Monday, May 26, 1997

Week of 05/26/1997

Flinn’s Finale
What Lt. Flinn Got Was The Only Way Out
- by David Matthews 2

As I put fingers to keyboard, the final chapter to the saga of Lieutenant Kelly Flinn is being written. Before I go any further, here’s a brief recap for my international readers and those few who have been under a rock this past week:

Lt. Kelly Flinn was an ambitious Air Force officer. She was the first woman to be a B-52 bomber pilot, with dreams of one day being in NASA. She was also a young single woman who apparently fell in love with a guy. According to Flinn, he first claimed to be separated from his wife - who was an enlisted soldier at the base. According to the military code of conduct for fraternization, this was OK.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the truth. He wasn’t separated from his wife. And when it was reported Flinn was having an affair, she first denied it. Then when ordered not to see him again, she disobeyed that order. And when she got caught disobeying an order, she faced a court martial hearing on the grounds of adultery, lying to a superior officer, and disobeying a direct order from her superior officer.

Make no mistake, disobeying an order is a serious charge in the military. Pilots may be ordered to bomb cities, leading to civilian casualties. Not every target bombed in the Gulf War killed only soldiers. A soldier can at any time be ordered to do an action that may cost them their life. In war that is something that can spell the difference between victory and defeat. How many men went to the Normandy beaches in World War II knowing they may die the first minute they land, but their sacrifice will mean the rest of the troops will be able to fight on? And we’re talking about a B-52 pilot - someone who may be ordered to drop NUCLEAR bombs at any time.

So what does the young Lieutenant, whose career is about to be flushed down the toilet because of the liar she loved, do? She goes to the media, of course! The same media that just had a field day trashing Army drill instructors on allegations (and now one conviction) of coerced rapes and sexual harassment against female recruits.

The media and Flinn’s lawyers would like to make this a case of the Air Force singling out Flinn over the affair. After all, if she didn’t have the affair, there would have been no need to lie to her superiors or to disobey a direct order. And, as plenty of reporters pointed out, there have been other cases where more higher-ranking officers had affairs with little or no punishment. So armed with this information, Flinn’s lawyer goes public with an offer - she’ll resign from the Air Force if they give her an honorable discharge. The Air Force said no, and the court martial hearing was set for May 20th.

Then on the 20th, the hearing was postponed by the Pentagon. No doubt it had plenty to do with an appeal by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott earlier that day who said that Flinn was being "unfairly singled out." This was later echoed by the women’s congressional caucus who practically considered Flinn a modern-day Hester Prynne, wrongly persecuted for her heart. This, of course, is to match the scores of veterans, military spouses, veteran spouses, social busybodies, and Buchannan/Limbaugh fans who are ready and willing to pin the "Scarlet Letter" on Flinn before her day in court.

Then on Thursday, the Secretary of the Air Force made her decision - Flinn would resign, but would only be given a general discharge, not an honorable one. And thus any worries about a court-martial hearing would be gone, and so would Flinn, and hopefully so would the media and all the controversy…

And if you believe the latter would happen, I’ve got a bridge to sell you!

Let’s be brutally honest here… I think that the Secretary’s decision to grant only a general discharge to the lieutenant was the right thing and the only way out of an otherwise tricky situation for the Air Force. To grant an honorable discharge would have alienated and angered those veterans who were rightly given that discharge. And to go forward with a court martial would have opened up a whole can of worms about double-standards and allegations of discrimination for what some would consider to be a relatively minor offense. And all of this amidst congressional budget negotiations - the absolute worst time for any branch of the military to weather a scandal.

Senator Lott’s participation made matters worse. Here was the majority leader, not to mention an influential member of the Senate committee on military affairs, wondering why nothing was being done about the man in the middle of the controversy - the one Flinn had the affair with. Even I - a civilian with only a PASSIVE knowledge of the situation - knew that the guy was a CIVILIAN. In other words, senator, he was outside the influence of the military code of conduct!

And that brings me to another point - if there really was someone to blame for this mess, the fault wouldn’t rest totally with Lt. Flinn. Rather, if the facts are even close to what Flinn said, the majority of blame would rest with the guy she had the affair with. We’re not talking about a subordinate she ordered to have sex with. We’re talking about a civilian who lied about being separated from his wife in order to HAVE an affair! I’ll be REALLY brutal here - I have little, if any, respect for a guy who cheats on his wife! And it’s not because of the "sanctity of marriage" or any other philosophical platitude. It just burns me up to see a married guy who engages in extramarital affairs while I’m living a life that rivals monks. The guy is a DOG! Grab the flea collar and change his name to Fido!

Look folks, this was a lose-lose situation from the start. Flinn’s actions at the beginning of the affair may be excusable, but not when it involved lying to her superiors and disobeying their orders to stay away from Fido. She should have known the risks and recognized when the relationship was going to jeopardize her career. She didn’t, and she now bears the consequences of that decision.

And once again, the media only made matters worse. I have no doubt that if the media did not make such an issue out of this as they did, Flinn would have actually GOTTEN that honorable discharge she requested - simply because the lack of sensationalism would not have riled up the veterans and exposed a flawed system where even majors and generals were given similar punishments for their infractions. Ironic, isn’t it?

We’re going to have to start setting down some easy-to-understand guidelines about military fraternization, as well as some guidelines on how to HANDLE allegations like these. Let’s start with telling all these political busybodies to stop trying to exercise social reforms and start worrying about the REAL issues. Let’s also be willing to tell the media when they’re full of shit and to get their facts straight before starting something they’re not willing or able to finish. Same with the politicians. In fact, it would be real interesting if we start holding members of Congress to the same standards our servicemen are held to. I think most, if not all, members of Congress would be quickly court-martialed for lying if we did that!

And finally, let’s all bite the bullet and recognize that equality in the military won’t happen overnight. And it certainly won’t happen with the PC police putting on Chicken Little acts in front of the media! It will, however, happen when we begin to recognize that equal opportunity also means equal responsibility! Let’s START with a presumption of both genders being treated as equal under the law and work from there. Because the minute we think otherwise is the minute we become everything we rallied against in the first place.

Monday, May 19, 1997

Week of 05/19/1997

Pushed Around The Internet?
The push for "Push" technology makes me nervous
- by David Matthews 2


That seems to be the new watchword for computers and the Internet.

Push technology - the ability to bring information to you passively while you’re busy doing something else. Bringing the information to you instead of having to look for it. Surf the web, while at the same time on one corner of the screen you see sports scores, stock market news, and headlines. Turn on Berkley Systems’ After Dark Online and you get updated news from USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and the Wall Street Journal as a screen saver. If you’re interested, click on the story and the full version of it will pop up on your web browser. If an ad interests you, click on it and it’ll take you to their web site so you can learn more about the product, and maybe even purchase it online.

So why does it make me nervous to see these software companies talk about it ad nausium?

Maybe it’s because its finding it’s way into everything from C|net to Microsoft. Microsoft is even planning on integrating push technology as part of it’s new desktop-based browser Internet Explorer 4.0 and Windows 97/98/9-whenever-we-get-the-damn-bugs-out. Netscape will also be doing the same thing with it’s version 4 desktop-based browser.

These are nice features and all, but can anyone remember about other uses for the computer BESIDES surfing the Internet? You know, things like doing the finances, composing articles, and playing games that do not require seven people from around the world? Bill Gates and his people at Microsoft say that these new desktop-based browsers will make it so that you won’t be able to tell the difference if you’re online or not. Well I don’t know about anyone else, but I WANT to know when I’m online or when I’m not! Especially if the government keeps trying to find ways of taxing Internet usage, and the phone companies want to put surcharges on online usage of phone lines. Besides, not everyone can afford a separate phone line just for Internet use!

And that brings us to another point.. a lot of the "push" technology will require state-of-the-art hardware installed into your computer. Fast modems, such as the 56K (which really ISN’T 56K) or ISDN, will do the task, sure. But how many of us still have a 14.4 modem? How many people are still playing with a 486 processor? I still know plenty of people who are still using Windows 3.1x as an operating system! Not everybody will have state-of-the-art hardware or software. Certainly the schools won’t be able to keep up with Moore’s Law and upgrade every 18 months. It’s taking various acts of Congress just to get computers into the schools! Matter of fact, even when we have state-of-the-art technology on our side, we also have to think about how fast the network will allow us to go. Not every ISP or Online service can handle 33.6K baud never mind 56K.

Besides, we are already exposed to the most intrusive form of "push" technology - Spam E-mail! Thanks to groups like Cyber Promotions and the latest in "remailer" software, almost every Internet account is jammed every day with the electronic version of junk mail. Indeed, "push" technology isn’t even really here yet, and thanks to Spam E-mail, Cyber Promotions, and remailer software, we are already being shoved around! If Microsoft and Netscape want to give us "push" technology, they should also give us the means to control what is "pushed" onto us. And that includes being able to shut off spam E-mail if we choose!

Look, I’m neither a luddite nor a technophobe, but I do appreciate some of the advantages of surfing the Internet the old fashioned way. Sure it’s chaotic. Sure it means doing a lot of digging through shit to find that nugget of pure electronic gold. Sure it doesn’t bring rewards every time. But that’s no different than anything else in life, whether it’s surfing the Net, watching TV, finding a job, or going through the singles scene trying to find that certain someone who won’t take your money and make you look like the world’s biggest eunuch. I’m not instantly leery of finding ways to make surfing easier, but I have more than enough problems being "pushed" into my lap without having Internet companies deciding what is "best" for me to surf to.

Monday, May 12, 1997

Week of 05/12/1997

A Word to the College Graduates
- by David Matthews 2

Since college graduation is fast approaching, I thought I’d take this time to speak to those of you who are about to get their sheepskin.

I was like you once. Degree in hand, knowledge in mind, and gold in my eyes. I thought once I graduated I was going to set the world on fire. Boy was I wrong!

You see, the majority of you won’t be moving on to higher education. Getting a masters or a Ph.D. won’t interest some of you. Or perhaps you just can’t afford graduate school. Instead you’ll try your skills out on the real world. And that is where you’ll run into the biggest obstacle all of your education will not prepare you for - reality.

In the real world, academic theory only goes so far. Theory doesn’t pay the rent, it doesn’t buy your clothes, or put food on your table, and it certainly doesn’t pay the bills. And speaking of bills, don’t forget that now you’ll have to think about paying all those student loans.

Yes, you’ll now have to get a real job - and not just the kind of jobs you worked during summer vacation! But at least this time you’ll have more opportunity to get that job than when I was graduating. You see, I graduated in 1988 - at the start of an economic recession. The bottom was just starting to fall out of the economy, and if corporations were going to lay off the more experienced workers, they sure as hell weren’t going to hire any novices fresh from academia. So I and everyone else in my graduating class entered the world with the realization that there was no such thing as job security. But now you have more opportunity because the recession is over! The graduating class of 1997 will be entering an employee’s job market. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to earn your living so you can pay off those huge student loans!

And when you get your first after-college paycheck, take a good look at all those numbers on the pay stub. That’s money going OUT of your paycheck to pay the government. Since you’re going to be out in the real world, you’ll have to start paying taxes like everyone else. No more "full-time student" tax exemptions for you!

Since we’re talking about the real world, let’s also remember that you’re on your own here! Partying all night and coming into work looking like death warmed over will get you fired. Unlike class, you don’t get paid at work just for being there. Same thing applies to those people who lived on so-called "dating rules." Out here in the real world there is no such thing as a "social relations committee" that will tell you whether or not your date violated "your boundaries." As a matter of fact, all of those politically correct theories can be left back in the make-believe world of academia where they belong. It’ll be time for a lot of you to grow up and begin to accept the responsibilities of the other adults instead of relying on committees.

This is not to suggest I want you to give up everything you’ve learned all these years. Education is very important, and you and your parents invested much into yours. But now the time for speculation is over. The time for theorizing is over. It’s time to make that investment pay off!

But before you leave, there is one more piece of advice I have to offer to all graduating students, and even those who aren’t ready to graduate yet: Keep your books! Don’t sell them back for beer money! The knowledge you gained through cramming won’t be there years later, but the books you bought will last as long as you keep them. You can return to that knowledge years later and read them at a time when you are really interested in it!

And so to the graduating class of 1997, it is time for you to shuffle off that fantasy world of academia and enter the real world of adulthood. May you enter it with you eyes open and your head on straight.

Monday, May 5, 1997

Week of 05/05/1997

Truth in Sentencing
Trying to Fix the Criminal Justice System
- by David Matthews 2

This past week, Georgia residents were shocked to learn that a man who was given a life sentence for killing a police officer was released after only serving six years. I’ve heard life is short, but I never expected anyone in their right mind to think life being only six years!

Six years! The term of a US Senator! The life span of a popular TV sitcom, and seven times the life span of an unpopular TV sitcom.

Well guess what folks, if the vast populace ever realized just how sentencing guidelines work for the prisoners, there’d be riots in the streets!

For starters early release and parole are automatically factored into every prisoner’s sentence, unless their sentence doesn’t warrant parole. Yes, they are automatically guaranteed early release for good behavior before even serving one night in prison! And suppose the prisons get a bit overcrowded, does the state ask for another prison? No, all they have to do is factor in yet another early release for each prisoner!

A few years back, public outrage about Florida’s early release programs prompted a special legislative session to address the problem. Everything about the correctional system was opened up for the legislators to think about and try to resolve. So what happened at the end of this special session? The state legislators authorized yet another early release program for each inmate - the very thing that brought them into this special session to begin with!

Let’s get brutally honest here folks, part of the problem with the criminal justice system is that there is no continuity to it at all! A judge berates someone for a heinous act and gives them twenty years, then the correctional system turns around and gives a different sentence. The very concept of justice is bastardized in between when the person is sentenced and when they get to the prison.

That said, here are some suggestions I think would help restore some semblance of order and respect for the criminal justice system:

Truth in sentencing. Judges make the sentences. If the correctional authorities feel that the sentence is too harsh - tough! That’s not their job! If the judge says twenty years, then expect to be there for twenty years. If the judge says life, then the only way that person should leave prison is by a hearse! If the correctional authorities have a problem with it, they should take it up with their legislators like the rest of us, not try to subvert the decision of the judiciary.

Continuity in sentencing. No more variable sentences. No more "five to fifteen years" garbage. Pick a number and stick with it! And while we’re at it, let’s make the sentencing uniform. There’s no difference in punishment between underage possession of beer and underage possession of hard liquor, so why should there be a disparity between powder cocaine and crack cocaine? If both are equally "dangerous" as officials keep claiming, then start giving equal sentences!

Return parole and good behavior to their original purposes! Both were meant as rewards for exceptional behavior, not automatic guarantees to each and every inmate the minute they get inducted into the correctional system. If parole was run the way it was meant to, then parole officers wouldn’t be overburdened and they could do their jobs! And if we can’t do that, then let’s be honest about it and get rid of these services instead of holding onto them like political entitlements!

Stop criminalizing victimless crimes! It’s enough a problem having to deal with real criminals, then to have to also incarcerate people who’s only offense is breaking someone else’s morals! Let’s concentrate on putting the REAL criminals behind bars, not the people who think life is something beyond some neo-puritan Stepford utopia hatched by social paranoids and geriatrics who have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

And finally, let’s put our money where our mouth is when it comes to building more prisons! Unless we want to start housing our inmates in Antarctica or the moon, we had better come to the realization that when we demand more prisons be built, they’ll have to be built in SOMEBODY’S back yard! If you want more prisons, be at least willing to have one in your back yard!

Look, I’m not expecting these suggestions be easy to swallow, but if we’re going to be serious about crime and serious about the criminal justice system, let’s stop posturing to the cameras and start trying to fix it!