Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Fruits of Dependency

Don't tell my wife I've written this because it will make her unnecessarily self-conscious about her "situation." You see, over the years, she has learned to become quite dependent on me. She needs me, and I don't want to burden her with the thought of it now. There's no point in stirring the pot and making her self-conscious.

The story begins in 1980 when I found her as a shiftless wandering waif on the campus of the University of Missouri where we were both students. We met one day when I rushed in to her rescue as she brooded over a college algebra book. I've always been a humanitarian. Well, those few minutes of assistance turned into a lifetime of dependency for her. She spent the next two years stalking me relentlessly until she broke me down. Not able to take it any more, I finally asked her to marry me, and so at the ripe old age of 19, she had found and married the man of her dreams.

After about a year of marriage, I saved her from the dreary routine that so many college students follow when they start and finish their college educations at one institution. She started at Missouri, but since I was ahead of her in school, I let her put off finishing her schooling once I graduated so she could follow me to my next duty station (I was a newly commissioned Marine officer) in Quantico, Virginia. That was good for her because it allowed her to get up bright and early in the morning to drive me to work and to finish what she was doing during the day in time to pick me up in the evening.

Six months later, I was transferred to Pensacola, Florida for flight training. It was in Pensacola that I did two important things for her: (1) I let her restart her education at the University of West Florida (without finishing there), and (2) I let her become the mother of my first son, Rob.

When Rob was about a month old, I let her (and Rob) accompany me to my next duty station at the New River Marine Corps Air Station in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Once there, I let her get busy getting acquainted with Rob and I also let her enroll in school again at Golden Gate University where I went ahead and let her finish her bachelors degree. She had put it off long enough.

I was sent on a number of deployments, so since she was starting to catch on to all of this child-rearing stuff, I decided to let her put those skills to work and take care of Rob while I was away. That's also when I let her have a (limited) power of attorney so she could learn to manage our finances and other important matters while I was away. She did well with that, so I let her do it again when I later deployed to the Mediterranean. (Then I let her do it for the rest of our lives.)

Now that she was the master of all that I had let her do to this point, I decided that before - just before - my next deployment, I would grace her with another bundle of joy. Bryan was not my first choice in names for this little treasure. My first choice was Jessica - after Jessica Lange. One key thing kept us from naming Bryan Jessica: Bryan was a boy. I did like the name Bryan for him though, so Bryan it was. It worked out in the end because it turns out I don't like Jessica Lange's politics so we would have had to change his name to Shania until I found out I didn't like Shania's politics either. Things worked out for the best. I'm glad he was a boy.

So, I let my wife juggle this growing family while I went off to the Mediterranean for six months again. I did go a little soft on her and tell her that I would get orders out of the deployment cycle for a few years after that deployment. At first, I planned to become a recruiter for officers in Roanoke, Virginia, but those orders fell through after I had let her shop for and purchase a house there with me.

My next plan was to let her move with me to Pensacola where I would be a flight instructor. She liked that. What she didn't like was what happened next, but it did make her a better and more complete person.

We had already made a trip to Pensacola where we bought a house. It was a nice house. When we returned home to North Carolina as I was about to wind down my tour there, I was asked by an old friend to give him a hand by lending some flying and carrier (helicopter aircraft carrier) experience to the squadron he had just taken command of. He wanted me to join his squadron for a 58-day deployment to the North Atlantic. After telling him repeatedly, "no," I finally agreed.

I told my wife that I was going to let her, Rob, and Bryan stay in North Carolina a little longer while I went off to Norway with this new squadron I was about to join.

Well, I was out flying on a Saturday, letting my wife have a little "Q time" with the boys on the weekend so I could help train our pilots to operate around the ship when we were recalled to the base a couple of hours into our work. Once back at the base, we were informed that we were likely about to be deployed to the Middle East because Iraq had just invaded Kuwait. That was a temporary setback in our plans to move to Pensacola, but I got the wheels turning upstairs and came up with a solution.

Since my 58-day deployment had just turned into a deployment with no end in sight, I called Marine Corps headquarters in Washington and told them not to cancel my Pensacola orders for another month so I could get my family moved to Pensacola. When I say "so I could get my family moved to Pensacola," I don't mean that I was actually going to be involved with the moving part of it. I let my wife handle that because the movers weren't going to be able to move "us" until after I was already on my way to the Middle East.

So, I let her move our young family to Pensacola and set up our new home by herself. That enabled her to hang the pictures where she wanted, set up the furniture where she wanted, decide which of our boys had the top and bottom bunk, and so on. Speaking of furniture, the combination of letting her move the family to Pensacola and the power of attorney I gave her also inspired her to buy some new furniture. She sent pictures to me so I wasn't shocked with the new stuff when I returned home (like I would have noticed). I guess in a way, I let her buy that furniture, so I deserved what I got.

I was deployed for eight months then I flew to our new home in Pensacola after my squadron returned to North Carolina. We got reacquainted and then she asked me when I was planning to retire from the Marine Corps. I had been in the Marines for about 17 years at the time and could retire in three years, so she was wondering if the flight instructor tour would be my final hurrah.

I did what any husband who had let his wife do as many things as I had over the years would do: I answered her question without really answering it. I told her, "That depends." Then, I followed that statement with what seemed to be a rhetorical question, "Are you planning to get a job to support us?" She claimed that she could. Hah! Time for her to get a little reality check! That too would be good for her.

So, she enrolled in courses with the College of Financial Planning, then got an entry level job with what I will refer to as "a major brokerage firm." This company took pretty good care of her. They got her to work on getting her stock broker's license, then it was a parade of other licenses after that. I was starting to be happy I let her do that.

Since she was on a roll and I had just been promoted, I left her and the boys in Pensacola while I was stationed in North Carolina with a squadron that was about to be deployed to Bosnia and Liberia. While I was in the States, I commuted back and forth from North Carolina to see my family, but once I was deployed, I was deployed. That was good for her too because she had the opportunity to weather two hurricanes while I was overseas. A person needs to know how to handle that sort of thing in case it ever comes up and your husband's not around.

As my deployment was winding down, I was pleased to learn that the Marine Corps had chosen me to command a squadron where? In Pensacola.

Meanwhile, my wife was about to become the Pensacola branch manager for this firm she had joined a couple of years earlier. She was promoted again and became the branch manager for three branches at once: Destin, Pensacola, and Mobile. Later, she was promoted to a training role that had her based in Indianapolis, but living in Pensacola. This allowed her to work at home when she wasn't on the road so she could see me (and the kids).

Then, she was promoted to a director's position over wealth management for the company's West Coast region. She was based in Phoenix where she had an apartment during the week and commuted home to Pensacola on the weekends.

Then, she decided she wasn't getting enough of me (and the kids), so she accepted a position as senior vice president for wealth management for a large regional bank based in Atlanta. She was responsible for the bank's Northwest Florida region. When they asked her to take on an additional role as city president of the bank in Pensacola a year later, she did that as well. Recently, she broadened her wealth management role as a managing director responsible for all of North Florida.

So, you see, she's come to depend on me quite heavily. I let her take a non-traditional route to a college degree, I let her play a large role in raising our kids, I let her learn about finances by managing our household finances while I was deployed, I let her move around from state to state so she could see more of the country, and I let her get a job so I could retire from the Marines.

Seriously for a moment, I do count her as my number 1 blessing, and I know I don't deserve all that she has brought to our marriage and to my sons (whom I let her claim as hers on occasion too).

You hear about "self-made men." Well, my wife is the consummate self-made woman. She has humbly yet relentlessly become a very successful business woman in the 18 years or so that she has been working outside of our home, all the while being a great mother and wife. Any woman who wants to know about breaking the so-called glass ceiling should spend an hour or ten with my wife. It's been hard work, but she has made the most of her opportunities.

Everybody is different. What she has done has worked well for her and for us. She could have done just as well and been just as happy had she stayed at home, but the route she took gave her another kind of fulfillment. She genuinely has no sense of self-importance over her success or her professional standing - she would probably say she's too busy to take much stock of it. She appreciates her work, but she also appreciates her down time. She manages a fairly maddeningly-paced life with balance and poise. Her sons and I are proud of her.

Again, though, please don't tell her I wrote this, lest we risk harming her self-esteem. Let's allow her to continue to be dependent on me since that seems to be working for her. We don't want to spoil a good thing, do we?

Monday, November 29, 2010


Something stinks here.

About every other week or so, we hear that the website WikiLeaks has bared another bundle of secrets on its website. By the time the reporting is completed on one of these episodes, we're often reminded that Army PFC Bradley Manning has been charged with feeding secrets to the website with the implication that he and WikiLeaks are solely to blame for the security breaches. Manning is a PRIVATE FIRST CLASS. Nothing against PFCs - I used to be one - but how did this one work around so much classified material without supervision and oversight? Who was in charge of him? Any idea how many tens of thousands of soldiers outrank PFC Manning?

I'm becoming very concerned about what is not being said by the government and what is not being asked by the media. Why isn't the media pressing the government for answers regarding how the release or compromise of this information to WikiLeaks could have ever happened in the first place? Who was the accountable custodian of the material? How did so many unsanitized State Department documents end up in these files at an Army base in Iraq of all places anyway? Why was the distribution of these classified documents handled so sloppily? What happened to "need to know?" Normally, the words "cover-up" and "scandal" would have  been tossed around already, but they haven't been. Why not? Instead, we're being treated to a junk food diet of suggestions that WikiLeaks should be considered an enemy of the state, that the U. S. government is considering a crackdown on the site, and questions as to whether WikiLeaks is a terror organization. Of course, we're also cynically tantalized with tasty morsels of diplomatic gossip that dull our distaste for it all.

Before we chalk the lack of curiosity to a lazy and complacent national media, we ought to think a little harder about it. It might be that the media is not asking questions because it can't get past its own interest in making villains of its competition, the out-of-the-mainstream media. Why else would the media sit quietly while the government assails the First Amendment rights of others? The answer is obvious: many in the media care most about their own First Amendment rights and not so much about those same rights for others. Is it possible that an effective inquiry has been all but stifled by the mutual interests of the government and the mainstream media to undermine what they both consider to be the fringe media?

For my own part, I don't give two hoots about WikiLeaks' rights on this issue because it's behaving irresponsibly with wonton disregard for our security interests. Usually in this country, even the worst in the media have some regard for highly sensitive matters and they are generally reluctant to start fires just to watch them burn. Still, I find it odd - and telling - that the media is so quiet on this.

Whatever we think of WikiLeaks and however much we despise PFC Manning's actions, we should be utterly outraged over the failure of the media to ask the relevant questions and of the government to be accountable. In many ways, the failures of the media and the government in this regard pose a greater danger than WikiLeaks and PFC Manning ever will by themselves.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Calm Before the Storm

I had never been to combat before I was deployed in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in late August of 1990. I had flown quite a lot of rather difficult tactical missions, however, where we needed to be intense and absolutely focused on what we were doing. The missions we flew as we trained to deploy and those we flew while on deployment were especially challenging because of all of the moving parts and because of the complexity we deliberately dialed into our scenarios.

Before launching from the ship on those missions, I used to go down to my state room (living quarters) to gather and put on my flight gear and to "get my mind right" for the mission. A lot of pilots listened to a little bit of "mood music" before flying. In my own case, I usually cranked up the volume to U2's "New Years Day" before heading to the flight deck to start the mission. Most of us believed getting zoned in with good mission planning and the right mood was important.

In early January of 1991, we were training in the desert of Oman on night vision goggles in preparation for the start of the not-yet-named Operation Desert Storm which as it turned out, was just a couple of weeks away. We were recalled to our ship, the USS Guam, something that almost NEVER happened. As we landed, the ship was steaming somewhere in a big hurry. We thought this was it, that the operation that was to become Operation Desert Storm was about to begin. We were wrong.

It turned out that our embassy in a city no one had ever heard of at the time - Mogadishu, Somalia - was under seige by opposing forces in a civil war. We were called on to rush down to Somalia and rescue the U. S. embassy staff (with families) of 23 Americans. Within the next 24 hours, though, our mission expanded because other nations' forces had tried and failed in their efforts to extract their embassy staffs, having been chased away by gunfire. Suddenly, our mission expanded; now we were to rescue 281 people from 30 different countries from the U. S. Embassy grounds.

I won't go into all of the planning considerations here because that's not the point of this post, but I'll say that ultimately, we elected to go in on night vision goggles with two flights of five U. S. Marine assault helicopters and clean out the non-combatants in four sorties (flights).

Personal preparation for this mission was a little different than others in the past because I needed to add picking up personal armor, a weapon (actually two weapons), and personal ammunition to my routine. As had been my habit, I went down to my state room to put my flight gear on and to crank up the U2. I did just that, and then I walked.

I went to the ship's flight deck by way of the ready room. All of the pilots went up at the same time and as we walked across the flight deck to our aircraft, the Air Boss (the Guam's Air Operations Officer, a U. S. Navy Commander) played a song of his own over the flight deck intercom. It was Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U. S. A."

The mood and spirit of the song couldn't have been more different from the U2 I had listened to a few minutes earlier and, as corny as it might sound, it was perfect. Where my U2 was great for amping up that intensity, Greenwood's song was a poignant and sentimental of reminder of who we were as Americans and what that meant to each of us. It was very moving, totally appropriate, and obviously memorable.

Don't get me wrong. We were focused and we believed we were ready, although none of us had ever flown a combat mission before in our lives, but in hearing Greenwood's song, we were at once reminded of the nation and the people we served. We were mindful of the rich panorama of our countryside and the unique nature of our America and what keeps it free. That was what we were there for. It was a radically touching moment as we strapped ourselves into our aircraft.

Sometimes, we think we need to plow ahead under the sheer force of our determination. Sometimes, plowing through our challenges isn't entirely pretty, though; sometimes riding the adrenaline to the finish leaves unfortunate "bull in a china shop" results.

And sometimes, we really need the calm precision of perspective to guide us to a righteous and measured outcome. That song helped bring that quieting perspective to me that night, and it remains a song and a memory with special meaning to me. Such is the power of little things in the right doses at the right time. It need not be a song but maybe just a reminder to step back into the quiet of one's own thoughts and sensibilities so we can consider what it's all really about.

God Bless the U. S. A.

by Lee Greenwood

If tomorrow all the things were gone,
I’d worked for all my life.
And I had to start again,
with just my children and my wife.
I’d thank my lucky stars,
to be livin here today.
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom,
and they can’t take that away.
And I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.
And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.
From the lakes of Minnesota,
to the hills of Tennessee.
Across the plains of Texas,
From sea to shining sea.
From Detroit down to Houston,
and New York to L.A.
Well there's pride in every American heart,
and its time we stand and say.
That I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.
And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.
And I’m proud to be and American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.
And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Tea Partier?

A headline last month read, "Obama: Abraham Lincoln Would Have No Place in Today's GOP." The suggestion, of course, is that not even Lincoln would be comfortable in today's "party of Lincoln." It seemed to be a provocative statement in a way so I thought I'd look into it to see whether Lincoln really would not have fit in with today's Republicans as the President suggested.

History tells us the Republican Party was formed in 1854 at a convention of disgruntled Whigs and Democrats who disagreed with the standard Democrat position of the day supporting the expansion of slavery west of the Mississippi. The Republicans presented their first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, in 1856 who lost a three-way race that showed that if the Republican candidate in 1860 could carry two more large states like, say, Illinois, it could win in 1860. In 1860, the Republicans trotted out a relatively unknown senator from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, as its presidential candidate and, as we know, he won the election. The establishment of the Republican Party in 1854 turned out to be a precursor to the realignment of 1860. I knew all of that, but I hadn't ever really looked into the Republican Party platform from that 1860 election when Lincoln was the Republican presidential nominee and the de facto leader of the party.

So, after taking a look at the 1860 Republican Party platform, I'm left wondering if the 1860 Republican Party doesn't sound more like today's Tea Party than today's Republican Party. It seems today's Tea Party candidates had a lot in common with those 1860 Republicans, judging from "extremist" talk in the 1860 platform extolling the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, beating the drum to words like, "That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," remembering that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, arguing in favor of the rights of states, protesting an overreaching congress and judiciary, pushing back against a progressive application of the Constitution which at the time was used to argue in favor of slavery, recoiling against the extravagance of government and the plundering of the treasury, encouraging American industry and seeking rewards for "skill, labor and enterprise," touting the importance of the nation's "commercial prosperity and independence," and supporting the protection of legally naturalized citizens. I wonder if those views seemed as extreme to people back then as they seem to be to some today. I doubt it.

The Republican Platform of 1860

"Resolved, That we, the delegated representatives of the Republican electors of the United States, in convention assembled, in discharge of the duty we owe to our constituent and our country, unite in the following declarations:

1. That the history of the nation during the last four years has fully established the propriety and necessity of the organization and perpetuation of the republican party, and that the causes which called it into existence are permanent in their nature, and now more than ever before demand its peaceful and constitutional triumph.

2. That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Federal Constitution, "That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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," is essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions; and that the Federal Constitution, the rights of the states, and the Union of the states, must and shall be preserved.

3. That to the Union of the States this nation owes its unprecedented increase in population; its surprising development of material resources; its rapid augmentation of wealth; its happiness at home and its honor abroad; and we hold in abhorrence all schemes for disunion, come from whatever source they may; and we congratulate the country that no republican member of congress has uttered or countenanced the threats of disunion so often made by democratic members, without rebuke and with applause from their political associates; and we denounce those threats of disunion, in case of a popular overthrow of their ascendancy, as denying the vital principles of a free government, and as an avowal of contemplated treason, which it is the imperative duty of an indignant people sternly to rebuke and forever silence.

4. That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the states, and especially the right of each state, to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends, and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any state or territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

5. That the present Democratic Administration has far exceeded our worst apprehension in its measureless subserviency to the exactions of a sectional interest, as is especially evident in its desperate exertions to force the infamous Lecompton constitution upon the protesting people of Kansas - in construing the personal relation between master and servant to involve an unqualified property in persons - in its attempted enforcement everywhere, on land and sea, through the intervention of congress and of the federal courts, of the extreme pretensions of a purely local interest, and in its general and unvarying abuse of the power entrusted to it by a confiding people.

6. That the people justly view with alarm the reckless extravagance which pervades every department of the Federal Government; that a return to rigid economy and accountability is indispensable to arrest the systematic plunder of the public treasury by favored partisans; while the recent startling developments of frauds and corruptions at the federal metropolis, show that an entire change of Administration is imperatively demanded.

7. That the new dogma that the Constitution of its own force carries slavery into any or all of the territories of the United States, is a dangerous political heresy, at variance with the explicit provisions of that instrument itself, with cotemporaneous exposition, and with legislative and judicial precedent, is revolutionary in its tendency and subversive of the peace and harmony of the country.

8. That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom; that as our republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that no "person should be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law," it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the constitution against all attempts to violate it; and we deny the authority of congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States.

9. That we brand the recent re-opening of the African Slave Trade, under the cover of our national flag, aided by perversions of judicial power, as a crime against humanity, and a burning shame to our country and age, and we call upon congress to take prompt and efficient measures for the total and final suppression of that execrable traffic.

10. That in the recent vetoes by the federal governors of the acts of the Legislatures of Kansas and Nebraska, prohibiting slavery in those territories, we find a practical illustration of the boasted democratic principle of non- intervention and popular sovereignty, embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska bill, and a demonstration of the deception and fraud involved therein.

11. That Kansas should of right be immediately admitted as a state, under the constitution recently formed and adopted by her people, and accepted by the House of Representatives.

12. That while providing revenue for the support of the general government by duties upon imports, sound policy requires such an adjustment of these imposts as to encourage the development of the industrial interests of the whole country, and we commend that policy of national exchanges which secures to the workingmen liberal wages, to agriculture remunerating prices, to mechanics and manufacturers an adequate reward for their skill, labor and enterprise, and to the nation commercial prosperity and independence.

13. That we protest against any sale or alienation to others of the public lands held by actual settlers, and against any view of the free homestead policy which regards the settlers as paupers or suppliants for public bounty, and we demand the passage by congress of the complete and satisfactory homestead measure which has already passed the house.

14. That the Republican Party is opposed to any change in our naturalization laws, or any state legislation by which the rights of citizenship hitherto accorded by emigrants from foreign lands shall be abridged or impaired; and in favor of giving a full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad.

15. That appropriation by Congress for river and Harbor improvements of a National character, required for the accommodation and security of an existing commerce, are authorized by the constitution and justified by the obligation of Government to protect the lives and property of its citizens.

16. That a railroad to the Pacific ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction; and that, as preliminary thereto, a daily overland mail should be promptly established.

17. Finally, having thus set forth our distinctive principles and views, we invite the cooperation of all citizens, however differing on other questions who substantially agree with us in their affirmance and support.

Supplementary Resolution. Resolved, That we deeply sympathize with those men who have been driven, some from their native States and others from the States of their adoption, and are now exiled from their homes on account of their opinions; and we hold the Democratic Party responsible for this gross violation of that clause of the Constitution which declares that the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States."

Friday, November 26, 2010

One Pat or Two?

Some thoughts about the TSA body scan/radical pat-down drama.

Change you can believe in. It's ironic that the same people who squalled on and on about the Patriot Act think it's okay to conduct revealing body scans of every person who passes through certain airports whether there is probable cause or not. Of course, the safety and security argument prevails; it's just interesting to see these people use that argument.

Let's be dignified about this. Of course, we need to conduct these expensive and technologically elaborate full body scans because we believe it's beneath the dignity of our national security initiative to extract a template of our enemies and apply that profile to travelers.  We have the odd sense that it is better to impose radical search techniques on the general public than it is to know our enemy well enough to recognize him, his behaviors, his patterns, etc.

True believers. I wonder to what extent the commercial interests of former politicians and scanner manufacturers influence public policy on profiling.

Offense versus defense. The U. S. government admits the reason we need body scanners is to protect against future underwear bombers. Wouldn't we be better off if we employed a strategy that identifies threats before they fail? Sorry, that sounds like profiling again... It's difficult for us to buy into the idea of going on the offense in our own county, but doing so would help seize the creative initiative from our enemies. I hope we eventually figure out that the trick is to own the initiative rather than react to someone else's.

Desperate measures. Is there any reason we should not believe a bomber who is willing to destroy not only the aircraft, but also himself might not be opposed to the idea of having a bomb implanted into his body out of the view of body scanners? How shocked will we be to learn that's where this is headed. We'll either learn it before that happens or afterward.

Last one standing. Will our enemies run out of tactics before we run out of ways to discover them? When we ultimately discover it's far more prudent to find bombers than it is to find bombs, we will have taken the first step in shutting these guys down. Sorry, that sounds like profiling again... I hope we figure it out before we learn these guys bomb things other than airplanes.

Budget-buster. I remember how the mere threat of the development of Star Wars technology in the United States drove the Soviet Union to massive spending on its defense infrastructure. As an already highly skittish regime before Star Wars, the Soviets had already redirected a generous portion of its wealth and national attention to its security interests to the extent that it severely strained its economy and overburdened its citizens. Competition with Star Wars drove it even deeper into trouble. How heavy will the burden of an increasingly expensive reaction to a persistently evolving terror threat be on the American purse and psyche?

Full body scans of every passenger are predictable and expensive. The next generation of airport security measures will be just as predictable and even more expensive. I'm completely supportive of doing what it takes to keep us safe, but I think it's time for us to be more creative, exercise more initiative, and go on the offense against these people in our own country. Sorry, does that sound like profiling again?

Way to Go, GEICO!

I'm sure you've seen the GEICO Insurance commercial where the squirrel runs out into the middle of the road, causing a car to swerve and run off the road. After the car crashes, the critter's little squirrel buddy runs out and they high-five and dap each other. They're pretty proud of themselves as GEICO goes on to preach about how easy it is to get GEICO.

So, I was driving down a narrow road early yesterday morning when a squirrel ran out in front of my car just like that one did in the GEICO commercial. The road was fairly narrow so I didn't even hesitate in my decision to bear down on that squirrel rather than steer out of my lane to miss it.

Before you judge me as insensitive and cruel, let me say that there was no way that I was going to veer off the road into a ditch or a tree and leave a couple of tree-climbing rodents to high-five each other in the middle of the street at my expense.

Instead, I lined up on that squirrel. He got all bug-eyed when he realized he was dealing with a little different breed of cat here because I wasn't going to swerve. He jinked to my left, then he juked to my right, then he ran like a scalded dog to my left into the ditch that he was trying to get me to run off into.

My first reaction was that that was poetic justice. Instead of me ending up in the ditch, that glorified rat took his turn in it. I started thinking that we drivers might be beginning to figure some things out about the squirrels, thanks to GEICO. We're gripping our steering wheels a little tighter and we're sticking to our lanes. We're not swerving, we're not slowing down, we're not even cringing at the thought of what might happen to one of these adorable little things if they don't get out of the way. Let them face that moment of indecision! Let them experience that momentary panic! Let them have a little taste of ditch water! "Fifteen minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance." Right... Tell that to the squirrel I ran off into the ditch yesterday, GEICO!

Easy now...

Okay, let's put all of that aside... I sit here in the calm of a new day, wondering about how that commercial has affected other drivers, and just how many squirrels that commercial has killed. I wonder how many drivers see what I saw—a squirrel just sitting there in the middle of the road—and decide to center up the hood ornament on the squirrel rather than meet the unfortunate fate that the driver in the GEICO commercial did. How many squirrels have been flattened because they thought the driver was going to steer clear, but didn't? And whose fault is that anyway?

After yesterday morning's incident, when I see a dead squirrel in the street, I'm thinking, "There's another squirrel that GEICO got killed."

Way to go, GEICO!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Dreaded Next Generation

As I walked into the grocery store the other day, I stopped to grab a shopping cart at the same time a woman next to me reached for one. As we turned to walk into the store, three women walked out. I didn’t really take note of them because they were fairly unremarkable to me, but the woman standing beside me did.

As I turned toward her to allow her to enter the store ahead of me, she just looked at me and shook her head as though we shared a sense of dismay at something we had both heard or seen. I had no idea what specifically she might be shaking her head about, so I simply greeted her with a “how’re you doing today?”

She answered that she couldn’t believe the way women dress when they go out today. I assumed she was referring to the three women who had just left the store, so I went along and shook my head saying as sincerely as I could, “it’s amazing, isn’t it?” I still really had no idea what she was talking about.

She went on to tell me that she is a 73-year old woman and that she’s old and fat and wouldn’t be caught dead in clothes like that. That was more information than I was expecting to pick up right there at the door of the grocery store and I didn’t really know what to say, so I said, “No, no, you’re fine…” and dismissed myself to get after those groceries.

As eager as I was to just move myself along, that brief encounter stuck with me for a few minutes. It occurred to me that with each generation, the clothing of the next generation is too revealing, the music is too loud, and they’re too darned boisterous in public. It seems that each generation is worse than the one before and in another 25 years or so, people will be walking around with no clothes on at all and they will be listening to music that is so loud they won’t be able to hear me complain about it when I’m 75.

So, all I ask of that generation is this: when that happens and I run into you on my way into the grocery store 25 years from now and I’m standing there shaking my head at all of the naked people running around, at least act like you’re listening when I tell you I’m old and fat and wouldn’t be caught dead without clothes like that. And be sure to tell me, “No, no, you’re fine…” It won’t change the way I dress in public, but I’ll feel better… if I can hear you over your blasted music.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Six Days to Today

With increasing pressure on Israel by the Obama Administration (and the Bush Administration before it) to stop building settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights because the United States (and the European Union) considers the settlements to be provocative toward the Palestinians, it's interesting to quickly review how we got to this point...

In 1948, David Ben Gurion, who became Israel's first prime minister, declared Israel a state in keeping with the United Nations' 1947 partitioning resolution that divided the land that was known as Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

Arab League members Egypt, TransJordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq almost immediately invaded the territory that fell under this partitioning rule, but the Israelis repelled them for the most part and established new borders that held up for another eight years.

With the Israeli state only eight years old in 1956, tensions simmered, complicated by European interests in the region. The British had become a fixture in the Sinai region by 1956. They had a strategic interest in the Suez Canal so it could access its colonies in India and elsewhere, but Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was eager to counter British influence over the Suez Canal and to nationalize it. Israel had its own complaints. Since its establishment in 1948, ships headed to and from Israel through the Suez had been repeatedly intercepted or destroyed by the Egyptians.

So, in the summer of 1956, Israel, France, and Britain conspired to do something about Nasser's plan to nationalize the Canal. The plan called for Israel to invade the Sinai Peninsula. Meanwhile, Britain and France would issue an ultimatum to Egypt and land forces to separate the Israelis and Egyptians.

Israel quickly controlled the Sinai, but an angry reaction by the United States and a UN resolution calling for a withdrawal of forces caused the Israelis to withdraw with an American assurance that its shipping would be safe on international waterways. The United Nations then stationed the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) in the Sinai.

However, tensions between Israel and Arab countries in the region continued to grow into the 1960s. By mid-1967, Nasser had expelled UNEF troops from the Sinai and moved in with Egyptian forces. Israel countered with a troop deployment of its own. Then, Egyptian President Nasser said in a radio broadcast, "The existence of Israel has continued too long. We welcome the Israeli aggression. We welcome the battle we have long awaited. The peak hour has come. The battle has come in which we shall destroy Israel."

Soon after that, Jordan signed a defense pact with Egypt in preparation for war, and then on June 4, Iraq joined the alliance against Israel. These growing threats and hostile alliances, combined with the fact that Egypt had closed the Suez to the Israelis motivated Israel to attack the Egyptian forces on June 5, 1967, commencing the Six Day War.

Israel took the Sinai Peninsula in the first four hours of the war. On the first day of the war, Jordan launched artillery fire at Jerusalem until Israel warned it to stop. Israel then moved into and seized the Jordanian-held West Bank. Meanwhile, the Syrians fired artillery into northern Israel from the Golan Heights, so after it finished dealing with Egypt and Jordan, Israel seized the Golan Heights from the Syrians. Israel agreed to a cease fire on June 10.

So, the outcome of the Six Day War was that Israel significantly enlarged its borders and increased its population by about a million Arabs. A UN resolution called for negotiations and for Israel to withdraw from lands it seized in the war.

Under pressure from the United States, Israel offered to return the Sinai and the Golan Heights to Egypt and Syria, respectively, but Egypt and Syria refused to negotiate with Israel (in part, because they refused to recognize the existence of the Jewish state).

In October of 1973, Egypt and Syria launched another war (The Yom Kippur War) against Israel. The Egyptians came across the Suez Canal on October 6 on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Meanwhile, the Syrians came into the Golan Heights, a territory it had lost during the Six Day War.

The attack took the Israelis by surprise, but after initially suffering heavy losses, Israel retook the Golan Heights. Israeli troops then crossed the Suez and cut off the Egyptian army. By the time a cease fire ended most of the fighting a month later, about 2,700 Israeli soldiers and 8,500 Arab soldiers had been killed.

The Israelis held on to the Sinai, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank, all territories it captured during the 1967 Six Day War, and they have built settlements in the area off and on ever since.

To be sure, the Israelis have given some offense of their own, sometimes biting the American hand that has fed it, but as they have been prodded to seek negotiated settlements and surrender territories, they have paid for every concession. They have spent decades attempting to live side-by-side with Palestinians who refuse to negotiate with them because they won't recognize their existence. When they finally negotiate and the Israelis surrender control of territories, the Israelis have been greeted with new attacks launched from the relinquished lands, often into Israeli civilian areas.

I often wonder: If all these things had happened to the United States as they have happened to Israel, would we be as agreeable about negotiating with these antagonists as the Israelis have, and would we be as willing to surrender the spoils of war captured from our enemies during their aggression? I doubt it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Place in the Electric Chair

So, I guess I just haven't been keeping up. I saw a movie the other evening for the first time in my life. I hadn't even heard of it, but I was sort of eavesdropping on the Turner Classic Movies station as the host - I think it was Robert Osborne - introduced the next feature saying that it was his favorite movie of all time. That got my interest up, so I paid some attention.

The movie was A Place in the Sun and I checked the description of the movie to see if it had a chance of being interesting to me, and it did.

I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, but the thing’s been out since 1951 so it’s not like you haven’t had a chance to see it already…

Anyway, Montgomery Clift plays George Eastman who is an uneducated directionless young guy who hitchhikes to his Uncle Charles’ place. Uncle Charles owns a swim suit factory (that turns out to be ironic) and puts George to work. The company has a “don’t date the other employees” policy, but George ends up secretly making time with one of his co-workers, Alice Tripp, played by Shelley Winters.

Now, I’ll tell you up front that I have a hard time listening to Shelley Winters speak. Her quivering, almost fussy voice is unnerving when it’s not just downright annoying, but it could be argued that it played into the plot.

So anyway, George made enough time with Alice that she somehow ended up becoming pregnant, but he was starting to move up in the company and ended up at a party at his uncle’s house on the lake where this beautiful debutante Angela Vickers, played by Elizabeth Taylor, was a guest.

Let me step aside again to say that Elizabeth Taylor was a very pretty woman back in the day. In this movie, she was 17-years old in real life and you could see that she was going to become the kind of woman that at least 7 guys would want to marry (8 if you count Richard Burton twice for the two times he married her).

She was a looker and George Eastman had no problem noticing that. George took a quick liking to Angela and over the ensuing 30 minutes or so he fell deeply in love with her while Alice became more and more pregnant (and impatient with George).

Finally, Alice saw a photograph in the paper of George living it up with Angela and the Eastmans on the lake, so she packed up her things and decided to go to George and claim her man.

She arrived and phoned George and shamed him into agreeing to marry her. Unfortunately for all concerned, the courthouse was closed and they couldn't get married that day. So, George figured that since the courthouse was closed and he really didn't want to marry Alice anyway – especially with lovely Angela waiting in the wings – that he would just take Alice out boating in the middle of the night and drown her. It must’ve made sense to him at the time.

It was to Alice’s discredit and ultimate misfortune that she had already told George she couldn’t swim. (A person should never make that kind of admission to someone without knowing them really well first.)

Once in the boat, however, George had second thoughts and crawled to the far end of the boat to get himself together (and probably to get away from that voice, too); he knew he wasn’t really a murderer. Then, Alice started going on and on, telling George how happy they were going to be together, just hours after threatening him with ruination. (A guy’s just got to spot that kind of inconsistency earlier in the relationship.) Then, she stood up to walk toward George while still yakking away. The boat started rocking badly, so George told her to sit down, but she didn’t and the boat capsized.

George swam to the shore safely, but remember, poor Alice couldn’t swim so she pretty much stayed out there and drowned. George had stashed a getaway car in the woods, so he made his way back to the house where Angela was. George was a bit of a brooder anyway, so no one could tell from his manner he had just left Alice out in the middle of the lake to drown. I guess they thought he was just being his strong, silent-type self.

Ultimately, George was arrested and tried. The fact that George and Alice had been seeing each other on the sly, that Alice was pregnant, that George rented the boat under an assumed name, that George had staged a getaway car, and that Angela was a really hot Plan B were powerful bits of circumstantial evidence against George in court. As much as all of that was stacking up against George, I knew he was in trouble the minute I saw that Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) was the district attorney. I’ve never seen him lose a case.

George was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death – because that’s what Perry Mason asked the jury for. The movie ended as George was about to meet his fate.

There are some important lessons in this movie that are worth remembering:

1. There was a company policy that forbade co-workers dating each other, but George and Alice did so anyway in secrecy. Alice became pregnant and, in the end, the implications of this very private affair became quite public.

LESSON: Rules are rules. Just because you break the rules in private doesn’t mean they aren’t broken.

COROLLARY: Just because you break the rules in private doesn’t mean that the implications will be private; in fact, if there are implications, they probably will not be private.

2. Alice had a way about her that seemed a bit pushy and insecure and she betrayed that sense with that voice that I've already described. The din of her tone was troublesome early on, but it really rose to a peak once she got around to delivering ultimatums to George, then rambling about their coming blissful future together while they were in the boat.

LESSON: In a relationship, things that bother you a little bit now will bother you a lot more later when times are tougher and patience grows thin.

3. George found himself with two girlfriends, one who represented where he had been and the other who represented where he was headed. Desperate, he decided to murder the first girl, even as a part of him tugged at him not to do it.

LESSON: Don’t get yourself into situations you can’t get out of if getting out of them means making matters worse.

COROLLARY: Realize that situations that make you queasy give you that feeling because even if your brain doesn’t know it’s a bad situation, your gut does.

4. George took Alice out in the boat intent on murdering her, but then he changed his mind. Unfortunately, the boat capsized anyway. George swam for the shore and left Alice behind where she drowned because, in part, George didn’t intervene to save her. In the end, he didn’t want her alive badly enough to try to save her life.

LESSON: When you change your mind on an issue of importance, change your heart too. If you find yourself in the middle of the lake (figuratively) when your conscience kicks in, row to the nearest shore as quickly as you can before something terrible happens.

5. Alice knew she couldn’t swim. Combined with a poor sense of balance in an environment where she should have had a natural fear of dying, she tried to walk from one end of the boat to the other, making it rock severely until it capsized.

LESSON: Don’t rush headlong into unfamiliar territory. When the unknowns far outweigh the knowns, you are left to rely on instincts and raw ability alone because familiarity and knowledge are no longer part of the equation. If you're in a boat in the middle of the lake at night, a swimming instinct or ability (or a life jacket) is useful.

COROLLARY: If you can’t swim, don’t rock the boat.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Those Boys Ain't Quite Right

As I was proofing a previous post, I remembered another story that I probably shouldn't tell because someone might think that my brother, Michael, and I were not quite right in the head as kids.

I was probably 14 years old when an older kid who rode our school bus invited Michael and me to his house to swim in his pond. We were surprised because we were pretty sure this kid didn't like us. We decided to take advantage of the opportunity to make friends with a guy who had gone out of his way to be unkind toward us in the past, so we decided to ride our bikes to his house to swim.

When we got there, he was friendly enough. In fact, he showed us around his family's property as we made our way down to the pond. Near the pond, they had a little out building that wasn't quite finished on the inside, but it struck us as kind of a cool place because you could use it as a club house or place to camp out when you're fishing at the pond. He showed us inside, but then (to our surprise and disappointment) he shut us in and locked us inside the building. He was pretty clear about not letting us out and we were pretty clear that if we didn't find a way to get ourselves out, we'd NEVER get out. Of course, if we had thought this through, we would have known that we would EVENTUALLY get out of there, but this was a time for action, not for thinking things through.

We found some matches in a drawer in the building and told the kid that if he didn't let us out, we'd burn the place down. Never mind that we'd be burning it
down while we were still inside! (I would like to be able to blame that idea on my brother, but no one would believe me.) The kid clearly had a pretty good reason to believe we were bluffing. I mean, who in their right mind would intentionally burn the building down while still inside? The problem for our new "friend" was that we weren't bluffing. When he blew us off and started swimming and enjoying himself as we sweltered in the shack, we decided to go ahead and light the bedsheet curtains they had on the windows on fire. We hollered to the kid in the pond that the shack was now on fire. When he saw the curtain on fire, he wasted NO time in getting us out of there.

He rushed in and quickly doused the fire, limiting the damage to that one curtain. We walked out together, but he had lost all of that spirit of hospitality that he seemed to have before. We rode our bikes the 3 miles or so to our house, disappointed that we didn't get to swim, but nonetheless satisfied that we got the best of a bully.

I don't think I've told that story to anyone who has thought we were quite right in the head that day. I'm sure some look at this as one of those potential Darwin Award winning events where someone does something incredibly stupid and kills himself doing it, but we were pretty sure we had the situation well in hand. We were willing to bet (literally bet it all) that this kid would be more interested in keeping the place from burning down than in keeping us locked up to burn down with it. Turns out we were right.

Still, though, I'm glad we've outgrown that sort of madness...