Monday, July 28, 2008


"The bad news is that time flies. The good news is that you're the pilot."

It's been a while since I posted anything like a movie review. I've seen plenty. Well, actually, hectic as life has been lately, I haven't really seen enough, but I've seen the majors: Wanted, Hancock, The Dark Knight. You can find plenty of reviews on them. And they're all good (the movies, not the reviews)--all worth the chunk of your salary you'll pay to escape real life for two hours or more. (Though the one you might expect to be the most escapist may surprise you in it's fidelity to the realities of the human psyche.)

I'm more inclined to review in this space the movies you're likely to otherwise miss. So, quickly, because my life is still more hectic than ever as I prepare to move from Colorado to South Carolina in the next ten days, here's another movie worth your time that you've probably missed already. I would have missed it too. I stumbled on it. Unable to sleep, I decided to give a movie a try.

Netflix has this cool feature that allows you to "watch instantly." I pulled up comedy as the category and on the first row was a movie called Cashback. Okay, I'll admit it, the cover bore the image of pretty girl, and I'm sure that's what attracted me. But it's not what kept me watching to the end.

Over the past year, I've named two movies that you really shouldn't miss: Once and Reign Over Me. If you followed those recommendations, but didn't like the movies, then you shouldn't watch this one either. But if those recommendations proved worthwhile, this one is for a movie I would consider to be in the same category. I'll warn you up front though, that the nudity in it is total (women only; no guys in the buff; sorry ladies), but it's not prurient. It is, actually, quite beautiful. And if ever there were a movie for which a soundtrack were a crucial part of the overall effect, this is one. (I tried to buy the soundtrack after the movie was over, but I don't think it exists.) Billed as a comedy and rated R for "graphic nudity"--a poor choice of words really--it's not likely to be something you would pull off the shelf or order from Netflix on your own.

I realize, of course, that I'm telling on myself in that, I did order up and start watching that movie, but my choices to "watch instantly" were limited, and it looked like the most promising of the few. Little did I know. And whatever telling on myself I may be doing, I'll live with it in order to recommend the movie. I can easily imagine how someone might accuse it of being a glorification of voyeurism. I think that would be an unfortunate misinterpretation and reflect a misunderstanding of that word. It will depend, in the end, on your answer to the protagonist's question posed to the object of his own affection in the movie's final moments: "Do you trust me?"

At any rate, I found it a good movie, a cathartic experience, worth both the time it took to watch, and the time it took to write this. See for yourself. You'll know after the first half hour whether it's worth the next 70 minutes or not.

Once upon a time I wanted to know what love was. Love is there if you want it to be. You just have to see that it's wrapped in beauty and hidden away between the seconds of your life. If you don't stop for a minute, you might miss it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

New Orleans's Long Road Back

An important step on the road to recovery, from anything, is the ability to face criticism again. So it's worthy of note that New Orleans has reached a milestone of sorts.

From today's New York Times:

New Orleans has gotten its beans back.

These are not the creole red beans that hold a sacred place on Monday lunch menus across the city. Rather, they are the measures of restaurant quality that the city’s daily newspaper awards. Let other critics use stars; The Times-Picayune deals in beans.

In its Friday issue, for the first time since every restaurant in the city shut down after Hurricane Katrina nearly three years ago, the newspaper was handing out beans alongside a formal restaurant review.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lee Barbour

If you've been reading this blog for any time at all, you know that I really don't believe in coincidence. I had a great conversation this afternoon with a Charleston musician about to try his luck in the Big Apple. I may even end up renting his pad for the next academic year while I join the faculty at a small college in that seaport I think of as closer to New Orleans East than anything else on that coast--a college, by the way, more similar to the one I'm leaving than different.

Regardless of what happens with the house, I wanted to share a link to his web site and the music I've been listening to for over an hour now. Enjoy!

"At least it's my aspirational peer group!"

Over at Enrevanche, Barry posted a snippet from James Fallows and a link to a post meant to be rather sadly revealing about, as Fallows titled it, "Our American Media Landscape." Reading the whole Fallows post though, I was struck by a different chord.

For reasons too odd to contemplate, a quick, business-related, out-and-back trip from Beijing airport to.... Newark! With stay at an airport hotel designed to make me newly grateful for the environmental pleasures of Beijing. Surrounded on three sides by freeways. On the fourth, by check-cashing storefronts, pawn shops, liquor stores, tattoo parlors, car-auction sites. Kind of disappointed not to see some gun shops in there too.

All the other occupants of the hotel that I have seen are flight crews on Newark layovers. At least it's my aspirational peer group! Get to sit with the grizzled pilots in the bar and talk about "there I was...."-type flying tales and which airline will fold next.
I'm sure Fallows's description of the conversation here was every bit as accurate as his sad truth about the NYT (go read). Sadly, it reminded me of another piece of "humor" I received lately from a pilot friend--one that struck way too close to home. I'll share it, because a) it's funny; and, b) every aviator will recognize a piece of himself in there somewhere. I've no doubt whatsoever it's a pretty accurate description of some poor guy's life, start to finish. I know there's some of me there--ahead of the time line in some places, behind in others. One more good reason to make the move to academics as a profession. ;-)

'Life as a Pilot'

22 years old: Graduated from college. Go to military flight school. Become HSJP (hot shit jet pilot). Get married.

25 years old: Have 1st kid. Now hot shot fighter jock getting shot at in war. Just want to get back to USA in one piece. Get back to USA as primary flight instructor pilot. Get bored. Volunteer for war again.

29 years old: Get back from war all tuckered out. Wants out of military.

30 years old: Join airline. World is your oyster.

31 years old: Buy flashy car, house and lots of toys. Get over the military poverty feeling.

32 years old: Divorce boring 1st wife. Pay child support and maintenance. Drink lots of booze and screw around while looking for 2nd wife.

33 years old: Furloughed. Join military reserve unit and fly for fun. Repeat above for a few more years.

35 years old: Airline recall. More screwing around but looking forward to a good marriage and settling down.

36 years old: Marry young spunky 25 year old flight attendant.

37 years old: Buy another house. Gave first one to first wife.

38 years old: Give in to second wife to have more kids. Father again. Wife concerned about 'risky' military Reserve flying so you resign commission.

39 years old: Now a captain. Hooray! Upgrade house, buy boat, small single engine airplane and even flashier cars.

42 years old: 2nd wife runs off with wealthy investment banker but still wants to share house (100%).

43 years old: Settle with wife # 2 and resolve to stay away from women forever. Seek a position as a check Captain for 10% pay override to pay mounting bills. Move into 1 bedroom apartment with window air conditioners.

44 years old: Company resizes and you're returned to copilot status. 25% pay cut. Become simulator instructor for 10% override pay.

49 years old: Captain again. Move into 2-bedroom luxury apartment with central air conditioning.

50 years old: Meet sexy Danish model on International trip. She loves you and says you are very 'beeeeg!'

51 years old: Marry sexy Danish model for wife #3. Buy big house, boat, twin engine airplane and upgrade cars.

52 years old: Sexy model wants kids (not again). Resolve to get vasectomy.

54 years old: Try to talk wife out of kids, but presto, she's pregnant. She says she got sick after taking the pill. Accident, sorry, won't happen again.

55 years old: Father of triplets.

56 years old: Wife #3 wants very big house, bigger boat and very flashy cars, 'worried' about your private flying and wants you to sell twin engine airplane. You give in. You buy a motorcycle and join motorcycle club.

57 years old: Make rash investments to try and have enough money for retirement.

59 years old: Lose money on rash investment and get audited by the IRS. You have to fly 100% International night trips just to keep up with child support and alimony to wife #1 and #2.

60 years old: Wife #3 (sexy model) says you're too damned old and no fun. She leaves. She takes most of your assets. You're forced to retire due to Age 60 rule. No money left.

61 years old: Now Captain on a non-schedule South American 727 freight outfit and living in a non-air conditioned studio apartment directly underneath the final approach to runway 9 at Miami Int'l. You have 'interesting' Hispanic neighbors who ask you if you've ever flown DC-3's.

65 years old: Lose FAA medical and get job as sim instructor. Don't look forward to years of getting up at 2 AM for 3 AM sim in every god-forsaken town you train in due to the fact your carrier can find cheap, off-hours sim time at various Brand X Airlines.

70 years old: Hotel alarm clock set by previous FedEx crew member goes off at 1:00 AM. Have heart attack and die with smile on face. Happy at last!

Ain't aviation great?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

27 Years Is Long Enough

My retirement ceremony was last Friday. Though I don't actually become a civilian for slightly over another two months, Friday was theoretically my last day in uniform. It was a day marked by moments, shared by those dearest to me.

There was a last jump, accompanied by people with greater significance in my personal skydiving world than some even knew. In the photo below are one of the two sisters who assembled the jump suit I'm wearing (given to me as a father's day gift by my daughters over eight years ago), a new cadet member of the Wings of Blue Parachute Team, the staff member who's helping shepherd the cadet team into the future by contributing his seriously sick skills to both the wing suit syllabus and the free fly program, a member of the world-record canopy relative work formation from November 2007, and my longtime friend Marty. Marty has been part of more skydiving milestones than I can list here, and has likely forgotten more about skydiving than I may ever know. He was a Senior Airman at the academy when I was a cadet. He taught me the basics and signed the first five jumps I ever entered into a skydiving log.

After opening, I hung out above everyone for a while, being sure to take in the view one last time, as I'll probably never be suspended under fabric in that particular piece of airspace again, ever. At the bottom end, my friend Buzzard captured in digits the final fraction of a second of what was almost certainly my last flight under an Air Force canopy:

The ceremony itself was followed by refreshments, the centerpiece of which was a cake my daughter spent most of the day prior making from scratch, complete with a skydiver under canopy. She got the detail right, down to the relative work "grippies" on the suit, the helmet visor, and the number of cells in the canopy:

And around the edge, my assignment history:

It was a very small ceremony. I'd planned it that way. My closest friends were there. And I was honored to look up and see none other than Jay "the Piper" standing in the back of the room.

In some respects, it was a day like any other day. And in others, it was surreal from start to finish. Mostly, I was just glad when it was over. People have asked if I felt different. Mostly the answer's been no. But today, reality hit. What did it? I was sitting on the porch, looking at housing options where I'm headed next, and I heard the Otter passing overhead. In the past, my thought pattern on hearing that has always been to consider whether it would be worth my time to head down to the squadron for a jump. Most days lately, I've had too much to do, and the decision has always been not to. But today was the first day that I've had to hear that and consciously think, "There goes a plane I'll probably never board again." That was reality. That was about the only thing I'm really going to miss. That I'll miss the great men and women I've had the honor of serving with, in every service, should go without saying. "Above all," I'll miss the people, but I'm still glad to be done. :-)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

81% Dixie

"81% (Dixie). Did you have any Confederate ancestors?" Well, duh.

Find out how you score here.

Hat tip: Lex.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why I Avoid Reporters, Always

The photo caption leading to this story reads:

Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks during a news conference in Chicago, Wednesday, July 9, 2008. Jackson apologized Wednesday for comments he made about Barack Obama's speeches in black churches during what he thought was a private conversation with a reporter.
Right. I'm pretty sure that part I bolded is more imaginary a thing than the unicorn. I thought all politicians knew that.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

War, Literature, & the Arts

There are a couple of new posts from me over at the other blog I maintain. Enjoy.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea

I could spend time coming up with something new, but I'll just use Buck's tagging of me the other day to reiterate that, yes, there really is an autobiography (of sorts) in progress, and yes, it should be damned funny. Most of the major events in my life either call for tears or laughter, and sometimes both, and whenever there's a toss up, I try to opt for the laughter.

With that in mind, here are the rules of the meme sent my way.

1 – Write the title to your own memoir using exactly six words.

2 – Post it on your blog.

3 – Link to the person who tagged you.

4 – Tag five other bloggers.
So, as one possibility, the title of today's post is a shortened version of what's already the working title: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time. If I had to come up with a new one though, in just six words, I'd be most likely to pilfer the working title of the work we joke about around the office, but which, for obvious reasons, I'll never be able to actually write: You Can't Make This Shit Up! I suspect publishers might have an issue with such a scatological title, but as a working option, it has the virtue of consoling us on a daily basis. ;-)

As for whom I might tag, Buck's already hit Jay, but I'd be interested to hear from Barry, Chap, and Phil on this one. Or not. I usually opt out of these sorts of viral things, so I'm just throwing it out there in case they've got time on their hands.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Milestones and Bright Spots

Where did this week go? At least my good intentions to post make for a quick read after that last tome. :-)

Here's the thing: I told my father at the beginning of 2007 that I thought it was going to be a year of phenomenal change for our world, that we would see a shift of the sort that serves as a major milestone from which people then measure the rest of their lives. Not a personal shift, we all have those. But a societal one, the sort that make it into the history books: the Great Depression, either World War, the American Revolution. I think I was about a year early.

It's possible, of course, that I'm mistaking the turmoil of my own life at the moment for a shift that all can feel. I scored, after all, about 487 points on the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory. Wahoo. That just makes me chuckle. I read their note:

Now, add up all the points you have to find your score.
  • 150pts or less means a relatively low amount of life change and a low susceptibility to stress-induced health breakdown.
  • 150 to 300 pts implies about a 50% chance of a major health breakdown in the next 2 years.
  • 300pts or more raises the odds to about 80%, according to the Holmes-Rahe statistical prediction model.
and I think, "Wow, guess it's amazing I'm still standing." And then I remember that my life is so much better than so many people's. I think the difference is friends. In truth, I think there are some problems with that whole inventory thing. Some of the items that I test positive for are just that, positives. They create some stress, true, but they come with their own counteracting positive excitement. Retirement is a stressor, as is moving to a new job, but both are positive things in my case. Bottom line, there's a lot on my plate, but I don't plan to crumble any time soon. Nobody's shooting at me at the moment. I can walk the dog without worrying about land mines or snipers. I jump out of airplanes for fun; I've been in uniform for 31 years; I eat stress for breakfast. Perspective.

Back to the rest of the world though. We are in a recession. Homes are not selling and those that are, are losing value. Jobs are harder to find. We continue, as a nation, to fight a war on two fronts while the threat of a third looms ever present. And this last reality is something that mainstream America has only been marginally conscious of. As I heard one officer put it: "America isn't at war; America's military is at war." A subtle but meaningful distinction. Gas prices have finally reached that magic mark of $4/gal where people actually begin to change their driving habits. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I don't know what it will be called, how we will refer to it, what capstone event or shift will lend its name to this year, but I think we are approaching that milestone in the road of all our lives that will serve as a crest, a bend, an embarkation to which people refer when they say, "Yeah, that was back before . . . "

Take inventory. Begin to decide now what really matters. Count yourself lucky if you are among those who already know. Friends, family, health--those seem good starts.

Yesterday, I gave what will certainly be one of my final tours of the institution I've called home for 14 years of 31 in uniform. It was an honor to do that for a family that so obviously has a good grip on those things that really matter.

I don't mean to be all doom and gloom here. I'm not. I just have a pretty good sense that a number of things--the economy, the climate, the stretching of our military--are going to get worse before they get better. But they will get better. At any rate, I think things are going to be different in the coming years. One thing won't change. It will be important to have people that you love with whom to share those years.

My best to you all. Doc.

UPDATE: Phil, from the Archer Pelican, provided the following link to an online version of the stress inventory that allows you to check the events then click a button for the results. I scored 523 this time around. After I hit "Calculate Results" a window popped up that said, more or less, "This individual will self-destruct in five seconds." Don't count on it.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Talk Less; Listen More

Warning: This is long. If you hang to the end, you may be throwing my own advice back at me. ;-)

It’s a hard truth in the world I chose for my first career that if you don’t like your boss, there’s usually not a lot you can do about it. Fortunately, most of the people I’ve worked for have ranged from not-all-that-bad to downright awe-inspiring. A rare few were mentors from whom I’ve taken lessons that will serve me to the end of my days, whether leading from a command position, executing another’s policy as first mate, or consensus building as a member of a group of equals.

I list those three particular realms here (there is, of course, also simply doing as one’s told in the follower role, and though even that is harder than many think, it requires far less finesse than any of the foregoing three) because I believe they cover three very distinct roles that may be required of a leader, and they require three very distinct skill sets for success. The latter two I’m going to give short shrift today; not because I don’t value them as much as the first, or think them equally complex, but because this post is really about that first skill set, and about the danger of confusing the requirements of any of those three roles. So what I will say about those other roles will be in relation to the role of commander.

To begin with, one of the most important roles of the first mate is to give honest input to the captain of the ship, and then to execute the captain’s policies whether in agreement or not. That person incapable of executing policy with which he or she disagrees will necessarily fail as a first mate. Likewise, the person without the courage to speak up when the ship’s course places all in danger may seem to succeed depending on the character of the captain, but that person seems guilty to me of a moral failing not much less serious than mutiny. What good is such an officer except as an agent to crack the whip on the backs of the crew? In all cases, the captain’s role is to make such input possible, to encourage it, to value it, to actually hear it, and then to make a decision with confidence that mate and crew alike will execute that decision. This pas de deux obviously requires a great deal from both parties. One of the worst things someone in a position of genuine command can do is squelch input. Input doesn’t always begin as dissent, but input discarded immediately because it doesn’t token full agreement will often fester into dissent of the worst kind—the silent sort that eats at the heart of an organization.

Equally as dangerous is input never heard because the commander is too busy mistakenly assuming that third role of consensus-builder. Commanders must frequently play this role, but only at “the big table” with their fellow commanders, their equals, whom they must convince rather than direct. (I use the word commander very consciously here. There are many organizations where leadership rotates, where the position of head is occupied temporarily by someone who will eventually return to the ranks, yielding leadership responsibilities to someone in those very ranks now. Many civilian academic departments function this way. In such organizations, consensus building may very well trump outright command as the appropriate mode, but the military is not such a place.) In the military, a skilled commander must be able to shift from consensus building with equals to blunt direction with subordinates, still soliciting, hearing, and incorporating input from below as appropriate. But this latter skill is not to be confused with consensus building. I have seen what can happen in an organization where someone in a position of full command makes the mistake of believing that consensus is necessary. Kahlil Gibran said in The Prophet, “You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.” The commander who spends an inordinate amount of time attempting to convince subordinates that the ship is on the right course will inspire nothing but worry in the crew.

And that is what all that follows is really about. A younger friend in just such a position of command with just such a problem recently asked for help in understanding why his unit’s morale was dragging along the depths like an anchor. It didn’t help that he’d been given command of a unit whose demographics were wholly unlike anything he’d ever commanded before, and that he neglected, largely, to take those differences into account. Nor did it help that he lacked experience with many of the finer points of the mission. This latter challenge though, was easily surmountable by depending on the seasoned crew, especially the ship’s officers. What paralyzed this person though, and undermined his success more than any other thing, was an over-valuation of consensus and an accompanying drive toward speaking it into existence that simultaneously silenced the voices of those who might have helped and announced to the crew at large that the captain was uncertain of both his role and his course. The result was an exodus of both officers and crew at the first opportunity they had. Those who stayed largely did so because they were not at a place where their careers would allow their departure. And those who stayed were and are unhappy.

But there may be hope. That person, whose very drive to consensus building is, among other things, a sign of how much he genuinely cares, recently asked for help in understanding the rancor among the ranks. Again, a person who didn’t genuinely care would not be so heart-wounded by the state of things. In answer, I offered some encouragement and the following simple advice: Talk less; listen more.

So, while this post is already longer than most anything I’ve bothered to share before, here, somewhat edited for more general application, is advice for anyone in a position of genuine command who struggles with a desire for consensus from the ranks. Bottom line: Talk less; listen more.

My friend, keep caring and keep trying. No one willing to objectively evaluate your time at the helm could realistically accuse you of being unconcerned with the welfare of your troops, the care with which you execute the mission, or the overall health of your parent unit as a whole. You have most of the right concerns at heart.

But all that said, you must somehow learn to change one thing before your unit’s morale is going to begin the long journey from the depths it’s plumbed back to the surface: Talk less; listen more.

Take as an example, any policy you wish to which the majority of your command may have once voiced objections. What are people’s objections to it? Ask your secretary and you’ll probably be told that no one really has any. Actually, they did once upon a time, but they’ve learned how fruitless it is to voice those objections. If someone were to come to the front office to “discuss” a policy, one might hope that they would be asked “What is it you don’t like about it?” “What do you suggest instead?” “Are there any adjustments we could make to the current program to make it more palatable?” The bottom line is, every question should lead to another question, because, in the end, if the commander’s mind isn’t changed by the complainant, then nothing changes. No justification from the commander is required, period. You can thank a troop for his/her input and send them on their merry way. You’ve lost nothing by listening, but you might learn something, hear some view that you were unaware of before.

Too often however, by all reports, that brave hypothetical soul can expect to spend 25 of their 30 minutes in your office hearing answers to all of the following questions, notwithstanding the fact that they never asked them: “Why does the commander think it’s a good idea?” “How does the commander think it should affect their morale?” “How does the commander think it aligns with current service policy?” “What advantages does the image of the unit gain from such a policy?” “What personal gains will the individual inevitably achieve as a result of the policy?” “How does the time commitment compare favorably to some other equally onerous policy that might be instituted instead?” “How popular by contrast (or similarly unpopular) was a similar policy that the commander enforced in a previous assignment?” “How did the commander handle objections from people in that unit?” “What were those people’s objections?” “How is the policy, and particularly any objections anyone might have to it, indicative of larger issues within the unit?” “In what way does the troop’s complaint or attitude remind the commander of some incident that occurred during the commander’s tenure as Executive Officer to some other well-respected commander?” And so on. The point is, people in your unit have learned that anyone coming to you to voice an objection to a policy or procedure can plan on spending 25 of any 30 minutes listening to the commander’s arguments for something rather than having their own input on it heard. Result: people stop trying to voice an opinion and you are left wondering why morale is in the toilet.

I am not suggesting that every complaint or objection should drive a commander to change a policy or procedure—far from it. Military command is not a democracy. In many cases, you can let your troops talk for 30 minutes, thank them for their honesty, and leave the policy or procedure in place. You will still have changed something: they will feel that you listened, perhaps even that you heard. That in itself will earn their respect and go a long way toward gaining their less grudging compliance. But if you spend most of the time you have with them talking to them, giving them your rationale for a decision, trying to sway them to your point of view, you will accomplish one thing and one thing only: they will stop talking to you. They will learn that, despite the fact that you may be interested in their opinion, you lack the listening skills to receive it, to draw it out, to encourage it. They’ll learn to be quiet. You will isolate yourself. And you will wonder how it happened. How it has already happened.

Talk less; listen more. In any 30 minutes spent with someone you command, you should spend 25 of it listening. Three of your five minutes should be spent in asking questions to keep them talking. Give yourself no more than two for expressing your own opinion. That’s more than enough.

Talk less; listen more. The same rules apply even if someone comes to you for advice. Ask them questions. What they really mean when they ask for advice is not, “What would you do?” but, “How would you go about making this decision?” The answer is not, “I would consider this, then this, then this?” The answer is, “Have you thought about this? What about this? And this?” Each question asked with pauses to allow them to answer. In the end, they’ll have done most of the talking, but you’ll get credit for having “given” them the advice they sought.

Talk less; listen more. You wondered aloud recently why unit members don’t want to spend time with one another at functions like your annual social, but I’m told, I’m sorry to relate, that you give little heed to the answers when they come. Rather than asking the right questions of the right people, they say you spend your time trying to talk them into enthusiasm. “Everyone should want to go. Everyone should feel an obligation to go. We owe it to each other. It’s tradition. It’s simply part of being a good officer.” Talk less, and listen more, and you may learn how to make it an event no one will want to miss. Or maybe not. But you will certainly never talk such an event or attitude into existence. Such consensus is impossible to build through words. The event was originally conceived as something that would be fun. Somewhere along the way it lost that as a raison d’etre. Restore the fun or abolish the event. Is there some risk in such an activity? Absolutely. But it’s worth remembering Churchill’s remark that there’s nothing so exhilarating as to be fired upon without effect. These are warriors after all.

I’ll just say it one more time: Talk less; listen more. If you doubt my analysis of the root problem here, then I challenge you to put it to the test. Keep a stopwatch discreetly in your hand during an office visit from some troop. Use it to time the amount of time they spend speaking and compare it to the overall length of the visit. If the result, initially, doesn’t support what I’ve said above about the way most conversations in your office go, then you can feel vindicated. But, if it does support it, then you simply need to decide whether my advice is worth anything or not. If you think an open-door policy is really just a good opportunity for you to transmit instead of receive, then you should save yourself some time and have more frequent commander’s calls to lecture everyone at once.

Lastly, if you decide there may be something to that simple four-word mantra I’m offering, you’ll need to be cognizant of one final hurdle. The longer you’ve spent in transmit-only mode, the longer it may take for your troops to recover. But it’s an intelligent bunch we have the honor of leading, and while it doesn’t take long for such unbridled consensus seeking from a commander to engender a culture of studied silence, neither does it take long for genuine change of almost any sort to be noticed. If you are willing to learn to listen, it may amaze you how much you’ll hear and how soon.

At any rate, I hope this is helpful. I wish you nothing but the best, now and always.

Of Jalapeños and Ballons

Two interesting tidbits from today's news:

On the Salmonella front, now they're focusing on jalapeños. Just great. My idea of a great appetizer is one of these peppers cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed, then filled with peanut butter. I eat them in my scrambled eggs most mornings, my salads most evenings, my popcorn whenever I have it (though the eye-stinging aroma of peppers in hot oil did cause my in-laws to abandon their home once like radicals fleeing a tear-gas cannister).

And in the competition for this year's Darwin award, lawn chair balloon guy is at it again. At least he's wearing a parachute. ;-) Go here for my comments on last year's attempt.

I've Got How Long?!

An interesting post over at Lex's place this morning reminded me of a revelation that came a little over a month ago as I sat in the Transition Assistance Program at my base, trying, for real this time, to wrap my mind around my impending departure from military service. It went like this:

The counselor for our Survivor Benefit Program had the stage. SBP is a program whereby you give up a set percentage of your retirement $ now in order to guarantee that your spouse will continue to receive a significant percentage of that retirement, even after your death, should he/she outlive you. On the screen was a chart showing the statistical chances that said event would occur. Average lifespan of the American male, average lifespan of the American female, etc.

Initially, I looked at that chart and thought, okay, so I've got x number of years left. Plenty of time. Then I did some mental calculations and realized that x equaled the number of years of my military career to that point. Considering that it seems like I just put the uniform on for the first time yesterday, last week at most, I realized that meant I'd be gone well before the end of the month, relatively speaking. And considering how much life continues to speed up with each passing day, I figure I'll be done more like next week.

I'd better get busy, and now. I'm not sure I've slept well since.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Betrayal, Free Will, and Cormac McCarthy

Over on The Extended Table, there was a conversation I missed back in April. My life lately has been a blur. I've commented little in the blogosphere and actually posted here even less. But the thread on this blog generated by the post on mercy below, led Piper to point out the earlier exchange over at his place. I eventually left a comment there, but rather than get long-winded on Piper's site, I decided to bring the bulk of my remarks here.

The aspect of his thread that generated the most thought for me was the assertion of one commenter that the why of "betrayal" wasn't necessarily important. That she had done something with good intention but bad result that left a friend feeling betrayed. For that commenter, as I understood her, this meant that she had betrayed that person. I disagree. Here's why.

I wrote an entire dissertation on Cormac McCarthy. Really, it was a very personal exploration of McCarthy's concept of God and man's relationship to him. I chose McCarthy because he seemed to put most of what I believed into words with far better skill than I could hope for. When I read that thread over at Piper's place, and that commenter's opinion on the seeming precedence of result over intent, I couldn't help but think back to my own work on McCarthy, his ideas, his fictional world, and how it applied.

Bottom line: intent is the important thing in truly establishing the character of an act.

But here, if you're interested, is the expanded version, extracted from my earlier writing:

Beginning with Judge Holden in Blood Meridian and continuing through Cities of the Plain with a varied cast of outspoken and occasionally somewhat unlikely philosophers, McCarthy gives voice to a system in which destiny is both real and immutable, a system which has governed events in McCarthy’s fictional worlds even before he gave voice to it through such spokespersons.

One important facet of such a system is a very Catholic belief that God (or Ben Telfair’s “something”) does know all that will be and has been, as well as every alternative that never was nor will be. While this system effectively negates man’s capacity to choose or control the course of events in actuality, it nevertheless preserves his illusion of choice. The key difference between man’s belief in choice and the fact of choice’s non-existence rests in the difference between consequence and intent. In this system, man can only intend. In such a system, the consequence of any act is destined before the act itself even takes place; therefore, the act is destined as well. But because man cannot foresee that consequence, the illusion of choice remains bright for him, and he believes that he chooses one path over another based on the consequence he intends to bring about. That the said consequence may or may not ever come to pass is beside the point. Intention is all. In intention rests free will. God has determined outcome. Man is nonetheless left free to intend what he will. This is the philosophy of McCarthy’s metaphysical spokespersons, and this is the reality of McCarthy’s fictional world.
When I wrote that, McCarthy wasn't still an unknown--he'd won the National Book Award for All the Pretty Horses. But he had still granted only one interview, ever. This was pre-Oprah, pre-Pulitzer. Maybe it's time to get to work on publishing that dissertation as a book. I've been a little distracted of late, but this "year of change" is half over. By Christmas, I should be settled into new routines. God only knows whether that will be the case or not, but I intend to be. ;-)

(I love the point in the interview where Oprah asks him, "You haven't worked out 'the God thing' or not, yet?" His reply: "Well," chuckling, "it would depend on what day you asked me." Ain't it the truth.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Red Skelton: The Pledge of Allegiance

One thing is certain: I won't be the only blogger to post this for the Fourth of July, but it's better than anything else I have to offer. Here's Red Skelton, explicating the Pledge of Allegiance. Enjoy.

Hat tip: JPL