The Chain Of Command

President Obama’s protracted consideration of a new Afghanistan strategy is a bit puzzling.  Obviously, the decision on whether, and if so how, to fight overseas is a critical decision that you would expect would command the President’s careful attention.  Nevertheless, it is odd that the President approved an Afghan strategy in March and now appears to be very publicly reconsidering that strategy. Candidly, I think Presidents are ill-served by public decision-making processes, which often make them look indecisive.  A better approach is to consider the strategy privately and then, when the weighing and balancing has been completed, to announce the new approach.

I know that General McChrystal has been criticized for a speech he gave, in which he expressed his views on options that the President may be considering.  I agree with the sentiment that the military should express its views through the chain of command — although American history is riddled with politically ambitious generals, from Jackson to McClellan to MacArthur.  I think General McChrystal can be excused his misstep, however, in view of the very public nature of the strategizing, where other participants, like Vice President Biden, are openly trumpeting their proposed alternative approaches.

I certainly hope that President Obama is not seriously considering adopting a half-baked, politically motivated “Biden strategy” over a “McChrystal strategy.”  In that regard, I agree with the conclusions articulated in this piece.  I think Joe Biden is one of the most overrated, underachieving political figures of the past 30 years –a blabbermouth, a windbag, a narcissist, shallow and unprincipled.  It is bad enough that President Obama selected Biden as his running mate; it would be an appalling indictment of the President’s judgment if he actually followed Biden’s advice.

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Vacation Time: The Western Swing (Part I)

A few years ago we were talking about where to go for a vacation, and Russell expressed a strong interest in seeing Mount Rushmore and some of the American West. I readily agreed, because I like driving and I like the West. But, where to go?

The old State Capitol in Springfield

I wanted to expose the kids to the America that I remember from my childhood trips — a land of local restaurants, regional fare, and legitimate historical sites and national parks mixed in with bizarre man-made attractions. Many of those restaurants and curiosities have been put out of business by bypassing superhighways or pricing pressure from national chains, but some are still around. So, I visited the excellent RoadsideAmerica and Roadfood.com websites, read a few library books, and planned a driving trip that took us as far west as Cody, Wyoming. I tried to plan days that involved enough driving to make progress, but not so much that we would be in the car for endless hours, listlessly watching the landscape roll by.

On our first day we drove six hours to Springfield, Illinois. Like many Americans, I identify strongly with Lincoln, and the idea of visiting Springfield was irresistible. We left early one morning, got to Springfield around noon, and we weren’t disappointed. Many of the historic Lincoln sites are well-preserved, and the city has a new, and fascinating, Lincoln Museum. We visited the Museum, the beautiful old State Capitol, Lincoln’s striking tomb, and his old neighborhood — athough, unfortunately, we did not get to tour his home.

The next morning we awoke early for one of the longest driving days of the trip. After bidding farewell to the very talkative bed and breakfast proprietor, we crossed the mighty Mississippi at Hannibal and rolled on to Tea, South Dakota. My plan was to get as far west as we could while trying a few odd stops along the way. I’d read about Maid-Rite sandwich shops in one of my sources and was intrigued by the idea of “loose meat ground beef” sandwiches. We stopped in a Maid-Rite in a small Iowa town and had a wonderful meal. The sandwiches (and fries) are great. Maid-Rites have been around since the 1920s, and this particular outlet looked like it had been in the same location, unchanged, since at least the ’50s. The town in which it was located had the same timeless feel.

Fortified, we drove on to the Steever House Bed and Breakfast near Tea, South Dakota. It is a magnificent old home with beautiful rooms that is surrounded by fields. If you stand outside the house, looking at the farmland extending to the horizon in every direction, you feel very small indeed. There are few trees nearby, and you can see weather systems rolling in from miles away.

mini_2155I’d read about the Steak House in Tea, South Dakota and felt we just had to try it. It also was well worth the visit. The Steak House is a no-frills place — the sign out front just says “Steak” — and you eat at simple tables, without having to endure the faux atmosphere found in so many lame chain restaurants. It is, simply, a place for people who want to eat a steak, and it filled the bill admirably. The place was packed, with waitresses weaving among the tables with heaving platters of steak and hash browns and plastic basets of onion rings. The steaks are massive, cooked to order, and so fresh you feel like the cattle were just butchered out back — which they probably were.

Having huge, tasty steaks at the southeast corner of South Dakota made us feel like we were away from the Midwest and on the edge of adventure.

Roman Polanski, David Letterman, and The Nobel Peace Prize

Here’s an interesting article on how the Roman Polanski and David Letterman episodes and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama have undercut the political credibility of Hollywood and the Nobel awards committee.

I agree that the Nobel Peace Prize has been discredited by this award and prior overtly political awards, but I’m not sure that Americans really paid much attention to it, anyway.  I think the Polanski and Letterman episodes probably will have more long-term impact because TV and movies are such important cultural forces in America.  The Polanski and Letterman episodes reveal the Hollywood types who mount a soapbox to espouse liberal dogma as hypocrites who will readily circle the wagons and excuse the obvious misdeeds of those within their circle — and argue that “artistic” contributions should trump the law and normal moral and ethical behavior.  I find it unimaginable that anyone could defend Roman Polanski’s rape of a 13-year-old or Letterman’s philandering with employees, and I think many other people share that view.  The next time Whoopi Goldberg or some other Hollywood type attempts to lecture Americans on how we should think, vote, or conduct our affairs, I think Americans will remember her tartuffery and ignore what they have to say.