Protesting at the Supreme Court…you need a costume

Hands off my body! – Conservative Baby Boomer outside the Supreme Court protesting “Obamacare”

I walk by the Supreme Court every day as I shuffle to and from work. Some days I dread the walk past the Court like January 22nd of every year. That is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the pro-life crowd, though entertaining, is completely rude and extremely messy…. they give off this feeling as if they are hanging out in their church parking lot instead of being on Capitol Hill.1 The mere thought of sharing space with non-pissed off people is a foreign concept to them. Some days, I make extra trips to the Supreme Court during the day just to witness the crowds.2

Earlier this week, Monday-Wednesday specifically, I strolled by the Supreme Court not only in the morning and evening, but also during lunch. These were the days that the Supreme Court was deliberating on HHS v. Florida. The main question the Court is addressing is “whether Congress had the power under Article I of the Constitution to enact the minimum coverage provision” of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (“Obamacare” to the ignorant). Some protests are better visit and view than others… I had hoped that the people for and against this law would entertain me.

As Matt‘s dad said “the only rational reason to go to a street protest is to meet girls,”3 unfortunately rationality affects very few people when they purposely head out to protest. As stated earlier… “Hands off my body!” isn’t exactly the chant you expect to hear from conservative protesters especially considering the typical conservative view on abortion. Modern politics definitely entertains in ways that may be lost on the entertainer. I am still grappling with determining whether or not this phrase “Hands off my body!” (by what I assumed were pro-life but anti-mandated health insurance coverage people) was ironic or intentional.

Matt was my let’s-go-check-out-the-crowd companion on Monday, and he wrote a quick, yet extremely insightful, blog about our visit. His main points being that 1) the scene in front of the Court was not particularly memorable, 2) protesting in front of the Court is logically awkward, and 3) the Court and its environment doesn’t enable a good protest. I too have a few thoughts about these protests (and protests in general).

– Wear a costume. As with the “George Washington” above, having a costume has a significant effect on passerbys and the media. Everyone wants to talk to a person that makes the effort to dress up like it’s Halloween, even though no one was promising candy. Tuesday at 4:10pm is when I saw George and he was holding “court” with a few members of media. By physically drawing attention to himself, he was able to spout his thoughts. What I heard him utter as I passed was “the Court is attacking liberty… ” I didn’t stay to hear the rest of his diatribe, but the circle of reporters were highly interested. I bet the rest of the “interview” was entertaining and devoid of fact as that simple statement. On Wednesday afternoon, approximately the same time as my Tuesday encounter with George, I witnessed another costumed protester outside the Court. This time it was a female Paul Revere… I think. Unlike the somewhat accurately dressed George,4 this Paulette Revere had decided to dress herself in black tights (the ones that show panty lines so well), a black t-shirt, brown suede vest, brown leather belt with a bugle dangling seductively low near her crotch, and a tri-cornered hat (with a feather flourish). What truly set Ms. Revere apart was the large dark red Joker lips that was drawn from ear to ear.5 She too had a crowd of reporters. Wear a costume and you will get your message out.

– Be loud. Chant, sing, megaphone it out. “Hands off my body!” and “Give me healthcare!” seemed to be the favorites of the two competing crowds. Monday seemed to have a more pro-mandate crowd over the anti-mandate crowd. Tuesday was more balanced, and by Wednesday the anti-mandate crowd had assumed a dominate role. But getting your message out through costume or chant is important. Matt, however, makes a good point by identifying the fortress-like bubble the Justices work in and how the front sidewalk area of the Court doesn’t exactly lend itself as a good spot to be heard. The Court doesn’t give a shit about what you have to say… but the media does.

– Ensure security and big names. If your case is important enough to get costumed protesters and chanting crowds, then your case is important to draw political celebrities. On Monday and following mine and Matt’s crowd walk-through, Rick “Sweater Vest” Santorum decided to arrive in a convoy of silver SUVs and make an impromptu speech. With speedy efficiency, Santorum arrived and with security in tow… marched up the steps and without microphone addressed the crowd. Really he addressed the media and unfortunately he wasn’t sporting a costume or a sweater vest. I was viewing from a picnic table in front of the Library of Congress at this time and the best view I got was the arrival of his entourage… which was slightly speeding. Rep. Michelle Bachmann made an appearance later, unfortunately I didn’t witness it. I did, however, get to see the federal government’s attorneys get escorted by Secret Service… make a hole people. For the record, the federal government uses black SUVs… silver ones are reserved for presidential candidates only.

The moral of this story… if you are going to protest wear a costume (regardless of any resemblance to Batman’s enemies), have a good slogan (regardless of how inaccurate or ignorant), and try to get your side to bring a few celebrities to the forefront. Forest Gump got his day in the sun and so should you. If you do show up in costume though, don’t be surprised when Capitol Hill workers and DC residents stop, laugh, and take your picture… you people crack me up.

1. I support everyone and anyone’s right to protest. Just pick up after yourself and don’t leave your signs and trash all over the ground. Your mom raised you better.

2. I work approximately 250 yards from the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill.

3. The protesters this week weren’t exactly eye-candy… but oddly there seemed to be more suits than slogan emblazoned t-shirts.

4. Or at least the imagined George Washington to this protester. The buff and blue are correct though.

5. These ears also sported dangling feather earings that were of the roach clip variety… reminded me of the county fair prizes of my Tennessee youth.


Tschüss Baumholder…A Farewell to the Germany of my Youth

My mother likes to tell people I was “made” in the Panama Canal Zone in early 1970. I obviously do not remember the PCZ… she returned home to Alabama prior to giving birth to me in October 1970 in Winfield, Alabama. That birth and early times there are totally memory terra incognito. After that we moved to Fort Riley, Kansas… home to the 1st Infantry Division and the unit my dad served with in Vietnam. I have very few memories of Fort Riley… my sister (7 years older) play acting, in a very convincing manner, at “eating” a knife. I can remember sitting on our couch in the living room of our military housing duplex as she pushed the knife down her throat. I was sitting on her left side and was unable to see the knife actually go along her right cheek and not actually going in her mouth. I was 3 or 4 at the time and completely unable to understand that a 7-year-old girl was incapable of eating a knife. I was astonished. The only other memory that I have (that isn’t the result of some family story) is one of me and the family dog being told to get “out of the way” as my dad cut our backyard. Again I was 3 or 4 at the time, and the dog and I were sitting by the power pole that was the farthest boundary of our backyard. It was warm and sunny and I can see that dog (German Shepard) and my dad cutting the grass.

My first real sustained memories came in the next two years when we moved to Baumholder, Germany. Childhood memories are funny things that are a mish mash of retold stories (my family is renowned for recounting humorous tales to the point of overkill) and true memories. Our place in the world has to have a foundation to give us a sense of self and location. We are not creatures that are detached from where we lay our heads to sleep and where we tread in our daily lives. My foundation is the Army base at Baumholder, Germany. Baumholder, after nearly 50 years of US occupation, is slowly being closed down and this makes me sad.

Last month the Pentagon announced further European troop reductions and Baumholder is one of the Army bases in Germany that will be slimmed… and eventually closed. The Washington Post recently described this slimming of US forces and the effects it will specifically have on Baumholder. Baumholder is a German town of approximately 4,500 residents with approximately 13,500 American neighbors on the base. The article describes the daily relationship between the US Army base and German town; American soldier/family member with German resident had become a warm and almost family relationship… as well as the obvious economic one (Americans love to spend money). It also discusses potential uses of the base once it becomes vacant after American withdrawal, and uses the former Army hospital base of Neubruecke1 as an example; the Germans turned it into a college campus. The neighboring Germans are sad to see the Americans go because of the social and economic ramifications of the US military European drawdown. A long-standing family relationship is ending, it feels almost like a death.2

Baumholder is the beginning of my life that is remembered in color. I can picture our military quarters… a 3 bedroom apartment in a 1950 building with a white exterior and drab off-white interior. I remember the view of the patch of woods behind our house and the main base road that ran just beyond the trees. I remember my mother having to do our laundry in the basement. The wooden floors and bench sitting around the kitchen table are also part of my memories. I remember loving the military ration dinners of spaghetti my mom would cook to satisfy my urges of eating like an “Army man.” I remember the German ice cream man who would come through our housing area selling German brand treats during the summer. I saw Star Wars in the Baumholder German theater with German subtitles. I cannot imagine Star Wars NOT having German subtitles. I can remember a childhood that included a dad in uniform and trips to the German wine country. Germany is as “home” to me as any other place I have rested my head.

As an adult, and a US Army officer, I got to return to Germany in the mid-90s. The Germany of my youth had changed. No longer was the American military presence seen and felt everywhere. Germany was no longer separated into two different countries, and now there are vast areas of Germany that did not know what it was like to have Americans as neighbors. This “other” Germany had memories of the Soviets and a wall. No longer did the US Army run rampant across the German countryside practicing for World War III. Now, Germany was nothing more than a forward deployed area for US military forces to stage for missions in the Middle East and the Balkans. The Germany of my youth was still there with common sights and sounds of real Germany, but there was no Germany that smelled and felt American. By the mid-90s, America was disengaging and allowing the Germans to have their country back. I was sad to see the changes, but mature enough to know that America’s role in the daily lives of the majority of Germans was ending… and that is good for Germany. I am surprised that it has taken over decade for this decline of America in Germany to happen.

Germany will eventually be free of American military presence and I am happy for the Germans. I am also saddened because as Germany becomes wholly German, a part of my childhood and a few years of my adult life will be nothing but a memory for me and my fellow soldiers and family members. You can never go home again, because the home in your head is not the home on the ground. Tschüss Baumholder, Tschüss Deutschland. I will always have you in my heart and head.

1. Neubruecke was the site of little league tournament I attended as a player in 1982 and I remember me and my fellow players chanting in typical adolescent goofiness “Nuditybooty, Nuditybooty” instead of Neubruecke (New-brookie).

2. Michael Birnbaum, “German town fears loss of U.S. Army base,” The Washington Post, March 27, 2012.

Public Service Announcement: Men’s Restroom Rules

Civil society is protected by a single egg-shell thin layer of rules. I am Hobbesian in my view of the world. In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes wrote “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man.”1 In his natural state, man has the right to do anything he wishes to preserve his life, and this life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes view on man’s natural state is the foundation of the international relations theory of realism… it is also relevant in man’s nasty state of affairs when it comes to public restroom decorum.

Gentlemen, in case you are unaware… or have forgotten… or if your parents didn’t learn you right, there are some rules that are expected, nay… demanded, that you follow. If there is a continued disregard or flagrant flaunting of these rules, the very natural state of man will come to roost upon your head like a biblical plague. So to make sure that your head (and my sensibilities) are plague free, let me state some of the public restroom rules that you continue to think are only “suggestions.”

– The wall above, the handle of, and piss shield beside the urinal is NOT an appropriate area to wipe your snot. You are, at most, ten feet away from a paper towel dispenser and a roll of toilet paper. If you do feel the need to use your finger2 then at least use that flicking skill you perfected in the 3rd grade to launch your “ammo” into the urinal instead of leaving a disgusting reminder to the rest of us guys who follow behind you.

– Put the damn toilet seat up and then down after you use a stall and toilet for pissing. We understand that due to crowding or shy bladders that some of you are incapable of using a urinal. But as your mom, sister, wife, girlfriend, and daughter have said time, time, and time again… put it up so the squatter behind you doesn’t have to sit in your inaccurately aimed stream… and then put it down so I don’t have to touch where you have likely aimed high.

– Whether it is the stall or urinal… get your fucking aim right. I don’t want my shoes, pants that are around my ankles or any other part of my body and attire touching your piss. You are a grown-ass man, and if you can’t aim it properly… sit your ass down. There is no shame in sitting down to piss, and I bet if you had to clean your toilet and bathroom floor at home you would have better aim or accept reality and cop a squat. Streaming the public restroom like a Tom cat that has instinctual needs to mark his territory is not acceptable behavior.

– Wash your hands. When we see you not wash your hands, you are not only shaming yourself through a public display of disgustingness, but you shame your mom. That woman taught you better, and no it isn’t your wife’s job to ensure you wash your hands… again you are a grown-ass man. The rest of us don’t want to touch the door handle after you have pissed on your hands and then you “forgot” to wash. This is why there is a pile of paper towels near the door on the floor… the rest of us need a prophylactic. If we don’t use a paper towel to assist in door opening, we will be forced to do some weird yoga routine that incorporates our elbows, shins, and hips to get through that door of nasty.

– Any noises not associated with the forceful removal of fecal matter emitting from a stall is strictly verboten. Texting, talking (to self, on phone, or to a friend pissing on the wall by the urinal), grunting (non-fecal related), and whistling is rude and is potentially interrupting the concentration the rest of us need to complete our business. As little information I have on your stall activities the better.

Again, you are grown-ass men in a civil society. It seems, however, that civil society is one booger, piss droplet, or grunt from collapsing. If (and when) civil society does collapse and I come across you breaking one of these rules there will be no one to stop me from slamming your head (repeatedly) in a stall door while your pants are around your ankles… in which I will follow by promptly wiping my hands clean on your shirt. You have been warned.

1. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, chapter XIII.

2. I do believe: your finger, your nose, your business.

Legislative and Strategic Intent

“Intent” is defined as 1) “something that is intended; purpose; design; intention: The original intent of the committee was to raise funds.” 2) “the act of fact of intending, as to do something: criminal intent.” 3) “Law, the state of person’s mind that directs his or her actions toward a specific object.” 4) “meaning or significance.”1 The intent of this post is to discuss two issues associated with the elected officials’ intent that have not gained enough of my attention to deserve their independent post… but enough attention to get at least a paragraph or two.

Legislative Intent

Courts, when considering law, may interpret legislative intent if the law is ambiguous, or appears not to address directly, or adequately, an issue. If the law is unambiguous, or crystal clear, US courts have determined, numerous times, that the legislative intent is obvious. When a law could be interpreted in numerous ways, the legislative intent must be determined by other sources than the actual text of the statute. Other sources include such things as hearings, floor debates, and legislature reports.

The Tennessee House Bill 3808, “Life Defense Act of 2012,” doesn’t seem to be ambiguous. The law, in a brief summary, would require doctors that perform abortions to report information (concerning every abortion) to the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH). The TDH in-turn would maintain data on:

(1) Identification of the physician who performed the abortion and the physician’s office, clinic, hospital or other facility where the abortion was performed;

(2) The county and state in which the woman resides;

(3) The woman’s age, race and marital status;

(4) The number of prior pregnancies and prior abortions of the woman;

(5) The gestational age in number of weeks of the unborn child at the time of the abortion;

(6) The type of procedure performed or prescribed and the date of the abortion; and

(7) Pre-existing medical conditions of the woman who would complicate pregnancy, if any, and, if known, any medical complication which resulted from the abortion itself.2

The bill would also require TDH to present this annual report on statistical data concerning abortions to the Tennessee General Assembly and made publicly available on the TDH website.3 Additionally, the bill states that the detailed report “shall be confidential in nature and shall not be accessible to the public …”4

It seems the gist of this bill is to require abortion doctors and medical facilities to increase the information that they report to TDH, and that detailed information is to be maintained by TDH. Detailed information, however, will not be made available to the General Assembly or the general public. The intent of this laws appears to be: to inform the Tennessee General Assembly (and the general public) of the number of abortions performed in the state. This type of information is readily available (now) to the Tennessee General Assembly by simply typing (in the Googles) “number of abortions in Tennessee.” Additionally, TDH already reports information on abortions in a similar manner without maintaining detailed information on abortion providers and patients.5 So what appears to be a legislative intent may not actually be so. The actual intent may be to add a new level of bureaucracy to medical facilities and doctors that perform abortions. Conversely, the legislative intent may be as simple as requiring Tennessee doctors, medical facilities, and TDH to maintain a database of certain (abortion) procedures.6

Some have argued that this is an attempt to intimidate women who may seek an abortion and the doctors who perform them. Supporters, both Tennessee legislators and the Tennessee Right to Life organization, state that the bill would simply require the data already collected be made publicly available, and that it is only “… fair for folks on both sides to see how prevalent abortion is in our counties and in our communities.” Legislative intent may be as simple as informing Tennesseans of abortion statistics or intimidate women… or both. Seems the courts will decide considering similar bills enacted in Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Texas have been challenged and judgement is pending. Intent is important when deciding how one feels about law.

Strategic Intent

 “Strategic intent is defined as a compelling statement about where an organization is going that succinctly conveys a sense of what the organization wants to achieve long-term.”7 George Friedman, at STRATFOR, argues that concept and intent of the “Long War” in Afghanistan (and Iraq) was, at its core, the defeat of the Taliban and Iraqi resistance would take a long time, however, the success would not be one in which these threats were destroyed. Instead, success would be constantly shifting based on where and how these enemy “forces” fight. 

Arguably, this intent may result in a “long war” that is the foundation of a US strategic policy that remains until the threat of Islamic terrorism disappears (unlikely) or is reduced (long time coming). Along this train of thought, Friedman argues that the recent atrocities committed by SSG Robert Blake may increase due to continued stress that multiple deployments (of a long war) have on individuals and military units. The use of volunteers instead of a draft is shown as a contributing factor in this possible increase in war and deployment stress.

Finally, Friedman states that there are four strategic assumptions of the “long war.” 1) The fight against extremist terrorism can be won. 2) Large-scale operations help achieve this victory. 3) The US is capable of fighting this type of “long war” without adjusting its domestic reality. Finally, 4) This intent and focus of the “long war” should continue to be the foundation of US strategy indefinitely. These assumptions seem to state that extremist Islamic terrorism is the most dangerous threat facing the US. Friedman argues that these assumptions are dangerous and harmful to America.

Constant “long war” “… has strained American resources. It has also strained the fabric of American life.”  These strategic assumptions of the “long war” and its intent “… undermine republican principles to overestimating military capabilities and committing the republic to a war whose end state is unclear and where the means are insufficient.” Conflict and war changes nation-states, societies, domestic life, and unfavorably shifts foreign policy. Ultimately, Friedman states that “long war” “… creates a professional class …” that fights wars, while the rest of the nation only “pays” for it, yet doesn’t see the conflict and war as part of their daily existence. Alienation of warriors from the society they protect is dangerous. Focusing on terrorism is pertinent, but claiming true victory is not doable. The intent of a “long war,” like all strategic goals, needs to be reevaluated.

The intent of elected officials in a democratic republic should always be available for public and voter examination. Questioning intent, not only in the courts, but through open and public dialogue is how elected officials and their intent is kept in perspective. Digging into that dialogue is one way to ensure voters affect intent, because in the end … elected official intent should mirror (on some level) voter/public intent.

1. Source

2. Tennessee House Bill 3808, Sec. 3(a)(1-7).

3. Ibid., (c)(1).

4. Ibid., (c)(2).

5. age, race, education and number of childre of the women, but does not list name of abortion provider or identify of the patient.

6. Interestingly, it is a little more difficult to determine the number of other types of medical procedures, such as open heart surgery, in Tennessee. Seems abortion statistics are tracked a lot more frequently than other types of surgery. Again, what is the intent of this legislation?

7. Source.

Sublimemonkey’s Life: An iPod Playlist

I once chronicled my life through a listing of vehicles I have driven and owned. I think most people compartmentalize their lives in segments or eras. I segment my life in music. I am constantly aware of music and how music affects me. Almost everything I do includes a soundtrack. What I listen to may have changed over the years, but my love of music has not.

I remember vinyl, I have owned vinyl, but I am not a vinyl person. I used to be a cassette person, I used to be a CD person, now I am an iPod person. Jared (a good friend) is a vinyl person, he still collects records.1 Rare and obscure music on record is his pleasure. There seems to be a certain way that a record tells a story that individual songs purchased on iTunes don’t convey. Artists not only told stories with individual songs, but they told rich tales with record arrangements. Records, however, aren’t portable even though companies tried to make them travel friendly. Lugging a player and your records out on your daily travels just wasn’t feasible. 8 tracks, and later cassettes, allowed the listener to take their music with them. You had to carry a large tape player though2… until Sony invented the Walkman. Tape players and cassettes brought forth the mix tape. Mix tapes, like records, were stories that listeners could make through the work of musicians. The invention of recordable CD’s continued this idea.

Now we have playlists. Playlists are the digital equivalent of the mix tape. I have a lot of self-made playlists on my iPod. I have a running playlist, a drinking/driving/partying,3 and plethora of others. What I don’t have is “Sublimemonkey’s Life” playlist. The following is a list of the songs, corresponding with age or era in my life, that would be that playlist… if it did in fact exist.

Sublimemonkey’s Life: A Playlist

Age/Era: Anytime before 13 – Anything by Johnny Horton

All you “Battle of New Orleans4 haters can suck it. Epic, semi-patriotic drivel from the 1950s is the shit. My sister can tell fantastical tales of me reenacting this song. But Johnny Horton was more than myths about British aggression, it was also about war horses, and sea battles. Johnny Horton knew how to rock in a way that an 8 year-old boy appreciated. My uberlove for Johnny Horton is a direct link to my parents’ youth. They grew up in the 1950s. Even though my house was filled with Charlie Pride, Loretta Lynn, Waylon, Willie, and Johnny Cash5 (with a little Mel Tillis thrown in)… it was Johnny Horton and his rose-colored glasses that made me love music. Yes, Johnny Horton is on my iPod… he isn’t listened to much, but he is there when I need him.

Age/Era: 7th grade – Asia “Heat of the Moment

Asia’s Asia was one of the first albums I purchased with my own money. It had an awesome dragon roaring out of the ocean. The music wasn’t as hard as the album cover portrayed… but the music was good enough to stick in my head all these years later. Asia is the band that makes me think of my first year of junior high in Germany. It also makes me think of my “date” to my 7th grade homecoming dance. This lithe 13 year-old beauty was named Elizabeth and she had the most sparkling braces. I didn’t kiss her though, and for this I am sorry. This song tells us how we found ourselves “in 82” and dates it, but it’s reference to the death of disco makes it a period piece that is perfectly suitable as a “memory” song. Yes this song is on my iPod, and when it comes on I turn it up and think about long bus rides to junior high and a youth in Europe… and braces wearing beauty.

Age/Era: 8th grade – Spandau Ballet “True

I listened to heavy metal in junior and high schools… yes I was one of those nerds. Yet, Spandau Ballet’s metrosexual6 “True” is my 8th grade year. My 8th grade girlfriend (who reads this blog as a Facebook friend) knows why this song is important. I remember the flats she wore to the dance we went to as a “couple.” This song makes me think of the movie Uncommon Valor… we had are first real kiss during it at the Lincoln Twin theater.7 This song makes me think of her house, her swimming pool, and all the goofy shit young teens do in junior high. Motley Crue is how I want to remember junior high, instead it’s Spandau Ballet and I am not ashamed to admit it. Yes, this song is on my iPod and when I hear it I think of my 8th grade girlfriend who was my first kiss.

Age/Era: 10th grade – Violent Femmes “Blister in the Sun

Even though this song was 2 to 3 years old in my 10th grade year, it seemed to be playing everywhere. Still to young to drive, but beginning to branch out from the typical “having-your-parents-drop-you-off-at-the-theater” mode. Again, I was a metal guy in high schoolbut it was this odd masturbation pop band that reminds me of my first year of high school. It played horribly loud on my boom box. It played as a group of us high schoolers, with no driver’s licenses, sat around doing… um, I’m not really sure what we were doing other than watching movies and making fumbling attempts at making-out. We must have had fun though, because other than camping on my family farm with friends, I really don’t remember doing much else. Yes, this song is on my iPod, and I can see the furnished basements and living rooms that was the location of all this “fun.”

Era/Age: 11/12th grades – Anthrax “Efilnikufesin

Finally, a metal song… and a thrashing one at that. I was an imaginary metal skater. In my head I was a badass, but in reality I hung out with a bunch of other guys who weren’t badasses, and the most badass thing we did was occasionally shoot road signs with shotguns. Seems living on a farm in rural Tennessee didn’t keep me from wanting to work a skate board and live the dangerous life. In reality, this song (and metal in general) played into my typical teenage boy angst. My parents didn’t like metal… they were stuck in their country music which played into their own self-identification. I was dreaming of moving away and seeing world… and kick its ass in the process. Wanting to kick ass and actually doing it are two different things. Yeah, I own this song too and I am a badass when I hear it.

Age/Era: college (1st time) – Jimmy Buffett “Margaritaville

Please note, I said college (1st time). I was not then, nor am I now a Parrot Head. But I loved beer then, and I love beer now. Jimmy Buffett was good beer pounding music. Seems every fraternity party I went to in my first attempt at higher education was filled with Jimmy Buffett music. I still listened to metal, Metallica and Nirvana was what I listened to in my car, in my dorm, and with other guys… but when we were out at parties and looking to score with the ladies, Jimmy Buffett was the sound track. Since I was constantly trying to score, Jimmy Buffett and beer were the staples of my college (1st time) memories. “Margaritaville” is not on my iPod. For the record, I would consume beer to any music… so if some other musician had been predominately playing at these parties… that would be the music I would have put on this “playlist.”

Age/Era: Army basic training – Sinéad O’Connor “Nothing Compares 2U

A fantastically morbid, sad, and slightly erotic Prince-written song.9 This song isn’t particularly Army badass, but because of when and where I heard/saw it makes it important. Your introduction to the Army is always an odd experience. One day you are guzzling gallons of beers with a bunch of your loser college buddies while attempting to score, and the next day you are kicked out of college and enlisted in the Army. One day you are free to sleep till 2pm (and missing class) and the next day you are up at 5am and running 3 miles in cold Fort Knox, Kentucky rain.10 One day, weeks into basic, my platoon was allowed to go to a little shoppette for drinks and snacks… we were so cool getting a little freedom. In the shoppette was one of them new fancy video jukeboxes. When I walked in the door and heard Ms. O’Connor wailing angrily about a lost love, I knew that I had heard the words that vocalized my confusion and loneliness. I was no longer in the real world, but I was in the arms of the US Army. That tear that slowly traveled down her cheek emphasized my own internal pain. Yes, that is overly dramatic… but at the time it made such perfect sense. Now I realize basic training was nothing more than another life event that I learned to deal with. Yep, it is on the iPod and it doesn’t make me sad… it makes me think about needing a long shower and eating a lot of food… because you are always dirty and hungry at basic training.

Age/Era: college (2nd time) – Soundgarden “Black Hole Sun

After a few years in the Army, I was back giving college a try. I had realized that working for a living was better done with a degree. I was in ROTC and I knew that if I was going to wear a uniform I wanted it to be an officer’s uniform. Now I felt like a badass, I had grown into all I was ever going to grow into physically, and I was running lots miles every day and enjoying the life of a college student with an actual goal that didn’t include beer 24 hours a day. The metal of the 90s wasn’t as good as the 80s, but it was good enough to give me the feeling of power. No longer did I imagine being hard… I was a man with a plan. I was learning to lead men, and a man who is a leader needs to have a rock solid sound track. Soundgarden matched my imagined leader of men in my head. This song is not on my iPod.

Age/Era: US Army Airborne School – Tag Team “Whoomp There It Is

Fort Benning, Georgia is a shit hole. Pawn shops, bars, strip clubs, and places that thrive on sucking the money out of soldier’s pockets is the type of shithole it was. Fort Benning in August really sucks. Learning how to jump out of airplanes sucks. Days of learning how to fall down without hurting yourself causes you to hurt yourself. My neck and back ached, blisters on my hands reminded me that I wasn’t as badass as I thought. Jumping out of airplanes is cool though. The only reason I mention this song is that one evening while out drinking at a local shithole bar, it came on. This was the type of place that the strippers came to on their night off, yet still wearing their stripper clothes. As soon as this song came on (repeatedly all night), strippers and their army of Army suitors converged on the dance floor to shout “whoomp there it is.” What can I say, I too identified what “there it is” was with a “whoomp.” Yep, I own it.

Age/Era: NATO peace keeping duty, Balkans – Bush “Machinehead

I spent a total of 18 months of my life living in the mud of the former Yugoslavia. Being completely clean was not an option. My personal record for going shower/bath-less is 62 days. For 62 days, my body never felt the luxury of running water. After 2 weeks you don’t smell or feel a thing. Crusted is what you become. Bush released this song in 1996, and I spent 11 months of 1996 in the Balkans. Badass music for a sad job. The song rocks and I listen to it, but it also reminds me of land mines, 3-legged dogs, destroyed houses, and a sad and broken people. The innocents suffer war. “Breathe in, breathe out” is how you get through a long deployment. I own this song and it doesn’t make me sad.

Age/Era: Fort Hood – Robert Earl Keen “The Road Goes On Forever and The Party Never Ends

When you live in Texas and you drink beer… you listen to Robert Earl Keen. Texans really think as Ray Wylie Hubbard sings “Screw You, We’re from Texas.” My time in Texas makes me think of Shiner beer at Bocktoberfest (in Shiner, Texas) with Robert Earl Keen headlining and tons of large breasted Texas women removing their tops. It also makes me think of the Broken Spoke in Austin and my terrible attempts at two-stepping while the Derailers belt out a honky-tonk tune. Golf, duck hunting, my Ford F-150 truck, and Robert Earl Keen is what Texas means to me. Robert Earl Keen is on my iPod, and after a few beers I believe I could two-step to them.

Today, I listen to a lot of German metal and Russian pop. I am aging and my musical tastes are evolving, and not necessarily for the better. I still listen to Robert Earl Keen, but my down-home tastes lean toward the Drive-by Truckers. Katy Perry and Ke$ha have a place on my iPod too, but they aren’t sound tracks to one’s life… they are chewing gum. Latino rap even makes an appearance… but so does Central Asian folk music. I was never a badass, and I will never be one. I am a music lover though, and I love how music helps me define myself. For the record Guns n’ Roses is playing right now on my iPod and it makes me feel that maybe there is a little badass in me… maybe.

1. Jared is a librarian, so collecting obscure shit is what he does.

2. But boom boxes were da bomb!

3. But not a drinking AND driving playlist. I don’t own a car so the worse thing I can do is walk and drink. Fortunately, I have never gotten a public drunkenness ticket.

4. This eerie (and what appears to be all-white costume) video is awesome and I know my reenactment of this song, in my family’s living room, was identical in almost every aspect.

5. It would take 20 years before I turned back to these great musicians in my adulthood.

6. Back then it wouldn’t have been called “metrosexual,” instead it would have been called “ambiguously gay”… except I didn’t know the word “ambiguously” back then… I would have just said “gay.”

7. 8th grade girlfriend: If I am wrong about where and when our first kiss was, please don’t tell me, for nearly 30 years I have thought our first (french) kiss was during that movie and I don’t want my memory corrected. Uncommon Valor may not seem romantic and sweet to you, but it does to me.

8. My dad wouldn’t let me have rocking long hair, so by my junior year the best I could do was an embarrassingly cool mullet… fortunately prior to graduation and my freshmen year of college I had cut it to a sweet bitchin’ flow.

9. Prince wrote a lot of good songs recorded by women, and I assume the little short fucker tapped them all.

10. Elvis knew what he was singing about, that Kentucky rain does make you cold.

In case of fire: Head toward the American Exit Strategy for Afghanistan

Our Nation is at a moment of transition. Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, we have responsibly ended the war in Iraq, put al-Qa’ida on the path to defeat – including delivering justice to Osama bin Laden – and made significant progress in Afghanistan, allowing us to begin the transition to Afghan responsibility.

– President Barrack Obama, January 3, 2012, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense

According to Kare DeYoung, President Obama has three key points to the U.S. military’s Afghanistan exit strategy, and they include transitioning security responsibilities to Afghan military forces, achieving a peace deal with the Taliban, and negotiating a long-term security deal with the Afghan government that allows some sort of U.S. military presence beyond 2014.1 These points, and the exit strategy itself, have become what the Administration would call “victory” in Afghanistan.

All of these key points to this “victory” may not be achievable. Arguably, attaining all of three of them may not be necessary to declare “victory.” Victory in Afghanistan may be nothing more than a national government that: (nominally) controls the major urban areas, maintains constant military pressure on the Taliban and terrorist organizations, participates in the international community at a level that matches its limited ability, and provides enough stability that a limited economy is maintained and grown. Victory in Afghanistan is not one that results in a country that matches a Western Civilization model, but a country that matches its reality and location.

Ten years of hunting down terrorists, removing the Taliban from power, establishing a quasi-democratic government, and attempting to nation build has resulted in continued U.S. military combat operations and an Afghanistan that looks more like its historical self than one that is moving into the 21st century. The Taliban, and its ability to provide a safe haven to terrorists, is no longer the governing force. Afghans, through the typical storyline of intrigue, bribery, and free/coerced cooperation, elect its government leaders (who are more often than not corrupt… but hey they aren’t the Taliban). The U.S. military is both training and assisting Afghan forces in hunting and killing Taliban and terrorist forces. One could argue that the Taliban’s establishment of control following the retreat of the Soviet Union, and then the Taliban’s defeat at the hands of a combined force of Afghan warlords (with competing interests) and U.S. special operation forces is just an extension of Afghanistan history of one group or individual gaining control to be eventually replaced through conflict, rebellion, alliances, intrigue, and foreign intervention. Victory doesn’t have to be a modern nation-state or what the Administration claims it wants.

Other views of victory are stated as being the continued degradation of al-Qaeda (and other terrorist organizations) and death of Osama bin Laden, or a Afghani nation that is stabilized and a government that controls all its territory. Michael O’Hanlon and Paul Wolfowitz argue for a third route to “victory” modeled on Columbia. Basically, the idea is that the Afghan government and its forces control the major urban areas and most of its territories with foreign assistance. Areas of Afghanistan, primarily the south and east, would be partially insurgent (Taliban) controlled, but government forces would continue to battle for these regions. One could almost argue that this is also the Pakistan model, where the “democratically” elected government cedes control of certain areas to tribes, drug/war-lords, and terrorists but applies pressure when necessary to maintain an equilibrium.

Negotiating a peace with the Taliban, though a positive desire, is not necessary for the U.S. to declare victory. If the Afghan government and its forces are capable of maintaining the status quo, then the Taliban does not have to cease hostilities… it just can’t be allowed to gain battlefield successes that result in it returning to power. These battlefield successes can be achieved through U.S. military assistance that is more surgical than blunt.

There are two key points identified in the Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense that define (arguably) how the U.S. intends to assist the Afghans specifically, and address Afghanistan-style situations generally. One is “counter terrorism and irregular warfare,” and “conduct stability and counterinsurgency operations.”

 – Counter Terrorism and Irregular Warfare. Acting in concert with other means of national power, U.S. military forces must continue to hold al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents under constant pressure, wherever they may be. Achieving our core goal of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qa’ida and preventing Afghanistan from ever being a safe haven again will be central in this effort. As U.S. forces draw down in Afghanistan, our global counter terrorism efforts will become more widely distributed and will be characterized by a mix of direct action and security force assistance. Reflecting lessons learned of the past decade, we will continue to build and sustain tailored capabilities appropriate for counter terrorism and irregular warfare. We will also remain vigilant to threats posed by other designated terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah.2 

– Conduct Stability and Counterinsurgency Operations. In the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States will emphasize non-military means and military-to-military cooperation to address instability and reduce the demand for significant U.S. force commitments to stability operations. U.S. forces will nevertheless be ready to conduct limited counterinsurgency and other stability operations if required, operating alongside coalition forces wherever possible. Accordingly, U.S. forces will retain and continue to refine the lessons learned, expertise, and specialized capabilities that have been developed over the past ten years of counterinsurgency and stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.3

Simply, victory is an Afghanistan that doesn’t have the Taliban sitting on the throne and insurgents/terrorists so pressured that they are incapable of exporting their violence outside the region. Whether you call it an exit strategy or victory, American end state means that there is no existential threat4 based or emitting from Afghanistan. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

1. Karen DeYoung, “White House looks to press on with exit strategy,” The Washington Post, March 13, 2012, p. A1.

2. U.S. Department of Defense, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, January 2012, p. 4.

3. Ibid., p. 6.

4. “Existential threat” means a threat tha can eliminate the existence of an individual or group.

Church and State… No simple discussion

Gott ist ein Popstar

Und die Show geht los

Gott ist ein Popstar

Der Applaus ist groß

Gott ist ein Popstar

Ihm gehört die Welt

Gott ist ein Popstar

Bis der Vorhang fällt1

– Oomph, “Gott ist ein Popstar

This post is not an attempt for me to voice my personal opinion on the “separation of church and state.” Instead, it is an attempt to provide information on the Constitution’s 1st Amendment, Supreme Court decisions related to the “establishment clause” of the amendment, and an example of a present legal question concerning the “establishment clause.” Anyone can voice their opinion, but a smart person attempts to arm themselves with knowledge.

The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” There is no “separation,” “church,” or “state” in the 1st Amendment. This is usually understood to mean that the government (big or little “g”) shouldn’t establish, endorse, support, or get involved with any religion. People aren’t too good with knowing facts.

People are never really concerned with facts. Thomas Jefferson, one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence but not the Bill of Rights, stated in his “Wall of Separation Letter,”2 addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, that “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God” and that the 1st Amendment was “building a wall of separation between Church & State.” When people start talking about the separation of church and state they think they are using a phrase from the Constitution, when in reality they are repeating Thomas Jefferson’s words from a letter he sent to a Christian association in an attempt to explain the 1st Amendment.

This discussion of government’s role in religion is a long and lengthy one. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has decided the constitutionality of numerous “church and state” laws. They can be categorized as A) government intervention in church controversies; B) the free exercise of religion; and C) the establishment of religion. The “establishment clause” of the 1st Amendment is what most people are referencing (whether they realize it or not) when they start talking about the “separation of church and state.” There are specific SCOTUS decisions that affect our present view on the establishment clause.

The establishment clause SCOTUS decisions can be further categorized as A) standing to sue; B) religious institution tax exemption; C) work on Sunday; D) religious institutions functioning as a government agency; E) unequal treatment of religious groups; F) legislative chaplains; G) government-sponsored Nativity scenes; H) federal funding to public education; I) federal aid to church-related schools; J) Prayer in public schools; and K) teaching creationism in public schools. Basically, there are numerous SCOTUS decisions related to the establishment clause.

How a case gets to SCOTUS also determines the court’s involvement in a case. Simply, SCOTUS determines to hear a case if:

– a U.S. court of appeals has entered a decision in conflict with the decision of another U.S. court of appeals on the same important matter; has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with a decision by a state court of last resort; or has so far departed from the accepted and usual course of judicial proceedings, or sanctioned such a departure by a lower court, as to call for an exercise of SCOTUS supervisory power;

– a state court of last resort has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with the decision of another state court of last resort or a U.S. court of appeals; and

– a state court or a U.S. court of appeals has decided an important question of federal law that has not been, but should be, settled by SCOTUS, or has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with relevant SCOTUS decisions.3

Finally, it requires four of the 9 SCOTUS justices to agree to consider the case. SCOTUS agrees to consider very few cases, approximately 100 a year. Then if four justices agree, after considering the case, SCOTUS agrees to have the case placed before the court. In America’s history, SCOTUS has only had approximately 40 cases related to the “separation of church and state.”

For example, one issue that is related to the “separation of church and state” is the prayers and invocations that are held prior to city/county municipal council meetings. Recently, the Huntsville (Alabama) city council decided to put have its opening prayer conducted by a rotation of interfaith religious leaders. The idea is to extend an offer to multiple religious leaders (Jewish, Islamic, Christian, etc) to provide a prayer, or invocation, at the opening of the council’s meetings. The Freedom from Religion Foundation, however, has issues with this and claims that the use of any faith’s prayer at the beginning of the city’s council meetings as a breach of the 1st Amendment’s establishment clause, and the Foundation is threatening to sue the council.

The Foundation argues that any prayer from any faith is a proselytizing event to non believers, and thus is unconstitutional. Interestingly, an unofficial media poll in the Huntsville area showed that 46% of respondents (approximately 1,500 people) wanted no prayer, 42% wanted just a Christian prayer, and a minor 5.2% supported the council’s decision to have an interfaith rotation of prayer.

There is precedence in an US court of appeals deciding on a case of this nature. Pelphrey v. Cobb County, the 11th Circuit of the U.S. court of appeals ruled that a rotation of an interfaith prayer is legal. The plaintiffs (identified as “taxpayers”) argued that the establishment clause permits only nonsectarian prayer, however, the 11th US court of appeals disagreed and ruled in favor of the defendants (Cobb County, Georgia). The court decided that the use of a blessing, prayer, or invocation prior to a council meeting was not used (or exploited) for religious proselytizing. This case has not been referred to SCOTUS for final constitutional judgement. The Huntsville city council is arguing that the Pelphrey v. Cobb County decision will aid them if the Freedom from Religion Foundation does, indeed, sue.

Prayers and invocations before council meetings (or other government bodies) is not considered free speech. Precedents and numerous court decisions have determined, however, that it is okay to say “God” in a generic sense in a government meetings invocation. It is not acceptable to mention a specific religious god’s name (think of all the thousands of gods that have a name, including Jehovah and Jesus) in the invocation. One might argue that this violates the idea of promoting all religions above secularism, however, it seems that courts and legislatures do not consider this a serious threat to cause it to be judged and considered unconstitutional.

The idea and discussion of the “separation of church and state” is not simple, nor is it based strictly on tradition and law. It is a discussion that is full of misinformed conversations and opinions. It is a discussion full SCOTUS decisions related to the 1st Amendment and the misapplied phrase of “separation of church and state.” The concept of establishment clause is a foundational element of American legal history. It is important to understand that this discussion, like so many others, is not only full of facts but it is full of emotions and visceral reactions.

1. “God is a popstar, and the show begins, God is a popstar, and the applause is big, God is a popstar, the world belongs to him, God is a popstar, until the curtain falls.”

2. This letter is stored at the Library of Congress… go LOC!

3. These are considered the “Considerations Governing Review on Writ of Certiorari,” Supreme Court Rules, Section III, Rule 10.