Archive for September, 2009

WoD – Staff Sergeant Jared Monti

“Duty. Honor. Country. Service. Sacrifice. Heroism. These are words of weight. But as people — as a people and as a culture, we often invoke them lightly. We toss them around freely. But do we really grasp the meaning of these values? Do we truly understand the nature of these virtues? To serve, and to sacrifice. Jared Monti knew. The Monti family knows. And they know that the actions we honor today were not a passing moment of courage. They were the culmination of a life of character and commitment.

It was June 21st, 2006, in the remotest northeast of Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan. Sergeant Monti was a team leader on a 16-man patrol. They’d been on the move for three days — down dirt roads; sloshing through rivers; hiking up steep mountain trails, their heavy gear on their backs; moving at night and in the early morning to avoid the scorching 100-degree heat. Their mission: to keep watch on the valley down below in advance of an operation to clear the area of militants.

Those who were there remember that evening on the mountain — a rocky ridge, not much bigger than this room. Some were standing guard, knowing they had been spotted by a man in the valley. Some were passing out MREs and water. There was talk of home and plans for leave. Jared was overheard remembering his time serving in Korea. Then, just before dark, there was a shuffle of feet in the woods. And that’s when the treeline exploded in a wall of fire.

One member of the patrol said it was “like thousands of rifles crackling.” Bullets and heavy machine gunfire ricocheting across the rocks. Rocket-propelled grenades raining down. Fire so intense that weapons were shot right out of their hands. Within minutes, one soldier was killed; another was wounded. Everyone dove for cover. Behind a tree. A rock. A stone wall. This patrol of 16 men was facing a force of some 50 fighters. Outnumbered, the risk was real. They might be overrun. They might not make it out alive.

That’s when Jared Monti did what he was trained to do. With the enemy advancing — so close they could hear their voices — he got on his radio and started calling in artillery. When the enemy tried to flank them, he grabbed a gun and drove them back. And when they came back again, he tossed a grenade and drove them back again. And when these American soldiers saw one of their own — wounded, lying in the open, some 20 yards away, exposed to the approaching enemy — Jared Monti did something no amount of training can instill. His patrol leader said he’d go, but Jared said, “No, he is my soldier, I’m going to get him.”

It was written long ago that “the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet, notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” Jared Monti saw the danger before him. And he went out to meet it.

He handed off his radio. He tightened his chin strap. And with his men providing cover, Jared rose and started to run. Into all those incoming bullets. Into all those rockets. Upon seeing Jared, the enemy in the woods unleashed a firestorm. He moved low and fast, yard after yard, then dove behind a stone wall.

A moment later, he rose again. And again they fired everything they had at him, forcing him back. Faced with overwhelming enemy fire, Jared could have stayed where he was, behind that wall. But that was not the kind of soldier Jared Monti was. He embodied that creed all soldiers strive to meet: “I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.” And so, for a third time, he rose. For a third time, he ran toward his fallen comrade. Said his patrol leader, it “was the bravest thing I had ever seen a soldier do.”

They say it was a rocket-propelled grenade; that Jared made it within a few yards of his wounded soldier. They say that his final words, there on that ridge far from home, were of his faith and his family: “I’ve made peace with God. Tell my family that I love them.”     (Excerpts from President Obama’s remarks.)

In this day where “news” is of a drunk self-absorbed rapper at an awards show, or a self-absorbed tennis star yelling at a lineman, or a self-absorbed newscaster swearing on the air, I thought I’d share something, well… real.  On September 17th, the President awarded Staff Sergeant Jared Monti posthumously with the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest medal for valor in combat for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.

You can read more here, if interested:  http://downloads.army.mil/medalofhonor/monti/remarks.html.

Monday:

BREN (BREHN)

Fervor, spirit, zeal

Sergeant Monti fought with so much bren, that he was willing to die for his men.  And his country.

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WoD – Employer’s “hammer”

Have you ever watched the show Dirty Jobs and wondered why the hell someone would clean septic tanks for like 26 years, or work in the San Francisco waste management facility for 32 years cleaning out the pit that collects the residue and juice from all the garbage dumped there? Yeesh…!

When you boil it all down, one of the major reasons why we don’t move jobs more often and leave our “beloved” employers, or why we put our job up on a pedestal almost like it is a sacred cow, or why we don’t push back more as employees, or why we take the huge amount of shit we all take from our employers I think comes down to one thing:  health insurance.

Think about it.  If we all didn’t live in such fear over what we might do for health insurance for ourselves and our families without a big employer there to pay for it, we might be a lot more apt to change jobs, or strike out on our own, or be entrepreneurial.  I actually think people can make peace around not having a paycheck for a period of time while they tried something new or on their own, but not having health insurance feels like you’re playing Russian Roulette.

What’s interesting here is, employers have been complaining incessantly over the huge burden placed upon them by having to provide such costly health insurance to its employees.  And rightly so!  I mean, in truth, a GM car is four wheels and a health plan.  So don’t get me wrong, I totally think it is rather unfair on the private sector to have to bear the huge burden of healthcare costs for its employees (especially since it’s just a vestige of some short-sighted tax legislation passed way back in the mid-20th century.)

But at the same time, it also may be a huge competitive barrier or mechanism for keeping one’s employees around over the longer term.  In this way, it is like an implicit “hammer” that our employers have over all of us.  Striking out on your own is dangerous, scary, and perhaps overly risky due to the open-ended question of what you might do if you get sick.  Also in this way, it is perhaps a pretty darn important asset to those employers who properly view their employees as essential to their long-term success.

This wasn’t supposed to be about the whole healthcare debate, but the other side of this is that perhaps one benefit of having a bit more of a safety net of some kind relating to health insurance (and one benefit that is certainly not being talked about at all) is the fluidity to the job market, the transferral of skills, and perhaps even the new entrepreneurial spirit from which our economy might benefit, if we all didn’t live in such fear of where we’d get our health insurance.

Wednesday:

SHPILKES  (SHPILkhes)

Ants in the pants (literally: pins and needles)

The opening kickoff is in ten minutes.  Football season is starting – I got shpilkes!

WoD – The Lintless sock

A while back I wrote about why somebody doesn’t invent the “lintless sock.”  I mean, we can put a man on the moon and we can’t figure out how to make a sock that doesn’t get lint all over the place?!

So I was thinking today, while we’re at it why can’t we make a sock that doesn’t wear through the heel in just a few short months or a few washes?  If you wear just socks around the house, you invariably wear through them in like 3 months.  Why don’t we have socks that have some sort of tougher, more durable heel?  How hard can it be, really.

Yes, I know they make those supposed-double strength heels or whatever – but we all know they don’t work too well, as even my son pointed out to me this morning.  (“Hey, look!  Your sock has a hole in the bottom of it,” as he proceeded to stick his finger in and rip it some more.)

How hard can it be to use a patch of nylon inter-weaved between some cotton, or some such thing.  I mean, I get why the sock companies don’t really want to invent something that may make us buy less socks, less often.  Kind of like panty hose, too.  But some sock maker out there some where ought to want to grab market share and just make a flat-out better product.  Isn’t there?


Friday:

IKH HOB DIR IN BOD (ihkh HOHB deer ihn BOHD)

No way!  (literally: I have you in the bath)

You want to borrow the car to drive to California? Ikh hob dir in bod!

WoD – The Growth of Government

I was forwarded this intriguing stat to perhaps share as a WoD (as well as the question afterwards):

“In 1909, the US federal government had an annual budget of $US 0.8 Billion.  With this it governed a population of just over 90 million people. The cost of government was about $9 per capita.  In 2009, the US federal government has an annual budget of $US 3,550 Billion.  With this it governs a population of just over 300 million people.  That’s a cost of about $11,675 per capita.”

Are we 1200 times better off?

[One thing to note – these numbers are very likely not adjusted for inflation, so this may be quite a bit higher of a spread than when inflation-adjusted (don’t ask me to adjust them either – umm, I was told there’d be no math…) ]

The fact that we all live way longer/healthier is a major element of this increased societal/governmental cost over the past 100 years.

But I’ll twist the question around a bit, since there’s just too many variables and differences between 1909 and 2009 to figure if we are, in fact, 1200 times better off.  Given that our government is what it is right now (i.e. you can’t just wave a wand and make it different or more efficient or go back in time and change it, etc.), if your answer to the question above is no, we are likely not 1200 times better off, then my question is, (and really think about it for a moment), what would you cut out, reduce, or get rid of?


Tuesday:

ER VAKHST VI A LOKSHN (ehr VAKHST vee ah LOHKSHen)

He grows like a noodle

Er vakhst vi a lokshn! Before too long, he’ll be too tall for his pants!

WoD – Infractions ≠ penalties

So, let’s say you’re driving along the road and you run a red light.  You don’t mean to – you may have been a bit distracted or your phone rang or whatever – but you did pretty much run it.  A policeman sees it, pulls you over, and gives you a ticket.  Your penalty is maybe a fine of $150 and a point against your insurance.  You’re pretty pissed.  Not fun, but life goes on.

Ok, this time let’s say an elderly man happened to be in the intersection.  And let’s even say that he probably should not have been there yet – the light had only just turned red.  But there he was anyway, and you hit him.  The same policeman stops you, but of course this time it is much more serious and severe.  It no longer is a little $150 fine and a point on your insurance.  You are likely charged with vehicular homicide and may even be arrested until the courts can figure it all out.  A trial, jury, quite serious fines, perhaps your license is revoked, big civil charges if not even criminal ones.  Yes, you may even be facing a jail sentence.  It is bad; very bad.

But hang on – the actual “crime” or wrongful act was exactly the same, wasn’t it?  You didn’t mean to run the red in either scenario.  It just happened and you didn’t really even mean it.  It is just that one time no one got hurt and the other time someone did.  [And by the way, you could come up with lots of scenarios where in one case nothing really bad happens and in the other something quite worse is a result.  The point of the WoD is pretty much the same.]

I’m not suggesting the penalty in the latter example is too austere or draconian.  But merely wondering, isn’t the “crime” itself actually the same?  All you did wrong in both instances is inadvertently run a red light.  Interestingly, in our society the punishment scales up (quite a bit in fact) not necessarily based on the bad deed itself, but rather on the end result of the bad deed.  (And by the way, if you happened to hit two people it is even worse than just hitting one.)

Should we base our punishment on the crime, or on the outcome?  So, does the punishment always fit the crime…?

Friday:

TSHEPEN (CHEHPehn)

To bother; to nag

You’re always tshepen me about fixing that roof.  I’ll get to it as soon as I can!

WoD – Healthcare, Part III

I hope many of you happened to catch the President’s speech earlier tonight, regardless of which side of the political aisle you’re on.  Not because it was bad, or good; but because this is just such a darn important issue for decades to come.

One element of the whole discussion and plan still seems to predominate the debate — the issue of having the government offer a backstop type of health insurance.  I am not going to weigh in on whether this may be a good or bad idea.  It’s because, to me, we’re all still missing discussing one of the key issues or root cause.  It’s the elephant in the room.

And it is this: fee for service.

Essentially, our healthcare provision is based on this phrase or premise.  What it means is that providers (i.e. doctors, hospitals, clinics, etc.) get paid a fee based on the service, or amount of service, provided.  NOT based on quality or any real performance metrics like how you, me, and just about everyone we know are paid.  I am a big believer in aligning incentives and the old adage that, ultimately, people do what they are incentivized to do.  So applying that here, if you pay doctors based on amount of services provided, guess what you’re going to get: lots of services.  And the cost of this to our system is what makes ours one of the most expensive in the world.

If you recall that excellent New Yorker article from a few weeks back, the author had a really great quote on this whole issue.  I will quote it again here, since it sums up the problem so well:

“Providing health care is like building a house. The task requires experts, expensive equipment and materials, and a huge amount of coordination. Imagine that, instead of paying a contractor to pull a team together and keep them on track, you paid an electrician for every outlet he recommends, a plumber for every faucet, and a carpenter for every cabinet. Would you be surprised if you got a house with a thousand outlets, faucets, and cabinets, at three times the cost you expected, and the whole thing fell apart a couple of years later? Getting the country’s best electrician on the job (he trained at Harvard, somebody tells you) isn’t going to solve this problem. Nor will changing the person who writes him the check.”

Wednesday:

BAGROB (bahGROHB)

A rebuff, a talking-to

He comes in late again, and I’m going to give him such a bagrob!*

WoD – What is Justice?

A jury steps out to deliberate.  They come back 8 one way and 4 another.  The Judge suggests they go back and re-weigh all the evidence, before contemplating more drastic action.  So they go back and talk more.  Two hours pass.

They return and this time it is 9 and 3.  Without discussing or allowing any new evidence to come to light, the Judge asks them to once again discuss and deliberate amongst themselves, to see if they can come to resolution.  A few visible groans from the Jurors.  So they drudge out of the courtroom again, heads low, to discuss the merits of the case.  Meanwhile, the life of the accused hangs in the balance.

They do their bidding though and come back; this time, with all 12 in agreement.  A unanimous conclusion.  The Judge thanks the Jurors for their patience, deliberation, and help in this case.  It can now move forward for proper sentencing.  Case closed.  Phew!

But wait.  What just happened?  Let’s think about our justice system for a moment.  No new evidence was presented, and nothing about the case changed at all.  Somehow though, after deliberating some more, the few holdout Jurors agreed to change their mind.  Why?  They now see the outcome of the case the same way as the others did (which is the same as saying that they now see it differently, and in point of fact completely opposite, from how they just saw it earlier that same day.)

I have no better solution than the system we have in place.  But perhaps we should just wonder, is this fair or the “right” outcome?  Is this justice?

Or is it, simply, peer pressure…

Tuesday:

SHTOKH (SHTOHKH)

A verbal stab, an insult

You didn’t have to give me such a shtokh.  I can taste as well as you that my soup needs more salt.



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