Sunday, July 29, 2012

Golf and Youth

A beautiful day, one of the nice things about not having a scheduled tee time is you show up and they fit you in. This might be bad at a really busy course, but the military one closest to me isn't that busy on a hot summer day. I ended up playing with two young airman, crew chiefs on the AC-130U, who were better than me, hitting from the tips. But we had a nice afternoon, and I had a chance to ask what problems they where going through with their jobs. I wonder how often the Commanders are talking with the young troops, because this single snapshot let me know they are concerned with how there are too many inexperienced young troops. These Senior Airman are frustrated because we have unbalanced the force, and because of it their options are limited.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Departing Controlled Flight

The French equivalent of our National Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the crash of Air France flight 447, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Paris France the night of 31 May to 1 June, 2009.  In that report the Bureau  d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la sécurité de l’aviation civile, found the pilots, although qualified, did not follow the correct procedures and in their mishandling of a simple problem, caused by a design fault, stalled the aircraft, departed controlled flight, and fell from 37,000 feet into the ocean, killing all on board.
There are days I feel like what those pilots must have experienced.  The panic of knowing things are wrong, just not knowing what to do about it, or how to deal with the swirling vortex that is life.  In those times I remember the words of an instructor, “don’t panic - the airplane wants to fly, so controls to neutral, assess the problem and make gentle inputs to return the aircraft to straight and level.”  Isn’t that good advice for life too?  

Friday, July 20, 2012


Another senseless shooting rampage by a crazy young man, and the media, the politicians and all the social commentators have opinions on why, who and how to fix the problem.  I see the mayor of NYC has said we need to address gun control, the talking heads of ABC immediately identify a member of the Tea Party as the possible shooter because he has the same name, and those who have little more to do than to fill the internet with hate immediately descend on the innocent who are caught up through circumstances they can not control.
I don’t own a gun, but do believe in an individuals right to do so; the issue with this gun related tragedy is not more government control.  Would this shooting have been lessened with more restriction and control?  I doubt it, and I doubt anyone can prove it would have been, but still some will demand more regulation, because that is always the answer to a tragedy.  Bigger government, with more regulations, must be able to stop tragedy!  One of the great qualities of the American psyche is we think we can solve every problem we face.  This is a good thing, but not always the right thing.
Others will claim the new violence of first person shooter - computer games leads to this kind of outcome, and all those games need to be banned.  Again, I doubt anyone will have convincing evidence, and some researcher will now have new justification for a federal grant to study the problem.
As a society we have come to close down our mental institutions, believing that mainlining those with mental problems is a more human and better way of dealing with them.  At the same time we have expanded our prison systems to deal with those who cannot follow the laws of the land.  So in this new paradigm those with mental problems have very little hope of anything other than long term incarceration, until some sympathetic group or judge sets them loose back into society, where they are likely to cause more damage.
I wish I had an answer on what we should do, but I don’t.  We can’t keep our society safe from crazy people and we don’t seem to have a good way to deal with them before they hurt us, or heal them after they are captured.  I pray for the victims of this tragedy and hope they can find peace and comfort in the community. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


During the Civil War, while in bivouac, General Daniel Butterfield, felt the bugle call for Extinguish Lights was too formal, and working with his bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, came up with what we know today as Taps.

In the evening, when the air is still, I hear the call played through the public address system from Hurlburt Field.  There is something reassuring and calming as it reminds me it is time to extinguish the lights of my home.  To rest and prepare for the coming day.

John Wayne tells the story far better than I.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

You Know You're in Trouble When...

I watched the Boston Red Sox this weekend at Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida.  We saw two of the three games between the Sox and the Rays, and on Sunday Josh Beckett pitched.  If there is a slower, drag your ass to work, pitcher I don’t know where you would find him.  He works at glacial speed, wait a minute I take that back, glaciers are retreating faster than Beckett.  You know it’s bad when the Boston fans start booing him for taking too long to throw the ball.
Meanwhile back home, Billy Hamilton of the Pensacola Blue Wahoo’s, a double­-A farm team for the Cincinnati Reds, runs the bases in 13.8 seconds for an inside the park home run.  He has 109 stolen bases in 87 games this year, and his home run would have been faster but he stopped to sign autographs on the jog from third.  If Hamilton were to face Beckett he could score about 10 runs between pitches.
We had to make a choice on Monday before the drive home.  We could go to the Dali museum or the Apple store to have my wife’s laptop checked out.  I chose poorly and we went to the Apple store.  I knew I was in trouble when we walked in and the technician looked at the computer and asked if we wanted a few moments alone before it was put out of its misery.  Walking into the International Plaza in Tampa the sky was overcast, walking out it opened up to give me a second soaking just to rub in the first one from Apple.  I had to remind myself that Apple Computers don’t grow on trees.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Just words

I think.
Therefore, I am
I am a rational being
As a rational being I make choices
One choice is to think!
I think?

Saturday, July 7, 2012


This evening is warm and quiet; the labors of the day have worn me out.  I sit here watching letters leave my fingers and find their way to the white screen in front, as if there is a story in my hands and it needs to escape.
When I was a boy I was fascinated by so many things, the world was there before me and all I had to do was reach out and take hold of a passing adventure.  My father did not seem to share this fascination; he saw life only as a chore that was without end, or without promise.  I have always felt sorry for that, but it did not alter how I chose to look at the world, and my role in it.
How different this world has become from what I had when I was young.  Today parents have to protect their children to a far greater degree than my parents ever thought about.  For example, when I was 14 they gave me a .22 caliber rifle, and trusted that I would not misuse it.  Of course back then Boy Scouts had taught us about gun safety and how to properly handle firearms.  I had taken another class to get a hunting permit so I could go with my uncle as he hunted for deer; the rifle was given as a gift to sharpen my skills.  I wonder if they ever knew I would come home from school and head off into the woods near my home to practice shooting at an abandoned car?  Can you imagine the uproar that would happen today if a 14 year old was found wandering around with a rifle?  I went hunting with my uncle two years and never shot a thing, but to this day I have an appreciation for those who love to hunt.  To be out, in the mountains, watching the sun as it crosses the sky, maintaining your silence as the does lead a buck your way.
Music was changing during these years.  It was moving from the orchestration of a Big Band to small groups playing amplified guitars.  There was a dramatic shift from what was to what is.  I can remember my parents loved the Big Band singers and country music.  I came to appreciate that music, but it has never been as special as the groups we heard.  I wonder if all of us can trace back to what our favorite songs were?  With my fascination of the military I can remember clearly listening to Johnny Horton as he sang, “Sink the Bismarck” and “Battle of New Orleans.”  I was attending Violet Avenue Elementary School at the time and still remember running around the play ground during recess – singing for all I was worth, “Hit the decks a running boys, and spin those guns around, for when we find the Bismarck we’ve got to cut ‘er down.”  There is one phrase in this song that has never made a lick of sense to me.  Horton sings “on her decks were guns as big as steers and shells as big as trees.”  The mental image of these words can be quite disturbing, with giant steers shitting out trees.  Maybe he just couldn’t get anything to rime with trees?
I wonder what musical memories today’s kids will form to recall fondly in their future?  I’m having a hard time seeing any songs from 50 cent, or Justin Bieber as the examples that will be remembered 50 years later.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Is it Ironic?

Is it ironic when an inconsiderate driver is cut off and forced to swerve to avoid a collision?
How about when you take time to center a picture in just the right place on the wall and while you are hammering in the hanger you end up with a hole?
How ironic when a constant complainer gets put in charge of the returns department at Wal-Mart?
Am I the only one who sees the irony of someone complaining about a poster critical of the current president, when only 4 years earlier they were posting the same poster critical of the last one?
At work there is irony at almost every turn, as the boss sends out directions to first go in this direction and then that direction and then back to the first direction, and then gets mad because we don’t seem to be making as much progress as we should.
I found it ironic that 100% of the talking heads got it wrong on how the SCOTUS would rule on the ACA.  I don’t recall one talking head saying it would be upheld because of Congresses power to tax.
I think it ironic that this health plan is so good that Congress took pains to exclude themselves and the President from having to comply with it.
It seems pretty ironic that the ACA copies much of what Romney did in Massachusetts, and now he has to find fault with it.
There are a couple of other truly ironic things that I probably won’t bother to point out just of limit the number of people I offend.  Isn’t that ironic?

Monday, July 2, 2012

We, as a Nation, Are Better Than That.

How many times I’ve heard that expression?  It usually comes in the context of why we must implement some new social reform, or change some existing shortfall some of us Americans think a disgrace.   Perhaps it is the cynic in me but I am sorry, we as a Nation are not better than that!
There is a simple truth in any team endeavor; the team is only as good as its weakest link.  It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about the neighborhood tidily-winks team, or the U.S. Congress, if we cannot work together we can achieve nothing.
In our society we started out with a nation founded by a collective group of men with essentially a common background, almost exclusively Protestant, and all with the ambition to success despite the uncertainty of their endeavor.  In the following two centuries we have grown to fill our space, we have become diverse, we have recognized that discrimination is wrong, we have created a class of people who know nothing more than Government largess, and how to play the welfare system, we have eliminated most of our skilled labor workforce.
In talking about education, everyone should have access to college because right now not everyone can afford to go and as a Nation we are better than that!  If everyone goes to college what kind of jobs will be available after they get out?  If everyone goes to college will it mean my car mechanic will have a BA in English Lit, or my Grocer a degree in Political Science?  Will college prepare these men and woman to lead useful and necessary roles in our society or will it only create a huge mountain of debt they can never pay off?  If everyone has a bachelor’s degree won’t it become worthless and just keep some individuals from finding the right path for their life?
No one should ever have to worry about health care, because we as a Nation are better than that!  While universal health care is a wonderfully altruistic goal, the simple question is how do we change the structure to accomplish it?  Do we pay for all the cost through some central government run program where since it is “other peoples money” there is no real concern with cost inflation, and the AMA continues to limit the number of doctors we create, or do we find a different way to organize the healthcare system so that it is affordable?  I don’t have a good answer, but I am pretty sure we as a Nation are not good enough, in the near term, to make healthcare affordable, so are we really better than that?
As I look at us as a Nation, we have decided we are better than one where everyone strives to learn the language so they can fit in, we are better than one where parents hold the children responsible for behavior, or where individuals hold themselves to a higher standard than they expect of others.   We have decided that if we can scam the system we should, if we can cut someone off while driving it’s okay, if we can steal a few cents from the waitress, or cheat on our taxes it’s fine… So at the end of the day I am not sure how anyone can say, “we as a Nation are better than that!”

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Simple Math

In conversation with a bright young college student, the question of improving education came up.  She argued for better teacher pay to improve education.  She provided the example of Finland as being much better.  This was a simple conversation, but it seems perfectly in tune with the standard mantra we have heard for what seems like forever.  If the teachers were paid more, there would be more teachers and they would be of higher quality.   Granted it did not explore all the aspects of what it would take to improve America’s education system but it got me to wondering is there a direct correlation between teacher compensation and student performance?  Do teachers receiving higher pay actually produce better performing students?
This is a simple and gross comparison that does not account for how salaries compare regionally or within the state.  It also comes from a limited set of resources; none are a primary.  I have purposely omitted the District of Columbia, believing it a unique situation.  I also have not bothered to compare the average teacher salary to the state salary averages to consider whether they fall above or below the median.
Average Salary[1]
$ 40,347
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia
So, what do I determine from this simple table?  Of the 10 states with the top paid teachers, only half of them are actually in the top 10 from a performance standpoint, and three of the remaining five are actually in the bottom half of the performance list.  So I am hard pressed to understand how teacher salary has a direct link to how well the school system performs.
What this simple math doesn’t touch are the variables that are never addressed in the debates about how to improve education.  For example it doesn’t speak to what is the right ratio in per student expense between teacher compensation and other costs for things like music, art, and athletics.  It doesn’t attempt to determine how active parental involvement is critical to academic performance, or how expectation management plays into student performance.  Nor does it go into the impacts of a diverse student population (either for the better, or not).
My conclusion from this exercise is the union led arguments that better pay equals better education just doesn’t hold up even at the simple math level.   If pay were the principle incentive to become a teacher we would have no one teaching today.  If pay were made the #1 priority for improvement would we have better teachers tomorrow?  I believe with the diversity of issues that must go into creating a better educational system and the diversity of subject expert’s more than willing to tell everyone how to fix the problems it is unlikely we can make much headway if this continues as a national debate.
Postscript:  I came across this after I wrote the blog:  An interesting article, with the bottom line, get the best teachers, get the most out of the teachers, and deal with students who are lagging behind early. The Finland Model

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