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Re: “'I'm done with him'

Since he said he was signing off, I’m not sure Ender will ever read this, but I thought I should address a couple of his points.

He says I stuck with generalities and that I didn’t give recent examples, but then says I blasted the Gamble report… Huh? Isn’t that a recent example? Anyway, if you want more specifics, I blast the report precisely because it shows me (and presumably everyone else who doesn’t think something is true just because a general officer says so) that the USAFA leadership wanted to show the world they were doing something to assess the situation, but if they REALLY wanted to assess the situation they should have done so a LOT more carefully.

Here are some of the more glaring miscues: (1) The Gamble team was made up of a number of people with former ties to USAFA. How can you ensure objectivity? (2) The team assured anonymity, but conducted the interviews in a fashion that hardly provided it. (3) The pool of interviewees was rather small, both students and faculty/staff. (4) The interviewees were self-selected, which any statistician can tell you skews the data significantly. (5) The interviews did not follow a specified format; the interviewer/interviewee just had a free-flowing conversation. How can you collect any meaningful data this way? (6) I had a number of people (cadets and faculty) tell me that the interviewer they spoke with was biased even in how he asked the questions and that they felt their complaints weren’t taken seriously. (7) The Gamble “Report” contained generalities and conclusions that were obtained solely from impressions from interviews and contained NO data backing up any observations (oh, right, that’s because they didn’t collect any meaningful/useful statistical data!). (8) It seems unconscionable to me that a team can come and go in a couple of days and produce a “report” in a few weeks and that the leadership would think everyone would just accept the “there’s nothing wrong here” conclusion so readily. (The truth is, sadly, that a lot of people DID roll over and uncritically accepted the reports “conclusions,” but that’s an indication of overall poor critical thinking skills).

I, for one, do not want religious expression expunged from USAFA grounds. Not by a long shot. I do believe people (last time I checked, cadets are people) have the right to express and practice their chosen religion or lack thereof freely. I just want there to be a clear message that USAFA (or the Air Force of the US Government) doesn’t consider any one religion (or religious belief in general) as “the right answer.” Like I said in my original comment, I think there is a critical mass of people who go against the grain here, who, whether by ignorance or by defiance, think it’s ok to mix official business with religion. By “critical mass” I don’t mean a majority, either, but a small number who go on unchecked and unpunished. The problem is that this number is just large enough to who keep those pesky violations steadily flowing to MRFF. Here’s another specific, recent example: when the Gamble report came out, a cadet said in squadron meeting “this is a clear victory for the Gospel of our Lord and Savior and just as certain a defeat for Mikey Weinstein and his Forces of Satan.” The AMT and AOC present at the meeting said and did nothing.

USAFA may have “recalibrated the left and right limits of religious expression,” and, credit where credit is due, I know that USAFA is taking steps to educate cadets about these limits (I’ve seen the training, it’s not perfect, but a good start). The remaining problem that USAFA has to solve is the issue of following the chain of command. The fact that many cadets, faculty and staff feel they have to complain to MRFF instead of trusting the chain of command is not Mikey’s fault: it’s USAFA’s. You know what might help? Doing something more visible about that critical mass I mentioned above.

Lastly, Ender’s comment about the draft opens a can of worms. The argument goes something like this: since joining the military requires sacrifice and mostly republicans/conservatives are willing to accept such sacrifices, the military disproportionately represents a republican/conservative worldview. Conservatives tend to be more religious than liberals. No wonder, then, that you have so many religious people in the military. My sense is that this may be somewhat true in the officer ranks (although I categorically deny that accepting a sacrifice of serving in the military is a republican/conservative trait), not so much in the enlisted side. In fact, I recall reading that the percentage of non-religious folks is slightly higher in the military than in the general population. The comment, however, I believe is moot because the Constitution is not to be applied by democratic vote. The whole point is that there are some principles that are worth applying to protect the smaller groups.

And that’s what Mikey is doing: just trying to defend the Constitution. You don’t like his tactics? Frankly, sometimes I don’t either. But the reason he resorts to them is that playing nice hasn’t worked in the past. Can’t say I blame him.

Posted by Proudly serving on 08/21/2011 at 8:31 AM

Re: “'I'm done with him'

Pam Zubeck’s article raises some valid concerns and is generally on-point. The long and elaborate comments made by Zoomie Red Tag Bastard and Jim Parco are lucid, accurate, well-researched and also on-point. Then there’s a smattering of other shorter, well-intended comments (on both sides of the issue, mind you) that add to the conversation, but unfortunately these are harder to hear in the midst of the primary screaming match, mostly between Ender and a few folks like Richardbk8 and Akiva David Miller. Ender has the more palatable approach: cool, calm and collected, and a pervasive “show me the evidence” message—and not the stuff that is too old to matter anymore—I mean the newer stuff. In the end, however, I think he is dead-wrong and way too optimistic about what’s going on at USAFA today.

The article is about USAFA not showing enough concern about a disturbing problem: a widespread defiance of the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state. I think Zubeck is correct there. Ender seems to have the same overly optimistic attitude as the USAFA leadership has taken (yes, even in recent history). The USAFA leadership has done a few things here and there, in my estimation designed more to appease the public and the critics than to address the root of the Constitutional issue. The so-called “Gamble Report” is a perfect example: as clear a definition of the term “whitewash” as I can think of.

There is a problem at USAFA. A big one. I have been there for a number of years now and, in my humble opinion, I believe the problem is that there’s a critical mass of people in positions of authority (key leaders, professors, AOCs, coaches, etc.) who either don’t understand the Constitutional problem properly or (perhaps more likely) understand the rules just fine but defy them because they believe it to be the “right thing to do” according to their religious affiliation. The USAFA leadership needs to do a lot more to address BOTH possibilities. And, most importantly, the USAFA leadership must create an atmosphere of trust so convincing that the victims of religious intolerance feel empowered to use USAFA’s chain of command instead of bypassing it to contact MRFF.

Mikey Weinstein may not be Lt Gen Gould’s BFF, but he most certainly has USAFA’s best interest at heart. MRFF’s tactics are bold and sometimes off-putting, yes. But the ball is in USAFA’s court. It’s up to Lt Gen Gould to provide an alternative to MRFF. Mikey would welcome that. There are many other problems to tackle outside USAFA, trust me.

Posted by Proudly serving on 08/20/2011 at 11:50 AM

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