Sunday, May 31, 2015

Understanding Power

There is a saying “Power tends to corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton).  It is amazing how quickly we are willing allow ourselves to inch our government towards absolute power in the name of safety from terrorists.
We look to our politicians to govern and in that role we overlook their flaws and hypocrisies if they but promise to do things we like.  We condemn corporations and bemoan the fact they are protected by the law just as individuals are, but we empower the government to do things we would never allow from a company – all in the name of protection.
Where is the concern and outrage over the government’s collection of vast quantities of cell phone calls?  Oh right, they are just doing that to find the terrorists so they can be stopped before something bad happens.  The ordinary man or woman has nothing to fear, unless they happen to disagree with the administration.
What we know for certain is that information can be gained by anyone with the time, talent, desire or funding to seek it, and it can be used for whatever purpose the owner chooses.
If, as we see, the current politicians want to remain in power what better way than to know what everyone is talking about so you can shape your message.  I wonder, is that why NSA spying has the support of both major parties?

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Few Thoughts on Memorial Day

One of the unique aspects of the U.S. and its Armed Forces is the relationship. Historically, the American military has been a reflection of the society, with a small professional corps and the number of citizen-soldiers growing or declining based on need.  With the advent of the cold war we moved from this to a large standing force, ready to defend the nation and serve as a tool of national power.  What we are seeing today is the cost of that construct becoming unsupportable as we are engaged in conflict so complex that the simple application of military force is ineffective.

As a society, we have prided ourselves on the fact that an individual with determination, and talent, can rise from poverty to greatness unconstrained by a social class.  Here too the military reflects that belief.  While the majority of Generals now come from the established academies, just as in society they come from the Ivy League colleges, there is room for the exceptional to rise up and join them.  We pride ourselves on these “everyman” success stories, where a young high school graduate joins the service as a private, seaman, or airman, and rises to the rank of General through hard work and excellence in all he or she does.

So we come now to Memorial Day where we remember the sacrifice of those who, in the words of Abraham Lincoln “gave the last full measure of devotion” in the defense of a vision founded in the belief that America was special and worth preserving.  Originally known as Decoration Day, a time to mark the graves of Civil War soldiers, sailors and marines it has evolved, just as the nation has.  It was fixed as the last Monday in May by the Congress in 1968 in the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, and became a federal holiday.

It seems fitting on this day to reflect on the words of President Lincoln; I believe as true now as when he first spoke them.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Our young men and woman are still there as the human capital of this nation, we send them to distant lands to fulfill the promises of our government and if necessary to offer as payment of that promise their lives.  It is up to us, the living, to remember those sacrifices and hold our leaders and ourselves accountable for them.

In his speech to the Sorbonne in 1910, Theodore Roosevelt spoke of “Citizenship in a Republic.”  From that speech comes a favored quote that talks of the man in the arena who strives valiantly, who may come up short, but in the end knows either great triumph or if he fails, he fails while daring greatly.  What is not often cited is, I believe, even more important.

“But if a man’s efficiency is not guided and regulated by a moral sense, then the more efficient he is the worse he is, the more dangerous to the body politic. Courage, intellect, all the masterful qualities, serve but to make a man more evil if they are merely used for that man’s own advancement, with brutal indifference to the rights of others.”

Those men and women who have sacrificed themselves so others may survive; or who have gone where this nation has sent them and done all it has asked of them have given this nation its future.  It is up to us to remember them and strive to repay the debt. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

10 Rules for Flying

Rule 1:  Unless you are the Pilot, First Officer, or other flight crew and are being paid to do it – Don’t fly.
Rule 2:  If you absolutely have to travel, and don’t meet the qualifications noted in Rule 1, consider all alternatives first; like walking, driving, sailing, or sending someone else.
Rule 3:  If you have complied with Rule 2, fail the qualifications of Rule 1, and still want to fly consider psychiatric counseling
Rule 4:  If after Rule 2 and Rule 3 you still want to fly carry on your person everything you need to survive for a week
Rule 5:  Take out extra life insurance at the counter.  What’s that you say, they don’t offer flight life insurance anymore?  That should tell you why Rule 1 is so important.
Rule 6:  Always sit in the back, that way you will be the last one to crash, and you are near the toilets.  On the down side, this can be a problem on long, or long-delayed flights so bring air freshener.
Rule 7: Bring earplugs and a clean pacifier or two
Rule 9: Lose as much weight as possible to fit in the new seats
Rule 10:  Reconsider Rule 1.

Friday, May 15, 2015



I am struck by the contrast between us.  And by us I mean our grandparents and us.  I think what spurred this was two simple pictures shown nearly side-by-side.  One of General Benjamin O. Davis, USAF and the other of President Barack H. Obama, both men reached the pinnacle of their profession, but reflect such diametrically opposite lives and approach to life.

General Davis fought for equality in a time when this nation refused to accept even the possibility.  Following in his father’s footsteps he sought a military career.  Towards that end he was appointed to West Point, NY in 1932 where he spent his four years being shunned by the entire Corp.  I cannot begin to imagine the strength of character, the courage of conviction and the fortitude it took to complete those years and graduate.  And what did he graduate into?  A service that thought the Negro was a second-class soldier, although from the time of the civil war they had proven their abilities.  He trained and led a segregated force, after only two years in the field he was assigned to Tuskegee, Alabama as the Professor of Military Science, pushing him into what most would consider a dead end job, but war was on the horizon.

General Davis saw a different future for himself and his race.  And he set about to create it.  As far as I can tell he didn’t seek favors, rationalize his plight or condemn the society. He set out to prove to the leadership of the Army and the Department of War they were wrong.  In the end he proved to even the politicians they were wrong and ultimately to the nation they were wrong.

He did this through strength of character and a demand for excellence; both within himself and from those he led.  We have all heard of the Tuskegee Airman, well I wonder what they would have been like if someone other than General Davis had led them?

On July 26, 1948, President Truman signed executive order 9981, desegregating the Department of Defense.  Of course this did not instantaneously end discrimination and for those bases in the South the Black airman could not sit at the same lunch counters off base as the Whites.  I was not there, but I would assume the Tuskegee Airman faced both overt and subtle racism even on base.  But General Davis continued his career of leadership and excellence.  Ultimately retiring in 1970 as a Lieutenant General.  He was promoted to full General in 1998.

Everything I’ve ever read about General Davis reflects his deep love of country, despite its flaws, and the desire to lead his airman into equality where they are judged not by the color of their skin but by the quality of their work.  I would like to think General Davis would recognize we have made great strides, but I wonder if he would be saddened by how far we’ve yet to come?

Then we come to this generation where the civil rights act of 1964 forced society to move begrudgingly towards equality, and where colleges are mandated to set two standards for acceptance.  Where, in an effort to force opportunity and overcome the perception of social advantage less is expected of the minorities, and where terms like “white privilege” and “racist” are thrown around whenever someone points out the disparity. Politicians and academic elites who think nothing of condemning the entire nation of today for the sins of our founders.

We, as a whole, now complain, bicker and point fingers.  We belittle those who disagree with us and demand that they bend to what we say is right, and if we don’t we bring down the wrath of all we control.  We condemn those we disagree with by any means possible and find every petty annoyance as the most tragic of sins.

The contrast is stark and I am saddened we have become who we are.  I hope someday we will move to the ideals General Davis inspired.
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