Monday, July 31, 2006

The Washington Ghost

My normal morning routine is starting back up again now that I'm back in the studio. 7 AM finds me at my favorite coffee shop downing a tall Americano accompanied by a sesame bagel with peanut butter. There's a familiar gang of locals sharing lively banter for about half and hour. Al, originally from Portugal, served in his native country's army as a cook in Mozambique, is currently a general contractor and, because of a fantastic voice, has a blossoming side career as a professional singer/songwriter. Powell is a Tiger Woods look-alike who co-owns a small venture capital firm focusing on emerging West African markets. Ted, a fellow Penn State graduate, is a retired military consultant and sports car enthusiast who can nearly always be found sporting jeans with ripped out knees, a baggy button-down shirt draped over his skinny frame and a well worn pair of cowboy boots. Jim, an independent insurance agent, is a frustrated political columnist, who with the simple addition of a cigarette holder, is a dead ringer for Hunter S. Thompson.

The coffee shop makes available, along with the free conversation, gratis copies of several daily newspapers. Our local paper, The Free-Lance Star, is a great small town rag with a big city feel. I always read it first. The Washington Post is also available and although free, there always seems to be a price to paid for reading it.

For years I swore by The Washington Post. Today, in large part due to the orgy of spin to be found in the World A section, I find it an embarrasment. In this morning's edition that misplaced rhetorical excess and sophmoric indulgence spilled over into my favorite Style C section. I would expect what I find in it's pages in an unsupervised college paper.......not in a national mouthpiece.

On today's page C-1 an article, "Next Exit Marine Land" , about the new National Musuem of the Marine Corps and written by Philip Kennicott, appeared center page. Though not exactly a laudatory article, it was largely well written and focused on analyzing the museum's architectural elements and overall concept in relationship to the physical site and current museum trends.

Like the actual War on Terrorism, I've been involved directly in the development of The National Museum of the Marine Corps. I know all the hard work, creativity, care and attention that has, and continues to be poured by dedicated folks into this worthy project. I know what the ultimate mission of this institution is, the celebration of individual Marines and the Corps they hold sacred. Reading the words of someone who's spent one day in an unfinished structure, like the press releases of journalists far from the fighting, is always more revealatory of both the writer and their publication than the actual item or event being reported on.

Here's the final paragraph, which starts out well enough and even manages to head down the center of the road.....until the now predictable and insulting swerve to the left into the guardrail at the very end.

This is a museum about volume, energy and speed, rather like the highway it overlooks. Some people look at superhighways and see excitement, mobility and freedom. Others see anxiety, restlessness and urgency. It is the last of these, urgency, that one feels most strongly in the architecture of the Marine museum. This is an expanding country, a diversifying country, and a country that is essentially failing in the project of teaching its citizens fundamental lessons of history, democracy and the vulnerabilities of democracy. This building is put together to bring people out of their private space, in huge numbers, to teach them a little, very quickly, about the cost of liberty (and maybe the dangers of empire).

"Danger of empire"? Where in God's name did that come from? Do the editors at this formerly great institution ever read and review the work of their writers? Apparently not. Stuff like this belongs on the editorial/opinion pages, not in articles.

So now I find myself seeing this paper, The Washington Ghost, permeated by poltergeists, and absent of authentic journalists. Sad.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Where's Miko? Post to the comment section if you figure out which one is yours truly.

Friday morning I, along with 34 other Marine reserve warrant officers, graduated from our two week Reserve Warrant Officer Basic Course. My butt is officially kicked as a result of the two most intense weeks of training since boot camp on Parris Island in 1975.

Regular Marine warrant officers undergo a three month course, and all second lieutenants endure a 6 month indoctrination in all things lean and green. My hat is off to them. The training takes place at The Basic School (yes, that's its offical name) aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico's Camp Barrett.

TBS is also the primary incubation site for all major species of ticks and chiggers known to mankind, and during the summer months becomes the US military's Indian subcontinent experimental simulation laboratory. Between the removal of blood by various parasites and the loss of many gallons exercise induced sweat I've lost about 20 pounds. We had as neighbors in the barracks a company of British Royal Marines who trek here annually to train in the challenging heat and humidity of the oak and hickory forests of Virginia.

As I said, our course was only two weeks. Due to monetary constraints, reserve WOs can only attend TBS during their two week summer AT (active-duty for training). The result, only the most demanding parts of the 3 month course are focused on. Think of a fire hose being placed in your mouth and then turned on full throttle....that was our two weeks.

Our course of training focused on a core set of essential field leadership skills. We learned and put into practice operational order writing with the attendent practical patrol leading exercises through the wilds of Quantico. "Call for fire" and "land navigation" were taught with hands-on and written tests. Hand grenades were thrown and very dangerous live fire "SAW rushes" conducted. SAW (squad automatic weapon) rushes were a literal rush. A dozen of us would get in a prone position on line, squeeze off rounds, get up, dash 10 meters, drop, squeeze off live rounds again, get up, dash get the picture. And all the while trying to stay conscious of the Marines to the right and left, and staying out of their avenues of with a capital F. Boodowdow baby! Our days started with "combat hardening" PT sessions commencing at 0530 and ended, after studying for next-day exams and performing gear preparation, about midnight.

That's me in the left foreground with the big stupid cammied face grin. The terrain model was created by my fire team.

How did I do....I'm proud to say this old devildog kicked butt and took names. I scored a first class on the physical fitness test and was the class honor graduate for academics. OORAH! You can teach an old dog new tricks. More than that, this training has blessed me with deeper understanding of many of the events and evolutions I've seen and participated in out in the field. It also has granted me a basic skill set that in a pinch will allow me to confidently call in fire support, and/or lead Marines hopefully out of a tight spot or two.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

And Now, A Few Short Commercial Announcements

We've brought aboard a new Marine Corps Combat Artist. His name is Sergeant Kris Battles, and he has two websites; one features his civilian art pursuits, and the other is Sketchpad Warrior, a blog to feature his art and experiences once he's deployed to the field. Please bookmark them.

Pat Dollard, gonzo documentary film making madman and honorary jarhead, will be featured Friday morning around 7AM on the Mancow radio show to talk about his experiences filming the world's finest in Iraq. His project is called Young Americans. Parental Guidance Required. Give the king of all combat media a listen. He should give Mancow a run for his money. Pat's also penning an article that will appear in a forthcoming issue of Maxim magazine.

I'm going to coin a word to describe Pat, rantastic. This guy's Ernie Pyle on acid and Michael Yon approved. He's the anti-Michael Moore. He's every journalist who's hid out in the Green Zone dependent on Iraqi stringers nightmare. Get some Pat!

Saturday, July 08, 2006


Next weekend I report to The Basic School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico for the Reserve Warrant Officer Basic Course. RWOBC is three months of regular Marine training crammed for reservists into two weeks. In order to make this happen new Marine reserve warrant officers are instructed to do a mountain of professional reading ahead of time. So, here I sit, inside on a lovely Saturday afternoon with my left-brain engaged and immersed in Warfighting.

What has prompted me to write today is on page 86 of Chapter 4 of Warfighting, The Conduct of War. For me, the quote to follow captures the essential difference between the Bush administration and its detractors during the War on Terrorism. The essence of this division lies with one word, "perfectionism". Here's the passage:

"Finally, since all decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty, and since every situation is unique, there is no perfect solution to any battle-field problem. Therefore, we should not agonize over one. The essence of the problem is to select a promising course of action with an acceptable degree of risk and do it more quickly than our foe. In this respect, a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week."

Criticisms of the Bush warfighting policy are drenched in the language of perfectionism. Were it left to the armchair quarterbacking second guessing everything in hindsight is 20/20 vision crowd on the Left (who's plan for fighting Terrorism and Islamofascism is still more secret than NSA wiretapping and the screening of overseas money transfers) we'd still be waiting on a response to the attacks on 9/11.

Perfectionism paralyzes action, which in crucial ways makes it the passive/aggressive bedfellow of Terrorism, and the convenient intellectual retreat of belly button fixated spineless elites. I've previously spoken on Terrorism's primary strategic reliance on instilling fear. Fear paralyzes action, and perfectionism is fear all dressed up in the chiffon of hindsight and the taffeta of cowardice. It is the immoral high ground of those unwilling to courageously take timely action in the face of making mistakes and ruffling feathers. There are many situations in life where we are dammed if we do and dammed if we don't.

The Democratic Party, in my opinion, is making a fatal miscalculation believing that the American electorate prefers it's cautionary ostrichian naysaying and inaction over Republican rashness, missteps and errors. In trying to cast Bush, et al. as decievers with heads full of rocks, they've equally succeeded in highlighing their own lack of backbone and ideas. The floodlight the Libs have cast on the Bush administration's sometimes questionable yet decisive damm the torpedoes strategy has also illuminated their chronic lack of resolve and heads bursting with fuzzy idealistic mush.

I believe we Americans viscerally understand that this nation was built and nurtured more by pragmatic risk takers than perfectionists infatuated with ideas. Decisions have to be made, and I've thrown my lot in with the dammed-if-we-doers, and not the dammed-if-we-don't boohooers.

In a previous post I talked about how the politically correct and self-serving feel good sentimentality of "I support the troops, but not the war" drips with vain pity, lacks any genuine honoring and mourning of the sacrifice of the military, and transforms our service and deaths into strategic victories for the enemy. Pity is a white flag raised in the heart and mind of another American. I add perfectionism to the list of white flag raisings. Remember, the War on Terror is being fought inside each of us, in our collective will, more so than "out there" on the battlefield. Everyday it becomes clearer where in our body politic that will is weakening, and where it stays strong, admittedly imperfect and yet perfectly resolute.

I will leave you with a second quote. This one is from Leading Marines, another of this weekend's reading assignments.

"For leaders to hold units together under adverse conditions,
they must first fight—and win—the battle within themselves."

Friday, July 07, 2006

Almost Done

Before the Storm (work in progress)

Before the Storm - Study of irrigation ditch

Here's the present state of "Before the Storm". I've been working on the foreground and the irrigation ditch leading into the middle ground. The creative challenge has been to find a visual language and appropriate color palette to render the stray wheat growing in the foreground and the crumbling wall of the ditch. The wheat has full fuzzy heads of ripe grain, and the wall of the irrigation ditch has both soft soil and jagged protruding stones. Problem: lots of soft and hard edges at a time of the day, the gloam, when everything is dissolving.

I've tried to use direct and energetic brushwork to echo the mulberry tree foliage. This is done with several sizes of filbert brushes loaded with paint mixed with drying medium to a syrupy consistency. The medium I use allows the oils to set up quickly. Once the colors are almost dry to the touch, but still slightly tacky, I go back in with a large dry filbert and delicately "caress" the surface to unify the brushwork. This method avoids muddying the colors, marries the different surface areas, yet allows the basic energy of the original stokes to come through.

My palette relies heavily on the relationship between green and violet. It also takes into consideration the complimentary of violet, which is yellow. In the background a full pale yellow moon is rising in a cloudless softly muted purple sky. To keep things natural and at the same time capture the elegiac mood of the gloam, I've mixed a touch of burnt umber and cobat violet dark into almost all my color mixures. At this wonderful time of the day, which photos can rarely capture, objects take on an inner glow; I've focused on the stones tumbling out and into the deteriorating ditch, the wheat heads and the hands of the sitting Marine to communicate this evocative effect.

I hope everyone had a fun Fourth of July with kith and kin, burgers and buns, and plenty of fireworks. I saw where some folks in Santa Cruz, Kalifornia celebrated by burning American flags on the beach. Why? Just because they could. What could I possibly say that all of you haven't already thought about this yourselves? Nothing. I, like you can only shake my head. As I tell my daughter, democracy allows us to be as stupid as we want to be.

My gonzo documentarian friend Pat Dollard made it on to Fox's Hannity and Combes Wednesday night. He did a good job of holding his own, made some nice jabs a Michael Moore and looked strangely healthy.