I handed the following paper in as part of my final research project for my Arabic Dialectology course this semester. Designed to explore many of the linguistic aspects of variation and change in the varieties used throughout the Middle East, we were eventually asked to focus our research down to one regional dialect and compare it to MSA (Modern Standard Arabic).
The following paper is what I handed in for my final in my political philosophy class this semester. Elizabeth Anderson is a feminist political philosopher who gives extensive treatment to the nature of freedom, particularly in this article (beginning on page 34 of the PDF) to the nature of freedom as it relates to labor.
Many have asked, and I've never had the patience to tell, why I hung up the uniform after ten years, when it "only" would have taken another ten more to retire. The pithy answer I've always given, which is in essence the truth, is "I got tired of it." The longer answer, which I've never bothered to fully articulate until now, is what you may now read below, if you so desire.
For starters, I'm only interested in talking about it right at this moment because I just read this article from Navy Times in its painful entirety. It was painful to me because it's a bit like being a survivor of domestic violence and going to a support group meeting to listen for two hours to other people's heart-wrenching stories of watching and receiving domestic abuse. While admittedly my time in the surface Navy was mercifully short (a solitary, seven-month deployment) compared to anyone who's actually gone PCS-afloat, nevertheless I can personally bear witness to the fact that the dysfunction which was attested to by the crew of the USS Shiloh is actually symptomatic of the entire surface Navy, and based on my interactions with Submariners (my dad not least among them), I'd say the submarine community might even have it slightly worse.
The Navy itself (and the military in general, if I may generalize based on secondhand accounts from fellow Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines) has a serious leadership problem. I've spoken with enough retirees to know that this is not news, and the fact is that "military intelligence" has been, and always and forever will be, a comical contradiction of terms. While I could trot out a litany of stories that I have learned about from others regarding ridiculous policies and behaviors of military leadership, I'm going to try to confine my narrative as best as possible to my own experiences, mostly for the sake of time constraints.
For those who are unaware, I went to Captain's Mast (Marines know it as NJP, Army/Air Force types call it Article 15, but yeah same difference) in June of 2016 for what were ostensibly "serious offenses" committed while deployed to a combat zone. In actuality, I was ten minutes late for a watch turnover, wasn't up in a chat program twice when people wanted to chat with me, and didn't get a list of information as quickly as possible (I got it the next watch instead of when I was asked to). Because my supervisor and I had had previous personality conflicts, he decided that this would be an ideal opportunity to thoroughly document all of my shortcomings, seek written statements from other people we worked with to exaggerate the seriousness of the charges, and then transmit all of this information back to my home command shortly before my return home from deployment.
Did I make these errors? Yes. By the letter of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, I was unequivocally guilty. However, and this is what concerns me about many more cases than just my own, these were the kinds of issues that, according to Navy leadership philosophy, should have been handled at the "lowest level possible." Unfortunately, Navy culture is such (and again I'm broadly extrapolating here for the entire military) that many senior NCOs and junior officers are either unable or unwilling to exercise sound judgment in handling issues on their own.
The military is a peculiar place unlike any other institution in the private sector. Although we are purported to be a pure meritocracy, there are numerous examples throughout the armed services of people who simply "put in their time" to make it where they are. Again, I'm painting with broad brush strokes here, and it needs to be said that there are in fact some amazing human beings whom I have had the rare pleasure to work with and call friends. However, when it comes to people with serious decision-making authority of any kind (what we call "bottom-line" authority in Navy world), I can think of maybe three to five officers or senior enlisted in my entire career who honestly seemed well suited to their current position, if not a slightly higher one.
The Navy has had at least four notable accidents since January, to say nothing of two combat missions in Yemen and Somalia that resulted in the deaths of two SEAL operators. While operational risks are inherent to the dangerous nature of our work overseas, it strikes me as remarkable that this spate of "mishaps" has come in such quick succession. While CNN is quick to lay blame squarely at the feet of the Trump administration, I would point out (with no desire whatsoever to protect Trump) that a dysfunctional culture does not come about overnight. These problems of leadership have been years in the making.
For my own part, I should probably acknowledge that I once held a leadership position several years ago which in retrospect I was thoroughly unqualified for. Though I did the best with the tools I was given, the task of managing 52 Sailors at times all by myself was something for which the Navy left me woefully unprepared. While I still console myself to this day with the knowledge that several successful careers were born out of that division for which I was LPO, the fact remains that the vast majority of leaders in the military (and the Navy CT community in particular) rise entirely too quickly to positions of importance, and then flounder under the weight of the so-called "Peter Principle" dragging them to the ocean bottom.
Conversely, some communities progress so slowly through the advancement process that the only real quality necessary for long-term success is the ability to tolerate incalculable amounts of senseless military BS and still remain somehow unfazed and outwardly optimistic about the military life. In the surface community, I would say this latter situation is far more accurate. People flee in droves from places of low job satisfaction and low employee morale, leaving only the most hard-headed and hard-hearted people around to fill the gaping vacancies.
Again, I can't state enough that these are generalizations, and some people in EVERY workplace are bound to be there because they are genuinely good at and love their job. For the most part, however, the military abets and shelters those who are somewhere between decent to downright terrible at their chosen career, and they remain there voluntarily because they know that they get paid the same regardless of their output and will eventually be able to retire as long as they keep below the radar.
So how does this relate to my screw-ups which cost me a stripe?
Well, I'll tell you.
Had I had anyone in my chain of command who was willing to go to bat for me, so to speak, and make the case that this situation ought to be handled at their level instead of kicking it flippantly up the chain, it's quite possible that I may have seen the errors of my ways and opted to go on and have a long, proud Naval career. Because not one person in the chain of command had the intestinal fortitude to take a risk, I went all the way up the flagpole and spent 30 lovely days on a mock-deployment (aka "restriction," a very vanilla version of Navy jail) which flew by fairly quickly in light of the SEVEN. DAMN. MONTHS. that I was neglected and left out to sea on a platform where I was incapable of providing good intelligence.
My time on that ship was instructive, if nothing else, in the ways in which tyrannical and micromanaging leaders make a name for themselves by meeting all the performance wickets at the cost of tremendous human capital, not to mention the utter destruction of their personal credibility by shamelessly pandering to the next boss up the chain while refusing to support the interests of those under their supervision. I'll never forget when an entire crew was told to paint the exterior of the ship while the skipper drove us headlong into a rainstorm, because looking good was of paramount importance... but not important enough for us to divert our course and/or hold off on the painting until the storm blew over.
Am I grateful for all the wonderful people I've met, the incalculable value of all the training that I've received, and the numerous travels and life experiences which were only possible because of the Navy? Unequivocally yes. Do I suspect that there is a systemic brokenness in military culture which enables people to abdicate personal responsibility and critical thinking by simply "doing what you're told?" Also, and very sadly, yes.
Everyone has pastimes that we enjoy, and mine are eclectic and numerous. Since it's been along time since I wrote anything here, I decided to talk about three things that I've gotten into since the last time I published:
As of a few months ago, I am officially a licensed Amateur Radio operator. HAM radio (the term has unclear origins, but is believed to refer to a ham-handed telegraph operator back in the day) is comprised of a special group of technically-savvy people who have decided to try and communicate with one another using either home-built or commercially bought radios that have the capability to cover the entire globe. I got into it because I bought a decent pair of walkie-talkies on Amazon that I later learned couldn't be operated without a license. After researching the licensing process, I ordered a study guide and found a local volunteer testing center.
My dad has always had a very respectable collection of tools, and over the years he's helped me make several exciting father-son projects over the years. Lately I decided I wanted to do some tinkering in the garage on my own, and so decided to take a woodworking class and invest in a modest collection of tools for my own house. So far I've made a bookshelf, a shoe rack, and a simple monitor stand for my computer.
I enjoy shooting sports, and because the cost or availability of ammo can at time be prohibitive, I decided to invest a modest sum in getting my own ammo reloading equipment. Taking spent brass and pressing it back into new ammunition is a very time-consuming and detail-intensive process, but once you manage to learn the ins and outs of it there can be something very therapeutic about spending a few hours in the garage just repeating a nearly-mindless set of muscle memory steps over and over again.
This is a very short summary, and perhaps I'll expand it later if I have time!
As you may or may not have noticed, the global economy isn't doing so well right now. Even Carl Icahn, the vaunted Wall Street investment mogul, has recently come out publicly to warn Americans that we are, in fact, in a much more dire situation than most people in the finance industry are willing to admit openly. Even though he has been roundly criticized by econ majors everywhere for his "alarmist" statements (much the way Alan Greenspan was criticized in the late 90's for warning about the dangers of irrational exuberance shortly before the burst of the dot-com bubble), it is taken as a fact by many major news publications (Reuters, and also Market Watch, just to name two) that things are, in fact, getting worse (at least for the foreseeable future).
While my goal here is not to necessarily cry wolf, I do think that any thinking person ought to be concerned, given these facts. The simple and ugly truth is that the economic disaster of 2008 never really went away, it was simply delayed by seven years of ZIRP (aka Zero Interest-Rate Policy), much like giving morphine to a person who has broken their leg . Now that the government has tapered off its policy of "quantitative easing" (aka "injecting liquidity," or inventing more money out of thin air), the American, and therefore the global economy, is now for the first time feeling the full effects of the recession that hit in 2008.
In essence, we suffered a broken leg in 2008, and instead of actually treating it we simply took massive amounts of morphine (in the form of zero-interest loans from the government) in order to numb the pain and keep walking. Now that we risk dying of "liver poisoning" from all the morphine (represented by unacceptable levels of economic growth and inflation), the government is trying to wean us all off of it by raising interest rates. The issue now is that we never truly resolved the problems of 2008, and so in our broken leg analogy we are now finally feeling the effects of walking on a broken bone after seven years of morphine.
"What problems haven't we resolved?" you ask. Great question. I don't want to bore you with thousands of esoteric details, but I'll name a few major ones, as I see them. I will also add at this point that I have done my best to confirm my opinions with someone who is intimately knowledgeable on this subject (he's got a masters in econ), and to be fair, I should inform you that he will probably disagree with most of what I'm writing in this article for ideological reasons.
Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser are two world-class cello players from Croatia who are both classically trained and also famously good at producing some great modern covers on the cello.
Born and raised in war-torn Croatia, they met at a musical conservatory and began playing together about ten years ago. The partnership and friendship which the two men have formed over their mutual love of music is readily apparent in the way they play.
While I could recommend any number of wonderful pieces of their music to you, I think I'll offer you one of their funnier renditions...
The deeper philosophical lesson which I find in their work is the simple observation that incredible talent is made infinitely more appealing by the addition of some levity into one's craft.
I went on a grand adventure yesterday with some friends. We very haphazardly planned a road trip to Charlottesville, VA and then struck out, stopping at several random and unplanned sites along the way. It took us almost eleven hours to make what should have been a 2 1/2 hour drive from D.C., and we loved every minute of it.
Since my blog happens to be on the internet, and since I can't compete with the corporate wallets of Communist-Cast or Time-Warner, I'd like to take a moment to raise your awareness of an ongoing debate which we should all pay more attention to. The following video is about 10 minutes long, and is designed to put a funny spin on something that is decidedly not funny.
Please overlook any offensive language, I assure you the message is too important to get hung up on the delivery.
It would be nice to think the era of ruthless "Robber Barons" ended with the death of such greats as J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, but it seems that may be a bit too idealistic. The least we can do is complain, right?
I hope you'll take time to share this with as many people as you can, since it truly does affect us all.
Politics and chess are two topics I love to discuss. When you get down to the fundamental elements of each of them, they're essentially the same game. It's all about making wise exchanges at opportune moments. As a rule, Russians are generally experts at the game of chess. A good chess player always respects his opponent, and while I can't say I've ever had any particular affinity for the Russian culture or political systems, I must admit their powers of logic are unassailable.
Many of you may recall when Russian President Vladimir Putin interceded on behalf of Syria during the debate over potential US military strikes in response to Syria's use of chemical weapons. It is widely agreed that our President was outmaneuvered by Putin's timely offering of a compromise, as I quote from the above-cited article:
Simply put, Putin wanted to keep Syria under his control, because it provides him with a valuable ally (or political pawn, depending on one's perspective) in the Middle East who can counteract the perceived US-puppet state of Israel. Obviously US-Israeli relations aren't quite as amorous these days as Putin may believe, but I digress...
When the Ukrainian situation erupted just two months later, it was widely speculated in pro-Russian circles that the unrest was fueled by Western-backed dissenters who were likely receiving help from outside sources (the implication being the CIA was involved), since America had an axe to grind after Putin embarrassed us with the Syria deal. Ukraine is strategically crucial to Russia, not only because of the Russian military bases in Crimea, but also because the vast majority of Russian oil exports to Western Europe travel through Ukrainian pipelines. While it will never be definitively proved that the US has had any involvement with the Ukrainian civil unrest (or the Syrian opposition movement, for that matter), it doesn't seem altogether illogical to make the leap that yes, we were in fact stirring up trouble in both Syria and Ukraine.
Fast forward to February of this year, when our President began stepping up his rhetoric on Ukraine, opening the door for yet another opportunity for the US to get involved in political affairs in Russia's backyard. It's no secret that these two men have a mutual disdain for one another, and I'm forced to wonder if perhaps the President was attempting to force a confrontation in some kind of quest for justice after the Syrian embarrassment.
When Putin responded by raising the stakes with troop deployments, Obama responded asymmetrically with his threats of economic sanctions. The critical mistake there was assuming that a Russian would have any respect for a non-military reaction (hint: he didn't). Viewing the sanctions as a minor inconvenience at best, Putin opted to again raise the stakes with increased military activity in the Pacific. At this point, Obama was faced with a critical choice: either man up and play Putin's game on a military scale, or fold under pressure. It seems to me that he chose the latter.
Last week, the Syrian opposition forces in Homs (their longest-held stronghold in Northern Syria) withdrew, and less than 24 hours later Putin drastically altered his tone on the subject of Ukraine. Again, while it will never be proven that the US has had any material involvement in the Syrian Opposition (other than a PR visit by Sen. John McCain) it stands to reason that the collapse of Syrian Opposition in their biggest stronghold, followed by an immediate relaxation of rhetoric on Putin's part, suggests that an unspoken deal was reached whereby we abandon our interests in Syria, and Putin stands down on his plan to annex more of Ukraine.
To some, this could arguably be called effective diplomacy. In my mind though, as I'm sure in Putin's, this marks yet another victory for Mother Russia. Not only did he get to keep his Middle East pawn, he also ripped some very lucrative chunks off of his former Soviet vassal-state in exchange for the US simply avoiding the possibility of either a costly military conflict or further international embarrassment.
This is what happens when a one-term Senator tries to play political chess with a man who spent 16 years in the KGB.
I attended a Greg Laswell concert a few weeks ago, and was lucky enough to also get a chance to meet him after the show. Greg is an awesome musician who also hails from the SoCal region, and the guy is hilarious in concert (seriously, he could've been a comedian). My first opportunity to hear him play live was actually several years ago at the San Diego County Fair ( better known to locals asThe Del Mar Fair). Like most people who live in SoCal, his style is very chill. His themes vary from heartbreak and sadness (his first album came out while he was getting a divorce) to persevering through hardship, finding love, and ultimately just living life and enjoying yourself. He has since gotten remarried, and his latest albums reflect a much happier Greg.
Greg has been through a lot of ups and downs in his relatively short musical career, but nevertheless he has always maintained his super-chill style and his down-to-earth geniality. His journey has been cataloged by each of his successive albums, and this has allowed all of his followers to kind of "grow with him" through the process. Whether you're happily involved with someone, or wallowing in the misery of a recent breakup, or even just enjoying some of the more happy-go-lucky moments of life, this guy's got an album for you.
This is the randomness page. Short stories, news articles complete with ranting commentary, and other miscellaneous posts can be found here.
I'm J.R., a US Navy veteran and Linguist. This blog is devoted to insights and experiences I've gained over the years.