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Never Flatline Intellectually 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short note to end the week. Today was the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Joint Forces Staff College where I teach. It was a very good, but long day with morning and evening ceremonies and activities. Our chief speaker was retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, one of the most distinguished, honest, and outspoken military men of the past generation. Had the Bush administration listened to him we probably would have never ended up in the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires. But I digress… 

One of General Zinni’s points was that no matter who you are that you must never stop learning. He lives this. At the age of 72 he holds three masters degrees and is working on a doctorate, lugging his books into doctoral seminars at Creighton University. He believes like I do, and history has shown, that when military budgets are cut the last thing that should be sacrificed is education. He noted that the most dangerous military officer is one whose intellectual curiosity has flatlined. General Zinni certainly does not subscribe to the principles that caused Barbara Tuchman to write “learning from experience is experience is a faculty almost never practiced,” and “nothing so comforts the military mind as the maxim of a great but dead general.” 

General Zinni is one of those remarkable people who can speak the truth without being an ideologue and who is a realist. I have always admired him and have had the pleasure of hearing him speak many times. His books “The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose,” and “Before the First Shots are Fired: How America can Win or Lose off the Battlefield” should be required reading. 

His words reminded me of those spoken by the late Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who said “it’s what you learn after you no it all that counts.” Those are words that I live by. I continually read, study and research, and when I finish my current writing projects I will probably begin to work on a doctorate, not because I need it, but because I never want to stop learning. I never want to flatline intellectually. I know too many people, smart and intelligent people who have flatlined, and far too many more whose intellectual quest stalled before they ever got out of the gate. All of them are dangerous because most devolve into mindless ideologues who readily sacrifice truth for a cause and cannot accept anything that challenges their uncritical worldview. 

So until tomorrow have a great night and better morning. 

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Read, Observe, or Pee on the Electric Fence

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American humorist Will Rogers once said, “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

I am slowing down my writing for the next few days to spend more time thinking, reflecting, reading and observing. I have been writing a lot on the Civil War, Civil Rights and Reconstruction, and I have been doing some writing on the outbreak of the First World War, I will continue to do that but I am going to slow down a bit, and just post a few short thoughts each day as I do some reading and reflecting on history and the things that we face today.

I do this because as a historian I known that for all of our great advances, especially in the form of technology that the character of people, the nature of humanity remains fairly constant. Technology may change the way we look the world, how we gather information, how and what we produce, how we fight wars, and even how we relate to each other, but humanity remains the same. Our forms of government and even religious faith may evolve, but the character of humanity is the one constant.

There has been a lot going on in this country and around the world and the one thing that I notice is that few seem to be taking the time to observe and seem to be more interested in immediately framing the events of the day into their particular ideology. This tendency is not limited to any one segment the population and goes across ideological divides.  We live in a time of great political and social upheaval and drastic change and if we are to ride out the storm we must continue to learn and not be satisfied with the banal and insipid sound bites that the Unholy Trinity of pundits, politicians and preachers spew out as wisdom.  The pundits, politicians and preachers who cite history usually do so completely out of context and do so in the form of bad analogies rather than by using any semblance of deductive or inductive reasoning.

Our culture has for the most part abandoned any serious attempt at learning. Schools teach to standardized tests, state school boards ensure that textbooks include nothing too controversial; universities sacrifice faculty and academic programs to prop up bloated administration and non-academic programs. We are consumers of corporate owned news networks that consider their programing entertainment and value market share more than truth. American philosopher Eric Hoffer quite rightly said, “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” But sadly many people, including learned people who should know better and who have great responsibility in political, economic and even education, are content to live in a world that no longer exists.  

Learning comes from reading, observation and experience. Otto Von Bismarck, one of the most remarkable statesmen that ever lived said, “only a fool learns from his own mistakes, a wise man from the mistakes of others,” while Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington and victor of Waterloo wrote, “Wise people learn when they can; fools learn when they must.”

I for one would rather not be one of those that learn by the last named method.  Learning from my mistakes has never been enjoyable and has usually been quite painful, but then as the late Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

While I know I will make mistakes and hope to learn from them when I do I would much rather learn from the mistakes of others. Let’s hope that our leaders decide to actually pay attention and learn instead of making us pay for their mistakes. Sadly, I think that most people, especially those who claim to be leaders would rather pee on the electric fence themselves.

Anyway, it is time to do some reading and reflecting.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Joy in Birdland: Orioles Win AL East

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It has been seventeen years since the Baltimore Orioles won the American League East, a period in which they and their fans endured 14 strait losing seasons between 1997 and 2012.

I have always liked the Orioles. When I was a kid they were on television a lot as under Earl Weaver and a Hall of Fame roster they always seemed to be in the playoffs or the World Series. I remember when they had the California League Stockton Ports as a farm team and going to games at Stockton’s Billy Herbert Field when my dad was deployed in Vietnam.

Now my dad couldn’t stand the American League. But he did know baseball and despite his dislike for the the American League, and since they were an American League team, the Orioles, he admired baseball players who were exemplary, as such he loved Frank and Brooks Robinson as well as some of the Orioles pitching greats. I wear my Orioles hats, t-shirts and clothing almost everywhere, I have an Orioles doormat at the entrance of my office and lots of signed memorabilia around my house and office. People ask me all the time if I am from Baltimore or Maryland, I always surprise them and tell them that I was a West Coast Navy brat who fell in love with the Orioles in the 1960s and early 1970s. I guess some folks don’t get that you can be as devoted as fan as me without being from Baltimore, a city that I really enjoy which has one of the nicest and friendliest ballparks in the majors, Camden Yards.

My real passion for the Orioles was reignited in 2004 when we took a trip to Camden Yards to see the Orioles play the Yankees, and when I met the late former Orioles great Paul Blair when he visited different bases that I served. But that passion for the Orioles really took off when the Orioles became the major league affiliate of our local Triple-A minor league club the Norfolk Tides in 2006. Now mind you, al lot of those have been very lean years, but I have gotten to know a decent number of Orioles players, some who are with the team that clinched the AL East tonight including Chris Tillman, Zack Britton and Manny Machado, some who have left baseball and some who are doing well with other organizations including the Cubs Jake Arrieta and the Diamondbacks David Hernandez. Likewise I have gotten to know scouts and front office personnel who have spent time in Norfolk evaluating the Tides over the years.

In 2011 things began to turn around for the Orioles, after a miserable two thirds of a season the O’s hired Buck Showalter as manager, and then Dan Duquette, who had laid the foundations of the Boston Red Sox World Series title as their general manager. In 2012 they made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. In 2013 they didn’t get in the playoffs but had a winning season. This year very few people picked them to go far in a division that had the 201 World Series champion Red Sox, the free spending New York Yankees, the amazingly talented and gritty Tampa Bay Rays and the well stocked Toronto Blue Jays.

However, I believed from the beginning of the season that this team would go far. I think that the organization is smart, Buck Showalter is an amazing manager who gets the best out of his players and develops an amazing work ethic, selfless team spirit combined with a climate that the players are relaxed but determined. Led by Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy the team has a gritty and under rated pitching staff led by Chris Tillman and a host of players that all do their job on a daily basis, often without the fanfare of the big market teams that have tons of money to spend. The team has made smart trades and between August 6th and September 16th went had a record of 27 wins and 11 losses.

Now that they have won the division the Orioles will try to best the Los Angeles Angels for the best record in the American League and for that matter, baseball. The currently own the second best record in the majors at 91-60. My belief is that the Orioles will at the minimum advance to the American League Championship series, and quite possibly on to the World Series. I am really happy about this because I will be in Munich next week and won’t have to be continually checking my iPhone or iPad to see if the won the division.

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So anyway, I am happy. Now if my other Orange and Black team, the San Francisco Giants can get a spot in the playoffs or somehow overcome the Dodgers to take the National League West I will be truly happy. But until then I will still be truly happy because there is joy in Birdland.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, norfolk tides

Another Birthday another Year

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“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” William Shakespeare

Well 54 years ago today my mother was recovering from about 20 hours of labor and wondering just what the hell she had gotten herself into. Of course we are celebrating my birthday even though I had nothing to do with it. Not a bad thing if you ask me, since birthdays happens to everybody.

Fifty-four years, wow hard to believe. I’ve lost my hair, my midsection is thicker than it used to be and I can’t see or hear as well as I used to but all that aside I’m not doing too terribly bad for my age. I still woke up this morning on this side of the great eternal dirt nap and didn’t see my name in the obituaries so it’s all good.

Funny thing about birthdays, we don’t get to pick them. I wish my mom had been able to hold out another 5-7 days because then I would have been able to celebrate my birthday on or around Opening Day, which of course should be a national holiday. However, I think that she did enough she had to deal with all of the pain and I don’t remember a thing. Besides she got me here safe and evidently the genetic material that she and my dad donated to the cause is pretty good. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels are better than a lot of people younger than me and I can still run five to six miles in decent time for my age and I can still do a lot of push ups and crunches.

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Birthdays, because they occur every day of the year are always linked to other events, people and anniversaries. The most notable of these for me is the fact that on March 27th 1794 Congress authorized the construction of six frigates, effectively establishing the United States Navy as opposed to the Continental Navy from which we derive our official birthday.

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As far as people I share my birthday with singer Mariah Carey, San Francisco Giants Catcher Buster Posey, Colorado Rockies’ First Baseman Michael Cuddyer, producer and director Quentin Tarantino and Wilhelm Roentgen, the inventor of the X-Ray. I also share a birthday, in fact just a few hours apart with my wife’s best friend Tootsie and her niece Stephanie. When we started dating March 27th was a very busy and expensive day for her.

So what I realize is that when we celebrate our birthday we are actually celebrating someone else’s work and suffering. So thanks mom and dad. Likewise I have learned the value of getting older. The late and great Hall of Fame Manager of the Baltimore Orioles noted “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” I certainly realize that more and more every day.

So anyway, despite dealing with contractors, not getting a lot of sleep and trying to balance out life it has been a happy birthday. I have a wonderful wife, two great dogs and a lot of good friends.

So have a great night and until tomorrow, and if by some chance you are celebrating a birthday too…Happy Birthday!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Exemplar of Defense the Oriole Way: Paul Blair Orioles “Motormouth” and Golden Glove Dead at 69

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Paul Blair the legendary 8 time Gold Glove Center Fielder of the Baltimore Orioles American League and World Series teams of the 1960s and 1970s died yesterday at the age of 69. He died just under a year after his Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver did, both while doing things that they loved.

Blair was bowling in a celebrity bowling tournament in Pikesville Maryland after completing a round of golf when he complained of not feeling well and slumped over unconscious. He died shortly after arrival at Mount Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

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Blair was born in Cushing Oklahoma but grew up in Los Angeles California. He tried out for the Dodgers but was rejected because they did not believe that he was big enough. The Mets signed him to a minor league contract in 1961. After being left unprotected by the Mets he was drafted by the Orioles in 1962. He moved up through the Orioles farm system and gained his nickname “Motormouth” in 1963 by his manager Harry Dunlop while playing with the Stockton Ports of the California League, it was something that he would relate to me in 2003 when I met him in Mayport Florida and I gave him a Ports hat to autograph. The nickname was revived when he got to the majors by Frank Robinson and Curt Blefary.

After a six month tour in the Army Reserve in 1964 he returned to the Orioles where he became the starting Center Fielder. Known for his speed and skill in the outfield Blair was awarded 8 Gold Glove awards, seven consecutively between 1969-1975. The record of 8 was a record for outfielders only broken by Ken Griffey Jr.  Blair’s career fielding percentage was .987, he only had 57 errors in 4462 chances.

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In a 1997 interview with USA Today Baseball Weekly Blair said of his defensive prowess “I was taught to play defense. Back in our day it was pitching and defense. Our philosophy (the Oriole way) was don’t make the little mistakes that cost you ballgames. That is the way we won over such a long period of time.” Earl Weaver said of Blair’s speed in the outfield “I never saw Paul Blair’s first step.” Orioles All Star Don Buford who played alongside Blair for 5 years noted “When you talk about the greatest defensive center fielders, he was right in the mix.”

Blair hit for a lifetime batting average of .250 with 1513 hits and 134 home runs, an average that may have been affected by being severely injured when he was beaned by Angels pitcher Ken Tatum in May of 1970.

Blair won two World Series rings with the Orioles and another two with the Yankees and was voted to the 1969 and 1973 All Star team. He is the only player to get five hits in an ALCS game when he did so in the final game of the 1969 ALCS against the Twins. After his playing career he coached at he high school and college level and served as an outfield instructor with the Yankees and Astros.

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I met Blair twice in 2003 and 2005 when he doing goodwill tours to military bases. On both occasions we had time to talk. In Mayport Florida I was able to spend over an hour with Blair, the late Hall of Fame 1st Baseman of the Twins Harmon Killebrew, Hall of Fame Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins as well as John Tudor, Manny Sanguillen and Jimmy Wynn. I really enjoyed Blair’s stories about his time in Stockton, which I consider my home town as well as his stories about his playing days. He was a joy to be around.

I was hoping that I would get another chance to meet up with Blair. That won’t happen now so I will just say Rest in Peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Timing is Everything: Learning at the Pivotal Points of Life and History

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“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Earl Weaver

Timing is everything, especially when it comes to learning. Tomorrow I begin my in processing and introductions to my class classes at the Joint Forces Staff College a student at the Joint Advanced Warfighting School. I have already began my studies refreshing myself on some of the basic National Security Strategy documents that form the basis of our nation’s Military and National Security strategy.

I have always sought to learn and even more importantly to be able to understand. I think that all of us need to have our beliefs and ideologies challenged. In my study of the great men and women of history I have found that those that it is those that learned in times of crisis. Thus when I look at history I find that many of the best learners did so at the pivotal points of their lives and the times that they lived. I have learned in formal and informal study but also in life and experience.

I have read all of them before but it was good to browse through them again after I downloaded them on my Kindle IPad App. I have to admit I like the ability to download, save and read documents so easily.

As I said this is not my first foray into these subjects on National Security policy and the Joint, Multinational and Interagency world. They were part of my study in the Marine Corps Command and Staff College back in 2003 to 2005. That too was a matter of perfect timing as far as learning was concerned. The National Security and Military Strategy documents that we studied in those courses were the ones hammered out in the years after the Cold War and to a large extent ignored by the Bush Administration as we went into Iraq. To remember the debates and discussions that we had in those courses is to remember that there were men and women who could honestly debate the gross mistakes that were unfolding in the wake of the invasion of that unfortunate country.

Now after 12 years of war I am back in class and there is a national and international debate about the use of chemical weapons in Syria and a possible military strike against the Assad regime. What I find amazing is that so few of the people debating the issue have the slightest idea about National Security Strategy, past or present and I would dare say that most pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil have little idea of what any of the baseline documents say, nor do most care. The issue for them is either the advancement of their particular party or ideological point of view or in the case of the politicians their re-election chances. Lay people for the most part just get what they are fed by media outlets and are often even less informed or knowledgeable about these critical issues.

In the past two days I have re-read The 2010 National Security Strategy http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/national_security_strategy.pdf

the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review  http://www.defense.gov/qdr/images/QDR_as_of_12Feb10_1000.pdf  The 2011 National Military Strategy of the United States of America http://www.jcs.mil/content/files 2011-02/020811084800_2011_NMS_-_08_FEB_2011.pdf and the 2012 Strategic Guidance entitled “Sustaining Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense http://www.defense.gov/news/Defense_Strategic_Guidance.pdf 

The documents are the most recent guidance on these policies provided by the Defense Department and the White House. As far as they go for the time they were written they were fairly good. However like all such policy documents they are products of their time and in a fast changing world while many aspects still work they are limited. All except the 2012 Guidance none discuss the events of the Arab Spring because it had not yet occurred and few people anticipated it. Thus the continued strife in Egypt and Syria is something that will have to be addressed.

Likewise one deal with the budgetary realities that are currently crippling the military force and will impact any future military operations as well as force structure. Thus in the next year or so all will be updated. It will be good to be in the course because we will have our regular instruction plus guest speakers who have been involved in these debates and those working on policy for the coming years.

Despite their limitations I would recommend that anyone commenting on National Security matters at least take the time to familiarize themselves with these documents as well as those dating back to the mid-1990s. It is irresponsible for the chatty classes to make uniformed or half-informed pronouncements about what should be done in any of the many challenges confronting the nation without understanding the policies of the the past 20 years and more that got us to this point in time. Confucius said “Study the past if you would define the future.” His words are as pertinent now as they were when he penned them.

Since I have discussed some of the issues of the situation in Syria in previous posts recently it will suffice to say that going to this school at this time is going to expose me to a lot of different perspectives and I imagine will bring about some close friendships with the students in my seminar group.

I do expect to learn a lot over the coming months and as I said at the beginning of this article, when it comes to learning timing is everything. But as Albert Einstein said “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

I do not know how much time I will have to write but I will try to attempt to keep writing here over the next few months on a regular basis. I might not get as many articles up but I will keep writing and in mid November I will be able to resume a normal amount of writing.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Re-entering Academia

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Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. Socrates

I signed in to my new assignment at the Ethics faculty and Command Chaplain at the Joint Forces Staff College today. The JFSC is part of the National Defense University and as such is not a Navy Command. it is a joint command responsible to the joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Department. There are faculty members from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, NSA, State Department and other agencies and the student body is composed of US military personnel from all branches, other Federal agencies as well as NATO and other allied nations. To put it succinctly my diverse background seems perfectly tailored for the job.

My friend Hal Scott is the outgoing chaplain and has already been a great help during the transition before I reported and today. What was really cool is even the little things were taken care of, right down to the name plate on my office door. Like Denny Crane said in Boston Legalname on the door.” But I digress…

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It is a good thing to have a friend in the position that you are moving in to. I have had many assignments in the military and had a number of good turnovers as we call them, but when someone who knows you and has your best interests at heart is on deck preparing the way it makes things a lot easier.

I met with the Commandant and Chief of Staff as well as some of the academic deans and professors today. It was really nice. Every single person asked me what “I wanted to do” at the college. Today the door to teaching, learning and deeper academic education was thrown open to me. I was told that I will have the chance to do anything I desire.

Now says my desires are pretty simple. I want to care for the faculty and staff members of the college as well as our students. Many of whom are catching one of our programs between arduous operation assignments and combat deployments. Quite a few I understand suffer from PTSD or some other type of combat stress injury and since they are senior officers many choose not to get help because of the stigma attached to getting it. Hopefully I will be someone who can be an encouragement to those that have not sought help,to get it and to be there for those that suffer in silence.

I also want to teach, not just Ethics, which is incredibly important in our world which appears to have gone mad, but also Military history and theory. Since I have my second Masters Degree in Military History it looks like I will get that chance as well. The doors have been opened.

That being said I do want to continue my own education. I for one do not think that a person should ever stop learning, no matter what their academic field or vocation. Since I lean toward academia it follows that I desire to continue to learn, both in my individual study and in formal education. I am looking at a number of doctoral programs which will,help me do that and help me in the academic world when I eventually retire from the military. Admittedly in that all I want to be is an adjunct professor to keep myself in the game but the additional education will help.

My first 10 weeks will be spent as a student in the Joint Advanced Warfighting School, which focuses on Joint, Multi-National and Inter-Agency operations even as I transition to being the Command Chaplain. I will be in a seminar group composed of a cross section of the student body that i already described. once i complete the course I will be teaching a number of Ethics courses and most likely get to teach other subjects as well. The last time I taught college courses was when I taught Western Civilization for Park University back in 2001.

From what Hal tells me the teaching methods encourage class participation and not doing data dumps of Power Point slides. That is good because I am okay with that and don’t mind chasing a rabbit once in a while if it helps students think more critically, ask hard questions and not be satisfied with easy answers to questions where there either are no easy answers or where multiple answers might be correct. That being said I believe that when we do this we give leaders the chance to do the right thing no matter what kind of situation that they find themselves in be it deployed or supporting combat operations or in garrison.

In this I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation. It is from an episode called “The First Duty.” in it the seasoned Captain Jean Luc Picard confronts his young protege Wesley Crusher after a disastrous accident that leaves a Star Fleet Academy cadet dead. Picard tells the young Crusher that “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth… in my book that sums up ethics.

Likewise the pursuit of truth, learning and seeking can never be brushed aside no matter how old we get or who wise that we think that we are. As the late great Hall of Fame Manager of the Baltimore Orioles Earl Weaver put it so well “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

So on Monday morning I will report to class and also give my first briefing on chaplain services, operational and combat stress issues, suicide prevention and other topics to an incoming class. My own class at that. Since we will have a few German officers in the class I will probably do at least part of my introduction in German. My Arabic or French is not good enough at the present to pull that off in either of those languages, but give me time.

Until tomorrow

Peace

Padre Steve+

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