Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Open Letter to SEN Richard Burr

Here's the text of a letter I just sent to my Republican senator:

"I am extremely concerned about the current game of "chicken" that is currently playing out in Washington over the budget impasse. While cutting expenditures is certainly a part of any responsible solution, so is raising taxes.

Since World War 2, federal expenditures have averaged about 20% of the nation's GDP. Tax revenues have generally averaged a point below that. Under President Bush and the Republican leadership since 2000, expenditures have jumped to about 24% of GDP and revenues have fallen to about 15%. This was, and remains, irresponsible.

Moreover, the Republican mantra that tax cuts for the wealthy stimulate jobs is patently false. There has been a steady shift of wealth from the middle class (including me) to the wealthy (including you) since the Reagan administration. The top 1% now control about 42% of the nation's wealth and, due to breaks like low rates on capital gains, pay less in taxes. Moreover, the rich DO NOT create jobs. That is done by small businesses and mom-and-pop entrepreneurs. Wealthy people are sitting on trillions of dollars in Wall Street investments and are not circulating this money in the economy where it is needed.

The rich are getting a free ride in America and the Republicans are their champions. It is time to change that mantra for the good of the country. Therefore, any responsible solution to the debt problem MUST include tax increases.

Do not drive this country into bankruptcy to protect tax cuts for the rich. It's stupid."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Profound Questions

One of my LinkedIn groups had this interesting question posted this morning: "If you had to do it all over again, would you choose your present career?" I read the responses and was very surprised to see mostly negative comments. So many people were not happy with their careers or with the way their lives had turned out. It gave me something to think about. I'm a pretty happy guy by nature and generally assume that most everybody else is, too. A dangerous assumption, I know, but that's my default setting. So when I bump into evidence that my defaults are faulty, it gets my mind going.

I immediately answered the question with this:
If I had to do it all over again, I'd do the same things, absolutely. I was a naval officer for 22 years and did some neat things with wonderful people in some unbelievable situations. Then I became an artist, a completely different universe, loved it and was very good at it. But the art market has collapsed and the things I need to paint are not the things that sell, so I'm looking for an opportunity to make a living while contributing something positive to the world. It'll come. One thing I've learned is that the best things in my life haven't been the things that I planned for, they've been the unexpected: the career field that I never heard of until I stumbled into it, an assignment I never would have asked for, and the woman who came into my life right when I specifically wasn't looking. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!

Then I went out to do some mowing. Mowing is a great time to do some thinking. It's a physical activity that doesn't take a lot of brainpower: follow the pattern, make sure to overlap the passes, and that's about it. So I thought about the LinkedIn question and why it is I was able to answer it that way.

Way back when (about 1969), my first job was with a food producer. It was a small shop that was set up to experiment with making sausage biscuits and see if they could do it profitably. I was clueless, just a 16-year-old teenager with no skills hired on as general labor for part of a summer. The older guys, who had all been doing general labor for years, even decades, took me under their wing. They showed me how to work hard and carry my weight. None had been to college and only a few had completed high school. Most of them were black, and for a middle-class white kid who grew up in the segregated south, this was an eye-opener. I learned a lot: that people could be smart even if they're not educated, that the people doing the work generally knew more about how to get the job done than the boss did, and that most people wanted to work hard and be respected for what they could do.

Those lessons were reinforced later when I went to work as a waiter at a Red Lobster. My trainer was an older black woman named Rosa. She was skinny as a rail with a beehive hairdo and more energy than anybody else in the restaurant. Rosa hustled. She was always two steps ahead of the game. Rosa was the best waitress in the place and always made more in tips than everybody else. Always. From her, I learned a lot about taking care of my customers, how to give them my attention without being obsequious, and how to monitor seventeen things going on at once. (Are my orders up? The hostess just seated a party of six at my table - need to get their water and forks to them now. This lady needs a refill on her tea. That kid just dumped his plate on the floor - get the bucket over here. How are we on rolled utensils? The coffeepot is almost empty - make a new one.) And teamwork. We all had to work together to get the job done. If anybody was slacking, it affected everybody else, because the pace was intense.

Good life lessons for a kid just out of high school.

So what does all this have to do with the LinkedIn question? Well, a career is a reflection of life in general. I had a good career in the Navy, a good career as an artist, several good careers as a student of various kinds, and a good "career" as a program/project manager in Iraq. Some careers paid better than others, but all of them were very rewarding. The reason is that it's all about people. The lessons I learned from the sausage biscuit factory and the Red Lobster stayed with me throughout all my careers. Treat your business associates, customers, and staff with respect, carry your weight and then some, and focus on the team, and you'll do well. The specific career field is almost incidental.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Afternoon Musings

It's been a busy time here at the Rohde household this past week. The big news is that I suddenly have three organizations interested in hiring me. I'm filling out forms now, and next week will be flying out for an interview. All three jobs are very different, but they have one thing in common: they're all in Afghanistan. Yes, Afghanistan. Some time ago, I wrote that I seem to be qualified for only two jobs: either running multi-million-dollar projects in some war-torn country, or wearing a blue vest and saying "Welcome to Wal-Mart". Well, Wal-Mart isn't hiring, so it looks like it's Afghanistan!

For many people, learning that you're going to A'stan would be terrible news, but not for me. There's something about deployments that gets into your blood. It's working in places that most sane people don't want to go, doing things most people don't want to do, but doing a mission that needs to be done. I'm pretty good at it, too. On the flip side, the separation is a strain, but Janis and I know that we can handle it.

Any one of these opportunities will help us achieve another goal, which is to move to San Diego. Janis lived there until my transfer took us away 20 years ago, and I've been hearing about it ever since. Now that we have a young grandson, it's time to go back. Yes, it's expensive and crowded and will someday fall off into the Pacific, but too bad. We gotta go. This tour in A'stan will provide the kick to get us there. As soon as it's confirmed that I'm going, we'll put the house up for sale and start the process.

So now I have to talk with these three organizations and see which ones (a) will actually offer a job that (b) I really want to take. Three interests does not a deployment make.

Speaking of San Diego, Janis is going out there soon to see her friends and family. I get to stay home and be a single Dad to our two dogs for two weeks. If all goes well, maybe Janis will be able to start looking around for a place to live out there.

Meanwhile, here at home, we've had several waves of storms sweep through. Back in May, we had two hailstorms and some hellacious rain. Over the past week, we've had several storms with blasts of wind and more drenching rain. My neighbor had three of his four Bradford pear trees split in half a couple of days ago. I had two big branches from my dogwood break off and land halfway across the yard. Last night, the top 15' of one of my birches was blown off. I spent a couple hours today cleaning that one up. Let's hope that the storms are gone - they're no fun! The good news: my roof survived the hail, and the big trees around the house withstood all the wind.

On a lighter note, we saw a wonderful movie the other night: "The Triplets of Belleville". It's an odd French animated film, very funny, very creative, and beautifully drawn. In fact, the drawing alone is reason to see it. I could look at it frame-by-frame and be perfectly happy.

The movie trailer is on YouTube, of course (actually, the whole movie is), but I recommend that you put it on your Netflix queue and see it on a bigger screen. We loved it and you might, too!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thoughts on the New Navy

An article in the Washington Post today caught my eye. It discussed a disturbing trend: too many Commanding Officers are being fired this year for personal misconduct. As trends go, this one is all over the board. The CO's are on ships, submarines, air squadrons, and shore sites. They're men and women. They've been fired for inappropriate relationships, hostile command climates, alcohol, raunchy movies, and more. An article in the Navy Times provides specific names and limited details.

As a former Navy Commanding Officer, I'm disturbed by these reports. They raise some serious questions. What's going on with the CO's? Is something failing in their professional development? Are they just being stupid all at once? From the information in the two articles, I can't tell.

There is no single thread running through these firings. One, heavily reported in the press, was the CO of the Enterprise. When he was the Executive Officer (XO, the #2 position on the ship) of the ship, he participated in making some raunchy and inappropriate videos. Stupid. The CO of an attack squadron was fired after being caught DUI. Stupid. The CO of an amphibious ship (female) allowed hazing and used a loaded weapon in a dangerous manner. Stupid. The CO of a submarine mishandled classified information and tried to cover it up. Stupid. The Commodore of a destroyer squadron had a relationship with another officer's wife. Stupid.

It's not just CO's. The Navy Times article lists XO's and Senior Enlisted Advisors as well. These two individuals, along with the CO, establish the climate in the command. If they screw up, it's almost as serious as a CO screwup.

The military has a long tradition of holding its leaders to higher standards. There's a reason: leadership is more important to success than technology, sheer knowledge, or anything else. In the Navy, lives depend on a senior officer's leadership on a daily basis. The sea is a very unforgiving place and when something happens, the CO and his leaders have to have the unquestioned trust and respect of the crew. Naval officers are raised with this awareness from the day they enter the service and it's pounded into them throughout their career.

Now, people are people, with all their foibles, weaknesses, and quirks, and CO's are no different. I've certainly worked with some quirky senior officers in my career and some might say I'm quirky, too. But as a CO, you have to step up to the plate and recognize that you're held to a much higher standard. These individuals, for whatever reason, messed up. Maybe it was a single bad decision, maybe it was for a pattern of behavior over a long period of time, but they didn't uphold the standard. So they were fired. For an officer, that's it: your career is over and you may as well resign. Otherwise, you'll be manning an unimportant desk buried in some unimportant job, while everybody around you knows that you didn't measure up.

On the one hand, I'm happy to see that the Navy is still holding CO's accountable for their actions, and holding them to the same high standards they always have. That's the good news. The bad news is that a lot of CO's right now aren't measuring up. Why? I don't know. But anybody who aspires to be a CO (which, in my opinion, should be every officer) should take a lesson from all these firings. Substandard performance just doesn't cut it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Groundhog Week

It occurred to me that lately I have written very little about what I've been doing. I can sum most of my waking hours up in two words: job search. That's not a very exciting topic. I search. I find something that looks interesting. I research the company, the position, the location, whatever. I tweak the resume, write a cover letter, and submit an application. Log it into my application records. Start searching again.

Like most of the country, this past month has been unbelievably hot. We've been running 10-15 degrees above normal for several weeks now, and it feels more like August than May/June. That means I do my yard work in the morning, before it heats up, and then do the computer work in the afternoon.

Speaking of yard work, my wife has been bugging me to take the weedeater to several spots in the yard. Since our weedeater is a low-cost low-quality POS that hasn't been used since last July, that meant it needed some maintenance first. So I spent about $40 for parts and six hours in labor to rebuild the carburetor, replace the fuel lines, clean the air filter, put in a new spark plug, and make sure everything was adjusted correctly. And now, of course, it won't run at all. So got out the yard gloves and a pair of scissors and spent about 15 minutes cutting down the weeds that the weedeater was intended for.

With the hot weather come summertime afternoon storms. We've had them nearly every day for a week. One of my dogs, Indy, is scared to death of thunder.

So when the thunder and rain start, Indy's in my lap. As she is right now, as a matter of fact. Makes it hard to type on the keyboard.

The River Arts District Association in Asheville is holding its semi-annual Studio Stroll this weekend. This will be the first time in years that I haven't been participating in it, one way or another, and I'm not going to miss it at all. In fact, I'm going to enjoy it. Tomorrow, I'm going down to the District and will actually do the Stroll. Rather than being tied to my studio all weekend long, I'm going to wander to everybody else's studio and see all the wonderful work that's being done down there. So if you're in Asheville this weekend, go down to the River Arts District and see some great art. You just won't see mine this time!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Veterans Unemployment

A number of articles recently have focused on the disturbing fact that the unemployment rate for veterans is significantly higher than it is for non-veterans. I just read a piece in the Navy Times about it, but the Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times (really good),, and many more have also published articles on the subject. Young veterans from the post-9/11 world have an unemployment rate in general of over 20%. In some areas of the country, though, it's over 40%. Vets who've been out in the civilian world for a while have a much lower rate, indicating that most of them were able to make the transition and build solid civilian resumes before the recession hit. Those making the transition now, though, are having an extremely hard time.

As everybody knows, the current employment situation (to use a highly technical term) sucks. Unemployment remains high and shows no sign of improvement anytime soon. A new report says that only 54,000 new jobs were created last month. This is about 150,000 less than needed to keep up with population growth, much less recover from the 8,000,000 jobs lost during the recession (thank you, Wall Street). So anybody who's in the job market faces an uphill battle.

For companies that are looking to hire, they're in the catbird seat. They often get over 100 applications for any decent position, so they can specify in great detail what kind of candidate they think they want. And so they do. Most of the job descriptions I see have a laundry list of required qualifications: highly specialized training, certification in this or that field, X number of years experience doing exactly the job that they're hiring for, and so on. Years ago, when I saw such lists of requirements, I could assume with some certainty that they already had a candidate in mind and were just going through the job announcement motions for legal or CYA reasons. Now, though, they'll probably have a number of candidates to choose from.

But are these really the characteristics they should be looking for? Not necessarily. I think that a truly successful employee is successful because of other reasons: dedication, drive, flexibility, perseverance, teamwork, leadership skills, and loyalty, to name a few. Yet these characteristics are almost never mentioned. It seems as if employers are missing the person in their search for a specialized technical widget. In my experience, technical skills can be learned relatively quickly by a reasonably-intelligent person with a reasonably-applicable background. But it's the personal characteristics that will make the new employee a success or not.

Our young veterans have those personal characteristics that civilian employers should be looking for. Just the fact that they successfully completed their service, whether for 3 or 30 years, shows that they have dedication drive, flexibility, perseverance, teamwork, leadership skills, and loyalty. They may not have the latest CISSP or PMP certification because they spent three of the past five years in Iraq or Afghanistan, getting impossible jobs done under arduous conditions.

I agree that much of the onus is on the veteran to translate his/her military experience into terms that a civilian can understand. Over the past several months, I've gotten a lot better at doing that. Still, civilian employers need to be more aware of what it is they're asking for. If all they're asking for are technical widgets, well, be careful what you ask for. If they're looking for people who can do amazing things, then look at the veterans.

I just don't want to see a bumper sticker that says: "WE PROUDLY SUPPORT OUR TROOPS. WE JUST DON'T HIRE THEM."