Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

We’ve been sending these Christmas letters now for at least twenty-five years, and, to my chagrin, I’ve noticed the plot is always the same. It always starts in January and ends in December. One of these days, we’re going to have to try writing an avant-garde Christmas letter that starts at Christmas and works backwards to the New Year’s Eve hangover. Not quite sure if the space-time continuum would hold up for that. Might earn us a visit from William Shatner: “You! Could! Rip! The fabric of the! Universe! So stop doing! That!”

We certainly know how that would feel, after the cruise last Christmas with Debbie’s parents, Bill and Audrey Wallace. An ostensible deal, on paper: five-day Western Caribbean Carnival Cruise, departing from Mobile, Alabama (close to Bill and Audrey’s house), $400 a head. But on the first day, it didn’t seem like such a bargain. The boat was eight hours late in boarding, so we spent an entire Saturday playing Mexican Train in the Mobile Civic Center, waiting with approximately 400 unhappy families. Turns out our ship was Carnival’s oldest, built sometime after the Monitor sank -- it’s the same one that was used for humanitarian purposes during the Katrina catastrophe. Ever had one of those hotel beds where, if you put a quarter in the slot, it would vibrate you to death? Well, we didn’t need one of those, as we were situated right above the 30,000 cubic-inch diesel engine. All the way through Mobile Bay to the Gulf, we were shaken and stirred by vibrations that were less than good, thus averting a Beach Boys copyright suit. (We later learned that the vibrations were mostly caused by the shallowness of Mobile Bay, and they diminished considerably once we had made it to the open sea.) We got off the boat in Cozumel. Then, we turned right around and got back on. The Third World looks better on television, and safer. The rest of the cruise was spent winning trivia contests, going to shows, eating wonderful food, and exploring such burning issues of the day as, “Can a bartender from Turkey make a decent martini?” Turns out he can, indeed –- in fact, after the first night, the waiter remembered my martini specifications down to the last twist of lemon. The professionalism of the servers on these cruises is a marvel to behold, particularly after many years of sullen, lip-pierced, teenage-style service at the local fast-food depot. Sometimes they were a little too professional. At dinner, Debbie made the mistake of mentioning that she is lactose-intolerant -- so the ship assigned Karen, a stunning young Filipino woman, to be Debbie’s personal “Lactose Nazi” for the balance of the trip. “Dere vill be nein cheating!” (Darn it.) It was a wonderful cruise. We had a great visit with Debbie’s parents, and the diesel engine bade us farewell in the best way it knew, by shaking loose our gold fillings on the return through Mobile Bay.

My buddy Ray and I went again to the Eastern Trombone Workshop, where we heard some very nice college trombone ensembles, along with the incomparable U.S. Army Blues Jazz Band. The trombonist in the Army’s jazz solo chair is a thin fellow named Harry Watters, an amazing player, who sports the best pompadour seen in the D.C. area since Ronald Reagan. Every time he played, I’d nudge Ray and say, “There he goes again!” In April, I got to play a solo with Dr. Dave Champouillon’s jazz band at Eastern Tennessee State-- an old standard called “Makin’ Whoopee!” I was hardly the star of the show -- Dr. Dave had three guest trumpeters, all respected pros (one of them had played lead trumpet for Harry James). Just to show what a great sense of humor he has, Dave scheduled me to go on right after the trumpet soloists’ flashiest number – which was like following the Battle of Britain with a Sunday nap. Dave just needed a cushion of about five minutes so his soloists could rest their chops before the big finale -- so I like to think of my contribution as having provided the necessary Whoopee cushion.

We mentioned our sun room re-modeling project last year, and now it is completed -- a terrific place to sit in the summer evenings and watch the robins duke it out just before sundown. At the moment, it is a Nor’easter room, as we are (presently) in the throes of one of those charmingly nasty North Atlantic storms that pulls down the power lines -- and makes me feel like the whole world’s a big cold-water rinse cycle and I’m a sweater with a ketchup stain. This year, we tackled the master bathroom, because Debbie had spotted a crack in the floor of the fiberglass shower stall. We didn’t know the half of it, as it turned out. When Carl (our remodeler) tore out the old shower stall, there was an even bigger crack in the concrete slab underneath the shower; it was about two feet long and eight inches wide, following the path of the drain pipe -- which was attached to, well, nothing. All we had was an open trench to the dirt beneath our foundation, and the drain pipe to nowhere. We know the master bedroom was a room addition to the original house, but we will never know whether the building contractor ripped off the previous owners, or the previous owners ripped us off. Either way, a dirt hole in your bathroom isn’t code -- not even in Virginia Beach, where the building inspectors think it’s just fine for highway runoff to drain through a private condo’s garage (ask us how we know). But long story short, the new bathroom is gorgeous, beautiful enough to bring a picnic basket and gaze at, in awe. There’s even a nice place to sit.

Our other “big money” project this year was on our car. We took our 1982 Checker Marathon to an auto-restoration place in Norfolk called FantomWorks; two months and many dollars later, we drove off in a class-A restoration. The hardest part was picking the color. At first, I thought maroon would be great -- until Dan (the restorer) explained the good and bad of metallic paint. Rats. Then, I considered doing it up like a New York cab (since that is how most people remember Checkers), but who wants to drive around town when tourists on the sidewalk are trying to hail you? So I asked Debbie, “What color do you think would look good?” She replied, “It’s your car, Lee, you have to pick a color you’ll be happy with.” So we went through a dozen paint chip books. I’d proclaim, “I like this color!” only to watch Debbie squinch up her nose and say, “Well, paint it any color you like, but I don’t like this one. Too washed out.” Hmmm. “Hey! Here’s a nice one!” Debbie shook her head, “Too dark.” Wow. Picking colors is harder than I thought. “Now this one is great!” Debbie cocked an eye and said, “Too boring!” After many such exchanges, Debbie had a revelation: “Look, here’s a wonderful sky-blue! The top could be white and the car would have a great Fifties look!” So, we painted it sky-blue and white. It really does look fantastic, in a time-warp kind of way, and Debbie is always very good about complimenting me on my choice of colors. I have to admit it was inspired.

Debbie made her goal with Weight Watchers this year -- she's lost a total of 60 pounds -- and in two months she will have maintained her “goal” weight for a year. She’s also been watching a lot of episodes of “What Not to Wear” on The Learning Channel, and has taught herself to dress in accordance with Johnny Mercer’s famous lyric: to “Accentuate the Positive.” I never have to harbor paranoid fears anymore about people staring at me, when Debbie is on my arm. She is even more beautiful than the lovely young lady I married almost 27 years ago. Her name was Debbie, too.

An elementary school was closed, and the year-round schedule schools were changed back to the standard Sep-Jun school year -- so Debbie lost her cherished schedule. She is still the music director at our church, despite her lapse in taste of letting me be her primary male vocalist. (I do a mean Jim Morrison impersonation, however -- not that this would help her case with the church’s elders.) She has also impressed the men at the church with her ability to prepare breakfasts for the men’s meetings – in particular, sinfully, wickedly delicious Krispie Kreme Donut bread pudding. It puts our church’s elders in an awkward position -- eating every morsel of Debbie’s dessert, and then having to subject her to church discipline for tempting the weak.

We’ve added another cat to the menagerie. We thought Gabby, our huge 17-lb. female Siamese, needed a companion, so we went to the SPCA and came back with Buster, an even more huge 22-lb. male Siamese. So how did that work out? Gabby spends all of her time trying to ignore him, while Buster keeps clamoring for her attention. Does this remind anyone else of high school dances? Gabby has become Greta Garbo in track shoes, having to beat feet constantly to escape her Brobdingnagian suitor. When she runs, the feet move, but the body is still -- like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character. Buster, on the other hand, lopes like a constipated raccoon, which is about half right. We want him to lose weight so the vet will quit glaring at us.

No one knows what the future brings in these uncertain times. But we’re fortunate in knowing that we have a Lord who looks out for His people. It brings comfort to know that a leaf does not fall from a tree without His approval. The Child born in Bethlehem sits at God’s right hand, and all is well. Debbie and I wish you the merriest of Christmases, the happiest of new years, and the blessings of the almighty King who brings joy and meaning to an otherwise empty and pointless existence. Spend a few minutes this Christmas season to remember the greatest gift of all -- God’s own Son, to redeem the sins of many.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Trombone 101

I don't really write as often as I should about trombone or trombone-playing.  Heck, I don't really play very much anymore.  I'm becoming a gentleman!  That is, someone who knows how to play trombone, but doesn't.

Back in the Seventies, I was a student trombonist and played at every opportunity.  In the Eighties, I spent four years in an Air Force band; when I separated from the military, I worked as a computer programmer in various locales, and played a little here and there.  For a while, I was the second trombonist in the Boulder Philharmonic, and also played in various municipal bands in northern Virginia.  We moved to Omaha in 1988, and I started playing seriously again.  Then, in 1991, I won the bass trombone position in the Lincoln Symphony -- a decent orchestra, but (at the time) about as entry-level as a professional symphony job gets.  I also played with a lot of brass groups in Omaha and did some subbing with the Omaha Symphony.  But inexplicably, I somehow got old and gigging began to take too much of my energy and peace of mind.  So when we moved to Virginia, I made it a point not to pursue trombone on a professional basis and just to enjoy whatever playing comes my way.  And it hasn't been much -- too many youngsters out there doing what I spent my youth doing.  I played for a community orchestra for several years, and still play in church.  Once in the archetypal blue moon, someone offers me a little money to play.  But not very often.  It's an avocation, now.

It's strange how the passions that once stirred our souls are finally put into perspective, if one just lives long enough.  Sometimes I really wonder why I ever majored in trombone-playing.  I had a four-year ROTC scholarship, and could have majored in anything.  I've always loved history and writing, and I've always been adept at math and science, so I could have gone off happily in almost any direction.  But I really did love to play the trombone, and was (at first) blissfully ignorant about how hard it could be to make a buck in that field.  It's a tough profession, even for those who are very, very good at it.

Young and stupid, that was me.  But... you don't know what you don't know.  What I didn't know was how good the competition was, and how far behind I was relative to the trombone players who were graduating from the conservatories and colleges with great music programs.  Though I played for years in grade school, I never had a trombone lesson until I was a freshman in college -- and I never had a lesson from a real trombone professional until I was a junior.  I knew I was behind the 8-ball, but imagined that I could work my way out of the hole.  Unfortunately, musical intelligence is very different from the types of intelligence that  had always (well, not quite always) enabled me to do well in my academic studies.  Age and experience count for something, of course, and hard work never hurts -- but if God didn't put it in there, it just ain't in there.  I'm sure there were freshman at Eastman Conservatory who could play rings around me when I was in grad school, and most of them weren't going to make it in the field, so what chance did I have?  It took a while for me to learn all this.  It took even longer to accept it.

Fortunately, God always works His plan out according to His perfect will, even when we think we're doing all the driving.  Life is good.  I'm fifty-five, and still love playing trombone.  What's especially fun now is to watch the young players as they start to "get it" and begin making great leaps and strides in their playing.  Bill McGlaughlin was my first real trombone teacher when I was a student and he was a trombonist with the Pittsburgh Symphony; he went on to become a conductor, composer, and radio personality.  As Bill explained to me, "Music is a great art, but a lousy profession."  I like watching and hearing the young players who are just discovering it's a great art.  It makes me remember how I used to feel.

Really, though, it is an odd instrument to fall in love with.  It's like saying your favorite actor is Charles Durning.  Now, Durning is indeed a great actor, but with his portly frame and comical face, he was never a big star and certainly never a leading man.  Like Mr. Durning, the trombone is by and large a member of the supporting cast -- and also like Mr. Durning, it shines in that role.  Except for the triangle, almost every other instrument gets to play all the solos and take all the bows; the trombone players, meanwhile, usually play the background chords and sometimes get to carry the melody as a section, but seldom as individuals.  Not many trombone players have become prominent soloists.  (The last one whose name was a household word was Tommy Dorsey, and he died in 1956.)   For me, the joy of playing trombone is in the sound, especially the sound of a good trombone section.  The trombone is a good solo instrument, but it really comes into its own as an ensemble instrument.  When two or more are gathered, the mating together of the overtones is magical -- rich, dark, intense.  Our job, mainly, is to help create the context in which others shine.  This requires a selfless attitude, and as a result, trombone sections are generally free of the Prima Donna attitudes that can poison the experience in many other sections and settings.  At least, that has been my observation.

So, what would I tell a young player who wants to make a go of it?  Here are some observations, take 'em or leave 'em.

1.  I remember, first of all, the advice given to me by another one of my trombone teachers, the late Byron "B.B." McCulloh:  "Find a profession that you wouldn't mind doing for the rest of your life, and then practice like hell!"  He meant to say, learn a decent profession to fall back on -- a good "day gig", in the vernacular of music pros.  (For me, it has been programming.  I'm not God's gift to programming any more than I was His gift to the trombone world, but mediocre programmers often get paid, while mediocre trombone players often don't.) Then, if you still want to do the trombone thing, you practice your butt off, play as much as possible, and take auditions.  Of course, if a young player likes teaching, he can major in music education and become a teacher, or go the academic route (which is almost as competitive as performing).  The point is, art is a wonderful thing, but try not to starve.  Trust me, I've been there.  It isn't as much fun as it sounds.

2.  When it comes to selecting your trombone teacher, never settle for second best.  Once you know what kind of player you'd like to be, it should focus your mind on who to study with.  So go and study.  I studied in Pittsburgh with Pittsburgh Symphony players because, to me, they represented the ideal trombone sound.  To be honest, there were better sections, but there weren't any better sounding sections -- they had an ensemble sound quality that really sparkled.  If I had not joined the Air Force, I would probably have moved from there to Chicago to study with the Chicago Symphony guys (assuming one of them would have had me), or perhaps Philadelphia, another great-sounding section.  There is no sense languishing under a teacher who isn't doing you any good.  I've done that, too.  Which leads me to...

3.  Trust your instincts.  When I have made serious errors in judgment, usually it's because I overvalue my thinking and undervalue my instincts.  I studied for a year under a fine gentleman at a good Midwestern music school.  Don was an accomplished player -- a fabulous technician, with an encyclopedic knowledge of trombone, its history and literature.  But for me, he wasn't the right teacher; I knew this instinctively within a week or two, but allowed my intellect to talk me out of my conclusion.  Don was the ideal  teacher for someone with a more intellectual and methodical approach to trombone.  That wasn't me at all -- I'm an instinctive learner, and can't always articulate what I'm doing.  I have to hear it and be immersed in it.  For me, the best lessons are when I get to trade licks with the teacher and play duets, or at least to play melodious etudes or excerpts and have them demonstrated back to me when something needs improving.  But Don was more of a lecturer, and expected you to get it from his explanations.  He's had some wonderful students, and I know he was a good teacher.  Just not for me.  (And frankly, he deserved better than me as a student.)

4.  About equipment -- try to buy the trombone or trombones that make it easy for you to sound like that little trombone-player in your head.  You can start a lot of arguments between trombonists (usually a peaceable lot) by claiming this or that instrument is the "best" trombone on the market.  What you want is the best instrument for you.  In the U.S., most orchestral players seem to prefer Bach or Edwards trombones, while Conn trombones are perhaps more popular in England.  But no brand of trombone is the monolithic ideal, and many other fine trombone makers have a lot to offer -- Shires, Greenhoe, Kanstul, Yamaha, Getzen, B&S, Courtois, Rath, and others make wonderful trombones.

I've owned more than my share of bad trombones, and I was too stubborn to admit it's the trombone's fault.  Back in the 1970s, trombone makers were entering their Dark Ages and for many years it was hard to find a decent trombone.  Conn had moved their manufacturing operations from Elkhart, Indiana to Texas or Mexico, and I suffered for years with a 1972 "Mexi" Conn -- not a particularly good horn, even though 1960s Conns are justifiably sought out as some of the best trombones ever made.  When I won the Lincoln Symphony bass trombone position in 1991, I didn't even own a bass trombone (I won the audition on a borrowed Yamaha), so I had to buy one.  I wound up buying what I hope was the worst Bach bass trombone ever built.  After getting my butt kicked by this lousy piece of plumber's crease for two years, I was so desperate for a decent horn that I spent big bucks on a custom-made Edwards bass trombone, and couldn't have been happier with the results -- I still play it to this day.  When you've been trying to make music with junk horns all your life, a good trombone is a joy, and a great trombone is a revelation.  Edwards makes a great trombone, and many of the world's greatest trombone players such as Joe Alessi of the New York Philharmonic and the entire Philadelphia Orchestra trombone section agree.

But since the Nineties, the other manufacturers have come around.  The Pittsburgh Symphony section (it's a different section today) sounds fantastic on Yamahas.  Ian Bousfeld of the Vienna Philharmonic and Michael Powell of the American Brass Quintet sound like the Lord's own personal herald trombones on Conn 88Hs.  Jay Wise of the Omaha Symphony makes a Shires bass trombone sing like Caruso.  I have personally played Conns and Greenhoes which are as good as anything I've ever played.  Kanstuls are very popular on the West Coast, offering a sizzling sound and solid workmanship.  I hate to say it because I really love all of my Edwards trombones (I own three of them), but if I were starting out from scratch, I'd have to seriously consider trying to find something as good for less money (though it may not be possible!).  The situation that sent me scurrying to a "boutique" trombone maker doesn't appear to exist anymore; trombone-making has come back out of the Dark Ages.

The most important thing is to buy a trombone that won't hold you back as a player.  If you don't sound good, you want it to be your fault, not the instrument's.  So go to a trombone convention or workshop -- some place where you can sample many different makes and models -- with someone whose ears you trust (teacher, fellow student, fellow pro) and try as many trombones as you can.  When you find the horn that lights up your soul, you and your buddy will know.  (I had that feeling last March at the Eastern Trombone Workshop when I played a B&S tenor trombone with a "crown" around the bell -- mmmm! -- and when I played a Greenhoe-Conn 62H bass trombone -- yowza!)  Obviously, money is always an issue, but -- trust me on this -- buy the best horn (for you) that you can at all afford.  If you're unfortunate enough to be uplifted only by the most expensive horns (my favorite Greenhoe-Conn tips the cash register at about $6 grand), that's too bad.  But then again, the pain of paying for it is temporary, while the joy of playing it goes on and on and on.  My advice is to go for that joy, and spend as much as you need to spend.

4.  Now, back to that little trombone-player in your head: listen to as much music as you can.  Listen to all the orchestras and big bands, old recordings or new, and decide what you love and what you only like.  Symphony players should not neglect the classic big bands and the wonderful Nelson Riddle and Billy May arrangements from the Fifties and Sixties (and all those great barking bass trombone passages played by the legendary George Roberts); and jazz or commercial players should pay heed as well to the venerable symphony sections -- e.g., the Chicago Symphony recordings from the Fifties to the Eighties, and London Symphony recordings from, well, anytime.  Music is an imitative art, and you can't imitate it unless you can hear it in your head before you blow a note.  It goes without saying you have to practice hard, but unless you know what you're supposed to sound like, practicing hard is like running very fast in a circle in your back yard -- lots of huffing and puffing, but you get nowhere fast.

5.  Play as much as you can.  Symphonies, concert bands, jazz bands, combos, rock bands, solos, church music -- you name it.  Back when I lived in Pittsburgh, I was once the only white dude in an otherwise all-black disco band.  (A light-blue polyester leisure suit, complete with psychedelic yellow shirt with giraffes patterns on it, never looked worse than when it was worn by yours truly.)  The more you play, the more confidence you'll acquire, and the more versatile you'll be.

6.  Try to get along with people.  (I should talk.)  Two things that will turn you into everybody's least favorite section player are a metastasized sense of entitlement, and being overly impressed by your own wonderful self.  As always, Christ shows us the way.  If God Himself can be humble, it ill becomes us to preen and prance.  God is certainly not impressed by the greatness of our works; He remembers we are only dust.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dissing Dissent

Dissent is either a time-honored American tradition or a cynical, rancorous affair, depending on who is doing the dissenting, and who is being dissed.

From Mr. Obama's speech on Afghanistan given at West Point, on Dec 1, 2009:
"I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions. We have been at war for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources. Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort." [my italics]
"Polarized and partisan?"  So, whose fault was that?  Bush's?  Why?
"The wrenching debate over the Iraq War is well-known and need not be repeated here. It is enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq War drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy and our national attention — and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world."
If the wrenching debate need not be repeated here, why are we repeating it here?

But since he brought it up, the indispensable Mr. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal has pointed out a subtle admission:  "There weren't a lot of surprises in President Obama's Afghanistan speech... but here's one: The president quietly repudiated the myth that Iraq has nothing to do with al Qaeda."  He did so in this passage:
"We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region. Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America's war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda's safe havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali." [my italics]
Taranto noted that the Amman bombing, which killed dozens and injured hundreds, was masterminded by one Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the "Jordanian-born leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq," according to the New York Times, which adds the following to Mr. al-Zarqawi's resume:
"The only attacks outside Iraq known to be directed by Mr. Zarqawi were in Jordan, said an American counterterrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity because his agency does not permit him to discuss such matters on the record. Those attacks include the 2002 murder of Laurence Foley, an American diplomat; a foiled plot in 2004 to attack the United States Embassy and Jordanian intelligence headquarters; and bombings of three Amman hotels in November that killed 60 people."
Taranto can't help rubbing it in:  "Little wonder Obama also said in his speech that 'the wrenching debate over the Iraq war is well-known and need not be repeated here.'  That's easier than admitting that he has changed his mind and now regards Iraq as having been an al Qaeda safe haven and source of international terrorism."

Wrenching debate or not, the good news is that America helped Mr. al-Zarqawi become the late Mr. al-Zarqawi.  He communes with the worms today, courtesy of the United States Air Force and President George W. Bush.

Continuing on now with Obama's speech:
"Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end. We will remove our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next summer and all of our troops by the end of 2011. That we are doing so is a testament to the character of our men and women in uniform. Thanks to their courage, grit and perseverance, we have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and we are successfully leaving Iraq to its people."
 Thanks to... what?  The policies Obama opposed?  You mean... the surge worked?
"This vast and diverse citizenry will not always agree on every issue -- nor should we. But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership, nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time, if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse."
Nice.  Noteworthy here is that when it was Mr. Bush's war and Mr. Obama was the dissenter, opposition was about "exercising restraint" and considering "long-term consequences."  Now that it is Mr. Obama's war, he preempts dissent by labeling it "rancor", "cynicism", "partisanship", "poison."

As Paul Mirengoff at the Power Line blog observed, it's "Non-partisanship for thee, but not for me."

Ah, well.  Like Rush Limbaugh, I want Obama to fail to implement his domestic agenda, but I support his decision on Afghanistan, as far as it goes.  The only caveat I would offer is, er, uninspired by words like these:
"Finally, we must draw on the strength of our values — for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not. That is why we must promote our values by living them at home — which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay."
Forget the partisan shot on the issue of "torture."  The best interpretation of this passage is that Obama is just not being serious.  Closing Gitmo will mean either freeing enemy combatants (including terrorists), or relocating them (in which case, big deal), or (what else?) bringing them to U.S. soil for trial in our civilian courts -- thus equipping our foreign enemies with rights under the U.S. Constitution.  This is a brand new thing.  In wars past, enemy combatants who were uniformed members of another country's military were treated not as U.S. citizens, but as prisoners of war, and as such were protected by the Geneva Convention, not the U.S. Constitution.  Enemy combatants who were not in uniform were considered spies, and were afforded a fair trial by military tribunal -- followed by a first-class hanging.

Is it really in America's best interests to grant constitutional rights to foreign terrorists?  To "promote our values," will soldiers from now on have to read to captured prisoners their Miranda rights?  And supply them with public defenders?  Do we really want to go there?  "If the bomb doesn't fit, you must acquit?"   Is it too late to point out that these people do not share our values, and do not respect them, and will exploit them against us?
"And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom, and justice, and opportunity, and respect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the moral source of America’s authority."
I know Obama intended this passage to be inspirational, and... hey, look, I'm trying, alright?  But  liberals just don't speak the same language as the rest of America.  He's saying:  Listen up, all of you poor folks who live under oppressive tyranny, help is on its way!  America will speak out for you!  There!  Take that, Kim Jong-Il!  Pow!  Take that, Ahmadinejad!  Biff!

"Tend to the light"?  Despite all the encomiums heaped on Obama's rhetorical gifts, they are still underrated, aren't they? Wow.  I haven't been this inspired since Lawrence Welk hawked Serutan ("That's 'Natures' spelled backwards!") to millions of constipated grandparents.

Sorry, but if America has any moral authority, it is in its willingness to take down tyranny, not just talk about it.

But maybe Obama is trying, too.  We'll soon know if his heart is in it.  Sending thousands more troops?  Just sending the troops is probably not enough -- and certainly won't be if they are made to follow rules of engagement that were crafted not by experienced battlefield veterans, but by an administration whose primary focus  is  the desire to be perceived as the "good guy" by people who will hate us no matter what.

Obama wants to defend the U.S. with a pretty war.  Sooner or later, he'll have to choose between "pretty" and "defending the U.S."