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal

Defense and Crime: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal

You Are a Capitalist Republican

Money makes your world go round - and it's no surprise that you always vote your wallet.

You're financially successful (or plan to be), and your agenda is low tax and pro business.

You don't get fired up about abortion... but mention capital gains tax, and you go crazy.

You want government to be as small as possible - and to stay out of the way of business.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Image Over Substance

Television has played a critical role in the past 50 or so years in determining the President of the United States. It has brought about an attitude in America that image is more important than the person behind the image and has led to a decrease in American values particularly in the political arena.

Have you ever watched a great movie and wondered ‘Would I have rooted for the characters as much if they weren’t attractive?’ In today’s age of TV and internet politics, it’s no surprise that a relatively young, attractive looking man defeated an older, more decrepit and less physically attractive one for the Presidency of the United States. On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was popularly and overwhelmingly elected President, confirming our relatively new American value of image over substance. This new value was ushered in with the advent of television in nearly every home in America. Television has become the most damaging symbol to American politics, creating a society of thinkless followers and image obsessed people.

It was not always this way though. From the founding of this fledgling nation, arose many men willing to stand up and fight with blood, sweat and ink for the ideals they held as integral to all men. In the beginning these virtues of justice, vigilance and intellect kept their values of liberty, tolerance and equality in tact. It was their intent to pass these values and virtues down to their posterity in the hopes that what they had started would flourish into a great and industrious nation. And when once in its young history these values were challenged by its own sons and daughters, another virtuous man from a new generation rose to once again affirm that our foundings would prevail. These men lived in a time when pictures didn’t exist, much less television and film. They lived in a time when they were judged not by how they looked, but by how they thought. They were judged not by the image they portrayed on any screen, but by the “content of their character.”

When one thinks of the greatest Presidents in American history, the names George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln most assuredly come to mind. But if asked who the most memorable Presidents were, the names John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are sure to make the list as well. For obvious reasons, the first three were very influential and important figures in the formation of the United States. George Washington, as General of the Army, led an all volunteer Army to defeat one of the world’s great military superpowers of the time and as President, set the precedent and manner for which all later Presidents would govern. Jefferson, with his great intellect, wrote the first documents that this country materialized from. As president, Abraham Lincoln defended the ideals this country was founded on by going to war with those who opposed them. They were the embodiment of the American spirit, the quintessential Americans. Their status in history is unchallenged, earned by their actions, unequaled but by very few. However, in contrast, the latter men are very different. They will be remembered not for their ideas – save for Kennedy’s Civil Rights legislation – and not because their virtues were any more pronounced, but because they were able to exploit and portray a certain image that was to the liking of the American people. John F. Kennedy was the young, charismatic and attractive man with a strikingly beautiful and conspicuously fashionable wife and two young children much like our current President. Ronald Reagan a former actor knew the stage very well and was able to speak as though he were giving a monologue in a movie. His transition from screen to office was smooth. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both built a reputation on being a people person, someone we could all relate to because they weren’t just another suit and tie. These men were able to successfully exploit and distort their image to propel them into the Oval Office and television was the medium they used to get there.

And image distortion extends past individual politicians to the parties themselves. Both Republicans and Democrats use the media to their advantage in portraying themselves in a positive light and their counterparts as evasive, divisive and unethical. For instance, recently Republican radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh was quoted as saying that he hoped for the failure of President Barack Obama. One of his biggest critics to this statement, James Carville, a Democratic strategist and pundit, made a similar statement minutes before the attacks of September 11, 2001 in which he also wished for the failure of then President George W. Bush. Carville’s statement was not released by mainstream news media, while Limbaugh’s statement became the ‘talk of the town.’

The 2008 election followed the same pattern of media distortion and personal characterization of the candidates. As Gabler explains, “Candidates were the putative stars, the primaries open casting calls, the campaign was an audition and the election itself the selection of the lead, while the handlers served as drama coaches, scriptwriters and directors.” (Gabler, 100) Gabler also explains that the issues themselves, although not entirely absent, only served as a means to get the lead part. The stage was set and the two candidates vied for the part: the young, progressive promise of hope and change and the older, but wiser military hero and “maverick”. In the end, the American public had clearly spoken. They wanted to see the younger, attractive, and promising man take the lead role, the Kennedy of our time.

This past election will go down in history, not as a victory for the virtues of our founding fathers, but rather a victory for the entertainment of America. It was the movie played out in real life. In a letter written by Samuel Adams to James Warren dated February 12, 1779, he wrote, “A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once the lose virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.” The invader in this case has become television. We have subdued our ancestral virtues to those of a new technological age, an age vying for intellect to only create ignorance, an age where image trumps substance and aesthetics hold a higher value than virtue. Imagine if television was around during Lincoln’s bid for Presidency. He certainly would not have been the image we would have been drawn to, a lanky and peculiar looking man who went against the mainstream thought. It’s a good thing we didn’t have TV back then, we might not have ever known that the virtues our founding fathers instilled in us in the defense of American principles are paramount to who we are as a nation and what we can accomplish.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ignorant Consumption

Inconvenient Truth,Al Gore,Global WarmingWe immerse ourselves in the stories we hear in the news. We become a part of them. They play out like an engrossing movie or riveting novel. And because of this we have stepped into a dual role of consumer and producer of the news and entertainment we want to see. To this effect, we have also become ignorant consumers of the truth, dictating what we want our version of it to be. We have become the creators of our own reality, however untrue it may really be.

The question begs to be asked, with all the access to information and media that we have at our disposal, are we really more informed about the issues we face? One hot political debate for years now has been the issue of global warming and how to counteract it. Almost overnight, with the help of “An Inconvenient Truth”, a sensational film by former Vice President Al Gore, the global warming issue climbed to the forefront of political discussion. It paved the way for an entire “green” movement in the country. Soon, signs, billboards and advertisements told us to “Go Green” and so the race was on to develop cleaner burning fuel for our cars, cut back on our greedy energy consumption and become a more environmentally friendly society. We took the issue at face value. Nobody seemed to dispute it, and those who did we certainly didn’t hear about it; not from the media anyway. However, according to NOAA and NASA data, the Earth's average surface temperature has increased by about 1.2 to 1.4ºF in the last 100 years ( This may be an issue, but a 1.2 to 1.4 degree temperature increase over a 100 year span is hardly one that requires the immediate resolution we think it does, particularly given the fact that other issues held a higher precedence in the near-term such as the war in Iraq, the state of the economy, the security of our nation and several other issues.

So why was the issue of global warming so exaggerated? Because the media chose to exacerbate it. More specifically, we chose to make it worse through our consumption of the media surrounding the issue. What’s the remedy to a boring life? It’s entertainment of course, and what better form of entertainment than to put ourselves in the middle of a crisis. With global warming, we had our heroes, the knights in shining armor known as politicians and scientists, to rescue us from the dragon’s fiery breath – literally global warming. And we had our damsels in distress, the American public, who secretly want and need to be rescued from something, always crying out to a savior, “Help me!” Meanwhile, the story’s narrator, the media, painted the picture just how we wanted to see it because they knew we’d buy it.

So in this sense, we are not passive consumers of media, but very active ones. We determine what we read in the newspapers and see on television because we buy it. It’s what we want and the media knows it. We don’t question what’s on the news because we desire to hear it. The media is a business just like any other, out for profit and always trying to market and sell their product. In his song “Waiting on the World to Change” John Mayer says,

“And when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
‘Cause when they own the information
They can bend it all they want.”

And the truth is, they’re going to bend it until the supply meets the demand.

In the case of Terri Schiavo, we watched another drama unfold. This case was not exclusive in that Terri Schiavo was the only person to be in this Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) and not the only case in which a decision was made whether or not to discontinue life support for a person. So why was this case such a national headline for many years? It could clearly be painted as a portrait of good versus evil and the media had their villain in Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband. After all, he was the one that had petitioned for the discontinuation of her feeding tube which kept her nourished and alive. Terri’s parents argued that she was conscious and that her eyes could even follow a birthday balloon as it floated across the room. The media played the story out, and so the stage was set. They had cast Michael Schiavo as the villain in a struggle against Terri’s parents for her very life. And as the villain was winning the fight, in stepped the hero, America’s politicians and activists to pass legislation to replace her feeding tube that had already been removed. Legislation came too late and the heroes couldn’t save her this time. We all watched in horror as Terri passed away March 18, 2005 due to effects of dehydration. The public was outraged and appalled at Michael Schiavo’s diligence in insisting his wife’s death.

The side of the story the media didn’t tell was that of Michael Schiavo. He was a devoted husband that despite his wife’s PVS, refused to divorce her. This same man the media portrayed as a villain even earned a license in nursing to aid his wife while hospitalized. Oftentimes he was unemployed in order to care for his wife. They never told the side of the story in which Michael and Terri had previously discussed this same situation and that her wishes were to not be resuscitated and to let her die if she ever fell into PVS as she did. This was the Michael Schiavo the media forgot to mention. Can we really blame them though? After all that isn’t how we wanted to see him, it didn’t fit the story the American public wanted to hear. We needed a villain for the archetypal good versus evil story, so they gave us Michael and in some morbid way we were satisfied.

Unfortunately, Americans have created a society that trusts what we are given. This country was founded on challenging questionable norms and creating a society based on the principles of truth. However, we have become more complacent and reliant on the assumption that what the media produces is the truth. Truth, in our case, is really a relevant term in that we refuse to believe anything other than what we want to hear. Certainly the truth we want to hear is not the full truth, but borne of ignorance and an apathetic attitude towards finding the real facts and hearing all sides of the story. The media only perpetuates the version of the truth we want. We get what we ask for. We’re painfully ignorant that our consumption of the media is exactly the reason the exaggerated version of reality we get from our news is given to us like a story we tell our children at night.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day Tribute to SFC Paul Ray Smith

SFC Paul Smith,Paul Smith,Sgt. 1st Class Paul SmithOn April 4, 2003, the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, attacked to seize Objective Lions, the Baghdad International Airport. As part of the Brigade scheme of maneuver, Task Force 2-7 Infantry was tasked to establish a blocking position against a brigade-sized counterattack on the main entrance to the airfield. Task Force 2-7 had been fighting for three consecutive days and had moved through the night before reaching the blocking position. Morale was high, but Soldiers were experiencing fatigue. B Company, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment (Knight) was in the east-most position oriented along the main avenue of approach ready for the main enemy counterattack. A Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment (Rage) was attacking to the southeast of the Highway.

The main entrance to the airfield was a four-lane highway with a median to separate incoming and outgoing traffic. Large masonry walls with towers approximately 100 meters apart bound the highway. On the morning of April 4, 2003, more than 100 soldiers from the Task Force 2-7 Forward Aid Station, mortars, scouts and portions of B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion were in the median behind the forward most blocking positions. The B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion 2nd Platoon Leader was on a reconnaissance mission with the B Company, Task Force 2-7 Infantry Commander. During his absence, 2nd Platoon received the mission to construct an Enemy Prisoner of War holding area. Sgt. 1st Class Smith was in charge of 2nd Platoon.

Sgt. 1st Class Smith assessed the best location to be behind the masonry wall bounding the highway. Two guard towers along the wall were ideally situated to provide overwatch to the holding area. An M9 armored combat earthmover (ACE) knocked a hole in the wall to create an opening to a large courtyard with a louvered metal gate on the north side. With the help of a squad leader and team leader, Sgt. 1st Class Smith checked the far side of the courtyard for enemy, found none, and posted two guards. From the guard post at the gate small groupings of buildings were 100-200 meters to the northeast. To the northwest, a large white building with a white dome was visible. The location seemed perfect as the courtyard was along the northern flank of the blocking position and enemy actions to this point were mostly from the east.

Sgt. 1st Class Smith's view from his position in the courtyard. Iraqi troops were firing from the tower on the left, and climbing over the wall in front. Click for a bigger picture.While an engineer squad began to clear debris in the courtyard, one of the guards saw 10-15 enemy soldiers with small arms, 60mm mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG). These were the lead elements of an organized company-sized force making a deliberate attack on the flank of Task Force 2-7. Sgt. 1st Class Smith came to the position and identified 25-50 more soldiers moving into prepared fighting positions. Sgt. 1st Class Smith instructed a squad leader to get a nearby Bradley Fighting Vehicle for support. While waiting for the Bradley, Sgt. 1st Class Smith had members of 2nd platoon retrieve AT-4 weapons and form a skirmish line outside the gate. By this time, the number of enemy identified rose to 100 soldiers, now a confirmed company-sized attack. Three of B Company’s M113A3 armored personnel carriers (APC) oriented .50-cal. machineguns toward the opening in the wall and the surrounding guard towers, now occupied by enemy soldiers.

Sgt. 1st Class Smith’s actions to organize a defense against the deliberate attack were not only effective, but inspired the B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion Soldiers. He then began to lead by example. As the Bradley arrived on site and moved through the hole in the wall toward the gate, Sgt. 1st Class Smith ran to the gate wall and threw a fragmentation grenade at the enemy. He then took two Soldiers forward to join the guards and directed their engagement of the enemy with small arms. The enemy continued to fire rifles, RPGs, and 60mm mortars at the Soldiers on the street and within the courtyard. Enemy soldiers began moving along the buildings on the north side of the clearing to get into position to climb into the towers. Sgt. 1st Class Smith called for an APC to move forward to provide additional fire support. Sgt. 1st Class Smith then fired an AT-4 at the enemy while directing his fire team assembled near the front line of the engagement area.

Running low on ammunition and having taken RPG hits, the Bradley withdrew to reload. The lead APC in the area received a direct hit from a mortar, wounding the three occupants. The enemy attack was at its strongest point and every action counted. Not only were the wounded Soldiers threatened but also more than 100 Soldiers from B Company, the Task Force Aid Station, and the Mortar Platoon were at risk.

Sgt. 1st Class Smith ordered one of his Soldiers to back the damaged APC back into the courtyard after the wounded men had been evacuated. Knowing the APC ’s .50-Cal. machinegun was the largest weapon between the enemy and the friendly position, Sgt. 1st Class Smith immediately assumed the track commander’s position behind the weapon, and told a soldier who accompanied him to “feed me ammunition whenever you hear the gun get quiet.” Sgt. 1st Class Smith fired on the advancing enemy from the unprotected position atop the APC and expended at least three boxes of ammunition before being mortally wounded by enemy fire. The enemy attack was defeated. Sgt. 1st Class Smith’s actions saved the lives of at least 100 Soldiers, caused the failure of a deliberate enemy attack hours after 1st Brigade seized the Baghdad Airport, and resulted in an estimated 20-50 enemy soldiers killed. His actions inspired his platoon, his Company, the 11th Engineer Battalion and Task Force 2-7 Infantry.

Sgt. 1st Class Smith’s actions to lead Soldiers in direct contact with a numerically superior enemy--to personally engage the enemy with a fragmentation grenade, AT-4, and individual weapon, to ultimately assume the track commander’s position to fire the .50-Cal. machinegun through at least three boxes of ammunition before being mortally wounded--demonstrates conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. His actions prevented a penetration in the Task Force 2-7 sector, defended the aid station, mortars, and scouts, and allowed the evacuation of Soldiers wounded by indirect enemy fire.

This narrative of SFC Smith's bravery can be found at the following link:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

“In Flanders Fields”
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

“We Shall Keep The Faith”
Moina Michael

Oh! You who sleep in Flanders' Fields
Sleep sweet - to rise anew;
We caught the torch you threw,
And holding high we kept
The faith with those who died.
We cherish, too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led.
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
But lends a lustre to the red
On the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders' fields.
And now the torch and Poppy red
Wear in honour of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught:
We've learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders' fields.

“To the Unsung”
Casey Robbins

In Arlington, white stones, mark endless rows
Of the greatest love man has ever known
That in the very end, noble women and men
Laid down their lives, to save their friends
Rest in peace brave of Flanders, valiant of Arlington
Look down from above on your daughters and sons
Help us to always remember, let us never forget
The sacrifices that the poppies and gravestones represent