Sunday, June 17, 2018

T minus Two

We are at T minus two and counting.  On Tuesday, hopefully at 6 am CDT, we will pull out of our driveway heading to Kissimmee, Florida with about two tons of stuff we will self-deliver to our new home.  That afternoon, at 5 pm, we will do a final walk-through prior to signing the paperwork on Wednesday morning.  Over the following ten-days our lives will be in constant turmoil as we begin to settle into one new place but have to return to what has been our home for the last 25-years to finish the packing out and moving of all the stuff one accumulates over a lifetime.  That is a lot of stuff.
We will miss the friendships we’ve made, but thanks to modern communication and reasonable road conditions they will not be that far away.  We will have to adjust to a new home and new expectations.  Hopefully, we are not so old as to be unwilling and unable to do so.
Personally, I will miss the professional community of Air Force Special Operations whose values I have made my own and have hopefully made some small contribution to ensuring the next generation will not be faced with the choices we were when I was younger.
This move will be hardest on my wife, as her life is intertwined with the friendships she has made and the adaptations that must come with such a radical transition from what is comfortable to the unknown.
Wish us luck.
See you when I resume blogging sometime in July(ish).

Sunday, June 10, 2018

It's a Question of Life and Death

This past week we’ve been informed of the suicides of a fashion designer and a renowned celebrity chef.  As reported in the news, Ms. Kate Spade and Mr. Anthony Bourdain took their lives - apparently hanging themselves.  This same week we are told Mr. Charles Krauthammer has decided to end his fight against an aggressive cancer and let it take his life.  The public outpourings that come with the news of celebrity deaths always give me reason to reflect and I would like to share those thoughts for a few paragraphs.
In the cases of suicide there is, of course, the tributes to a life well lived, and the distress over the individual’s decision to end that life before reaching so natural end.  We see public service announcements about suicide prevention helplines, discussion on how depression is a hidden illness and how there is always hope and we should reach out to check on people to make sure they aren’t about to kill themselves.  These are all admirable things, but when do we ask ourselves the tough question of why suicide is becoming such an epidemic choice in America.  According to the Foundation for Suicide Prevention[1], it is currently the 10th largest cause of death in America and the NY Times[2] reports rates have reached a 30-year high.  The data suggests close to 45,000 people will take their life this year.  To put that into perspective school violence from guns will account for maybe a hundred deaths each year in school shootings.
Don’t get me wrong, one death is too many in school violence, but the focus of the media seems to be proportionately misplaced as they become outraged over this but say little about the choices that affect 225% more lives.  Casting the media frenzy aside what is it about our society that has caused the suicide rates to go up as they have? 
I believe suicide has always been part of the human condition.   The Eastern faiths and societies view the act as one of courage.  For example, it is well known that traditional Japanese society specific forms of suicide were/are vital if one was to maintain their honor. For years those who touted the quality of Japanese educational standards would gloss over the fact suicide was a leading cause of death for teens[3]. Was poor performance in school the causal factor?
In the middle east and the western world, we see Muslims far too often choose to use their suicides as weapons to kill and maim those who they’ve been taught to hate, with the promise of a greater reward in heaven.  We vilify these acts, but does that have an impact on the next individual or group who seeks to inflict harm through the process of self-sacrifice?  I suspect not.
Western culture has attempted to reduce the allure of suicide through the church teachings.  Church leaders tell the faithful it is a sin, or that it will have long-term repercussions for their souls.  But then there are more extreme faiths (or cults) that have actually encouraged the taking of your own life to reach a higher reward.  It seems to me the moral restraint against the taking of your life is quickly losing its hold on our Judeo-Christian society, but why?
I think there are a number of reasons.  Some may have to do with a loss of the influence of faith, but most of it has to do with the changes we’ve brought forward that gradually erodes the restraint we previously held.  Within my lifetime we have become a culture where self-inflicted death is a practical choice for anyone who chooses it.  We’ve made the taking of unborn life a right that is fought for and defended by those who believe women (and occasionally men) should be unencumbered by their sexual choices. 
We are now beginning to make a choice patient-doctor termination is a preferred option for those who are diagnosed with terminal illness.  Currently, there are seven states with statutes allowing physician-assisted suicide, they are California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington[4].  Finally, with a few celebrity exceptions, we rarely report on the daily toll of people who’ve found death a preferred option to the life ahead of them.  I imagine that number will only increase as the moral view of suicide in our country continues to evolve.
There are those who cite an increase in depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD) but haven’t those conditions always existed?  The only thing that has changed is we now have names approved by the National Institute of Mental Health. There are statements by many (perhaps expert/perhaps not) that the younger generations are more “fragile” than the older generations.  Personally, I don’t hold this to be true.  What we have are medical experts that believe they can correctly diagnose the mental states of individuals with the expectation they can make those individuals different, either through medication or therapy.  So now it is far more prevalent to suggest someone who deviates from the norm has an abnormal condition and should seek medical help, but what is normal in a society that is evolving to encourage people that death is okay?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Modern Life

"What We Have Here is Failure to Communicate"

A classic line from the movie Cool Hand Luke, delivered by Strother Martin as the warden of the prison camp Paul Newman is sent to.  How apropos to the world of today?  It seems everywhere we turn people are talking at or past each other, that is when they do talk.  More frequently each day we are turning to words, or parts of words, or acronyms or emojis to interact with the world around us.  How long will it be before we stop completely and just wait for Alexa or his friends to read our minds and take over? 

I used the male gender for Alexa because I asked him to self-identify as a man.  He does that so my wife won’t get jealous.

Enjoy Strother Martin’s scene.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

There Must Be a Pill for That

There Must Be a New Pill.

What is up with Vitamin D?  For years milk has claimed to have vitamin D and we were told that playing outside in the sun would give us vitamin D and that was the last we ever heard of it.  Then along came daily vitamins and since we were moving indoors to avoid the sun that would seem to work out, but no one ever explained why you needed vitamin D, it was just part of that whole vitamin alphabet.

Now I can’t seem to read a paper or scan the internet without being bombarded with the necessity of vitamin D.  If you don’t have enough dementia sets in, or you have miscarriages, or one arm may fall off. 

On the annual health screenings now in addition to cholesterol, they are checking your “D” levels.  Too much and you are told to stand in a closet, too little and you have to take a supplement since the negatives of the sun are so bad.

As if worrying about why so many Philadelphia Eagles didn’t want to go to the White House and get their picture taken, or why President Trump disinvited them, or why whoever wins the NBA championship will stay home, now I have to have a Vitamin D dipstick that I have to check every six months.

I think it is a conspiracy between the supplement industry and the FAA, with the FDC caught in the middle.  BTW, did the FAA really make a conscious choice to hire the least qualified candidates to boost its gender, sexual, and non-binary status ratings?  Yeah -- Flight Safety.

I bet vitamin D would fix that!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

To Fly

To Fly

A child sees the world as new
Every day is filled with wonder
Why is the sky blue?
What Monster creates the thunder?
All these questions, and so many more

Too soon they grow and the world becomes old
No longer is there magic in the air
Their world is smaller, they do as they are told
But why?  Is that fair?
Growing up leaves so many answers untold

For some, just a few we all know
The answers don’t answer the questions so bold
What is on that other side of a rainbow?
Can I touch the moon, so cold?
They look to the sky and wonder why

Why do birds fly?

Monday, June 4, 2018

What Should We Do About Puerto Rico?

Edited to correct my poor geography -- confusing the Dominian Republic and Puerto Rico's relationship to Haiti.

My Senator, Bill Nelson, posted a criticism on FB of Governor Rick Scott his opponent in the upcoming election, saying he (Scott) wasn’t sure what he would have done differently to aid Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria’s devastation.  He (Nelson) then went on to talk about how the citizens of Puerto Rico are suffering still, while also pointing out the news is reporting the actual death toll from the storm could be 10-times greater than initially reported by the government of the island.  Clearly, Senator Nelson is playing to a significant voting block in Florida with these statements, but it started me thinking about the island and our relationship with it.

For those who weren’t there at the time, or who may have slept through Mr. Sanford’s 10th-grade history class let’s review how we came to be associated with this little island.

Back when we believed in Manifest Destiny and the sugar barons ruled the economy they argued the Spanish were a thorn in our side, so we found an excuse to go to war with them and hopefully resolve the whole “who’s in charge of what” in the Western Hemisphere.  We didn’t like what Spain was doing in Cuba, and we (mostly Republicans) thought we should have our own colonies.  Like any good war we needed a rallying cry, and, for some reason, the state of Maine was asked to blow up its battleship.  Fortunately for us, they did so in the harbor of Havana Cuba and off we went with the plea “Remember - The Maine.”

As wars go, it wasn’t much of a war.  Spain wasn’t really up to a big fight and when we defeated the Spanish fleets in the Caribbean and the Philippines, and they saw the whites of Teddy Roosevelt’s eyes (oh wait, wrong war), they gave up and gave us a bunch of stuff we could call our own.  In the treaty ending the war, they renounced all right to Cuba, ceded us Guam and Puerto Rico, and sold us the Philippines at the bargain basement price of $20 million[1].  The rest, as they say, is history.

To bring us up to modern times, the oppressive Spanish dictatorship of Cuba was overthrown and replaced by a few oppressive Cuban dictatorships backed by the criminal underworld we created with Prohibition, which in turn was overthrown by a communist (oppressive) dictatorship in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  The Philippines was granted their independence at the end of the Second World War and has had a kind of up and down experience with democracy and rebellions since then.  Guam and Puerto Rico have pretty remained colonies (unincorporated territories if that sounds better) of the US since Spain moved out.  As such, they have limits on their self-rule and autonomy, but on the bright side are not subject to the same taxation requirements placed on the fifty states by the Federal government.

Although both Guam and Puerto Rico share common status, let’s forget about Guam for a while, they are way over on the other side of the world and except for an occasional Georgia (Democratic) Congressman’s concern over the island tipping over if we put too many military personnel on it we (the Congress) don’t give them too much thought other than to reflect on where America’s day starts.

But Puerto Rico is much closer with far more emigres settling here in the states than Guamanians.  As an unincorporated territory, the citizens of Puerto Rico have a legal right to come to the 50 states and settle down as full citizens.  They actually have more rights here than they do in their homeland, but they also are subject to that whole taxation thing.

The confusing thing is they seem to want it both ways.  They field their own Olympic team and want their own seat at the UN, but when it comes to voting for independence they don’t seem that anxious to change.  It is as if they want all the stuff the US government can do for them, but like most of us if they can get it for free why would they change?

The Congress and the US Courts have wrestled for years with what kind of relationship should exist between the US and its territory.  The citizens of Puerto Rico have held a number of referendums on the same subject.  Since WW2 there have been at least three referendums with regard to the island's status.  In the 1998 vote, the citizens were given the choice of statehood, commonwealth, independence and none of the above.  The majority voted for none of the above, effectively saying maintain the current status.  In 2012 they again voted, this time choosing statehood, but over 500,000 blank ballots left the vote in question so the Congress chose to ignore the vote.[2]

There are two parties today in PR, the Partido Popular Democratcio, or Popular Democratic Party (PPD) and the Partido Nuevo Progrsista, or New Progressive Party (PNP).  The PPD has been the party in power since at least 1998, and while promising to seek a change in status has actually worked to maintain the status quo.  One could speculate that the graft and corruption evident in the post Hurricane Maria recovery effort is one reason why.  The PNP has promised to push for statehood, but so far, as is seen in the 2012 referendum they’ve not really had much success.  Cynically, I would suggest even if they were to become the party in power there is a fundamental concept in the Caribbean and South American politics that would ensure little changes; specifically, the idea that family comes before all else. 

If the politician in power has the ability to skim off the cream for the family, or direct income or jobs to the family then that is what usually happens.  Whether it is good for the country is irrelevant, if it is good for the family it is what must be done.  It is not unique to PR, we see the same thing in Venezuela, or Jamaica, or Haiti as the worst-case example.  Heck, we see it here in the US as well so perhaps it’s not just a Caribbean thing.  The Clintons have long enjoyed the idea that if they can get people to give them money they will make sure the family prospers.

With our kind of “in limbo” relationship with the island where they have some autonomy and self-rule, after a disaster is it the U.S. governments job to come in and take over or should we just send them money and equipment to fix their own problems?  It appears we’ve sent them money and tools, but now a year later they are still struggling to repair their infrastructure and some believe we should send them more money and equipment, since the stuff we sent initially hasn’t solved all their problems. 

How much money will it take?  I am reminded of an old joke as the answer, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Monday, May 28, 2018

Organizational Needs versus Organizational Structure.

This is a question about the Air Force, the youngest of our military services which appears to be going through its mid-life crisis, brought on by a long war that offers no end.  It is, for me at least, a fundamental question upon which all other choices must ultimately rest.  What is the smallest force capable of sustained combat operations, the unit with the necessary operational personnel, maintenance personnel, logistics support, communications, and command and control to deploy and sustain combat operations for at least six months?  Whatever that is shouldn’t that be the type of unit we build our Air Force around.
The Army has wrestled with this same question for as long as I remember, and every time I think they have an answer some new General has a great idea and they reorganize.  Since we come from the Army maybe it is in our DNA that we would do the same thing.  At one point it was a regiment, then a division, and I think they’ve now settled on a Combat Brigade, but that could be outdated.
When I first came into the Air Force, just at the end of the Vietnam conflict, I was taught the wing was that unit, although our history in WW2 would suggest Groups were certainly capable of independent operations, but then Groups in WW2 were bigger than most wings in the post-Vietnam era.
It seems the consideration of sustainable combat capability always takes a back seat to the political, economic, or personnel considerations the CSAF and his staff find so much more interesting inside the beltway.
In the 90’s the CSAF, the SECAF and their staffs said Wing Commanders should be Brigadiers -- so they did away with the longstanding concept of Wing/DO and MA and created various groups so there were promotable O-6 billets who could justify promotion to BG and ultimately Wing/CC.  We did this with the knowledge we would be getting smaller as a service, although I doubt we knew how much smaller.  As we began to downsize and as much as we resisted eventually we ran out of Captains to RIF and ended up getting rid of O-6s and losing some of the O-7 billets they had worked so hard to justify.  So, we ended up going back to O-6 Wing Commanders, with a few high-vis and notable exceptions, but we retained all the Groups that had been created.
Somewhere along the line the AF came up with the belief that subordinate Commanders could only work for superior Commanders, unlike how it had been before we ran out of uniforms to change and began changing the wing organizational structure.  I imagine it was about the same time we came out with the “Commander Badge” that mimicked what the USN had.
As we move to this new “no Groups” concept – it will, I believe, create a real span of control issue for the Wing Commander.  What is their role now?  Do they focus on the air base and its infrastructure or do they spend their days in arbitration as the various squadrons compete for attention and endorsement?  His or her ability to actually know who a good commander is and who is toxic will be further masked as the squadron’s become more independent in their ability to disregard the wing staff, and the Wing Commander has to manage the Air Base as a whole.
The question then becomes does that squadron commander have all the resources necessary to accomplish their mission?  Will they “own” the aircraft, control the maintenance and have the logistics infrastructure necessary or will they have to negotiate for them with peer squadron commanders who have perhaps conflicting priorities?  When those inevitable conflicts arise will the Wing/CC be forced into the role of arbitrator?
Maybe this all isn’t a big deal, but as long as the exodus of officers of all ranks continues the number of qualified senior officers will dwindle and perhaps this is just a response to shrinking pyramid of qualified personnel.
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