SOME GOOD NEWS ABOUT JOPLIN PUBLIC EDUCATION

March 28, 2015

SOME GOOD NEWS ABOUT JOPLIN PUBLIC EDUCATION

 

The recent good news is a student graduating from Joplin High School this year was recently accepted for admission to Stanford, one of the best universities in America.  I doubt many people know that fact, yet.

The reason I blog on that point is to once again reinforce the point I have often made.  I believe, based on observing classes, teaching some of the classes, talking to students in such classes, parents of students in such classes and talking with teachers of such classes that the  local Advanced Program education (AP) classes and curriculum supporting them are GREAT, at least generally speaking.  When I criticize Joplin Public education it does NOT include criticism or calls for improvement on a major scale of the AP program.

Recent acceptance at Stanford is just one recent example of excellence in that AP program at Joplin High School.  Last year one graduate was accepted into Yale and another into Princeton and both are doing well at those stellar universities as best I know.  It is one thing to get into a great school.  But being able to go from a mid-size Midwestern community in fly over country and “survive” in such distant and strange places with really TOUGH schools, well that says volumes about the kids, the parents and the public education system that made that possible.

Stanford, Yale and Princeton are not the only examples of JHS excellence as well.  West Point, the Air Force Academy, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Pennsylvania, Duke, Boston College and the University of Virginia are major universities of real excellence that have offered admission to JHS graduates in the recent past.  They are just the ones that I am familiar with as well and I am sure other schools of excellence have done the same for some kids from Joplin High School.

It is for reasons such as the above that I firmly support the programs producing the “top 25% of the class” in JHS each year.  I also know that many of those kids are not in any way “rich kids” or coming from good families with high socio-economic standing.

What I want to do in all my writings about education is to move the bar up in Joplin schools such that the lowest student in the graduating class has a reasonable shot at excellence.  I can offer no better example than my college alma mater, the Naval Academy.  John McCain, a former Presidential candidate and longer term Senator was almost the anchor man for his class at USNA.  But look what he has achieved.

When the lowest achieving student in academics and behavior that graduates from JHS has a real shot at excellence then I will shut up.  But not until then!!  Today I really worry about the “bottom” 75% part of the graduating class and we need tremendous improve for each and every one of those kids.

ANTICIPATING THE BOE PUBLIC FORUM

March 20, 2015

ANTICIPATING THE BOE PUBLIC FORUM

 

There should be little surprise to any candidate for the BOE what questions I would hope are asked and the answers I would like to hear in the Monday, March 23 public forum sponsored by the Globe for all candidates.  I have written two blogs on the important (to me at least) points and include a couple of more, briefly herein.

First is the ever present issue of money.  Yes, reserves are low and must be restored.  But how to do that and in what time frame, for both general fund reserves and capital reserves is the question.  Actually which of those two funds should be restored first, as a matter of priority or are they both of equal importance?  You as candidates must tell us your views

How to restore both reserves is an open question as well.  What is your suggestion to do so and how long will it take.  Will you rob Peter (current tax income) to Pay Paul (reserve accounts) or do you have new sources of money to refund reserves?    And if you do call for Peter paying Paul, what will you cut out of Peter’s current expenses? You should all be able to speak with authority on such points on Monday evening.

What about performance appraisal systems in R-8.  Are current systems adequate, fair and transparent for employees of R-8?  If not what are your ideas to fix such performance appraisal systems?

How about teacher turnover and morale?  Is it a big issues and what will you do to improve the situation?  Remember just saying there is a problem and demanding change is not good enough for me as a voter.  Such accusations ring hollow to me and I want to hear about good ideas for solutions.

Now for the really big elephant in the room.  Ben and I have freely and aggressively engaged in it but no one else does so in public (expect of course the very one-sided diatribes on the Turner Report) forums.  Do any of you really believe that firing one man, Dr. Huff, will just magically make all much better in R-8 schools.  Dream on if you believe such to be the case.

I in no way claim complete awareness of how to fix Joplin (or any other) schools.  All I know for sure, based on 8 years of inside observation and a lot of reading and study on the matter of public education is that it sorely needs fixing, a lot, period.

The problems are so long standing and deep seated in American public education over decades that there is no pat solution and no one man with all the correct ideas.  At its core R-8 problems are little different from problems all over the country and there are no quick fixes to such problems as well.

If you read this blog you will find many books that I have recommended on matters related to public education.  Every problem you see in R-8 has already been seen in many places in public schools in other places, in my view, as well.  There is nothing unique, at the core level with R-8 problems.

Yes, it will take great leadership to “turn around” or even slowly improve the R-8 system of public education.  Actually only shallow thinkers believe that a sudden turnaround in a defunct system will result by replacing one man.  Recall all the political anxiety in 2008 and immergence of a new President with radically new ideas.  Then look at all that has taken place over the last six and a half years now and all the animosity, total lack of unity, in place, nationally.

If nothing else, I would hope your replies to my last private email would be a resounding NO to each of the two questions.  At a minimum you simply don’t know enough to say Yes to either question unless you have been more involved that is evident in R-8 affairs.  You sure can’t address either question just by reading blogs, this one or any other, for sure.

As for how you will address the very complex issues before the BOE if you are elected, well you better think about it very, very carefully and deeply.  In the end your decisions will not be just union issues, teacher issues, hiring and firing issues for any employee, money issues, morale issues, student knowledge and behavior issues, and others, alone.  YOUR votes will affect ALL of those various and complex points.  As well the unintended consequences will be abundant as well.

Such responsibilities should scare the living hell out of all of you.  In the final analysis it is not a popularity contest either.  It is doing the next right thing for the coming years for every student, teacher, administrator, and taxpayer in Joplin, MO.  Do you believe you yourself are up to the challenge and ready to do the really hard work demanded?

EVER CHANGING STANDARDS FOR STUDENTS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, OR ????

March 18, 2015

EVER CHANGING STANDARDS FOR STUDENTS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS,  OR ?????

 

This is another essay related to how to improve student achievement and written as input for candidates and voters to consider for the upcoming Board of Education election.  I will send a link to this blog by email to all BOE candidates in hopes they will at least consider the views herein.

One of the frequent complaints about R-8 is the curriculum(s) changes quite frequently, some 5 times in X years or so.  Sorry I don’t recall the specifics on that point.  The real question of course is should those curriculums change so often and if they do, well so what?

Let’s take a really easy starting point, the question of what a third grader should know, academically, and how to teach that knowledge.  I will make the astounding assertion that at a minimum every kid in such a class (“special” kids not addressed) should know how to read, write and perform arithmetic calculations at the third grade level.

To me at least the only possible dispute that could arise from such a statement is “what does third grade level really mean”.  Hmmm?  Is that a really hard question to answer by someone that majored in college in education?  I also wonder if the definition of “third grade level” is a fluid, ever changing definition.  Are there not some learned PhD’s that can address that issue and gain a consensus answer, once and for all over what it mean to be able to “work third grade level math problems”?

OK, let’s make the question a little, but not a lot, tougher.  What does grade level achievement in Algebra I mean?

I will suggest that the “rules” of algebra have not changed very much since Isaac Newton used them.  Being able to “work algebra problems” (at a basic level of algebra) should not be a tough question to answer by any teacher that studied math and majored in it in college.  Sure some teacher that never took a College Algebra course in college might have little idea but such a teacher should NOT BE TEACHING high school Algebra I, EITHER.

Do you get the simple point underlying the simple question related to what academic skills are needed to be “at grade level” in a given subject at a given point in K12 education should be easily answered by any “professional” educator?

I submit that a trained and educated PROFESSIONAL educator should know such answers and be able to defend them before ever entering a classroom to teach any subject, third grade math up to calculus in high school.  A “degree in education” in no way qualifies a teacher to teach “any subject”, at least in my view, however.

Teachers, any teachers, must “know their subject” backwards and forwards if you will, before trying to teach any subject, period.

Be careful as you consider this issue.  I am NOT taking a “shot” at all teachers.  I AM, however, suggesting that many teachers are assigned to teach courses for which they lack the basic qualifications to teach.  Elementary classes are probably the exception as I don’t believe it requires a math major in college to teach third grade math.  But when math classes reach the Algebra I, Geometry, and higher levels of math, well I firmly believe a math degree in college should be demanded of such teachers.  Ok make exceptions if you like but document and explain why that was done in detail.  And monitor such teachers very carefully BY educators with math degrees as well.  That is to HELP the unqualified teacher, not hurt them, as well.

One last point.  If someone asked all third grade teachers in R-8 today what is acceptable for “reading at a third grade level”, would there be a consensus reply where no one would strongly disagree?

And by “no one” I mean PhDs setting DESE standards, PhD educators locally acting as administrators, and of course all the third grade teachers as well?

I believe the real and underlying cause of all the disagreement over education today is there is a failure to gain consensus to agree on what is meant by EDUCATION, believe it or not!!!!

I am not going to even try to elaborate on that point however.  I will simply pose a simple question for each candidate for election to our local BOE in April.

What does it mean to achieve a level of education to warrant graduation from Joplin High School?

I would REALLY be interested in replies, privately if you so request by email or phone call.

GOING PUBLIC, PERSONALLY NOW

March 16, 2015

GOING PUBLIC, PERSONALLY NOW

 

A recent commenter that rarely agrees with my views on education tried to sling some mud at me.  Ok, Ben Fields, let’s get the story out on the table for Turner and his gang to crow about all they like.

I have shared this information, in pieces, in this blog years ago.  Most current members of the BOE that were around in 2008 know the background as well as do many current administrators.  It is not secret for sure and here it is for any detractors to gloat upon if they like.

I also shared this information in a recent “interview”.  Wonder if that is how Ben found out???  I could care less by the way.

From about 1998 up to sometime in the fall of 2008 I was a substitute teacher, first in Henry County and later in Joplin.  I usually did so, substituted at the high school level with occasional efforts in middle schools.  I refused to ever substitute in elementary schools as I knew my talent and knowledge of how to teach very young children was very limited.  But teaching young men and women, yes.  I had experience doing so, professionally and felt comfortable dealing, interacting with “budding” young adults.  I tried hard to treat them as such, young adults, not just “kids”.  In doing so I held them accountable or tried to do so as well.

Almost from day one as a substitute in high schools, I was just SHOCKED by what I observed going on.  The subject matter being taught was so simplistic I wondered how any graduate could deal with real problems in the real world.  As well the behavior, routinely in many, many classes was atrocious by any reasonable standards.  That initial impression was reconfirmed time and time again, over 8 years in classrooms, not just from reading blogs or attending BOE meetings.

Did I or my classmates in high school long ago study and behave is such a manner?  Well we tried to do so for sure, but it just was not tolerated, long ago by 95% of the teachers.  I attended public schools in a small, tobacco farming community in Central Kentucky in the 40’s and 50’s but I had many superb teachers that always held me accountable in all that I did or tried to do as a kid.  When I graduated I was in fact ready to move on in my life based in large part by what I had learned in school as a kid.  Such was simply not happening in the classes that I routinely observed as a substitute teacher for 8 years.

As a substitute I decided that my job was to teach, not just keep the “lid on a class”.  As a substitute I did not allow disruptive behavior, sleeping in classes and all the other things “normal kids” will TRY to do and will do if so allowed.  I was not a tyrant but I was “strict”, held all students accountable and did my best to actually TEACH a given subject, usually math in high school

In most cases I was able to “control a class” and usually actually was able to TEACH something.  I would not just say “do the problems on page ten”.  I would work sample problems on the board, ask questions of students, particularly the one’s “goofing off” or trying to do so.  When some students really became disruptive I would write a note to the teacher about what happened and leave it in his or her desk.  When a class just “didn’t get it”, an assigned subject, I would also “write a note to the teacher” pointing out a class wide issue on a given subject.  I routinely did that for about 8 years with no complaints from anyone, any time, until…….

Not once in 8 years did ANYONE, teacher, administrator, parent, etc. come into such classrooms to observe my performance as a substitute.  The only “outsiders” ever present were a few, very few teachers aids.  They as well never pointed out problems (or solutions for that matter) with me or the kids.  They just sat there and ……

In the fall of 2008 I stopped getting calls from JHS to substitute.  After several weeks I called the principal’s office to find out why.  It took about two weeks for the principal to return my call.  He told me the math teachers in JHS had collectively asked him to keep me out of their classes as a substitute.  Had I not inquired I would have never known of the request.  And for sure I would have never known of the reasons for the request.  However the principal did tell me some of the accusations against my “style” of teaching, but never the content thereof.  I won’t bore you with the inane details.  Leave it to be said I thought they were wrong, or worse.

I knew full well that I would never be able to “fight the system”.  As well I was “never asked back into math classes” of just trying to teach many of those kids.  They showed time and again they simply did not want to learn but excelled in “goofing off”.  So I did not try to counter the accusations, dispute them formally, etc.  Had that really been my “job”, however, well you could have sold tickets to watch me and the principle and any math teacher brave enough to stand and be counted.

The only thing I did in 2008 was to write an email to an Assistant Superintendent to explain my view of the situation.  I of course never received a reply from him (yes it was a “him” who has long since retired) or anyone else in R-8.  So call me a substitute teacher “drop out”.  If you think about it, my concerns were similar to concerns expressed by anonymous commenters on the Turner Report today, screaming over their views of miscarriage of “justice”, etc.

But I did start doing SOMETHING.  It was at about that time that I began writing publicly, first in the GLOBE and then later my own blog.  Initially I wrote about my own views on education and later expanded into other political subjects.  This blog over those almost seven years now reflect most of my views on such subjects, honestly and publicly, like them or not as you will.

It struck me as inane that when the Globe would publish something, say a column of my own making and under my name that local educators NEVER responded in LTTE, phone calls, any normal means of dialogue on what at least I, and the Globe considered important issues.  From time to time I chose to email the new Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Huff.  But he as well remained silent and totally unresponsive, for about a year or so.  Later a very good and long term dialogue came into being however.  We can still “talk” about any educational subject under the sun and agree or disagree on proposed solutions.  Just how many public figures are really willing to so engage with just a “citizen”?

So go ahead Turner and accuse me of being “used”, “played” by a man whom you have recently and formally accused of being unethical.  Ha!!  I refuse to call you the “names” that are in my head at the moment however.  That just gets down to your level of “dialogue”!!  But Ben might parrot them on your behalf, maybe!!

But I kept writing, publicly and slowly a very few in R-8 began to comment very carefully and privately.   It might have been a conversation at a social event, talking to a teacher-coach at an athletic event of other casual encounters.  In many cases they supported my views publicly expressed, but some discounted them as well which was fine.  At least some folks that could in fact change things in R-8 began to engage with me, constructively.

Later I decided, on my own to try to engage in dialogue with some members of the BOE.  One member who did not agree with me began a rather engaging dialogue telling me when (he/ she/it) thought I was wrong.  Again it was constructive dialogue.   He/she/it was a very thoughtful person and knew what she/he/it as talking about on education.  I have frankly not observed anyone her/his/its equal on the BOE in thoughtful and constructive views on fundamental issues in education

So there is the story folks.  Some kids and some teachers did not like my “style” of teaching and holding classes accountable.  Fine with me if they felt that way as I thought what I was doing was correct and exactly like I experienced in high school long ago as a student.  What worked for me as a student I thought might work for kids today.  Ha!!  Not some of those kids for sure today who will gladly cuss you out anytime they felt “aggrieved” from being held accountable.

Sound familiar to any of you angry teachers today???

But you see my views to correct such deep seated problems in public schools today are NOT to complain anonymously on a scurrilous blog, or take to the streets in sound bite protests.  I write publicly and privately about my concerns and provide recommended solutions for corrective action.  Only when confronted in writing do I sometimes get down to “calling names”?  I should not do that but I am human as well.

The most recent example is when I publicly, in a comment on this blog, expressed my continuing view that Mark Rohr, CJ Huff, David Wallace and Mark Woolston were good and honorable men, in my view.  That became a public blog calling me all sorts of “stuff” on the Turner Report.  According to Turner my views are just so far out to lunch that everyone should ignore me.  He should just practice what he preaches, ignore me as stupid, inane, unthinking, or whatever terms he wants to use in criticism of my views.  For sure I stopped trying to engage on his blog and face the anonymous comments that are themselves ………, at least in my view.

Sure I read his blog just to know my enemy as Sun Tzu suggested.  I would also debate him from a soap box in Spiva Park on any subject related to education.  Think he might show up for such a confrontation, publicly?

But that’s OK with me.  Ben Field usually returns fire against me herein using mostly Turner thinking when he does so.  You can read’em and weep, form your own opinion as such and engage if you like herein as well.

As for candidates for the upcoming BOE election, read and comment if you like.  But at least consider, but not agree if you like, the points I try to make.  As well if you don’t like MY solutions, like better grading of students in public schools to reflect accurately REAL and demonstrated performance by such students, then consider how you would do it better, hold students accountable in academics and behavior in our local public schools.

But just sit back and let teachers teach and grade students as they alone see fit.  Not on my watch in any school that I can influence in any way.  They must EARN that right by continuing superb performance as a teacher, period.  And while they are doing so they should be carefully observed, in the trenches of real classrooms, by trained and professional educators that themselves have taught, a lot and KNOW how to teach and grade, correctly.

Do that, get what you inspect, not what you just “expect” and we can turn schools around, on a dime, if we have really good teachers in every class, and pay them what they are worth as well.  That by the way for all concerned means RAISING TAXES, a lot, which I would support if I could “trust” professional educators, which I don’t’ trust many of them very much at all.  Not with MY money for sure, not in public schools today.

IMPROVING STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

March 14, 2015

.IMPROVING STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

 

The campaign for membership on the local Board of Education is once again before us, the voters in Joplin.  I wonder if there is a single candidate (there are six of them) that does not agree that the title to this blog is NOT the primary challenge before our own public schools or those throughout the nation as well.  Please speak up and tell me if you believe any other matter has a higher priority for members of the BOE than improving student achievement.  I would be very interested in the reasoning for such a view.

Let’s assume that is the number one priority for each member of the BOE.  What do we all mean by first “student achievement”?  Can we define that with some degree of precision I wonder?  As always when I write about education I write only my views as they apply to “normal students” those with no diagnosed mental or physical disability that could impede their pursuit of more academic or behavioral skills.  I leave those with “special needs”, special treatment or instruction if you like to experts in such matters.  “Mainstream students” is another well used term as well which might apply to the majority of students.  But again, can we reach some form of agreement about what should be expected of normal or mainstream students in each grade, K12, in our public school system in Joplin.

Let’s forget common core, MAPS, any other outside measurement of student academic skills.  Is it possible that we can all agree that grade level performance should be expected of each child in every class in our public schools?  Simply stated, a third grader should be able to read, write and perform arithmetic calculations at the third grade level as dictated by local BOE “standards”?  Is not that good enough for all of us, for starters?  I suggest that it should be good enough, for now and we should stop all the argument over other external measurements, at least for the time being.

Now there is not a single member of the BOE, I suggest, that KNOWS without a doubt exactly what “reading like a third grader” really means.  I freely admit that when I had a kid in third grade I had no idea how to precisely measure my son’s skill in that regard, precisely.  But professional educators certainly SHOULD know what such skills involve and more important, how to measure such skills, frequently and routinely as just a  matter of teaching kids, one day at a time, week after week, month after month and a final grade at the end of each semester.  Grades assigned by teachers should reflect achievement of grade level skills in other words.

So as a parent, I relied, heavily, on report cards my sons brought home every six weeks or so.  I trusted the teachers to grade them, A thru F, and such grades would reflect their ability DEMONSTRATED in each class in each grade level throughout their years in secondary education. If grades were lower than I expected, demanded of my sons, then we talked about the issues involved.  I listened to their views on assigned grades, their excuses for “getting a C”.  And believe you me I heard them all, almost every excuse concocted by a child for not “doing well” in school.

I also NEVER in my life as a parent had to contact a teacher, even go to a school to find out what might be wrong with my children’s academic performance.  For example, my son struggled with physics in High School.  i found out because HE, not some teacher, told me he was struggling.  And yes, he was.  It was a difficult course for him and I did not demean him in any way as well.  So we worked physics problems together until he “got it”.  Had he experienced difficulty with fractions in grade school I would have done the same thing, worked with him.  As for reading, I could just watch how my sons spent their free time at home.  If they were not interested in reading something, sometime, then I would sense a problem and look into it.  In other words reading was part of our family life together sometimes.  All four of us occasionally read “for recreation”.  (Mom, Dad and two kids.)  We did not force or even encourage the dog to read however.

Of course neither my kids, nor I as a student ever were subjected to outside testing of much sort.  Only when it was time to consider college, around the second semester of the sophomore year in HS, did SAT or ACT testing become a part of the education process at home.  But up to that point in time I relied primarily on teacher assigned grades in K12 education to measure my own progress long ago or that of my kids when I was a parent.

NOW, permit me to ask if you, as a parent, “trust the grades assigned by teachers today”?  If your child comes home with straight A’s do you honestly believe your child is in the say top 10% of classes locally, much less nationally, the cream of the crop so to speak?  How about if your child meets your own past performance in schools, say straight C’s.  Do you believe that your child is doing OK and can read, write and do math at least at grade level?  Remember, C means “average”.  Yet the average kid in locals today fails to be able to read, write or do math “proficiently” as measured by MAPS (soon Commom Core) standards..

So either the test is wrong or the routine grade assigned by teachers is wrong.  In classes the teacher(s) is saying that your child is Excellent, good, average, below average or failing on report cards.  Yet if you knew the grade level skills measured could be well less than grade level skills would you be upset and ask, WHY?

I recently interviewed a candidate for the BOE and was told that his/her child came home with all A’s and B’s on a report card but he/she later found out his/ser child was two grade levels BEHIND in reading skills.  PLEASE tell me how something like that can happen and what it will take to not let it happen again.  No grades on a report card, comments from a teacher, a phone call or email from a teacher occurred.  He/She just suddenly and unexpectedly (as he/she reported to me at least) found out that his/her child was far behind in elementary school reading skills, out of the blue so to speak.  If that had happened to me I would have been in front of the Superintendent of Schools demanding an answer, forthwith, why the school failed to report to me, a parent, substandard grade level performance by my child.  But that was 45 years ago when my kids were entering schools.

I will also state unequivocally, that I never saw a “bad grade” on a report card that was not deserved by my kids.  It did not happen very often but when it did I knew full well the source of the problem and it was not the teacher.  But again, that was a long time ago.

Please tell me as well why a child should come home again with all A’s and B’s, for almost their entire secondary education and come up with “failing” SAT or ACT scores, scores that would never allow them to go to even a moderately good college?  As well why does a 4.2 GPA in HS result in ACT grades of around 21, an average grade at best, nation-wide in such an accept standardized test, at least for kids with college aspirations.  To me at least that means an A is in fact not an A, really excellent and superb levels of performance, academically.  As well when over 50% of kids are less than proficient it means a C is not really a C, unless you believe the inability to read at grade level is at least “average”.  Less that proficient should mean less that grade level skills in a particular subject, a D as a maximum grade in my view.

Try this on for size, all you current members of the BOE or those aspiring to such membership.  List all the students that are measured as “less than proficient” on MAPS scores.  Next to each student list their GPA in that subject, say math or English grades over the course of their secondary education.  My guess, is that the vast majority of those less than proficient students will have a GPA in, say math, well above a 2.0, a grade of C.  My view is a child that cannot do grade level math must receive a maximum grade of D on each and every report card, until his or her math skills are improved to at least grade level skills, doing fractions in the fourth grade, for example.

If you cannot measure something you will never manage something effectively.  If kids lack grade level skills, regardless of the reason, their routine report card grades must reflect that shortcoming and effective corrective action then taken by schools, individual teachers, the child themselves and parents, all combined if needed.  But first the problem must be identified before anyone can even know that corrective action is need.

That does not mean we need more outside testing either.  A routine third (or 12th) grade class should be teaching and measuring 3rd (or 12th) grade level material.  Part of that teaching process MUST include routine testing, grading homework, grading how students respond to questions in a class and yes, BEHAVING in class as well.

In fact I call for two grades in every class, an academic grade and a grade in behavior, I prefer the term citizenship.  My experience has shown that failures academically routinely follow failures in how kids behave themselves in classes.  Bad behavior is a predicate of bad academic performance, a lot of the time.

And guess what, you will never really improve academic performance until a student decides to work hard enough himself to gain the skills needed to be a good and productive citizen in a modern society.

So to answer the challenge in the title to this blog, just get teacher assigned grades in line with common expectations of the skills needed to become a good and productive citizen in normal society today.  In my view a HS graduate must be able, at a minimum to read, write and perform math at the 12th grade level to do so.  Lower levels of performance can be documented and even “rewarded with a certificate” if you like.  But that certificate should NOT be a normal HS diploma, not in todays demanding world.

For all you BOE candidates, I sure would like to hear your views on this subject.  Are you ready to really go public with how you will achieve better student performance, in behavior and academics?

SOMETHING CALLS, BUT TO DO WHAT IS THE QUESTION

March 8, 2015

SOMETHING CALLS, BUT TO DO WHAT IS THE QUESTION

This is a series of reflections upon another iconic book by James Webb. He and I have some things in common though we have never met or interacted with one another, as far as I can recall. The book is entitled “I Heard My Country Calling”. It is a story of his life growing up, attending college, a short period of time in which he fought as a Marine in Vietnam and snippets of his life afterwards. Now he is considering a run on the Democratic Presidential ticket, opposing Hillary Clinton if he decides to so run.

The most common denominator between Webb and me is that we both came from families with little money or prestige and graduated from the Naval Academy in the mid 60’s. I was a senior, a “firstie” when he was a freshman, a “plebe” though we never interacted, again as far as I know. We lived in different areeas of Bancroft Hall, Mother Bancroft, and of course did not take the same classes, etc. But our memories of and experiences in the caldron of the Academy during those years were very similar. And that institution instilled in both of us similar thoughts and later aspirations in our respective lives.

Simply stated, he and I were both uncertain young men that for reasons that remain somewhat confusing to us attended a college that was truly unique in the 1960’s. Both of us then and later felt the country was going crazy as we struggled to find our own way in life. Then we traveled different paths, but with similar questions in our respective heads, up to now in an America, where we both believe the country is still going crazy and still want to do something about it.

Jim and I, and probably every man that graduated from the Naval Academy had to have heard “their country calling” to them as individuals. That was just ingrained, some would say beaten, into each and every member of the Brigade of Midshipmen, all 4000 of us that endured four tough and miserable years of challenge after challenge, physically, mentally, and morally. Get over one hurdle, at one meal as a plebe and then consider the thousands of other hurdles that lay in your path over four years. I have never heard of a graduate from USNA that felt it was a wonderful and happy experience, at least at the time one attended the Academy. Later however, most of us knew what we had learned there and became better men for having done so. Certainly Jim and I agree on that point.

One of the reasons I know that Webb and I have thought similar thoughts most of our lives is his “reading list”, one offered on page 313 of the referenced book, published in 2014. His list, a partial one, is identical to the books that I have read, studied and tried to absorb most of my reading life. Have you ever heard of or read “Once An Eagle” by Anton Meyer? Probably not. But Webb refers to it as one of the best books ever written to epitomize the honorable traditions of service to one’s country in America. I agree.

We both began reading such books, absorbing them and pursuing a career based in part on the ideas generated in such books. Big difference between us in that chronology and how we have expressed those ideas professionally are vastly different as well. I attempt to explain the differences and why.

Jim entered the Academy already certain that he wanted to be a Marine, period. Having been a “military brat” he just knew that ground combat was his path. When I enter that college I just wanted a free education and survival, period. I wanted to graduate but had no idea on that hot summer day that I swore the oath to dedicate at least the next 8 years of my life to ………, my country I suppose, but ……….???? At least I was told by a bunch of Admirals in starched white uniforms that was what I was doing when I raised my hand to swear the oath office.
Our time at “Navy”, the Academy was different to some degree because of our personal differences and innate talents I suppose. Academics, while tough and challenging for everyone were not all that hard for me. Jim had to struggle to pass all that math and science demanded but excelled in “soft subjects”, literature, history, etc. I graduated in the top 20% or so academically while Jim was lower down that scale of ranking. Jim on the other hand was graded as a stellar “leader” as a midshipman. I was nothing of the sort and remained totally anonymous in any midshipman leadership positions. He was a great boxer as well. I was not a collegiate “jock” of any sort but did fine on intermural teams in sports.

When it was time to choose one’s service, the job in the Navy/Marine Corps after graduation, Jim had known his choice from day one, to be a Marine infantryman. By the time I began my senior year I was equally committed to becoming a nuclear submariner. I believe the intensity we both felt towards those two very different professions was equal however. We both wanted to really become the best we could become, as a Marine or a “nuke”, respectfully.

Within a couple of weeks of graduation he married, went to about 8 months of “Marine Officer Training” and was off to Vietnam within a year of graduation. I was married on graduation day, endured 18 months of technical training and then began going to sea on submarines to fight a Cold War.

Two different wars, different dangers, different opponents (enemies), whole different set of tools, weapons and the platforms carrying them and for sure Jim’s life was on the line every day in the “bush” in Vietnam in a hot and deadly war. I simply endured long periods away from any concept of a “normal life”, subjected to mental stresses only, none of a physical nature. I also was very much under the thumb of a real tyrant, Admiral Hyman Rickover. I can’t imagine Jim with his gung-ho, I am a “man” approach to enduring Rickover’s demands however. Maybe, but probably not. Only in hindsight did I really understand just how brilliant Rickover was and what he accomplished for the Navy and America, and yes, for me as a person, a man if you will.

But I will point out that the leadership challenges to both of us were similar, at a very fundamental level. My job was to ensure every man, officer or enlisted, was the best “nuke” or submariner they could be and their reward was to get into a sewer pipe like “tube” with 150 other smelly men, go to sea with no idea where they were going or what they would really confront and keep doing that for years on end, patrol after long patrol. Jim had to lead men into battle. I did my job for twenty years. He did his for 1 year. His life (and his men’s lives) was always on the line. My life was reasonably secure, but I lost a roommate from USNA soon after I went to sea as well. His remains are still in the “deep”, some 10,000 feet of water where the Scorpion an American nuclear submarine went down off the Azores Islands along with the whole crew, every man, on that fated vessel on a “peacetime” patrol against …… during the Cold War.

In about 1973 or so, Jim and I went very different paths, very different indeed, but still it seems thinking many of the same thoughts. Jim was severely wounded in Vietnam and ultimately received a medical discharge. Had he not been so discharged I suspect Jim himself is not certain if he would not have continued to serve in the Corps for a career. But he really had no choice in the early 70’s.

I had a choice and was torn in two directions. I knew I was on a great career path and was doing very well professionally. I had been early selected to the rank of LCDR during my Engineer Officer tour, on an SSBN ballistic missile carrying submarine in the Western Pacific about the time Jim was fighting in rice paddies in Vietnam. Both of us were certainly doing our jobs and doing them well in two entirely different “conflicts” however. I almost left the Navy in 1973 to pursue a professional career in the budding civilian nuclear industry. Money, a lot more money and for sure no more three to six month at a time away from my wife and two young sons.

Just before I mailed the letter to accept a job offer from Bechtel Corporation I was called into the COS staff office for Commander Submarine Force Pacific Fleet. His job was to get me to stay in the Navy and he did, with one observation. He told me “Anson, your are a very good, even great young submariner. You will for sure someday become a Commanding Officer of such a ship. I guarantee you that NO civilian job will ever offer such a challenge, at any time in your life”. He was correct and I returned home to be heavily criticized by my wife because I had decided to stay in the Navy and continue to go to sea on submarines, for about 15 more years. Ultimately she supported that decision however and I have no regrets then or now for having made it.

After recovering from his wounds at about age 25, Jim worked in the office of the Secretary of the Navy for a year or so and began reading intensively to find a way to resolve in his own mind and heart what he had experienced in Vietnam and saw the turmoil against any and all things military in our county. Neither of us could wear our uniforms in public in the mid 70’s for example, to avoid being physically confronted by anti-war “mobs”.

At a very young age, Jim became a deep thinker and writer. His professional career has varied, a lot, between periods of writing and thinking and then as a journalist, an appointed civil servant in DC and finally elected to the Senate for six years. When I read Jim’s description of why he left the Senate job at his own choosing after only six years in office, those thoughts are identical to my own when I left the Pentagon and “retired” from the Navy. His story in that regard is my own story as well.

I loved the book. I have great admiration for Jim Webb. I have volunteered through his exploratory campaign web site to help him run for President. I will vote for him if I have the chance to do so. Read his book and consider my own political thoughts expressed in this blog over about 7 years now. To me they run together in many ways, one on top of the other. Jim has been expressing those kind of ideas for decades. I was too busy being a “nuke” both as a civilian and in the Navy for about 35 years and have only recently been doing the heavier intellectual lifting, trying to understand how best to keep this country that I love from going even crazier.

I don’t have the brains, the brawn, the courage, the endurance the almost any really great talents that Jim Webb has demonstrated all his life. But Jim Webb and I “think a lot alike”. That is a rare experience to get to “know” a national level politician in such a way.

So why the title of this blog? Jim clearly says his “country” has done the calling. I’m not sure in my case. My parents and grandmother, dead for almost 50 years called me as a child and I still hear them doing so now. My university, the Naval Academy somehow got into my head and “called me”. When I was on a long submarine patrol carefully sneaking around the oceans spying on the Soviet Union my country was calling over the years. Certainly I was doing just that, fighting a Cold War to keep it from going hot, doing all I could and get my crew to do to prevent a HOT war with nuclear weapons.

My family called me, my kids called to me to raise them, my church(s) called me from time to time. But you know what now really “calls” me in my older age? It is the Concept of Honor beaten into my head at the Naval Academy, “something” that tells me to always do the next right thing.

But I don’t, always do the next right thing for sure. Never have and never will. I know a variety of good, even great ideals that call me. But deciding for myself what to do, say or write, next???? I remain very confused about that and remain very much “I’m Not Sure, Are You”, in terms of the next right thing to do for America. I think Jim Webb is still trying to figure that out for himself as well.

Any “honest” politician would have to say exactly that. The issues before America are too hard, too complex, too dangerous, and the list goes on for any sane man to always be certain. All we can do is pray, read, think, maybe write, talk, listen and ultimately hope, a great human trait, for the best. Without hope I could just as well have joined my roommate from over 50 years ago, asleep in the cradle of the deep.

MILITARY INTERVENTION BUT NOT OCCUPATION

February 18, 2015

MILITARY INTERVENTION BUT NOT OCCUPATION

In many ways it seems that America expects to win wars in the late 20th Century and early part of the 21st Century just as we did in WWII. Certainly unconditional surrender is winning a war, any war, anywhere, anytime in history.

Given the current technology available to wage war, our ability to kill enemies and destroy property of such enemies, globally, has gone far beyond our ability as a nation to use less military power and still achieve reasonable National Objectives. America still struggles, politically and militarily, to clearly state National Objectives that can be achieved without the full use of available military power. We have been doing exactly that since WWII, with one exception, the limited objective to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the late 20th Century.

In fact America continues to establish National Objectives that are popular but requires far more military power to achieve that America is willing to use, politically.

Let’s begin with a simple reason why any nation maintains a form of national defense, men and women usually in uniform and armed with deadly weapons to some degree. If nothing else the job of such organizations is to defend the nation creating such forces. Only a few nations today maintain sufficient armed forces to successfully invade and remain in lands previously ruled by others. America, Russia, China and perhaps a few Middle Eastern nations now have such capabilities.

The only reason that very large and relatively rich nations maintain huge forces at hand is to deter war against them by other large nations. Deterrence was the key to preventing real WAR during our geopolitical conflict with the communist controlled Soviet Union. Deterrence still remains the key to prevent military engagements between large nations today, nuclear nations if you like.

It is not the purpose of this blog to write again of reasons why nuclear deterrence remains critical in today’s unsettled geopolitical world. But it is my intent to apply the concepts of deterrence to our conflict with ISIS, Al-Qaeda, “terrorists”, huge criminal organizations controlling to a great degree entire national governments (like Russia if you will), and others of the sort.

Driven by technology and like it or not, the world of the 21st Century is very different than any time before in human history. Unless we as humans decide to literally destroy life as we currently understand it, never again will nations line up on opposing sides, unleash all the technology available (including nuclear weapons) and go for unconditional surrender, not matter what, today or in the future. Total war is unthinkable today (but not just 60 plus years ago for sure).

Yet we have enemies that still think in terms of Total War today. Enter the world of radical Islam, people today just as driven by religion and conversion of all humans to only one faith, as the “western world” was so driven during the Middle Ages in Europe. How is it possible to create a sense of deterrence to prevent the onslaught of ISIS wherever ISIS believes it can win, unconditionally?

I maintain it is possible to achieve such deterrence to prevent crazy and criminal actions around the world. But the use of force is required as well, like it or not.

Take a domestic example in America, a time after WWII when large and very violent criminal organizations tried to control swaths of America, large American cities if you like. I speak of the Mafia.

It remains impossible to eliminate crime from any society for sure. Police forces designed to protect society are and will always be needed. There will always be criminals that will challenge the authority of society to protect itself using police, but rarely do such criminal societies gain and sustain real control of societies in America in general. Deterrence keeps some potential criminals at bay and physical force limits the ability of criminals to actually “govern” much at all. Imagine if possible the reaction in America if the Mafia in fact gained control of Chicago or NYC. The Mafia would not have remained in such power to govern for long, I am sure and nuclear weapons would not have been employed as well.

Now think of ISIS as a transnational criminal organization. How best can “civilized” societies counter such a criminal threat? Is that not the real challenge to America and the rest of the civilized world today, to send ISIS, the people consisting of ISIS, back into their caves and having little effect on societies in general?

Our current National Objective, as stated by the President is to “degrade and ultimately defeat ISIS”. That’s it as far as I can tell and we sure are arguing about how to do just that, degrade and then defeat a bunch of criminals, world-wide.

Well permit me to ask if you believe we have now degraded and defeated the Mafia in America? I suggest that we have done just that to the extent that criminal actions by a “Mafia” today are not anywhere in the public mind now. Sure there are some criminals believing they are big shots and some making lots of money, but a War on Crime (domestically) is not in the American psychic today, at least in my view.

Now think of ISIS as a “global Mafia” today. Then consider how American society degraded and ultimately “defeated” just the Mafia. I submit innovative technology and the effective use of raw physical force by police, the FBI and others did the job, eventually, for the sake of society.

Could American society have defeated the Mafia without “boots on the ground”? Of course not and anyone thinking that we could have negotiated with the Mafia to make them stop criminal actions would be laughed out of any public discourse at the time. Economic pressure on the Mafia would have failed as well. What are you going to do after you shut down all the grocery stores in a Mafia controlled area of NYC, I wonder???

As well, while the full array of American society’s power, including law, technology and raw physical power was levied against the Mafia, there were many law abiding citizens that actually supported the Mafia in their towns and neighborhoods. But ultimately the legal forces of society overcame such sentiments. If nothing else that shows that popular opinion is not always right and government must do what is needed to keep society safe, popular opinion in a neighborhood notwithstanding.

Same with ISIS in my view, globally.

OK, what to do specifically in America’s conflict with ISIS today. I suggest we treat them as a global criminal organization that uses brutal, inhuman means to gain and keep control, sort of like a global Mafia is you will.

Take a given “neighborhood”, even a nation or significant portion thereof (like Iraq today). Use technology to define exactly where those criminals are located and what “laws” specifically, they are breaking in such neighborhoods. Then form a task force of cops, send them in to arrest and kill every criminal that can be found. Capture those criminals, en masse, haul them off to ………., then leave the neighborhood to let normal government sustain the safety of the remaining society therein.

You see when the FBI and even a mass of local cops acted as a task force to “degrade” the Mafia in a neighborhood, that task force did not remain for very long to occupy the neighborhood, for months or years until…….

I suggest America desperately needs the ability to intervene but not occupy in various areas of the world today, using military power. That is a “lily pad” concept of “defenses”, which actually is a set of mobile but still very powerful forces to intervene, act as a legal task force, to clean out a rat’s nest of criminals and then leave, soon thereafter.

As the debate of using a “lily pad” concept for defenses, American armed forces first became a topic of discussion in around 2005 or so, most Americans simplistically thought of a bunch of SEAL or Delta Force teams available to ……. Nope that is not the type of force structure I now call for.

I am thinking in terms of at least battalion or brigade size ground forces, in some cases even a division size force, ready and able to go into a given area and clean out a rat’s nest of criminals.

Such a concept applied to the Middle East containing ISIS today is rather simple and straight forward today. Doing the same in the Ukraine is a different matter as major powers would be head to head, Russia and America if you will. It would still be doable, but……… and I won’t go into all those “buts” in this blog.

But take a specific example of say Mosul in Iraq, today. Consider just this approach. Ask the current Iraq government if they want Mosul back under their control. Assume they say yes and are willing to do what is needed to achieve that goal. That makes American military intervention, but not occupation, of just Mosul possible, legal and probably approved Congressional action as well. Iraq asks for our action and we provide it to return Mosul to Iraqi government control. We announce that intention to the world, including all the citizens in Mosul. We encourage all those law abiding citizens to leave Mosul or hide deep within shelters at a minimum.

Then we retake Mosul, probably with a brigade size force, including armor, artillery and complete control of air space over Mosul. After that initial “remote” onslaught that will kill a lot of people remaining in Mosul before we send in a brigade of Chris Kyle-like trained men and women, we send in just those sorts of warriors, clean out the rats nest, turn it over to Iraqi forces immediately and move on to the next town on our list compiled with the Iraqi government.

Never forget that so far in the history of warfare, air power alone does not resolve geopolitical conflicts. Neither does Sea Power alone as well. It takes boots on the ground to win a geopolitical conflict with physical power is involved. And just as local cops did not have the power to defeat the Mafia alone (it took a lot of help from the FBI), most countries today cannot alone fight and win against the likes of ISIS today, at least in the Middle East and now even North Africa it seems.

What can America do better today? Intervene, with raw and effective military power but do not occupy in any way. Just turn over a cleaned out rat’s nest to the law abiding society in that region and let them try to better govern, again with diplomatic and economic support for the “normal” world a world where law and order prevails in a sustainable manner.

One big argument (and a bunch of little ones I am sure) against this approach is the potential inability of a given society to actually occupy itself, regain control using physical power to enforce the laws. Such places exist today for sure. Well if we still believe Iraq cannot “occupy itself” today, well we don’t intervene until they can do so. If or when that happens, we simply contain all of Iraq until they as a nation can effectively govern themselves. It would be a very unpopular decision, like just removing the FBI for NYC and containing the rat’s nest from NJ and CT for a while. But all of such thinking is a much different blog than this one.

Herein I only speak of my view of a better way to degrade ISIS to the point of their continued existence as a criminal force that nations can deal with locally and without geopolitical conflict on a global scale. France and other European nations, so far, do not need our help to degrade ISIS. But they will never defeat them, unconditionally, as well and neither will America. But certainly ISIS can be marginalized to the point of insignificance, geopolitically, world-wide if you will.

TAKING STOCK AND LOOKING FORWARD

February 16, 2015

TAKING STOCK AND LOOKING FORWARD

Four years ago Joplin was operating, in terms of city government, in a business as usual mode. As I recall our city budget was on the order of some $100 Million or so. We were incrementally improving the downtown area by encouraging private businesses to open and improve the overall quality of the downtown experience for all citizens. No major issues, politically, were before us.

Then in May 2011 the tornado hit and Joplin lost about 30% of our city. Immediate recovery efforts to save lives and then clean up massive debris became the goal of all concerned, using every available resource, financial, labor and equipment. Within a couple of months efforts to rebuild began to take place, slowly at first but accelerating later.

Recall the summer of 2011 and consider all the things done right. Shelters for homeless citizens were quickly established, particularly on the campus of MSSU and in private homes, Bulldozers galore and volunteers from all over America collected thousands of tons of debris to be loaded on trucks and then dumped in designated areas. FEMA trailers were installed for more temporary homes, and most important private insurance carriers wrote checks for a lot of money for both private homes and businesses lost in the storm.

Four years, almost, later the major businesses on Range Line are back in place. Many private homes have been rebuilt using private insurance only as the financial resource along with a large number of local contractors and labor from many different areas of the country. As well government began to respond, far more slowly, by promising grants of money to support long term rebuilding. Unfortunately actual checks to provide that money have yet to be issued however, four years later.

In terms of long term local government efforts a plan was established, a “Super” Tax Incentive Finance (TIF) was authorized by our City Council to support long term “public” financing in partnership with other contractors, private businesses. Recall if you can the idea or plan for $40 Million in public funds from TIF to build some $800 Million in new and innovative projects that did not exist in Joplin before the storm.

So where are we today in terms of rebuilding Joplin? How much money has been spent, both private and public funds, to achieve the rebuilding to date? Where will we go in the future and how much money is needed to get to our ultimate goal?

I can only guess at the answers to such questions. But my guess is that other than immediate emergency relief to save lives, remove debris and establish reasonable temporary shelters, the bulk of the funds, maybe $1 Billion so far, has come from private sources, primarily insurance funds and private loans.

So here is my first set of questions for city leaders to provide the answers and the Joplin Globe to report such answers.

1. How much money was spent for emergency responses during the summer of 2011 and who specifically provided that money? Included in such an estimate should be the cost for security forces, debris cleanup and removal, temporary shelters and housing and the restoration of normal power and other city services to the destruction zone? Break down the financial resources into federal aid (FEMA primarily I assume), State of Missouri aid and local government funding above the routine city budget.
2. Pick the arbitrary date of December 31, 2011 to account for such funding and list only the money actually paid by various sources, not just money promised but not yet (four years later) paid.

Assume that actual rebuilding began sometime in the fall of 2011. Things like the big box stores on Range Line seemed to have begun to rise from the ashes of destruction and generally were completed during the years 2012, 2013 and 2014. That time frame would also include the smaller business rebuilding efforts other than just larger, corporately owned businesses. Thus the second set of questions become:

1. How much private funding was spent during the years 2012, 2013 and 2014 to rebuild just businesses, businesses anywhere within the destruction zone only? One very large and privately funded project is Mercy Hospital, rebuilt outside of the destruction zone and I would include that facility in this particular summary of rebuilding spent, thus far.
2. As well how much private funding contributed to rebuilding homes in the area of destruction? Most of that funding I assume was from insurance proceeds and maybe additional private investment (private loans) when insurance money did not cover the total cost of rebuilding dwellings.
3. How much public money (tax payer dollars) has actually been spent from various government agencies to rebuild, actually break ground and rebuild facilities, in the destruction zone thru the end of calendar year 2014?
4. Finally, how much money has been provided by charities to actually rebuild facilities, business or private homes, in the destruction zone up until the end of calendar year 2014?

If such detailed questions seem hard to answer just consider the basic numbers. Specifically, through the end of calendar year 2014, how much government funding as actually been PAID to restore Joplin? As well how much private funding (insurance, private loans or other forms of investment money) has been spent, through calendar year 2014 to thus far rebuild Joplin?

My guess is the basic answers are about $1 Billion, maybe $1.5 Billion in private money and about $100 Million in government funds (actually paid, not promised). That government estimate may well be far too high as well but I am simply not sure at this point.

That brings us to the beginning of calendar year 2015. How much money has been actually spent thus far in terms of government money to continue to rebuild but facilities have yet to actually have broken ground. My guess is that number is around $13.5 Million in TIF bonds that have been spent thus far to purchase land to rebuild projects. I wonder what additional government funds have been spent as well and where exactly that money has come from; which government agency actually wrote a check and it was cashed to provide real, not just promised, money to Joplin?

I am sure private funds are still being collected to rebuild other privately funded facilities, homes and businesses for the future. I wonder what that amount, in total might be? A rough estimate could be made by assessing the building permits issued but facilities have not yet been completed.

Finally, I wonder just how much money is estimated to be needed to reach some final end state of recovery in Joplin and when our leaders believe that will happen. Certainly in 2012 that end state was pretty well defined in terms of government funding at least. At a minimum we expected some $40 Million, plus an additional promised $192 Million in government grants to be provided. As well at least some $800 Million in new private projects would be completed. All that would take about 10 – 15 years from the date of the tornado.

But we all now know that is a pipe dream and we must reset our expectations. Individuals have already done that kind of thinking I suppose. A family knew they had $X in destroyed property and other investments, they collected $Y from various sources to rebuild (or leave town with their proceeds) and have a rather clear end state in their minds for completion of their personal recovery.

Others are still hanging on and hoping for “someone” to help them rebuild destroyed lives and/or property. Efforts remain underway to continue to provide help for those people in Joplin.

But as a city, where are we now headed, how much more money is needed, where will the money come from now and when will the city reach such goals? That is the profound question now being asked by all in Joplin.

Who are now the leaders to provide the answers, I wonder?

“THE STORY OF THE JEWS”

February 5, 2015

“THE STORY OF THE JEWS”

This blog is a “book report” as such, but with a geopolitical twist if you will. If you have wondered “what is a Jew” I highly recommend the book. I never understood, fundamentally what that meant until reading the book.

The Story of the Jews, written by Simon Schama and published in 2009 is the book. There is also a PBS documentary on DVD which is available at the related web site. The period of time covered in that “history book”, not a history of theology per se is 500 BCE up to 1492 CE. It is based on archeological facts rather than Biblical myths yet revealed through “science”. But the book references some Biblical (or Torah) history with supposed dates for some events. It is “believed” but certainly not “proven” that Abraham lived in the 1700-1900 BCE era, the exodus maybe happened (if at all) around 1200 BCE. Early (mythical?) Kings like David and Solomon may have lived in the 900 -1100 BCE era as well. But “science” has yet to find factual evidence of such geopolitical events, other than in the earliest written documentation found so far written beginning, maybe, in the 800 BCE era.

As the early Torah was being constructed, it is “believed” that the Assyrians conquered the region now known as Israel in the very early 8th Century BCE, maybe around 790 BCE or so and destroyed the “First Temple” constructed by early adherents to the Torah and “Laws of Moses”. Sometime after Persians, “Babylonians” conquered “Israel” and a new temple was built, probably around 400 BCE, or so. That temple, the Second Temple, was destroyed by Rome in about 68 CE, a well-known and thoroughly documented historical “fact”.

Since then the Jews, people practicing the faith contained in the Torah, have been “dispersed” for about 2000 years, up until 1948 when at least the “Jewish Homeland” was re-established through mass migration and certainly the force of arms.

The book simply expands on that basic story, history if you will, of how people practicing the “Jewish Faith” acted socially, geopolitically, as a “tribe” if you will up to the Age of Enlightenment, the close of the European medieval period. It is filled with overwhelming historical detail, far more that I will ever remember. It listed all sorts of Jewish scholars, mostly men writing of how “history” or even then current social events reacted to geopolitical events in those ancient and later medieval times.

The book is a classical history, but not one over theology, of how Jews, Christians and Islam interacted over the period during the CE up to 1492 as well. No doubt that Jews initiated a theology of monotheism, God if you will, long before anyone had ideas of later monotheistic faiths, Christianity and Islam.

But what struck me in reading the book is how both Christianity and Islam thrived, geopolitically once the “faiths” became established, both in or near the Holy Land of the Jews. Yet Jews simply dispersed, with no geopolitical “clout” in such a society. Why did that happen that way was of interest to me and I gained a better understanding of that “why” in reading the book. I believe it remains fundamentally accurate today, in America, as well.

The Laws of Moses soon became the law of the land wherever Jews collected socially. There was absolutely no division between “church and state” in you will. What Moses first was deemed to have said (but never found as written directions from him, only oral history) was simply the “law”, no questions asked. Later others wrote additional “books” embellishing the Laws of Moses. None of those people were considered divine, only divinely guided. By and large, Jews still await God’s real presence on earth, and do their best to follow the law of the Torah to achieve that end. Strangely enough, to me at least, the Torah became “closed” (no more prophets) in the same general time frame that the Holy Bible and the Quran (plus or minus a few centuries) were finalized.

So one similarity is all three religions believe that God stopped speaking directly to people in the early CE era, but with no explanation why God (or Allah) decided to take that future lack of action, directing chosen people to act and teach directly in His Name.

In a way I suppose that is “good”. Can you imagine how far God would get if He found another Moses and that man tried to speak on the internet, today? OMG what a mess or laughing stock that would create!!

But back to the fundamental awareness or idea I gained from that book. At least in America and most other “western countries” today there is a purpose to keep separate church and state. Let each “reign” independently in the areas of government and theology. Jews have long paid lip service to government, just to “get along” but always relied on their faith to live their daily lives. Islam wants (is directed by Allah) to “rule” the world, theologically and in the secular world. In fact I suppose Islam does not recognize a secular world, only the world that exists as Allah directs. Some Christians feel that way as well, obviously, but they have great difficulty getting other “Christians” to act that way for sure.

Look at this another way if possible. Since around 500 BCE, Jews accommodated Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Romans and later Muslims and Europeans as well, geopolitically but never bowed to any religion promoted by those “nations”. Jews did OK, geopolitically as long as smaller “city states” existed. But once large nations began to govern, Jews have failed to establish and sustain anything like a Jewish Nation, up until 1948 it seems to me. If nothing else, it shows in the “real world” that a church cannot govern very well and sustain such a government.

Because of my own “history” and reading a lot about history in general, with an emphasis on geopolitical history, I find myself siding with the American Way, a formal and legal demand that church and state be kept separate. If nothing else that is the fundamental difference between “Islam” (in various nations) and America. Islam demands, at a fundamental level, that church itself rules the state, today.

I see Israel as the first “real” nation of Jews, at least since 800 BCE. Will Israel survive geopolitically? Who knows for sure and I am not about to make a prediction of such a nature. On the other hand, will Islam in fact gain authority world-wide as THE religion AND secular power? No way, I say, based on my reading of history. But it will be pure hell to prevent such from happening today as well. Many others, historically, have tried and failed in such an effort, geopolitically.

Chris Kyle, in his book, raised a very interesting question. What comes first in his, or anyone’s life. He decided early on that God, then country, then family was the correct priority. His wife felt that God then family, then country should be the priority.

At my age, I am of the mind that family, then country, then God such dictate the “next right things” for me to do. But that is just me, today. Where do you stand?

POLITICS AND SPORTS

February 3, 2015

POLITICS AND SPORTS

I was never a star athlete but was long an avid fan. My favorite teams were the University of Kentucky basketball team, a loyalty beginning in childhood, and the Dallas Cowboys, a loyalty to Roger Staubach from my college years. Anytime those teams played, particularly in big championship games I paid close attention to the outcome. In three or four hours after the games began I had instant gratification of a win or painful feelings of losses. But no doubt, a conclusion was achieved, I celebrated or moaned and life went on soon thereafter.

Most of my adult and professional life I did not pay all that much attention to politics, other than to vote in national elections. Generally I voted for GOP candidates but not always. Probably my biggest thrill was watching election returns in England (6 hours ahead of East Coast time in America) when Reagan beat Carter in 1980. But just like a Super bowl win for the Cowboys, my life went on soon thereafter.

When I finally left the professional racetrack I lost interest in sports, by and large. UK, Kentucky, remained my favorite team but I paid little attention unless they reached the Final Four. My loyalties to professional football teams were all over the map, each year as well. Basically I lost interest.

But I began to pay attention, rather close attention to national politics. 9/11 sparked intense interest to say the least. If UK had been beaten in a big game with a team of “dopers”, men running wild on the court from being “drugged up”, I would have been loud and close to violence, in words at least, against those “cheaters”, literally “killing” my favorite team in college basketball. Same with “crazy Muslims” killing Americans in a Pearl Harbor-like attack.

Well, after some 14 plus years of engaging intensely in national and international politics I find my interest declining. My life never really changed based on the outcomes of sports teams winning or losing. Now it seems that despite “pulling” for particular teams, politically, makes little difference as well. So why bother in any case becomes the question.

More important perhaps is my observation that both sports teams and political parties cannot be trusted with my loyalty as well. When I look at the details, pay close attention to the individual players on each team I become disenchanted, to say the least. I find the legal process to make sure everyone plays by the rules to be depressing to say the least as well, in both politics and sports.

Great Super Bowl for sure on Sunday night. Hard fought, the game in the balance on almost every play and a winner resulting at the end of the game. But how did each team get there was lurking in my mind.

Few if any worried that a former Patriot’s star, Hernandez, was on trial for a brutal murder and suspicions at least that he had committed others. No one yet knows how the air pressure in footballs went below the legal limit in another important game. The NFL as well insists that all players “talk to the media”, the Seahawks running back being of real interest to me. Well he “talked” for sure, but what he said was meaningless. Poor sportswriters I thought, unable to earn a living because a player doesn’t want to talk to them and have his words twisted around to make a fool out of him. Is that some constitutional “right” that a player must talk to the media, for the sake of the media??

In politics, both sides have been talking to the media far too much for some 14 plus years as well. They don’t talk to each other for sure. Instead they talk only to the media trying to win the next election. And look what the media does to them. As I noted in my intense frustration working in the Pentagon, and thus “with” the federal government, there was never a ninth inning in those games, a winner and loser chosen by a final outcome somehow. The game just went on and on with never a conclusion on even little issues, much less big ones affecting, maybe the “public safety or health”.

Here are two examples, ones you probably have never heard about. In the mid-1980’s, when the “Reagan buildup” in defense spending was topping out some “scientists” decided the size of the warhead in U.S. submarine torpedoes was not big enough to blow holes in a Soviet submarine hull, a “double hull” submarine if you will. My job was to counter that claim. Hai!!! The argument never ended and I doubt the warhead on today’s torpedoes is much bigger than it was in the 1980’s.

Second example is “how clean is clean” issues at Rocky Flats in terms of how low the levels of plutonium must become before anything is called “clean”. We never received a definitive answer as far as I knew, or know today. It seemed to become, “if you can detect plutonium, there is still too much left”. So go clean it again became the norm, no matter how expensive that effort might become. Today the former nuclear weapons manufacturing facility is considered a “green field”. Think I could go dig around there, or in your backyard and still find traces of plutonium, in the soil? You bet I could with the help of some technicians using “modern” detection devices. Opps???

Now fast forward to today. A former pro football player, a Hall of Famer who made $ Millions from 1995 to 2007 has once again been charged with crimes. In 2012 he filed for bankruptcy, owing some $6.7 Million in alimony and creditors bills. Who cares as he was a winner on the field?

See my blog above reacting to the book written by a true American hero, Chis Kyle, the most deadly sniper in American history it seems. I give him great credit based on his actions in combat. But what kind of man did he become became my question.

I have now seen the movie about Chris Kyle. It was like watching a political campaign clip. The movie showed all the good things about Kyle, but it left out huge segments contained in the book, all the trials and tribulations Kyle faced in his life and how he reacted to all of them, not just enemies on a battlefield, he called them “savages”.

Well, on the next to last play in the Super bowl, did anyone notice “savages” going after each other tooth and nail? Did that behavior in any way diminish the victory on that battle field of sports? It did in my mind at least.

Americans love winners and hate losers it seems. That is just in the American psychic it seems to me, at least for “red blooded Americans”. But when we look in the details of what it takes to win and still play by the “rules”, Americans become more and more divided, in politics. Basically each side in politics wants to keep changing the rules to gain advantage for their side. But what should anyone do in War and Peace, when the other side fails to follow the “rules”, I wonder.

At least domestically, most sane Americans say follow the law in America, at least until that law decides against one particular side. Internationally, the American debate is all about how best to fight against rule breakers, “savages” if you will. I wonder if pro football will now see “disinterested third parties”, refs, running around with air pressure gauges in hand next year? Maybe we need to put “disinterested third parties” in the field with cops to eliminate “unwarranted violence” by cops. Nope, not yet at least. We will just put cameras (audio and visual evidence) on each cop. Why not “camera up” every football player on the field as well comes to mind?? Next up, do the same with every soldier in battle or “on liberty” I suppose as well. Bar fights can be deadly I suppose so “how safe is safe” from violent behavior by heros?

Remember all the accusations of genocide during the Balkan Wars some 20 years ago. The International War Crimes tribunal now says that did not happen on either side. Are you kidding me, depending on how you define “war crimes”, I suppose.

Was Warren Sapp a hero on the football field, or Hernandez for that matter? Of course they were but is that enough? Same with Chris Kyle in my mind. But so what as well. You will have your opinion on each of those men and my view is just that, my view. So what, again?

Now we enter, already, the political campaign for the 2016 Presidential Election. OMG. There is no ninth inning, again, with probably Clinton and Bush going head to head, again. Can or will I make any difference in the outcome? No way for sure, just as I made zero difference in the outcome of the football game last Sunday.

Like Alfred E. Newman, I am at the point of “What, me worry” in both politics and sports today. I am now more inclined to just read good history books. My current recommendation is “The Story of the Jews”, a geopolitical history of the Jewish race, not their theology which can never be proven one way or the other, for sure. Here is a teaser in that book. Was the exodus of Jews from Egypt merely a myth passed down by oral traditions over half a millennia or a “fact” written in the Bible? Go check it out but I warn you no absolute truth is contained in that book. You will have to make up your own mind which most Americans say “That is not fair”!!!


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