Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oh, The Fun You Can Have!

Today was Capitol Hill day for my class at the National Defense University. Luckily it was not too terribly hot like it had been last week because we started with a mid day walk from Union Station, past the Capitol building, and a couple blocks more to a restaurant for lunch. Then I had to scramble off and find Jay Inslee's office for a quick courtesy visit. He was between meetings but took the time to shake my hand and we chatted about the military and my upcoming assignment to Djibouti. Very nice, engaging fellow. Makes me wish he wasn't a Democrat.

Then I spent some time in the Senate visitors gallery and watched some proceedings regarding the Transparency and Disclosure Act. Sitting above the Senate floor is like Disneyland for a political science geek like myself. At first there's just some staffers shuffling paperwork around at the various tables up front. Then John Kerry walks through and goes into some room behind the chamber. Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid come in and discuss something for a while. Then the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell gets up and starts in on how awful the bill is that they're considering. Then Schumer gets up and talks, without looking at his notes, for fifteen minutes about how wonderful the bill is. Then, hold on to your hats folks, Senator Reid calls for a roll call vote for cloture! I'm thinking: AWESOME!

Before you know it, all the Senators start filing into the room, chatting amongst themselves, and getting the clerk's attention as he reads the roll. It's funny, but in the Senate they don't have fancy electronic voting gadgets. They just hold up their hand to the clerk and point up or down as they're walking by. My Senators, Cantwell and Murray, spent some time talking with each other before Sen. Cantwell started messing with her Blackberry and walked off. Al Franken walked in, milled around, voted, and left. Of course, the highlight of the afternoon was John McCain walking in, voting, and walking out. Fourteen seconds of my life I'll never forget.

With all this action in the Senate, I figured going over to 'that other body' would just be a let down. So, it was time to get the metro back to the hotel.

What a day!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pentagon Memorial

This morning, before sunrise, I took a walk to the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. I'm not sure why, but things like this really must be done very early in the morning. The site has the standard list of names etched in granite and then a large area with individual memorials sweeping up out of the ground with running water beneath them. They look a bit like benches but somehow it just doesn't seem right to sit on them. As I walked the grounds I noticed they are all arranged in parallel straight lines that point towards the rebuilt area of the Pentagon; there's a noticeable difference in shading of the new stone walls. It was somber, quiet, and with the sun coming up over the building, fairly awe inspiring. 184 people lost their lives that day, among them was only one Marine. Judging from his birth date I have to assume he was a crusty old retired jarhead with a story for every day he was in the service. After staring at the Pentagon for a few minutes, I found his memorial and sat down for a spell just to rest my feet.

I figured he wouldn't mind.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

National Defense University

So I'm at a two week course with the National Defense University in Washington D.C. and it's going right smashingly. Since some of you may also get the chance to study national strategy and defense policy formulation, here are some handy tips:

1. Go back in time and ensure you got a degree in political science so that you actually like the intensive study of national strategy and defense policy formulation.

2. If you do not normally wear a coat and tie every day, and if you should happen to run somewhere like, oh, say Goodwill, the week before you leave to stock up on appropriate clothing, make sure you actually check to see if the belt you bought fits correctly or was made for a waist several times too big.

2a. I know there's no possible way you could be such an idiot, but in case number two falls through the cracks of your planning process pack a ratty-yet-serviceable black belt that you normally wear with your jeans just in case.

3. Learn to like very, very hot and humid weather or go get one of the schools in Rhode Island.

4. Consign yourself to the fact that you will fall asleep during the Department of State's lecture and sit way in the back.

5. Remember to totally geek out over seeing a rack of Joint Forces Quarterly magazines and scholarly journals from the Center for Complex Operations. (Then start salivating when you find out they're free!)

If I think of any other handy tips, I'll let you know.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

Star Wars: The Claw Wars

Son Number Three has recently discovered Star Wars. As usual for a three year old, he watches movies 'again, again'. (And I'm more than willing to oblige.) He started with The Clone Wars and promptly retitled it Star Wars The Claw Wars. (Interesting Side Note: Why did Lucas refer to the conflict as The Clone Wars? Shouldn't it have been called The Separatist War?) Soon, everything related to the series had that title attached. The original movie was retitled Star Wars The Claw Wars The First One. Episode III is now Star Wars The Claw Wars Where He Kills His Master. Good stuff. (He also now demands to have frequent lightsaber battles with the red and blue plastic lightsabers that somehow ended up under the Christmas tree last December. Good thing I'm fairly proficient with the sound effects.)

Monday, July 05, 2010

American Monarchy

Here is an example of the sort of Google searches that happen when I find myself at the conjunction of Random Thought and Nothing Better To Do. Ever wonder what sort of royal family we would have had if George Washington had installed himself as the first King of America? The result may have been something like this. While George had no children, his older brother did and that line survives to this day. Providing that internecine squabbles by someone name Custis or Lee never happened, or that no coup d'etat was led by Hamilton, or no second Revolution led by Paine, Adams, or Jefferson, or none of a bazillion other things happened that can lead to a monarchy losing their head, we could have the honor of our King being a guy from Texas. No, not that guy from Texas, I'm talking about King Paul Emery Washington of San Antonio.

Just something that came to mind on this day after we celebrate our successful insurgency against our evil British overlords some couple hundred years ago.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Toy Story 3 Is Not For Kids

It's not that they won't enjoy it or anything, it's just that they won't get some of the complexity and gravitas of this very, very amazing movie. Kids will like the animation and the adventure and the laughs but there is also a whole level of depth that escapes them. I'm not talking about the clever bits that only an adult could grasp, like the elevator on Barbie's mansion jerking as it lowers because the doggone thing never quite worked as Mattel insisted it would. I'm talking about the deeper meanings of life and love that work their way throughout the story. (Although everyone seemed to love Buzz en EspaƱol.)

It is quite true that this is the movie that makes grown men cry. You simply cannot call yourself a real man if tears aren't streaming down your face at the garbage dump furnace scene; when these toys, these dear friends who've been with each other through so many trials and tribulations, realize that they are facing the end. That's it for them; their time is done. But they're together. And that makes it okay. Because if you have to face your final minutes here on Earth, it's best to be amongst friends and family.

Time will tell, but this could quite possibly be the best movie ever made. I know I said that about Saving Private Ryan and that Star Wars is still the one single movie that's had the most impact on my life but...

This was something special.