Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Living in a Time of Change.


It feels like we are at a pivotal time in our history.  Perhaps, that is always true, but we are not prepared to understand that, nor wise enough to appreciate the implications.  For example, we all recognize that 1776 was a pivotal time for our founders, but exactly how many of their contemporaries understood it?

When Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence surely, he knew he was setting us on a path fraught with risk and danger.  When John Adams and Ben Franklin offered their critique, they too must have realized it put their futures at risk.  Finally, the other 53 representatives of Congress must have understood it as well as we set out on an uncharted and uncertain future.  In those weeks leading up that first July 4th, those men established an ideal we still strive to achieve.  “… that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”[1]

After we achieved independence for the 13 colonies; and people returned to the lives they had, when did the politicians decide a confederation of states was unworkable?  Think about those men who gathered, many of them the same who put their lives, and the lives of so many, at risk 13 years earlier coming back together to shape a government unlike any which had gone before.  In the end, the document they created was a brilliant compromise between those who thought a strong central government was necessary, and those who feared too strong a central government would destroy their culture.  “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”[2]

The early 19th Century must have seemed a pivotal time when we, as a young nation, had to stand up and defend ourselves from the British who thought it was okay to impress our seaman to fill their needs in the Navy.  It went so far as to have to deal with their invasion as they attempted to prove we weren’t really a nation and they could do as they wanted.  They burned our new Capital, but at the end of the day, we prevailed and remained the United States.  “And where is that band who so vauntingly swore That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion A home and a country should leave us no more?  Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.  No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave: And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”[3]

How about in the middle of that century when we fought a great civil war to preserve the nation, and in the course of it end the evil of slavery.  The South, led by those who wished to preserve the rights of the state, keep their social construct and continue the belief that one person was less equal than another attempted to abandon the Constitution and server themselves from the central government.  The newly elected President was confronted with a pivotal choice.  Do those who want to leave have the right to do so?  Of course, it is never as black and white as that simple question suggests.  The emerging industrialists of the North needed a market for their goods, and the raw materials the South provided.  Those who strove to end the evil of slavery sought to prevent its continuation.  Those who saw the nation’s future in the West wondered how that vast land and the fortunes it contained would be divided.  We hear little of those issues, for in the end, the North went to war to prevent the South from leaving.  The union was maintained but at such a cost we suffered for the rest of the century.  Lincoln sought to heal those wounds but was taken before he could finish his work.  “… But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”[4]

Examples of pivotal moments seem to pop up every few years, unfortunately, they are often associated with some kind of war or economic collapse (e.g. Panic of 1907, World War I, Pandemic of 1918, Depression of 1920-21, Great Depression 1932-40, World War II, etc.)  It seems each of these events foretells the expanding role of government to save us from the problems that led to those monumental and pivotal events.  We have been reassured by our politicians that it is never as bad as we imagine and historically the press has helped carry those messages.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself”[5]

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”[6]

“Freedom is the right to question and change the established way of doing things.”[7]

In the past, we would come together as a nation to face the challenges of the day.  Remember 9/11 where we stood as one to face the terror brought to us by the Arabian terrorist Osama bin Laden? But lately, we’ve seen a shift in that relationship as the press and those whose hatred of the President is so deep, they will use any opportunity to condemn his actions and the actions of those who might support him. We are faced with a new pandemic, and half the nation is afraid for themselves and those they love, and half the nation wishes to carry on with their lives despite the risk.  They look to the nation’s political leaders for answers and guidance and receive what can best be described as worthless opinions on what is right and what is wrong.

How much longer can this polarization go on and is there a way we can find an end to it?  Some say everything would be fine if we just get rid of President Trump, but if you look at who they offer as a replacement you can only wonder if that is true.  Is it possible our government has grown too big and too removed from the needs of the people that it is a time for a change? Or is it our people have become so dependent on the government it needs to replace all the historical social structures we’ve depended on like the family, local community, and faith organizations like the church?

What the founders knew, perhaps well better than we understand today is the Constitution was to be a living document.  Not in the sense, modern revisionists would have you believe, where the words are to be altered to fit one person’s interpretation, but one that during the growth of the nation be modified by the society of the day.  Even before its ratification the citizens and representatives of several states demanded safeguards to protect the individual from government abuse.  Those first ten amendments were adopted with the Constitution.  Between 1794 and 1992 we added an additional 17 so that today, there have been 27 Amendments to the document.  If you look at them in their scope, they fall into two broad categories.  Those that protect the rights of the individual and those that expand the power of the government.  The last amendment, the 27th was proposed in 1789 and ratified in 1992.  Before that, the last amendment was approved in 1971, pretty much in response to the Vietnam War. 

Today, I don’t hear any serious movement to amend the Constitution, for there are far louder voices calling for its abandonment.  Unfortunately, what I don’t hear in those calls is a coherent discussion of what would replace it.  Right now the young are happy to destroy what they have not built, it will be interesting to see if they are willing to grow to appreciate what they are losing? It feels kind of like we’ve decided we don’t need to talk among ourselves anymore.  We just yell at each other, like we are trying to talk to someone who doesn’t understand our native language.  If we talk louder it is clearer, right?


[1] Declaration of Independence
[2] Preamble of the United States Constitution
[3] National Anthem (3rd Verse)
[4] Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863
[5] Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933
[6] John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
[7] Ronald Reagan, Moscow State University, May 31, 1988

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Can the Right Cause Bring You Salvation?


Some believe if they choose the right causes to support, they are doing the will of God and will be rewarded for their choice.  Some reject the concept of God, but in so doing also believe their support of the right causes will make them the more valued in society and their good works will be rewarded.  It is as if they don’t understand that causes are the public face of those who seek or wish to retain power. 
Causes are the means to gain wealth to do something or perhaps just to give the illusion of doing something while gaining wealth.  There isn’t any great mystery to this and you can choose almost any “cause” you want; to see the truth in this statement.  It could be as obvious as the Clinton Foundation, or as subtle as the World Wildlife Foundation.  Some causes do great work, but most actually enrich a few central characters.
Atheists love to point out the wealth schemes of the churches.  Scheme ranging from the megachurches of Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, or now The Lakewood Church of Joel Osteen to the Roman Catholic Church of Rome, but we Americans have so much disposable wealth we seek to find forgiveness of our sins by contributing to the right causes.
The American Red Cross is a great cause.  Its volunteers are there to assist in times of disaster and provide aid and assistance when it’s needed.  But let’s look at what Charity Navigator has to say about the organization and some of its franchises. 
The national organization, headquartered in Washington DC commits almost 90% of its donations to organizational programs (this is a good thing), while 3.7% goes to administrative costs and 6.3% of its funds are rolled back into seeking new donations.  It has an annual revenue of almost $3 billion.  But other organizations within the ARC family are not quite so stellar.  The American Red Cross of Washington (state) and Seattle have both been indicted by the state’s Attorney General for ties to organized crimes.
How about the Black Lives Matter Foundation?  Subject to a cease and desist order by the California Attorney General it has raised millions but is supposedly not affiliated by the BLM cause.
You can certainly use your personal wealth as you wish, but remember contributing to the right cause will not gain you one iota of benefit beyond a sense of personal satisfaction.  As we learn in Ephesians.
“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works so no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life.”           

Monday, June 29, 2020

What They Really Mean.


Recently there was an exchange between an older conservative and a younger liberal regarding the destruction of monuments here in the United States.  In the course of the exchange, the younger liberal explained with all her education and training she cared far more for people than she did about the destruction of public property.  This set off a series of internal questions I’ve been mulling over.  I’ve come to the conclusion if the young liberal really believes what she is saying is true she is living through a serious case of self-denial.
What the evidence suggests is she believes in causes far more than she believes in people and she has been deluded into believing that supporting the “right cause” is the same thing as caring about people.  Let me explain.
In an earlier discussion, I asked her what she would do to end “systemic racism” in America.  Let’s stop right here for a moment while I explain I am not sure what systemic racism is, but I do understand the evil of racism so I figure if we could end racism the systemic part would take care of itself.  So that was kind of the answer I was looking for.
Her answer didn’t surprise me.  She listed a whole litany of progressive causes.  Everything from transitioning police funding into community programs, business incentives to hire minorities, to abolishing the electoral college.  I had seen every single one of her solutions identified in progressive papers, or conservative critiques.  Not one item actually dealt with how to change an individual from a belief set that one was superior to another (a root cause for racism). Every single suggestion dealt with centralizing power and prioritizing that funding as progressive politicians have suggested curing the ills of society.
In defending the on-going political struggle between those who would overthrow the government and those who would defend it, she again sided with those who would overthrow the government rather than adapt.  It is, after all, today’s “cause celeb.”  This was when “I believe in people” comes in.
She has spent a good portion of her life in school and now works for a technology firm where she makes a good living.  The question I would ask her if I thought it had the remotest chance of causing self-reflection is, if you care about people more than statues why aren’t you spending your life helping people rather than creating technology that has proven to divide us?  The reality I see is all the social progressives who’ve achieved success express empathy with the poor and downtrodden, as long as it doesn’t take their getting their own hands dirty or separate them from their personal wealth.
There are thousands of people who spend their entire life trying to make the lives of the unfortunate better.  Of course, some people think if they can give enough money to a cause it will make things better, but I am talking about people who really truly believe in helping people.  Those people work at the human to human level. They are the Mother Teresa people.  They quietly, without fanfare, and with the deepest compassion set out to make the world better by making one life at a time better, until they look back at their own life and they’ve changed the world.  Those are the people who believe in people.  I do my own small part, but I realize I am not one of those magnificent examples of humanity, and neither are almost all liberals. 
We simply need to look at the way liberals approach a problem to see that.  Almost all the influential liberals get someone else to do the heavy lifting.  As this younger liberal pointed out, she would be out on the streets with Antifa and BLM, but she had to work.  She is not a mover or shaker in the world of high tech so she can probably be forgiven if she doesn’t really understand how her company takes advantage of cheap foreign labor to suppress the income of minority college graduates looking for entry-level jobs in the high-tech business she works for.  She could be forgiven if she didn’t recognize the billionaires who employ her use the same tax loopholes available to the uncaring conservatives who think that the tax code should be dismantled, but she recognizes that she is superior to others who “don’t support the correct causes” and so I wonder why should I forgive her?
At church this morning there was a wonderful homily about God and love.  The foundation of love for our fellow man is found; as Jesus explains in his discussion of the commandments given to the Jews as they fled from Egypt.
 Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”   Mark 12:29-31
Of course, if you reject the idea of God it is simple to reject the wisdom of these words as being critical to our survival as societies.  You can see in the progressive movement all kinds of alternatives to these profound words.  We create a wide variety of moral rationales, but time and time again we come up short in our ability to find a form of government where all are treated equally.  The strong will always dominate, the weak will always cower and the majority will go with whatever direction someone who promises greatness points them in.
If we can replace the wisdom of the bible with the new wisdom of relative morality, we can always find a cause to believe in and another to despise with equal enthusiasm.  Let me set before you a simple example. 
We can watch on the television commercial after commercial talking about saving whales, abandoned puppies, orphaned giraffes, rhinos, and cheetahs.  All seeking to allow you to relieve your guilt by sending in a few dollars a month, the equivalent of a Starbucks coffee a day.  You’ll hardly miss those dollars and think of all the good they will do?
On the other hand, women and men will take to the streets and the media will cover with as many hours as it takes to promote the idea that a human fetus is nothing but a “clump of cells” that should be mined for any genetic value they may have.  They are unwilling to acknowledge the viability of the human until there is no other option, but even then, they have no problem with the stark contrast between killing a fetus and then claiming black lives matter. Not one of them is willing to question the illogic of that statement when black fetuses are killed at a significantly higher rate than as a simple percentage of the population.  Nor are they willing to admit that only certain black lives matter.  Black cops are okay to kill, black children in the major cities are okay to kill as long as they aren’t famous.  After all, if blacks are killing blacks that don’t fit the agenda of the cause.  It is just “inconvenient truth.”  The only black lives that matter isa the ones they say matter.  No more, no less.
I am not sure I understand how liberals come away with a sense of moral superiority but they do, you see it in their every action.  Governor Cuomo made a decision that led to 40,000 dead New Yorkers from the COVID pandemic, yet he has the balls to lecture the rest of the nation on how they should follow New York’s lead on keeping their states locked down and that will solve everything.
We see in the news the portrayal of those who choose to protect themselves against the mobs as anti-social, while “the cause” seeking to overturn the evil of our society as legitimate by those who choose not to think through the consequences of their choices.
A couple of years ago another liberal engaged me in a discussion over the use of tear gas as a crowd dispersal tool.  His opening salvo was all about how it was immoral for the national or state governments to allow this, and oh by the way it was forbidden by the Laws of Armed Conflict.  Having served in the military for more than 20 years and been trained in the defenses for Chemical and Biological warfare I was pretty certain this young man, with zero actual military experience didn’t have a clue about the subject, and I found out in the course of my discussion and research all he was doing was parroting the talking points popular with the protest crowd as they bitched about being on the receiving end of a tear gas exchange.
After pointing out the actual agreement on the use of chemical and biological weapons he still insisted on the laws that allowed their use was morally outrageous.  The fact that the alternative to the use of tear gas could be the use of lethal force we finally decided to end the discussion.  The thing that became apparent in this and every subsequent exchange is his dogmatic commitment to “the cause.”  I’ve not seen many original fact-based thoughts come out of him as we’ve exchanged ideas.  He has a lot of opinions, but everyone I’ve ever checked up on comes out of popular progressive talking points.  I don’t see any deep thought going into his sense of moral superiority.
On a purely selfish level, I have to laugh at the two children (for despite their ages they are in fact indoctrinated children who can’t think beyond the public statements of the cause). Memories come up which recall the time the young liberal ran crying to her bedroom because she was mad, or the time her older brother had to prove his grasp of modern trivia while intimidating his sister.  The one good thing appears they’ve become more supportive of each other as she identifies her brother as a “well-respected Geneticist,” with his BA in Biology, I had always thought of him more as a lab technician.  So, there is that.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Cleared to Wander (A Short Set of Recollections from Mather AFB)


I graduated from Navigator School in early November 1974.  I wasn’t a great student, but I wasn’t at the bottom of the class either.  I was the epitome of the word average.  As a result, I got an aircraft that was neither spectacular nor dreaded.  A C-130 to Dyess and then on to Combat Talon (MC-130E) in the Pacific.  One day the dudes from MPC showed up and suggested I put down Nav School as an Instructor, but I probably wouldn’t get it since Talon Navs were in short supply.  THEY LIED!
So, in July 1980, my family and I found ourselves back in the Sacramento Valley where we would spend the next four years.  One of the first things I noticed is how many of my old friends from both Dyess and Kadena were also there.  After doing all the ATC instructor training and qualifying in the T-43 they decided I was best qualified to teach “Nav Procedures” or as I referred to it “Teaching people to add sideways.” I also got to play with a 6-ft tall MB-4 computer as I taught history majors how a slide rule worked.
I was aided in this endeavor by an advanced simulator that consisted of a Video Cassette Player that projected rudimentary instruments onto simple black and white monitors in about 20 individual stations that were also equipped with the essential chair, table, and sextant all navigators of the day needed to feel empowered to actually navigate (or in our case) document where the videotape said they were.
As a qualified IN (Instructor Nav) I also taught in-flight and the T-45 sim on all the other segments of the curriculum which included Basic Nav (Radar and Nav Aid), Day and Night Celestial, Low Level, and occasionally Advanced Nav (for those going to heavies).  I was also qualified as a Naval Flight Officer instructor to help with the Navy students. I had a pretty varied (as was the standard of the day) weekly schedule that kept things interesting and not too demanding.  What follows are snippets of my four years at Mather that remain from my time nearly 40-years ago.
My first thought on returning to Mather and seeing the beautiful Sierra-Nevada Mountains to the west was this would be a perfect base for Special Operations.  We could do the before low-level checks as we passed Folsom and hit some spectacular low-level routes as we wound our way into Reno.  But those thoughts gave way to the routine of taking off in a jet that climbed to FL 300 in almost no time at all.  Watching, as students struggled to keep up with all the new senses and tasks that lay before them, and seeing the light bulbs of awareness come on for so many as they discovered they could do something none of them had really envisioned before they arrived at this little jewel of a base.
Not Everyone Sees the Big Picture
Believe it or not, at least when I was there, there was no fixed or expected attrition rate.  Rumors always floated around about it, but as an instructor and flight commander, I was never told that a certain number needed to pass or to fail.  There was a time, with a certain Wing Commander when it was damn near impossible to wash someone out, but I think that came more from the Commander’s personal experience than from any directive down.  Rumor had it he had met a flight evaluation board as a student and was allowed to continue and since he was now a successful O-6 (with a shot at O-7) clearly if he could make it others could as well.
I had a student in NP that had been through that class three times before he reached me.  I was his fourth NP instructor.  Needless to say, he had some issues.  He had met two faculty boards already and the Wg/CC had reinstated him despite the board’s recommendation.  He was brilliant in class since he’d already seen the same material so many times.  Each of his practice missions in the NPL was excellent.  His log keeping was exemplary as you would expect from someone who had seen the same videotape three previous times.  When it came time for the check mission, we were in somewhat of a dilemma.  There were only three different tapes and he’d seen each of them once already.  We decided to use the first one he had seen since any of the three would be fair to the other members of the class.  When it came time for the check it was as if everything he had learned when right out the window.  He could not perform when it really mattered and the pressure was on.  He was finally allowed to leave the program and continue his Air Force career somewhere else.
Speaking of Facility Boards!  The FAC Board was one of the checks and balance tools used by the school to determine whether a student having difficulty should stay or leave.  In the event, a student failed a segment the decision to continue rested with the flight commander for the first failure and then escalated with subsequent problems.  At some point, a struggling student might be recommended for elimination by the squadron.  It was at that point the FAC Board came into the picture.  There were normally three members plus a non-voting secretary, who had nothing to do with the student or the squadron recommending elimination.  If I recall correctly it was chaired by a field grade officer and had to instructors who were serving as flight commanders or evaluation officers.  The Board's job was to review the records of performance and make sure the student had been given a fair shake.  In the process, they would convene to interview the student.  The student had three choices:  they could make a sworn statement under oath, telling their side of the story, they could make an unsworn statement, or they could defer to the board without comment. 
As a board member, I always preferred the sworn statement because it allowed us to question the student and see if there was something not captured in the records to explain the problem and lead to a way to perhaps correct and retain him/her.  The unsworn statement could not be challenged and stood on its own.  Students who chose this route often painted themselves in a bad light as they second-guessed the whys and wherefores of their problems that brought them to this point.  What follows is a case in point.
There was a student who had reached his third failure in the BN flight check.  His performance had been up and down.  Good in the early phases, a small hiccup in the tweet rides, okay in Nav Procedures, but busted the NP check.  Okay in BN academics BN, but had busted the BN check twice.  His flight commander had good documentation and we were told he wanted to stay, and would make a sworn statement about what was going on.  When the board actually met, he chose to make an unsworn statement that explained he decided he didn’t like Nav School, because “it wasn’t challenging enough” and he had decided his abilities would be better utilized in some other aspect of the Air Force.  He thought being a Combat Controller would be a better fit for him.  When he said “he hadn’t really put forth any effort here at Mather” he sealed his fate with the board.  Having worked for 5 years with Combat Controllers in Airlift and Special Ops I was able to tell the other board members the demands of that career field and if he hadn’t put forth any effort here it was unlikely; he would survive the initial qualification for that career field.  At the end of the day, the board recommended elimination from both Nav School and the release from the Air Force.  At the end of the day, I don’t know what actually happened, but in this case, the student’s arrogance worked against him and he didn’t return to the program.
Learning not to be a complete asshole.
As I pointed out earlier, I was an okay student but in the course of my flying, I had developed confidence in my ability.  I also had a dry and often harsh sense of humor.  That sense of humor often worked against me.  Students who had me in the class had a chance to see that humor as I taught from the platform and knew I wasn’t intentionally making fun of any individual, but rather trying to get them to see the humor of the simple mistakes.  Students who only saw me on a single flight didn’t see that, and I am afraid I would often come across as a complete jerk.  It took me the better part of three years to realize I needed to adapt to the students, they didn’t need to adapt to me.
For those who knew only my "Mr. Hyde's" personality, I am sorry. 
There is one particular trip that stands out in my mind.  I was I1 on a trip to Randolph (a BN) flight.  I had a student who was struggling to keep up with the airplane, we had some VIP pax on board and my attentions were split between keeping us on track, answering questions from the DVs, and helping the student.  Unfortunately for that young man, my priorities were as I just listed and his training suffered as I became short and loud with him, putting him under even more pressure than he already felt.  I still think back and wish I had been a better instructor with him.
Pilots Make Mistakes Too
One day we took off on Overland Northeast.  The weather in the valley, heck the weather in the entire west sucked that day.  Ceilings were low but tops of the clouds were somewhere about 14,000 feet if I remember correctly.  We were monitoring center when we heard a small aircraft talking about being VFR on top and looking for a vector that could get them below the weather so they could find a place to land. 
I listened in as Center talked with them and as they scrambled an HC-130 out of McClellan AFB to join up and try and lead him to safety.  You could hear the growing panic in the pilot’s voice, but we soon left the frequency as we moved along our route.  A couple of hours later we were back on the freq and the HC-130 had just joined up with him.  I assume they were successful in leading him down through the weather to a safe recovery.  I watched the news for the next couple of days to see if they had any reports on the crash or the save, but never saw anything.  That is usually the way it goes.  Unless there is something spectacular to report the AF goes quietly about its work with little fanfare.
Squids and Jarheads
When I was at Mather, we had three semi-different Navigator Schools.  The Air Force program and its allied students, the Naval program for Naval Flight Officers going to patrol and airlift squadrons, and the Marine Corps program for enlisted navigators for the USMC KC-130s.
Each program had its own sets of instructors, although several AF personnel would be dual qualified to work with both the AF and the USN personnel.  The USMC pretty much kept to itself, and as far as I saw their personnel was every bit as competent as the AF and Navy students.  There was, of course, some petty rivalries.
One day one of the Ensigns in the program made some kind of disparaging remark about the Marines who were sharing one of their overwater flights.  The USMC CWO instructing the young Marines looked up from the mission planning table and responded back with some kind of friendly rebuke about Navy Squids.  What the Navy Lieutenant said next sticks with me to this day.  “Chief do you know what a squid is?  It’s a higher form of Marine life.”  That put an end to the back and forth.
Not All Instructors are Created Equal
As I mentioned earlier, I taught Navigation Procedures or NP.  I came to discover this was where they stuck the instructors, they didn’t think could navigate at the higher sub-Mach numbers the mighty T-43A cruised along at.  Even though I came from the most sophisticated aircraft ever built by Lockheed (excepting, maybe, the SR-71, U-2, and F-104) they stuck me with all the other C-130 types teaching people to add sideways.
The way the program worked is you would be in academics as a primary instructor when your flight’s class was in that phase.  NP was about a three-week course if I remember correctly.  At the end of the course, the students were given first a written test and then sent into the NP lab to demonstrate their competence under pressure (pressure being a relative measure).   At the end of the class, instructors received two types of reviews.  The most important was how well did the students do in the course?  The second was the “student suggestions for improvement.”  I generally had about a 90% pass rate in my course so that was good.  As I noted earlier the suggestions for improvement were mixed.  Some liked me, others thought I was a jerk.  That slowly improved as I learned not to be a jerk.
When you weren’t needed as the primary instructor you would often be scheduled as a “ratio” to help another instructor cover the students as they practiced.
Our squadron had one instructor who actually did have some problems with a) navigating by himself, and b) communicating his knowledge to his students.  His first-time pass rates hovered around 60%.  I remember going into his class as a ratio to help as they practiced for the upcoming exam.  After one three-hour block, he and I chatted about how the students were doing, and how he was doing as an instructor.  The things that stood out for me were how he jumped around the various tasks before the students so they had a hard time grasping the flow of record keeping.  That is the feedback I provided him.  When I got back to the squadron his flight commander (who was a friend) asked me how the class went.  The only feedback I could give him was “He confused the hell out me, and I knew what was supposed to be going on.  If a student passed the upcoming test it would be despite the instruction, not because of it.”  As I recall he was moved into some other position shortly thereafter.
At the same time, we had some instructors who could take an obscure concept and explain it so clearly, even I could understand it and for some things, that's saying a lot.  There was one RF-4 WSO who was at Kadena AB, Japan at the same time I was.  He had arrived a year ahead of me and was a low-level instructor.  I used to enjoy ratioing in his class because I loved low-level navigation, but he was a great speaker and instructor.  He went up to Beale AFB once to interview with the SR-71 squadron, he came back and said they didn’t seem that interested and had told him “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”  He made Major 3-years below the zone and they called him.
In the four years, I was at Mather our squadron had at least one Captain every promotion cycle make grade below the zone.  Our Commander took care of those who performed.
Competition Among Equals
Within the post-Vietnam Air Force of my day, the performance reviews were changed so Commanders couldn’t say everyone walked on water.  There were three (actually more but only folks headed to Leavenworth got less than a three) grades the Commander could give and there were percentages allowed for each grade.  I think it was like 15% could get the highest rank, 35% the next, and 50% the last. 
Within the C-130 world of Military Airlift Command, most of the top ratings when to the Pilots (at least that was the rumor common among the disgruntled Navs).  In hindsight that was really because most of us Navs were happy letting the pilots do all the heavy lifting for mission coordination and planning.  We were happy drawing our charts to get us from point A to B and doing whatever supplemental job the Director of Operations (DO) wanted to assign us.
When I got to Mather, I discovered a whole new world where you couldn’t blame AFSC bias on your failure to get a good review.  If you wanted to succeed you needed to step up your game, especially if you came into the squadron with an average record. There were all sorts of opportunities to impress (or not).  I think my time at Mather actually set the tone for the rest of my career.  I came to realize I was the person who controlled my future.  I could lead, or get passed by.  Some remained simple instructors for their four years and wondered why nothing seemed to change.  Others came into the Wing with great records and were put into high visibility jobs so they would continue to have great records.  Then some found ways to improve and were recognized with more and more responsibility.  I like to think of myself in that last category.  By the end of my time, I was a flight commander where I got to decide how best to get my students their wings.
When I left Mather and went back into Special Operations, I was shocked by how little it had changed, and Nav’s neither stood up to take the most demanding jobs nor were they expected to.  That slowly changed as the years went by, but SOF was among the last of the mission areas to expect officers to lead regardless of their AFSC.
Some rewards went to those who would volunteer for the jobs no one wanted.  One of those jobs what the Combined Federal Campaign.  I did that two years in a row and was pretty successful.  Our squadron raised more than everyone else.  I had a simple marketing pitch.  “You all are making more money than you know what do to with, so why not donate to those who need it most?”  The young officers always came through…
As a result, my Commander allowed me to go on the semi-annual good deal trip to Edwards AFB where for a week all we had to do was sit in the back of the plane while student test pilots and test Navs practiced real flight test maneuvers to determine if the AF should buy the T-43.  Being a Navigator Wing, we had a rule that anytime the aircraft left the local area it had to have a qualified Nav on board (Union Rules).  We took enough instructors that we only had to fly on one or two test missions and had the rest of the time to explore or be hosted by the TPS program (which included a flight in either a T-38, AT-37, or a glider).  I had about 20 hours of glider time, so I opted for the T-38 so I could say I had flown faster than the speed of sound.  After our little dash beyond Mach 1, we did shuttle approaches, where we fell out of the sky, pretty much like a rock.
How to Get a Wing Commander Fired
One Saturday morning my wife woke me up saying the Squadron Commander was on the line.  I grabbed the phone and he asked if I had been drinking the night before.  I assured him I had not and he asked if I was free for the day?  I said I was, so he said to grab my nav stuff and head down to base ops.  There was a no-notice trip to Chanute AFB to pick up the Wing Commander and some friends.  Chanute didn’t have an active runway so we were actually going to some civilian field nearby.
I headed down to base ops, met the two pilots and we planned the airways flight to and back.  We’d need to get gas at the Airport, but they saw enough AF aircraft they had a contract and our gas card would be honored.  Off we went box lunches and all.
We arrived at the airport, whose name escapes me now, and had to wait an hour or so until a bus with the Wing/CC and 12 friends showed up.  We loaded up and headed home.  As a C-130 guy, this seemed perfectly fine with me, and although I was gone for almost 12-hours I never considered filing a travel voucher for a simple two sortie day.  The copilot did and was quite upset when he was told no.  So, he filed an IG complaint that ultimately uncovered a pattern of abuse by the Wing Commander where he had used the sorties to Randolph to transport his daughter’s stuff, including wedding flowers, and furniture down to Texas.  Apparently, on our sortie, the Wing/CC had logged IN time, despite not having any students on board.  The lesson here is you are not supposed to be used for your personal benefit.  Who knew?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Building Utopia


A recent exchange with a well-educated young liberal discussed how to end “systemic racism.”  Her ideas all involved having the government do more for the African-American, and in turn (I assume) for everyone.  Below is her list of recommendations.
“The things that have been done to make society "equal" are drops in the bucket. There is a logical fallacy in the idea that just because we don't know exactly what to do, then we shouldn't do anything. What laws should be changed?
We should be transitioning funding into community programs instead of law enforcement. Social workers, free healthcare, better schools, after school programs and training programs, drug abuse programs, mental health resources, affordable housing.
We also need more training and accountability for police. Require licensing, 2-4 years of training, and clear and severe punishments for infractions, including jail time for breaking the law. If police are so scared, they are murdering people, they shouldn't be police. We should absolutely pay police more to compensate for the additional requirements but we need to hold police at a higher standard.
We should have more incentives for businesses to hire underrepresented groups and for colleges/universities to do the same.
We encourage more representation in voting. First, all citizens over the age of 18 should be automatically registered to vote. We should have mail in voting for all elections, and election day should be a national holiday.
We should abolish the electoral college and have rank choice voting (look up Ireland's voting system for an example).
We should get rid of citizens united and limit campaign contributions. All campaign contributions should be public.
We should prohibit anyone in public office from becoming a lobbyist and strictly limit lobbying to politicians.
And to anticipate your next question of how we are going to pay for this? Raise taxes, yes, please, I will be happy to pay more taxes.
We should also eliminate for profit prisons and for-profit hospitals. We should change our sentencing laws to focus to rehabilitation instead of punishment and put more training, mental health, and overall resources into our prison system.
We should give felons the right to vote after they have served their time and make it illegal to ask about felony charges in a job interview except for those directly related to the job position.
Get rid of the death penalty. Improve funding for social workers and public defenders. Many people are in prison because they were pressured to take plea deals because the current criminal system is overburdened. We need a complete over hall.
make marijuana legal on the federal level and provide incentives for small marijuana businesses and marijuana businesses of color.
Limit drug pricing inflation and create a nationalized health care system.”
For our purposes let’s put money aside.  That “how we’re going to pay of it” seems to be a sticking point on both sides, but as we see with the current pandemic, printing money is no object if there is the political will to do so.
What I find in this list is all the progressive talking points from the last few years.  All have some value in creating the utopia the left envisions, but many don’t seem to be grounded in the reality of how our nation is governed and assumes one single/central point for all decisions.  That strikes me as a clear desire to eliminate the federal system we now use and move all decision making to a single capital.  I’m not sure how you get a 2/3rds or greater majority to do that since it would clearly take abandoning or radically changing the current constitution.  The second concern I have is how getting some far-off power to impose its will on the people will actually change the nature of mankind to eliminate racism.
As we look back on our history, that of the United States, we see the great minds have struggled with the question of how do we create a society where all are equal?  The problem with this society of equals is the assumption we are all equally endowed with the same attributes.  I think we can look around today and determine how incredibly false that assumption is.
Looking at sports, since we actually admitted the racist nature of organized sports and began to accept African-Americans into the professional ranks the Black Americans have taken over a dominate role in Basketball, Football, and Baseball (although Hispanics are now replacing many, it is probably from the shift of culture preference more than pure ability).  Is that move based on a demand for racist equality, or a competitive desire to have the best athlete available?  Is the desire to win, a racist notion?
How about Education?  Does everyone perform equally in school and university?  I believe we see the answer is clearly no.  Why is that?  Is it because of systemic racism or is it from some other cause?  Does performance in education require a leveling of opportunity where more people of one race are afforded advantages not afforded to other races based on some arbitrary metric like global origin?  What other social variables might account for why one person performs better than another?  If the latter is true, how does a central government mandate the elimination of those variables? 
Assuming everyone should have the same educational opportunities, regardless of individual ability, at what level does that demand end?  Must everyone complete high school?  College?  Post-college? MS/MA, Ph.D.?  How do we account for those who have less desire but ability, or those with less ability but desire?  If we are to build a Utopian World then who gets to make the decision on what is fair?  Is it the individual, the educational institution, or the Government?
My final thought on this utopian world is captured in my young friend’s statement, “The things that have been done to make society "equal" are drops in the bucket.”  There seems to be one truth in moving towards a utopia.  We can always do something better.  That is a human quality found in all our existence.  We discover fire, but that is not enough we build ovens.  We invent the wheel but let’s hook it up to horses, then steam engines, then automobiles.  We invent a rocket to bomb another country, let’s take it to space, then the moon, and perhaps beyond.  If we were to do all the things, she suggests would we end racism, or would those ideas be simply a “drop in the bucket?”   
How about the rest of the world?  If we made the United States the country, she envisions, without making her plans part of a single world wouldn’t all the evils still exist?  The problem with Utopia is one person’s utopia necessarily becomes another’s Hell until we are all identical in wants, needs, and desires.
This exchange with my young friend only served to reinforce the difference between the progressive approach and the views of our founders.  On the one side, our founders saw too much power in the hands of a single entity ultimately led to the corruption in the purpose of government, while the progressive movement seeks to eliminate personal responsibility from the equation and put the responsibility of moral decisions in the hands of a government (as long as that government does what they want).

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The New Morality



I Don’t Know Where to Start.
I see our civil behavior spinning out of control as mobs become the angry voice as people charged with being leaders bend over to appease the mob.  The liberal/progressive/socialists and conservative/status quo/capitalist leaders of our society have abrogated any sort of balance in social discourse and they now bemoan the fact we are uncivil. 
The educational system has moved so far off-center in this country that we see only one side of the political debate allowed on most university campuses.  Professors are now more concerned with indoctrinating the minds they influence than in actually creating in them the ability to question what they see and judge for themselves.  The attempts to have professors who disagree with the outrage of the Black Lives Matter movement fired and the denial of admittance of young minds with dissenting opinions into the universities are just two examples of this trend.
Each side is now so entrenched in their own moral superiority that there can be no compromise.  The idea of identity politics is so prevalent that we pick our heroes based on whatever media outlet we like shows us about them.  We don’t want to see the whole story; we want to hear only what we already believe.  A company supports a cause we don’t like, by God, we need to boycott their product.  An industry CEO says something we disagree with, he/she must be eliminated. 
Those who support the destruction of civil war statues buy-in completely with the views of the Southern Poverty Law Center that these statues were erected to intimidate the black community during the era of Jim Crow.  They find the destruction of public property, without any kind of legal process, to be perfectly fine.  What they can’t define is what is acceptable and what is unacceptable from a destruction standpoint. 
It is not very different than the on-going debate over gun ownership.  The why of erecting the statues is long gone.  The statues are inanimate objects they have no voice, except the voices of those who want to inflame the passions of the mobs (both left and right).  If we ignore those voices they eventually tire and turn into whispers, but we can’t do that.  The media won’t allow it.  A gathering of a few dozen angry bigots becomes national news.  We must all join into the groupthink of outrage.
Where does society draw the line?  What is the acceptable level of hate and vitriol?  Why stop at the tearing down of Civil War reminders?  Why not destroy all the memorials to those who created this country.  Jefferson Davis has a home in Biloxi, shouldn’t we burn it to the ground?  Andrew Jackson started the Democratic Party that encouraged and supported the South to wage a war of separation, shouldn’t all his statues be destroyed?  How about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington?  They have homes in Virginia and monuments in Washington.  They both were slave owners; we can’t celebrate their contributions to the nation.  We must destroy all traces of them.
But why stop there.  Columbus brought Europeans to the continent and ruined the lives of countless thousands who were killed by the Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English who followed him.  Shouldn’t we wipe his image off the face of the continent?
Then, of course, we have the Christian church.  How many lives have been ruined by the missionary zealots who traveled with the Spanish and Portuguese Conquistadors, the French Catholics, or the English Protestants?  Why should their memorials continue to stand?  But why stop there?  Since an ever-increasing number of us are rejecting the notion there is a God, shouldn’t we turn the houses of worship of those few fools who’ve not yet seen the light of reason into something practical?  By all means, we must destroy their books of worship for they paint a false picture of the reality of the universe as modern science shows us.  Those foolish people insist on two genders and we all know science has said there are countless others they ignore.
In the end, this debate really boils down to what is moral and right.  Once we reject the idea of a God, the decision on morality becomes relative to the age we live in.  Therefore, the need to understand the choices of past generations can be rejected out of hand.  We can choose whatever moralities and truths are convenient to fit the mob we are a part of.  If our mob is the strongest, our morality must be as well.  If we control the Government we can certainly set the moral judgments of the people.
 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Do the Insurrectionists Have What It Takes?


Way out west in Seattle town a group has, with the full graces of local government, taken over a part of Seattle to establish first the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) or now the Capital Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP).  I assumed they have changed their name when it became apparent, they were never capable of being autonomous, many having just recently liberated themselves from their parent’s basements, but that is for another posting.

The question I would ask is this valiant group of freedom fighters able to inspire sufficient others to abandon the established representative Republic and strike out on a new form of government over the protestations of that government?  Are these millennial souls made up of the same stern stuff as the legendary “Sons of Liberty” who inspired our original rebellion with their protests of the Tea Act and the assault on the British ship tied up on Griffin’s Wharf in Boston on December 16, 1773?

Perhaps it is the loyalist in me that doubts the resolve of these young upstarts, or the fact they do not appear as schooled in the ways of government or the philosophies of thought as the rebels who’ve gone before them.  Nor do they seem to have the singularity of purpose that held our founders together during the long years of struggle.  Rather they seem more intent on making sure all the separate voices of dissent are heard and supported, not as one unified choir, but as separate voices. 

Perhaps I’m wrong in these observations but I don’t see a quote such as Patrick Henry made to the Second Virginia Convention in 1775[1] when he famously said, “Give me liberty or give me death” coming out of this crowd.  What is their plan to gain the support of those critical to their cause and become the instrument of change they think they are?  Just as the British had no idea of our forefather’s dedication and plans, I doubt many of us have insight into these young rebels.  What I do know in these days of global communication their ability to coordinate far exceeds those of our founders.  The question really becomes is their cause supported by those who would bear the burden of the struggle.

I remain skeptical.  The wild card in all this is those insurrectionists who’ve managed to gain a foothold into the established Republic, and how they will work to corrupt any organized resistance to the insurgency.

It will be interesting, to say the least, on how this will all play out when the sides are fully identified and the existing government has to decide what course of action to take to survive.
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