Monday, January 31, 2011

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

As a navigator my job was to guide the aircraft through airspace where there were few navigation aids.  In the years before GPS there were vast areas around the world with no precise navigation stations and I would determine our position from calculations and sightings on the stars, and measuring the drift from changes in the pressure altimeter.  I was not a great navigator, but I was able to find my way amid the confusion around me.
One of the early lessons I learned was to prioritize the challenges and problems and attack them one at a time.  If I was ever unsure of where we were I went back to the last fix we had and worked the entire process forward until I determined our most probable position and then set out to confirm it.  We get ourselves in trouble when we forget to follow a logical flow in problem solving.  Occasionally, a flash of brilliance will rescue you, but as often as not that light at the end of the tunnel is just the 4:10 express about to run you over.
Our legislatures are kind of like that.  When they attempt to fix all the problems in the world with a single piece of legislation they tend to lose sight of what is important.  Maybe we would be better served if they could go back to 2008 and see what incremental steps we should take to improve our Nation?
So how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Word

As a means of expression I like the word
It suits my way of thinking
Whole words are good, and phrases are nice
Complete thoughts in the form of a sentence refreshing

This new way of writing; with texts and with tweets
Does not suit my brain, nor my style
It leaves me feeling incomplete
And seems completely un-worthwhile

Perhaps it is the fault of us
Who grew with television
Where the written word is hardly known
And reality shaped by vision

Our imaginations have taken flight
Never more to serve us
Now we are led by those whose insight
believes 140 letters should do us

What should the role of the United States be in dealing with Egypt?

About every politician seeking “air time” has a position on what the US should, or should not, do about the uprisings in Egypt.  In an idyllic world the principles of the US Constitution and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence would guide our every action, but we don’t live in an idyllic world do we?
The government’s options are framed with regard to what it should and what it can do.  It is trapped by three opposing needs.  The first is the precedents and commitments made by past administrations, the second is the risk to national security, and finally there are the current political frictions within the government itself.
Of the first -- we have, since the last World War, entered into a significant number of treaties, multinational and bilateral agreements with other nations.  These range from membership in the United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, down to things like the Camp David accords.  If we were to disregard those agreements every time we have a change in administration we would not be able to function on the international stage.  In the current situation we have made significant commitments to both Egypt and Israel to secure their peace for 30 years.  The Camp David accords have bound us to the government of Egypt since September 1978.  We have kept a standing multinational force of observers positioned in the Sinai since that agreement was reached.  Today that force is about 1,600 strong.  The US contribution is about 700 soldiers taken mostly from the National Guard, plus several billions of dollars in support to both Israel and Egypt.  At the time of the accords I think most Egyptians favored the agreement, but they were not consulted because Egypt has effectively had a one party government since 1954, and Anwar Sadat did not feel it necessary to secure popular approval.  As Islamic fundamentalism has grown the cleric’s have continued to espouse the destruction of Israel, and fostered the climate for overthrow and a return to a theocracy like Iran.  If we come out for the resignation of Hosni Mubarak do we really think we get a democratically elected replacement that would continue to abide by the accords and be willing to deal on a friendly basis with the US?  Clearly the administration is caught in the horns of dilemma.  They have treaties at risk, agreements to live up to and an administration that has been an ally to the US for 32 years; what do you lose when it falls, and what do you gain if you help it fall?
Next is that nebulous catchall idea of National Security.  What is the risk to the nation and what do we do to minimize it?  Right now we have a weakened economy that would probably collapse if the OPEC oil were cut off for a significant amount of time.  The leaders of the OPEC are, for the most part, sympathetic to US interests.  They understand that if the dollar collapses so does most of their personal wealth.  It is clearly in our mutual interest to keep the Middle East as stable as possible to ensure the flow of oil towards us, and wealth towards them.  If Egypt fails, will there be a domino affect on the other kingdoms and dictatorships?  Will all those countries then turn to radical Islamic rule? This was, in some sense, the same concern we had about communist world domination in the 1950’s that led us to fight the war in Vietnam.  The question that must be answered is there a rational Islamic leader capable of reaching a mutually acceptable relationship with a Judeo-Christian country?  If there is, how do we support him without causing the radical clerics to lead the people in uprising?  This is a particularly troubling problem for an administration that assumes a rational secular approach to government.  Since the President has been so focused on internal affairs like health care and the election loss I would bet he and his advisors are unprepared to answer that question right now.
The final part of the puzzle is our current domestic situation.  When we have a strong economy, the options available to the president are much wider than they are when we are struggling with high unemployment, spiraling trade deficits and sky rocketing national debt.  We have a new congress, filled with new representatives.  Most have little history or understanding of the global dynamic, beyond what they may have read.  They were elected because of the friction over health care, national debt, bloated government, and the wars we’ve been engaged in since 9/11.  They are, for the most part, focused on domestic issues.  At the same time each of these newly elected officials believe they are in the best position to say what the government should do.  In the past we’ve tried to buy our way to peace with foreign aid.  Is that an option for this administration?  Where human life and individual suffering is not a concern for the mullahs, would the radical Islamic movement even accept it?
I asked a question to begin these thoughts; unfortunately it is a question I don’t have an answer for.  It is nice to say we shouldn’t support dictators, or presidents for life, or we should support popular uprisings to overthrow them.  It is equally troubling to realize we do not have public options and can only work quietly, behind the scenes’ to affect some sort of change.  At the end of the day our government wants one thing – stability.  Stability means there is no crisis, we can plan for and work other issues and concerns.  Isn’t stability what most of us want in our lives?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Life of a Balloon

How long does a helium filled Mylar balloon float?  My lovely wife brought me a smiley face one for my birthday and it has been hovering over my desk against the ceiling for the last three weeks.  I lean back in my chair and look up to the ceiling and I have a now aging and wrinkling smiley face staring back at me.  I can relate to the aging and wrinkling part.

It has become my guardian, watching over my desk and the bills placed there.  It is challenging me to remember that life should be fun.  The life of a helium filled balloon must be measured on a scale somewhere between that of a fly and butterfly, but I can’t be too sure.

Someday I think that I must do an experiment.  I shall fill a smiley face and a grumpy face balloon at the same time and see if one lasts longer than the other.

Old Forts

At the end of the day, as the soft refrain of the bugle resonates over the surrounding landscape I am drawn back to a bygone time.  I wonder what life was like for the horse soldiers and the buffalo soldiers who served in forts and camps scattered across the west?
The movies have shaped our images of that time, and I think unfortunately so.  I cannot today imagine what life was like in those isolated outposts, where men unfamiliar with the land struggled to make and shape this country.  In the course of our western expansion we thought little about the nations we conquered and the people we displaced.  Why should we, we had a manifest destiny.  John L. O’Sullivan had told us we had one and by god we did.  At the time the government was pushing for western expansion and political columnists like John L, wrote about the right to dominate and consolidate this country under one nation.
For the nation the west offered an opportunity for a new life, a promise to be fulfilled by those with the courage to seek it.  The Army was called on to provide for the common defense.  This link offers an interesting summary of those outposts.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Just a Thought on Tenor

I guess I should have watched our Presidents speech this week, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Perhaps the State of the Union Speech was ruined for me by George W’s speaking style, but I really think I just don’t have the tolerance to listen to the political rhetoric for an hour anymore.
In looking at the summaries in the newspapers the next day he apparently did his typical good job reading from the teleprompters and set some kind of tone for working with the new Congress, but from what I gather he is not going to take a leadership role on finding ways to cut the bloat from government or slow the deficit.  In attempting to set the tone for the next year I wonder what message most of us were to take from his speech. 
Unfortunately, what I usually take from these grand visions is a real sense of foolishness.  It is much easier to say what we all should do in a perfect world than it is to actually do something to make the world a little more perfect.  For example, I am reading a humorous book Stupid History: Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness and Mythconceptions Throughout the Ages written by Leland Gregory.  In the book there is a story of another president whose staff, in the quest for a photo op to make his point showed the arrogance of the White House.
“During a trip to Costa Rica in the spring of 1996, President Bill Clinton stopped off at the Braulio Carrillo National Park – a government-protected rain forest – to give a speech about environmental protection and preservation.  His address included the line ‘We destroy these resources at our peril.’  Too bad Bill’s staff didn’t agree.  Clinton’s people thought the speaking platform was too far from the road, especially since the president was on crutches at the time.  They decided to bulldoze, level and asphalt a 350-foot path for him – right through the rain forest.” 
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think every politician is arrogant or strictly in it for the money.  For example, take my representative Mr. Jeff Miller, R-FL district 1.  I have flown on the same aircraft he was on at least three times.  On each of those occasions I found him sitting quietly in the coach section doing his reading.  I appreciate that.  I find that link to the average person a good model for our representatives and an appropriate use of our tax dollars.  I wonder if that holds true for the rest?
As for President Obama, now as the world swirls around him, it will be interesting to see what kind of tenor he will set as he attempts to address what is happening to those Arab countries whose leadership has aligned with us?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why Not?

Is the purpose of life utilitarian?  Are we only to seek what is useful?  Why is the world painted in such wonderful hues if we are to only do what is useful?

Oh, I know there are those who strive for this, just as there are those who believe progress has gone too far and we should live as they did in the late 19th century.  But I am not of that mind.  I lead a quiet stable life, perhaps it should be enjoyed just a bit fuller?

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, from Hamlet, To buy or not to buy?  That is the question.  Whether it is nobler to suffer the large turning radius and rugged ride of a truck, or take new wheels to carry me forth and by purchase change myself.  Oh to swiftly dart through parking lots and turn but once into any spot.  To find agility where once there was none and by so doing move gaily among the herd.

There are many pros to my truck, and so few cons.  There are many cons to a sports coupe, but so many pros.  It is always this way, what is right is usually in opposition to what is fun.

I should have bought an SSR!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I have a truck, it is a nice truck, with so few real truck miles on it.  It has served me well, and fulfills its role.  It sits quietly at my service.  I've put but one or two little wrinkles in its smooth skin, but it has not complained.  Each season or so I refresh it with oil and other lubricants.

Each morning it starts up and carries me the few scant miles I must travel to work.  It rests patiently in the lot with other trucks and cars and SUV's, all awaiting their owners return.  They are always there to carry us to hearth and home.

In the chill of the winter its warm seats sooth me, and the radio always plays my favorite songs.  The power of its engine, the heart and sole of this truck, surge strong and sure as we move through life.  It seems to have become a reflection.  It is not the biggest of trucks, nor the fastest, nor strongest, but its utility cannot be questioned.  It is like me --  completely adequate.

So why am I considering a small sports coupe to replace it?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Who Are We Becoming?

I was on a flight yesterday.  A simple flight from Dayton, Ohio to Atlanta, Georgia, that on a clear sunny day would take about 100 minutes gate to gate.  Unfortunately it wasn't a clear sunny day in Dayton; it was a cold snowy day.

We pushed back from the gate and taxied out to an area where the airport had the de-icing trucks.  There were three of us there, two commuter airliners and a business jet.  After about five to ten minutes of waiting they began to de-ice the aircraft with the first of two solutions.  About half way through they stopped and the pilots announced the airport had temporarily closed the runway so they could plow it.  He estimated it would be 15 to 20 minutes before they had reopened it, and told us we would stop the de-icing so we didn't have to redo it if the airport took to long to open.  So we waited.  It actually turned out to be closer to 50 minutes and then it took about 20 minutes to de-ice us.  We then taxied out and took off an hour and a half late.

During the whole flight a significant number of passengers complained to the flight attendants about the delays, missing connecting flights, the de-icing process and the nerve of Dayton airport closing just when we wanted to take off.  When we landed and were deplaning they continued to rale about how terrible the flight was, in many cases it was the worst flight they had ever been on.  In each case the individual created stress for themselves, their companions, and the flight attendants.  All of who had exactly the same ability to influence the outcome of the flight.

To all those people I have this to say.  If you think this flight was terrible you should consider what a bad flight really is.  On January 13, 1982, Air Florida, flight 90 departed Washington National (now Reagan National) enroute to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  This Boeing 737-200's flight lasted less than 1 minute before to struck the 14th street bridge and plunged into the Potomac River killing 78 people, including 4 motorist whose timing on the bridge was unfortunate.  Why?  Because they didn't follow proper procedures for operating in icing conditions.

Weather is a fact of life, we don't control it, we learn to live with it.  We were not inhumanly treated or forced to endure 4-6 hours on the ramp.  The rest rooms where not overflowing, the aircraft was kept warm and the pilots advised us of what was happening when they had something to tell us.  We were mildly inconvenienced.  Our airline did precisely as required by the FAA for our safety.  To some, you may have missed your connections and arrived later than you planned, but to the best of my knowledge you did arrive.

We could all benefit if, as a collective, we became just the littlest bit more stoic in our approach to life.  In an aircraft of some 90 passengers and crew it can't be just about you!

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Want Them to Get Off Here!

It was a dark fall night in North Carolina.  We were practicing a fairly standard airfield assault operation.  Since the Army was in charge it always worked exactly the same way.  Everyone took off out of Pope AFB, flew around for about 30 minutes and then went into a holding pattern about 8 miles north of the airfield.  The first plane in was flown by a guy named “Trash.”  He was supposed to be holding at 1500’ with the second aircraft holding 500’ above him and then eight more C-130’s stacked at 500’ intervals straight up.  The second crew was commanded by a guy named “Macho.”  It takes about 3 1/2  minutes for the plane to transit those last 8 miles as it starts at 180 knots and then slows to the 100(ish) knots at landing.
The plan was the first two MC-130 aircraft would land, offload a runway security team and then next eight C-130’s would bring in an assault force to go do their army thing.
At the time Trash was supposed to leave holding the crew was distracted and didn’t leave.  A minute later Macho departed on his way in.  Trash saw Macho leave and realized they were all screwed up so he pulled out and went screaming as fast as he could below Macho trying to get into the runway on time.
I had planned this mission so I knew exactly what was supposed to happen.  I was standing next to the Army Major General as we looked to the North for the infrared landing lights to come on.  We would generally turn on the lights about a minute out.  I kept switching from the night vision goggles to my watch when the lights didn’t come on as expected.
After about 30 seconds of nervousness, the lights flash on and then about 15 seconds later we see the airplane land.  I realize something is amiss because lights and landing are too close together and he is about 30 seconds late on landing (well outside the 15-second standard).  As I watch things get really crazy from that point on.
Our tactic called for the aircrew to open the back door and lower the ramp to horizontal as the aircraft slowed past 50 knots.  This keyed the Army Rangers to start the engines on their quad runners and motorcycles.  When the aircraft comes to a complete stop the ramp goes the rest of the way down, and off they go to their assigned positions.
As I am watching, all the sudden the back of the airplane explodes in a shower of sparks and people start coming out of the aircraft while it is still moving at 50 knots.  The motorcycles come out and tumble down the runway, the quad runner comes out and does a 360-degree turn, people are just tumbling off the aircraft as it slows.
Finally, the plane comes to a stop in front of the General and me; one solitary Ranger jumps off, looks around, and runs off into the darkness.  Looking back along the runway we can see people moving off the runway as #2 prepares to land.
The General was from Tennessee and had a deep rich drawl.  What he said next was, I think, the greatest understatement ever made directly to me.  He turned and said “Welllll, that was about the most impressive offload I’ve ever seen, but Major, I want them all to get off here!  At that, he points his finger at the end of the runway, as he turns and leaves.
The Hercules raises its ramp and taxis to its assigned parking space to await the time to fly back.  While there they check for damage and report the ramp is pretty torn up, but there doesn’t appear to be any fluids leaking.  I think they flew back to Pope but I’m a little fuzzy on that part.  There was about $50,000 in damage and we may have had to bring in the maintenance team before we flew it.
At debrief, Trash explained they thought they had another minute in holding when Macho left, the Navigators had miscalculated the departure time.  On landing the loadmaster was scrambling to make sure he was ready as soon as they stopped, but in his hast, he put the ramp all the way to the ground, and once the Rangers started moving he couldn’t pull it back up.  I was a planner then, and when this crew arrived they had told me they would take over since they were the first team and would have to check all my work.  They had changed the run in time and I could only smile inside.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Free Speech

Free speech is an interesting concept and a foundation of our nation.  It was considered so important that once the Constitution was ratified it was addressed in the first amendment.  
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This amendment talks about three distinct and separate concerns our founder’s had with the establishment of government.  All three came from their immediate experiences with English rule of the colonies.
“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or the exercise thereof;” Today this forms the basis for court arguments regarding the separation of church from state and the atheist’s quest for removal of all reference to God in anything involving the government.   I don’t buy that the intent was to separate government from acknowledgement of God.  I think clearly it was designed to prevent specific sanctioned religion leading to the establishment of a theocracy where other views could be subject to criminal punishment.  Many colonists fled Europe because of state persecution and this was a fresh concern, especially when some colonies like Massachusetts where Puritan and others, like Maryland, where Catholic.  To all the founders the concerns that one group would impose their views on others was a major concern as is shown in many of the provisions of the basic document.
“or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;”  While specific to limits of the federal government this has also placed limits on the authority of the states and local governments.  Coming from the Kings attempt to quiet rebellion and the abuses of power the colonial governments felt from the throne the representative’s wanted to make sure we could not easily stop dissent with the government.  It is essential to remember the importance of the written word then, and how news flowed from one area to the next.  The founding fathers clearly understood a free press served as an important check to the abuse of power.  As we transition from the traditional newspapers to the electronic medium the importance of a free and vibrant debate has not changed.
Finally, “... or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  This right to assemble and to seek correct of government wrongs was one of the critical mistakes made by King George when the colonists sought to resolve their differences with the taxation issued from the Crown.  The founding father’s knew if this was not allowed it would only be a matter of time before the citizens sought a new government for themselves.
This is a long preamble to get to the topic I would like to write about -- “Free Speech,” but I think it important to put into context what I believe I defended our nation for, and what is lacking in today’s electronic world.
When the 1st Amendment was ratified I am not sure our founders could envision all it would come to encompass, but I am confident they understood they were placing the responsibility of governance into the hands of the individual and not the state.  I doubt we spend enough time reflecting on the impact of that choice.  Each of us has the power to govern our speech, and we can either exercise that power or we become renegades and bullies who violate the rights of others.
Each of us, through the choices we make on what we watch, what we buy, and what we encourage are setting the acceptable standards for the speech around us.  For example, we are concerned that pornography is destroying our society!  Many individuals have made unsuccessful efforts to stop it, but as long as  people choose to buy the books, magazines, movies and what not, pornography will flourish.  The best we can do is not support that trade, encourage others and even condemn it, but we do not have the power to stop it if there are people who are willing to pay for it.  As long as it is profitable it remains.
The same holds true for most of the dialogue going on this week.  When rational people use similes and military rhetoric to make a point are they promoting violence?  Should that speech be censored?  My problem with that approach is simple, it leads to the whole dilemma of politically acceptable speech.  Is that really what we want?  Do we really believe if we control what is said the insane will live quietly among us and cease being dangerous?
If the leaders of the liberal movement are willing to tolerate the language of their side without direct condemnation, and the leaders of the conservative movement are willing to tolerate the language of their side then there will be, at best, a limited cease fire but it will all start again as soon as the emotions of this past week are replaced by the zeal of the next campaign.
We will never silence all bullies, we will not quell vulgarity, and we should not stop impassioned debate, but we can  and should expect of our government leadership simple civil discourse.  If we elect leaders whose campaign is built on attacking the opponents personal character should we be surprised when as the President, Speaker, Senator, Governor, or Mayor he or she continues?  We should expect them to be critical of those who do not respect this and IF there is to be positive change we the people cannot reward those who believe the current bounds of our language are too confining, or personal attacks are more effective.  We should not support those who feel they must shock us on a daily basis with increasingly outlandish behavior and language. 
The ball is in our court, are we capable, as our founders believed, of governing our speech, or will this freedom soon be lost because those who believe in government solutions were able to wrest it from us when words lost their meanings, and when profanity and death threats on Twitter became acceptable?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Knee Jerk Reactions

It is interesting how a test for your reflexes has come to describe the human condition where you must take action, any action, when something happens.  Wouldn’t this reaction be better described as a fight or flight reflex?  
This past weekend a madman opened fire on a group of innocent people assembled to bring our government closer to the people.  By all measures this killer acted without reason and with malice.  The aftermath of this senseless and brutal act can only be described as a National Knee Jerk.
People with more technology than common sense, and Media types with personal agendas immediately rushed to judgement, implying motivation and blame where none existed, or at least the motivation they claimed didn’t.  The Sheriff, an elected official, immediately pulled out the democratic talking points and used them to fan the flames of ideologue controversy.  The media, in what appeared to be a focused effort to out do each other in the compassion category ran story after story over vitriolic speech and the consequences of it.
I have long believed the personal attacks and demeaning approach to talking about the opposition’s point of view we see as politician after politician fights for sound bite time is contra-productive. But it is nowhere near so bad that rational people lose contact with reality and rush out to murder the first politician they find.  What is disturbing is that so many young people think it perfectly acceptable to transmit hateful speech and to mimic the name calling they see all around them.  We routinely see on the internet where people unwilling to use there own names will call others vile and filthy things.  Typical bullying by cowards.
Now, as just a bit of sanity seems to be settling into the discussion we have the next round of knee jerk reactions.  We must legislate the possibility of this ever happening again!   Some want to enact security bubbles around the Judges and Congress to prevent some assassin from shooting them.  Don’t we already have laws making this a crime?  How affective were those laws?  If we create a law that someone with a gun can’t get closer than 1,000 ft to a representative will we have to double, triple or quadruple the number of police to search everyone at 999 feet?  What happens if we have a sniper at 1,500 ft do we add a law for that?  Won’t that do more to separate us from our government than it will to stop political assassinations?  Maybe we should require each senator have an android or an avatar to represent them in public.  That would seem a whole lot more affective, but at the end of the day it creates and us and them separation.  Don’t we really want them to be us?
The final knee jerk is the addition of “vitriolic speech” to the politically correct lexicon.  From now on anytime someone doesn’t like what you have to say they will pull this out, claiming you are poisoning the dialogue and will be responsible for all the bad things the next nut-job does.  Media pundits and commentators are problematic, this should make the discussion of first amendment rights a lively debate over the coming decade.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rattling the House

As the Osprey passes overhead
The house rattles in reply
A technological wonder that
I wonder how it flies.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

About This Time of Year

About this time of year I am reminded of my mortality and the capricious nature of life.  In June of 1980, I returned to the United States from Japan.  Leaving the 1st Special Operations Squadron had been a tough call, the commander had asked me to be the senior evaluator for my specialty, and it would have been a great job.  But it was time, we had just returned from the failed mission to rescue American’s held captive in Iran.  I was burned out, and my wife wanted to bring our daughter home so the grandparents could see her.  She was also expecting our second child and we wanted him to be born in the States.
My good friend Greg stayed behind and took the job I turned down.  Over the next six months the unit was extremely busy training for a possible return to Iran as well as executing a very short notice unit relocation from Kadena AB, Japan to Clark AB in the Philippines.  The unit moved over the 1980 Christmas holiday lull.
When they arrived at Clark, and before the dust had settled, the unit was thrown into a major special operations exercise called SPECWAREX.  The exercise was intended to bring special forces from the US, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines together to train.
The crews were pulling 12 to 14 hour days as they flew both day and night missions into and out of Cubi Point Naval Air Station.  Among the mission profiles was a low level flight involving over water segments.  The unit was flying what we called hard crews.  For the entire exercise the same crew members flew together as a team.
As the senior Navigator Greg was teamed up with a new arrival to the squadron.  Someone who would have had only a hundred hours or so in the aircraft.  His pilots were experienced and so was the rest of the aircrew.
On February 25th the crew of aircraft 64-0564 took off from Cubi Point at 0428 local time flew a short segment and landed back at Cubi at 0506  for a tactical onload of personnel.  They departed at 0508 on what was supposed to be a simulated tactical departure.  All indications were the mission was going exactly as planned.  At about 0523, local fishermen Northwest of Cubi Point reported seeing an aircraft impact the water and explode.  Twenty three people were killed, but remarkably Jeff, the electronic warfare officer, survived.
The truly amazing fact was that his crew position is located in the forward part of the cargo compartment.  The radio operator sitting right next to him was killed.  The passengers sitting right next to him were also killed.  Jeff was ejected from the aircraft as it broke apart and sank, but not only was he ejected so was a life raft which he remembers climbing into before he passed out.
The accident investigation sited crew fatigue and perhaps a failure of the terrain following radar system for the accident.  At the time we were putting duct tape over all the warning lights so we could use our night vision goggles.  My friend Greg died in that crash, and but for a single choice made eight months earlier it would have been me in the seat with that new guy.
I am reminded “Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it”  Matthew 10:29.  Jeff survived and continued his career and I am convinced from that accident each of us has a destiny.  We can never know the time or the place of our death, but must make the most of all that is given us.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

These United States

In the summer of 1776 representatives from the 13 English colonies assembled to address the grievances of the land holders against a King increasingly burdened by debt and seeking to wring whatever profit he could from the colonies.  This document was to have far reaching consequences for both England, the colonies and eventually the entire world.  In today’s political climate I think it worth reviewing a couple of central theme’s found in the Declaration of Independence.
 “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. -- Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.”

The declaration cites about 27 grievances to document and rationalize this course of action.  What I would like to consider is the relevance of this document to today’ America; as our government becomes increasingly disconnected from an alarmingly polarized population.
In the 18th century the European political world was just coming to grips with the realization that Monarchies were not divinely inspired and sanctioned.  The English nobility had, with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, begun the regulation of the English monarchy to insure at least the nobilities right be outlined.  Now the one constant with change is those most affected were not too keen about new ideas.  The monarchies were not eager to give up their autonomy, power (and associated weatlth) so the change came fairly gradually and was unique to each affected monarch.  In our case, the Congress chose the words “All men are created equal” to reflect their belief the monarch was not commissioned by a divine being but rather received his authority by those he ruled.  So the first theme in the Declaration is that a Monarch’s powers are limited and held for the benefit of the governed.  I find it hard to translate this into a universal  statement that all men are born to be equal.  What has made the United States different from the other great nations is our class structure has historically been based on individual accomplishment, individual risk and reward, and an individuals desire to succeed.
It is unfashionable today to discuss the behavior of the founding fathers of the great families of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but none of these originals came from great wealth, none came from privilege.  What they accomplished was based on their visions and their drive.  At the time the government’s role was much more limited and with the power of wealth the vices of the individuals would lead to the great men bending whatever laws stood in their way.  In dealing with these abuses the idea it was role of the government to regulate big business was born.  It has been  rather natural on the part of some to extend this into ever more control of our lives.
I think you can see this in the Cornelius Vanderbilt story, where a young man drops out of school to work on his father’s ferry.   From that humble start he built a transportation empire that was estimated at $100 million at the time of his death.  Interestingly Vanderbilt was involved in breaking a government sponsored steamboat and ferry business monopoly granted by the NY legislature for a politically influential patrician.

How about Andrew Carnegie, who came to America with his parents and went on found U.S. Steel?  He rose from humble beginnings as a worker in a bobbin factory to sell his share of U.S. Steel for $480 million in 1901.
Of course there are some of the great families whose fortune were made not on innovation and industry but on the speculation of stock with perhaps a little bootlegging thrown in.
These type of stories abound and are, supposedly what makes America great.  Today we have only to look at the software and internet to see the next generation of million and billionaires.
My question is, what happens to America when our government sets out to reward sloth, mediocrity and just being?  When the government says to those who’ve succeeded, your success must pay for the care and feeding of those who’ve made no effort.  When the government says to its people all wealth is ours and we will decide how it should be spent? 
Do you come to this statement?
... The history of the present administration is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A thought -- When Christmas Decorations Come Down

When I was very young Christmas was a magical time of year.  As I grew older it seemed to lose something.  Perhaps this is just a normal process as we age and begin to believe we know everything.  When, as parents, we see Christmas anew through the eyes of our children some of the magic returns.  As our children grew I refused to let that magic disappear as it did when I was younger.

I've given a lot of thought about why Christmas seems to take forever to arrive for a child, yet for adults it seems like only yesterday when it was last Christmas.  I think the secret lies in the time-space continuum.  If you think about it, for a three year old the next christmas is 1/3 of his or her lifetime away.  More accurately it is probably one half of her remembrance away.  One half or one-third of a lifetime is a very very long time.  No wonder Christmas takes forever to come.  Now for me Christmas is 1/60th of a lifetime away.  Heck, you can hardly even see 1/60th of something.  It is almost Christmas already!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Meeting Our Needs

In 1943 Abraham Maslow, a psychologist studying developmental psychology, first proposed in a paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” that all people had and innate curiosity and functioned based on how their physical, psychological and social needs were being met.  This has been referred to as his hierarchy of needs, and is often portrayed as a pyramid.  Similar in approach to the food pyramid.
His theory states that before all else physiological needs must be met.  These are the basic requirements for food, water, shelter.  If a human being must spend his days worrying about this, there is little room in his or her life to worry about anything else.  Also in this area was consideration of the sexual instinct for reproduction and continuation of the species.  Only once these basic needs are reasonably satisfied will humans begin to consider other things like safety.
Within the safety level are considerations like personal security, financial stability, health and concerns about safety nets to protect against loss of these areas.  Again only after the individual feels comfortable that these needs are being met will they consider the needs of the next higher level, love and belonging.
If you look at the homeless in our cities I think you find a validation of this hypothesis.  They move from shelter to food, to shelter, begging to support their basis survival needs, which may involve support of their additions or quieting of their inner demons.
Love and belonging, in Maslow’s theory speaks to the needs for friendship, intimacy and family.  Todays world of Facebook seems to reflect that need for social intercourse and would argue that the lower level needs are principally being fulfilled.  Since Facebook requires a certain degree of technology I find that a reasonable assumption.
Once the needs for love and belonging are met, the theory suggests a human need for respect both from self and from others.  The need for esteem or the lack of it is often cited as a factor in rampage or acts of violence like school shootings.
Finally man can only reach self-actualization and as the Army would say “be all you can be” if you have self esteem and accept that others have a degree of respect for you too.
In the years since Maslow first proposed his hierarchy it has fallen out of favor as a theory.  Several noted researchers have questioned where the sexual instinct falls and whether there is any hierarchical relationship at all.  They would suggest the homeless person is certainly capable of self-actualization while his basic survival needs are unfulfilled.  Another and I believe more fundamentally correct criticism is Maslow’s theory is specific to the the US society and other societies may have cultural variances that significantly alter the pyramidal structure.  For example, if there was an island with abundant food and shelter and society formed an Eden like society where guilt over multiple coupling was not present would there be sexual competition?
Educational and social researcher criticisms aside, I think the hierarchy is a good starting point to talk about what is happening in our political world and the society it is intended to govern.  What we see is as a people when the basic concerns for our ability to meet the basic conditions of financial security, or even greater needs for shelter and subsistence large groups of people give away those feel good things like social welfare and universal health care, and turn towards the path that appears to offer hope for change.  
In 2008 the Democrat’s swept into complete control of two-thirds of the federal government.  They promised change, they promised openness, they promised universal health care, and lower energy costs.  Have they delivered on any of these feel good issues?  They have not, but of course the blame lies with the minority party.  According to them what we really need is a one party system so they can legislate.  
Now, in 2010, a new party has swept into the Congress with a promise to affect change.  The question that lies before us is the same as 2008, will they learn to govern, or will they just blame the other side?
I think there has got to come a time when even the most liberal among us will lose faith in the government to meet their expectations.  When that happens there will be a significant shift in the power of the government.  No longer will bigger be better.  Unfortunately all those who’ve argued for bigger government and accepted the growth will have to figure out what they will give away to get a more manageable set of rulers.

Monday, January 3, 2011

What if?

... We put aside our differences and seek our commonality?
... We speak politely to those we dislike?
... We listen to those with who we disagree?
... We hold ourselves to a standard higher than we expect of others?
... We view sports stars as gifted athletes and not role models?
... We ignore the arrogance and pettiness in others?
... We don't expect everyone to be just like us?
... We hold our elected officials responsible for their actions?

What if we did these things, would the world be a better place or would us being better humans be sufficient?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Big 10 Football

Maybe the Big 10 Conference shouldn't plan on playing football on the 1st anymore.  As Dick Enberg would say;  "O" for Five... Oh my!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year?

As this new year begins it brings with it the eternal optimism of change.  A new Congress is about to be sworn in, the Executive and Legislature will now be controlled by different parties representing opposing agendas.  What will this mean?  Will we see the same ugliness and arrogance we saw with the last Congress or will we see people willing to give and take?
An interesting idea is that give and take.   As I write it down it sounds like a wonderful way to govern, but as I think about it; I am not so sure.  If the past Congresses have shown us anything; the going-in principle for every politician is what is in it for me, and my district?  Therefore, compromise is generally achieved by buying off the politician with some sweetheart deal or pork for his or her district.  Can we afford to continue the same old business as usual approach as our national debt approaches the current ceiling of $14, 300,000,000,000.00?  Today it sits at 13,871,130,353,817.40 so some time in the next three months we are either going to have to shut down the government, or increase the debt ceiling.
What kind of give and take will go into the debate on that subject?  I think a couple of tactics should be self-evident with the Democrats.  First they will play the fear card and that will be followed by the race card.  We can expect frequent and virulent claims that Republicans and the Tea Party are out to end medicare and social security and will do it by closing down the government.  
Lets think about the fear first.  When Mr. Gingrich was speaker of the House they Republicans did allow the government to shut down and it cost them the next election.  I don’t think they will make the same mistake again but if they did what would happen?  Would they shut down the whole government?  No, I don’t think that is possible.  For example, can they stop the military?  I suppose they could, but would that happen?  Would we strand all the overseas troops, stop our stateside defense, empty out the missile silos, direct all the ships at sea to return to port, and stop monitoring all the satellites?  So with some restrictions the Department of Defense would say open.  Would they close the Department of Homeland Security?  Again, not very likely.  Departments of State and Treasury?  No.  Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, Transportation, Veterans Affairs and Attorney General?  Maybe some or all are potential candidates for unpaid vacations (except for subsets deemed as vital to keeping the government running).  Interestingly Social Security and other entitlement programs are “non-discretionary” meaning the executive branch does not have control over disbursements.  Therefore, they would probably not be stopped, although the mechanisms to process them could be.  This would give the liberals a field day, so again I don’t think that is a card that will be played as much as the newly elected might think it should.  
The question over what do we do about our non-discretionary spending in the long term is really a critical one I am afraid this congress, like past ones, won’t address with any real approach.  As more people retire that percentage of the federal budget can only go in one direction, unless our legislatures are willing to make the hard choices.  With the lobbying efforts of AARP and others, will they have the backbone to stand up and make those choices?  I for one think not.
Now about race?  Since both parties seem to be keeping the same old tired leadership in place, and the networks have the same old taking heads ranting on... I would expect to see the same old “us and them” attacks based only on the thinnest of pretext.  Too bad we can’t seem to move beyond the realization that we are all different, with different goals and agendas but we are all human with the same ultimate needs.  What is the legitimate role of the government in allowing for our individuality versus the collective good?  If we continue to make the debate about race I don’t think we will never move towards the greater discussion of the individual rights versus the common good and who gets to set them.  Isn’t that the continuing issue before the Supreme Court on almost every case?
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