March 2008 Archives

Flowers Before Security

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Extension Computer Donation to Help Agencies Communicate
Starkville Daily News, 21 March 2008, p A-6

“A donation of old-but-functional computers from the Mississippi State University Extension Service will soon give local law enforcement, intelligence and public safety agencies connectivity for sharing information.”

Okay, for the record, I am not being critical of the Extension Service making the donation—I find it admirable that they are finding second-uses for their old computers. However, it bothers me immensely that the state of Mississippi seems to provide better funding to the people who help us grow prettier flowers than they do to the people who are charged with ensuring our security. I just bought a new laptop because my three-year old laptop was taking too long to check my email, open a doument, and surf the web. I would think that our “law enforcement, intelligence and public safety agencies” might also appreciate, perhaps even need, more up-to date computers than I do.

John Adams on HBO. Wow!

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I just watched the first episodes of the HBO miniseries on John Adams. All I can say is, Wow! What a great production and depiction of life in the times. These two episodes presented the events leading to the Revolution in personal terms and showed that these people took great personal risks when they made decisions.

Of all the wars in our nation’s history, the Revolutionary War is the most interesting to me. I know, living in Mississippi everyone expects me to be a Civil War—excuse me, “War of Northern Aggression”—buff but I’m not. I grew up in the East and the war we discussed the most was the Revolutionary War. Plus, and I admit this recognizing where I live, I would have been on the side of the North in the Civil War. At heart, I’m a Federalist and I would have sided with keeping the Union together. Yes, I understand that at one level the Civil War was fought over state’s rights, but in reality it was a fight over slavery, an issue that should have been resolved when the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were written.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—character matters. When forming judgments about people or institutions, the most important factor to consider is character. Although the saying that past performance does not guarantee future results may apply to investments, the past behavior of a person is the best indicator of their future behavior. Promises have no meaning unless the person making them has a history of living up to them.

Thirty-five years ago today, John McCain came home from the Hanoi Hilton where he spent five and a half years of his life. John McCain is a hero but he is a real hero, not one of the new-fangled heroes we have today. The term hero is thrown around so much these days that it has almost lost it meaning—but McCain is a hero in the truest sense of the word.

He is not a hero because he fought in Vietnam. He is not a hero because he was shot down while completing a bombing mission. He is not even a hero because he spent time in a POW camp. Those actions were merely part of or a result of doing the job he willingly chose to do. John McCain is a hero because of what he did, and what he did not do, while a POW.

During his time in the Hanoi Hilton, John McCain was offered early release because of who he was. He was not only severely injured while ejecting from his airplane as it was hit with a surface to air missile, he was injured further by his captors. The easy thing to have done would have been to accept the release. I honestly think that most people would have understood had he accepted the release. Instead, he stood fast and said he would go home as soon as everyone who had been there longer than he had was also released.

John McCain is a hero because after he came close to death in the fire on the USS Forrestal, he requested a transfer to the USS Oriskany so that he could continue to fly missions. It was from the Oriskany that he would fly his mission before being captured.

To see more about this check out this video.

Is John McCain perfect? No. Do I agree with everything he has done? No. Do I think he will be elected as President and then never make a decision I disagree with? No. Do I think he will be a man of character and make decisions for the good of the country, as best as he can? Absolutely. Why? Because he has character. He has the character that will allow him to put country before self. He has shown he can make the hard decisions—even they have significant personal costs.

Senators Clinton and Obama seem to be fine people but what we know of their character? Senator Clinton and her husband have yet to release records that could show her character. Senator Obama has done nothing but talk about change without really defining what that was. He has yet to point to any decisions he has made that had a personal cost.

If you agree with me, how about making a contribution to the John McCain contribution? Click here.

"Tort King’s Path to Bribery Charge". Wall Street Journal, Friday, 14 March 2008. Vol. CCLI No. 61. P.A1

I retrieved my WSJ from the mailbox this morning and was walking back to the office while looking over the front page stories. This article about good ole Dickie Scruggs caught my attention. The Journal poses the question “What could lead a lawyer who once earned nearly $1 billion on a single case, the tobacco litigation, to bribe a judge over a matter of a few million dollars?”

“The answer is simple—he didn’t—says Mr. Scruggs lawyer, John Keker. He says prosecutors have concocted a ‘manufactured crime’ in which his client had no part.”

Shortly after I got back to my office I got a news alert from the Journal saying Scruggs had pled guilty to a charge of conspiracy. Hmmm, doesn’t sound like he “had no part” in a “manufactured crime”. This, my friends, is why so many of us despise what has become of trial lawyers and favor tort reform.

Sure, there is need for lawyers to ensure everyone gets a fair trial. I happen to know several lawyers and have the greatest respect them—they are by all accounts fair, honest, and ethical. But then comes the Dickie Scruggs and his trial lawyer screaming innocence when there obviously is none, and the whole lot of them get a black eye.

Perhaps the trial lawyers will try to clean up their own profession. We can only hope.

I Sits and Thinks

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So I sits, I sits and I thinks. I’ve taken off work a few days to think about this dissertation thing. Throughout all of my coursework I have, where possible, used my papers and other assignments to explore the interaction of NGOs and the military with idea that it would be the central focus of my dissertation. I am specifically interested in the organizational behavior aspects of the interaction and what can be done to improve cooperation.

The topic is one I have been interested in ever since we had a discussion in one of my Naval War College classes at Millington. The topic we were discussing was NGOs and the instructor mentioned that when he was in Bosnia he found that the Red Cross and other NGOs would not work with the military. The NGOs quite rightly wanted to and needed to maintain their independence and prevent even the slightest appearance that they were cooperating with the military. To do anything else would have limited their effectiveness.

However, the military did have some knowledge that would have helped the NGOs function better. They knew, for example, that it would be in the best interest of the NGOs to avoid a certain part of the city for the next few days. Not only would the knowledge have helped the NGOs prevent injury and death, it would have reduced the risks to the military in performing any rescue missions. And yes, the NGOs had some street level intel that would have helped the military do its job more effectively.

At the time I was more interested in completing my coursework to get the MA from the Naval War College and honestly was not even thinking about a PhD dissertation at the time. But the idea stuck with me. As the US went to war with Afghanistan and Iraq the idea came back to my thinking. This time it was a little different though. Whereas Bosnia was a humanitarian assistance mission, a true Military Operation Other than War (MOOTW), Afghanistan and Iraq were more military missions after war (can I be the first to coin the acronym MMAW?).

My thinking has been influenced some by Thomas PM Barnett as well. His book The Pentagon’s New Map gave me a new world view especially as he talked about the war fighters needed to be young and slightly pissed off men whereas the people that were to rebuild the countries after war needed to be slightly older, a little more mellow, and more experienced. He calls this group the Department of Everything Else.

Now, in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). These are small, relatively small, teams of military who are focused on rebuilding following war. They help get the country (or the provinces in this case) up and running. They help establish the infrastructure to govern, get electricity turned on and get water flowing in and sewage flowing out. In other words they remove some of the physical and structural obstacles to getting the government functioning again.

The question which comes up is whether this should be the job of the military or someone else. What about State? Well the State Department is supposed to provide people for this mission but State Department types are not really inclined to put on body armor to go to work every day. What about the NGOs? Well they too have a role to play but they generally lack the manpower and equipment needed to gets things working again, at least in the early stages. They do not have the expertise to repair power plants or water treatment facilities.

Given we seldom move from war to outright peace, PRTs are often at risk while doing their jobs. This is not something most people want to do on a daily basis but it is exactly what the military lives to do. So, it seems to me that there will always be a role for the military, at least in the foreseeable future, for the military to not only wage war, but also to restore the infrastructure once the war (read major hostilities) is over. But I do see this as a job solely for the military; the NGOs also have a role to play. It seems to me that there are things the military does well and the NGOs do well—the solution seems to be a marriage between the two. I envision a situation where the military primarily works alone during the first stages followed by a period where the military and NGOs work collaboratively, followed by a period where the NGOs work primarily alone.

The problems here are several. The military and NGOs do not seem always understand each other. Perhaps this is because of the differences in personality and experiences of the young, single, pissed off people—the military—and the older, married, gender-balanced, more educated people—the NGOs. But it also seems that we need a force that perhaps combines these two. One force I think of is the Reserve forces.

The Reserves are typically older but still military. They have also been more educated and therefore understand the peace mission perhaps a little better than the typical, young, E-1 to E-4. They also have skills developed in the civilian world but can still speak military and wear the uniform.

One other advantage of the Reserve forces is that they are able to practice their skills in their civilian jobs so that even when they are not restoring the infrastructure of a war-torn state, they are keeping their skills honed. When needed, they can go to the fight, do their jobs, and leave.

All of this will require significant education within the military and within the NGOs. But once obtained it will be useful for restoring peace, and can also be used, or at least facets of the force can be used, during times of national disaster.

The big question is how to pull all this together into a dissertation? What kind of data are out there to be analyzed? And how can I analyze it? I am confident I can reason my argument, although there will always be those who disagree, but how to defend the reasoning in a dissertation? I am leaning towards some sort of qualitative analysis mainly because it will be a stretch for me having been educated first an engineer. But I sense the committee is more inclined to look at quantitative data vice qualitative data.

So, I sits. I sits and thinks. But the time is here to quit sitting and start writing. This is the first step—I hope.

Made a presentation to a very small audience at the Institute of Industrial Engineers Region 3 Student Conference today but enjoyed it. I retooled my engineering ethics talk for this audience and made is significantly shorter. The conference seemed to go well but it looked like many of the sessions were not very well attended with the possible exception of the talks given my potential employers. Can’t fault the students—I would not have been much interested in a talk on ethics on a Saturday morning either.

The highlight of the conference was getting to see a former student who I really liked when she is in school. I am pleased she is doing well. I also missed the keynote address by another student I knew, but did not know she was doing the keynote.

Tomorrow will be a quick trip to Jackson for the Mississippi Engineering Society Board of Directors meeting in the afternoon. A trip back home tomorrow night, followed with a presentation to the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors on Monday. Then, I have another trip back to Jackson for the MES awards banquet where I get to present the MES Outstanding Engineering Student award to a remarkable student. I do dread the travel but I do look forward to the award presentation.

Somewhere in all of this, I have to find some time and figure out this dissertation thing.

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