Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lessons Learned

I bet you heard about the problem with the shuttle Endeavor's thermal tiles and that after an extensive analysis, NASA decided that the best course was to leave the tiles alone - that they would be ok. Ever hear what happened to the shuttle? Nothing. It landed safely on August 21.

It occurs to me that despite mistakes of the past, government does learn. Case in point - the shuttle. Following the tragedy with the space shuttle Columbia last year, NASA underwent a major re-haul in how they handle things when concerns about safety are raised. They changed their culture such that when a problem came up again, everybody had a voice - and the best course was chosen.

Think about other recent government mistakes...Hurricane Katrina - has any recent mistake been worse? The government still makes mistakes in the wake of Katrina - but at least some people were taking the threat of Hurricane Dean seriously. Its still not good enough - but government does learn.

The tragedy with the miners in Utah - how did government do there? Not very well. In the last 7 years there have been 8 major mine disasters. Seems like nobody in government is learning much there.

The point is - at least government has the capacity to learn...and that capacity makes it better than any alternative. Good government learns fast - that's when it really has the ability to help its people.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Cure

Interestingly, one of the Chinese words for "government" shares a root with a Chinese word for "to cure."

In early Chinese history, alchemists were some of the most important people around. They worked on formulas hoping to find the answer to eternal life, longevity...and seemingly by accident, discovered the secret behind gunpowder.

The work of these early chemists was greatly interwoven with other aspects of society. The solutions that these early scientists derived were synonymous with the Chinese view of government. That is, just as the right herb or tea can cure people's ailments, government has the power to cure society's ailments.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Postman

Over the weekend I caught a rerun of the 1997 movie "The Postman" starring Kevin Costner. I've seen the movie a couple of times, but it never fails to make me think about how the most basic institutions of government are so important to a nation.

The story is based on the premise that sometime around 2015 there are a series of events that leave the United States in anarchy with small communities besieged by clan based militias. Costner's character finds an old mail delivery truck, puts on a postal uniform he finds, and proceeds to start telling people that the mail is back in service. Before he knows it, the word spreads and pony express style post offices start springing up all over to the ultimate demise of the warlords and eventual restoration of the United States.

In today's world we take the mail for granted, but in George Washington's day it was one of the most important institutions of the land. Its worth remembering that a simple government service like providing mail service means so much. In that spirit, I recall the mailman's creed:

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Comrade Kim - You are not very good at your job

North Korea recently lost about 10% of their farmland to terrible floods. The North Korean government did not have the resources to feed their people before the flood - now its much worse.

North Korea doesn't have a government in any sense of the word, they have a dictator, a tyrant. So, their people suffer.

I can only hope that one day North Korea will have a functioning government - only then will the people of that country be able to prosper.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Free trade is a good thing, but it also illustrates how some government is better than others.

Sometimes it makes mistakes, but elements of the US government charged with keeping consumers safe work at it everyday. If there is lead on a toy that might make a child sick (or worse), they usually catch it.

Plenty of voices in the US are always complaining about too much government regulation. I would tell them that is fine as long as they are ok with their kids playing with this jeep.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

When Karl Rove stood in the Rose Garden yesterday with George W. Bush to announce his resignation, I couldn't help but notice that they both commented about looking forward to the day when they could leave government service and return to Texas. They both conveyed what a relief it would be.

Here is what I don't understand. If Rove, in his own words is so hip on having "the honor" of serving our nation - why is he so down on government. These guys pretty much have total disdain for government, yet they want to be a part of it.

This is the contradiction that vexes me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

I just finished watching a documentary about Greg "Pappy" Boyington, a U.S. Marine Corps Pilot that flew as an ace during the Pacific Campaign in World War II

If you remember watching the old TV show "Black Sheep Squadron," Pappy is the pilot hero portrayed by Robert Conrad. It occurs to me that Boyington's story really illustrates the importance of the comeback.

At the start of World War II, Boyington was down on his luck, in debt, unemployed, and bascially at odds with the law. Instead of fold, he joined the flying tigers and fought off the Japanese in Burma.

After his stint with the Flying Tigers, we found himself back in the U.S. with his reputation in question. He wound up taking a job as a parking attendant for a while. Not giving up however, he wound up writing to the Secretary of the Navy and got himself reassigned back into the service.

For a while he was stuck in a series of desk jobs, but eventually convinced his superiors to let him assemble a group of pilots to form what would be called the "Black Sheep Squadron," which became famous during the push in the Solomon Islands.

Pappy was scheduled to be reassigned after one tour of duty, but wound up going over the heads of his immediate supervisors and convinced them to let him keep flying despite his unorthodox ways.

Boyington started to get tons of media attention has he neared the all time Ace record when he wound up getting shot down. All presumed he had been lost.

However after the War ended, he showed up in health and well in a Japanese POW Camp. He wound up traveling the U.S. to sell War Bonds, eventually Truman awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor at a Rose Garden ceremony.

How about that for a series of comebacks?