Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Today is a Mama's and Papa's kind of day.  If you are old enough to remember the group and their songs, then you may understand my meaning.  The weather is muggy,  and the sky is gray.  It leads to somber, moody feelings where I would like to find an isolated spot to curl up and nap.  Unfortunately responsibilities abound and I cannot walk away on this winters day.

The day seems caught between the waste of nothingness and the artificially induced mania of some General wanting some trivial and useless piece of knowledge.  Something that will take minutes and hours to formulate precisely and moments to forget once provided.

I miss the music of the 60's, when the world and the music seemed fresh and new.  It was a time when we weren't jaded by the dirt and filth of the all the news, all the time, on all the channels.  I think the 60's was when color was invented. It was when the black and white world of the 50's became psychedelic.  Musicians didn't lip sink then, except when they did, like on American Bandstand.

I was a loner in the 60's, caught between the smart kids, the popular kids, and the soon to be dropout kids.  As I reflect back, I was lucky.  It allowed me to become me.  For the good I could choose my own path and not be deterred just because my group isn't doing it.  For the bad I had a hard time completely trusting and committing.  For the good I could see both sides of an argument.  For the bad, it really didn't matter.

"All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Question of the Day

Can you be both a Star Trek fan and a Glenn Beck fan?

I was listening to Glenn Beck on the way home from work this evening and his show was about the impending doom of the one world government, the abolishment of our beloved nation-states and the chaos that will reign, and it dawned on me. You can't like Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future and still like Glen Beck or vice a versa.  The two have diametrically opposed views of the future.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for the good old nation-state.  Heck I've spent my entire adult life earning a living off it, and when called upon defending it.  It beats the bejabers out of what went before it.  In fact, in some parts of the world they are just now coming to realize that nation-states are the in thing to be.   Since the renaissance, states have come and states have gone.  Italy, for example, didn't really jump into the whole Italy as one country idea until late in the 19th century.  In fact, a better part of Europe didn't really separate into their current forms until the end of WWI; and don't get me started on Africa...This whole idea of sovereign nations governed by elected democracies is really still trying to catch on.

For the past 150 years or so we have been pretty much state against state in the struggle for power, territory and the implied wealth there in.  Occasionally you have to throw in the odd civil war but the real fighting has been country against country, or alliance against alliance.  Today we have the new wild card of non-state actors with the potential of causing large scale causalities.  We are still trying to come to grips with how they fit in.

Anyway, back to the question of the day.  In the original Star Trek series NCC-1701 is referred to as the United Space Ship -- Enterprise (a Constitution class starship).  Interestingly when the ID was being developed for the TV show Matt Jefferies the art director  (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starship_Enterprise) went back to early 20th century civil aircraft registration N=US C= Civil C=just because).  It represented a unified earth force.  Clearly part of that left wing Hollywood subversive movement.  It and the Earth, were part of the United Space Federation, commonly referred to as "the Federation."  In Star Trek, Earth is roughly equivalent to one nation-state.

Clearly, if we are to keep our nation-states from now until the end of time the whole "go where no man has gone before" is out the window.

Thats okay, I wasn't much for warping faster than light anyway.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Great Society -- So What Happened?

Growing up in the 60’s you could not escape the issue of race.  It was on the news every night.  Living in a suburban county along the Hudson River we were able to sit back with the smug reassurance it was those other white’s that were the problem.  The rednecks of the South were still fighting the civil war and holding the blacks down.
While this may have been a comforting illusion I now know racism in the North was every bit as prevalent and cancerous, it was just more insidious in the social framework.  It has now been 45 years since the freedom march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, yet race inequity seems as central today as it did back then.  
Back then, led by Dr. King, the southern blacks struggled for equality in participation.  Today, even here in lower Alabama (actually West Florida) blacks have full equality in government participation.  The problem is most choose not to participate unless there is come specific cause or candidate they can relate to.  This choice condemns us all to a segregated nation, where only the extremist voices are heard.
Back then, family was important to their survival in the South, and certainly much more so than in the urban areas.  Today family appears to be generally defined as a single mother and children.  The absentee father is, unfortunately, far too common to all those living on the poverty line, and it is in fact glamorized on TV and in the movies.   I wonder what will be the long term social impact on our society from this evolution away from a stable family group.
Back then, Lyndon Baines Johnson and the majority Democratic Congress, attempted to restructure America to meet their vision of what America should be like.  To make the shining light, the utopian world that every progressive thinks they can make.  I would like to  review the LBJ's April 1964 speech at the University of Michigan where he outlined his vision and see where we are today.
President Hatcher, Governor Romney, Senators McNamara and Hart, Congressmen Meader and Staebler, and other members of the fine Michigan delegation, members of the graduating class, my fellow Americans:
It is a great pleasure to be here today. This university has been coeducational since 1870, but I do not believe it was on the basis of your accomplishments that a Detroit high school girl said, "In choosing a college, you first have to decide whether you want a coeducational school or an educational school."
Well, we can find both here at Michigan, although perhaps at different hours.
I came out here today very anxious to meet the Michigan student whose father told a friend of mine that his son’s education had been a real value. It stopped his mother from bragging about him.
I have come today from the turmoil of your Capital to the tranquility of your campus to speak about the future of your country.
The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a Nation.
For a century we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people.
The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.
Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.
The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.
The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.
It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what is adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.
But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.
So I want to talk to you today about three places where we begin to build the Great Society - in our cities, in our countryside, and in our classrooms.
Many of you will live to see the day, perhaps 50 years from now, when there will be 400 million Americans-four-fifths of them in urban areas. In the remainder of this century urban population will double, city land will double, and we will have to build homes, highways, and facilities equal to all those built since this country was first settled. So in the next 40 years we must re-build the entire urban United States.
Aristotle said: "Men come together in cities in order to live, but they remain together in order to live the good life." It is harder and harder to live the good life in American cities today.
The catalog of ills is long: there is the decay of the centers and the despoiling of the suburbs. There is not enough housing for our people or transportation for our traffic. Open land is vanishing and old landmarks are violated.
Worst of all expansion is eroding the precious and time honored values of community with neighbors and communion with nature. The loss of these values breeds loneliness and boredom and indifference.
Our society will never be great until our cities are great. Today the frontier of imagination and innovation is inside those cities and not beyond their borders.
New experiments are already going on. It will be the task of your generation to make the American city a place where future generations will come, not only to live but to live the good life.
I understand that if I stayed here tonight I would see that Michigan students are really doing their best to live the good life.
This is the place where the Peace Corps was started. It is inspiring to see how all of you, while you are in this country, are trying so hard to live at the level of the people.
A second place where we begin to build the Great Society is in our countryside. We have always prided ourselves on being not only America the strong and America the free, but America the beautiful. Today that beauty is in danger. The water we drink, the food we eat, the very air that we breathe, are threatened with pollution. Our parks are overcrowded, our seashores overburdened. Green fields and dense forests are disappearing.
A few years ago we were greatly concerned about the "Ugly American." Today we must act to prevent an ugly America.
For once the battle is lost, once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured. And once man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature his spirit will wither and his sustenance be wasted.
A third place to build the Great Society is in the classrooms of America. There your children’s lives will be shaped. Our society will not be great until every young mind is set free to scan the farthest reaches of thought and imagination. We are still far from that goal.
Today, 8 million adult Americans, more than the entire population of Michigan, have not finished 5 years of school. Nearly 20 million have not finished 8 years of school. Nearly 54 million-more than one quarter of all America-have not even finished high school.
Each year more than 100,000 high school graduates, with proved ability, do not enter college because they cannot afford it. And if we cannot educate today’s youth, what will we do in 1970 when elementary school enrollment will be 5 million greater than 1960? And high school enrollment will rise by 5 million. College enrollment will increase by more than 3 million.
In many places, classrooms are overcrowded and curricula are outdated. Most of our qualified teachers are underpaid, and many of our paid teachers are unqualified. So we must give every child a place to sit and a teacher to learn from. Poverty must not be a bar to learning, and learning must offer an escape from poverty.
But more classrooms and more teachers are not enough. We must seek an educational system which grows in excellence as it grows in size. This means better training for our teachers. It means preparing youth to enjoy their hours of leisure as well as their hours of labor. It means exploring new techniques of teaching, to find new ways to stimulate the love of learning and the capacity for creation.
These are three of the central issues of the Great Society. While our Government has many programs directed at those issues, I do not pretend that we have the full answer to those problems.
But I do promise this: We are going to assemble the best thought and the broadest knowledge from all over the world to find those answers for America. I intend to establish working groups to prepare a series of White House conferences and meetings-on the cities, on natural beauty, on the quality of education, and on other emerging challenges. And from these meetings and from this inspiration and from these studies we will begin to set our course toward the Great Society.
The solution to these problems does not rest on a massive program in Washington, nor can it rely solely on the strained resources of local authority. They require us to create new concepts of cooperation, a creative federalism, between the National Capital and the leaders of local communities.
Woodrow Wilson once wrote: "Every man sent out from his university should be a man of his Nation as well as a man of his time."
Within your lifetime powerful forces, already loosed, will take us toward a way of life beyond the realm of our experience, almost beyond the bounds of our imagination.
For better or for worse, your generation has been appointed by history to deal with those problems and to lead America toward a new age. You have the chance never before afforded to any people in any age. You can help build a society where the demands of morality, and the needs of the spirit, can be realized in the life of the Nation.
So, will you join in the battle to give every citizen the full equality which God enjoins and the law requires, whatever his belief, or race, or the color of his skin?
Will you join in the battle to give every citizen an escape from the crushing weight of poverty?
Will you join in the battle to make it possible for all nations to live in enduring peace-as neighbors and not as mortal enemies?
Will you join in the battle to build the Great Society, to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit?
There are those timid souls who say this battle cannot be won; that we are condemned to a soulless wealth. I do not agree. We have the power to shape the civilization that we want. But we need your will, your labor, your hearts, if we are to build that kind of society.
Those who came to this land sought to build more than just a new country. They sought a new world. So I have come here today to your campus to say that you can make their vision our reality. So let us from this moment begin our work so that in the future men will look back and say: It was then, after a long and weary way, that man turned the exploits of his genius to the full enrichment of his life.
Thank you. Good-bye.
On the surface this is a wonderful vision, crafted by skilled speech writers who attempt to provide the same inspiration they did when they were writing for John F. Kennedy.  So, where do we stand 45 years later?  Have we moved toward that utopian world LBJ laid out, have we rebuilt our cities, have we raised our collective education, have we set aside vast lands for nature, and most importantly have we erased the racial injustice he promised?  
Lets start with our Cities... Clearly we have not completely rebuilt our urban landscape as LBJ said we must.  We have, at best, taken some pot shots at the pot holes.  Where leadership is focused on making the cities habitable and affordable there has been marked success.  For example, if you look at New York City today, compared to what was happening to it in the 60's clearly this is a city being rebuilt in the sense of the Great Society.  Brooklyn is dynamic in its rebuilding programs, Manhattan is alive with the tensions of a metropolis, but in the course of this rebirth we have moved from a manufacturing base to a service base.  Last time I was in NYC I found no evidence that anything but wealth is really made in the city anymore, but there remains a strong business base.  If you look at Detroit I think you see a city sinking deeper in the morass of failure.  Detroit is an example where government has set the conditions for business to leave, and where the population has a fundamental belief it is the governments role to take care of them.  What strikes me on these two examples is Detroit has been managed exclusively by Democratic mayors and city councils, while NYC has not been.   Is race an issue here?  Is this a case were whites are keeping the African-Americans down?  Since it appears all the Democratic Mayors of Detroit since 1974 are  African-American I am not sure how it would be the white-man's fault, but I suspect there is a way show it is.

How about the environment?  Funny thing about themes, they seem to shape the generation that buys into them.  Today we continue to hear about how we are destroying our environment and causing global warming from those same liberal factions.  Why is it now 45 years later we can't reach agreement on even the simplest of acts to begin reversing the catastrophic effects we are causing?  Surely it can't be exclusively the Republican party's fault can it?  Is it that while everyone has opinions about what we should do, there is no clear cause-effect relationship that we can turn to, or is it because we as individuals are unwilling to alter our life styles and sacrifice all the disposable creature comforts we have grown to love.  Perhaps it is because every time someone tries to do something, someone else takes umbrage?  Perhaps this all is governed by Newtons three laws. 

 I.  Every object in a state of uniform motion [or a state of rest] tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied.  

II.  A body of mass m subject to a force F undergoes an acceleration a that has the same direction as the force and a magnitude that is directly proportional to the force and inversely proportional to the mass, i.e., F = ma. Alternatively, the total force applied on a body is equal to the time derivative of linear momentum of the body,  and

III. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It seems to me our federal government is clearly guided by the first and third laws.  For every proposed action there is an equal and opposite proposed reaction that leads it to remain at rest.  So when it is not spinning wildly out of control it is doing nothing.

So, how about education?  Over the past 45 years there has been a tremendous emphasis on better teachers, better paid teachers, better schools where the better paid better teachers can teach and the pursuit of advanced education for all.   Clearly with all the emphasis on this bipartisan issue we much have made great strides in education, and the educational level of our general population.  Apparently not, or at least that is what the vast majority of commercials seem to indicate.  In the past 45 years we have not paid our teachers enough, we have not improved our teacher quality enough and lord knows we still have crappy classrooms, but each year we make the teachers and students stay longer and longer.  Clearly there is just that more knowledge to be had and we can't even keep up.  What we have done is grow a couple of generations of children that will have posture problems from the backpacks and tons of books they carry around each day.  Just as we did back in the 60's we seem to be lagging the less then great world powers in most educational categories.  Yet somehow we continue to lead in innovation and technology.  All I can say is this is very befuddling.

So let's recap... The Great Society vision lays there waiting for the progressive government to implement, but according to the progressive vision, we have accomplished zip, nada, zilch!    Maybe that is what happens when you sit around waiting for the government to do everything for you.

What do Old Men and Young Boys Have in Common

Neither of them like to tie their shoes.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

IOS on Turkey Day

I know this is a commercial, but I can relate to it so well I thought I would share.  Happy Thanksgiving to all who see this today.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Man Walks into a Bar.

I think humor must be the hardest thing to write.  I think I have a good sense of humor, I see the nonsensical things around me and find most of it comical.  Yet when I sit down to write about it, it doesn’t come out that way.  For example...
You know that old adage “If you love something set it free.  If it comes back to you, it’s yours.  If it doesn’t it never was.”  
In 1991 we were flying out of Incirlik AB in Turkey.  We had been confined to base the entire duration of Desert Storm and were finally released to go off base where we could have a drink.  Some guys from the 7th Special Operations Squadron where hanging out in a roof top bar named “The Eagle Bar.”  It got its name from the fact the owner kept a Golden Eagle chained up in the bar.  After about an afternoon of drinking the airman were starting to feel sorry for the Eagle, and hatched a plan to free the bird from its captivity.
While a couple of the guys kept the bar tender busy fixing new drinks, one of the guys took out his "Leatherman" and proceeded to cut the chain holding the bird on the perch.  As soon as the bird was loose he put on the glove by the cage and lifted the bird to the sky and tossed him off the roof, crying “FLY... BE FREE!”  The bird took off flapping for all it was worth.  Unfortunately, its wings had been clipped and despite all its efforts it was only able to make it to the river.
It was then the astute airman learned Eagles can’t swim.  The results: A tragic loss of a captive raptor, and the drinking privileges of the three or four drunk airman who where confined to base the rest of their time in Turkey.
See, it seemed a lot funnier when I was watching it unfold or telling it to a bunch of drunk airman.

P.S.  The bar owner received restitution from the group of animal loving airman involved.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What is the Right Size for a Federal Government?

Since the approval of the Constitution, the Federal government has done many things.  Once of the things it has done quietly is grow, and grow, and grow!  In times of feast it has grown, in times of famine - it has grown, in times of strife - it has grown, in times of peace -- well you get the idea.  I think right now there are at least 19 million federal, state and local government employees in the US.  That is one government employee for every 15.2 non-government employed citizens (including kids).
As an employee of that very same government even I have to ask, when will we have enough people living off the wealth created by others?  As I look at my paycheck, when compared to the average, I don’t have much to complain about, but should it be that way?  Should the average salary of a federal employee far outstrip the that of the average tax payer?  I think the answer to this is “well yes, maybe, if they want the Federal Government to do everything for them!”
One of the questions I’ve not heard asked in the latest round of the election debates is what should the citizen expect from his or her government (at any level)?  There are those on the extreme right who would argue for something akin to complete Laissez-faire, where the government has no interaction between private parties.  History has shown the consequence is the individual is at the mercy of the large corporation.  For example, those wealthy families who made their fortunes in the late 1800’s off the possible exploitation of the common man, people like the Vanderbilt’s s, the Mellon’s, and the Rockefeller’s.  
On the opposite side is the left, those individuals who believe government should be all encompassing, the government should be there to save and protect them from all the problems with life.  Each of us should be equal and all should share in the wealth of all.  The role of government is to provide that mythical safety net so that no matter what they will have a comfortable life.
Today, we have examples where industry will sell products they know to be flawed.  The question is should there be government oversight or should the issues be resolved through litigation.  Should there be an expectation the government will set some level of safety requirement?  If so, how intrusive and oversightful should it be?  If we are looking to have government protect us from all evil, how big and how intrusive must it become?
Perhaps it is the difference between the left and the right that is creating all the controversy with the new TSA procedures.  Is it reasonable to expect the government to be solely responsible for the safety of air travelers?  In my pervious life I was involved with  units designated as a counter-terror forces.  They were organized, trained and equipped to seek out terrorist and resolve, through a proactive approach, the problem they were creating.  This is significantly different than the anti-terrorist activities TSA is designed for.  The mission of TSA is to prevent terrorist activities.  Will they be successful by causing the average traveler to become alienated from the government?
These new TSA procedures are implemented as regulations.  They are not laws voted on by the Congress and signed by the President.  They are policies made up and implemented by government bureaucrats and political appointees who are not subject to elective recall.  Keep that in mind when you think about how big our government should be and how much you expect it to do for you.

In the words of Senator Barry Goldwater 
Now those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth, and let me remind you they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyranny.”
 I would vote for smaller government.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

How Do you Find the North Star?

In times past, the North Star served to orient and guide navigators on ships and aircraft.  It was the way ancient seaman found their way around in the Northern hemisphere before even the invention of the compass.  Have you ever looked for it?  Do you know what to look for?  Many think it must be the brightest star in the sky, but it’s not.  In fact, it is kind of faint and really not that noticeable, unless you are looking for it.
There are two landmark constellations that serve as guideposts to Polaris (the North Star).  One is Cassiopeia, also known as “the chair of Cassiopeia” the other is Ursa Major or “the big dipper.”  If you look north and find these constellations Polaris will be between them, at the same elevation above the horizon as your latitude.  In the picture below the big dipper is on the lower left and the Chair of Cassiopeia is to the upper right.  The North Star would be the faint light half way between the two white stars.
Big Dipper and Cassiopeia
Cassiopeia and Ursa Major appear to orbit around the North Star and depending on the time of night, or time of year they may be above and below, or left and right of it.  So why is this important?  It isn’t!  I doubt very many use it as a central part of their lives anymore.  
But, on the other hand, it is a testament to what our lives are like.  In times past mariners and navigators staked their lives on finding and using this central reference.  It provided them the foundation from which to answer the questions; where am I, where am I going, and how do I get there?  In todays world we look for automated answers and guidance.  A great option as long as the computer is working.
Is the same thing true for our lives?  Do we have something we can anchor ourselves to?  Something to serve as a guide as we lead our lives and confront the challenges we face?  That is a question each must answer for themselves.  Will our guiding star always be there, or will we be in trouble when the power goes out?
I would suggest we spend a couple of minutes on a quiet night finding our North Star.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

TSA Enhanced Screening Explained

I discovered this and thought it linked nicely with my post from yesterday.  It explains the process much better than I can.   WB, thank RA Crankbait for me...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

So What are You Doing for the Next Two Years?

A fortnight ago those American’s so inclined went to the polls to take their shot at government reform.  An increasing number opted for voting early, or in absentee so technically they made their choices even earlier.  What was the outcome of that exercise in democracy?  Well, on the surface we all shifted the balance of power in the Congress from left to right, kind of.   There was much gnashing of teeth, beating of breasts, and claims of doom or salvation, take your pick.
I see in the news today the Democrats have elected as their leaders in the House and Senate the same visionary team they had for the last Congress.  Ditto for the Republicans.  Boy they have done such a bang up job working together for the last two years we can clearly look forward to great and wonderful harmony, cooperation, and focus on the Nation’s problems.
Ah well, life goes on.  

On a related note, Mr. Olbermann has survived his indefinite suspension with all the good grace we’ve come to expect from this whimsical, mirth-filled, commentator.  From the extracts of his show it appears that his singular agenda for the foreseeable future will be to explain why he and MSNBC are pure as the driven snow, and no-where near as bad as the clearly far-right ultra-conservative rabble rousers at Fox.  I am sure along the way he will bow to the will of the people and reinstate the “worst person in the world” segment we all now recognize as the humorous, light hearted jab at those who may not be as enlightened as he and his core audience.
It appears Glen Beck and Bill O’Reilly are holding up under the pressure and between them raking in a tidy sum.  Clearly this is why they must favor tax cuts for the rich.  Although I would be guessing, I bet Keith Olbermann is making more than a buck two ninety-eight himself, I have to assume he is donating everything above the minimum TV Commentator scale to help pay for the social programs he supports.
I had a chance to go through the new heightened security screening at Reagan-Washington National Airport this morning.  Three observations: TSA agents have a hard job, they don’t set policy but are stuck carrying it out (I am not sure if you need a HS diploma or not to be a TSA agent, but I am betting some of them have GEDs).  The pat down would be a lot more fun if the TSA agents that were doing them didn’t weigh 300 lbs or look like they were 90 years old.  Finally, why can’t we get copies of the full body scan to hang up at home?  It reminds me of Hans Solo after he pissed off Jabba the Hut in StarWars.  Clearly these could be like the brass rubbings we did on tombs in England.  

Anyway, back to the question at hand -- what will I be doing for the next two years?  I will be wondering if there is a way to get Congress to work.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bovine Course Control

When I was a lot younger, flying C-130’s in West Texas we used to practice our tactical navigation by flying low-level routes around Abilene.   There were about four routes, varying in length from 40 minutes to an hour and a half.  Every day Monday to Friday anywhere from 4 to 16 aircraft would take off and fly the route, eventually ending up back at the base where we would drop our practice loads.  We had morning, afternoon and, occasionally, evening flights.
Now lest you think we must have disturbed a lot of people, let me assure you these flights were over vast open rangeland.  Our checkpoints were road intersections, bridges, or some such permanent landmark, and for the most part, the only things underneath us were oil wells and cows.  My job was to guide the aircraft, to make sure we arrived at each checkpoint on time so that we would successfully reach the drop zone.  Since all of West Texas looked pretty-much flat and brown, this could be a challenge if the winds were different then you expected or you missed a checkpoint.  I learned early on the cows were my friends.  If I was on-course the cattle were familiar with the noise of the aircraft passing over.  They would continue to graze, eat, poop or do whatever else cattle do in West Texas.  If we were not on course the cattle would be startled and start running in all directions.  When that happened we knew we were off-course and needed to change direction.  Those who figured this out were successful.  The ones who didn’t would be asked to find a new line of work.
It has dawned on me this is really a metaphor of life and politics.  I will be interested to see if those who survived reelection will have noticed the voters running around in all directions and realize they need to change course?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Congressional Marks, the Power of the Purse

I think over the coming months we will hear a lot of talk about Congressional earmarks and pork barrel spending.  The newly elected representatives are entering this Congress, many with the promise to cut wasteful spending.  It will be interesting to see how they balance those promises against the natural desire to siphon federal dollars to their district.   Even President Obama is now on board saying we shouldn't have earmarks.  Slightly different then his position a year ago and vastly different from the $740 million in earmarks he had attempted to secure as a US senator (NY Times, March 14, 2008).  According to the article he had about a 30% success rate.

I have heard some, like Rand Paul, are already "clarifying" what they meant when they promised to not insert earmarks.  What the candidate meant to say was he wouldn't support earmarks that were added to the bill after it went to conference.  He would though put in projects that were good for his State, as long as the whole subcommittee got to share the blame.  Sounds like good old politics where you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours is the flavor of the day.  Nice to know there are some constants, even with Republicans.

Don't get me wrong, earmarks can be important.  They can bring federal dollars into areas, or projects that can greatly improve the lives of the people in that area.  I would bet for every outrageous story of earmark spending you hear there is at least two of real value to the community.  The problem is when we do this we are spending dollars the nation does not have.   

Since everyone agrees we shouldn't raise taxes, I am a little unclear about how everyone thinks we should pay for all this?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Night Time

The night was cool and dark along the Hudson River as we flew south towards the city.  I had been up since 5 am, but sleep was not even a thought.  The world lay out before me as black velvet covered with diamonds.  I was not yet in the Air Force, but I was in the element that was the center of my dreams.  Little did I know, nor could I imagine, how the beauty of this experience would guide me to choices that would shape my future.
I had started work for a small commuter airline, while waiting my time to enter the Air Force.  They would let me get onto flights that were not full and travel to any of the destinations they served.  By the time I was off work the only flights remaining were to JFK.  I would make it a habit to fly down and back on the last flights of the day.
There, in front of us, was Yonkers, then the Bronx, then Queens, Brooklyn, and the Airport.  The airport was massive, and we were just a tiny plane.  It seemed to take forever from landing until we were at the terminal.  Inside for a soda and then home.  Those were the days without TSA, without terror, without fear.
At night, the world is a mystery.  It is covered in black, with beautiful twinkling lights.  Where people are they live in light, where there are no lights there is isolation.
Just two years later I was flying a C-130 carrying supplies to the North slope of Alaska.  We would take off from Eielson Air Force Base, in Fairbanks, Alaska, and fly North to one of five lonely, remote and isolated radar sites.  There was nothing between us and them for 300 miles.  It was black, cold, and foreboding.  At the time they were just building the Alaskan Pipeline, and you could see their lights off to the East.
The night sky in Alaska was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and I am at a loss for the words to adequately describe it.  Above us was heaven, covered with the silken robes of the Aura Borealis floating across the sky as if being blown by some cosmic wind.  You cannot see the beauty of the heavens without knowing there is a God.  I am sorry for those who have never looked up and seen God before them.
Night is a wondrous time to fly.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts of a Veteran on Veteran’s Day

Today, November 11, 2010, I would like to spend a few minutes reflecting on the relationship of the general population with the US Military.  The observations are mine and they are shaped by 22 years of Commissioned Service, as well as an additional 14 years serving as a civilian with the Air Force. In my current role I define the required capabilities for the next generation of aircraft that will carry US Special Forces into harm’s way.  I believe I am familiar with what it takes for the Air Force Special Operations to be successful.
After the Viet Nam conflict, or war if you would prefer, the nation came out of the experience with almost a bitterness towards the military, that was reflected on the way the veterans of that conflict where treated, and absorbed back into the general population.  The college students and the social elite who had so successfully rallied against the war wanted nothing to do with anything that smelled of the military.  Placing the blame for conflict on the those who had no control of what the civilian government had sent them to do.
At that time, there was a “Draft” where all were supposed to register and if your number was called you went to serve.  Like most human endeavors there were ways to skirt around the intent of this being a universal and fair system.  The rich would somehow find deferment, college students were exempt while in school (I knew many 8 year undergraduates), finding ways to be classified unfit to serve, etc., but it did, more-or-less, result in the military being a reflection of the general population.  It also meant when those draftee’s finished their enlistments they returned to the general population with an appreciation of what the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard did for the country.
After 1975 we abandoned the draft.  Thinking at the time was we needed a smaller force and it should be “all volunteer.”  The Army and Marine Corps struggled mightily to find qualified volunteers and for a while it was tough.  Many who could not find work in the civilian world joined and brought with them the challenges of poor education, social problems, and drug abuse.  The problems of the US Army and USMC were matched, to a lessor degree in the AF and Navy.
Under President Carter, a US Naval Academy graduate, the military atrophied while he struggled to gain control of an economy on the verge of collapse, caused by 10 years of war, overspending by the government, double digit unemployment and double digit inflation.  Then in November 4, 1979 Iranian radicals, spurred on by the Ayatollah Khomeini, a leading Shi’a cleric, took over the American Embassy and held hostage the Americans that were in it.  The Department of Defense was directed to plan a rescue attempt if the hostage crisis could not be resolved through diplomatic negotiation.  Fundamental extremists, of all faiths, really aren’t into negotiation so that didn’t work, and on April 25, 1980 a force that had never successfully executed a full dress rehearsal flew into history.  The results of that failure would reshape to Department of Defense over the next ten years, and still forms the emotional basis for many of its decisions.  I know as one of the members of that team it shaped my career.

The hostage situation epitomized the failure of the Carter administration for the American people and led to the election of Ronald Reagan.  Reagan brought into the office a confidence in America his predecessor never had.  He also brought a commitment to strengthen the Armed Forces so it could be successful.  Unfortunately this came at a substantial cost.  Under Ronald Reagan we tripled the National debt.  Clearly he wanted have his cake, and eat it too.  But by the end of the 1980’s we had won the “Cold War” and had a military that was capable of defeating Iraq’s will to fight in 100 days.
Because of those successes, and the framework laid by Reagan the average civilian was taught it is patriotic to tell service-members they are grateful for their service and the nation is behind them 100%.
So where are we today?   Since 9/11 we have been at war, unfortunately we are really not sure with who.  When you are fighting against an amorphous non-state enemy like Al-Qaeda it is a lot like squeezing a giant water balloon.  If you squeeze on one end it pops out somewhere unexpected.   This is kind of the problem the British had when we fought our war of revolt.  Unfortunately for us the conflict is not limited to a single country, territory, or continent.  It is global in nature and Muslim terrorists have shown no reluctance in sacrificing innocent lives to make headline news.
So what do citizens believe today?  Clearly we are still taught to say the right things, to wave the flag, to “honor” our men and woman, to give tickets to sporting events, occasionally have a parade, or something else, but when it comes time to make hard choices, to put your money where your mouth it appears to me the average American thinks supporting the military is someone else’s responsibility.
How can I say that, you ask?  Here is what I’ve seen over the past couple of years.  When Congress was looking to reduce the defense spending it had a process called the 2006 Base Realignment and Consolidation (BRAC) commission.  BRAC’s role was to look nationwide at where we could close bases and consolidate functions.  This was supposed to be a politically neutral event.  When BRAC came to a base the local community was given the opportunity to voice their concerns, support or opposition to a closure or realignment.  Here in the Florida Panhandle everyone was in love with Eglin AFB and its continued existence was central to the local economy.  When BRAC decided that F-35’s would be a good fit the politicians were thrilled and spent the next year crowing about their success. 

Then someone found out the F-35 was noisy.  Imagine that; a noisy jet fighter, who would have thunk?  Valparaiso, the city Eglin AFB is next to spent the next two years in litigation trying to stop the move.  The sound of freedom is good, just not near me.  BRAC also moves the 7th Special Forces Group from Ft. Bragg to Eglin.  Just wait until we add 10,000 soldiers to a county that hasn’t had a fort located in it since the civil war.  Today the realtor's are in love with the idea, because they look forward to their home sales commissions, but I say just wait.  Clearly here in Northwest Florida the average civilian is in love with the military if they can make a profit off them, but other than that...
How about out west?  When BRAC decided to close Cannon AFB in lovely Clovis  NM the local politicians were aghast!  Cannon was the only thing besides a few ranches and a Cattle pen that kept the greater Clovis-Portales metroplex in business.  Clearly something had to be done.  They organized the gang of 50 who lobbied their representatives, who lobbied the DOD to move a unit, any unit into Cannon.  Enter AF Special Operations -- we needed a second base, wanted it on the left coast and “POOF” we have a base.  Never mind that it was designed for small little fighter airplanes and we fly big (ish) C-130’s, CV-22’s and a whole bunch of other stuff.  Once the decision was made the first thing the Colvis-Portles governments did was complain about how we would impact their infrastructure and who was going to pay for that?  Why should they accelerate building housing, or approve new roads, sub-divisions etc.  Why couldn’t the AF stay on Cannon like the last wing?  Today we have a base busting at the seams and hear routinely about how Clovis is dragging its feet to meet the human needs of the airman we have to send there.
The icing on the cake is when we begin the process of looking for airspace to fly our planes and we lay out a low altitude navigation area we want to operate in the population in those areas rise up to express outrage over how the noisy CV-22 and C-130s will destroy the environment and ruin their quality of life.  Wall Street Journal on 8 November ran an interesting article entitled “Flyover Plan Draws Flak” the byline was Stephanie Simon.  My favorite part of the article was
Kathleen Dudley plans to throw herself into fighting the Air Force should commanders choose to move ahead. A writer in Mora, N.M., northeast of Santa Fe, Ms. Dudley said she and her husband were eating lunch on their deck recently when a military aircraft screamed overhead, flying so low "that we were looking into the eyeballs of a pilot bearing down on us."
"I was terrified," she said. "You don't hear or see them until they're upon you, and then it's like being in a war zone."
To that I say to Ms Dudley... BULL FEATHERS, and to Ms Simon, if this is the best quote you can come up with to discuss an important need for our Air Force maybe you should find a new line of work.
Well, it is about time to go support our local economy so with that I will wish you a happy Remembrance Day...I hope having a strong Military with a need to train does not terribly inconvenience you.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Morning Prayer

Lead us oh Lord to be humble, forgiving, and thankful.  Remind us to take a moment to enjoy the beauty of this world, and leave it as we find it.  Help us seek to understand, before we condemn, to build rather than rend, and to think first of others less fortunate.  Amen

Friday, November 5, 2010

How I Spent the Summer of '75

Remembrances, part 1
It has dawned on me that life is a collection of stories, strung one against the other.  In ages past the conscientious among us kept journals of those stories so their children, and their children's children would be able to remember them.  Other’s have turned those stories into profitable ventures through books, stage and screen plays.  I think from time to time I shall write one of my recollections into a recollection to post on this site.  Today shall be my first attempt.  We shall see how it goes, and how much bourbon it takes to coax it forth.
In 1975 I was a newly minted navigator, a lieutenant in the Air Force, serving at Dyess Air Force Base, Abilene Texas.  I was assigned to the 773rd Tactical Airlift Squadron, known as “The Fleagles,” and we flew the C-130E Hercules turboprop airlifter.  The unit was directed to send four of its sixteen aircraft to Howard Airbase, in the Panama Canal Zone to provide airlift for US forces in Central and South America.  At the time the Panama Canal was owned and operated by the United States.  As a junior officer in the squadron I wasn’t really considered to be sent down there as one of the six crews we were sending.  So I went to the Major who was in charge and asked if I could go in any role at all.  He worked it out so I was the administrative officer and let me come along.
While there, I worked in the office Monday through Friday but I got to go on any trips scheduled to go over the weekend.  I got to tag along on trips to Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.  What I remember most about those trips was the shopping for mahogany furniture, sea shell necklaces and many other small treasures.  There were also other learning opportunities, but they would be more along the line of “what happens in Central America stays in Central America.”
My best good-deal trip while we were at Howard Airbase was what was supposed to be a three day out and back to Brasilia, Brazil.  We were supposed to fly to Manaus Brazil (in the Amazon) to refuel and then into Brasilia, the capital.  The purpose was to take supplies down to the US Embassy.  The stop in Manaus introduced me to Piraña, there must have been a hundred of them on display in the terminal, and for sale in the gift shop.
On the trip into the capital I was sitting in the back when all the sudden I heard what sounded like rain on a tin roof.  It turns out the plane had flown through a hail storm.  When we landed we saw we had holes in the leading edge of the wings, the nose radome was destroyed and a radome on the top of the plane was trashed as well.  We headed off to the US Embassy to check in, call home and see what they could do to get us new parts so we could fly home to the Canal zone.  It turned out the earliest we could get new parts was about a week away.  In the words of the day, “too cool” we were going to be paid to hang out in a major city for a week. 
What made this really, really cool was I happened to know a couple of girls and guys who were from Brasilia.  They had been exchange students at my College my senior year.  I had made friends and it was time to look them up.  While at the Embassy I asked a Marine if he could look up a couple of names and call them.  Imagine their surprise when I came on line and reminded them that I had said I would someday stop in and visit.  I told them were I would be staying and asked if we could get together for an afternoon to catch up with each other.  They turned out to be my keys to the city and wonderful week of sight seeing.  Here is what I learned of Brasilia, Brazil and the Brazilians I knew.
First, Brasilia was carved out the center of the Amazon rain forest.  The buildings are magnificent, and in 1975 the oldest building was about 15 years or so old.  I toured the Capital and several government buildings.  The architecture was spectacular, the finishing, the materials, all were beautiful.  I visited my friends homes, they too were dazzling.  They were three to four story buildings, entered through walled yard.  As you entered the homes you found yourself in a multistory atrium.  Servants were there to care for your needs.  Clearly I was among the elite class of this city.  As we discussed how Brasilia had been built I discovered the workers had lived in shanties that met only the most basic of needs.  The servant class still lived in these slapped together structures in deep poverty.  I also discovered there was little, if any, middle class.  Just the very rich and very poor.  This was my up close introduction to a rigid class society.  
To the rich of Brazil, the poor are like the trees around them.  They are there, that’s all just there.  Brazilians are also closely linked to their Portuguese heritage.  The men all believe they are the rulers of their destiny.  The guys I knew explained to me that each had two girl friends.  One was pure, a virgin, that was the one he would marry, but he would pursue her to attempt to soil her.  The other was the one he fooled around with.  I counted on my fingers and something just didn’t add up, so one day when we were at a club I had a chance to talk with one of the women I had met in the states and I asked how this pure virgin and slutty girlfriend thing worked.  She told me that each girl had two boyfriends...To this day I am convinced the average man chooses never to put two and two together.
Brazilians build crazy hotels.  We were staying in a big hotel near the center of town.  It had everything.  There was a wonderful restaurant, workout room, sauna and pool.  The really crazy thing was the pool was on the 7th floor, smack dab in the middle of the 15 or so stories of the building.  One night there was a big party at the hotel and my roommate and I had gone to the park across the street and had bought some toy parachutists we had seen kids flying as kits.  While the guests were arriving, dressing to the nines, we were dropping these parachutes on them.  Every once in-a-while one of them would land next to an elegant woman who would be startled and her escort would stare up at us.  I don’t think Brazilian women in evening gowns or men in tuxedos have a sense of humor.
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