Sunday, August 31, 2014

Checking In -- Labor Day

I don't write nearly as often as I'd like, so when I do, there is too much to say. I'm still here. And the more I change, the more I stay the same.

I dropped in at a local NATCA meeting the other day. Just to say hello. I missed the fun parts. I'm sure they were talking about convention resolutions -- which was part of the motivation to be there. Unfortunately, I had a meeting just prior to that and it ran long. (An Agriculture - Business meeting. I do change. Life goes on.)

Privatization came up when I wasn't there. I'm sure the NATCA leadership is trying to find their way through the morass of sequestration. Privatization is still wrong for America (in most cases.) In any case, I still think of controllers. I still care. I even think about y'all in the pre-dawn darkness when I wrote this.

(Life in the country: It wouldn't send until I got home with a WiFi connection.)

Anyway, argue with NATCA's leadership. The greed-is-good/privatization/government-is-the-problem era of the United States is ending. It is played out. It is dying. Paul & Co. are good people. Let them know what's on your mind. And then follow their lead. Back them up. Even if your viewpoint loses. That's the way it works in a democracy. Your view cannot prevail in every instance. Nor mine. Not in a democracy. That's when it's tough to believe in the rule of law. But here's what happens when the rule of law does not prevail. (A story sent to me be a fellow controller, by the way.)

Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party

I bumped into a controller-friend at the store not long ago. He'd quit NATCA. Like most controllers, he wanted to argue about it -- to make his point. I understand. I remember the fury of being a controller. But there is nothing to argue. Not for me. I understand the heat of the moment. I also (now) understand taking a step back and viewing things a bit more dispassionately. Controllers can't always afford to do that. The job requires an intensity that...well...that it requires. It isn't easy to work up that passion and then to let it go. I'm not even sure it's smart. But here's the truth to keep in mind. I'm 55 years old, retired, secure and happy. I've made money. I've saved money. I've bought bonds. I've bought stocks. TSP. IRA. Mutual funds. I've saved. The very best investment I ever made was union dues. Period.

Pay attention: You want the security of a Federal pension. Use your union to get one. For NATCA. For union members. For Americans.

Local issues are small potatoes. NATCA is important. Unions are critical to our well being as a country. History is clear. You can see what we looked like with unions. You can see what we looked like without them. You decide which world you'd rather live in -- which you'd rather have your children inherit.

Moving on to worse things...for some of you, this will be the first time it seems as if the world is falling apart. Ebola. Russia invading Ukraine. Ferguson. ISIS. It has all happened before -- Yellow Fever, Spanish Flu, The Plague. Of course, that's the problem. You never know if you're facing the 1968 riots or the Dark Ages. The world will keep turning.

For me, I'm living the good life. I hope you enjoy the same. If not now, at least one day. I just got back from another rodeo.

I know most of you don't follow me for the photography but I'm changing there too. In a fit of creative desperation (that I learned in ATC) I've started a new series of pictures involving a chair. I won't go on about about it. I've learned that too. Like the lyrics of a song, the important part is that you get to fill in the meaning. It's not important what it means to me. The important part is what it means to you.

You can find the whole series here.

There is so much more to say. But there always is. Be well. Do good. Be thoughtful in whom you allow to have your attention. In today's world, your attention is a precious commodity. There is too much information. There is too little time. Use it wisely. Have a happy Labor Day. You can be proud of your part in it, no matter how small. United, we are so much larger than ourselves.

Don Brown
August 31, 2014

Friday, August 01, 2014

Let's Build a Cathedral

Yes, I've been to the United Kingdom and noticed the churches over there. Absolutely magnificent. You could go to the United Kingdom (and I suspect much of Europe) and do nothing but tour churches. They are simply breathtaking.

The thing that really struck me was the stone. How did they ever quarry so much stone, transport it and stack it so high? That really hit me in Chester. The Romans built it. There's a stone wall, 20-30 feet high, that runs 2 miles around the city. These walls aren't made of rubble -- they're cut stone. How in the world did they do this so long ago? With ropes and pulleys, levers and sweat? And how did they afford it all?

The rich guys back then must have really been rich. The stone work is amazing in a brutal way but when you move into the cathedral, the artwork will leave you in awe. Everything is chiseled, carved and decorated. Tapestries. Paintings. Sculptures in wood, stone and metal. The wood carvings. Forests of carved wood. It's unreal. I guess when you're as rich as a King, you can afford these things.

And then it hit me -- what makes a King rich? Actually, that's the wrong avenue of thinking to take. You can suss it out on your own but let's just skip to the end and say "taxes" make a King rich. The King gets a little (or a lot) of everything that people create. It adds up in a hurry. If Facebook only made a dollar a month off of all their subscribers that'd be $500 million a month. I'm pretty sure you could build a cathedral with that. You and I could scarcely dream of spending 3 trillion a year.

The correct way to think about this is not how much it costs but how much will it takes to get it done. The Romans built the fortress. The English built the cathedral. It can physically be done. Certainly with the tools at our disposal we could build even greater things. But we don't. Why?

Again, it isn't the cost. It's the will. Think about the size of the population that built these things. They're tiny in comparison to us. Any average-sized city in America could build a cathedral. All it would take would be the political will to say, "We are going to pay the taxes that will support 500 workers for 50 years in order to build this thing."

That's an interesting dynamic to think about isn't it? Could you imagine anybody in America thinking that they were going to work on one project for 50 years? Yes, that is a life time. Add to that the idea that you were going to spend your entire working life on something that was going to last a thousand years. And you weren't going to use the cheapest materials -- you were going to use the best. How would an idea like that transform America?

The trick is, instead of one man (the King) having the political will to see such a project through, in a democracy you'd have to generate the political will from several thousand voters. Or a few million.

The Romans built a fortress. The English built a cathedral. Americans went to the Moon. What should America do next? What would your cathedral be? Pick something. Anything is better than listening to the fools that tell us we can't afford to do anything except watch it all crumble into dust.

Don Brown
August 1, 2014

God Save the Queen

Something strange happened on the transition back from the United Kingdom to Middle Georgia. The level of ignorance was shocking. I wasn't expecting that. As Fareed Zakaria always says, "Let me explain".

I'm a Georgia redneck. Anybody that knows me knows that I don't speak properly. I don't even try anymore. Anyone that reads my blog knows that I don't know the rules of proper grammar. I never paid attention to English in school. I'm not proud of it, but that's the way it is.

And there's the point. I'm not proud of it. Yet so many people down here are. So, naturally, I commenced to thinking about this. And here's what I came up with.

In Amurica, we have this idea that all men are created equal. Somehow, this has transformed into the idea that anybody is as good as anybody else. (Well, unless you really are white trash and then you cling to the illusion that "those people" will never be as good as you are. Even if they do speak better, hold a college degree from a first-rate university and become President of the United States.) This, in turn, has somehow transformed into the bizarre notion that all ideas are created equal. That your thoughts, manners and tastes are just as good as anybody's. Even when they clearly are not.

And who's to argue? In America, nobody. In the United Kingdom, the Queen. In the United Kingdom (it's hard to not just say England), the Queen is the standard. She speaks properly. She acts properly. She is properly. You may be a great person -- educated, smart, kind and articulate -- but you have a standard to live up to in the UK. A standard of behavior to emulate. In America, you get to pick your own hero. Your own standard. Your own model. Even if you pick poorly.

I met plenty of normal people in the Untied Kingdom; "Commoners". Hard-working people. Gracious people. Of all races and ethnic backgrounds. I even met a religious nutcase. Not one of them was proud of being ignorant. They were proud of being English, Scot, Welsh, Arab, Catholic, "Scouse" and Londoners. But they were never proud of being ignorant (and most of them weren't.) I wish that were true of where I live.

No, I don't want a Queen. But I could do with a little less ignorance. Hey! That reminds me; How 'bout them Dawgs!??

Don Brown
August 1, 2014