garbage in and cannot get garbage out

Garbage is humanity’s biggest problem. Specifically, “what to do” with garbage we humans generate. It is a way more immediate a problem than the ice caps melting as my neighborhood is not expected to be waterfront property even in my grandson’s lifetime. When populations numbered from dozens in an area to a few million across a continent, garbage was not contemplated for the problems it generates today. But nine billion people on Earth generate a lot of waste. Communities in major cities around the world live in garbage dumps. Burning trash, tires and chemical spills make large swaths of the planet barely livable. Plastics and other toxics are collecting in thousand square mile ‘rafts’ in all of earth’s oceans. While I may empathize with global authorities who want to reduce human influence on changing global climate, and where to dump what and recycle other materials, the immediacy of the problem about garbage, for me, is collection.

I live in southern California, and this past December, the company whose trash service I contracted for the last dozen years became embroiled in a labor dispute with its employees. Without weekly collection, residences, businesses and even cities have been overwhelmed with trash. The company quietly noted that subscribers could dump in the company-run landfills without additional cost- but that requires the means to bring it to the landfill which I did not have. A week ago, I paid for a private company to take it all away. Republic Services only yesterday ran a garbage truck down my street. It was almost insulting. They had brought other employees in from other regions to mitigate a potential dispute with the largest municipal contract. Those of us in the unincorporated county had staged our bins each week in hope of being served. After four weeks without further notice from the company, neither of my neighbors had left their bins for collection on the curb! That probably was the emptiest garbage truck moving through our community that morning.

Not mentioned in this whole affair is the new legislation enacted by ‘our’ representatives in Sacramento. California has mandated that food waste as well as other decomposable matter now has to be screened into “green” bins, separating ‘greenhouse-gas’-generating waste, recyclable waste, and landfill -acceptable waste by all residents and businesses. At least, that latest maneuver was anticipated by me late last year. I began a compost program to create fertilizer for my home-grown fruit and vegetables. As for what to do with animal bones – the beef, chicken, pork and fish we eat? I am now supposed to put them in the Green collection. I could crush and burn them at home, as one website advises about minimizing landfill gases, but then the fuel to burn them and the smoke that will generate might get me cited. I am already frivolously barbecuing and smoking away on the pellet smoker Santa brought me for Christmas.

Hopefully, the new service (the one with green, methane-run trucks) I engaged at the end of the year will deliver the means for me to separate my trash today (as promised). At the very least, even if our food waste requires some extra effort to dispose, one effect of the legislation enacted on January 1 will be to minimize burying food that goes unsold in groceries and restaurants in California. Saving the additional space in landfills while feeding people struggling, is noble. What California does to enforce the new environmental rules among the tens of thousands living on the street, whom they were supposed to house by prior legislative initiatives, as they do not subscribe to a waste removal service.

Let us table that discussion. I have trash to dump. Regulations to read. And the environment to save.

Ask the Chief: honors and salutes

The United States Navy has a tradition and a future. We look with pride and confidence in both directions

Admiral Chester Nimitz, USN

Honors and Salutes

Aboard a naval vessel, an officer serving as the Officer of the Deck (OOD) must ensure that all proper traditions, courtesies and ceremonies are observed. The overall effect of these properly executed conveys discipline and close attention to detail of that military unit. Some of these courtesies and honors the OOD is aware, by current instruction, instructs the rendering proper honors by signalmen. Additionally, the OOD ensures lookouts observe, and pass to the Officer of the Deck, approaching dignitaries and senior officers; and acknowledges senior (command) authority aboard passing vessels through use of “attention” and “carry on” signals.

Sailors in today’s Navy should still be aware of the history of customs and traditions that are part of their “DNA”. A book I have had on my shelf for the last fifteen years is Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions, Sixth Edition, written by CDR Royal Connell, USN (Ret) and VADM William Mack, USN, (Ret), published by Naval Institute Press (2004). One of the introductory passages in this edition speaks to the evolving history of the United States Navy. The Navy today has, in the last fifty years, experienced two of the pivotal transition periods, namely, the post-Vietnam era and the Global War on Terror – from first Gulf War, piracy in the Horn of Africa, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq following the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Honoring the fallen and defending the living

September the eleventh, 2001 began as an ordinary day for millions of people in the United States and around the world. By the mid-morning, in New York City, in Washington, D.C, and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the suffering and death of thousands because of terrorists would forever change our perception of normalcy. On the anniversary of examples of the depth of depravity which mankind can sink, the selfless sacrifice and amazing bravery of those who challenged the terrorists (particularly on Flight 93) is inspiring. As inspiring as those who sought to aid the injured and trapped in the World Trade Center and Pentagon. And as inspiring as those who spent months combing the wreckage in New York. In the last twenty years, almost every person in the United States, and in many countries around the world has been touched by a loved one impacted by that day or in the wars in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere. These are the stories worthy to honor.

The United States has sent military forces into regions around the world, to defend US trade, personnel and alliances, since the turn of the Nineteenth Century. And since the end of the Cold War, the world has gotten more unstable and violent with the extra-national threat posed by “Islamist” extremists. All my adult life, there has been conflict involving the United States in the Middle East. Before 9/11 and the ensuing twenty years of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, blood was shed on the USS LIBERTY during the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt (1967); and in Iran when our team attempted to rescue our Embassy personnel held captive (1979 -80). From that point, military actions in the region faced tribal rivalries, discounted historical defeats of “Western” powers and resistance to “First World” social norms. Since Lebanon when terrorists blew up the Marine barracks (1983); the missile strike by Iraq aircraft against the USS STARK (1987); the Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield/ Desert Storm) in 1991; and bombing of the USS COLE (2000), unconventional warfare using zealots or victims strapped to bombs and IEDs has threatened our forces. On the anniversary of 9/11 the murders of our ambassador and embassy personnel (US Special Operations veterans) in Benghazi, Libya (2012). America has lost military service personnel in operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. And in the chaotic conclusion of the military mission in Afghanistan in August of 2021, the last casualties there -hopefully – include 13 Marines and Navy Corpsmen killed by a terrorist wearing a bomb.

While I had been in a Navy uniform from 1977 to 1980, and again from 1987 until 2010, it was that first September morning, when I lost a mentor and former shipmate in the Pentagon attack, that defined the purpose for which I had enlisted. Protecting my fellow servicemembers. Honoring the fallen. Providing comfort to the families of the injured and deceased.

As military veterans and their families, we mourn our dead and help the living. And as citizen-soldiers, we vote for the Government that reflect our values. As veterans and currently serving military personnel, we best can reflect on the costs of conflict. It should give us determination to protect our citizens and defend our homeland. The lessons of September 11, 2001 and from all those who have borne the battle, is to protect our future. And for that reason, it is a veteran who should strive to become a teacher and professor, a journalist, a city council person, a business owner, a judge, and a United States Senator. A veteran can oppose complacency and false doctrine with firsthand accounts and perspective. To honor the sacrifice of those whom this day commemorates. And to deter evil.

Ask the Chief: obtaining a VA Disability rating or upgrade

the back story

In 1995, while on Active Duty, I was a crewmember of a Navy ship in Portsmouth, Virginia. During the week leading up to the Labor Day weekend, I started to feel ill. Over the course of the following days, I was unable to get medically-screened for one reason or another. The sordid affair still bothers me if I think about that. Finally getting someone to take me to the base clinic, my appendix ruptured and I was recuperating for a month afterward.

For the next quarter-century, I had bowel issues requiring hospitalization about twice a year. I had left Active Duty for the Navy Reserve in 2000, but did not go to the VA for a disability review prior to leaving Active Duty. That proved to be a mistake that I am still regretting today. However, at the recommendation of a veteran, I submitted my Navy medical file to the VA for a disability review in 2017, and was awarded a Zero (0%) Service-Connected rating. It was actually the lesson that my son provided, before exiting his Army enlistment, where his extensive medical issues as a result of his Army service were recorded by the VA medical screener. He was awarded a 100% VA service-connected rating as a result. Since he had already signed papers to serve an additional year in the Army Reserve, there was no waiver or release from the Reserve contract, for a VA disability, unless the Army performed a disability-screening of their own.

All exiting military personnel should schedule a VA Disability review

Considering that I re-enlisted into the Navy Reserve later in that same year, 2000, I did not understand the necessity of seeking a VA Disability review. My delay until 2017 aged-out my two younger sons from benefits they might have gained from my rating. Obtaining a Disability Rating from the military branch, or from the VA, entitles a servicemember’s children to certain college tuition discount or waivers – as long as they are under age 23 (or 26 perhaps). Even a Rating of 0 (zero) Percent, meaning your condition does not debilitate you at present, qualifies.

A disability upgrade is not a simple exercise

It was a surgeon that I met with during the last few hospitalizations, I had employer-subsidized healthcare, who actually performed surgery the last time I was hospitalized, who linked my appendix rupture and scar tissue in the bowel, that prompted me to go back to the VA Disability board. However, I am beginning to understand how difficult it is to get the Government to recognize health issues that veterans suffer, long after their military service. While the most egregious treatment of Vietnam servicemembers attempting to get healthcare for Agent Orange and other herbicide exposure is well-known, only the symptoms that are legislatively-recognized allow for veterans to obtain assistance. For decades after the Gulf War and then Afghanistan and Iraq, exposure to burn pit fumes and other toxics in those regions were slow to be linked to veteran symptoms. In other regions and with other complications, veterans like me, whose ruptured appendix started twenty-five years of bowel issues and hospitalization, will not be quickly recognized.

For the last year of the COVID pandemic, all bureaucracies have been impacted by shutdowns and remote workforce initiatives. Though the VA has initiated a website for veterans to input their claims and supporting documentation, it has not functioned properly for the last several months. And when telephone support is not an hours-long waiting time, there seems to be no technical issues noted in their system, and no workaround (no staffed offices). But all those nasal-gastric tubes, barium /CAT scans, and morphine-drips, have made me determined to seek something more. Anything more from the VA.

More to come.……

Ask the Chief: are you a “victim” of your circumstances or an “overcomer”?

I watched a movie last month, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (2017), telling the story of a Polish family that operated a zoo in Warsaw, Poland at the outbreak of World War II.  The Nazi’s treatment of the Jewish residents shocked them and they decided to help rescue those they could.  Though the grounds were occupied by German troops for the duration of the war, the family smuggled Jews who otherwise would have been exterminated, into hiding there at the zoo and out of Warsaw. At risk of their own lives, they managed to save 300 people by war’s end.

I have been reading stories of ordinary soldiers, partisans, and public safety personnel who have acted selflessly in situations that put themselves in harms’ way. Others who have survived blizzards, been lost in the wilderness, were adrift at sea, or buried in earthquakes or in caverns. It came down to a will to survive that made the difference between living or giving up. But health is something everyone has dealt with at some point in life. Many probably have known someone who diagnosed with a severe illness or suffered a debilitating injury. Of those who refused to give in, but mustered physical and mental focus against an adversary, many survived. Circumstances do seem to foster whether people see themselves as “victims” or “overcomers”. My late father whose engineering career supported the development of Navy submarine missiles was accelerating in his late Twenties, suffered a brain tumor. While that surgery saved his life, he spent years learning to walk and speak again. It became his determination to resume his engineering career; refusing to let people judge him by his use of a wheelchair or cane, he even earned a teaching credential. Though he died in his late fifties, he had never given in to his condition.

Military personnel who volunteer to serve in a combat zone, as many did during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, may be mentally prepared for the hazards of wartime. However, few have battled an illness as merciless as cancer, and won, all while still serving in their official capacity of command. Or having won against breast cancer, promoted, and then volunteered for service in Afghanistan filling a critical role. Then, promoted again being selected for Flag rank. Many should know an “overcomer” in the person of Linnea Sommer-Weddington, Rear Admiral, USN (Retired). She has inspired the careers of many of my Shipmates, female and male, evident in those who honored her at her retirement. (I had the privilege to serve as her unit Senior Enlisted advisor in one of the units she commanded).

Others may be familiar with civilians Mike Rowe and Gary Sinese, two television and film stars who have done amazing work to celebrate people who inspire their communities. Whether it is encouraging servicemembers deployed, taking care of the families at home, helping physically or emotionally-suffering veterans, or publicizing those whose volunteerism helps affected communities, they bring attention and resources to help others overcome. Some twenty years ago, I met a Native American man with cerebral palsy, a member of our Southwestern US fellowship of churches. His accomplishments despite a “handicap” were legendary. He had competed and won in Paralympic games, was a motivational speaker, and introduced a number of people to the Christian faith. He possessed a sense of self-deprecating humor about his abilities that lifted up others with physical or mental challenges.

Should anyone wish to contribute their stories of overcoming severe challenges, I would welcome them to use this blog as a forum. At a time when there are still more than twenty veterans committing suicide each day, understanding what motivates someone to continue to overcome and not fall victim to one’s circumstances might help save lives.

child’s play for old Salts

Age merely shows what children we remain.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Playtime

I am taking the opportunity to play again. Watching our grandchild once or twice a week, we have taken every opportunity to go to parks to run with and after him. With nice Southern California weather, time to run through the grass, over the little bridges, and then feed ducks at the lake. As Zander gets a little older,. he more boldly climbs up jungle gyms. Sliding down slides, he directs us to follow after or to catch him – over and over again. Sitting on his uncle’s lap he enjoys swinging on swings. But not that high he says. And as “mam-mam” and “pop-pop” get a bit more winded, we suggest going to get a little frozen yogurt and then to “mam-mam’s” house to play. Even though a pandemic year has stolen time from us all, It is unavoidable that both preschoolers and grandparents still have grown older. Yet it is pretty much a given that clambering around a jungle gym and marveling at child’s play, this old Salt feels younger for a little while.

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.

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

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)

Is integrity a victim of the times?

Today, the American spirit of “can-do”, ingenuity, teamwork and integrity is stressed to near-breaking. With the pandemic with us likely for another year or two, the old way of doing everything is changing.

Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.

Oprah Winfrey

Social, political, and economic change we are living through (suffering) in the 21st Century affects everyone. It began long before we were mandated to remain at least six feet apart, and limit large gatherings. Technology has made it no longer necessary to have in- person, work or customer relationships. When both the service- provider and the served remain insulated from one-another by web ordering,  email,  text messaging, or video- conferencing, the human connection, which may be between a doctor and a patient, teacher and student, account administrator and vendor, or state official and a constituent, is absent.  

This is easily illustrated with a few scenarios. A fairly new patient of a doctor makes an appointment with the physician. In the interim, the doctor moves his private practice to a larger corporate entity. And then the COVID quarantine terminates all in-person office access for the foreseeable future. Efforts to obtain service are prevented by an inaccessible web portal, and using a telephone system to request assistance with the portal, demands up to thirty minutes or more to remain on-hold. The clinic’s email server notifies the client of important information, but cannot be read using the portal, similarly frustrated by a lack of a user passcode.

A government agency responsible for the healthcare of millions of military veterans and their families comes under scrutiny for very public and shocking displays of veterans committing suicide in hospital lobbies, delays in receiving evaluation for what veterans believe service-connected disabilities, and media reports of ill veterans dying while on waiting lists for treatment – while the facilities receive bonuses and accolades for service efficiency. Media and Congressional investigations reveal that managers were complicit in altering records and rescheduling patients. Leadership changed. Procedural changes were promised. Some workers were censured. Legislation was voted upon. Time will tell if the agency culture has focused on integrity.

A state agency that oversees licensing of healthcare workers contracts with vendors to manage the process of coordinating examinees seeking licensing exams. The same agency approves the schools offering the training, the sites where these exams may be performed, and verify each candidate has met the requirements to be licensed. The vendor is responsible for collecting the test fees, order and disseminate the exam materials, and send the test results to the state agency. while the contracted evaluators establish relationships with the training schools, coordinate test schedules with the vendor and the client schools, and perform the certification exams. The evaluators submit invoices for payment to the vendor. Since the licensing examinations are only a minor contribution to each vendors’ core business, but require substantial manual work, the vendor’s commitment to an efficient operation is of key importance. With antiquated systems, a remote workforce, an already burdened office staff and aloof management, the unresponsiveness of the organization is now a factor to consider for any future business.

The foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty.

Zig Ziglar

Operations that, under normal conditions may be hindered by bureaucracy, are only worsened by a remote workforce, COVID safety precautions, antiquated processes, and office politics. This is exactly where professional integrity should be the most important feature of any servicer -customer relationship. When the customer (other departments, clients, or outside agents) seeks status on an invoice, or a functional responsibility of that servicer, the expectation is to have an answer as to when payment should be expected. In some organizations, answers and follow-up can be difficult to obtain. People may respond emotionally, who have neglected or erred in their duties. They may respond by shifting blame instead of seeking remedies. It is a successful work environment where obtaining results or remedies and not fixing blame, exist.

When this tendency to assign blame is a characteristic of the organization, it is a leadership issue If the leader does not set the tone, as Zig Ziglar states. ” (t)he foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty.” the organization suffers. In the present economy, there are always alternatives to an inefficient or poor business model. In the private sector, new enterprises or new joint-ventures can offer more efficient processing. In the public sector, political appointments do change oversight, and vendor funding, and state charters can be revoked.

Integrity matters.

identity crisis

Relationships inform you and me whether others perceive us as whom we consider ourselves to be.

While this may be a great starting point for a philosopher or intellectual following Goethe, Erikson, or Jung, in a modern society, your identity is whom you can prove yourself to be. Bureaucracy has replaced oral recitation of your birthright ( e.g., descent of your family or tribe from Moses, Seneca, or Charlemagne). If you don’t have a driver’s license, a passport, a social security card, or another government- produced identity card, how do you prove who you are?

It is always the same: once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are.

Jean Baudrillard, 1929-2007, French intellectual (best-quotations com)

It might be unnecessary for the Queen of Great Britain to carry identity papers (there, everything official is issued in her name) but in most every country, everyday life, that is, in one’s financial and legal relations, use identity as a basis for meaningful exchange.

Most who have suffered identity theft, where unknowingly, someone has enjoyed your savings or credit to buy yachts or Teslas, or found themselves wanted in Pennsylvania for fraud ( though you have never left Nevada) are painfully aware that your identity is you.

One must be something in order to do something

Wolfgang Goethe, via best-quotations.com

As someone now engaged in an occupation that is thoroughly entrenched in institutional bureaucracy, valid identification of my prospective clients requires official documents. In a world now telling people they “are” whom they believe themselves to be, in terms of “identity”, these same folks in bureaucratic circles tell us we are whom our documents dictate.