Monthly Archives: December 2016

Hobson’s Choice


By lex, May 8, 2004

As set forth in U. S. Navy Regulations, the Commanding Officer is charged with the absolute responsibility for the safety, well-being, and efficiency of his command, except when and to the extent he may be relieved therefrom by competent authority.

The duties and responsibilities of the Commanding Officer are established by U. S. Navy Regulations, general orders, customs, and tradition. The authority of the Commanding Officer is commensurate with his responsibility, subject to the limitations prescribed by constitutional, statutory, international, and regulatory law including U. S. Navy Regulations.

– US Navy Regulations

Any officer in command of a ship, submarine or squadron is by courtesy called “the Captain,” regardless of rank (although in the less formal aviation Navy, the commanding officer is more often called “the Skipper”).

There is a distinction between a naval rank, and a position – you can reach the rank of commander, without ever receiving the position of command. Successful commander command is a prerequisite for promotion to the rank (as opposed to the position) of captain. Since so very few officers will ever achieve the rank of admiral, making the rank of captain defines a successful career. There are places in the country (San Diego is not one of them) where a captain with 30 years of service will receive retirement pay sufficient to ensure that he never has to work again. But retirement pay is not the objective – it is merely the least reward, for the opportunity to lead. For the chance to be responsible. For command.

Command at sea is the pinnacle of achievement in the career of a line officer. It is the culmination of years of service, professional growth, demonstrated leadership and technical expertise in his or her war fighting specialty. Having climbed through the ranks by selection for promotion by statutory boards, and careful screening by administrative boards, an officer will finally put the US Navy Command Pin on his uniform. It is for many of us the height of our ambition, and a treasured symbol of success.

Recently it seems as though those pins are being attached with explosive bolts . As prestigious as it is to achieve command at sea, to be “relieved for cause” is more than equally disgraceful. The March issue of the Navy Times reports that 22 commanding officers had been relieved for cause in the preceding 13 months. Another three have been relieved this calendar year, bringing the total for 2004 up to nine. These numbers are unprecedented, and disturbing.


The commander’s responsibility is absolute – his authority is commensurate with his responsibility. We are taught those words from the earliest days of our apprenticeship as officers of the line, that is to say, officers qualified to command at sea.

Hyman Rickover, the father of our nuclear Navy, had this to say about responsibility:

“Responsibility is a unique concept.  It can only reside and inhere in a single individual.  You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished.  You may delegate it, but it is still with you.  You may disclaim it, but you cannot divest yourself of it.  Even if you do not recognize it or admit its presence, you cannot escape it.  If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion or ignorance or passing the blame can pass the burden to someone else.  Unless you can point your finger at the man responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.”

An early case study that midshipmen still read was entitled “Hobson’s Choice.” The etymology of this expression escaped me until today: According to the Word Origins website,

Tobias Hobson (c. 1544-1631) was a Cambridge stable manager who let horses. He insisted customers take the horse in the stall closest to the door (the next one up) or take none at all. Hence, a Hobson’s choice is no choice at all. He was made famous by Milton. The phrase dates to 1660.

I had always presumed it to come from the name of a destroyer named the Hobson, which collided with the aircraft carrier Wasp in 1952, based on an eponymously named Wall Street Journal editorial.

The CO of the Hobson had been asleep when his watch team on the bridge allowed his vessel to approach, and eventually collide with Wasp, turning into the wind to launch and recover aircraft on a dark, foul night. He was awoken, assumed the conn, issued some dubious orders and died in the collision, one of 176 to die that night.

The lesson we were to take from this was one of accountability – A CO who allowed his ship to become hazarded, even if he was asleep in his stateroom, was still accountable to the Navy, and to his crew. As brand-new mids, some among us at first thought this somewhat unfair – I mean, the CO could not be in all places at all times. But we were instructed again about authority, responsibility, and accountability. The CO qualifies the watch standers – he had delegates to them his authority for the safety of the ship and crew. But the responsibility is always his, and he is always accountable.

The dreaded words on official correspondence relieving a CO will often read of the superior commander’s “loss of confidence” in the CO’s ability to command. This loss of confidence can stem from several reasons, although there is usually a straw that breaks’ the camel’s (commander’s) back. Some wryly attribute such actions to a violation of the “three kisses” rule.

– You may not kiss another ship (collision at sea – navigational buoys count too)

– You may not kiss the beach (run her aground)

– You may not kiss a shipmate (a relatively new phenomenon)

There seems to be no common thread linking all these CO’s getting the ax – and I think that’s what most disturbs naval leadership. The Navy gets pretty small at the top, and I know a number of these folks – almost all of them exceptional individuals, carefully screened for their responsibilities. But now their careers are ruined, and that’s just the way it goes. Because while I truly believe we are not a “zero defect” organization, I also know, as do my peers, that you absolutely must get the big things right. You must safeguard your ship and crew – that’s Hobson’s choice. In other words, no choice at all.

I’ve been in the Navy man and boy for 26 years, and I’ve seen a lot of changes. This at least, has not changed.

From that WSJ editorial:

“On the sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself and wiser in its age than this new custom. It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority and with them accountability. …for men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do. And when men lose confidence and trust in those who lead, order disintegrates into chaos and purposeful ships into uncontrollable derelicts.”     

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Horse camp


By lex, on June 27th, 2004



For the last three weekends in a row, I’ve found a way to avoid playing golf with my flag officer at 0730 on Saturday mornings, usually because he hadn’t asked directly. Either his writer or his aide came down, canvassing for players in a general way. Them I could say “no” to. But last week the Man himself asked if I would play, and so of course I said, “Yes! Love to!” Not because I’m trying to be a suck up, but because the traditions of our service do not allow for the direct refusal of a flag officer request on the grounds of personal convenience.

It isn’t that I don’t like and admire the guy, he’s a wonderful person to work for. And it certainly isn’t that I don’t like golf, I do, very much. But it’s a 30 minute drive down the 5 from Carmel Valley to Coronado, the same drive I do five days a week, and one of my chief pleasures on a Saturday morning is not chewing up that same stretch of highway at the early hours on a day off.

(Note: This is yet another boring domestic tale. Read on as you will, forewarned is forearmed.)

So it was with great relief that I learned on Friday morning that the boss wouldn’t be playing on Saturday. It was his last weekend home with his college aged daughter. Not least because I could avoid the workaday commute on my weekend, but also because I was now able to pick the Kat up from her week-long stay at the Rawhide Ranch, a western style horse camp.

I’m so glad I got to see her last day.

I’ve pointed out before that the Kat is horse crazy. The costs of supporting this hobby are non-trivial, but Saturday all that was wiped clear.

She had an equestrian competition at the end of the camp, on parent’s day. The Kat is into English-style riding, hunter/jumper, and there are some significant differences in the different styles. As I watched her ride, I thought she was performing superbly of course, while knowing full well that every other father in the arena was feeling the same way. The final ceremonies dragged on for quite a while, under an increasingly brilliant and hammering sunshine. The last contest was the Kat’s, in the advanced riders class.


When the time came for awarding prizes, I was a little bit nervous. At this camp, everyone gets something (the parents have paid for it), so at least half the kids in the advanced class got “finalist” ribbons. As the names were read off, and the kids came up for their finalist ribbons, I felt as though I was in some crazy game of parental Russian Roulette, and already formulating excuses – how serious were these judges anyway? But excuses would have been small beer for the Kat – she would have been crushed to win a “present” ribbon, and then walk off the arena. So much of her self-image is tied up in all things horses.

The judge read the horse’s name first, followed by the riders. Each time they called a horse that was not hers, I felt my tension relieved a bit, only to tighten up again upon reflecting that the pool of candidates was getting smaller and smaller – when would they eventually come to her?

They started to read off placing ribbons, commencing with 10th place. She would at least get one of those, so now I re-calibrated my hopes – at least let it be one of the top seven or so, I found myself hoping.

Now, I don’t want to make this sound like it’s the Olympic Games, or even about anything lastingly serious. But the moment was important to her, which made it important to me. If you’re a father, you understand. If you’re not, some day, if you’re lucky, you will.

Ultimately we got to the top five, and her name still hadn’t been called. I allowed myself a small smile: The top half would make her happy, I thought. How soon until they called her off? Each name that was read, I looked into her face, seeing her smile a little brighter, being a little more proud.

The kids get a little nervous in the final three or four names. They’ve made it all this way, greatly relieved, but now they dare to hope. Their ranks thinned, they move closer together, exchanging glances. Wondering.

In this competition there was a first place winner, and above that a “Grand Champion.” It was down at last to the Kat one other girl – all of creation trembled in the balance (from my perspective anyway) as they read the name of the horse, and the girl, in first place – all the other times, the kids only knew who had won that particular ribbon. For the last two spots, both will know at the first syllable where they stand. The judge read off the name of the other girl – the Kat, she had won the Grand Championship! I saw her little body move almost as though an electric current had gone through it. She was so very, very happy. Which of course made me, very, very happy.
And very, very pleased that I had not wasted this morning playing golf.

After a suitable denouement, with many exchanges of IM screen names, email addresses and even snail mail addresses and phone numbers (how quaint), it was finally time to bid farewell to Rawhide Ranch for yet another year. Safe in the car, on the highway heading home, I ask the Kat if she’d had a good time. No answer.
But I think she did. Note the trophy peeking up above her leg


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Show Season

By lex, on July 13th, 2008

Saturday morning dawns cool and clear with the Kat tapping at your correspondent’s shoulder whispering, “I’m late.”

It’s not quite six AM. On a Saturday morning.

The only plausible explanation for anyone being late at 5:45 AM in Southern California on a Saturday morning in July is that this is horse show season. Plagues of locusts would not have otherwise sufficed.

It’s a quiet drive to the Del Mar Show Park on Saturday morning at 0600. You’ve got the roads pretty much to yourself and your daughter. Who – bless her soul – has her thoughts elsewhere entirely, at least until we get to the stables. Already seeing it. In the moment.

We arrive on scene and she asks if I would like to come in and see Harold. Harold being the new horse. Recently owned by famous regional jumper, but now relegated to school work and jumping at three feet or less. Because of his superannuation, at age 18, the poor beast.

I know the feeling.

Of course I’d like to meet Harold, I replied. The question being, in all honesty, almost entirely rhetorical. She’ll spend the day aboard or around this brute in one way or another and entrust her precious life to him. A “getting to know you” session between the two of us is entirely appropriate, never mind the importance of showing interest. I have things I want to say. Things he needs to hear. The nature and origin of canned dog food might be a worthy topic of discourse. Such a fate being a not unlikely end for elderly horses who are not attentive to the needs of their riders. Such as their continuing need to remain properly saddled, unhurled and untrampled.

The Kat joins her cohort, the rest of them – like her – tousle haired, pink cheeked and puffy eyed. It’s mid summer, and it’s not like they’ve been greeting the dawn with song since school let out. Mariachi music plays in the background as caballerangos walk around trying (and failing) to look busy. The girls wear flannel pj’s atop their best riding breeches, and club jackets atop t-shirts. The jackets will have the name of their barn on the back, and their own names on the front, and the having of one is an ineffable symbol of belonging. A fighter pilot might look in his closet and see a jacket of his own, with a name tag on the front, and various patches of experience and excellence everywhere else and gain a glimmering insight into all of this. But these are young women, and their magic is deeper, it thrums at a pitch below male hearing. It always has.

In an hour’s time or so they will spend a moment in mentor-assisted chrysalis – hair nets, rat catchers, jackets and helmets – to emerge as fully mature Ice Princesses (First Rank) of the Equitation Imperium. In the meantime, these girls (most of whom would not lift a finger to pick linen off the deck at home) cheerfully muck out stables like any set of stable hands.

You’d think that seeing your youngest child vaulting through the incorporeal air over fences atop a twelve hundred pound animal with small – and, it must be pointed out, unnecessarily sharp feet – might be bad enough. But first you have to earn the right to get there. First you must watch her warm up amongst thronging legions of variously grouped, differently abled competitors, each of them fully focused on their own lines in blissful ignorance, and all of them seeming to run at cross purposes.

Bedlam ain’t in it.

Eventually they head to the competition ring, where – at this age – each of them enter the arena alone to face the stern judgment of equestrian officialdom and fate. They will do their best, and at the end of the day some of them will walk away at the end of the day with yet another gaily colored strip of ribbon to hang against the wall. While others will walk away with little more than their pride, and the experience of having once again been “the woman in the arena.”

Oh, and the jacket with their name in front, and their barn on back. They’ll have that too.

You ask, isn’t it pricey, all of this anachronistic tomfoolery?

No, I reply.

It’s priceless.

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In Hoc Anno Domini

By lex, on December 25th, 2007

The annual Christmas editorial of the Wall Street Journal was written by Vermont Royster in 1949. I have always found it an inspiring example of  writer’s art and human wisdom:

“When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.

But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression–for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.

And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.

So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a curtain so that man would still believe salvation lay with the leaders.

But it came to pass for a while in divers places that the truth did set man free, although the men of darkness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.

Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.

Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter’s star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

‘Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.’”


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Carpool Chronicles

The year was 1986. I remember that distinctly because it started out with the accident of the space shuttle Challenger.  There were 3 of us, myself, Elizabeth and Allen.  We would all carpool to work in Allen’s  80s Nissan small pickup. I have always been a bit of a gearhead; can’t help it.

Elizabeth was from Belgium – a good 10 years younger than me.  I could imagine her in the throng of people over there protesting the NATO decision to deploy Pershing missiles in Germany just a few months earlier. She was of the next generation after  the carnage of WW2. She worked in another department; Allen  and I were computer programmers.

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The Gentleman’s Club

by lex

Wed – January 5, 2005

No, not that kind of club silly.

The real thing.

I had one of those “you have reached the end of the internet, please hit ‘back’ ” experiences today. I’m still on leave (go back to the salt mines tomorrow), but it’s been raining endlessly here in Sandy Eggo, so the golf courses are all pretty much unplayable, just now. The kids are back in school, the Hobbit’s working. So my options were to go out and travel the actual highway, looking for opportunities to boost our consumerist economic recovery (been there, done that, paid the taxes) or to cruise the virtual, information highway, wondering where it might lead me. Naturally, I found myself clicking “next” until my eyeballs fell out of my head.

And it’s amazing what you can find. But first –

The Kat is a girl scout, and there’s some sort of graduation experience planned in San Francisco in May. Before she flew out the door, the Hobbit asked me to look up the least expensive way of getting a dozen girls and their moms up to The City, and once there, suitably ensconced in the downtown shopping district.

Now, those without sin may cast the first stone. And I’ll admit that it was no doubt churlish of me, not to mention mean-spirited, to wonder why a graduation walk across the Golden Gate Bridge by six budding females and their budded escorts must, as a matter of course, be accompanied by a bed down in the shopping district. But as a grizzled veteran of over two decades of marital splendor, much of it harmonious, I was wise enough to keep these wonderings to myself.

But all that is horribly off the point. Anyway.

Turns out that one of the best deals going in the downtown area is the Marine Memorial Club. Although it’s safe to say that the accommodations there are a little, shall we say, ancien regime, nevertheless, for that part of the city, the $160 or so a night for a double room/double occupancy is a true bargain. And it’s close to everything. Except of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. But there I go again. Never mind.

The best way to strike lodgings in the Marine Memorial Club is to have a reciprocal membership at another club somewhere.

When an officer is first commissioned, he has the opportunity to join two clubs in the Washington, D.C. area, and in doing at that early opportunity, avoid both the initiation fee and waiting list. The two clubs were the Army Navy Country Club, and the Army Navy Club. In spite of their similar names, the two clubs are unrelated, the first being a classic golf/tennis/swimming/dining facility in Arlington, Virginia, and the second a “gentleman’s club” in the Capital itself.

My parents had been members of the country club, so I sort of knew what to expect there. The second I joined, persuaded by one of my more cosmopolitan classmates, out of mere curiosity and out of a desire for reciprocal benefits. Traveling as much as we do in the naval service, I thought it would be neat to have a place to put pied à terre anywhere I visited.

My first few visits were singularly unimpressive: There was a dress code, and my generation, famously, has never been particularly keen on dress codes. The food was undistinguished, the service merely adequate and the rooms themselves redundant – we had family in the area with whom to stay, when visiting. Additionally, the membership seemed to consist solely of superannuated and be-suited veterans of the Great War, who spend their days puttering around the library, mumbling sotto voce obscenities at the New York Times editorial pages. (Some things never change.)

But however alluring a quality, this last was not in itself enough reason for me to shell out membership dues for month after month at age 22. Not on an ensign’s salary. An ensign, I might add, living in Pensacola, Florida – a city and region whose enthusiasm for old school, reciprocal membership gentlemen’s clubs has gone hitherto unremarked upon.

I let my membership lapse.

It struck me at the time that such clubs were anachronisms – dinosaurs that hadn’t gotten around to dying, quite yet. The last remnants of the buggy whip manufacturing league, perhaps. Who, I wondered, of my generation, would in 20 or 30 spend their hard earned money to belong to a place where a suit and tie were still considered mandatory in “public rooms,” and which offered little more than a thin veil of petty exclusivity?

Well, quite a number of places, as it turns out. Both here in the US and abroad. *

I’ve had the opportunity when overseas to enjoy some fabulous hospitality by some very kind club memberships. The American Club in Hong Kong , for example, never fails to welcome the officers of each visiting strike group that passes through. There we are customarily wined, dined and otherwise féted, and offered pretty much the run of the place. Which nearly everyone seems to gratefully eschew, in favor of the gin joints and night clubs of Wan Chai and Kowloon. When it comes to pleasures ashore, at least for junior officers, the baser, the better, it sometimes seems.

The American Club in Singapore likewise extends privileges to naval visitors, for which we were all very grateful, and for which they were no doubt sometimes regretful – unlike the senior businessman clientele at the Hong Kong club, many more of the Singapore club members seemed to be families with young children, and the first night ashore for thirsty officers can be a little raucous, at times. Dry navy, and all that – water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

There is always something just a little touching about finding these little pockets of Americana, clustered about in the wide world. One wonders what they do for entertainment when the fleet is not in. Too, there’s something just a little “edge of the empire.”

No doubt it comes from the legacy the British passed down – they do these sort of things far better than anyone else. Bars, and dining rooms and accommodations – rules on lounge suits (whatever they are) and against shred of denim, anywhere.

And I don’t much get to London, but I think it might be keen to pop in at the Naval Club, once there. A trip across the channel might leave you lodging at Le Cercle National des Armées in Paris, if you had the proper letter of introduction. Having been to Hobart, Australia, I’m fairly certain that a stop in at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania might be well worth the candle.

And yet I couldn’t help finding it mildly curious that people might want to, in their leisure time, bundle up in a coat and tie and head out to the club. It just seems so 20 years ago. Members my age, or not a great deal older, must by now form the main battery of most these clubs – and we all grew up in blue jeans and tie-dyed shirts.

But yeah – sometimes I now regret, letting that Army Navy Club membership lapse.

** 05-27-18 Link gone; was reciprocal index to Army Navy Club – Ed. 


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Home Again


by lex

Sun – December 19, 2004

Wow – glad that’s over.

Or almost over – we still have the debrief to go on Monday morning. Jump up in front of the three star with my merry band of principal warfare assistants and subject matter experts, pontificate (but not at length, not as who should say “great length” – he’s a busy man – so are they all, all busy men) and then sit back down, await the momentary frisson of approbation that comes with a exceptionally difficult job, done exceedingly well, and then move on to the next thing. Which right now, happens to be Christmas. So I’ve got that to look forward to. Which is nice.

But no, the Christmas shopping is by no means complete, thanks for asking.

You might have advised that I try to shop at sea, via the internet, but that would only mean that you had never tried to shop at sea, via the internet, before.

You know those itty-bitty straws they use in night clubs to mix the well drinks? Imagine that you have been without water in the desert for six days, while forced to do push ups and sit ups in the burning sun, in between wind sprints. Now imagine being asked to drink your table spoon-sized ration of water through one of those cocktail straws it and you’ll have some idea of what surfing the World Wide Wait can be like at sea. It’s not like we don’t have bandwidth. Bandwidth we’ve got, great huge frothy galumphing amounts of bandwidth – it’s just that none of it is apportioned that way. For Christmas shopping, I mean.

Oh, sure – if you know exactly what you want: Google up “Airborne Laser Volcano Lancing ,” for example – you can probably get that done. That is, unless you were for two times in the preceding three months while at sea the victim of credit card theft, and the credit card that you actually have in your wallet is now cancelled, and now there is no reliably secure way to email or fax your new credit card number to the ship.

In that case you’re pretty much SOL, airborne lasers on your shopping list or no.

Neither am I one of those preternaturally organized, invariably smug and sand-poundingly self-satisfied shoppers that has crossed every item off their Christmas list by the preceding ides of March. No, I greatly prefer the carefully controlled lab experiment in chaos theory which comes from traveling across the country to Virginia, my own, my native land, on the 22nd of December, going pied-à-terre in the world’s most maddening shopping mall on Christmas Eve, and catching the sport at its very best. The pleasures are simply indescribable.

In fact, the only thing more wonderful was last year, when after several hours of hurling myself repeatedly (and it must be admitted, with little success) upon the altar of consumerism, I found myself looking about longingly for a store that sold any of the following items: Firearms and ammo, razor blades/rubber tubing, rat poison, quality braided rope of not too rough a texture and capable of supporting roughly 190 pounds, moving at, say, 32 feet per second, squared. While thus (fruitlessly) engaged I saw the actual Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (who stands in precedence to your humble scribe in roughly the same proportion as he himself stands to single-celled organisms) doing his Christmas shopping in the same circle of hell as was I. Or me. Myself.


And so seeing this, I grasped at the beginnings of wisdom. These I will share with you, constant reader, free of charge: Death may indeed be the great leveler of men, but Christmas shopping is repeatable, and as a form of practice for the real thing, not to be lightly cast aside.

All that being true, then it can’t get any worse, you say?

Come, let me disabuse you: Have I failed to report that the Biscuit (age 13) now considers it nothing less than normal, indeed quite natural, that a portion of each trip to the shopping mall must be spent inside the world’s most humiliating store (for a man to enter, anyway)? I feel like a vampire at the church doors each time I go near the place. I stand there in front stammering “No, fine actually!” to all the several passersby who, alarmed at the sight of my violently blushing complexion, wonder if perhaps it isn’t possible, even likely, that I’m having a stroke or seizure of some sort? Because from my perspective, there simply isn’t a plausible or creditable reason for me to be on the same level as that store, not to mention standing on its threshold. Which is not to say that I’m a prude. It’s just to say that, well… I’m not exactly sure what it’s to say, but it’s deuced uncomfortable, old chap. To all of this, of course, the Biscuit is either sublimely unaware, or acutely unconcerned. And I can not quite decide which.

But this is all to look forward to, and perhaps one of you would prefer to be caught up:

We’ve been busy. Long time readers of this blog (I mean you two, over there) will know that your humble scribe has been at sea more or less continuously since the 12th of September with some all-to-brief intervals of sand crabbing in between to remind myself where I park my car, which office is mine (there’s that sandwich!), and to reacquaint my family with my gross physical characteristics. But as I mentioned above, our own Long March is over, for the now, and the workload should become a little more normal in the discernible future.

Why such much? Glad you asked: For the Iraq War we got every ship to sea that we could, and so all the carriers that went and joined the war in 2003 all came back pretty much at the same time. Which meant that they were all pretty much ready to go to sea again at the same time. Which was the last four months. Which is where me and my merry band come in.

But in between coming home from the war, and going to sea again, the CNO , who by the way is (for a Shoe) an incredibly smart individual, besides being a powerful and handsome man, made some decisions. For one, he decided that it would be keen to institutionalize our capability to surge the force in case of emergency, rather than discerning a crisis on the horizon and then walking the strand and turning over rocks to look for ships, like we’d always done in the past. This strategy is called the FRP, or Fleet Response Plan (variously, the Fleet Readiness Plan, no one seems to be able to authoritatively decide) and it’s an Exceptionally Powerful Idea¹

Which is a precise formulation guaranteed to send staff officers scurrying to shopping malls, looking for stores which sell: Firearms and ammo, razor blades/rubber tubing, rat poison, quality braided rope of not too rough a texture and capable of supporting roughly 190 pounds, moving at, say, 32 feet per second, squared.

Because it’s all very well and good for service secretaries and four stars to have Exceptionally Powerful Ideas, but someone has to figure out how it’s all going to actually work. And that someone is us!

So yeah, we were busy, but now we’re not and that pretty much encapsulates all you need ever know about the naval service.

More later, as it comes to me.


Note 1:


In the beginning was the Plan

And after the Plan came the Assumptions

And the Assumptions were without form

And the Plan was without substance

And darkness moved upon the faces of the action officers.

And they spake unto their Division Heads, saying:

“It is a crock of shit, and it stinketh”

And the division heads went unto their Chiefs of Department,

And Sayeth unto them in turn:

“It is a pail of dung, and none may abide the odor thereof!”

And the Chiefs of Department went unto the First Flag Officer

in their Chain of Command, and Sayeth unto Him:

“It is a container of excrement, and it is very STRONG!”

And that Flag went unto his Fleet Commander, and

Sayeth unto Him:

“It is a Vessel of Fertilizer, and none may abide its Strength”

And the Fleet Commander went unto CNO, and Sayeth:

“It contains that which aids Plant Growth, and it is very strong”

And the CNO went unto the Chairman and Sayeth:

“It Promoteth Growth, and it is very Powerful”

And the Chairman went unto the Secretary,

And Sayeth Unto Him:

“This Powerful New Plan will Actively Promote the Growth

and Efficiency of the Department, and this area in Particular”

And the Secretary looked upon the Plan,

And he saw that it was Good, and so the Plan became



And that is how shit happens.


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Ed Note: Unfortunately a lot of the links lex referenced 12 years ago are gone. I have included the links that are still live and given that he wrote this almost exactly 12 years ago though some of the things he said were still funny. To wit: How sh!t happens in the Navy; the world’s most humiliating store, etc…

Hope you enjoy the post. To me so much of what Lex wrote has a timeless aura to it…





Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Funny Stuff, Lex, Neptunus Lex


By lex, on December 6th, 2005

Phase II of the flight physical today. In the room alone with the doctor, the stethoscope and the tube of cold jelly.

Oh, the indignity!

So many things get better in the Navy, as one grows more senior. Your jokes get funnier. You get a nice parking place. Everyone calls you “sir,” and very often they appear to mean it. Which is a tremendous improvement from ensign days, let me tell you. People tend to be nicer in general, even solicitous at times: “Would you care for the VIP room, Captain?”

“Why yes. Yes, I would.”

You could get full of yourself, if you weren’t careful. All puffed up, even. But in a flight physical follow-up on the wrong side of forty, you are not offered the VIP treatment. Oh no, my son, not at all – not if it were ever so. In fact, it begins to appear as though this is how they let the hot air out:

“Elbows on the table, grandad. You know what to do.”

You: Did the fact that your doctor was a fetching lass of some thirty-odd summers do nothing to mitigate the intense position of moral disadvantage you found yourself in, Lex?

Me: It did not, Gentle Reader. To a surprising degree, it did not.

You: Were you at all concerned when the conversation, pre-… well, you know – when the conversation turned to how difficult it could be to be a female flight surgeon in a male dominated world at times?

Me: I will confess to a moment’s Seinfeldian angst at where this might take us, Gentle Reader.

You: Because of the payback potential?

Me: Precisely.

You: Ah.


You: Oh, right – it’s still my go. Was it cold in the room, Lex?

Me: Oh so very.

You: And because of that, did you experience any…

Me: That’s quite enough, I think!

So. 364 days and a wake-up.

At least she had small hands.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Humor, Life

Forgive, if you will

By lex, on December 7th, 2005

It was a long time ago, now.

But never forget:


When a West Coast ship enters Pearl Harbor, as it inevitably will either going to, or returning from a forward deployment, the ship will “man rails” on either side of the ship and “render honors” to the USS Arizona as they pass.

Sometimes an old salt will look at the young Sailors coming into the Navy and breathe a soft sigh of despair – many of them are so very different from those of us whom they will replace. But when you see them fight for a spot up on the steaming flight deck inbound to the harbor, when you see them compete with the embarked Marines for sharpness of dress and military bearing, when you see them stand at attention and present-arms with ramrod stiff postures and deadly seriousness in their eyes, you know: It’s going to be OK.

They remember.

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Equestrian Sports

By lex, on January 20th, 2004

The Kat is into equestrian sports. She’s nine years old…




Equestrian sports are in healthy competition with boating for “World’s Most Expensive Hobby.” If a boat is, in fact, a hole in the water you pour money into, as pointed out yesterday, horseback riding (hunter/jumper!) is a mouth you stuff greenbacks in, to get horse fewmets in return.

Actually, there are several mouths to feed: the horse, of course: the trainer; the stabler; the vet; and the farrier (don’t ask me what a farrier is, I don’t know). All of these wonderful folks will tell you that horseback riding for a young girl is cheaper than drug rehab, and I suppose that’s true.

But it’s yet to be proven to my satisfaction that this is an either/or proposition. If your nine year old does not ride horses, must it necessarily follow that she will have a cameo in the next “Traffic” episode?

But my satisfaction is beside the point, obviously. The Kat is version 3.0 of “she who must be obeyed,” and so we are all, all of us, equestrians now.

I have come to the conclusion, having ferried the Kat to and from no small number of riding sessions, that equestrianism is the principal domain of the female of the species. Sure, if you go to a horse show, you may see some full grown men riding quite creditably. But apparently, they get their expertise like Neo got his karate skills in “The Matrix.” They are placed upon some barbaric barber’s chair, strapped down wrist and ankle, and then a probe is placed into their skull, transferring at T2 speeds the entire skill set required to compete at an advanced level. This must be true, because every time I go down to the stable, it is myself and the farrier (doing God alone knows what) who represent the male of the race.

Of women, all shapes, sizes and ages, there is no apparent upper limit.

There is something going on here among the girls that boys (and men) cannot quite understand, and like many things in the world of women, it sometimes makes us feel a little stoopid.

I wonder what it costs, that barber’s chair?

The Kat won several ribbons of various colors during a competition last Summer, and I was very proud of her, if not entirely sure what she had done to earn them. The entire process is a mystery: lovely young ladies with faces set in granite ride horses about a “ring,” instructions are given over the “loudspeaker,” and obeisance is made to a series of hard eyed “judges,” who pull thoughtfully on their chins and scribble on a “clipboard,” each time your daughter comes around. Insofar as I am aware, they only judge my daughter…

Shortly thereafter, a series of ribbons are awarded. Repeat. For several hours.

It turns out that during these competitions, there are other mouths that must be fed: apart from the usual retinue (Sean Combs would be proud) there is the groomer (he grooms the horse, I believe – I do not think the farrier can do his job), the driver, and of course the various merchants who sell paraphernalia for riding (boots, garters, hunting jackets, hair nets) that are utterly unsuitable for any other purpose whatsoever.

And all of this mystifies me utterly. I mean, wouldn’t a motorcycle be more efficient, in the long run?

But please don’t take this as a rant, or even a bleat. Riding makes her happy, so it makes me happy.

It’s just hard to realize that, at age 9, your youngest has already somehow been initiated into that wonderful, rich, magical world of womanhood of which we men can only see the rough outlines. We see the outer margins only, fully aware that the totality escapes us.

And I never saw it coming. She’s only nine.


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