We Hate Business

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We really do. I’ll prove it to you with the aid of two brief examples, neither of which is the fact that the Supreme Court of our esteemed nation had to decide which forms of birth control one particular business is forced to provide its customers.

Enduring, tenacious entrepreneurial spirit is one of the bedrocks of our great nation. Historically, we adapt, innovate and invent as well or better than anyone. Franklin, Edison, Ford and Jobs are but a few that stand out in my mind. It was years before Howard Schultz turned over a dime of profit at Starbucks. Instead, he consistently dumped his money back into the company and leveraged back-breaking debt to help it grow. In doing so, he assumed tremendous risk. The guy had a wife and kids, even in the company’s early years. That’s high stakes poker. It’s not as if he had the luxury of crashing on a buddy’s Seattle couch during the lean times. These people not only had vision, they also had the stones to see it through.

You’re supposed to hate rich people, I think. That’s what I read in the news. Filthy one-percenters, and that. I’m not talking about the Paris Hiltons of the world who were handed the keys to the Bentley. I’m talking about those who earned it through hard work and the assumption of risk, with or without any amount of fortuitous circumstance. I don’t hate rich people. I admire many of them. I want them to make more money. Our system is set up for them to do just that. If you don’t like it, drop the 9-5, put it all on the table, and spin the wheel. The only mystery to me in any of this is why anyone cares what Paris Hilton thinks about the current events in Gaza.

Consider the curious case study of Uber. Have you Uber’d? Although not available in every market, it’s a replacement taxi of sorts. You get an app for your smart phone, from which you can summon a ride. Your phone knows your location, which is transmitted to available drivers, one of whom will fulfill your transportation needs. The app will give you a reasonably precise estimate of the cost of your trip, and then you can watch the car drive to you on a map. Your credit card information is on file with the company, so no money changes hands. You don’t even tip. When your car arrives, you get a text message, or the driver can call you on your cellphone. At the completion of the trip, you get a text message receipt that details the complete breakdown of the fees. The cars are clean. The drivers are courteous. I’ve yet to have a bad experience. There is no manual insertion of random fees on the meter. You don’t have to worry about the driver taking a circuitous route that you can’t negotiate because he is from Azerbaijan. It. Is. Awesome. Which is exactly why we hate it. Uber has been sued and/or issued cease-and-desist letters in at least eight cities and states. Taxi companies and their drivers are losing money. Because they are arguably good people trying to earn a living, I’m sorry for them, but someone found a way to do it better. Much better. We should embrace that. It is, after all, the American way.

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Another thing you are “supposed” to embrace is the alternative energy movement and commitment to reducing the effects of fossil fuels on climate change. I know this because I’ve heard the President speak publicly about it more than once. It’s the kind of thing that gets the tree-huggers all frothy and lathered. I’m a moderate tree-hugger, so don’t judge.

I’ve only ridden in a Tesla vehicle once. With prices that start at $70K, they are out of my price range. To be clear, I could afford to buy one if willing to forsake a number of other amenities, but I very much choose otherwise. I’m more of a pay $15K cash for a nice, used vehicle in decent condition that gets good gas mileage kind of guy. That’s not the right path; it’s just my path.

Elon Musk’s (yeah, the Paypal and SpaceX guy) goal in launching Tesla was to introduce an all-electric vehicle with premium performance ability into the market, eventually at an affordable price. Indeed, the Model 3 is expected to debut in 2017 at only $35K. Make no mistake. These are really nice cars. They are whisper-quiet with rocket-like acceleration. Because the drive-train does not rely on a traditional motor, there is ample trunk-space in the front and back. And the console resembles a fighter-cockpit more than it does the interior of a car.

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Don’t ask me what the guy in the windshield is doing. He probably should move.

To keep costs down, Tesla does not sell its cars in traditional dealerships. Instead, potential customers go to small showrooms to learn more about the company and its vehicles. Why? Because in 22 states, and the District of Columbia, dealership protection laws prevent Tesla from openly conducting test drives or even discussing the price of their vehicles. Customers must either order their vehicle direct from the company website or go to another state. From where I sit, “dealership protection laws” sound like a euphemism for “business-unfriendly”. We have a company that produces a remarkable, environmentally-beneficial vehicle at a fair (albeit high) price, and we’re worried about protecting dealerships with legislation. Maybe, just maybe, dealerships shouldn’t be protected. Cost-savings passed on to the customer free up capital for other purchases. Why is that so awful? Is it really necessary for me to go to a dealership so I can be swarmed by guys with bad comb-overs? If it’s all the same to you, I’ll pass. I’d rather chew on aluminum-foil than sit in the room with “the closer” who is trying to up-sell me on $4K rust-proofing and an extended warranty I don’t need, no matter how hard he tries to make it seem like he is my friend. I’d much rather pour out my cup of bad instant coffee and be on my way.

Tesla supporters accumulated more than the 100,000 signatures required in order to file a petition on the White House administration’s We the People website in an effort to allow the vehicles to be sold in all 50 states without restriction. The petition doesn’t guarantee success, of course, just a response. The response was lukewarm, if not sickening in its hypocrisy.

Thanks for your We the People petition. We’re excited about the next generation of transportation choices, including the kind of electric vehicles that Tesla and others have developed. These companies are taking steps to help spur innovation in the promising area of advanced batteries and electric automobiles. Vehicle electrification and other advanced technologies are vital components of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, and his commitment to addressing climate change and reducing carbon pollution, in addition to reducing our dependence on oil.

But as you know, laws regulating auto sales are issues that have traditionally sat with lawmakers at the state level.

“Traditionally sat with lawmakers at the state level.” I just spat out my gum. No, we certainly have no history of infringing on states’ rights. Not recently, anyway.

The President has taken historic action to spur more consumer choice — saving consumers money at the pump and reducing our dependence on oil. Here are some of the ways we’re helping to encourage the future generation of energy-efficient cars: (yadda, yadda, yadda)

As these initiatives show, the Administration is in favor of fostering competition in the market to help spur the kinds of innovation needed to support ongoing U.S. leadership in vehicle manufacturing and a potential range of new technologies.

Again, thank you for your petition.

In other words, no, but thank you for giving us the opportunity to tell you how awesome we are. Please continue to adapt, innovate and invent, just don’t expect any help from us. We are very selective in our infringements.

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The High Ground

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It’s tough to get there. It’s even tougher to stay there.

One of the Pensacola News Journal writers decided to get into a food fight with those who took issue with his content. Hey, man. If you want to argue with people who read your work, just get a blog. It costs only $9.95 per month. Yeesh.

I’ll offer it (mostly) without comment.

Hey Steve and all you critics of the Blues Whistleblower.

Actually, I have spoken personally with that person on the phone as recently as Saturday 7- 13.

You talked to her on the phone? She hasn’t been publicly named. How did you know who she was? Did she call you or did you call her? I don’t understand why you didn’t release the contents of your conversation. Did she just need a friend in a time of need? I’m having a tough day. Can I ring you?

Cajones Steve?
You calling me out?

Yes, I believe it’s clear that Steve is calling you out. Am I reading that wrong?

Let me ask my boss how I’m permitted to respond.

You already did. Like the bell-bottom, hip-hugging jeans that have been in the bottom of your dresser drawer for four decades…. bad idea. Just leave them be.

Meantime, I won’t be writing an article about the Whistle Blower that quotes that person unless given personal permission by that person to do so.
That person tells me that the day of making it through the Blue Angels selection process was the highlight of the Naval officer’s professional and personal life.
A dream come true.
Then came the reality of the Blue Angels, as documented by admirals–who by the way appointed X.
And then came the disillusionment and disappointment.

You’re not going to write an article about the whistle-blower that quotes that person unless given personal permission by that person to do so? That’s funny. It looks to me like you just did.

You know, the investigation went in other directions besides sexual harassment, such as the inappropriate acceptance of discounted Breitling watches. (The same company that cheapens the Blues image even now with a billboard near the base that capitalizes on them. BTW, Breitling officials won’t return my calls to talk about how they feel regarding their part on compromising the Blues.)

Breitling compromised the Blues? Actually, the investigation said the watch purchases were justified by a 2003 legal memo, although the investigating officer recommended an updated ruling. If you’re going to read, read thoroughly. The toughest aspect of custom Breitling watches is finding a fighter pilot who doesn’t own one. There might be one in my drawer. Don’t worry about it.

There were other non-sexual findings that you might want to take time to read in the investigation results, which are available online.
But the blame for the Blues’ fall from grace is spread much further: to an overly worshipful news media and fan base that simply lost touch with military standards and values.

An overly worshipful news media. Like you? That’s rich.

The military is a service organization, not a club.
Serving in the military, from the lowest Army private to the Boss of the Blue Angels, is a privilege. But it doesn’t bestow privilege.
Cajones Steve?
The Whistle Blower has got ‘em, in my view.

Nope. We’ve talked about this. Lobbing grenades a year and a half after the fact with the protection of human shields is not bold. In fact, it is the complete opposite of bold. Some might call it cowardice. Consider me part of that group.

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MH17 – More Headache in the Ukraine

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Malaysia Airlines, already suffering from a PR nightmare that far surpasses Jet Blue stranding passengers in a jet on the tarmac for eight hours, is back in the news.

Ukraine says rebels shoot down Malaysian airliner, 295 dead.

A Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian militants on Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard, a Ukrainian interior ministry official said.

The Boeing 777 came down near the city of Donetsk, stronghold of pro-Russian rebels, interior ministry official Anton Gerashchenko said on Facebook, adding it was “shot down with a Buk anti-aircraft system by terrorists” – the term the Kiev government uses for militants seeking to unite eastern Ukraine with Russia. The dead were 280 passengers and 15 crew.

The Buk missile system is fielded by both Ukraine and Russia. It’s an improved version of the old SA-6. Depending upon the variant used, it’s more commonly known in the US military as the SA-11 or SA-17. In unclassified terms, it’s a tough problem for pilots. It is very likely to find its target in the absence of significant countermeasures.

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It is too early to speculate, so I’ll speculate.

  1. Ukrainians shot it down so they could blame it on pro-Russian separatists.
  2. Pro-Russian separatists shot it down so they could blame it on Ukraine.
  3. Someone made a terrible mistake that killed 295 civilians.

None of the three bode well for anyone.

The military commander of the rebels, a Russian named Igor Strelkov, had written on his social media page shortly before the report of the airliner being downed that his forces had brought down an Antonov An-26 in the same area. It is a turboprop transport plane of a type used by Ukraine’s forces.

Unless some new An-26 wreckage shows up on Ukrainian dirt – STAT – Igor is going to have one of those days he would rather soon forget. He apparently didn’t get the memo about slowing down for a deep breath before posting something you will regret on Facebook. How did those strippers get in my photo?!

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Hamas, Can I Have a Minute?

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Another batch of good folks trying to take care of their people. They are simply misunderstood, that’s all. You are just an adorable suicide bomber, aren’t you?

In a previous job, I spent more than my fair share of time studying the central Levant and its various patterns of interconnectedness. Does that make me an expert? Certainly not. I would advise you, however, to view with caution anyone who says they are an expert. They’re usually selling you something. And in this particular part of the world, the lens through which you see the various interest groups in and around Israel has the capacity to severely distort the images that eventually make their way to your brain. The history of this area is recounted so differently that very few people from opposite sides of the fence can even agree on what happened or why. Much of this history is handed down in a web of lies through generations, and lies told long enough eventually become the truth.

I’m going to present some very basic history. For some of you, it will be an all-out assault on your education and intelligence. For others, it will give you just enough context to be dangerous.

In 1917, the UK’s Foreign Secretary signed the Balfour Declaration.

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

In 1948, the state of Israel was officially formed and recognized on the international stage (by some) as a sovereign nation. Later that year, the countries of Iraq, Syria, Transjordan (now just Jordan), Egypt and Lebanon attacked. It didn’t go well for them. Again in 1967, Syria, Jordan and Egypt attacked. That didn’t go well for them either. The Israelis not only repelled the attack, they picked up new territory in the West Bank, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. A significant outcome of both conflicts, primarily the one in 1948, was a mass exodus of 1M+ Palestinian Arabs who were either coerced or asked to leave, with the promise of abundance upon their return once the Jews had been steamrolled. Since the Jews did not get steamrolled, they became refugees instead. Unrest foments. Many of them, and their descendants, now live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which are territories the Israelis turned over to Palestinian Authority in 2003.

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Currently, Fatah is the ruling political party in the West Bank. Hamas split from Fatah in 2007, and they now “govern” the Gaza Strip. Fatah and Hamas, not surprisingly, do not see eye-to-eye. So there is the summation of 50,000 books and a few hundred years of history in less than five minutes. My pleasure.

This is a brief excerpt from the Hamas charter.

Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.

No surprise, that. I mean, get in line, will ya?

For over 20 years, Hamas has been lobbing unguided rockets into Israeli population centers with mixed success. In the wake of the June abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, which was blamed on two Hamas operatives, Israel aggressively pursued those responsible. In the process of searching for the bodies and suppressing Hamas operatives, they killed ten Palestinians in violent clashes and arrested several hundred others, to include over 100 of those released during the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange. This effort resulted in another barrage of rockets flying out of the Gaza strip – 140 on the first day alone. I view it largely as “poke the bear” operations. Hamas cannot risk line-on-line military operations with Israel. It would be a bloodbath. Instead, they fire their rockets from dense urban areas so that any direct retaliation will result in civilian casualties and bad press for the Israelis, who could only be described as moderately concerned with world opinion.

Is this propaganda? Maybe. But I’m a fan. The other team is going to tell their story. Why not tell yours? In contrast, Hamas, generally well known for their surgical precision and predilection for inflicting damage only on military infrastructure and personnel, has now claimed that “all Israelis” are targets. I’m sorry. Is that new? I thought that was a key part of the original plan.

This is an aerial view of the Israeli-Gaza border. I will let you guess which side is owned by the people who have been persecuted and chased around the globe as scapegoats for centuries.

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Apparently some people make their own luck.

The irony of all this is that Hamas needs Israel, as does Fatah. When living conditions are sub-standard and progress is non-existent, a common enemy comes in very handy. So you fire the occasional rocket to stoke the fires of conflict. The fire can’t erupt, but neither can it go out. Without Israel, the Palestinians have no one else to blame for their societal ills. That is a problem. If there is no enemy, everything is their responsibility, which is unacceptable. When Israel comes to the table offering 10, they demand 20. If Israel offers 20, they tell them they want Hawaii too.

Israel cares about her people. They traded 1,027 prisoners in order to return an IDF Corporal to his home. Conversely, Hamas does not care about the people of Gaza. If they did, they would not endanger them for the sole purpose of political gain. In time, I hope the people of Gaza figure that out on their own.

Hamas, about that minute I requested. If you stop shooting rockets into Israel, they will stop bombing you. Was that so hard?

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Thank Goodness

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Navy expands command ball cap policy.

At least we have that sorted out.

Starting Sept. 1, U.S. Navy commanding officers will be authorized to allow their sailors to wear command ball caps with Navy Working Uniforms Types I, II, and III. The change was announced Friday by the chief of naval personnel. Officials said feedback from sailors at all hands calls spurred the decision to bring the caps back.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t make myself care about something like this. I know that command ball caps are a very emotional issue for some people. A source of pride, if you will. In some commands, you had to earn your ball cap. Maybe that was achievement of a basic qualification, or maybe that was completion of command indoc, or maybe they just handed you one when you walked through the door. For some, this was a major issue of esprit de corps. Although I don’t fully agree, I do understand and respect the sentiment. I’m not alone.

While bringing the ball caps back has been welcomed by many sailors, the decision also has critics. Concerns range from a sailor’s appearance — the combination of ball a cap with the digital pattern of the working uniform — to the broader impact of camaraderie in the Navy.

“You should be in uniform representing the Navy, not just your individual unit or entity,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael Minotto, stationed at Naval Support Activity Bahrain. “We need to understand we’re all serving the same team.”

However you come down on this issue, I would like for us all to agree on this one principle. In the name of all that is holy, we need to make the constant barrage of head-spinning uniform changes stop.

Due to the most recent rule change, you can now wear this23

on top of this.

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Sorry, folks. That’s just dumb.

Do you know what else is dumb? The ridiculous unisex liner that comes in the Navy standard PT shorts. Unisex is code for equally terrible for men and women. It’s like a cross-functional vehicle. Great at nothing. I used to just cut the liner out entirely and wear compression shorts. The removed liner has proven more useful at wiping brake dust off the wheels of my car. In the future, I’d much rather they just call Nike and charge me an extra five dollars. I’ll gladly find something else to clean my wheels.

Don’t forget, we almost went back here.

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Some people think it’s a cool uniform. I’m ambivalent. I mostly feel that it’s just unnecessary.

The Navy’s Uniform Board is run by a civilian, a Master Chief, and an E-6. With the aid of others, they spent $226M during the research, development and roll-out of the Type I Navy Working Uniform (blue camouflage). $226M. Let that sink in.

It looks silly. Very few people like it. It only makes you invisible if you’re in the water, which is exactly when I do not want to be invisible. And now, you can’t even wear it onboard ship unless it’s pier-side or at anchor. This is a Navy uniform! The next thing you know, we’re going to pay billions of dollars for a non-deployable network that is not compatible with ships. Wait a minute.

I’m not advocating for new uniforms, but if I did, I would offer the following checklist for use during the acquisition process.

  1. Determine the environment in which the uniform will be worn.
  2. Sub-contract the development of suitable designs to competitors.
  3. Select finalists.
  4. Appoint someone to make sure the uniforms don’t suck.
  5. Choose a winner.
  6. Thank me later with sideline passes to a Patriots game.

I support updates and modernization in general, but some things need to be left alone. Check out this dude.russhldm

Getting it done in 1929. That’s modern classic. It has neither the need nor the room for improvement. Shouldn’t that be enough? Keep Austin weird, not Navy uniforms.

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Righting a Wrong

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It’s been a busy week over at the Pensacola Navy Times Journal. They continue to produce high quality material in support of their hometown heroes in (tight) blue flight suits. Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of their work. They are probably not huge fans of my work either, but I’m okay with that. Very okay with that. For the low price of $9.95 per month, I get to say what I want to say without the requirement to adhere to a script.

The header:

The Blue Angels have never chosen a woman pilot from their list of applicants, but more females are meeting the elite flight team’s qualifications and it may only be a matter of time.

In terms of committing to your topic, that’s pretty noncommittal, is it not? I might compete in an Ironman Triathlon tomorrow. I might not. It may only be a matter of time. Not only that, but they contradict the opening line later in the article. The Blue Angels have never chosen a woman pilot from their list of applicants?

To be sure, the Blues did select a Marine Corps pilot named Amy Bertas to fly “Fat Albert,” the team’s Hercules C-130, in 2004. But Blue Angels records reflect that she never flew in a demonstration, although the team’s historic documents don’t reflect why.

So they did choose a woman pilot from their list of applicants. Oh, I see. You mean a real pilot. One that flies a jet. The other ones don’t count, apparently. Do you know why the team’s historic documents don’t reflect the reason she never flew in a demonstration? Because it doesn’t matter. It didn’t work out. End of story. Someone of sound mind decided that there need not be media involvement in the event. Perhaps reasonable people do exist.

Meanwhile, women pilots in the Air Force broke the gender barrier with Blue Angels’ counterparts, the Thunderbirds, in 2006. The Las Vegas-based aerobatics team now boasts its third female: Maj. Caroline Jensen.

Oh boy. I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again. I worked closely with the USAF throughout my career. It is a great service filled with gifted professionals. They do a lot of things very, very well. But the last thing in the world the Blue Angels need is to become more like the Thunderbirds. Out of courtesy, I will leave it at that. I find it interesting that the author chose to use the word boasts. Having more females gives you bragging rights? “Oh yeah, we’re on our fourth female! How about them apples?!” Worst of all is that no respectable female aviator I’ve ever met would want any part of this circus. Ask this one.

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And then remind her that, for whatever reason, she doesn’t matter.

Women have been gaining credibility elsewhere in the air as astronauts, and 44 of them have already flown for NASA. Dues have been paid: Christa McAuliffe died aboard the Challenger space shuttle when it exploded in 1986.

Five points deducted for use of passive voice, another five off for bringing Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher, into the discussion.

Naming a woman pilot or flight officer would repair any damage the Blues reputation has endured of late, said Pam Hatt, a Navy veteran who is now a Pensacola publicist in private industry and a board member of the Florida Public Relations Association. “I think it would bode really well for them and be seen as moving in the proper direction of what it is they stand for. And they can right something that was wrong.”

Who is Pam Hatt, exactly? She is the director of marketing at a North Florida bank. She also served in the Navy for a couple years, which apparently makes her a credible source for opinions on all things Blue Angels. Think what you want, but I highly doubt the Blues reputation has endured any significant damage. Go to an airshow at which they are performing and see if it’s easy to get a parking spot. Even if there was damage, it didn’t have to be that way. It was a matter of choice. At least we’ve determined that it was all the fault of one single person.

Righting a wrong? No, ma’am. Shoe-horning a female onto the team for political reasons is only heaping bad on bad.

Daniel (BA Public Affairs Officer) declined to comment when asked by the News Journal Wednesday if the team’s first female jet pilot might be named soon. But several new aviators for 2015 air show season are expected to be announced on Friday after a vote on each one by the 16 Blue Angels commissioned officers. To be accepted, an applicant must be voted in 16-0.

Not so fast. Fixing something that is not broken can only be accomplished by an Admiral. Preferably of the 3- or 4-star variety.

The Navy brass has stepped into the Blue Angels’ cherished closed-door system selecting new squadron members in the wake of an investigation into sexual harassment charges earlier this year.

She said the names of the new team members would be released by Aug. 16, but only after the “selection process” has been reviewed and approved in San Diego. She said it is not known whether this is the first time the Navy has held up the Blue Angels selection of applicants, which traditionally ends with a vote of the team’s 16 commissioned officers. Votes on all candidates must be unanimous.

What anyone might hope to accomplish by having Flag Officers review the names of Blue Angel nominees / selectees is a complete mystery to me. Not only have they never spent considerable time with the finalists in professional and social settings, they have likely never met them. Furthermore, they have not spent time in a room discussing observations and opinions with others who have had the chance to watch them closely. The finalists are but names on paper. There is really only one possible explanation, and I don’t want to talk about it anymore, much less put it in print. Maybe the Admirals should review the names of those selected for TOPGUN and Test Pilot School as well. Then they will have time to do nothing else (except figure out how to fill the aviation department head slots).

I need to throw one more jab if you’ll be kind enough to indulge me. It’s the weekend. Give me some latitude.

In fact, the investigation found that the team’s flight surgeon “found it necessary to present a brief that females were capable of flying the Blue Angels’ aircraft.”

This is an utter fabrication of the truth, albeit not on the part of the newspaper. It was lifted straight out of the investigation. Honesty requires that you present information completely with no intent to deceive. “Found it necessary” is an interesting choice of words. For example, when my boss tells me to do something, I “find it necessary” to follow through.

Another term for “fabrication of the truth” is lie. And lies….. well, they do not become us.

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Top Cover

A lengthy career gives you the opportunity to observe leaders both good and bad. I’ve heard it said that you can learn as much, or even more, from those who set a poor example. While that might be true, I was fortunate in that I had the chance to go to school on one of the best. On his first day in command, he addressed us with a wad of gauze in his lip and a butterfly bandage over his cheek – battle scars earned in a martial arts tournament two days prior. He was a warrior in a flight suit, just as he was a warrior in a karategi. He fought for us, too, doing everything he could to protect our ability to do our jobs unimpeded by red-tape and institutional buffoonery. More impressive yet is that we didn’t even know he was doing it. Those were battle scars he would not reveal to us until much later. He didn’t want any of us to be distracted, and he didn’t care whether or not he got any credit for protecting us. Doing the right thing was enough for him.

There is much that can go wrong on a catapult shot, and when it does, it goes wrong quickly. Particularly in the FA-18, you concede considerable control over to the computers that help the aircraft fly. For those who have never taken a cat shot in an FA-18, or even watched one, the pilot places his/her hand on the “towel rack” located on the right side of the canopy bow during the stroke. Any human input made to the flight controls is likely to be a bad one. Instead, the flight control computers capture a pre-determined angle-of-attack for you as the aircraft departs the flight deck. It’s unnerving, but it works. Most of the time.

Anyone who has spent considerable time in the business of naval aviation has lost a friend. Those who spent as much time in it as I did lost quite a few, and in my case, even lost a couple to issues that arose during the catapult shot. I once returned from a combat mission in the early days of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in Afghanistan only to be told by the duty officer that one of my closest friends had just flown into the water off the cat on a different aircraft carrier. I crumpled to the ground, still dressed out in full flight gear, and cried like a baby. I miss that guy. The world was a better place with him in it. He was a CAG LSO, and a darn good one. I always felt comforted coming aboard when I heard his voice on the radio.

Since the FA-18 captures a pre-determined angle-of-attack post-cat shot without the help of the pilot, it’s critically important that the aircraft has a valid source of AOA measurement. Two are even better. The Hornet (in its multiple variations) has an AOA probe on each side of the forward fuselage. Unfortunately, the one on the right side sits in close proximity to the refueling probe when it is extended. Should the pilot joust with the basket during in-flight refueling, whether by his own poor airmanship or not, there is a decent chance the right probe will suffer some damage. Nowadays, the aircraft has the ability to compare AOA to other aircraft data measurements in order to verify its validity. If the two probes disagree, the aircraft can nullify the input from the errant probe. The pilot can also intervene and select the “good” probe manually if s/he’s displeased with the aircraft’s choice. It wasn’t always that way.

Another dear friend was the youngest of 12 children. Catholics, you know. He went to Notre Dame, because that was where he was supposed to go. I don’t know that he even applied anywhere else, which is a gamble since admittance to that institution is far from a given. The jet he was flying that night had just returned from another sortie. The pilot from the previous sortie had done some jousting with the basket while taking-on petrol, and in the process, dinged the right probe. The probe damage “popped a code” on the maintenance status panel. As he had been trained to do, the plane captain recorded the code on a small piece of yellow paper that eventually made its way back to maintenance control, where the Chief manning the desk reviewed it. Some of the codes are common, some are not. The desk Chiefs grow accustomed to the common codes. When they see ones they don’t recognize, they look them up, and in all cases, use the codes to determine what (if any) maintenance needs to be performed on the aircraft before it can again slip the chains of gravity. On that particular night, that particular Chief missed the code. When my Catholic hero reached the end of his night catapult shot, the right AOA probe gave an excessively high reading. The aircraft thought it was stalling, and so programmed full down on the stabilator. He entered the ocean about 100 feet in front of the ship, spraying the entire bow with water. I watched it happen on video. It was awful. I miss that guy, too, even though he victimized me on the basketball court with his deadly pull-up jumper more times than I care to admit.

Maudlin and melancholy now behind us, in this story anyway, the pilot in my next story lived. Back in the age of flannel and the Rwandan Genocide, there was a major issue with FA-18 and EA-6B wheel bearings. That issue being that they were nearly identical at visual inspection, and even had similar part numbers. Nearly identical. In terms of form and function, they were not at all identical. EA-6B wheel bearings, when installed in an FA-18, would cause the wheel assembly to disintegrate at high-speed. I suppose the opposite is also true, but I don’t recall that we op-checked that option.

In the squadron commanded by the martial artist referenced in the first paragraph, a young maintainer installed EA-6B wheel bearings in an FA-18. There is, of course, blame to be spread around. Someone ordered those parts and didn’t verify delivery of the proper kit. Someone supervised the installation and signed off on it. Not that any of that mattered in the immediacy to the guy gliding back to earth under a silk canopy, the cool, salty, sea-air caressing his cheeks. Predictably, his wheel assembly disintegrated during the cat stroke, sending rubber and sundry shrapnel into both engines. Come to find out, motors ingesting more than air suddenly become markedly less efficient at moving air out the back-end of the jet. And that can be the least of your worries, blazing fire being chief among them.

In the aftermath of any mishap, there is much speculation, investigation and teeth-gnashing. Typically, but not always, in that order. This can be a good thing, as my Catholic hero’s mishap led to changes in the FA-18′s mechanization that undeniably saved lives. Other times, people want scalps, which is what transpired in the case of the Prowler wheel bearings. The skipper was called to the carpet and advised of the manner in which his young Sailors would be hung from the yardarm and/or keelhauled. Only, he wasn’t having it. Not any of it. I will paraphrase here, as I wasn’t in the room at the time, and even if I was, I’ve killed many brain cells with the aid of distilleries since that day.

“Sir, I agree that those who made mistakes must be held accountable. I will see to it. But I won’t ruin anyone’s career or send them home. This happened in my command. The people in my command take their cues from me. If anyone should be fired because of this mishap, it should be me. It is clear I created an environment that led some of my Sailors to believe that their actions were acceptable. They are accountable; I am responsible.”

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Top cover. Get some. If you’re in a position to provide it, do so.

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Throwing Blind Darts

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The results of the Fiscal Year 2015 O-4 (Line Officer) promotion board were released today. If you want to see them for yourself, go here. And this is a link to the mother-page that allows you to see who sat on the board, what precepts were used, etc.

To say that the outcome is staggering is a massive understatement. Kinda like saying “the sun is hot”. The selection rate for Naval Flight Officers was 49-percent. The selection rate for Naval Aviators? They fared much better at 56-percent.

Before I write anything else, and while my blood pressure settles, we have to talk about numbers. Consider this a public service announcement. Or consider it free advice, which is worth exactly what you’re paying for it. Never, ever allow anyone to sell you on numbers without first requiring that they explain how the numbers were derived. Never. Ever. A car salesman will tell you that he can get you off the lot in that new vehicle for $472 per month. Sorry, pal. That’s a meaningless number. Tell me exactly what the vehicle costs with all fees included. We’ll get to the term of the loan, interest rates, conditions and stipulations later.

To that end, the below-zone, in-zone and above-zone eligibile Naval Aviators total 1,524 officers. Of that group, 321 were selected for promotion. That’s 21-percent. The 56-percent figure works only if you count just the in-zone eligible officers. That’s not clear in the statistics presented. Similarly, the 1140 community (Explosive Ordnance Disposal, or EOD) selected 105-percent of their eligible officers for promotion. That was made possible because they took not only 17 of 18 in-zone, but also two officers who were above-zone. Good for them.

Using the Navy’s criteria for determining selection rates, this is how the other warfare communities broke-out.

1110 (Surface Warfare) – 93-percent

1120 (Submarine) – 96-percent

1130 (SEAL) – 90-percent

The sub community had 62-percent of its above-zone eligibles select for promotion. In summary, you were better off at this board as a once-passed-over submariner than you were as an in-zone Naval Aviator or Naval Flight Officer.

I see only two possible drivers.

  1. Officers in the aviation community are vastly inferior to those in the other warfare specialties.
  2. The system that selects officers for promotion is horribly broken.

Option 2, methinks. How about you?

However it came about, there is absolutely no way to perform an apples-to-apples comparison of these officers using paper alone. While I am partial to aviation since it’s the community from whence I came, I have no doubt that there are great officers who wear a different warfare insignia on their chest. I have worked alongside many of them. But the only chance to adequately compare officers from different communities occurs when they are working side-by-side in the same command doing jobs that are remotely similar. Otherwise, the career paths and opportunities available to them are far too disparate. Don’t believe me? Tell a JO aviator to call his detailer toward the end of his first fleet tour. Tell him to ask about a Company Officer job at the Naval Academy so he can get his Master’s Degree in his considerable spare time. Record the conversation. Record the ensuing laughter.

It may not feel like it right now, but this was a huge moment with epic consequences. However daunting the task of filling available Department Head slots in aviation squadrons looked last month, it just got a whole lot worse. The worst wounds are always self-inflicted.

On the bright-side, the aviation command screen board five years from now will be markedly less competitive. Wait. That’s a good thing?

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Battling Ideology

In any counter-insurgency campaign, there is a very necessary focus on the general population. Insurgents (or terrorists, or revolutionaries since that sounds much more noble) are parasites. They need a host platform in order to survive. When the host is hospitable, insurgents not only survive, they thrive. When the host is hostile and rejects them, they wither and perish. There is no guarantee that the wither and perish route will happen quickly, no matter how much you will it to do so.

Counter-insurgency then, requires identification of population sub-sets vis-a-vis their loyalty and affiliation. There are three camps, albeit camps not always clearly defined:

  1. Those solid in their opposition to the insurgents.
  2. Those who have been radicalized and stand in firm support of the insurgents.
  3. Those who could be swayed one way or another.

While the most time-sensitive requirement is moving the life-expectancy of the bad guys dramatically to the left, that only gets you through the first-quarter of play. If you want to hear your team’s fight song when the clock reads 0:00, you have to locate the good folks in Category 3 and win them over to your side. Those in Category 2? They are gone. Long gone. Even if you could persuade them, the time and effort required would far outlast any nation’s will and patience. More on that later.

Full disclosure: the video clip and ensuing commentary that follow ran on CNSNews.com. I offer that mostly to lead-turn commentary about biased news sources. Whether my lead-turn results in an overshoot or a stern rendezvous remains to be seen. At any rate, there it is.

The setting is a panel discussion on the Benghazi attacks hosted by the Heritage Foundation. A young woman, innocently enough, posed a lengthy question to the panel. Her name is Saba Ahmed, and she is a law student at American University. The entire video is embedded below.

“I know that we portray Islam and all Muslims as bad, but there [are] 1.8 billion Muslims – followers of Islam. We have 8 million plus Muslim Americans in this country, and I don’t see them represented here [on the Benghazi panel.]“

If you’re really trying to offer an honest question, and if you’re truly interested in mutually beneficial dialogue, that’s a horrible lead-in. Do “we” portray Islam and all Muslims as bad? Not from what I’ve seen. All golden retrievers are dogs, but not all dogs are golden retrievers, neh? Furthermore, I’m not sure what difference it makes that a panel of academics trying to get at the details of the Benghazi attacks has no Muslims sitting in. That was a completely gratuitous comment.

“But my question is how can we fight an ideological war with weapons? How can we ever end this war? The jihadist ideology that you talk about – it’s an ideology. How can we ever end this thing if we don’t address it ideologically?”

I have my own answer to that question, but you might find it less substantive and compelling than the response provided by Brigitte Gabriel, who grew up in Lebanon and speaks with a fair bit of credibility.

“What I find so amazing, is that since the beginning of this panel – we are here about the Benghazi attack on our people – not one person mentioned Muslims, or [said] we are here against Islam. We are here because four Americans died and what our government is doing.

We are not here to bash Muslims. You were the one who brought up the issue about ‘most Muslims’ – not us. But since you brought it up, allow me to elaborate with my answer.

There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world today. Of course not all of them are radicals. The majority of them are peaceful people. The radicals are estimated to be between 15-25% according to all intelligence services around the world.

So why should we worry about the radical 15-25%? Because it is the radicals that kill. Because it is the radicals that behead and massacre.

When you look throughout history, at the lessons of history, most Germans were peaceful. Yet the Nazis drove the agenda. And as a result, 60 million people died, almost 40 million in concentration camps. 6 million were Jews. The peaceful majority were irrelevant,

When you look at Japan prior to World War II, most Japanese were peaceful people too. Yet, Japan was able to butcher its way across Southeast Asia, killing 12 million people, mostly killed by bayonets and shovels. The peaceful majority were irrelevant.

So for all our power of reason, and for all us talking about moderate and peaceful Muslims, I’m glad you’re here. But where are the others speaking out?

And since you are the only Muslim representative here, you took the limelight instead of speaking about why our government – I assume you’re an American [Ahmed responded yes.] As an American citizen, you sat in this room, and instead of asking a question about the four Americans that died [in Benghazi] and what our government is doing to correct the problem, you stood there to make a point about peaceful, moderate Muslims.

I wish you had brought ten with you so we could talk about how to hold our government responsible.”

thatcleverchick-com

It’s hard to imagine that the woman who posed the question expected such a thorough and reasoned response. She has, in all likelihood, become accustomed to people placating her and apologizing for the stereotypes through which she suffers. Ms. Gabriel is not one to provide such comfort.

In fairness to Ms. Ahmed, she has a point. There are near-term goals and there are long-term goals. No, the war cannot be won by the military alone. To achieve any type of sustainable peace, we must reach out and connect with Category 3 and detach them from the zealots in Category 2. It is the only path to long-term success. But the matter of dealing with armed radicals must be handled in the immediacy. We speak to them in the only language they understand – violence. You can’t get to the toddler in the middle of the street before working your way through the guy on the sidewalk who is trying to beat the snot out of you. If there are one-billion peaceful Muslims in the world, shouldn’t they be taking an aggressive position on this instead of letting everyone else speak on their behalf?

Another panelist, Chris Plante, offered this:

I think everyone agrees that it can’t be won by just the military. Can you tell me the head of the Muslim peace movement?

Ms. Ahmed’s reply?

 I guess it’s me right now.

Well, that’s a start.

Editor’s Note: A tip of the hat to reader DM for pointing me toward the story.

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Loyalty Goes Both Ways?

Alert the media.

Get thee over to Sal’s place without delay and read today’s post. You will be glad you did.

Many of the cultural and climate issues that are alleged to plague our current force were accepted – nay, fostered – by today’s admirals when they were swashbuckling junior officers. We’re being asked to undo and “fix” the problems they watched develop.

We’re told to de-glamorize alcohol even as we hear legendary stories about the Miramar O’Club. We’re required to complete mind-numbing Trafficking in Persons training, yet hear frequent reminiscences about Subic Bay and Pattaya. We watch good officers publicly shamed and relieved for offenses that the relieving flag officers themselves were guilty of, but in an era absent Facebook and Twitter.

That…. is a 101 mph knee-high fastball that blistered the outside corner of the plate. The batter never even considered offering at it.

With respect to availability of resources, the underlying theme was, “stop asking us to doing more with less.” Whether the “less” applies to flight hours, qualified Sailors, or materiel support, squadrons are routinely asked to meet increasingly demanding operational requirements with less of each. Worse, they’re being told to do so by flag officers who wear flight jackets adorned with multiple 1000-hour tabs and Centurion patches, symbolizing aviation milestones which have become almost entirely unattainable to today’s aviators. Squadrons are regularly sent on 10-month deployments with just-in-time parts delivery, artificial readiness, and aircraft that saw their best days when our flag officers were using them for a BAGEX.

That…. is a curve-ball that broke eight feet. The batter ducked. The catcher never moved his glove.

We see the fervor surrounding the military’s alleged sexual assault crisis, while time and again, our flag officers fail to recognize the 99% of us who find such crimes equally reprehensible. Instead, we’re subjected to yet another NKO training to make sure we remember that rape is wrong. And we’re conducting this training at the expense of executing our primary mission – flying our aircraft and preparing for war.

There is very little faith among us that our leadership will stand up in the face of outside scrutiny to defend any officer who is unfortunate enough to end up on the wrong end of an investigation – for anything. We don’t believe you have the ability, or the willingness, to pump the brakes before pulling the trigger. For many, the professional satisfaction that may come with command at sea just doesn’t seem worth the risk of having our careers, reputations, and families drug through the bilges on the basis of allegations.

That…. constitutes a long walk back to the dug-out.

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