Monday, August 29, 2005

U.S. Army demotes critic of no-bid contract in Iraq

"A top U.S. Army contracting official who criticized a large, noncompetitive Iraq contract with Halliburton was demoted for what the army called a poor job performance......

Her lawyer, Michael Kohn, called the action "obvious reprisal" for the strong objections she raised in 2003 to a series of corps decisions involving the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, which has garnered more than $10 billion for work in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Don't ask, Don't tell: It isn't about being gay, it's about criticizing Halliburton.

The news from the Army, and our government regarding Iraq just continues to get worse. With every new day, there's a new revelation of mismanagement, or outright fraud being perpetrated on the American people.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Bush defends ignoring protest:
"'But,' he added, 'I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life.'"

Unfortunately, Cindy Sheehan's son won't be able to go one with his life. But, gosh darn it, let's have a little sympathy for Pres, ok?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

VHC Jamboree Pictures

I'm back in Sunny SoCal. At least it isn't as humid as the East Coast! We had a wonderful experience with our troop - no major problems, the boys and the leaders all got along pretty well. Click the link above for the photographic evidence of our trip. There were a few problems, however, with the way the Jamboree was organized. Here's a letter I wrote to the list Scouts-L detailing some of my experiences:

I am back in California after almost three weeks on the road with our Jambo troop. We had some great experiences, and some not so great ones. I've tried to avoid reading other threads - so that my thoughts and concerns will be my own, and not tempered by others thoughts.

BTW - we were posting pictures daily for our parents as we toured and at the Jamboree. You can see those pictures at:

We left LAX on Sunday, July 17. Our trip was arranged through WorldStrides, which all in all, did a great job. We flew to Boston and got our bus driver for the trip, Bob. The boys really came to love Bob, and he was an integral part of our good travel experience. We toured Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Gettysburg, Washington D.C. and everywhere in between. We arrived at Fort A.P. Hill on Monday, July 25th with everyone else.

We were only 150 yards or so from the Alaskan contingent's camp, so we saw all the activity. By and large the staffers did a good job getting aid in and out. Many buses and truck drivers took the emergency as an "inconvenience" and didn't move out of the way very quickly. There were too many vehicles on the roads at that time for ambulances to move swiftly.

As we were finally setting up (our truck had been diverted to allow access for the ambulances) an announcement was made that all tents over 6 feet tall were not to be erected. In addition, we were given the order to stop all work. Our troop took this opportunity to rest a bit in the shade and fill the boys up with more water. Then, another announcement came over the loudspeakers - a thunderstorm was approaching, seek shelter. This was the beginning of multiple, conflicting and confusing messages we were given at this Jamboree. Stop putting up shelter, seek shelter. We decided to begin work again, feeling that it was more important to have the boys and their gear safe and dry than to sit around for a couple more hours. We got all the tents up but one, (mine) before the storm hit. After the storm, I had quite a bit of water in my tent, but it was soaked up quickly and we were all safe and dry.

I'm sure you've all heard a million stories about the Opening Arena Show. We were ordered to be ready to march at 3:00. Our scouts, A and B left much earlier. (A and B scouts were to be seated in front of the President, and also might have the chance to greet him as he left.) It was very hot, and the red flag had been up for hours. We were in full uniform, neckerchiefs included. We were allowed one water bottle per person, and it had to be "see through." The bottle needed to be empty when we entered the show, we were assured there would be water inside the gates. As we marched, we noticed quite a number of scouts and scouters laying down on the roadside getting aid. I remember two scouts, both much too large to be allowed on the trail at Philmont, having a lot of trouble. We cleared security pretty quickly and refilled our water at one of the buffaloes. We were then seated in the hot sun and began to wait. It was quite some time before we were told to remove our uniform shirts (if we had a t-shirt on). It was too little, too late. Even with all the water our guys were drinking, we still had three boys go to the med tent. One took several days to fully recover. When there was finally an announcement that the show was cancelled we were pretty upset. We were told that the entire second half of the show had already been cancelled, but now the first part, President Bush's appearance, was also out. The sudden realization that we had been sitting in the hot sun, watching boys and adults suffer for three hours all for an 18 minute speech was quite a slap in the face. We all began to leave, when we were all told to sit again, Senator Frist wanted to speak. We had seen him arrive in a helicopter earlier.

Clearly, we were once again being put in jeopardy by our National Staff. If the announced storm was so dangerous that we needed to leave immediately, why were we subjected to an additional 15-20 minutes of Frist's speech? In addition, hundreds were already at the med tent by this time - it was clear that we all needed to get out of the sun ASAP. I had no problem with the content of his message, but as an M.D., I expected better judgment from him.

Disappointed, we finally made it back to our camp. We had to leave one scout with the med staff, he wasn't ready to move earlier, but he came back around 10 that evening.

We began our jamboree experience the next day, with many of our boys really getting into patch trading. We had told them that they should buy patches at home and not use their spending money, but few really listened. The boys would take money out of the "bank" (run by one of the other ASM's) and then spend it with me on patches. It was humorous to watch.

We all went to the OA show, Twelve Cubed. We had reserved a bus, since the show was at the other end of camp. (We were in Subcamp 8 - as far away from Area A as you could get!) The bus didn't show up, the boys were baking in the sun again. Apparently our bus went to the wrong location, picked up some other troop and recorded us as having been picked up. It was over an hour before it got straightened out. We made the show without missing anything, they had some technical glitches that delayed the show. Unfortunately, the show wasn't very good. The production values were nice, but the content was *way* too preachy. It felt like we were being hammered over the head with "values." I wondered if this was a P.R. attempt to show the world how the BSA is emphasizing values, at the expense of putting on a show that the boys would actually enjoy.

The rescheduled arena show was cancelled due to an impending thunder shower that never appeared. We weren't too disappointed by this announcement, however.

Most of the program areas were run well, I had a lot of fun throwing tomahawks and besting the boys in my troop by hitting the playing card. However, a few venues irked me. The Venture Mining Co. was closed to adults, supposedly to keep the lines shorter for the boys. Adult participants were 10 percent of the Jamboree. If an event is capable of handling 90 percent, why shouldn't they be able to handle 100? I was also not able to use the Mountain Boarding event. I was standing in line when a staffer made the announcement that no adults could ride. I asked him why - and he responded that no adults could ride during the "youth time." Fine, I replied, when are the "adult times?" His response? There are no adult times. At this point, I clearly understood that there was more to this story and hollering over the fence wasn't the best way to get to the point. I approached him and he apologized, but National had changed their policy and no one over 21 was permitted to ride the mountain boards. Apparently, some scouter had fallen the day before and injured himself, so National's knee jerk reaction was to block all scouters from participating. The staff member was kind, he clearly didn't agree with the policy, but it was his job to enforce it. I took pictures and video of our scouts, and we moved on to the next thing.

Now we get to the closing Arena show. I was angry with the whole thing before we even got to the security checks. We were forced to walk down the road and then we had staffers yelling at us to, "Get off the road! Get in the dirt! Get out of the way for the buses!" What is this all about? Was planning so goofed up that our only path to the event was also the only way in for buses? And why didn't these buses move along the path at the same speed we were walking? Did these people riding in the buses have so much more privilege than the participants that they could force us off the road, into the mud and dirt, so they could move in ahead of us? And why were we waiting on the road, while hundreds of "guests" were walking along the side of the road, cutting in ahead of us? We were all waiting to clear the same security check points - yet they were clearly given preferential treatment, ahead of the scout participants.

The content of the Arena show was awful. President Bush's speech was nothing more than tired cliches and platitudes. I'm glad he showed up, but he didn't say anything that warranted the amount of effort it took to hear him. Then the waiting while something happened backstage - it was quite a long time before the show got moving. There were tons of video taped segments - on each explorer for which the sub camps were named, BSA PSA's - I felt like we saw every single spot of the new BSA PR effort.

We were also treated the Army's very first rock band. After 50 years of Rock and Roll, the Army has finally decided to get with it. Unfortunately, they were awful. Two of the more memorably bad tunes were a cover of "Take on Me" originally done by the one hit wonders, A-Ha, and Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." The band tried to get the boys to clap along with this depressing Emo song. What were they thinking? This is not some rock anthem - it's a slow, sad song about being alone. How do you clap to lyrics like, "My shadows the only one that walks beside me, My shallow hearts the only thing that's beating, Sometimes I wish someone out there will find, Till then I'll walk alone" Astonishing.

We were still waiting for the program to start - something, anything. Yet they continued to play the explorer videos, the BSA PR spots, and finally, they actually ran advertising!! My jaw dropped. I thought it was a parody, but it was actually an ad for Cingular! Earlier in the week, in the Jamboree Today paper, it was revealed that both Verizion and Nextel had installed additional towers just for the Jamboree. Yet, here was Cingular with an ad about "more bars." I have a Cingular phone, and I had trouble all week with reception.

Finally, they introduced the President of the Explorer's Club, who re-introduced all the other explorers, and then finally introduced some Scouts who were going on some sort of adventure. The "Scouts" were clearly set up - their introductory speeches were a model of bad acting. Then we were sent off on a fake reality show adventure - a BSA Amazing Race. This was an incredibly boring piece. One segment had the "scouts" trying to cross some geysers. We had ten minutes of listening to one of the actors shouting, "Go, Ken! Go! Wait, now Go!" Excruciating. All the boys started to nod off. There were boys laying all over the field, asleep. This was barely Cub Scout material - not stuff for teenagers.

Finally, mercifully, we got to the fireworks. At least I can say there were a lot of them. Not choreographed well, nor were they interesting, but at least there were a lot. Our guys were extremely disappointed. Frankly, my only reaction was that this was 7 hours of my life I would never get back.

What I learned from this Jamboree is that our National staff is concerned with:

Politics, not program.
VIP's, not participants.
P.R., not the Scouts.

Every single boy who attended this Jamboree and who has also gone to Philmont agrees that Philmont was a much better experience. Personally, I'll never attend a Jamboree again - it was a huge, huge investment of my time over the last two years and I would rather spend my time at something more useful and interesting.

I love the way we are able to deliver the program to our Scouts at the local troop level. But I'll never have anything to do with Scouting at the National level. I felt that we were treated as the "great unwashed masses," merely set decoration while they paraded VIP's around. I believe that as participants, we (the boys in particular) should have been the focus. But we were shoved around, yelled at, mistreated at every turn.

Good luck to everyone in 2010. I hope those in charge of that event remember why we are here.

Lou Schwing
ASM - Troop 826
2005 National Scout Jamboree