Monday, September 26, 2005

Stonewall Jackson

Mortally wounded at Chancellorville, Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson lost his left arm. General Robert E. Lee would remark that "he lost his left arm, and I have lost my right". Eight days after being wounded, Jackson developed pneumonia and died. His last words before dying: "Let us cross the river and rest beneath the shade of the trees".

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Price of Freedom

Last night, my squadron held a "hail and farewell", a little unit social event where we welcome newcomers and recognize those who are leaving. Since we recycle bodies about every 2 years, it's pretty common to have these about every 2-3 months or so. Normally a formality (and a somewhat boring one at that), last night was different.

One of the pilots leaving is going on to the Thunderbirds, the Air Force's jet demo team. Last night was POW/MIA day, a national day of recognition for American prisoners of war and missing in action. He talked a little about his dad, who was shot down over Vietnam and lost. Only two years ago were his remains found and laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. He spoke eloquently, but briefly about growing up never knowing his father. Although his father was never in his life, his memory and his sacrifice was. There wasn't a dry eye in the room.

Maybe it was just the German beer. Who knows, but the idea that a boy growing up never knowing his dad, yet following his footsteps in honorable service to his country just about brought me to tears. It is an amazing thing, this business of ours.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Six Things You Might Not Have Known About The Civil War

1) More casualties resulted from dysentary and diarhea than from combat. This was primarily from soldiers using the same stream/creek for sewage and drinking water.
2) Lincoln never wanted the war to be about emancipation. He was far more concerned about maintaining the union. Only when the war was deemed close to victory did he release the emancipation proclamation. Simply put, he thought that making slavery an issue during the war would dilute union support and jeapordize the effort against the confederacy.
3) The Civil War was fought in more than 10,000 different places, including as far west as New Mexico. Texas was part of the confederacy, although today, most people don't consider it part of the south.
4) The movie "Glory" with Matthew Broderick and Morgan Freeman was based on fact. In fact, the movie is apparently a pretty good portrayal of what actually happened. Many blacks fought for the union. Blacks fighting for the union were often killed by the south instead of taken prisoner, or taken back to the south as slaves.
5) The crater scene in the movie "Cold Mountain" is accurate - that actually happened. Union soldiers dug a trench underneath confederate lines and put a bunch of explosives in. When they blew it up, a huge crater was made in the confederate lines. However, the union soldiers waited over an hour before attacking, and when they did, they got trapped in the steep walls of the crater - going in, rather than around. They were slaughtered wholesale.
6) One of the great conundrums that have baffled historians considers the origins of the civil war. Both Washington and Jefferson were outspoken critics of slaver, but both kept many slaves. There are actually several instances of these strange contradiction amongst the founding fathers. There are many theories that abound, mine is that these men simply separated theory from practice - and I mean that in a negative way. I think that in theory, these men hated and detested the concept of slavery, but in practice, kept slaves in order to preserve their wealth and property. It is, however, one of the great American curiosities that the man who wrote that "all men are created equal" was a slave owner.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

Using the law of averages, I am surprised that people are surpised at the disaster response at the local, state, and federal level. It never ceases to amaze me the level of competence that people expect from government agencies. You've got to realize that most of the people that fill civil servant work are the same people who frustrate you in most other levels of customer service work. I'm not saying that the bureacracy is filled with idiots - I am saying that one shouldn't expert anything near perfection from it because it is staffed with the same combination of exceptional, average, and below average folk you meet on a day-to-day basis.

The Law of Averages

Using a standard Bell curve, I have made the conclusion that of any five people you meet, two are average, two are below average, and only one is exceptional. I don't know if that is right. I guess my point is that most cases in life, you will encounter average to below average people. Once I accepted this notion as fact, I no longer got all bent out of shape when finding myself in situations where someone's incompetence hinders my aims.

Ken Burns Civil War

Just finished watching Ken Burns' Civil War documentary on DVD - in a word, amazing. It's on five disks and will take a week to watch, but it is fascinating. If you don't know much about the Civil War, this is the best place to start.