Category Archives: by lex

You Can’t Judge

By lex, on August 15th, 2009

Three flights today with the Barnstormers. The first with a couple of young men from Southwest England, sponsored by their parents while (whilst?) on holidays. My man was 12 years old, his brother a couple of years older. Mum and dad looked on with a pride generously admixtured with apprehension. This was a lovely gift for the young men. Would they ever come back, at all?

My guest pilot won two bouts out of three, because his staff pilot doesn’t care much for getting gunned. Mum and dad were pleased as punch to see them in the break after we came back. Off you go, after we’d landed. We done our paid work and brought the boys back safe and sound. The ‘rents clapped us on the shoulders, like. And went on their merry. I told chief pilot Bronco Chuck that it wasn’t a surprise, not really. Europeans aren’t much given to doling out gratuities.

They give at the office, and how.

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Low Levels

By lex, on July 30th, 2009

There’s something almost addictive about high speed, low level flying. Watching the world unfold beneath you close at hand is undeniably thrilling, and the blur of the scenery as you get lower and lower is a great adrenaline rush.

Truth be told, I was never as big a fan of low level navigation as some of my buddies in naval aviation. There were guys who lived for flying low.

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Strangely Unmoved

By lex, on June 25th, 2009

There’s a fundamentally personal aspect to the end of a person’s life, one I’ve never spent much time peering into. It seems like some final invasion of privacy, something that celebrities (in particular) long ago traded away. It doesn’t seem like asking too much to give a little back at the very end.

Certainly there is always a deep impact felt upon those closest to them, but for my own part, I’ve never quite understood the imprint that celebrity deaths have upon the cultural zeitgeist. The Hobbit wept bitterly when Lady Diana was killed in a car crash – of course, she cries when the laundry goes out. But as for myself, I’d never met the lady.

We are all born, we travel through our allotted time the best we can and eventually come to the clearing at the end of the path. All of this is banal, the mystery starts where the tale ends.

But it is interesting, from a clinical perspective, to see the sudden upwelling of interest among people who share nothing else in common but the awareness that someone who had once been famous – or even infamous – is with us no longer. If you can take the common pulse by refreshing Twitter – I think you can, at least for the world that’s wired that way – you’ll note that the “trending topic” of #iranelection, which had been white hot for the better part of two weeks, has finally been thrust aside in favor of Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

I wonder what the temptation is in this sort of behavior: Some sort of communalism, a shared moment in a world grown too large for that sort of thing? Or is it a way of attaching oneself to fame at its seventh echo?

Beats me.


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On the Value of Academic Tenure

By lex, on June 15th, 2009

At Navy. Hard to know that Professor Fleming would otherwise be able to write like this:

The Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead announced in Annapolis recently that “diversity is the number one priority” at the Naval Academy.

The Naval Academy superintendent, Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, echoed him. Everyone understands that “diversity” here means nonwhite skins.

Fowler insisted recently that we needed to have Annapolis graduates who “looked like” the Fleet, where enlisted people are about 42 percent nonwhite, largely African American and Hispanic.

The stunning revelation last week was that the Naval Academy had an incoming class that was “more diverse” than ever before: 35 percent minority.

Sounds good, only this comes with a huge price tag. It’s taxpayers who bankroll the military. Yet nobody has asked us if we’re willing to pay this price. Instead we’re being told there is no price to pay at all. If you believe that, you probably also believe in the Tooth Fairy.

I’ve tried hard to understand this behavior, and I’m still not getting it. I mean, I understand the “feel good” aspect of being seen to have an officer corps that looks more like the fleet. I think I understand the political good will it can bring the service. I understand that people want to look around inside an organization and see people they can relate to as peers and mentors. But I can’t help feeling that we’re trying a little too hard.

Can diversity really be the “number one priority” at an institution whose mission is to “develop Midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government”?

Diversity goals are intangibles and smart senior officers – you don’t get to put on three or four stars without being pretty darn smart – tend to run their business lines analytically. I’d like to see the slides the flags pass around behind the closed door that’s driving this behavior, because from the outside looking in, it’s pretty damned impenetrable.

Used to be we were issued uniforms to help us put away our innate differences in skin color and submerge them in a service culture of undifferentiated excellence. Now it seems we’re selecting officer candidates differentially by virtue of those innate differences. Differences which, though they might be innate and immutable, have nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the individual’s character or potential for useful service.

I honestly don’t feel too bad for the white kid with the C in math who doesn’t get in to Navy. He’ll be all right. I worry about the kid who had an unexceptional academic career that finds himself in a two-tiered institution, knowing that he’s got a long uphill slog ahead of him to reach the finish line, and that just about every white face he sees will always be ahead of him in the race. I’d hate to be the truly gifted “diverse” candidate who looks around him and wonders whether people will recognize his gifts for what they are, or whether they will instead assume he’s the product of some quota system.

I worry about the fleet CO who sees two young junior officers showing up on his quarterdeck, both of them Naval Academy graduates. The white ensign, he will know, had to be exceptional just to get in the door. The other guy?

He’ll maybe wonder about him.

That’s not fair to anybody.


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I Want

By lex, on June 8th, 2009

I want a log cabin with a broad veranda looking out over the grass strip alongside the burbling trout stream at the foot of the mountains. With neighbors nowhere in sight, until you want them there for a toddy to watch the sun go down, the horses neighing in the pasture, the whitetails just there in the thicket, the bird dogs snoring by the fire. They’ve had a busy day.

I want perfect weather. I don’t mind a little rain when the mood strikes, and I’ll even accept some snow flurries so long as they’re gone in the morning. I’ll tolerate one bead of sweat on the 4th of July. Just the one.

I want a 200-HP Husky in the hangar. With glass.

I want a nice paved road, curvy and with trees hanging over it, to spin the bicycle over on an autumn’s day. And a jogging path by the river that leads to nowhere in particular, but on and always on. Leading you back home again without ever having to retrace your steps.

I want to not know where that path is leading. I want coming home again to be a welcome surprise.

I want the 38-foot sloop on a lake with no horizons that’ll take me to Tahiti. And a library of good books to keep me busy when I’m tired of the tiller, letting the autopilot do its magic. And I want my girlfriend in the cabin, happy and contented. Like the kids are, now that they’re all grown up and successfully on their way.

I want to not be in a hurry, while watching the sand run out.

I want the time and space to read and think. I wouldn’t mind a little time to set things down. For after.

I want to get it all right.

Two questions for you:

Is that too much to ask?

What do you want?


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The Embark

By lex, on June 1st, 2009

I’ve already told you how the bloggers twittered their last tweets prior to getting the outbound COD brief. The young lieutenant from VRC-30 told them that the landing aboard ship would be “fairly violent,” but not nearly as bad as the cat shot the next day. That, he said, would be “more dynamic.”

A raised hand: “Define: Dynamic.”

Oh. You’ll see.

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Survivor’s Guilt

By lex, on May 21st, 2009

I think it was two days ago last year that I hung my khakis up, turned the lights out and walked out into the world. There are a number of things you miss – a great number – and a few you don’t. I don’t miss getting the 0200 phone call notifying me that a plane had gone missing. I don’t miss the series of phone calls to follow, some professional, some deeply personal.

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