Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fear of Flying

I'll admit it. I hate to fly. I have a fear of flying or as JetBlue now calls it, "Jetting". So now I have a fear of Jetting too. Every flight I take I fear will be my last. It's not rational. I know the odds. It's an honest phobia and with it comes strong anxiety. Not the William Shattner, "There's something on the wing", type of anxiety. Although Shattner was right, there was something on the wing! It's more the discomfort that comes from the complete inability to relax. Every bump, every mechanical whirl, every squeak of the aircraft and my comfort is disrupted with thoughts like, "OMG the wings are gonna to rip off". I don't actually think it's a fear of flying, exactly, I think it's a fear of not flying... and then plummeting 35,000 feet to the ground whilst the screams of terror erupt all around me. I am, of course, also afraid of heights, which might be the real phobia. Or it might be the fear of not being in control. It's also possible I'm a bit claustrophobic. I know for certain that this is not a post 9/11 fear. I was aerophobic when aerophobia wasn't cool. A bomb in the cargo bay is just one of the many reasons the wings might be ripped off, so terrorism just joins the crowd of anxieties already in my head. Regardless, the phobic cocktail that I face when boarding an airliner is real and I struggle each and every time I fly. I like jetting, it's sounds a bit more peaceful, JetBlue might be on to something.

Nevertheless, this fear that I have brings me to a strange place today. Since I believe I am a self made expert in fearful flying, I have something to say. Perhaps I am not the most fearful passenger -- those passengers tend not to get on board -- or they pass the flight heavily sedated...but I have real fear and I've tried to combat it rationally. I like to believe I am a thoughtful person, with a degree in mechanical engineering, and an advanced degree in operations research, along with a career in the United States Air Force. I have spent a considerable amount of time both in the air, albeit always as a passenger, and in careful deliberation of those who make it their profession to be in the air. There was one exception. I was the impound officer on a KC-135 tanker that was grounded from flying for a mechanical condition that could not be solved. During the impound I sat with the aircraft 24/7 and led the investigation into why the aircraft's rudder was malfunctioning. We solved the problem and for some reason, perhaps pride, I flew with the test crew on the functional test flight to return the plane to service. I had no fear, ironic, go figure.

But all this is simply to establish my credibility as someone who is rational but afraid to fly in order that I may make my next commentary. So here is my problem. I would much rather my aircrew be asleep in the cockpit and overshoot the airport by 150 miles, than be on-board an aircraft that takes off into a flock of geese, looses both engines, and then lands in the Hudson river. The pilot of the Hudson River flight, Capt Sullenberger is a National Hero. Both pilots on Northwest flight 188 to Minneapolis have been terminated from their employment and have had their pilot's licenses revoked by the FAA. Captain Cheney and First Officer Cole are National Goats. And not just any Goat’s, they have been portrayed by the media in such an evil and judgmental light almost as if their actions placed their cargo at such risk they might as well have aimed their aircraft directly at the World Trade Center.

The most logical theory, apart from what they the pilots of said, is that they were asleep. Let’s pretend that they were not sleeping and were perhaps, as they have claimed, heavily engrossed in the understanding of their crew scheduling software loaded on the laptops they were using during the flight. Which is, of course, a violation of NWA rules which prohibits the use of "...electronic devices..." in the cockpit. Has anybody been in the cockpit of a modern airliner these days? The cockpit is an electronic device. It actually wraps itself around the crew members. I'm not sure of the difference between a portable computer and the one that surrounds them...the big question is were they really checking the crew schedule or perhaps it will be discovered they were playing MS Flight Simulator while they were at work, that would be ironic.

I think the media would love to discover that they were surfing porn at 35,000 feet. That would make for some National headlines. There seems to be a few indignant journalists’s who don't understand why the pilot's laptops were not confiscated. As if there were some sinister motive at play here, i.e. the pilots were intentionally negligent and therefore immediately criminally negligent for losing their situational awareness (SA) for a few moments. And by a few moments I mean it takes about 13 minutes to fly 150 miles and if I understand correctly -- a good portion of that over flight was spent trying to correct the error. And unlike when we miss a turn on the highway while we were engaged with our cell phone conversation, you can't just throw a u-turn, well actually you can, procedurally though, when you lose SA, you don't. Why the crew was out of contact with air traffic controllers for a longer amount of time is an entirely different problem and has nothing to do with lap tops. I think the question should be, what is the level of vigilance the crew of a commercial aircraft is required to maintain at all times? I think it's unrealistic to suggest that omnipotence is the requirement and I think it's a lie if aircrew members suggest that's where they operate, every minute of every flight. It gets better.

After 9/11 we have taken great measures to seal the flight crew into an impenetrable cocoon surrounded by their electronic devices -- we've sealed them in a crypt -- no one gets in, no one gets out. Their sanctuary is inviolate. When was the last time you've seen a pilot step into the cabin to stretch his legs, or pee. Further, after sealing them in, we expect that on today's flight we have the very best pilots that ever slipped the surly bonds of earth. We force ourselves to believe that Chuck Yeager actually came out of retirement to see us safely through today travel. The truth? Well, you can't handle the truth, and neither can I. So I'll just say that not all pilots are Chuck Yeager's and leave it at that. But I can tell you that as a collective group, pilots are extremely methodical, extremely bright, extremely bound by the rules and the checklists that consume their daily lives, and in general are extreme optimists with nothing but thoughts of self preservation and the success and safety of their command, crew, and cargo. Pilots are rarely suicidal -- unless of course they are unjustly removed from the great careers they have had for decades and surreptitiously turned into National scapegoats. But I digress.

I really would prefer that my aircrew not be asleep. We all know crew rest is an extremely important aspect of flying. Unlike driving a bus, if you get tired, you can't just pull off at the next exit to take a nap. So if the aircrew does get tired, should they fight through it? I've fought through it on the road, tunnel vision sets in, then the hallucinations I don't want my pilots hallucinating as they attempt to land. So perhaps a cat nap to clear their heads is appropriate. What's the alternative? Maybe they can take some caffeine? The fact that military pilots have access to "Go Pills" is an alternative. Can you say amphetamines? True they are flying high performance jet aircraft in combat and they need to be as sharp and alert as humanly possible -- but the fact is, the human body gets tired, and when it does, problems can crop up from nowhere. And then there is boredom. The cockpit of an Airbus 320 in flight high above the mid-west is not as high stress as combat. In fact it is exactly the opposite. It is a long boring haul with nothing to do but monitor a highly automated system and stare out the window. As Pappy Boyington has told us, "Flying is hours and hours of boredom sprinkled with a few seconds of sheer terror". That is the life of a pilot -- that is why we pay them the big bucks, even though bus drivers and train operators have us equally as trapped within their lethal equipment.

Not to take anything away from Capt Sullenberger, he is undoubtedly a good stick. But he had some luck on his side since he found himself without engines on a clear day during the most critical time of flight, on takeoff. He was flying. He was fully engaged in the operation. His vigilance was at a maximum. His SA was at its peak. Had something additional been distracting him – perhaps clouds, or the takeoff was happening at night, or there were icing conditions – his job would have been even more difficult. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the right amount of vigilance at the right time? What if he would have been up stretching his legs when the bird strike hit?

How then do we reconcile the exact amount of vigilance required and expected to operate a jet in between the spectrum end points of a long boring haul over the mid-west and the terror of losing both engines on take-off? I state my question again, what is the level of vigilance the crew of a commercial aircraft is required to maintain at all times? We are in a technological era where unmanned vehicles are the reality. We have aircraft that can practically fly themselves. Do we expect the same level of vigilance, from engine start up to shut down, of our flight crews in such a highly automated environment? And if the flight crew’s vigilance drops off for a movement, exactly what is the nature of their crime? And more importantly who should sit in judgment? We know for sure it shouldn’t be the media with their array of colorful and highly paid media consultants.

A boring flight is a safe flight, right? We have clear air, no turbulence, no rapid decompressions, no lightning strikes, and no fear of icing. Everything is so smooth, automated and normal. The exit comes and goes and we missed the turn. Is that such a big deal? Perhaps some procedures need to be reviewed. Perhaps some discipline needs to be metered out to those found wanting. Perhaps there are a few more contributing factors. How about we wait for the safety investigation to reveal what really happened?

The Hudson River event was not a terrorist attack. It was a spectacular event with a happy ending. The over flight of Minneapolis was also not a terrorist attack. It was an incredibly boring event with an equally happy ending, followed by the vilification of the flight crew. Our fear of terrorism and our knee jerk reaction to everything related to flight safety seems exaggerated in the face of our National fear which is continuously fanned by the Media.

Mohamed Atta was not on board Northwest Flight 188. Let's stop acting like he was.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I'm Not Happy with My T-Shirt

It's October twenty-second, two thousand and nine. That's forty years, three months, and two days since the voice of Neil Armtrong heralding, "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" emiminated from the lunar surface and reached my four year old ears back here on earth some 1.29 seconds later. Forty years hence and by my estimate the giant leap for mankind has never occurred. Mankind has done nothing with our trip to the moon, really. We've got Tang instant breakfast drink, no one really drinks it any more, Sunny-D seems to have won in the Vitamin C infused orange flavored drink department. We've got Velcro. But since parachute pant's left center stage in the mid-eighties most of us only use velcro when we are rolling up an extension cord in the garage. What happened? Dare I say...what the hell happened? It took less than a decade to reach the moon and it has taken us four decades to consider a return trip. And if we let the system decide, don't hold your breath, I doubt we will go back anytime soon.

How then, was our brief foray into space exploration, a giant leap for mankind? The short answer, it wasn't, not yet anyway. It was a technological achievement of the highest order, but we solved one problem and nothing more. The challenge was, take a man to the moon and bring him back safely, before the end of the decade. But beyond the vision statement set forth by JFK in 1961, we fell flat on our face. It wasn't a giant leap for mankind because mankind wasn't ready for the giant leap. What we did jump, unfortunately, was the shark. When the big science and engineering experiment involves driving a golf ball on the lunar surface, it was clear that the mission lacked strategic vision with regard to why we went out there in the first place -- which wasn't really the goal at all, to go, was it?. The goal was to go and return, safely, or so we thought.

Every ounce of energy that went into the Saturn V rocket was required so that a small command capsule containing three astronaughts could splash down in the Pacific Ocean after the 500,000 mile journey. Alan Sheppard striking a golf ball on the lunar surface, was the moment it was clear, we had no idea what to do with the achievement, the moon missions had "Jumped the Shark". Three missions later and after December 1972, man has never been out of low earth orbit again. As we look back we can clearly see that it was a case of been there, done that, got the t-shirt. And unfortunately there was no leap for mankind. It was just a three day lunar vacation for a few lucky astronauts. They went and returned safely. Mission accomplished -- there was never a plan for what's comes next. Four decades later and we still haven't figured out what's next. We never knew how to exploit the Amstrong prophecy. We had forgotten that JFK, had challenged us with a bit more, but we stuck to the problem at hand.

So does taking a larger leap, perhaps a leap to Mars fulfill the prophecy? Not if it means we are not staying. To go means to go. Not to return. The few who have really thought about what it means for mankind, to go, to really go, do not apologize for their seemingly calous attitude regarding the lives of a space fairing generation, if we raise one. It's easier to bring humanity to Mars if we don't have to bring them back, and it cost's less. The leap for mankind, the real leap, is to begin the colonization of the solar system. The moon in definitely the first step. That is the problem we must embrace as a humanity, as a mankind. I can go to Disneyland, I can bring back the t-shirt. That doesn't mean I live and work at Disneyland -- that's the real dream isn't it. The childhood fantasy. Like running away to join the circus. Sure you will return home one day, perhaps, to regale your friends and family of the tales of the great adventure, but everyone goes to Disneyland these days, and they come back with a t-shirt.

Neil Armstrong can tell everyone he took the small step, Alan Sheppard can tell his grand children he pitched out of the sand in the Fra Mauro Formation, but neither can tell the world they established the leap for mankind that should have come from such a tremendous accomplishment. Although in fairness, if we give Columbus the credit for discovering America, it was another 115 years before a colony was established at Jamestown, VA. And, once we do make the permanent leap into the heaven's, these great explorers, and golfers, will have their place in human history. And when the colonization of the new world finally did begin, it wasn't about tourism. When you went to the new world, you were in, all in. You brought your family with you. You were not coming back. This is the leap we must consider when it is time to go back to the Moon or to Mars. We must not go to Mars to drive golf balls in the red sand. We must go with a purpose not simply to prove we can. That's the leap, that's the vision, that's the Armstrong legacy that must be embraced by our humanity. It is the leap, that if we had only heard a bit more of JFK's speech, that "No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space..." that perhaps we would have not simply have been satisfied to simply return safely.

Space exploration is not about climbing mountains. It's far more than the drama of risky achievement, first to the North Pole, first to the Top of Everest. We don't go to the moon because it is there, unless we are wealthy thrill seekers. I think we confuse adventurism with exploration sometimes -- Societies such as National Geographic do not really distinguish the two. I think they exploit the excitement of extreme adverturism for their own profit and confuse the rest of the world's understanding of purposeful exploration with that which is pure adrenaline and ego. Yes there are some parallels, but when attempting to justify a higher purpose, a higher calling for mankind, we should stick to purposeful exploration and leave the adrenaline junkies at home.

We are at a crossroads. With a scarcity of funds and a very uncertain future for the manned space program at NASA, we must ask do we continue to put off, as a people, the leap for mankind that truly means we are no longer Earthlings? Or do we simply remain happy with our t-shirt?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Get Out of Jail Free

I was discussing the economy with a friend the other day, is it improving or getting worse? We didn’t seem to be able to move too far beyond whether the economy is simply driven by optimism or by measures more tangible (not much more) such as the employment rate. And if perchance employment is a key characteristic, what is the appropriate way to get more people working? None of it is clear. What is clear, however, is that whatever President Obama might suggest, the critics from the right, the Republicans, my conservative party, will be quick to label the approach as a step toward socialism.

I can’t solve all of the Country’s problems with this blog. What I can do is announce to all who will listen that I am tired of being part of this problem. Partisan politics, to me, is the biggest problem we face. Glenn Beck has said that too, but he is a fraud because he demonstrates again and again that he is not bipartisan. That’s not what we need. What we need is simple cooperation. I, for one, am willing to cooperate. I am ready to vote for something, anything that will move us forward and not get stalled in a debate.

There is an agenda before the country, one that includes the environment and healthcare and perhaps some big jobs programs. Some of us are in love with these programs and some of us hate them to our very core. The truth is anything we can possibly do in any of these areas will be big and costly. Even if we do nothing, there will still be big problems to solve and that will cost a great deal of money. All we really are doing is shifting subtle degrees of control from one group with some warped bent towards a guiding principal that with the complexities of society today, probably ceased to exist long ago. And if one group has their way, they will be momentarily happy while the other group will be seeing red, before the balance of power either shifts back or the solution that one group thought was to their benefit ceases to be.

The Republican backlash against President Obama continues to astound me. Yes I voted for McCain. But once he was President -- I'm was all in. He is the President and since I am tied to the military, my Commander in Chief. To speak out against his policies is as American as apple pie. To speak out against him as the President is an act of treason. We, as American’s, back the institution of the President of the United States regardless of who sits in the chair. That privilege is bestowed upon the individual on the day they begin – they don’t have to earn it. They can screw it up over time, but when first elected, we owe it to our Country to stand behind them and let them lead or we need get out of the way. They were already given the job. You don’t hire someone who is not qualified to be there. Once the President is elected he is hired and therefore deemed qualified to begin to well and faithfully execute the position. There is no on the job training or probation period. Critics and naysayers are not our President.

We now have been given yet another institution to consider. We now have a sitting President who has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Call me sentimental but to me it is so awesome for our Country that President Obama has won this prize that l get goose bumps. If this isn’t a favorable vote for our United States in the eyes of the world, I don’t know what else could be. You could look at it as a vote against the old administration, but that would serve no forward or higher purpose, a meaningless mental exercise. You could say President Obama hasn’t earned the honor, but that also would be a meaningless exercise since he has in fact won, and just like the Institution of the Presidency, he is now it’s Institution.

For those nit wits who might think the Noble Prize is an award for good work, would be the same nit wits who think becoming elected President is the challenge, without an actual plan to do anything once in office. The Nobel Peace Prize is set apart from the other prizes. Once you are a winner, you are the embodiment of the institution for as long as you are alive. This cannot be made any clearer because the Prize cannot, should not, and has never been awarded Post Humorously. Otherwise, Gandhi surely would have been a recipient by now. The fact it is, the Prize represents what was done but it also represents what has been left undone.

President Obama stopped being Barack Obama and became leader of the free world as a black man with a Muslim name the day we elected him. That, in and of itself, was the necessary accomplishment. Whether or not he ever succeeds at anything during his administration doesn't matter. His accomplishment, and now this award, will always stand. His appointment as leader of the free world has just been confirmed by a great representation of the free world. It's a victory for all of us and we have to be proud of this accomplishment -- because we elected him. I didn't vote for him but I am still proud of our Country for electing him and proud of him as our President.

If the Country is too blind to see that one man did not win the Nobel Peace Prize. One Country, Under God, and Dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal won the Nobel Peace Prize. President Obama’s achievement was to be elected by us, to be the leader of the Free World. It is our Institution and our place in the world that now has the legacy of Peace lain at our feet. If we are too blind to see that the Prize belongs to us, as an institution, just like the institution of the Presidency belongs to us the people, we are too blind to see that things are looking up. This is the time we ought to pull together; the world is giving us a get out of jail free card. All we have to do is take it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fidelity Swap

A friend of mine, Kevin Maney, just published a book called, "Trade Off -- Why Some Things Catch on and Others Don't". In this book he introduces a concept that he calls "The Fidelity Swap".

Simply put Kevin believes that we as consumers continuously decide between a high fidelity experience or the convenience of something simple. Kevin has the benefit of having been in a unique situation for the past quarter century. For most of that time he wrote a technology column for USA Today. From his post he has covered the most important story's as technology changed before us -- and possibly more important -- he has personally interviewed the genius behind many of the decisions that forced these changes -- Steve Jobs (Apple), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Ted Leonsis (AOL), Irving Wladawsky-Berger (IBM), to name a few. So he observed this phenomenon first hand and has now reported on it in a useful fashion.

So let me describe Kevin's "The Fidelity Swap" quickly. There are two axis by which a product or service can be delivered to the consumer. The vertical axis is the fidelity of the product -- how complex is the product in terms of delivering a high-bandwidth sensory interchange. The example he uses is attending a live event such as Cirque du Soleil or a rock concert. These events are live and high fidelity, but they are very inconvenient. The horizontal axis hosts the convenience of a product. Down loading Aerosmith's, "Walk This Way" onto your Ipod has become one of the easier things to do in life -- it's much more convenient than going to see them live in concert. As consumers we constantly make this swap, the convenience of 7/11 vs the fidelity of Whole Foods. The convenience of Pay Per View vs the fidelity of going to the big game. And it's been the same, seemingly, for as long as there has been a market for goods and services.

There are two additional aspects of the fidelity swap to understand -- first, if you are striving to create a product that has both high fidelity and high convenience, you are chasing what he terms the fidelity mirage. That product simply cannot exist. Second, if you are below the threshold for either the product of highest fidelity or of highest convenience you are stuck in the fidelity belly and must either improve along one of the axises or go lose to one of your competitors who is furher out in one of the directions, either higher fidelity or more convenient.

Now, to apply this concept to the business I am in, Kevin asserts that the US Armed Forces are always chasing super-fidelity in their products and services. I believe that this is true and could be the subject of another book -- dragging in Network Centric Warfare and it's ilk as an example. Ironically, as any war fighter knows by experience, the more convenient a lethal force is to use the more deadly it becomes and conversely the more complex a system is to use, the greater chance of getting killed while trying to figure it in combat. Unfortunately with the institution of the Armed Forces chasing high fidelity and the soldier, sailor, airman, or marine chasing convenience, by definition our Armed Forces are chasing the fidelity mirage.

You can't have both - the result of chasing the mirage has been, of course, the endless list of failed acquisition programs in our DoD. I have explored some other examples of the DoD with Kevin, perhaps he will indeed write a second book. But the subject of today's blog, apart from introducing everyone to the concept of the Fidelity Swap, is to suggest one more thing in light of a recent decision to kill the Ugov email service. As background, the Ugov mail service is simply a web based email for the government similar to Gmail, except with a few features like being hosted on government servers that makes the content a little less public. It allows collaboration and integration across a disparate community in a very big way. My theory is that anything convenient in the military is inherently perceived as a security risk by legions of security personnel who actually believe that an email never sent is the most secure. The reaction to enhance security will force development decisions further up the fidelity axis thereby eliminating efficiency and thus convenience. We see this again and again. A good idea comes forward -- everybody loves it. The bureaucracy descends and the idea is choked to death.

When I first opened my Ugov account I couldn't wipe the smile of my face and said to myself, "This is too good to be true". Well, we can be assured that the next series of decisions that occur will ensure that Ugov is and was too good to be true, and that whatever follows will be far less convenient. As of this posting the decision still stands to kill the service because of a percieved problem with security. I guess in a way I would rather they kill the service than to begin strapping on countless layers of security until ultimately the service is so cumbersome it will cease to be useful. At least this way we can get started searching for a new way to integrate and collaborate so we are ready when they pull the plug that send us back down into the fidelity belly.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Do the Right Thing...Baby

In September 2008, Lance Armstong announced his return to professional cycling and his decision to once again ride in the Tour de France. Much speculation about his motives and attitudes exploded in the media as the cycling world held it's breath for 10 months during Lance's preparation. Making sure, for instance, that he was available for the complete scrutiny of the international anti-doping community to ensure that his return would be far above reproach. He also joined the cycling team, Astana, for free. That's right, he will be riding for Team Astana as an unpaid, uncompensated, team member.

And Astana is not just any team. Astana boasts the likes of Alberto Contador who is favored to win this year, along with Andreas Kloden and Levi Lipheimer. Lance stepped onto the most powerful cycling team in the world with perhaps the best coach in the world, Johan Bruneel. He has told the press that his return to cycling is to move awareness of his fight against cancer through his "Livestrong" foundation to a global stage. From a strictly marketing point of view this was a brilliant move. It's difficult to find a professional athlete or celebrity who is the front man for an organization that can actually step straight into an international sporting event as a participant, not just give a speech or throw out an add, but actually compete. That's like saying, "Oh today I feel like competing in the Olympics for a Gold Medal, I wonder if they will let me in." And not just in any event - the three week long international frenzy that is the Tour de France or TdF. Lance's participation in this event -- at any level, from coach, to sponsor, to lessor team member, to even spectator, would be sure to have garnered publicity from the throngs of fans and his supporters who still monopolize cycling events and continue to wear the highly visible, yellow "Livestrong" armbands, all without compensation.

But it is fairly clear, that not only will Lance ride in the event, he will compete at the highest level and vie to be a contender for yet another victory. That would bring his total to eight wins at the TdF. Not so fast, however, because with Alberto Contador on his team, how will Johna Bruneel, sort out his team leadership. As everyone knows, it takes a team to win the tour, and as Bruneel has pointed out through the years, there can only be one lead rider on any team. Bruneel has managed to have four riders in a position to lead his team this year, or so it is speculated.

But this blog, believe it or not, is not about Lance, or the TdF, or the Bike, or his foundation. I'm posting this blog to discuss one idea -- the idea of what constitutes professional behaviour in a professional sports. I've been told that being a "Pro" or a paid participate in an event has nothing to do with your conduct. For instance, you can be a professional criminal, break every civil, criminal, and moral law in the book -- lie, cheat, and steal your way to the top and still be considered a "Pro". Turns out you can be a "Professional" criminal in any occupation you choose -- in cycling we see this through the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs. So perhaps what I've been told is correct -- being a "Pro" is irrelevant to the conversation. Just to be a "Pro" doesn't require the individual to act with any higher code. I could stop right there and the debate would end. The word "Professional" is meaningless. I, however believe the word "Pro" transcends whether or not you receive a pay check. You either conduct yourself with grace, dignity, and act beyond the call of duty, in any situation, paid or unpaid, or you do not. Do we have a term to describe such an actor? I believe the term still is "Professional". And it has been the "unprofessional" acts of our "professional" athletes in this dialogue that have stripped meaning from this word -- and turned it into nothing more than a fee-for-service modifier.That is what I would like to discuss here.

One more piece of background. This discussion began because there was an event that occurred during the Stage 9 of the TdF that I found to be wholly unprofessional and labeled it as such on FaceBook. That event was the protest of the entire peleton of riders during that stage against what the TdF organizers created as an added challenge for the competitors on that day. The challenge was for the stage to occur without the use of race radios. The nine riders on each team would not be able to talk with their team car and coach via the radio. They would still be able to talk amongst themselves during the ride, or to drop back to the team car for a chat through the open window. This was the way the race communicated before the advent of the race radio. To use these radios to the advantange or disadvantage of a team or individual rider during a race is the subject of a huge discussion itself. The crowd is mixed but it is definitely skewed in favor of their use. However, the race organizers didn't decide all 21 stages of the tour would be run without radios, only two stages. Coincidentally, there are 21 teams in the tour so the math is easy. Only 6 teams acknowledged they were in favor on the rule to not use race radios while 15 teams were against this stage of the race -- clearly skewed against. To be completely fair, six stages of the tour then, should be run without radios...right? As it is, for various reasons, the organizers established that only two stages would be run without radio communications. And this is where our story begins...

Prior to the start of the stage all of the teams met behind closed doors to decide what to do during the stage without radios. When the race began, it was evident what they had decided to do. They decided to protest during the race primarily by not racing at all on that day. They soft petaled throughout the stage. The stage was uneventful, of little excitement, and a waste of every ones time. I labeled the riders as a bunch of babies who spoiled the stage because they couldn't have their way. In an event that has it's share of scandal and tarnish, why would these "professionals" provide one more black eye to the sport they love? Lance was one of the "Pros" who not only voiced his opinion over the rule not to use race radios, there is no question he was part of the organized strike...he soft pedalled just like everyone else. Oddly, I would argue, that since Lance is the only one riding who is not drawing a salary or bonus from his team, he is the only one in a position to actually protest. In which case, I would further argue, he is not a true part of the competition. Rather he is a side show act, a distraction from the the main event. The Team sponsors and the TdF organizers should be upset.

Perhaps they will be no backlash and all will be forgotten as within 24 hours another stage will have to take precedence. My point is simple. If you are a "Pro" you are paid to do something. If you fail to do what you are paid to do, you might still be a professional in the "collect a paycheck" sense. But you've robbed you clients of their value. In soccer there is a term known as a "professional" foul. This foul occurs when you are beaten by an opponent, perhaps you are feigned out of position and the player on the attack moves by you in a way where they now have a terrific opportunity to threaten your goal. If the player beaten has their wits about them and immediately recognizes the danger, they may reach out and grab the opponent by the shirt to slow or disrupt their play. A foul is called and the offending player will be issued a yellow card. The "professional" foul sacrifices a yellow card to thwart a possible goal by the other team. These professional fouls are accepted by the soccer community at large but in reality are simply cheating. And cheating, by my definition, is far away from behaving professionally.

To dig further into why I believe to be a professional means more than just collecting a paycheck, one has to understand why a professional collects a pay check to begin with. I could not collect a pay check to ride in the TdF or to play soccer for that matter. Why? Because I am not good enough. The athletes who are paid to play and race are professionals because they are good -- great in fact. Better than the common place. We pay professionals to work on our cars or put a roof over our heads -- I wouldn't pay riders in the TdF to build my house or work on my car. They might, for instance, attempt to change my spark plugs with a air hammer. Riders in the tour wouldn't know the right tool to use, even if you paid them. But you would expect them to know bike tires and although I can change a bike tire, don't expect to seem me in a team car anytime soon. I myself am paid in my own particular profession -- in which I try to do my best. But with tour riding, the sponsors of the team pay for even more. They pay to see the name of their company on the shirts of the best riders...those in front and those winning the competitions. The teams exist for the competition and when a rider does well they see their name in lights, so to speak.

Also, unlike other professional sports where the prize money and proceeds come from the viewing audience, with tour riding, the big money is in the tour sponsorship. The sponsors pay your salary and they are paying you to race--under contract--and in most cases not to cheat and not to get in trouble that will be an embarrassment to the team name. It's the contract with the team sponsors that caused the riders colluded with one another and why they still hopped on their bikes to complete the stage, albeit at a reduced pace. They were under contract to do so. Further, there can be no doubt they also orchestrated a low speed attack with a group of riders soft pedalling two minutes ahead of the field to sit their and make it look like a race was in progress throughout the stage. If they really had reason to protest they should have refused to ride -- that would get some attention.

You are either a professional or something else. Their profession is "Bike Racer" not protester. They could become professional protesters, I guess, if they wanted to join a group like Sea Shepard for instance. But even then, there is something about the way in which an individual plys their trade that lifts them above that of the ordinary -- something that makes it worth the money they receive. It's more than skill, it's more than a dedication to their craft, it's more than experience, and it's more than collecting a pay check at the end of the day. The hallmark of a professional is to always do the right thing -- like using the right tool for a job. In both victory and in defeat a professional always does the right thing. In the TdF, the great British sprinter Mark Cavendish, after he has won a stage, moves through the field and individually thanks all of the team members that put him on the podium. That's the right thing and we respect his actions. When defeated the professional athlete acknowledges the loss, congratulates the victor and moves on to next challenge. These are the respected actions of a professional and while they may not be required to earn a paycheck are the transcending qualities of a true "professional". A professional can always be found doing the right thing. The Stage 9 protest of the 2009 TdF by the riders was not the right thing.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Breath Free Road

The unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to bear arms. The right to free speech. The right to vote. The right to drive a car. That's correct, the right to drive a car. I'm having a debate with my wife. I heard some half-wit district attorney jabbering on about how having a driver's license and driving a car in the United States is a privilege and not a right. So I went off, my wife disagreed. Instead of continuing the debate, since I'm a coward when it comes to debating her (she told me to get lost) I've taken to the blog. To caveat, of course, this issue is wrapped completely inside of the drinking and driving debate over the punishment for offenders. But I want to separate the emotion of this particular criminal debate from the right to use our roads in general.

Rights can be taken away as well as privileges. So I want to discuss whether or not, in our country, in our day an age, we should treat driving on the roads that surround us, as ubiquitous as the air that we breath. Is breathing and therefore driving a right or a privilege? Should we breath free road. Perhaps you can see my bias. To me, driving a car is as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. Since, perhaps the 1930's, did any one of us make it to birth or home from birth without a set of Goodyear vulcanized tires beneath us. Isn't it time to recognize that our society, our economy, and our lifestyles revolve around the automobile and hence the network of roads which surround us? I'm not a civil libertarian and I'm certainly not trying to ease the penalties for drunken driving our our roads, but we have to face it, the use of the roads should be a free as the air we breath.

By considering the use our roads to be a privilege, granted to us by the King vs a right granted us by birth, is as sure as telling us that, although we were born with legs and the ability to walk, to use them as they were intended is at the sole discretion of the King. Fully recognizing that roads do not just occur in nature, and that construction of the roads and their upkeep is a requirement, there is a cost associated with and for their use. And the burden of this cost is shared by the kingdom not incurred by the King. The way these costs are assessed should be a subject for debate not as a discriminator as to who gets to use them. Driver's licenses, for instance, should be a demonstration of the educational mastery of driving, not a source of revenue. And when is the last time the license was actually used to show that you could drive, rather than, ironically, old enough to purchase alcohol.

Thinking about the number of drivers on American roads for instance. Over the course of a lifetime a driver is on the road an average 15,000 miles a year for 70 years or the nice round number of 1,000,000 miles. If we estimate the average speed of these miles to be on the order of 20 mph (it's probably less), that's 50,000 hours in the car. Or about, accounting for the time we are sleeping, 13% of our conscious lives in the car. Try holding your breath from one to two hours a day and you might begin to understand how important driving is to our society.

So let's see if we need licenses to prove we can drive. Of the time that we spend driving, in general, how many tickets are we receiving, and thus we must produce the piece of plastic that says we can legally be on the road. Well, of the tickets I've received, and been convicted of, in almost 30 years of driving (hard to believe I still have 40 years to go) I have received two violations for speeding. That's one ticket every 15 years. That's a ticket every 11,000 hours of driving. Of all the time I've spent on the road, the percentage of time I was using the road in a way that required a correction from the authorities is on the order of 0.01% or one-hundredth of a percent. And the number of times I've needed retraining in order to drive are exactly zero. Since I left the drivers education class in 12th grade, I've not been back. Now if I add in the number of tickets I've received but have not been convicted of -- we will put this in the category of the attempted revenue collection for the King -- we can add 5 more tickets of various nature. One more speeding, running two stop signs, and two illegal turns. That brings the total amount of time the state found me wanting but could not prove it, to 0.06%, or six hundredths of a percent. Again, a ridiculously small number of offenses for the unhindered use of our roads over the course of half a life time. As far a I know my mother has received only a single ticket in over 60 years of driving and my father has not received a single one, or he's not talking. So my mom has misused the road 0.002% or two thousandths of a percent over the course of her life and my dad is just an aberration.

Let's see who pays for the roads we drive on, since, on average it can't be from the revenues collected from those driving irresponsibly and getting tickets. If we believe most of the gas tax goes to pay for roads and highways, we currently pay about $0.36 per gallon in Federal and State takes. Using 2009 as the average tax over a lifetime and estimating the average fuel economy of a car is 20 miles per gallon we pay about $22/month to use the roads in gas taxes or about the same for basic phone service. But we also pay about about $8/month to keep our car registered for use on the roads. In some states where they pay personal property taxes, depending on the car, these taxes can dwarf gas and registration costs. We also pay Federal Income Tax to the tune of $40B a year going to the Federal Highway Administration which adds another $10/month per driver. Again, some pay state income tax as well only driving up their individual tax for use on the roads even higher. So in direct fees to the kingdom we pay, on average, and very conservatively estimated, about $40/month to the King to use the roads around us. I live in Florida. In most states that number will be considerably higher with state income tax, city and county registration fees, and vehicle inspection requirements and fees. So I will just add another $10/month to cover these assorted other fees. So that brings the total up to a round $50/month.

But what about the costs of car ownership. We have to make personal investments and scarifies for the so called privilege of using the roads. What does that investment look like? Well certainly there is the remainder of the gas cost per mile, harder to estimate because the price of gas fluctuate more than the gas tax. But let's say $1.70/gallon. That puts gas alone up at $100/month. How about a car payment? Lets just average that to around $150/month over the life of the car. Then add $50/month for repairs over the life of the car. OK what's left? Car insurance. Easily $50/month. So the necessary investment on our part to be able to use the roads is $350/month.

Where are the hidden costs?

Well first there are the lives we lose on our highways every year. About 40,000 per year on average. Over 70 years we sacrifice almost 3 million of our citizens to the road gods.

Second there is the environmental impact. Each one of us is belching 15,000 miles worth of carbon monoxide into our atmosphere every year. We pay for that in having to breath smog. Our children will be paying an even steeper price as this hidden car tax adds to global warming. There are currently 250,000,000 cars on the road in the US with about 7,000,000 being added and subtracted each year. Every year 28,000,000 million tires join a land fill and 50,000,000 lead acid batteries find their way to some place, hopefully not a land fill. And if everybody changes there oil at least twice a year that's half a trillion gallons of oil finding itself in need of recycling. Now let's look at the environmental costs of the roads themselves. The roads are covered in oil and other chemicals (salt for instance) that find there way into the water table, lakes, streams, and bays. And speaking of oil, of the tankers that transport oil to our country, how much ends up in the oceans, every year, in order to get the oil that we do use where it needs to be. And then there's the environmental impact of drilling for oil. Finally, the roads themselves, and not to mention the necessary parking lots. All of this concrete and asphalt crossing the country, contributing significantly to heat pollution which we all must endure. And then of course noise pollution. Hard to put a cost on this but we all, as individuals, ultimately pay the price for this environmental damage. Not the King and not the District Attorney who believes she is the representative of the King.

Finally, if we believe the Almighty oil to be a big driver of our economic success, and that we as a country are so addicted to it, we might also believe that we have started wars over it's protection. Even if you believe oil to be only a percentage of our war motivation, say 20%, that's $150 billion so far with over 800 lives lost in Iraq.

So is driving and using our roadways one of our basic civil rights that we all pay dearly for, or is it a privilege granted to us by the the granter of things? If you own it, then perhaps you can restrict its use. I think it's clear that we all own the roads, they are bought and paid for in direct and indirect costs every single day. To hear a suggestion from the self-righteous that somehow they have providence over this resource, to me, is akin to claiming providence over the air we breath. So Ms. District Attorney, as you represent the King with your belief that driving is a privilege that you have the power to bestow on your subjects and therefore have the power to take it away from us a well. Please consider who's paying the bill. It's most certainly not you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I am not a poet, although at times like these I wish I were. Nor am I a professional writer. I write this blog and from time to time I get a complement or two. Most of those come from my mom. I am forgetful. For instance, last night I took my daughter down to the beach to watch the launch of STS-119. I forgot to bring my camera and my daughter forgot to bring her glasses. Which, to be honest, was somewhat my fault. With all the yelling to hurry up and get out of the house and the other general annoying racket I make when I'm trying to do something that I am more excited to do then the rest of my family, sometime I force the forgetfulness. But we made it on time and only had to wait a few minutes until the launch would occur. If it were to occur. As of today's launch, STS-119 had already been cancelled two times and it's mission delayed over a month. So there was a bit of uncertainty hanging in the air.

But I've gotten ahead of my self. You might ask what is STS-119? To make it easy, most of us knew where we were when we first heard the fate of STS-51. That would be the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. I still remember vividly the bright white plumes of rocket smoke trailing the Challenger into a crystal blue sky and the horrible aftermath. Trying to reconcile the beauty of the launch with the tragedy that just befell the Country was difficult. Of course we have had a more recent disaster, that of STS-107, the Columbia. And it is the memory of Columbia and the highly cautious culture that emerged directly thereafter that can be attributed to the delays in the launch of STS-119 this month. In fairness, this culture has emerged not just for the protection of the astronauts, the brave men and women who ride the rocket know the risks, but it is for the protection of the manned space program in general. Americans do not like to see Americans die. Too many accidents and we might as well kiss our space program goodbye. So in preparing for STS-119 caution and certainty were the buzzwords.

Just a little on STS-119. Discovery is the name of the orbiter being used on this mission. It has a crew of seven. A commander, a pilot, and five mission specialists. It's destination is the International Space Station or ISS. They are delivering some parts for the ISS -- a few trusses, some batteries, and some replacement solar panels. That sounds like it could be a run to Home Depot, except with a $500 million dollar delivery charge. But it's worth it, because not only will the crew deliver the parts, they will install them at no additional charge. Since they would have nothing to do in orbit anyway, other then stare out the window until their return, they agreed to install the upgrades. So, over and above their delivery mission, what's so special about STS-119? It turns out that our Country is only planning 10 more space shuttle launches. With the end of STS-119's mission in about 13 days, we will have only 9 more to go. Considering I grew up with the space shuttle, learning about it and writing reports in grade school and then following those early missions as a high school student (STS-1 took place in April 1981), it's kind of sad that after thirty years it's all coming to an end. But after the shuttle program is retired we are off to the moon, so that is perhaps, even more exciting. And then to Mars.

So getting back to the launch, there was a bit of uncertainty hanging in the air, but we wouldn't have to wait long to know if there would be a delay, plus, the beach was crowded with space enthusiasts wanting to cheer the launch on as well, so we were not waiting alone. I checked the clock on my cell phone, the launch was set for 7:43 and it was 7:41. Two minutes to go, not sufficient time to run back to the car to retrieve my daughter's glasses. It seemed to me that she forgot her glasses for the last launch as well, so I asked her. She had. Oh well, that was probably my fault then too. No glasses and no camera, well perhaps I will just try to take a picture in my mind, and perhaps I can write about it when I get home, if this launch inspires me.

Those were my thoughts as we all waited and stared north towards the haze covered point of Cape Canaveral. The Discovery however, sits atop its pile of solid rocket propellant and liquid oxygen at a launch pad on Kennedy Space Center, which is a few miles further north of the Cape. So from our vantage point, along with the curvature of the earth, we cannot actually see the launch pad directly. It takes a few seconds directly after ignition, to see what's creating the glow on the horizon. But if you can picture looking north down a long white beach with true turquoise waves breaking all the way up the coast, almost 20 miles to the Cape, and with an evening clear enough to see that far in the twilight, in fact sunset had actually occurred at 7:31. You could still see the white of the beach and the blue of the sky. At a few seconds past 7:43 pm the glow in the distance began. There was no sound, at least not from the launch, as soon as the bright orange ball of fire appeared slowly rising above the horizon a cheer from all along the beach erupted. Not the cheer of thousands but the cheer of hundreds, although further muffled by the strong warm breeze blowing from the surf.

As the orange ball slowly rises above the horizon at this distant point it begins to paint the surrounding haze in a glow of orange, pink, and red. Then a small ball of fire breaks above the haze and appears to be riding on top of a clearly visible column of smoke. This smoke trailing from the trust generated by its solid rocket boosters. As the column of smoke stretches higher and higher into the sky it begins to change color. First it is grey in the haze but above the haze it begins to turn a bright orange, almost the color of the blazing ball of fire itself. But then as the ball of flame rises steadily higher it leaves it's orange color impregnated on the column of smoke. As the column of smoke gets longer and longer it begins to change color again as it begins an easterly arch into the heavens. First the column of billowy smoke is orange and then it is red and then it is pink. Finally the column turns bright white, a pure white as bright as the whitest cloud on a summer's day against a crystal blue sky. It is the immediatly identifiable white plume against a blue sky of a space shuttle launch, it could be nothing else. It was not apparent until this very point that the palette of colors that were we seeing, was not man made. The deep colors were coming from the heavenly made light of a Florida sunset being filtered through the lower atmosphere and painting the skyward reaching pure white canvas of a man-made rocket exhaust plume. As the billowy tower continued to rise and was high enough to be directly in line with the sun which was now well below the horizon, it turned back to its original pure white color. The crew of STS-119 was creating their own sunrise and we were watching them do it.

Shortly after the plume turned white those of us on the beach, thirty miles away from the pad, finally heard the sound of the launch. A massive rumbling, that was not loud, but powerful and shook the ground and the air we were breathing. At that point I looked around and was treated to the sight of hundreds of well wishers lined up further down the beach, perhaps for another ten miles, all with the flashes of their cameras trying to capture that same moment in time. As I gazed back at the arch of man made and heavenly color I thought to myself, awesome, just awesome, and my daughter exclaimed that it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. I guess she didn't need her glasses after all. But the show was not over, the sunset would hang on the white tapestry for many more minutes, and as the shuttle reached 200,000 feet with the helpful thrust from it's solid rocket boosters now over, the column of color and light abruptly ended with three pinpoints of light now being seen high and in the distance. Two tiny stars falling away from one brighter star that was making it's way higher and higher into the darkening sky. And then a single point of light moving further and futher down range already hundreds of miles over the Atlantic. Within nine minutes it will be over Africa. Within 11 minutes the shuttle would be in orbit. I am left with an awesome sense of both the power of God and the power of man.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Message of the Flag

Never has there been a better example of the medium becoming the message then the debate recently over the ban lifted by Secretary of Defense Gates originally prohibiting news organizations from photographing the flag draped coffins of our fallen heroes coming home from war aboard the cargo aircraft at Dover AFB, Delaware. Can there be anything more personal and private to a grieving family? Can there be anything more sensational than wrapping anything in the American flag? If the cargo bays of those C-141 aircraft were filled with plain pine boxes would there still be the same sensational photo opportunity? Draping those coffins is about paying the ultimate respect from a grateful nation for our warriors who have selflessly paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Those remains are sacred. Regardless what one might think politically of the war, any war, or the how and why of the existence of those remains, to exploit them in any way, is to disrespect the life, not the government that was ultimately responsible for the death. How many pictures of these coffin's, draped with flags, in the cargo bay of a C-141 do we need in our newspapers and magazines? We've all seen the pictures, there is nothing unique about them. Each picture is exactly the same visually -- it's only when you tie the exact picture to the remains of a certain friend or loved one that you invoke their precise memory. That is a personal and private sentiment known only to those close to the loved one lost. The physical content of the photo, in that case, is of sacred importance. To those who do not have a personal connection with the photo, the content is of little importance.

What becomes important is everything else. The powerful imagery of the aircraft, the soldiers in escort, the clean stark nature of the cargo bay, the all too important number of boxes, and of course the most powerful imagery of all, the clean and bright stars and stripes pulled neat and tight around each container. If you desire this picture there is a generic one available to you. If you are a family member you can get the exact one that is meaningful to you. However, the last time I checked, funeral photographer was not high up on the list of all time best career choices. So what is the drive behind these photographs? In our society, if you follow the money, most of the time you can find the motivation. Clearly these are not photo's that the families of the fallen would pay for in sufficiently profitable ways for a casket photographer to make money. Again, how many pictures of the same scene will continue to make the front page of Time or the USA Today? Who will continue to pay for these photo's?

Only those with an interest in exploiting these pictures for some other purpose could possibly behind Secretary Gates lifting the ban. I applaud him for lifting the ban in the interest of an open Country not wanting appear as if they are trying to hide the cost of war. Also, by allowing the privacy of the pictures to be determined by the family is the right measure. If the family member has a political ax to grind, and wants to believe that a picture of their loved one's flag draped casket is an important message about the war that must be conveyed, they can release the picture into the public domain. Once it's out, how then it is used, and how the message to be conveyed, is no longer in their hands. Is it a message of thanks from a grateful nation for a national hero who paid the ultimate sacrifice, or is it message of hatred for a country who is responsible for their death in an unjust and an unwanted war? A framed picture hanging on the mantle at home, or a picture on the front page of the Washington Post. The medium is clearly the message.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Letter to A Bureaucrat

This post was written a few years ago - there was never a resolution. We lost.

Recently a friend of mine who plays lunchtime pickup game of soccer received an email from a bureaucrat with the National Park Service. The email required that the lunchtime pickup game of soccer be ended. A quote from the email reads, “The National Park Service (George Washington Memorial Parkway) operates under a series of regulations which are designed to protect the resources and we are not at liberty to randomly enforce them”. Then he cites from the regulation, 36 CFR (7-1-01 Edition), Ch. 1 Part 7.96. He obviously believes he is enforcing this regulation and therefore applies it to the casual game of lunchtime pickup soccer that now must end.

First some history-
Pick-up soccer, as with all pick-up games, is not an organized athletic event. Running at lunchtime, even though many people may do it, is not an organized event either. To suggest that lunch is an organized activity is a bizarre twist of facts. Pick-up soccer, for those who play several times a week, is indeed as regular as clockwork. It is far from organized. It is not the competition that compels us to play – a necessary aspect of all organized athletics. It is not the physical exercise. What compels players to play pick up soccer is the sheer freedom of this activity. There is no league, there are no fees, and thus there is no profit. There are no boundaries, there are no team loyalties, there is no championship match, and there are no winners or losers. This lack of organization is exactly what makes this activity of great appeal to those who play. There is only a fellowship with the grass, a diversion from our daily thoughts, and the ability to breathe fresh air.

All it takes to play soccer is a patch of grass. In many parts of the world grass isn’t even a requirement. It’s tough to say that a pick-up game of soccer played by children on a dirt lot in a small town in Central America is an organized sport simply because it is played everyday at the same time – after school. It is tough to say any pick-up game is an organized affair. It is by its very nature an unorganized game that “picks-up” when the time and condition are right. Lunchtime, recess, or a carefree Sunday morning are all the right times. A patch of grass is the right condition.

In most pick-up games last names are unknown, first names and nicknames are all that are used. There are no rosters. If you come to a pick-up game played at the Pentagon long enough you will run into many faces that you recognize – but not the uniforms. It’s surprising to note that the player you passed the ball to yesterday is wearing the rank of Lt Cmdr in the US Navy today. It’s surprising to note that the player who beat you in the air and scored with his head after a perfectly crossed ball was a Senior Airman in the US Air Force. It’s also surprising to note that on this occasion a Brigadier General in the US Army showed up and crossed the ball to the Senior Airman.

Our patch of grass was originally the rolling park beneath the Pentagon mall entrance. The game was played three days a week all year long and had been occurring for the past 25 years. That game was disrupted when the new postal facility was constructed to move potential threats from these deliveries. The Pentagon Building manager and Pentagon Grounds Manager responded quickly to allow us to meet at lunch on the lower drill field just above the marina. Here we ran and played below the windows of Cohen and later Rumsfeld. And this patch of grass was unlike any other soccer pitch any of us had ever played on. 100% grass – but not just any grass – a soft thick carpet of grass with soft earth to hold the roots and allow the grass to grow and thrive. Some different rules applied – no playing when the ground was wet or after the first snow, no playing again until after the new seed in the spring began to germinate. We can play within these rules. Unfortunately this patch of heaven was violently ripped from our hands after 9/11 after which the Pentagon Helicopter Port was temporarily moved to our patch of grass. For a time we played on – sharing the field with our rotary winged friends. We stopped only for their arrival or departure – unable to hear from the turbine noise but able to feel every beat of the blades and the burst of wind from the rotor wash. 9/11 also took one of our own – Navy Lt Cmdr Bill Donovan. Most of us did not know his last name or rank until his picture appeared in the news. We stood down for a few days to honor those who fell. We continue to play on to honor those who fell.

With new construction about to reroute Route 110 directly across our sacred grass we will permanently lose this playing area. We looked to the National Park Land that surrounds the Pentagon for an alternate location. We found one - A large grassy island in the middle of the George Washington Parkway. There are no nature trails, there is no wildlife in harms way, and there is no risk of environmental damage. Since we have been playing there we have heard no complaints from the owners of this property - the public - and we have interfered with no one. It is our national park – we live in the National Capital Region. We would like to use our national park system. But we cannot for the regulation reads: “(b) Athletics - (1) Permits for organized games; "Playing baseball, football, croquet, tennis, and other organized games or sports except pursuant to a permit and upon the grounds provided for such purposes, is prohibited."

Oddly enough under the same regulation, although we cannot play an organized game we could assemble in an organized protest. Therefore it is time to organize a protest. This protest would be a demonstration of our rights to use our national parks in ways that strengthen our minds and bodies. This protest would take the form of a non-violent activity. We would play soccer. Five days a week, all year long. Here is how it would work. Everyday, a number of players would arrive at the patch of grass known as Columbia Island/Lady Bird Johnson Park. It lies smack between opposing directions of George Washington Parkway just north of Lady Bird Johnson Park. This protest would be held daily between 12 pm and 1 pm. The protest will consist of a group of protesters continuously running through the grass for exactly 60 minutes each day. The protestors will zigzag, crisscross, run sideways, forwards, and back and forth. And the demonstrators will kick the head of a government bureaucrat at the National Park Service between their feet. Occasionally they will take aim and shoot the ball in an attempt to bounce this effigy off one of two portable soapboxes placed at each end of the park. These soapboxes are permitted structures allowed under the regulation and are positioned for orators to speak from in the event someone would like to talk at our protests – it’s not required that anyone speaks. We cannot play – organized games are prohibited. We can certainly protest – and the best part of this is that we will not require a permit. Protests that number less than 25 do not require such organization and planning – unless it is anticipated that a large crowd will be drawn to watch. Drawing a crowd seems unlikely as this particular patch of grass is an island locked between lanes of traffic on George Washington Parkway. It’s about a mile run from the closest building, the Pentagon. And there are no trails to or through this section of the national park. There are also no concessions, facilities, or benches to sit on.

This is our national park. This land belongs to everyone. This land does not belong to some pencil neck bureaucrat who temporarily has the job of “protecting the resources” and ensuring that he does not “randomly enforce” his sacred regulations. If the Pentagon were in Yosemite we might choose to rock climb at lunch. If the Pentagon were in Yellowstone we might choose to hunt or fish. These parks also belong to us as well. They are just a little less convenient to get to on our lunch break. This particular park happens to be a fairly flat stretch of grass within our lunchtime reach. Some individuals chose to spend this time running like children at recess through this National grass. There is no organization and there is no protest in doing so. There is freedom and the ability to breathe. What more can they ask? What better use is there for our National Parks?