Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Attitude of a Hero

I originally posted this on my other blog "The Better Side of Humanity" earlier this year. Well, this is the date of the action my friend and former Navy CO participated in which won him the Navy's highest award, the Navy Cross. I'm posting it again here just as a tip of the hat to a brave and humble man....

There is an attitude that seems to come with being a hero. Most of the time you ask these guys a question about it and you are likely to get a response like, “I was just doing my job,” or “I only did what anybody would do.”

My brother Dusty for example, just retired from the Air Force. He got what they call a “shadow box” as part of the deal. A shadow box is a nice wood display with all of your awards, your rank, an American flag and other things like that. I asked him what he got all of those awards for and his reply was something like “Oh, just being me.” Now I don’t know if he was a hero but he does illustrate the point. For the military serviceman there is a kind of attitude that I could only describe as a mild kind of humility—a humbleness about what they’ve done. You can almost bet your life if you find someone in the military, or formerly, who seems a bit boastful about what he did, that he in fact didn’t do it at all. And likewise, if they have that humbleness about them that seems somehow to pervade their very being, well, you can bet that they’ve done a lot.

One of the most humble men that I’ve ever met in that respect was Bob Baratko.

My book, Vengeance: Hatred and Honor has the following paragraph in the introduction: “I recall the first day that I was on a ship. My squadron was deployed to the USS Kitty Hawk for a Western Pacific cruise. Now, if you have ever seen an aircraft carrier, you realize how easy it is to get lost. After searching for almost forty-five minutes, I finally found the squadron’s personnel office. Everybody was busy unpacking and stowing their gear because we had just arrived at the ship, and seemed to have no time for this young, lost, and very confused airman apprentice who was just trying to take care of the paperwork necessary to get another stripe added to his uniform. The door that led to the officer’s ready room opened and in stepped a commander. He surveyed the compartment to see what was going on, and his eyes very quickly landed on me. He walked over to where I was and with a kind and gentle smile asked, “Can I help you, sir?” I would like to thank USN Commander Robert E. Baratko, my commanding officer in VAQ-130, for teaching me what it really means to be a leader.”

So I decided that if I am going to put this into my book I should see if I could find him and let him know firsthand that I am going to do so. Unfortunately I couldn’t find him in time and I made the decision to go ahead and put it there anyway and hoping for the best, let him know that I did so when I found him.

So while doing the search for him I found this: “The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Robert Edward Baratko (NSN: 0-741174), United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism on 15 September 1970 while serving as the Aircraft Commander of an attack helicopter, attached to Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron THREE (HAL(L)-3), Task Force 116 (TF-116), during operations against enemy forces in the Republic of Vietnam. Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Baratko participated in a mission to provide cover for a medical evacuation helicopter which had previously attempted to evacuate several seriously wounded personnel in the face of intense enemy fire. As his plane and three others entered the evacuation area, the surrounding tree lines erupted with intense fire which downed two aircraft and seriously damaged a third. Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Baratko's aircraft sustained several critical hits, including one through the fuel tank. With the only flyable attack helicopter on the scene, he provided gun-ship coverage while the medical evacuation helicopter eventually succeeded in rescuing the downed crews. As he was flying this coverage, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Baratko's plane was again subjected to heavy fire and sustained several more hits. After the medical evacuation helicopter departed the area, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Baratko flew to a nearby landing strip with his fuel supply practically exhausted. By his perseverance and great personal valor in the face of almost overwhelming odds, he was directly instrumental in saving the lives of several of his shipmates. His selfless and determined efforts were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

The Navy Cross is the highest award that the Navy can award a sailor and is the second highest award that there is for anybody serving in the military.

I am happy to report that I have finally located Bob Baratko after several years of looking and his letter back to me was just as pleasant as I remembered him to be. He will get a courtesy copy of my book with thanks for his part in inspiring the leadership qualities of the main character of my book. I also thank him and all of our fine heroes who quietly take the lead and guide the rest of us through what we need to do, whatever that may be.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rights, Responsibilities and Extremes

I've noticed people tend to go to extreme assumptions in political debates and I wish there were a quick way around it that I could find. I believe, for example, that social security as a concept is an essential human right, just like health care or housing, etc., but the United States Social Security System is an unconstitutional Ponzi scheme and is destined to collapse. It's likely that it was instituted just to bolster the general funds of the US Treasury, just like Ponzi and Madoff were using it to fatten their wallets, with the end goal of increasing the federal government's power, covertly, over the population of the country by playing on their fears and selling a "solution" to them. It's a very, very, very old trick. That being said nobody wants children and old people to starve. I just believe that there are more sustainable and cost effective ways to do these things without leaving us susceptible to the potential whims of a tyrant or the inefficiencies of an uncaring and wasteful bureaucracy.

Yes, I know there are some people out there who are screaming at me now because I just said health care and housing are essential human rights. The point is there is nothing anywhere that says the government is or should be the best or only method of maintaining your rights. Providing defense for us as a country so that we can maintain our own rights is their more proper function of a federal government. Think of this, do you want to be beholden to the government to maintain your health and home? I would think not. Do you want the government to be able to confirm or deny your health care or home? I would hope not.

I often wonder where this idea comes from that the government (also known as taxpayers in this case) has to provide the funding to pay for our rights. Shouldn’t it be our individual responsibility if it is our rights? How on Earth could an individual not be responsible for the fiscal maintenance of his house and still consider it to be his; let alone think that somehow it's helping him with his right to have one? If it’s the government making the payments isn’t it theirs to take or give at their own whim? How could you as an individual even force an organization with the power of the United States government to make the payments to the bank if they decide not to?

The only way we can have our rights is to take responsibility for them on an individual basis. That’s what makes them individual rights in the first place! Government sponsored health care is not the giving or support of our rights as human beings, it is an infringement upon them by using the force of law to intervene in our health care decisions, which should be our own individual responsibility and nobody else’s. It’s not anybody else’s right or responsibility to maintain your body, it’s yours!

Yes, I think there are a lot of things that are human rights. To me that only means that the government should stay out of them. That is a distinctly different thing than wanting old people and children to be homeless and starving without the benefit of health care, housing or food.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What’s all this “competence” stuff I’ve been hearing about?

There have been a number of things going on in the world which have been driving a number of people crazy for quite some time. I don’t know, but I think as a public service some noble yet humble volunteer should step forward and spot some basic element in these seemingly unrelated problems and put something out there—as a service to the fellows with whom he shares the planet—which would help to straighten out a large number of troubles people have been having.

It seems to me that nobody of the above description is willing to step forward and risk enduring the criticism by providing this service…so I guess I’ll just have to do it.

The fly in the ointment that I see is in a basic understanding of science. Not, mind you, what it does but just the basic definition of what it is. Science as a field of practice has accomplished a lot of wonderful things in this world at this time and it’s taken a lot of very smart and expert people to get most of them together and make them work.

Now consider this very carefully. In order for a person to look at someone who they conceive to be smart or have expertise in some area, they also have to conceive that either they themselves are not smart or they don’t have that expertise. Don’t they? So when that expertise is something which is required, to a greater or lesser degree for your survival, you tend to take the expert’s word for it don’t you? A doctor is more likely to know if the levels of iron in your blood are too high than you isn’t he? Even more than that he should be able to tell you what they should be and how to keep them in the proper range. That’s what he’s paid for isn’t it? In this world there are so many different technologies we can’t keep up with that we are always surrounded by people who claim expertise in something. After a while I’d suppose that taking the so called educated experts at their word could in some people’s minds become a bit of a habit.

Now let’s look at the definition of “science.” After a brief search I found the following two definitions; 1) a systematically organized body of knowledge about a particular subject,” and 2) the state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding. I also found that the word science comes from a Latin word "sciens" which means “having knowledge.”

It would seem that science means knowing something about something wouldn’t it?

An engineer who builds a bridge should know how much of what grade materials he should use to keep the bridge from crashing into the river shouldn’t he? The designer of the new aircraft should be able to tell you how many pounds of pressure the wings can take before they come off shouldn’t he? The designers of electrical grids should know how much stress the system can take before everything bursts into flame or the grid shuts down. Nuclear engineers should know how much water it takes to keep the reactor cool and what size pipes to use with how many pounds of water pressure to keep the system from melting down.

These guys generally know what they are doing with an almost absolute certainty. Sure, sometimes they get it wrong but most of the time, to the degree that the failures are almost statistically insignificant, they get it right. On the rare occasions when they do get it wrong the results are catastrophic.

I can look in the reloading manual and see on the charts how much gunpowder is needed to load my rifle cartridges. I can measure out the power and put it in the case and with the correct bullet and primer properly installed I can go out to the gun range and hopefully have a nice day of shooting. I can enter the variables into my computer and predict how I have to adjust the scope for the distance I’m shooting. I set up my targets, my shooting bench and my rifle, then put my home loaded cartridges in take aim and pull the trigger. Click, boom, whack! A hole appears on the target at the bull’s-eye. Click, boom, whack! Another hole, very near the first one on the target. Click, boom, whack! Again I’ve hit the target on the bull’s-eye. It could be said that if I continue to do this consistently over a period of time that I know what I’m doing. Right? Why? Because my results are predictable! Because I can accurately predict the outcome it would indicate I’m using a valid scientific methodology.

What would it mean if I pulled the trigger and the gun didn’t go off? Then I pulled the trigger and killed the cat at the farmhouse three miles away? Then I pulled the trigger and the bullet hit my car? After pulling the trigger again the gun exploded? It would mean that I don’t know what the bloody hell I’m doing! It would therefore also mean I wasn’t using a valid scientific technique wouldn’t it? It doesn’t matter what my intention is, the cat is still dead!

Well what if the bridges crash into the river? The wings come off the planes? The electrical grids burst into flame and shut down? Or the reactor melts down? You would say they don’t know what they are doing wouldn’t you? So if the administration says the new stimulus bill will keep the unemployment rate below eight percent and it rises to almost ten percent? And every single time some talking head financial guru says the market is going to rise and it declines five-hundred points “unexpectedly”?

How about somebody twenty years ago saying global warming would have killed all of the fish in the sea by now? What if forty years ago somebody else said there would be an ice age by now? What if somebody said there would be no ozone layer protecting us from the Sun’s radiation by now and we would all be baked, like Cheetos, to a crackly crunch? Is that a valid scientific methodology?

What if psychologist and psychiatrist proclaimed that they could reduce crime and the crime rates went up? What if they said they were educational experts and the literacy rates crashed? What if they said they would cure or beneficially treat insanity and most of their existing patients never fully recovered but more than that the numbers of insane people went through the roof? What if they said they could help with suicides in society and the suicide rates went up? What if they had a theory, which was never proven, that insanity was cause by chemical imbalances in the brain and could be treated by Zoloft, which didn’t help, then Zanex which made the depression worse, then Prozac which made him kill his kids with an axe, then Lexipro which gave the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, then electro-convulsive therapy which left them in a semi-zombie like state where they couldn’t remember their name, then Lithium, then, then, then, etc., etc., etc., and this continued for forty years in case after case after case. What if the gunman in almost every single one of these horrific mass shootings in recent years had therapeutic levels of the above drugs in their system at the time of the shooting? Would you say the people treating them were effective? Were they being scientific? Would you say they even know what they’re doing?

Sometimes the experts really are experts and sometimes they really aren’t. We as people of the world need to know how to spot the difference. Too many times people who go through our broken educational system have had their heads filled with false and harmful data, yet somehow we, and they, think they are wise without them ever having to actually prove it. Sometimes they are put in high places of authority over us with disastrous results. I think if somebody makes the claim that they can do something they damn well should be able to do it in a reasonable time with very few excuses or mistakes. After our trust is placed in them and we find that trust has been betrayed by their lack of competence I think it’s all together appropriate to forever strip them of any position of power in the public arena and make certain they can never again, without proving themselves, find themselves in a position of power again.

It’s important for people in positions of trust to know what they are doing. The evaluation of them should be based on their results not their intentions. If the results they claim are not accurately the results they get, they shouldn’t have that position regardless of their authority, education or how well they present themselves. Knowing natural law is science. The ability to apply it is competence. All the authority and education on the planet cannot overturn natural law.