perseverance

The “Perseverance” Rover landing successfully on the surface of Mars this week is a metaphor for the amazing success of a team – thousands of people – who rose to the challenge of putting that vehicle on a planet 300 million miles away. Human beings focused on delivering their best effort can make ambitious goals possible. This has been the case since before recorded history up through sending probes beyond our solar system. Over thousands of years people have advanced their understanding of the universe from erecting temples aligned with the relative movement of stars and planets, navigating across oceans, to physicists, engineers technical specialists, and support teams landing on other worlds. Closer to home, it is tragic that a microscopic organism, one (or more- mutations) of billions on our planet, in the 21st Century has killed or harmed millions of people across the world in the last eighteen months. Prompted by the urgency of finding a vaccine, a lot of dedicated people have been working to determine the nature of the COVID virus, obtain cooperation of billions to slow infection, and then test and distribute a vaccine to eight billion people in the last couple months time.

In both of these examples, the challenge of getting humans to work together, to seek to understand, or to solve a complex problem is tested. We can send probes to study Pluto and Oort Cloud objects, but preventing species extinction, or mitigating natural and man-made disasters seem impossibly difficult. Problems mobilize communities for a period of time, but it requires ongoing teamwork and collective vision to make meaningful change. However, if every person took the opportunity tomorrow and every day after that, to make a small yet positive change in thought and action, we can achieve goals. The book Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, by James Clear, introduces an insight into how in every endeavor, small yet continual process improvements can achieve incredible results. Perseverance is a necessary attribute whether it is landing on Mars or solving an endemic human problem.

Ask the Chief: obtain credentials in the service

If I had the opportunity to mentor young Sailors just beginning their Navy career, I would counsel them to take advantage of every opportunity afforded them in the training the Navy provides. However, there are opportunities far beyond “A” school or specialization “C” schools, to develop natural talents and intellect. In fact, there are many opportunities to develop personally and professionally, only limited by the individual’s awareness of them. For decades the military has facilitated correspondence and on-base college classes offered for off-duty servicemembers. There is access to Tuition Assistance which many have used for off-duty education at local colleges. Recreational programs through MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) offices have included SCUBA certification, rock climbing, auto mechanics and woodworking, with skilled mentors available. One of the longest associations for obtaining professional tradesman certification, is through Journeyman Apprenticeship in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Credit by examination, correspondence courses, classroom work, and military training -equivalence credit have been accepted by many universities to obtain a college degree. This has facilitated motivated Sailors, Marines and other service members to advance in their military specialties. In the last twenty years, particularly since 2013, the rapid development of technology and the drive for a more qualified and educated service member, has brought about a watershed of opportunity for both enlisted military, commissioned officers and civilian employees of the Department of Defense. Through online resources access to education, credentialing, and licensure has meant that anyone can complete a military enlistment and return to the civilian workforce with qualifications that are immediately recognized by employers.

Through the United Service Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP), ratings and occupational specialties have translated to civilian trades, by crediting work experience toward Journeyman certification. While I was aware of, and enrolled in, this credential program in 1989 – 1990, I took advantage of other education opportunities in place of becoming a Journeyman. At the same time that civilian trades people were seeing a decline in young people engaging in those occupations, by the second decade of the millennium, the military had seen significant growth in participation in an apprenticeship program. This was documented in a DOL study published in late 2015. Beginning in 2002 with the Army, all the service branches have embraced Credentialing Opportunities Online (COOL) to coordinate military and civilian employees of the respective branches becoming a more professional workforce. COOL does not offer accreditation but instead facilitates access to resources for individuals looking to pursue licenses and certifications in their respective occupations.

A future post will examine some of the best available college courses, though not for credit, yet available completely free of charge. These are available through a consortium of American universities, often delivered by online lecture with complete syllabi, notes and assignments.

the moral of this morale story

The following are excerpts from an article published on the USNI News webpage, 27 January 2021.

“The commander of a guided-missile destroyer was relieved of command after attempting to make a morale-boosting plaque from a captured weapon for his crew to celebrate the 2019 interdiction of an Iranian weapons shipment, an attorney representing the commander told USNI News on Wednesday.”

“Cmdr. Frank Azzarello was the commander of USS Forest Sherman (DDG-98) when the destroyer and a Coast Guard cutter interdicted an unmarked dhow in the North Arabian Sea on Nov. 25, 2019, Azzarello’s attorney Tim Parlatore told USNI News on Wednesday.”

“In a statement, the Navy says the relief is due to a loss of confidence in command by Rear Adm. Ryan Scholl, who commands Carrier Strike Group Eight. Cmdr. Greg Page, assigned to Afloat Training Group Atlantic, will assume duties as commanding officer.”

deckplate leadership?

The unanswered question in the article describing the Commanding Officer’s dismissal, is whether the senior enlisted leadership, comprising the Command Master Chief and the unit Chiefs Mess, made any objection or provided counsel to the Commanding Officer regarding the propriety, and violation of military regulations prior to the display being created.

As one of the roles of the CMC and Chiefs’ Mess, is to provide the Commanding Officer with any deficiencies in the command, were any objections raised to this plaque being created from a seized article? If not, this tends to put the Chiefs Mess, the traditional collective wisdom and decades of experience as deficient, at least aboard the USS Forest Sherman. Whether the Commanding Officer chose to disregard an objection raised by a member of the Chief’s Mess or the Wardroom, then the objection raised by the attorney is unsupportable. Since the military only conducts such contraband interdiction on the high seas in concert with the United States Coast Guard (Law Enforcement), the Commanding Officer was actually in violation of several standing regulations, when he authorized the display of an article from that seized shipment as a trophy. It is against military regulations and federal policy, to dispose, confiscate, or otherwise repurpose articles seized during military or law enforcement actions, without clear direction and lawful disposition.

oaths, rights and wrongs amended

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

In the United States of America the notion of an oath of fidelity, (faithfulness or allegiance) is not something suggested or required for most occupations. A half-century ago, as schoolchildren, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance before our first class every morning. As Boy Scouts, we recited its promise to obey God, do one’s best and uphold the Scout Law. Enlisting and re-enlisting in the military, members take the oath to support and defend the Constitution, to obey orders and military regulations. Federal employees as well as naturalized citizens take an oath to defend the principles of our founding document as well.

to the Constitution’s defense

Recent events involving people storming the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., were alarming. Even if unintentional, the misuse of his influence by a now-former President was not justified. He encouraged a demonstration that became mob mentality, Though citizens have the First Amendment right of peaceable assembly , to gather Trump’s emotionally-charged supporters around the Capital Building at the time of the certification of the Electoral College votes, was improper at best. But the undermining of faith in the Constitutional process sits squarely with Washington politicians and bureaucrats.

Government officials spent years unsuccessfully to determine if the 2016 election of Donald Trump was manipulated by foreign agents. In the prior eight years of President Obama’s presidency, his opposition, decried alleged misuse of Constitutional authority on many of his Administration’s policies, particularly “Obamacare”. Politics is normally unsavory, but there is ample evidence that journalists, bureaucrats, politicians and social media stoked the emotions of their respective constituents. They fostered suspicion that the Constitution was being usurped – either by one side’s “fascists” or the other’s “socialists”. The system functioned as intended however. With the election of President Biden and Vice-President Harris, the military has a new Commander-In-Chief and new civilian authority. Regulations and the UCMJ are still in effect. And the oaths men and women took to defend the Constitution and obey the orders of those in authority are still in effect.

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Reputation

Honor, Courage, and Commitment

Remarkable contributions are typically spawned by a passionate commitment to transcendent values such as beauty, truth, wisdom, justice, charity, fidelity, joy, courage and honor.

Gary Hamel, businessman b. 1954

In the Navy, Sailors are taught the value of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. These are not simply cherished values, they are the foundation of what will ultimately make an individual successful in Life. A person learns that Honor – both that which you earn personally and that which you hold in esteem, is fundamental to how one builds trust with others. In a biography, The Luckiest Man (Mark Salter), of the late Senator John McCain, he maintained his sense of honor as a POW in refusing special considerations during captivity (his late grandfather and father (during Vietnam) were Navy Flag officers). His Senate career, in pushing normalization of relations with Vietnam, on legislation over campaign financing, foreign relations and military matters, won praise even from the opposition party (including President Obama). A second tenet, courage, is not simply the quality of the fiercest warrior. Courage is being resolute, despite opposition in one’s moral convictions. Taking a stand in support of just principles (the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights), or doing the right thing in spite of opposition. When the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, commander’s crew were succumbing to COVID, and the Navy was slow to act, his convictions to get attention for his crew resulted in his reassignment (public opinion may have moderated the Pentagon’s decision-making). Think of the last year when police officers were collectively criticized and even attacked for the actions of a minority of officers nationally; some officers when ordered to confront protesters took a conciliatory knee to ease tensions. And commitment? A resolute, unwavering effort to follow through on a promise, mission, or task, in spite of difficulties or opposition. The example and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who was in the forefront leading the way to obtain civil rights legislation, and at the cost of his life, exemplifies this.

building reputation

Repetition makes reputation and reputation makes customers.

Elizabeth Arden, businesswoman, d. 1966 (brainyquote)

Adding to these last, fidelity, passion for truth, and enjoying service to the public, build an enterprise’s reputation. In competition for business success, reputation attracts employees and customers. Successful companies such as Starbucks showcase this in their philosophy, and in their employees whether in Seoul, Korea or Charleston, South Carolina. Using the example of military basic training which I received in the 1970s, recruits are first screened to meet at a minimum certain qualities. Whether Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force or Coast Guard, recruit training shapes individuals into a team, and instill traits that distinguish military servicemembers from civilians. As they say in the Marines, you do not ‘join’ the Marines, they make Marines of those who thrive in the rigor of training, have the caliber of mental and physical stamina of warriors, and embrace the values that will make each an invaluable member of a “unit”.

fragile and easily damaged

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.

Warren Buffett

Reputation, even when built through such a “crucible”, is fragile. It can easily be lost or damaged through public misperception, and errors in judgement from management or employees. In the last decade, the perception that businesses – or their employees – disparage lifestyle choices of a segment of the consumer public, whether or not . However, in the cases of Chik Fil -A restaurants, Hobby Lobby stores, a bakery in Colorado, and most recently, individuals whose participation in political violence (storming of the Congress), reputations were damaged as well as expense to defend these in court. In the latter, the “insurrectionists”, even if painted with a broad brush, when identified as employees or representatives of agencies or businesses, had to be swiftly terminated, and have public apologies issued by their employers. While some patronize a business because of some affinity, the businesses will eventually suffer from the scrutiny. Reputation is an asset for a business. As Elizabeth Arden, the cosmetics magnate of the last century said, “Repetition makes reputation and reputation makes customers.”

Ask the Chief: repurposed

I have a sign in our home office that says “I didn’t retire. I’m just under new management.”

Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul

General Douglas MacArthur

“Retirement” once conjured up for me images of spending leisurely weeks on Hawaiian beaches, visiting foreign lands (this time with my spouse), or perhaps, spending time at a “vacation” home. However, the idea of having little else than “leisure” to occupy my time, just bothered me. I then wonder if others feel that being “unproductive”, that is “retired”, is shared by others? Changing careers frequently is a reality for many Millennials, Gen-X and now, Gen-Z workers. But a pandemic struck in early 2019 and “quarantine fatigue” is causing additional waves of infections and Governments to shut down commerce. The world has created a semi-retired class of people who do not have jobs to return or fill. Restaurants and many venues where large groups of customers formerly gathered have either folded or are barely surviving on government assistance. For those who “retired” in 2019, with few places in the world now COVID-free and open to visitors, there is little opportunity (or desire) to travel. However, with millions of people in need, experienced medical staff are welcome volunteers to man COVID testing and to administering vaccinations. For many others, the need is still present, but the delivery is changing. Teachers, small business coaches and consultants use web conferencing and social media to offer training. New opportunities in critical niche markets that are underserved are being filled by enterprising people. Elsewhere, retired military members become veteran advocates. Military-trained technicians start businesses to serve other businesses. I am certainly not unusual in starting a third career that interests me. I am not retired but instead “repurposed”.

Retirement is not in my vocabulary. They aren’t going to get rid of me that way.

Betty White

Long Term Care planning for active military, veterans, retirees and family

Turning sixty-two this year is not all that worrisome for me. Of course, in the middle of the second wave of the COVID pandemic, the potential long-term impact to ones health of contracting COVID at this stage of life is probable reason for concern. Though I had considered enrolling at a much younger age, with insurance premiums much lower the younger one enrolls, the invincibility of youth encouraged me to put it off. In the last quarter of 2020, I thought it prudent to begin the enrollment with a commercial insurer, accompanied by physical exam, several telephone interviews and waiting for term and premium calculations. The cost of commercial insurance seemed exorbitant, so my wife and I decided against it. Then I learned that LI (insurance) was available to retired military. Planning for a Veterans Administration facility as a fallback was my last consideration, should I subsequently require reevaluation of a presently non-compensable service-connected disability. After a military career, a professional career, and self-employed business owner today, we should plan for any potential health situations in our “golden years”.

Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP)

While most married service members have enrolled in federal benefits under TriCare, and include dental and vision program benefits when selected, Long Term Care insurance is not included in the annual Federal Benefits Open Season. However, FLTCIP is available to Federal workers, Postal Service employees, and military members. Eligibility for this program is linked to eligibility for Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI). The link to the FEGLI handbook is here. The key point to note, is that eligibility for FEGLI does not require a person seeking FLTCIP to be enrolled in the FEGLI.

Open Season, physical exams, and Qualifying Life Events do not apply

For those who may be familiar with Tricare Open Season, which runs from November to early December of each year, FEGLI also has a banner regarding Open Season. The Office of Personnel Management, OPM, “Outside of an open season, eligible employees can enroll or increase their FEGLI coverage by taking a physical exam or with a Qualifying Life Event,” However, no such open season limitation exists to enroll in the Long Term Care insurance. Details as to eligibility are found here. To access more information, and to begin enrollment, the link is here.

Most of this information comes from a website, https://militarybenefits.info, opm.gov and the FLTCIP program webpage.

Is it time to head back to school?

This week’s Guest Post, is by blogger Kelli Brewer. Kelli is part of DeployCare, made up of veterans and their families which offers free support to service members and their families – she shares resources and solutions for issues commonly faced by military families before, during and after deployment. Please visit their website for additional articles on various topics of importance to veterans -Ed

Are you thinking about going back to school now that your time in service is done? If so, keep reading. Popeye To Admiral wants veterans and their families to have access to the best educational resources available. With this in mind, here are a few quick tips for vets set on earning a degree after their time in service.

Choose Wisely

When it’s time to go back to school, your first obligation is to choose an academic or vocational program. Be cautious here, however, because not all schools are G.I. Bill-approved. Furthermore, many schools suffer from accreditation complications, tarnished reputations, and few working graduates.

Aside from school, you’ll also want to take your time when making a decision on your major. There are many fields that make sense for veterans, including management and law enforcement. Another highly sought-after degree is information technology. Any of these — and many more — can be earned all or partially online. This is more important than ever in the pandemic society in which we live.

Start Small

Even if you are eligible for veteran funds, it might make sense to consider a community college for your first two years. Crucially, if you plan to use your G.I. Bill benefits for your children, many states now pay for an associate degree — meaning the funds may be used toward a graduate degree. U.S. News & World Report asserts that money is just one reason to consider a community college over a university when just starting out.

If you are not yet sure what you would like to do, you can also start off earning a certification. Taking a career aptitude test geared toward veterans can help you decide what type of job you would like in the civilian world. There are many options ranging from entry-level medical to business management.

Trade School Is An Option

Finally, keep in mind that you do not have to go to college to complete your education. You may also consider trade school to earn your HVAC or electrical license or ASE mechanic certification. Blue-collar jobs often pay as well as white-collar jobs, and some of them are even more lucrative.

For more information about going back to school, contact your institute of choice’s admissions counselor. Good luck in your endeavors, and thank you for your service.

Popeye To Admiral offers quips and quick bites of wisdom for veterans and their families. Visit the blog often for your daily dose of delectable posts and veteran resources. Let us know more of what sort of resources you might want to see. You can also find us on Facebook here, .

One Sailor’s view of American democracy

It might just be an inaccurate recollection on my part, but I recall someone saying life aboard a warship, (or by extension, life in any military branch, means the rights and freedoms- the democracy we defend for civilian Americans, is not really what we experience ourselves in uniform. A military system runs on rules and obedience to the “Chain of Command”. Committees, convoluted language in instructions, back-room deals, and courting favor of those lead seem ludicrous to a military mindset. Yet this is what precisely motivated sufficient numbers of Americans to elect an outsider, without experience and without an emotional or ‘decorum” filter, to the Presidency. To half the country this was a threat to our democracy that had to be opposed by any means. To the other half of the country, his election was in response to the callous indifference, inattention, and elitist behavior of legislators, courts, and supporting institutions to “working Americans”. For years each side has warned that the other is destroying the constitutional democracy that was established by our Founders in 1787.

What does “democracy” mean to any of us? Or “Constitutional republic”? Why do these terms stir up such passions between election winners and losers and each’s supporters in the United States? It may depend on your culture, knowledge of history, experience, education and political ideology. An article on democracy written eight years ago and an opinion piece in the New York Times, published in 2019, illustrate how American democracy might be characterized.

The Principles of American Democracy

Author Joel Hirsh, writing in The Huffington Post (April 2, 2012) reminds politicians and laypersons that understanding American democracy requires context. Asking the average person on the street what they understand ‘democracy’ to mean and you might get any number of misunderstood concepts. He writes that Abraham Lincoln described democracy as having no slaves nor masters. Mahatma Gandhi believed democracy could not be imposed but required an individual’s guiding principles to change government positively. Aristotle thought that equality for all came by everyone governed to be actively involved in governance.

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

Winston Churchill

The idea of representative government was to promote consensus among differing majorities in all the States and eliminate factions who might control Government to their benefit. As for the President, what the Founders envisioned in the Electoral College, the writer continues, was a system to obtain a competent and popular Executive that all the States could work with. Hirsh notes that America and democracy seem woven into our American identity. However, in the last half-century, what was once understood by every schoolchild devolved to slogans and bumper stickers. Today, we can add Twitter rants, Facebook memes, and street protests whose participants cannot attach context to nor define democracy. However, the entrenchment of career politicians, bureaucrats, and partisan media (social media and conglomerates) increase disenfranchised citizens. In the Huffington Post, Hirsh described five elements of democratic governance.

The first element is the mechanism of representative democracy. Hirsh goes on to describe how the term “direct democracy” came into being, where segments of a society unhappy with their elected leaders, “mob rule” he called it. These countries, like Venezuela, Ecuador, and Russia are run by strongmen who have “opportunities” for their citizens to participate in governance, but in practice tends to be only the well-connected and well-funded individuals and organizations that have access. However, he also applies this to groups and caucuses in the US, illustrating how some conservative groups exert more influence in certain areas and policies than others. But the progressive groups have exerted a great deal of controversial influence during their control of the Congress and the Executive, and in opposition, during the term of President Trump.

A second element to aid the citizens’ representative government, is a professional, non-partisan civil service that provide these services to the people. Hirsh states “Governments in unstable democracies all too often confuse and blur the lines dividing party, administration and state. This is bad for democracy. Activist governments attempting to socially engineer their citizenry using their civil service as partisan soldiers for their political project have been a serious cause of recent misery.” Depending on one’s political ideology, this might be applied to either Party. In recent memory, Americans have witnessed groups supporting tax reform described as hate groups, groups supporting legal immigration as racists, and social engineering particularly in gender and identity. Regardless of one’s opinion, the use of partisan bureaucrats, and the extraordinary focus of the House of Representatives to investigate a President, which revealed nothing substantive, after several years is a textbook illustration of Hirsh’s critique.

In a 2019 opinion piece published in the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie wrote about democracy envisioned by the Founders as flawed. The writer of the NYT opinion, states that the Founders feared popular rule, using the Greek interpretation of “democracy”, a classical Athenian model where a small minority of citizens govern, in person. This lead to the Founders to incorporate representation where the interests of all the citizens would devolve to a representative. In practice, representatives often represent the views of the more well-funded and connected constituents and business interests than the majority. This is often illustrated by career politicians, who still win reelection after 20, 30, or 40 years in government through well-funded campaigns.

Hirsh continued with the third element of American democracy: the principal of separation of powers. In the United States this means three separate but equal branches of government, each with a clear role and with an equal claim to legitimacy. The Congress makes the laws, the Supreme Court interprets them (with an eye on the Constitution), and the president implements them. But his criticism of a President exceeding his authority – issuing Executive Orders and statements, conflicts with history, in that every President since Washington has issued them. That the Congress funds the operation of government and legislates is often at odds when the Legislators manipulate legislation to include unrelated, pet projects, or refuse to deliberate on them- to thwart their political rivals. As for the Judiciary to decide whether legislation is in keeping with the Constitution, “bench activism” has replaced constitutionality in decisions.

Democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.

James Russell Lowell, poet d. 1891

The fourth is the principal of limited government. This is something which, in 2020, neither political party representatives in Government pay lip service. This is at the center of much political tension in the United States. The author candidly states that the Government spends sums of money overseas to help foreign governments become more decentralized while in the USA, we become more bureaucratic and centralized. He pointed out that increasing federalization goes against the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, which says the States have responsibility for activity not expressly granted to the Federal Government (foreign policy, trade, war powers) .

The key to achieving a democracy that meets these elements successfully is a democracy built around a bill of rights, for every citizen that protects them from an overreaching government. Hirsh is correct in that he writes the American democracy has a foundation on a unwavering civil and political rights – “inalienable rights” — such as life, liberty, property, speech, assembly, religion, due process, and others. Other “rights”, such as the economic, social and cultural values, are all negotiations between free citizens as to what extent the Government provides them. He goes on to say, all inalienable rights compel duties from the federal government; and the duties these rights would compel directly interfere with the free market system as well as the bill of rights (such as the 10th amendment).

Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.

Plato

The American democracy, has to resist the demands of those who continue to press for change, for loose interpretation and re-interpretation of an “outdated” Constitution. The institutional changes brought about by today’s social engineering may upset a system that has function albeit with mistakes and failures for two centuries. In contrast, other countries have weakened, become unstable, or worse, succumb to despotic rule. The necessity instead is for all Americans to be better educated about local, state and national issues, economics, foreign policy, trade and the mechanics of government. When citizens fail to become even moderately involved in their own government, we get the representation we have permitted. To blame democracy, the Constitution, capitalism, or social injustice only serves to enable a strongman to step in – and disenfranchise opponents.

Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.

Kofi Anan, statesman (fmr UN Gen Secretary)

no Minion is an island

A four-hundred year old English poet understood how badly human beings need connection in their lives. I have been thinking of the movie “Castaway” (Tom Hanks), a scene in “Iron Man”, and a phrase John Donne penned centuries ago. As 2020 comes to an end, looking backward over the last twenty-something years, the world has had a difficult time finding things to be joyful. I do think mankind, in general, mean well of their fellow human beings. We were formed to be social creatures to associate and cooperate together. However, two thousand years after Jesus walked, and five thousand years since Mankind’s first civilizations started conquering neighbors, our social invention, Government, is forcing individuals back to isolation and competition.

No man is an island entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.

Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions and Seuerall Steps in my Sicknes – Meditation XVII, 1624

Our little community in unincorporated El Cajon, California, like many communities across the world, has rallied to brightly decorate their neighborhoods in the holiday season. In the United States, preparations for Christmas begin right after the November Thanksgiving holiday. This year has been exceedingly draconian for everyone worldwide particularly children. As such, my wife encouraged us to start decorating early, putting up lights and inflatable yard decorations, and she decorated inside. Since then, as people drive through the holiday-decorated neighborhoods, or walk “socially distant”, I hope they get some extra cheer from one walking Minion, my spouse, chattering “Merry Christmas” and “Banana!”

If the squeals of delight from kids and adults, and their picture-taking are any indication, Mankind will survive and eventually, thrive again. Tune out Government and the media for a little while. Look at the stars. Think of others more than oneself. Share responsibly. Practice hospitality however that may be this year. Visit a neighborhood lit up for Christmas. And perhaps, take a picture with a dancing Minion.

John Donne’s poem continues:

 If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were,
As well as any manor of thy friend's,
Or of thine own were.
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Reading comprehension is fun-damental

What someone today learns via social media, or online classes, or self-study, education and skill development is a matter of information availability, personal ambition and ability. When addressing the topic of education reform, much of the discussion today is relegated to complaints of political- or culturally-biased ideology. These do not address skill- or knowledge- attainment. Funding increases to education do not address it.

Traditional education is based on facts and figures and passing tests – not on a comprehension of the material and its application to your life.

Will Smith, actor

Education has changed, and not necessarily for the better in the “age of COVID”. Video learning is not going to replace live training, lab-activities and personal-interaction. However, this is what everyone today has to work with, so reading comprehension for many is going to take additional resources and time. The highly-motivated, once given the tools in reading, writing, and logical thinking, will be enabled to pass the state exams. Gaining employment has always been for the best qualified or most -teachable candidate. While actor Will Smith is correct, in what you do with your training being important, the first step in a healthcare career comes with passing the certification tests.

JamesESL English Lessons (engVid)

In my experience as a state examiner, all immigrant candidates where English is not their native language, should have been offered a test and subsequently as needed, a program tailored to reading comprehension in their intended profession. My experience, in healthcare licensure, California examinations are required to be performed in English. These are state and federal mandates. While most of the licensure candidates do pass the skills demonstration examinations, many fail the written exam and sometimes, they fail subsequent retests.

In the field of healthcare with which I am familiar, there are two avenues for education, one through public institutions and the other, through private, for-profit businesses. Public institutions have rigorous training over a few months to a semester in length. Some are specifically tailored to communities with low-income or immigrant constituents. However, as public institutions incur long wait-listed candidates, private schools offer shorter format courses but often are a significant tuition. While not an indictment of the for-profit system in general, some schools graduate candidates for whom English is a second language, and do not possess sufficient English spoken – or reading comprehension to pass the examinations. For those considering a healthcare occupation, and have access to the Internet, there are numerous courses to practice reading comprehension. One suggestion is linked above, but there are many such available through YouTube.