Monday, July 26, 2010

The Ultra-High Price of Arrogance

Recently, if you read the previous post, I was hauled into court. Not as a defendant but on behalf of a defendant. It's an experience I will not forget and have no plans or desire to repeat. However, it's now on my curriculum vitae as life experience. I should quit now since I'm batting a thousand: one win, no losses.

The leadup to the trial baffled me. I expected to be deposed by the other side. I wasn't. The only possible explanation for this unseized opportunity by the other side is arrogance. They thought that they had such a qualified, credible expert witness that they didn't want to give me even the experience and OJT of a deposition before getting me on the stand in court. I'm sure they expected to blow me away like a few dandelion seeds.

They grossly overestimated their own position and grossly underestimated what I knew and could show the jury--and I didn't even get to do a third of it in court.

They were seeking tens of thousands of dollars in damages. They spent several tens of thousands of dollars in getting to the trial. They left without a penny. It was a sad waste of time and money that could have been invested in the businesses on both sides of the conflict.

Lose-lose situation for everybody.

Arrogance. Flat-out arrogance. Well... maybe some ignorance mixed in with it.

Now comes the report of 92K secret U.S. reports on the war in Afghanistan that confirm a similar arrogance and ignorance on the part of our country in this soon-to-be nine-year-old but forgotten war.

It's not news to me, however. I've heard the same thing from a number of guests on Terry Gross' (best interview show in the business IMHO) program "Fresh Air". Two weeks ago at Powell's Books in Portland, Jean and I heard the same in person from author Jere Van Dyk. JVD spent 44 days as a captive of the Taliban. Hence, the title of his book Captive. JVD essentially said:

1. The U.S. has bloody poor intelligence.

2. Ethnic and tribal loyalties rule the day and the territory.

3. Afghanistan is the most corrupt "government" on earth.

4. Making any kind of gunny sack purse out of the sow's ear we have made of Afghanistan will take far longer than both the purse strings and the patience/attention span of current Americans will allow.

We can't stay, and we can't leave. It's become a Humpty-Dumpty deal.

How did we get into such a mess in the first place? Well, you'd probably have to waterboard half the Bush Administration to find out. But maybe we should have been waterboarding ourselves before we ever started the mess in the first place.

Van Dyk pointed to the work of Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute in building schools in some of the most impoverished areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan as being the only real way forward.

Now comes the word that even the wives of some of America's top generals have read Mortenson's story in Three Cups of Tea and have asked their spouses essentially this question: Wouldn't this be a better way than bloodshed, drones and loss of life?

If I had to describe Mortenson's way succinctly, it would be with these words: the way of Christ. I challenge you to read his book and disagree with that assessment.
Several years ago in a home community group of young Christians, I asked this question:

Suppose that after 9/11 instead of essentially calling the U.S. to war, President George W. Bush had gone on national television and radio and read the Beatitudes and called the nation to a campaign of education and an end to poverty among our enemies. What would have been the reaction of the country?

A young woman didn't hesitate a second before replying "outrage".

So I guess the Jesus we profess and have at times been willing to kill for is really a fraud and a fake? Or not... I guess we'll never know until we are for once willing to try, to actually follow the way of Christ and the way of the cross.

But we might have to first declare war on our own arrogance. And ignorance.

I think we call that repentance.

Practice resurrection. Create peace. Amen.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury...

Last week was the week of no sleep.

It started over a year ago, June 15 to be exact. That's whenNorm, a friend of mine, received a letter alleging defective workmanship in the repair of an aircraft engine that later developed recurring problems that led to further very expensive repairs. No accident, no crash. No damage to the twin Cessna. No one hurt. Just a trashed engine.

The owner hired an "expert" to investigate and do a failure analysis. The expert did a shoddy job of investigating and documenting, then wrote a report based on jumped-to conclusions. It was a terrible report with confused words, sentences that did not logically follow, conclusions not based on a systematic cause-effect relationship. Worse, the so-called expert alleged that the engine damage resulted from an out-of-balance crankshaft but misunderstood the readings and units of measure from the balancing machine that derived the numbers.

My friend asked if I could help. I had expertise in all the required areas. I wrote a preliminary report. The case turned into litigation, a civil suit for damages, $91,000 to be exact.

I wrote a second, much longer and more detailed report. I documented everything, set it out as I would in an engineering report, did computations. The other side didn't give my report the time of day. They didn't even bother to depose me before trial.

"He's never given testimony in court before," they must have thought, "we'll blow him away in minutes."

Last week was the trial. It went 2.5 days. I was the last witness to be called. On cross- examination, the plaintiff's attorney tried to demolish me, not on the basis of my report but on the basis of my not being a pilot with 7,000 hours of flying experience. As if that had anything to do with whether I understood the guts of engines. I do. I take the job of fixing them and giving FAA approval to repairs very seriously.

As if lives depended on it. They do. Those lives could be mine. They could be yours or those of someone you love.

It was an exhausting weekend before trial, inspecting parts on a Saturday in the lawyer's driveway instead of in a shop, parts we should have seen weeks earlier. Sunday, I had three worship services to be a part of. Monday was trial preparation. Tuesday the trail began. I slept little the night before the first day of trial. After some fallacious testimony by the other expert witness, I did not sleep at all before the second day of trail. I was the last witness to be called at the end of the day.

I was exhausted. There were many things I wanted to get done during my testimony that it seemed we did not have time for. I left the stand, after being attacked by the other attorney, feeling defeated.

But I had shown the jury something, something they could understand. They understood. They got it.

There was more back and forth on the final day. There was rebuttal testimony by the other expert in which he did not refute what I had shown but only dug his hole deeper.

Then, closing arguments, jury instructions and waiting. The plaintiff needed to have the jury accept their case as a preponderance (at least 51% of the evidence), and the jury of nine would have to be unanimous.

I was exhausted and dozing on the MAX train when the word came back from my clients:

WE WON, 9-0!

I came away with a whole new understanding of the story of David and Goliath. I had gone into the courtroom against a giant, dead tired and without so much as my slingshot. So I thought.

Our side went in as people of integrity, people telling the truth. We left the courtroom the same way. Even if we had lost the case, we would still have had that.

But the jury saw the truth and rewarded it. Justice was done. Sweet justice.

Best of all, my friend who is 68 is retiring. He had just sold the business to his younger brother before the trial. Tomorrow morning, he and his wife leave on a five-week vacation across this country, seeing our beautiful land, visiting aviation colleagues from coast to coast and many places in between.

Norm hired me 32 years ago. It was 32 years to the day this past MOnday that I first arrived in Oregon and pulled into the parking lot a Troutdale Airport. What a sweet fulfillment that Norm and his wife are able to embark on this vacation truly free of the ill-founded lawsuit and its mental and financial burdens.

Many people were praying for us and for me. Only one thing to say to that:

Thanks be to God!


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

July 6, 1970

Dearest Jean,

It was one of the first poems I wrote you:
Song of Parting--July 6, 1970
In the river of your memory
A million billion tiny drops
All flowing somewhere
Coming and going
I do not build me as a dam
to turn the tide of that great stream
I do not even hope to change its course.
But I should be happy if
on some sultry day many years from now
The vapors rising from your memory stream
Might form of me one tiny drop
That once again might fall to earth
Once more to flow downstream
Once more to pass before your mind.
I think we had returned from Karen and Rafik's wedding. I knew that my life had become involved with yours, that having a future without you would not be something I could do or imagine.
Thank you for the past 40 years since that humid weekend in SE New York State.
"What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."
Not even us and our youthful, imperfect ways. Only death shall part us, Jean. And even then, only for a little while.
Thank God for you, Jean!
Love always,

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pre-School Door Gunners: Afghanistan 2020-2030

OK, so the honest reports from Afghanistan aren't very encouraging.

Over 100 coalition troops KIA in June. Big shakeup in Generals. Or, in general. McChrystal out, Petraeus back in.

Petraeus says he not only supports President Obama's strategy but that he also agrees with it. Elsewhere, he's also said that he expects us to be needed there for a very long time.

Kinda flies in the face of the notion of withdrawing troops come July 2011. To those in certain circles, that means perhaps reducing the number from 96K+ to perhaps 65K+.

To most Americans who only casually think about the "A-word" today, I'd bet that means reducing troops to zero K.

Just read that flareups in the north have spread the conflict areas from the traditional south around the Pakistan border. Afghanistan is tough to negotiate with very few roads and almost no infrastructure. Rich in mineral wealth but no way to get there to get it out.

Same way we have to evacuate casualties and bodies: helicopters.

I came across this pre-school play structure last month. A helicopter with two seats in the cockpit, two more teeter-totter fashion on the outside. They sorta look like machine gun mounts, side mounts for rockets and gattling guns.

Might as well get the youngsters ready for their future mission while they're still in pre-school. 'Cuz until we get a government in Afghanistan that isn't corrupt from top to bottom, and until we get enough infrastructure in place for the country to actually maintain and control itself as anything more than tribal enclaves, the conditions for "peace with honor**" might not exist within our lifetimes.

(**NOTE: See President Richard M. Nixon and Vietnam for the antecedent of peace with honor.)

And the pre-schoolers of today may very well be serving there as helicopter door gunners when they're 21. Well, some of 'em anyway.

Lord knows all of 'em will be paying for it. 'Cuz we sure don't have the money to do it today and simultaneously do the things that need doing in our country right now. We're all worried about deficits now but not about the hole we're digging in Afghanistan. A choice we've made. Yeah, I know. Economic growth was always supposed to cover it all.

Just like your income will ALWAYS increase every year, right? Even when you're old and disabled...

How'd this all happen, anyway?

Pray for enlightenment.