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Archive for August, 2012

“No one is really listening, they are just pretending.” – Madhu, Part II

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Since the original post of “No one is really listening, they are just pretending,” there are indications that pretending may actually be doing institutional harm.

The US Naval Institue recently sponsored the Joint Warfighting Conference 2012, and my friend Lucien Gauthier (YN2/SW) wrote a very good recap of the event. In his post, Lucien remarked on the comments of retired USMC General James “Hoss” Cartwright. Cartwright’s comments have been described by others around the blogosphere as “unleashed,” and indeed his comments may have raised a few eyebrows. But this sentence of Lucien’s post, while perhaps stating the obvious may reveal one challenge the Navy and DOD face in the credibility and trust department:

“Gen Cartwright had the luxury of no longer being in uniform and so his candor was particularly poignant.”

Now I don’t know General Cartwright, but I know people who do and they report he is a fine officer, and my remarks aren’t about him, but the implications of Lucien’s observation. The suggestion “…the luxury of no longer being in uniform and so his candor…”  struck me, for what is the reverse? “…in uniform, no candor?” If our highest ranking officers wait until they are retired to be candid, what does that say for those remaining in uniform, and what does it say about the environment? Does the environment inspire pretending? How many serving “pretend” daily just to get by, or worse, to get promoted?

A few months ago in a conversation with a young naval officer, one of the brightest I know, I was talking about “to be or to do” and the value of honesty always. The officer remarked, “Well sometimes you have to let the boss think the idea was his…” or something to that effect. I made the point that this is part of the problem: if these leaders are so uptight they need to be handled, then they are part of the problem. Trust can grow only where honesty is ubiquitous.

Recently, the Navy Times published a short query entitled, “Tell us what you think: Faith in Navy Brass?” One of the questions surprised me: “Do you trust the Navy’s leadership and still take them at their word?” If those who responded (be sure to read the comments) are to be believed, the answer is a resounding, “no.” Curiosity piqued, I conducted an informal poll among a small group of naval officers (active duty and retired) asking the same question. The answer: “no.” Since my Navy days, I’ve heard the old saw, “A bitching Sailor is a happy Sailor,” but this seems different.

At least ten commanding officers have been relieved of command eight months into 2012. Two were relieved due to unfavorable command climate surveys, so one could conclude the Navy is listening and taking action in some quarters. The recent decision by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to require breathalyzers of Sailors and Marines reporting for duty introduces evidence of distrust, and his decision is nothing short of institutional micromanagement. At their core, a micromanager does not trust their subordinates.

When the folks on the pointy-end of the spear aren’t trusted, leaders should not be surprised when those folks return the favor. So to leaders, while you may think some of your subordinates agree with you, they may pretending, and are you ok with that? Are you ok with that if you learn you are the cause? Less pretending, more honesty.

Postscript: For more evidence, check out his post at the USNI Blog, The Wisdom of a King. Another fine example of the importance of trust can be found in a September 2012 Proceedings article by LCDR B.J.Armstrong, Leadership & Command (both come highly recommended).

Cross-posted at To Be or To Do.

Every Day is the Day of Something

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — days, months, years, Saints, Josaphat, Buddha, problems, issues, solutions — I think that about captures it all ]

Josaphat, the Bodhisattva Saint


Today is the International Day against Nuclear Tests — and since I don’t much like tearing open the fabric of the world I’m living in to witness and geiger-count the radiance it usually hides, I favor the idea. But the Day was already a Festival as far as I’m concerned: I woke up.


Look, there are International and National Days, Weeks, Months and Years — this month, for instance, in addition to Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month was also National Catfish Month. It was Don’t be a Bully Month and National Dirty Harry Month, quite a pair! It was also Never Leave a Child Unattended in a Car Purple Ribbon Month, National Water Quality Month – which needs to be Internationalized – and Win with Civility Month. And there are many more

See — we have enough issues to go around twenty-four slash seven slash three-sixty-five plus one on leap years…

That remarkable fellow Anthony Judge is largely responsible for the Union of international Association’s Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, which includes:

a World Problems database with 56,000+ entries and 276,000+ links
a Global Strategies and Solutions database with 32,000+ entries and 284,000 links
a Human Values database with 3,200+ entries and 119,000+ links
a Human Development database with 4,800+ entries and 19,000+ links, and
a Patterns and Metaphors database with 1,200+ entries and 4,500+ links.


So that’s how many problems we have, and how many solutions, and naturally we can offer prayers about the problems, and perhaps the prayers will be answered by the solutions, or with new ideas…

So it’s also not surprising that there are a vast number of saints who can intercede for us…

And since my birthday happens to fall on November 27, I have a special affection for St Josaphat, whose Feast Day that is.

He’s the fellow preaching in the panel at the top of this post, from a 12th Century Greek manuscript…


Josaphat’s story is recounted in Wikipedia:

According to the legend, King Abenner or Avenier in India persecuted the Christian Church in his realm, founded by the Apostle Thomas. When astrologers predicted that his own son would some day become a Christian, Abenner had the young prince Josaphat isolated from external contact. Despite the imprisonment, Josaphat met the hermit Saint Barlaam and converted to Christianity. Josaphat kept his faith even in the face of his father’s anger and persuasion. Eventually Abenner converted, turned over his throne to Josaphat, and retired to the desert to become a hermit. Josaphat himself later abdicated and went into seclusion with his old teacher Barlaam.

A fine tale it is, and curiously reminiscent of that of the young bodhisattva Siddhartha, who was to become known as the Buddha:

Siddhartha Gautama was also a prince whose birth was accompanied with a prophecy that he would become a great holy man but not a king. He was also protected from the outside world by his father but on leaving the palace he also recognised that the world was full of suffering. He sought to pursue an ascetic life and to reach enlightenment but during this process he was subjected to many attempts to deflect him from this path. He was tempted by the demon Mara who sent his three beautiful daughters, Tanha (desire), Raga (lust), and Arati (aversion) to try to seduce him while he sat meditating under a banyan tree. After resisting these temptations, the prince attained Buddhahood at the age of thirty five.

And yes, that would make an excellent DoubleQuote!


In fact, stories travel — and the Buddha we know became Josaphat as his story traveled from India via St John Damascene to the farthest west:

Bodhisattva in Sanskrit became rendered as Bodhisav in Persian, then as Budhasaf in Arabic, Iodasaph in Georgian, Ioasaph in Greek and then finally Josaphat in Western Europe

I used to collect books about the kindly teacher Barlaam and his student Saint Josaphat the Boddhisattva: most of them are now in storage, alas.

And you can now see how the Catholic in me feels warmly-disposed towards the Buddhist, while the Buddhist in me is on amicable terms with the Catholic.


And i haven’t even begun to talk about the Sufis yet…

New Article at IVN: Five Foreign Policy Problems the Next President Must Face

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

I have a new article up at IVN:

Five Foreign Policy Problems the Next President Must Face 


The recent, much heralded “peace agreement” in El Salvador which reduced a sky high homicide rate from gang warfare is a white-flag harbinger of things to come where weak, failing or failed states in Latin America “hollow out” by legitimizing the armed power of street gangs and narco-cartels with political concessions. The other states in Central America face similar gang problems, while Colombia faces renewed paramilitary and guerrilla activity (mostly fighting over the drug trade) but Mexico takes the destabilization prize with a full-blown criminal insurgency that has killed roughly 50,000 Mexican citizens. ….

Of a fault line, and of the Qibla

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Sunni and Shia, Mecca and Qom, Saudi and Iran and the balances between them, with special attention to Mecca — and sideways comparisons with Las Vegas and Somoza’s Nicaragua ]

Consider this map:


It was ZenMeister who pointed me today, via Notes from Thermopylae, to Stephen Crittenden and his Global Mail piece, The Clash Within Civilisations: How The Sunni-Shiite Divide Cleaves The Middle East, from which the map above is taken. Crittenden writes:

There is a dangerous 2,000-kilometre fault line running through the Middle East between Beirut and Bahrain via Damascus and Baghdad, which marks the present line of demarcation between the two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shiite.

The 1,300-year-old schism between Sunnis and Shiites was caused not by a theological dispute (those came later), but by rival clans in Muhammad’s tribe, the Quraysh, squabbling over the succession after his death in 632 AD.

Mostly the “Sunni-Shia Line” lies dormant, and ordinary Sunnis and Shiites live out their separate lives, side-by-side in relative harmony. In Lebanon and Iraq it has not been uncommon for Sunnis and Shiites to intermarry. But the Line is still always there, just below the surface, and it has recently re-emerged as the most significant factor reshaping geopolitical relationships in the Middle East, a region where religion and politics are always inextricably intertwined.


Suppose it, at least for now. And in that context, consider as a counterweight to all the talk about Iran, two fascinating pieces by the Pakistani novelist Maniza Naqvi.

Naqvi’s piece The Remit of Fear in 3 Quarks Daily today is worth reading — you may be interested in any one or more of her various critiques of the House of Saud:

I fear the perverse purchase of petrodollars from Saudi Arabia: the twin ideologies of Salafism and Islamophobia. …

[ … ]

I fear to imagine a county which produces no art, film, theater, song or dance. Yet such is the country created by the State of Saudi Arabia. I fear the reasons which cause 16 million citizens most of whom are not Saud in Saudi Arabia to remain silently compliant. The bulk of this population is under the age of 25 and disempowered and is ruled absolutely by old men who do not tolerate dissent or diversity of opinion. I fear the mindset that treats women as blots and clots to be erased or managed.

There’s plenty of food for thought there, not least about Pakistan:

I fear that the people unlearned and illiterate impressed by influence and the purchasing power of Saudi Arabia might be confused and unable to distinguish the House of Saud as being apart from the origin and the authors of Islam. I fear that this may be the case for Pakistan where matters are so far gone that if the father of the Nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah were alive today he would not be able to go about freely for fear of being shot to death for being a Shi’a.

My own interest, as usual, draws me to the religious drivers at work and their impact:

I fear that after thirty years of petrodollar bonanzas and propaganda, Muslims are unable to delink Islam from the House of Saud. There are 5000 Saud and in comparison there are 1.2 billion Muslims all over the world. A majority of whom, for a myriad of reasons including illiteracy, poverty and sudden wealth are unable to resist or protest against the Saudi influence upon them. I fear that the populations of the world are unable to resist, protest and fight against the privatization of all that is their sacred to them: their lands where they grow their food, to the places where they congregate and live, to their own thoughts and even their bodies.


But you should read too her linked critique of the remaking of Mecca, The Architects of the War on Islam, from August 6th:

This is addressed to Muslims who think that Islam is under attack: They are right. Just take a look at the images of the House that Abraham built, the Ka’aba and see how progresses that ancient attack. Just look at the transformation of the environs of the Ka’aba and the Haram Shareef into a garish resort rivaling Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

Just look, at the transformation of the sacred environs of the Haram Shareef into a shopping mall and Disney world–to understand the war on Islam and who is responsible for waging it. Just look at this and see how Islam has been trafficked as though it were a bonded slave, dressed up in bells and baubles to be whipped and sold in the marketplace.


Note finally her remarks, in today’s piece, on fear and silence:

Much is at stake if people are not silent. Much is at stake if people remain silent.

[ … ]

I fear that Haj and the Ka’aba, a central principal of Islam, sacred to 1.2 billion people have been privatized, by an estimated 5000 people belonging to one family. Why? How is the privatization of the Ka’aba different from the wholesale seizure and privatization of the commons and public lands and spaces all over the world? I fear that the Ka’aba and the Haram Shareef which is sacred to 1.2 billion people has been privatized and occupied by the members of one family and that this is the same as what is happening to the entire world and its public goods and commons and public space which have been eroded and literally stolen from the people.

And now you can see, too, why I am reminded of Somoza and his farm, Nicaragua:

With this profound difference: that the Ka’aba is the Qibla, the point of orientation to which all Muslim prayer turns, as others orient their prayers towards Jerusalem.

Of the destruction of places of prayer

Monday, August 27th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — the destruction of sacred spaces considered — réfléchissons ]

A church in Missouri is destroyed:

because someone hated a black man becoming President.

A mosque is destroyed in Massachusetts:

because someone hated Islam.


A synagogue is destroyed:

during Kristallnacht.

A mosque is destroyed:

in Gaza.


A mosque is destroyed:

in Gaza.

A synagogue is destroyed:

in Gaza, by Palestinians.


A mosque is destroyed:

by Hindus.

A church is destroyed:

in Kosovo.


A world hertiage site mosque in Timbuktu is destroyed:

by fellow Muslims.

The cathedral in Haiti is destroyed:

by act of God…

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