E pleg nista

It is the Fourth of July, American Independence day;  it is the 242nd anniversary of a group of revolutionaries to pen a  “Dear George (King) letter”.  A random thought in a comment I made to my blogging buddy from across the Atlantic,  Little Fears, was all it took for this particular post to spring forth:

Funny that it all started over Tea, Taxes, and that royal thing… Now we have tea everywhere (though mostly ICED – which the UK knows nothing about;  in California specifically we pay the highest taxes (but don’t/won’t/can’t revolt); and if we aren’t swooning over British royals, we are treating celebrities as though they were royals!  

And I started thinking what it might be like in an alternate universe ,,,, which then lead to me thinking about an old, old episode of Star Trek ( the original 1968 version) when there was this episode,  The Omega Glory, about a distant inhabited planet that had a parallel history to the United States.  But war had destroyed everything but emnity between the Yangs and the Congs.

Of course, in the early decades of the Twenty-First Century, we all know that this is a very improbable scenario.  Even Neal Degrasse Tyson would be hard pressed to deduce the probability of an inhabited world somewhere in our galaxy having a parallel history to our Earth.

But imagine,   what if there had been no Revolution, no war over taxes and tea?    Something to ponder over coffee.

(Ed. note: had to make amends to die-hard Trekkies – I re-listened to the episode and it’s  e pleB nista  and Comms— but you get my drift)

don’t smoke that mushroom

Eat it.

Compared to the years I served in the United States Navy, robust health and nutrition of sailors in the Nineteenth Century – the “iron men and wooden ships” of lore- was less a factor of the sea air than good fortune.  Logs of ships’ surgeons from that era contain reports of men lost overboard in storms at sea, accidents, cholera, dysentery,  over- consumption of alcohol leading to death, infections, sexually-transmitted diseases, run -ins with native populations )in the then- relatively isolated foreign ports), and poor diet.

In the years just after Desert Storm,  fresh dairy products, fruit, and vegetables became available fairly regularly at sea due to underway replenishment.   Even in the early 1990s,  it was not uncommon to have powdered eggs, and ultra-pasteurized milk ( the sort the US Army Veterinary Service certified as safe for consumption) in place of fresh more than a week out of port.

It leads me to wonder aloud,  whether the new health-consciousness of many activists for varied range-fed beef and compassionately-raised chicken,  organic vegetables and gluten-free choices, have filtered down to our armed forces.

Most of my peers who retired around 2009 -2010, know that the military began a renewed campaign to fight obesity – discharging members who failed to maintain a standard that – even with body-builders  – was difficult to achieve.   But we also know that society has gotten farther and farther away from healthy diets and regular exercise.

But there are choices.   Although,  I do not expect my local Pizza Port to alter the menus just yet.   And with virtually every town having small breweries popping up,  I do not believe “lite” beer is going to be on the minds of the young men and women today.   However, for those fewer of us, where the excesses of youth are around our waistlines, in our zeal to stay off medicines and out of hospitals,  may yet find ways to exercise moderately and eat tasty, and healthy, food.

When I heard about this Portobello mushroom pizza, I was skeptical.  It is remarkably tasty!

But this also has cancer-fighting properties as well as staying off my waistline.   And I surprised my doctor last Wednesday with my complete turnaround in health.   Thirty-five pounds lighter,  blood -chemistry all in the normal range,  and much happier.   He didn’t ask me how,  but when others may,  I’ll tell them, “Pizza, fish, Chinese food, fresh vegetables.  Yogurt.  And more cooking with garlic, turmeric, mushrooms, and herbal ingredients.”

That gives me the ability to enjoy a nice craft beer.   Guilt-free.    I’m still a Sailor, after-all.

Lessons of a military life

#2. If you’re gonna be stupid, you’re gonna be strong!

Flashback to 1977

My Navy career had a lot of great life, management, and leadership lessons. Many are undecipherable to those who have not been in military service but range from teamwork, testing physical and mental limits, courage, decision-making, and taking responsibility before being given authority.   In Navy boot camp, the first thing learned is obedience to authority.  Line up, no talking, do not move,  and other commands.  A second is quickly having situational awareness, introduced to recruits around 0400 (4 AM) on their first morning with a barracks wakeup.  On my first morning,  a metal trash can was hurled clattering across the floor.  That, and a simultaneous yell of “Get your @#$ up!”,  by the Company Commander.

For 9 weeks  recruits are converted from civilians into military service men and women.  Attention to detail was another lesson.   A military uniform is worn is a precise manner and everything from stray threads to “gig lines” – proper alignment – and cleanliness are inspected.  Deviations from the expectation often result in exercise – pushups, situps, 8-count body-builders.   In addition, some “special attention” is paid, verbally, to the offender.  However,  everyone in the unit is afforded the same attention.  To build cohesion, the expectation is for others in the unit to help their shipmate improve for the good of the unit as a whole.  Making one’s bed, or rack,  had to be done in an equally precise manner.  Proper stowage of uniform items is also according to regulations.  It was the proper folding and stowage of underwear that earned me “special attention”.  I had reversed the left-right folds prescribed by the company commander.  For that and other misunderstandings, I  became the “Polack” – an endearing term – to the company commander until I graduated and became a “Shipmate”.

 Thirty years later (2005)

Half a lifetime later, I was again in training.  This time it was as a Navy Reservist selected for advancement to Chief Petty Officer (CPO).    There is a century and a quarter of tradition in the Chief Petty Officer ranks, where these senior enlisted men and women train and mentor enlisted sailors and junior officers.  Officers provide the mission and the direction.   Chiefs take their direction and delegate the execution to sailors they place in charge of their division. Chiefs oversee their divisional petty officers,  and they in turn, place more junior petty officers in charge of division Workcenters made up of several sailors. The purpose is to identify and mentor sailors to gain leadership skills and advance up through the ranks.  To be a trusted member of the Chiefs’ Mess, a First Class Petty Officer, who may be technically proficient,  has to be trained to think and act, not for self-promotion,  but to delegate and mentor more junior sailors.  Also, it is a Chief who deflects criticism,  rebuke or conflicting directions given by a junior officer to an enlisted person in their division.  It is the Chief who relies on advice from the years of expertise within the Chiefs’ Mess, to lead sailors, handle interpersonal conflicts, maintain discipline, and mentor junior officers to perform to the Commanding Officer’s expectation of warfighting proficiency.

As a Chief Petty Officer Selectee, prior to the promotion ceremony each September, each undergoes  a period of training (exercise, team-building, lessons in leadership, traditions and CPO history) and builds camaraderie within the Mess.  This formally begins when selection results are reported.  And there are invitations to Chief Petty Officers, both on Active Duty and Retired to participate in the “Season” to build the sense of identity as a Mess.

To this very day, I still chuckle over the introduction of our trainer, a Chief Petty Officer who carried a bullhorn with a frequently-used siren.  He combined exercise with Question and Answer sessions. We had “homework” every day, including Navy lore, songs, and so forth. We were supposed to share everything we learned and help our fellow Selectees with tasks and such.  If we “failed” the answer or task, our trainer had a memorable response:

“If yer (sic) gonna be STUPID, yer gonna be STRONG!”

And then,  “DOWN and give me twenty (push ups)!”

Everybody laughed, labored, and “suffered” together but everyone learned.  And everyone got stronger, leaner and became a member of the Mess.   But then, in the last ten years, politics, social pressures, and a lack of clear direction ( a military needs clear objectives), also affected the leadership at the deckplates.  But being a member of the CPO Mess,  “Chief Petty Officer, United States Navy”, is the recognition I will treasure for life.

I think a lot of the issues that were reported during the last ten or fifteen years within the leadership – the Chiefs and the Officer community – was due to abandonment or at least a minimalist approach, to training the Chief Petty Officers and mentoring junior officers.  I hear it is returning to the tried and true. 

Honoring John Harrison’s invention

Yesterday a Google doodle honored John Harrison, an 18th Century British craftsman and clockmaker (1693 – 1776) who won the Crown’s prize for developing an incredibly precise measuring device for determining Longitude.  For centuries, mariners had the sextant, which enabled them to determine where they sailed relative north or south of the Equator.  Calculated with a sextant and maritime tables, sailors determined position by the angle of the sun at noon to the horizon.

As a sailor, I knew that all time aboard ship (and on installations) was in reference to Zulu, or Greenwich Mean Time.  Greenwich, England marked the line North to South (0 degrees longitude) from which the longitudinal measurement was derived.  Given that the Earth’s rotation is very stable, the longitudinal measurement, west or east,  derived by accurately knowing Greenwich Mean Time to fractions of a second could be relied upon.

As a self-educated carpenter, artisan, and clockmaker, Harrison found resistance from the royal societies which issued a monetary prize for an accepted device that would meet the requirements for accuracy.  From his first tests aboard ship in the 1730s, over several decades, he improved on his design and finally, due the Crown’s influence, he was awarded the prize for his invention.  By the mid-1760s,  others had developed similar systems so the award was important in establishing John Harrison as the first one who accurately determined longitude.

An experiment conducted in this century using his once much-derided advanced design indicated only fractions of a second lag over the period of a hundred-day test.  Not bad for someone who was hundreds of years before the Global Positioning System.

walls, poets, and strategy

Good fences make good neighbors…  -Mending Wall, Robert Frost

Walls keep some things in and some things out.  While rivers, oceans, mountains and forests are natural boundaries, it is the inventiveness of men to construct un-natural boundaries declaring to all “this is MINE”.  Trust and brotherly love seems to have been lost with Cain setting out after killing Abel.  Fear and desire for control supplanted harmony.  Men created walls.

The Great Wall of China

Originally started in the Third Century BC, by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, this series of walls and fortifications was started with labor comprised of soldiers and convicts.  In the interest of security,  that labor had a terrible cost in lives.  History.com  states that perhaps 400,000 died during the construction.  Over the last millennium, a series of sometimes parallel walls fifteen to thirty feet in height and up to fifty feet thick at its base, the Wall was not really keeping anyone out.  Though often stated that is was intended to keep the barbarians – Mongols and foreigners  – out, it served mostly as a symbol.  Ironically, the Mongol rulers of China manned the wall to protect commerce along the trade routes of the Chinese empire.  It’s the only tourist attraction of the 21st Century visible from space.

The Maginot Line

Following the horrific casualties,  mustard gas, trench warfare and devastation of the First World War,  leaders in France, in the 1930s decided to build fortifications on the French-Germany border to prevent future incursion by Germany into France.  Part of the wall was not a wall at all, but a series of fortresses and used the natural steep terrain  thought to hinder the advancement of an enemy force.  Part relied on the thick Ardenne forests and did not wall off the complete border.   While the German army did penetrate the Ardenne forest and circumvented the Maginot Line,  the French also failed to seal the border with other nations.  Ironically, from the French side of the fortified line,  the Allied troops found that the defenses were difficult to penetrate as they advanced toward Germany in 1944.

Macnamara’s Line

President Trump’s insistence on a wall is another in a series of fence strategies – Russians partitioning Germany, the French in Algeria, and even during the Vietnam conflict.   On September 7, 1967 then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara  announced that an electronic barrier would be constructed to signal our forces when the North Vietnamese Army infiltrated south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the South Vietnam border with North Vietnam.  It was the second attempt in Vietnamese history to separate political entities of rival factions, for political and economic reasons.  Each faction was supported by a European power, one Dutch and the other Portuguese, seeking to expand their economic interest in the region.  That was in the 17th Century.

By the time the French were losing their colonies in Indochina to the Communist forces under Ho Chi Minh, they had successfully re-deployed their forces to their Algerian colony and were implementing a wall there that combined a lethal electric fence with anti-personnel mines.  It was a very successful effort, but the cost in personnel and public sentiment in France to the conflict resulted in the French withdrawing.   In Vietnam, by the mid-1960s, the United States strategy to oppose the infiltration of South Vietnam through troop deployment was not working.  And so an idea germinated to build a wall. While the military supported expanding the war into the countries bordering South Vietnam and the North, another group supported deploying technological means along with huge numbers of mines , against personnel and vehicle traffic, to impede the infiltration of troops into South Vietnam.  Through surveillance and aerial bombardment, the US attempted to thwart the use of the Ho Chi Minh trail.  Considering the issues that impeded the surveillance, detection, collection and dissemination of the intelligence gathered,  and the war’s huge cost in personnel, and political unrest at home, it was a failure.

Mexico’s  “wall”

Mexico -Guatemala

Studies  do not get a lot of attention in the media when they do not enhance the current pro-immigration ( in Orwellian newspeak, illegal is blotted out by those who ignore law that does not suit them)  sentiment about a border wall along the southern US border,  cite the abuses that tens of thousands of migrants passing through the border with Guatemala and Belize. Drug traffickers, criminals, migration officials and corrupt local police are chiefly responsible.  Workers are exploited at very poor wages from the migrant population at the border.

For any worker who complains to the government about the exploitation,  the process is  typical of bureaucracy – requiring paperwork, a series of hearings attended by the complainant, and any finding in favor of the worker,  put responsibility on him to report the findings to the employer.   As for the Mexican government response,  they deport illegals or arrest them.  In the article this information was described, then -President Vicente Fox – seventeen years ago – stated how he was implementing a development corridor and better conditions including amnesty for illegals working in Mexico with forged documents.  For a government and its proxies, the lobbying groups in the United States,  to hold America accountable for trying to stop illegal migration,  a metaphor of dwellers in glass houses throwing stones at the United States is readily apparent.

Lost in all these historical perspectives of walls and borders are the people who suffer from the criminals, profiteers, corruption, unkept promises, fear and cynicism.  And that is from those who are living legally within a nation.  Walls have rarely been effective for very long in the history of civilization.  And the political systems that rely on walls, when everyone else is trying to dig under them, bribe the guardians at the gates, go around them, go through or encourage rebellion within the walls will not have security.

While politicians debate walls,  consider Robert Frost, neither political nor a polemic, on the nature of walls:

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

VADM H. Denby Starling, II — honor365

Vice Adm. (ret) Starling began his last assignment as commander of Navy Cyber Forces at its establishment on Jan. 26, 2010. There he was responsible for organizing and prioritizing manpower, training, modernization and maintenance requirements for networks and cryptologic, space, intelligence and information operations capabilities. He concurrently served as commander Naval Network Warfare Command, where he oversaw the conduct […]

via VADM H. Denby Starling, II — honor365