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Wiccan excluded from Bush meeting ... Chestnut tree ... More
Scripps Howard News Service


September 04, 2007
Tuesday AM

WASHINGTON -- Roberta Stewart was the public face of a long but ultimately successful campaign to allow Wiccan symbols on the government-issued grave markers of fallen military members of the faith.

Her husband, Nevada Army National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart, died in a 2005 helicopter crash in Afghanistan, but rules forbade a Wiccan pentacle from being placed on his final resting place. His widow and other Wiccans pressed the issue, and the Department of Veterans Affairs relented earlier this year.

But followers of the "nature-based" faith, and their Pagan brethren, were outraged when Stewart was excluded from a private meeting with President Bush when he traveled to Nevada last Tuesday. Families of other Nevadans killed in combat were invited, as were several of Patrick Stewart's relatives.

Joined by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State group, Wiccans protested. By Thursday, the Army apologized for the "unfortunate mistake" and Bush placed a personal call to the widow, during which he apologized and said he admired her spirit, Stewart said later.


Seems a sizable number of our public servants, including scores in defense and homeland-security offices, are passing the time "Wiki"-ing while they work.

A study of who is signing on to edit entries on the online "people's" encyclopedia Wikipedia, a communal enterprise that welcomes legitimate additions, found some Pentagon outfits racking up thousands of hits, according to a study cited by

The Army's Network Information Center scored nearly 44,000 edits; the Air Force, 21,500; Naval Surface Warfare Center, 18,600; and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2,685. No indication was provided about what particular Wikipedia entries were being edited.

But the study noted that the Department of Homeland Security's 4,018 edits were primarily of Wikipedia pages about television shows, movies and books.


It may be awhile before anyone finds a revamped American chestnut tree big enough to nap under.

The original version was nearly wiped from existence because of an Asian blight last century. Although an American-Chinese hybrid was developed a few years back, forestry experts say they're having difficulty establishing colonies of the trees in many parts of the standard's original Maine-to-Mississippi Appalachian home range. That's because much of that land is now federal park and forest land, where regulations bar the introduction of "non-native" species.


Looks like the Pentagon is close to putting the brakes on its widespread pullout of U.S. troops from Europe and their relocation mostly stateside. The plan originally was to cut the once-250,000-strong force down to only about 30,000 by 2010.

Aside from a desire to cut costs, the brass also saw a diminishing need for American military muscle in the largely stable region, where about 45,000 U.S. soldiers currently are based. Now, a re-evaluation of future threats is changing the picture, and new Defense Secretary Robert Gates apparently wants another look.



"I believe I have an unfair edge over most of my colleagues right now: My mind works faster than my mouth. Washington would probably be a better place if more people took a moment to think before they spoke." -- Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who is still recovering from a brain hemorrhage he suffered last October, when announcing last Tuesday that he was back on the job.


E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at)
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Ketchikan, Alaska