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Uncommonly Sensible

Keeping the "anal" in analytical... (While trying to remain civilized)

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Location: United States

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend...

From the Baltimore Sun:
(^Click link for full story^)
Through the glass front door, Sandy Seidel could see the uniformed Army officer who had come to deliver the news, and she thought for a fleeting moment that maybe, if she didn't answer, the man would go away. "But I knew what it was," she said, as the memory of that moment brought back tears yesterday. For the mother of a son serving in Iraq, "it's your nightmare."

Army 1st Lt. Robert Seidel III, 23, of Gettysburg, Pa., was killed while on patrol Thursday afternoon when his Humvee was struck by an explosive device, she and her husband, Robert Seidel Jr., said yesterday. They said the officer who came to their home said three other soldiers from their son's platoon and an Iraqi interpreter also were killed in the attack.

"You always know it's a possibility, but you hope it won't happen," Mr. Seidel said of the death of his son, who had last spoken with his parents on Mother's Day.

"He said he loved us, and he couldn't let Mother's Day go by without calling," Mrs. Seidel said of the 15-minute call. "He was ready to get back home, but he was upbeat and in good spirits."

The 2004 West Point graduate was a rifle platoon leader with the 2nd Battalion in the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y. He was also an Army Ranger, qualified for air assaults.

Lieutenant Seidel- who had been in Iraq since August and had last visited his parents in February - was scheduled to return home in July, his mother said.

The Seidels said when they saw their son a few months ago, he seemed distracted. He explained that he was happy to see them, but also ready to rejoin the platoon of about 30 soldiers under his command, they recalled.

"His mind was over there," Mrs. Seidel said from their Gettysburg home. "He felt great responsibility for them. He said he couldn't feel at home until they all came home."

The Seidels said their son decided in the fifth grade that he wanted to attend West Point and make a career of the military. Lately he had talked about joining the Army Special Forces, his father said.

"He was in it for the long haul," Mr. Seidel said.

Mrs. Seidel said that as a young boy, her son had seen the Civil War miniseries, North and South, and was drawn to the famous generals who were depicted.

He attended Civil War re-enactments in Gettysburg and toyed with the idea of becoming a re-enactor one day, his mother said.

Lieutenant Seidel grew up in Emmitsburg in Frederick County and graduated in 2000 from Catoctin High School, where he earned mostly A's, his mother said. While there, he played football and baseball. At West Point, he joined the intramural wrestling team and won a medal in his weight class, she said.

He loved country music and ratty jeans, his mother said, chuckling, as she pictured her son in the beat-up John Deere hat that he was fond of wearing.

More recently he had developed an interest in NASCAR and ventured to Daytona, Fla., one year with friends to watch the races.

"He was a great kid," Mrs. Seidel said. "He loved the Lord. He loved his family. He loved his friends. And he loved his platoon. That was the most important thing for him."

His father added: "He believed in the mission in Iraq."

Stephen Seidel, 20, said he had braced himself for the possibility that his brother could die while serving in the war, but he hadn't imagined how he would feel if that day ever came.

"You work yourself up for this, but you don't expect it to happen," he said. "It rips your heart right out of your chest. I'm never going to see him again, and that's the hardest part of this."

He said his brother was a true-blue friend with an unfailing sense of humor and a knack for lightening serious moments.

"The first minute you met him, he'd have you laughing," the younger brother said. "Way back when we were really young, we'd go up to our grandma's attic and get into my uncle's old military uniforms. We'd go out into the woods and play Army. He loved that."

I've written previously about the Patriot Guard Riders; unfortunately, due to a skiing incident and subsequent knee surgery, I've been unable to ride my motorcycle in order to attend any of the funerals for the fallen that the Patriot Guard Riders have ridden escort for...until now.

On Memorial Day, it will be this old veteran's honor and privilege to be present for Lt. Seidel's funeral.

There is a possibility that the lowlifes (who think it is acceptable to protest the war by making grieving families feel even worse than they already do) might show up, especially because it's Memorial Day, to try to make a point.

We will be there to interpose ourselves between any such miscreants and Lt. Seidel's family and friends, should the need arise. Otherwise, we shall be present to honor his service to his country, in any case.

No matter what a person may think about this current war, increasing people's sorrow is sick and wrong.

UPDATE! (<-- Click link for full story)

EMMITSBURG: With a 21-gun salute and the reading of a poem about war that Army 1st Lt. Robert A. Seidel III had written in the fifth grade, this small town and hundreds of flag-bearing veterans laid to rest a native son yesterday in a funeral service that many said was all the more poignant on Memorial Day.

The Memorial Day funeral was attended by more than 200 military veterans and others, many of whom traveled by motorcycle from Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Most of the men and women on motorcycles were members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a group that was organized last fall in response to protests staged by Westboro Baptist Church.

Members of the Kansas congregation picket military funerals...protesters from the church arrived yesterday in Emmitsburg, but police kept them down the road and across the street from the driveway to the shrine.

Richard E. "Ripley" Marcks II, 58, of Allentown, Pa., has attended about 15 military funerals with the Patriot Guard Riders and served as ride captain and organizer for the gathering at the service for Lieutenant Seidel.

"We want to show honor for our fallen American heroes. Those are not just words for us. That's true," he said.

It was a moving experience; I was proud to be a part of it...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Circling the wagons?

AP: WASHINGTON - The FBI's raid on a congressman's office is rippling through Capitol Hill, with majority Republicans in the House complaining to a GOP president and predicting a constitutional showdown in the Supreme Court.

FBI agents searched Jefferson's office in pursuit of evidence in a bribery investigation. The search warrant, signed by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan, was based on an affidavit that said agents found $90,000 in cash wrapped and stashed in the freezer of Jefferson's home.

Jefferson has not been indicted and has denied wrongdoing. The search brought Republican and Democratic leaders together in a rare alliance, fighting what they branded a breach of constitutional boundaries between branches of government.

I've been pretty much avoiding political topics of late, something I have done for most of my adult life, actually.

I find this unusual display of bipartisan unity somewhat amusing, in that it has nothing to do with serving the public, and everything to do with self-serving politicians.

That is, it would be amusing, except for the fact that it's a sad commentary on the condition of Congress...which has even lower approval ratings than the President.

Of course, approval ratings are based on polls, which are often worded to achieve the results desired by the pollsters.

Nobody is above the law; if members of Congress are innocent of any wrongdoing, they have nothing to fear.

Unfortunately, a lot of them are probably running scared right about now...

Monday, May 15, 2006

Weird Science...

...as in Scientology.

L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the "Church" of Scientology was a writer of (mediocre) science fiction. It still boggles my (not inconsiderable) mind that so many rich and successful people would give so much money and credence to a "religion" that was made up by a (mediocre) science fiction writer in the early 1950's.

Here's a sample of the silly nonsense in which they believe:

The "Hidden Truth" about the nature of the universe is taught to only the most advanced Scientologists, those who have achieved the level "Clear", in a series of courses known as the Advanced Technology.

The contents of these Advanced Levels courses are held in strict confidence within Scientology. They have never been published by the church, except for use in highly secure areas. The most advanced of all are the eight Operating Thetan levels, which require the initiate to be thoroughly prepared. The highest level, OT VIII, is only disclosed at sea, on the Scientology cruise ship Freewinds. Because Scientology is a mystery religion, the more closely guarded and esoteric teachings imparted at these higher levels may not always be entirely consistent with its entry-level teachings.

In the confidential OT levels, Hubbard describes a variety of traumas commonly experienced in past lives. He also explains how to reverse the effects of such traumas. Among these advanced teachings, one episode revealed to those who reach OT level III has been widely remarked upon in the press: the story of Xenu and his Galactic Confederacy.

Scientologists argue that published accounts of the Xenu story and other colorful teachings are presented out of context for the purpose of ridiculing their religion. Journalists and critics of Scientology counter that Xenu is part of a much wider Scientology belief in past lives on other planets, some of which has been public knowledge for decades. For instance, Hubbard's 1958 book Have You Lived Before This Life documents past lives described by individual Scientologists during auditing sessions. These included memories of being "deceived into a love affair with a robot decked out as a beautiful red-haired girl", being run over by a Martian bishop driving a steamroller, being transformed into an intergalactic walrus that perished after falling out of a flying saucer, and being "a very happy being who strayed to the planet Nostra 23,064,000,000 years ago".

Scientologists argue that most members of the organization have not attained a sufficiently high level to learn about Xenu. Therefore, while knowledge of Xenu and Body Thetans is said to be crucial to the highest level church teachings, it cannot be regarded as a core belief of rank and file Scientologists. Such information is not published in commonly available materials, and as such may not be part of what the vast majority of ordinary Scientologists believe.

Critics point out that Scientology literature does include many references to extraterrestrial past lives (even to low levels on the bridge), and that internal Scientology publications are often illustrated with pictures of spaceships and oblique references to catastrophic events that happened "75 million years ago" (e.g. the Xenu incident).

This material ties in to the general purpose of Scientology, which is to learn about these "whole track" incidents on the OT Levels to confront the negativity the mind still holds from these incidents, and as a result to be free of the ill effects of these "whole track" incidents.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Happy Mothers Day!

I know; the cartoon is a bit twisted, but then, so am I.

Everyone has a mother, unless you're a "test tube" baby...and even then, you have an egg donor.

Anyway, for those lucky enough to still have your mother amongst the living, remember to honor the day.

For those whose mother is no longer with us, take the time to remember.

Best wishes to all...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Whale Of A Tale...

A.P.: HONOLULU, HI - Greg Kaufman says his whale-watching boat was doing everything by the book: cruising below 13 knots and staying 100 yards from any visible humpback as a crew member scanned the ocean atop a lookout.

Still, it wasn't enough to prevent the Pacific Whale Foundation vessel from running over a calf that surged from underneath March 9.

It was one of seven confirmed encounters in the current breeding season, which is drawing to a close but already has set a record for such accidents. Between 1975 and 2005, there were 33 reported strikes involving whales and boats among the islands, with no more than three in one single season.

Environmental groups call the trend alarming, but researchers hope it has more to do with a rebound in the endangered species' population than with negligent boaters.

"It's some combination of increasing number of whales and just boats and whales in the same area at the same time," said Jeff Walters, co-manager of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

The humpback population roaming the North Pacific, estimated at about 10,000, is believed to have been growing at an annual rate of about 7 percent since the mid-1990s. And as more whales swim to Hawaii from icy feeding grounds off Alaska, Canada, Russia and Japan, boaters are navigating around some 1,000 calves born in Hawaiian waters each year.

"As long as the population continues to get bigger, it's going to keep happening," said Joseph Mobley, a professor at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu who researches whales.

About 50 ships are involved in whale watching in Hawaii, carrying 300,000 passengers a year, mostly from Maui.

Calves pose a greater danger because they need to surface more often _ about every three to five minutes. But experts say the mothers, who mated here last year, are getting used to the attention and also edging closer to the vessels.

"It's kind of like driving in a school zone," said marine biologist David Schofield of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Humpbacks, which were placed under international protection in 1966, are also shielded under federal law. Boat drivers need to follow an "approach rule" that instructs them to travel below 13 knots, never leave the helm, post a lookout and stay 100 yards from whales.

Kaufman said a boat captain was doing just that when a calf surprised everyone aboard the company's Ocean Spirit during an educational cruise for two schools in Maui.

"No matter how many best practices we put into effect, when one surfaces directly under your boat, there's nothing you can do about it," Kaufman said.

Jeff Mikulina, director of Sierra Club of Hawaii, said he would like to see stricter enforcement of regulations and perhaps a limitation on the number of boats during the peak breeding season.

"We need to remember that we are the visitors here," he said.

Scientists are doing research on sonar that would detect whales as far as five miles away, Mobley said. Initial tests have worked in calm waters, but the system may not work in heavy trade winds, which blow regularly in the islands. Propeller guards also could help reduce accidents.

Boat captains are required to notify NOAA officials of any accidents by calling a hot line. All but one of the seven whale collisions this season were reported, and at least three involved whale-watching boats.

It's unclear what happens to injured whales, which despite their size can quickly disappear, sometimes with fatal gashes and internal wounds. It's also hard to find 40-ton carcasses, which can sink or be eaten by sharks.

"Almost always we never find them," said Ed Lyman, who is in charge of NOAA's response team. "It's like a needle in a haystack."

On the Net:

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

Pacific Whale Foundation

I've seen many whales while visiting Hawaii, some from a boat, others from shore. They're magnificent creatures, and a lot more intelligent than some humans I have encountered. What with the mindless slaughter of them, some ostensibly for "research", it's sad that those who appreciate them are harming some as well...

Saturday, May 06, 2006

On the small screen...

I've seen a couple of videos recently that I found rather amusing. In one of them, Elmer Fudd "cuts to the chase" with Bugs Bunny, instead of falling for the usual banter.
(Not for the sensitive)

In the other, a very talented George W. Bush impersonator appears side by side with the man himself at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.
(Tip o' the 'do rag to Hank for the latter...)

Monday, May 01, 2006

News from the underground...

I've written about caving (what those who don't do it may refer to as spelunking) before.

This past weekend, a contingent from Philly Grotto went to the Spring VAR in order to promote the proposal to have the Fall MAR be a joint event with the Fall VAR next year, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Philly Grotto.

A number of us have been attending both MAR and VAR Spring and Fall events for years. These are generally scheduled on different weekends from each other, in order to allow people to attend both of them if they so desire.

Anyway, to make a long story short (I don't think it's too late for that) the proposal was accepted, and the Fall '07 event will indeed be a joint MAR/VAR.

For anyone who may be interested in trying out this thing called caving, these events are an excellent place to start.

Or, if they're too far away, the NSS (National Speleological Society) has a lot of affiliated organizations nationwide...

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