14 June 2016

On civility in political discourse

Part of the header on my blog says "promoter of civility in political discourse." I take that seriously. It's the standard I set for myself and it's what I expect of the people I associate with. This means forgoing the friendly confines of the echo chamber and engaging with people of all political persuasions. My list of friends and followers reflects that choice. I believe respectful discussion of issues from all different sides, especially sides we don't necessarily agree with, makes us all better because it exposes us to different perspectives and allows us to hone our own arguments. Underlying this exchange, of course, is civility.

The recent tragedy in Orlando has brought this approach into sharp focus. While most have continued to be civil, others have been less so. In particular, I am disappointed with incoherent attempts at arguments based solely in emotion, ignorant of history, circular in reasoning, and accentuated by ad hominem attacks. This does nothing to advance your position; it's quite the opposite. This does nothing to promote civility; it's quite the opposite. This does nothing to promote healing. It encourages the very echo chambers we ought to be avoiding. It does nothing to bring us together; it does everything to push us apart.

I welcome well-reasoned arguments in opposition. But please do so civilly. If you can't, I have no time for you.

13 June 2016

The Orlando shooting and the FDA's blood donation policy

I don't like the FDA. I really, really, don't like the FDA (but that's a subject for another day). Nonetheless, the FDA, as advised by the FDA Blood Products Advisory Committee and the HHS Advisory Committee for Blood Safety and Availability (now the HHS Advisory Committee for Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability), determined in December 2015 that it would only accept blood donations from men who have had sex with other men (MSM) if they did not have MSM contact within the last 12 months (the previous policy was an outright lifetime ban on such donations). It's unfortunate that such men who are willing to donate are not permitted to donate blood under the circumstances, but those committees that advise the FDA are made up of practicing doctors who specialize in these issues. They presumably have very good reasons for making these recommendations. Good medical reasons. You know, like science stuff. As much as I really, really, don't like the FDA, I trust the recommendations of these doctors more so than I trust the well-meaning recommendations of random people on social media. If you believe you have compelling reasons why the FDA should change course, I'm sure they've love to hear from you.

02 June 2016

Book Review: Sudden Mission by Guy L. Pace

My friend and fellow veteran Guy Pace is an author and I recently picked up the Kindle version of his first book, Sudden Mission. I don't often read fiction and I had no idea what this book was about! I don't write many reviews either, but I thought this one was worth it.

Sudden Mission is a story about a group of teenagers on a journey across the United States to complete a mission for God. I found myself reading the book in one hand while following along the journey on Google Maps in the other.  It's a Christian story set in modern times and designed for young adults. I genuinely enjoyed this book, probably more so because it is much different from the sometimes dense non-fiction that I often read.  As a result, it was easy reading and I finished the book in a few hours.

None of this detracts from the powerful message that Guy has interwoven into the story. The teenagers' friendship and relationship with God is pivotal to their mission. Most importantly, Sudden Mission is about their faith and how it guides their journey.

I'm looking forward to the next book: Nasty Leftovers!

19 May 2016

Law school recognition ceremony

Five years ago, I applied to the University of Maryland Law School and was denied. Four years ago, I applied and was denied again. After spending a year at UDC, I transferred into Maryland. Today I got my revenge: I am graduating magna cum laude and one of the top students in my class.

18 May 2016

"Sir, what do we do?!"

During the early summer of 2006, I was in a seven vehicle convoy just north of Baghdad, Iraq. I had only been in country for a short time. I was riding in the passenger seat (or "truck commander" seat) in the second vehicle. Our Humvee was modified to carry electronic countermeasures equipment, and as a result, we had no .50 cal gunner (similar to the Humvee on the right in the picture above). It was just me and a young Army soldier driver.

As we passed through northern Baghdad, I noticed a flash in my side view mirror. We soon realized that an IED had gone off behind our vehicle and in front of the third vehicle. A quick comms check revealed that, thankfully, no one was injured. A quick inspection found only minor damage to the vehicle. Nonetheless, we stopped to investigate.

The lead Humvee sped off to the right to investigate a taxi that was driving away from the scene.

"Sir, what do we do?!" My young driver and I realized at the same time our now-awkward situation. The normal procedure under these circumstances was for the lead and trail vehicles to drive 400-500 meters and set up a cordon. This would allow the other teams to investigate while providing standoff distance for approaching vehicles. Since the first vehicle followed the taxi, we were now the lead vehicle, but without the powerful Browning machine gun to support us. Keep in mind that I'm a Navy officer; a naval flight officer trained in electronic countermeasures. I had two weeks of "Army" training. I was not intended to be involved in ground combat. Nonetheless, here I was.

I immediately explained to the driver to move and set up the cordon. He drove us half a kilometer forward, blocked the road, and then disembarked so we could provide some measure of support. It was not ideal, but it worked. For a few tense minutes, our only method to project power was M-16s or M-4s--hardly the kind of weapon you would want to deter another vehicle. Fortunately, another Humvee came forward and eventually relieved us.

At that point, we returned back to the scene of the IED. I then followed the lead Humvee to where they had stopped the taxi. One soldier seized a few cell phones, which I held while another soldier swiped the hands of the taxi driver and his passengers with a chemical swab to detect explosives. Then, one of the cell phones rang. Iraqis had been using cell phones to detonate IEDs, but this was just the cell phone. Still, it spooked me.

As we were wrapping up the roadside stop, I heard the unmistakable rat-tat-tat-tat of an automatic machine gun. In that instant I immediately realized two things: first, you don't have explain the sound of an AK-47 to someone under fire. Second, you don't have to teach a Navy guy how to hit the deck. I did so immediately. After absorbing a face full of sand and dirt, we soon realized that the sporadic AK-47 fire was not aimed directly at us. Most likely, it was spray-and-pray fire designed to unnerve us. It was working. We soon hurried back to our vehicles and were on our way.

The Army unit I was with was near the end of their rotation, soon to head home. To them, this was just another day outside the wire. Fortunately, no one was injured. As far as I know, the incident was never written up (such a write-up would be required for a combat action badge or similar award). Yet I remember the incident as if it happened yesterday.