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.

It's Not Done 'Til It's Done

Aristotle was the first to write about potentiality and actuality in the 4th century BC, then about 1500 years later, St. Thomas Aquinas raised the idea again in a broader theological context in his Summa Theologica.

The original idea as applied to people is that there is an ideal state of being that we know as an actuality. As long as we’re trying to get to that ideal we’re living at varying degrees of potency as potentialities.

By the time Aquinas brought the idea along, he was making a number of points about the nature of man and happiness, but the central idea was that, as with Aristotle, man is in a state of motion in terms of his potentiality in pursuit of the actuality. Aquinas carried the point further and said that man's role is to achieve greater potency as a man and thus get closer to God, having been created in His image. The idea was that because he is a potentiality, he wouldn’t achieve true happiness any way other than in coming to know God more perfectly.

That's the long way of describing how I look at people and our pursuit of perfection as we know it, or our failure to give it a good effort.

The way I see it, we're given a certain potential, most of which we never recognize. Our potential has a good bit of depth and breadth, and while I wouldn’t expect we are obliged to finish the race out of breath, I do think we need to have given a good account of ourselves. We will fall and falter along the way, and we will have our disappointments, but that's what redemption and renewal are all about. They give us a reason and an opportunity to hit our stride again.

It's important for us to have a bit of balance along the way too which means that we run this race as hard as we can, but not so hard that it finishes us before we finish it. I suppose that’s the difference between running it hard and running it well.

It’s also easier said than done… but as Aristotle and Aquinas might say if they were here today, it’s not “done” 'til it’s actually done.

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."

The Scorpion and the Frog

Remember the parable of the scorpion and the frog where the scorpion pleads with the frog to carry him across the river on his back?

The frog resists because he believes the scorpion will sting him and kill him. But the scorpion convinces the frog that he wouldn’t sting him because if he did, the frog would drown and take him with him. The frog finally agrees to carry the scorpion across the river.

Sure enough, half way across the river, the frog feels the sting of the scorpion’s barb and the paralyzing poison flowing through his body. As the frog fades into death, he protests to the scorpion, “Look what you’ve done! You’ve stung me and I am dying! Now we will both drown!”

The scorpion answered, “Of course I did. I’m a scorpion. That’s what I do.”

At this point, we should not be surprised about anything Iran and North Korea do.

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?

Choices and Decisions

I used to fly helicopters off shore for a company that was contracted by oil companies and vendors that tended to oil rigs and oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, mostly off the coast of Louisiana.

I could end up flying 100 miles or more off shore in my single-engine Bell Jet Ranger. The Jet Ranger is a gas turbine-powered helicopter. In common parlance, a gas turbine is what most people refer to as a "jet," thus the name "Jet Ranger."

The Jet Ranger I flew had room for me and a passenger beside me in the front, along with usually three (but as many as five) passengers in the back seat. It was severely weight-limited, which means that I could load the aircraft with people and not necessarily have enough power to take off with them because of their weight. When you're operating around the oil fields, you have to consider that along with the weight of the passengers, you have to think about the weight of their equipment too.

So far, so good, right? It sounds straightforward enough - if you can't take off with what you have, you take some weight out of the helicopter so you can take off. This is more easily said than done though.

You can actually get off of the ground (or off of the rig or platform) and hold a hover without being able to complete a take off and fly off. When you're in a hover near the ground - when you're within 1 rotor diameter's distance of the ground - you require less power than you need when you are further above the ground because of the cushion the rotors generate when the aircraft is near the ground. So, if you're at or near maximum power when you're near the ground, you can end up requiring more power than the aircraft can provide once you get away from the ground. If you can generate some airspeed while still near the ground, you can fly yourself off the ground without needing the extra power.

When operating on oil rigs and platforms in the Gulf, however, you do not have the opportunity to generate airspeed near the ground and you always end up requiring that extra power since the platforms and rigs are elevated well above the water. The long and short of it is that just because you can hover over an oil platform with all of these people and their equipment aboard doesn't mean you can actually fly with them.

That is where it starts to get difficult. You pick up into a hover with guys who have been on that platform for two, three, maybe four weeks and they're anxious to get home. When it's late in the afternoon 150 miles off shore, they realize that if you can't carry them and their things, they'll be stuck on the platform (and away from their homes) for another day. It will also cost their company a good chunk of change to hire the helicopter for a return trip the next day to pick them up. There is an implicit pressure to get the job done, even to push "the envelope" a bit.

So, you pick up into a hover and everyone on board is relieved to see that the bird got off the deck. You check the instruments and the power that you're using in the hover carefully to be certain you'll have enough power available to fly off safely. You and your passengers are on the same side now - you are all pulling for you to complete your takeoff for the trip back to the shore. If you determine that you can't take off with the weight you have on board and you decide to land the helicopter to boot someone off the aircraft, your passengers will be disappointed and they will often even doubt your flying abilities and nerve.

You know, though, that if you get this wrong, you and your passengers will gently ascend up and away from the platform until your rotors are clear of the edge of the platform and are no longer driving air flow over the surface only a few feet below - the surface is now suddenly 100' below and the helicopter struggles to produce enough lift to ascend further. Rather than ascend, the aircraft begins to settle. You try to pour more power into the engine and rotor system, but it's not there. Now, you settle more rapidly and within seconds, your aircraft is in the water.

Hopefully, the aircraft lands upright and no one is injured so you can put them into the water with their life preservers. More likely, though, in your struggle to keep the aircraft in the air, the helicopter experiences a little bit of a roll or a yaw, or a little nose down attitude from your attempt to gain airspeed and the rotor blades strike the water and hack away at the water until the blades themselves are torn away by the terrible violent impact. The aircraft then quickly rolls over, probably upside down. Hopefully, the passengers are able to get out unharmed.

The pressure to complete the takeoff is tremendous. Again, as you lift into your hover, everyone is your friend. If you land on the deck to leave someone behind, you are no longer the most popular guy on the aircraft. As you begin your ascent, your friends are still with you. As you settle toward the sea, you're losing friends rapidly. Once the sea water begins pouring into the aircraft, you don't even like yourself.

It has occurred to me on a number of occasions that there are a lot of decisions a person has to make that put him in similar straits. We're often caught in the horns of a dilemma with bad options all around. The only answer in these instances is to do the right thing, even if it's the unpopular thing. The unpopular choice almost always leaves you unpopular. The right choice oftens leaves you unpopular as well, but it also leaves you right.

Leaders often face this challenge. As a Marine NCO and officer, as a parent, as a business leader, as a teacher, as a coach, and as a helicopter pilot flying to and from distant oil platforms, I often remembered the Marine Corps admonition to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons - always. There is sanctuary and comfort for everyone in this standard, and you find that when you observe these three parameters - the right thing at the right time for the right reasons - you don't have as many "dilemmas," only choices and decisions - choices and decisions that are generally must easier to understand and make.

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 and GEICO rubs it in with their preaching 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 gloried rat took his turn in it. I started thinking that we drivers might be beginning to figure some things out. 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.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Middle-Class Crisis

I've started reading noted economist Thomas Sowell's book, "Basic Economics." The book is designed to enrich the average person's understanding of economics, and it's loaded with useful information. I can't think of a better time for us average citizens to get a handle on this subject so people - experts - will stop talking around us and over our heads. We might not be able to afford to let that happen any more.

Dr. Sowell made a point early in the book about the "crisis" of middle-class living. He noted the fact that the media and other experts go on and on about "the economic woes and worries of middle-class Americans - one of the most affluent groups of human beings ever to inhabit this planet." He referred to a New York Times article in which a middle-class American family was actually photographed in their own swimming pool under a story headline that read, "The American Middle, Just Getting By."

He went on to refer to a Harvard sociologist who complained "how budget-constrained these people (the middle-class) really are." Sowell made the point that it is not the budget - it's reality - that constrains them because there has never been enough resources, goods, wealth - anything - to satisfy everyone completely. That is the truth and the reality that underlies the economic principle of scarcity.

In understanding economics and its relationship to our daily lives, I think it's important to anchor the correlation to this fact: that economics is economics wherever you find it. By definition, economics is "the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses" (economist Lionel Robbins), and it applies to all economies great and small, as great as America and as small as the exchange that occurs between the small business and the middle-class family in America.

So, when nations, producers, and households make economic decisions, they act on the realization that resources are scarce - there is more demand for resources than there is availability of resources. In the marketplace, these resources are allocated by price - the price producers are willing to accept and the price households are willing to pay. Market economies infuse value into the marketplace through the principle of opportunity cost: the cost of the things we give up in order to purchase the things we obtain.

So, if I decide to purchase a box of Tide detergent rather than the same size box of Cheer detergent, the opportunity cost of having the box of Tide is the box of Cheer I didn't purchase. Let's say that I decided to purchase iPods and tennis shoes for my four children instead of getting high speed Internet access in my home so they can improve their education. The opportunity cost of the iPods and tennis shoes is the Internet access I can't get because I'm spending my money on iPods and tennis shoes.

These kinds of decisions are typical because all of these great and small economies in the world must confront the fact that resources are, in fact, scarce. Governments handle the reality of scarcity by budgeting their incomes and setting economic policy. Producers handle the reality of scarcity by budgeting their incomes and making production decisions. Households handle the reality of scarcity by budgeting their incomes and making spending decisions.

The marketplace reflects these realities of scarcity and opportunity cost in the supply and demand curve. The producer will not accept a dollar less than the market bears and the consumer will not pay one dollar more than the market demands. If a producer can't sell certain goods for what he needs to sell them for, he will sell something else. If a consumer can't buy certain goods at his price, he will spend his money on something else.

Where the producer's price meets the consumer's price in the marketplace we find the point of balance - equilibrium - for goods and services. At equilibrium, there are no surpluses or shortages. It is a manifestation of a perfectly disciplined market economy. It is thus at this point that tens of thousands of perfectly disciplined producers supply goods and services, and it is where hundreds of thousands of perfectly disciplined households demand goods and services.

One might argue, then, that when rational and responsible families don't budget in some fashion, they simply don't feel the pressure of scarcity or the call to discipline their spending - they have a surplus of expendable wealth that they can spend with little regard for opportunity cost or the cost of things they must surrender in order to have the things they want. Thus, households that budget are households that demonstrate that they realize the cost of the things they're purchasing and the fact that their wants must be balanced with the availability of resources.

By necessity then, the effect of thousands of middle-class producer/household "economies" confronting this reality is reflected over time in the marketplace in the broader American economy. When the Harvard sociologist complains about how budget-constrained the middle-class is today we have to wonder just how little household discipline these experts believe our economy can support. After all, don't we really expect our middle-class households to constrain or balance their spending with a budget or with their opportunity costs in mind?

The whole idea of a crisis that is unique to the middle-class that owes its hardships to the fact that it faces the onerous need to budget its expenditures thus appears to me to be contrived and the logic behind it seems flawed. If the call to action behind middle-class reform is thus flawed, what are we to think about the corrective action it inspires?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Revisiting Galileo's Heresy

The climate change dialogue over the past thirty years has teetered from calls for bold action to deal with global cooling and then toward calls for bold action to deal with global warming with seemingly incontrovertible scientific influence. The debate, taken in its entirety, brings to mind the late great controversy involving the venerable Galileo Galilei who made scientific and political waves of his own in the early 17th century.

We remember that Galileo advocated – and was consequently excommunicated for advocating – heliocentricism (the theory that the Sun is at the center of the universe), a theory that was considered contrary to Scripture and Church teachings. That is what most of us were taught about Galileo’s heresy, but there is a little more to it than that. In truth, heliocentricism was actually nothing new in Galileo’s time. The ancient Indians and Greeks advanced the early heliocentric model, while Ptolemy, Aristotle, and others held a geocentric theory (that the Earth is at the center of the universe). Copernicus came along at the turn of the 16th century and breathed new life into the heliocentric theory and Galileo picked it up a century later. So, if heliocentricism was nothing new, why did it get Galileo into so much hot water?

Well, science was a bit different in those days than we expect it to be today. While we expect science today to pursue and define the true nature of things and support those findings with undeniable proof, that was not the work of science in Galileo’s day, dating as far back as Aristotle. Before Copernicus and Galileo, science focused on developing hypotheses that based their legitimacy on the extent to which they merely corresponded to or were consistent with known observations of reality – whether they “saved the appearances” – rather than whether they actually equated to the truth.

Galileo owed the early trouble he had with the Church not so much to his support of heliocentricism but to the fact that in asserting that heliocentricism not only saved the appearances but that it was also reality, he put the Church in the middle of a change in the very nature of scientific hypothesis formulation, a change from science as merely “saving the appearances” to science as the pursuit of the truth. The problem for the Church was that it intended to remain neutral on the issue of science, fully comfortable with science that saved the appearances. The Church had been largely indifferent to astronomy; in fact, it considered astronomy and mathematics to be theologically irrelevant. As St. Ambrose wrote, “To discuss the nature and position of the earth does not help us in our hope of life to come.” But Galileo went at the Church aggressively, insisting that it not only accept Copernican heliocentricism as truth, but that it also either renounce Scripture that implied otherwise or change its teachings to conform to this new “truth.”

When the Church tried to avoid a confrontation on the issue by asserting its neutrality on science, Galileo argued that if Scripture was indifferent to science and did not assert a geocentric premise and maintain that the Sun did not move, it would not have taught that Joshua commanded the Sun to stand still in Joshua 10:12. Then there was Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, and 1 Chronicles 16:30, “…the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved,” Psalm 104:5 “…the Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved,” and Ecclesiastes 1:5 “…the Sun rises and the Sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.” While the Church might have preferred that science maintain its focus on saving the appearances and that the Church not have a role in science, Galileo had stirred up a massive political hornet’s nest that thrust science into theology, a course of events that neither party could or would remove itself from once it began.

So, the Church put the ball back into Galileo’s court. If science was going to progress beyond merely saving the appearances and assert certain findings as fact, it would have to follow through with proof of its findings. The Church indicated that it was willing to revisit teachings that implied support of bad science, but not until it had proof to justify the change – too much was at stake. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, as Consultor of the Holy Office and Master of Controversial Questions during the Reformation, wrote a letter that encapsulated the Church’s position on Copernicanism. He wrote that Copernicanism was an acceptable working hypothesis and that if there were real proof that the earth circled the Sun, “then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary…” It amounted to a “put up or shut up” position to Galileo; the Church was willing to revisit its teachings, but Galileo needed to either prove the theory or stop pestering the Church about what he loudly proclaimed were false teachings.

Proving heliocentricism was the challenge. Even before Galileo’s time, opposition to the heliocentric theory in the scientific community was well established. Nineteen hundred years before Galileo, Aristotle argued that if the earth did, in fact, orbit around the Sun, one should be able to observe a shift in the position of a star seen from the Earth on one side of the Sun one day and on the other side of the Sun six months later, a phenomenon known as stellar parallax. Galileo was unable to counter this ancient objection. In explaining how the planetary orbits he claimed worked, Galileo maintained that the planets revolved around the Sun in perfect circles while astronomers at the time could clearly discern that they did not.

He also attempted to explain that the tides were caused by the Earth’s movements, dismissing Kepler’s theory – his correct theory – that the Moon caused the tides. The lack of supporting evidence and a foundation of errant premises cast grave doubt on his conclusions and thus, he was not able to provide a basis in science for changing the prevailing thought on the movement of the heavenly bodies. In spite of that, Galileo persisted in his loud attacks against the Church on the subject. Ultimately, the Church excommunicated him after a laborious effort to persuade him to either produce proof or lower the noise level until he did.

So, Galileo’s heresy wasn’t that he disagreed with the Church or that he advocated a radical bit of science that opposed the thinking at the time; his heresy was that he loudly asserted that Church teachings were wrong and demanded that the Church renounce Biblical passages, even without presenting scientific proof to support his claims. He wanted to thus radically change the culture of the Church and of science in one fell swoop through the acceptance of his hypothesis as fact, the ramifications of which no one knew, and he wanted this change on the basis of proof that amounted to little more than the old “saving the appearances” brand of science that commanded no such influence.

In the short 400 years since Galileo, what we have of the lesson of his excommunication is the fashionable condemnation of the Church in the belief that Galileo was correct in his science while the Church was wrong in its dogma. This is a vast over-simplification that obscures the real lesson of Galileo’s heresy. The lesson should have been that it is no longer good enough in modern science to “save the appearances” while savaging weak minds and winning political points through the demagogic exploitation of public ignorance and popular fears. We should have learned that the essence of Galileo’s heresy was in his insistence that the Church, the scientific community, and society in general undergo radical cultural changes without the benefit of scientific proof to justify it. We should have learned that the eminence of science in this new age demands that it function above the political fray, and not be distracted from its dogged determination to establish its legitimacy with proof, not politics and consensus.

From those lessons, we might have been left with a faithful discernment between what constitutes social activism and what constitutes science. We might have been wary of science that takes its authority from a consensus rather than from the scientific method. We might have been sophisticated enough to resist the vacillations of political and social tides by binding theorists and activists to a burden of proof that is indifferent to institutional edicts and public opinion. We might have found as much heresy in the global cooling scare as we find in the global warming scare of today, the “heresy” being the expectation of activists to have us accept unproven positions as science and fact. Building a hypothesis on the basis of a century’s worth of temperature change and a photograph of a polar bear floating on an iceberg is a splendid example of saving the appearances, but it falls well short of scientific proof. The absence of proof in the face such political fervor invites doubt on the aspects of the global warming argument that might actually be valid.

For as much truth as there ultimately was in Copernican heliocentricism, there was at least as much wrong with Galileo’s “proof” that the theory was valid. His assertion that the Sun was at the center of the universe was true, but many of his proofs and supporting theories were not. The lack of sound science in his day kept the world in the dark on the validity of the heliocentric theory for 150 years after Galileo proclaimed it, and Galileo shares the blame for it by infusing science into politics and theology rather than elevating it with proof. We should be concerned that loud noise and political bluster in the face of a lack of sound and complete science today might again keep the world in the dark on the validity of important and influential theories relating to global climate change as well.

There might be a morsel of truth here and there that might be of great value in contributing to the broader scientific study of the issue. As a premise for action, though, we need more science on the fundamental issue and a better understanding of the deep implications of action – and of inaction – on our economy, our human evolution, and our politics. Without sound science to compel a focused and essential call to action, we’re doomed to repeat Galileo’s heresy, but with potentially more severe consequences. At this point, we don’t need more politics; we need better and more complete science.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Science and Science Fiction

Looking back on the discovery of a new rainforest on a mountain in Mozambique on the African continent a year ago. I recall doing a little research on the rainforest to see what else there was to the story. It turns out that when scientists capture new wildlife specimens on this mountain - Mount Mabu - most turn out to be new species. I thought it was funny that scientists are hoping to persuade the government of Mozambique that the mountain is unique and merits protection. I thought it was funny because it seems the forest was doing okay up to this point without their help and concern.

I saw another article a few days later about the discovery of a microbe discovered under the ice in Greenland. Now, this wasn't a "new" microbe. This microbe had been asleep for 120,000 years before scientists incubated it and brought it out of its dormancy.

When I read that article, my first thought went to movies like Aliens and Species, and I wondered if they're really that far-fetched. Early in my reading, I discounted that wacky thought out-of-hand. Then, I read a little further in the article where one of the researchers, Jennifer Loveland-Curtze said, "These extremely cold environments are the best analogues of possible extraterrestrial habitats. The exceptionally low temperatures can preserve cells and nucleic acids for even millions of years." Maybe it's not so far-fetched.

Listen to us... "New" rainforest. "New" species. Preserving nucleic acids for millions of years... (By the way, DNA and RNA are both nucleic acids. As far as we know, they're the most common nucleic acids. I said, "As far as we know..." Nucleic acids are found in all cells and viruses.)

So, what do we really know about our environment? The "new" microbe was fetched from two miles down, obviously frozen there when temperatures were warmer than they are now. I don't know, but they were probably digging that deep for ice core samples to make the case for global warming...

Speaking of global warming, in April of 1975, Newsweek magazine ran an article that, today, is absolutely fascinating. (Click on the image of the news article below to read that article.) The article made a rather powerful emotional case for doing something about the global cooling phenomenon. So, we were cooling in 1975, we were warming in 2007, and now we're talking about "global climate change" today, I guess because we don't know what's happening but we know something's happening.

I think we need a new perspective in the scientific community and a lot of self-awareness in the public discourse on science. Scientists need to remember the scientific method and stay out of politics. Politicians need to remember that they aren't scientists and that they apply a corrupting influence to the public perception of the truth when they get involved in deciding what is good and bad science.

If everyone had it right, they'd confess that there aren't new life forms and a new rainforest in Mozambique and there isn't a new breed of microbes under the ice in Greenland. The simple fact is that these things have been there for some time and, as smart as we are, we still didn't know about them. It stands to reason that there is probably more that we don't know about this old planet than what we do know.

Being honest about all of this might just move us a little further a little more quickly in our understanding of the facts of our world and get us out of our one-armed dog paddle around the issue. But then, what would that do to our political scene? It would be a lot less entertaining, wouldn't it?

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.