Saturday, April 22, 2006

No blogging this week


My father (David Yost Drummond) passed away Friday night, just before midnight. I will be out this week, addressing family needs and planning for the funeral.

Friday, April 21, 2006

President Bush – A Man Not Afraid To “Step Up To The Plate”


Readers know that I am a solid Dubya supporter, and about once every week-to-ten-days, I write a column basically reminding folks about what they personally owe this guy. I have to do this, you see, because there are so many more people trashing him on a regular basis, some of which pretend to be Conservatives. I’m just resetting a balance a little bit.

To some degree, this post will be a disappointment for some people, because I don’t plan on dwelling on this issue or that, because we’ve been all over most of it, and only a Democrat comes to a blog and carries an opinion without having a clue on the subject.

Back in February ’05, I wrote about the idiom “stepping up to the plate", and it seems a good thing to mention it again here. Folks may remember that Dubs was once one of the owners of the Texas Rangers, back when the team didn’t suck on a regular basis. In fact, a reasonable person might say that Dubs had a bit to do with bringing in the players who made the team fun to watch. I mention this, because I also love Baseball, and find it’s lessons salient and applicable all the time.

In that Feb 05 column, I wrote “Baseball is a good metaphor for Life, in no small part because the game will screw with you.” And we should all be able to agree that Life has been very much a mind-game of late. In discussing what makes someone a person who ‘steps up to the plate’, I also wrote “imagine you are standing in the batter’s box, waiting for a pitch which could come in at more than ninety miles an hour. You know that if you back off a little, you will be a lot less likely to get hit, especially since you get a fraction more reaction time. And the pitcher likes it, when you give him the whole batter’s box for his own territory, forfeiting areas which would be a strike, but you can’t reach by backing off. Or, you can crowd the plate a little, forcing the pitcher to be more accurate, pitch slower, or take the chance of hitting you and giving up a base. Trouble is, the pitcher won’t like that, and more than a few will throw a ‘brush-back’ pitch, which are no fun at all. On a bad day, the pitcher will send a lesson and put one into your ribs. So, it’s not easy to 'step up to the plate'; you may be sorry you did.

THAT’s what “step up to the plate” really means. It’s taking the chance you’ll get hurt for a small reward, doing the hard job because it’s necessary. There’s a lot of players who’ll choose to take the easy way, hoping someone else will do the job, and there’s plenty who’ll swing wildly and hope they get lucky. But a coach looks for the player willing to take on the tough job, to meet the responsibility when no one else will.”

Well folks, that’s Dubya. He’s taken a few shots, and some would say it’s his own fault for making the choices he has, but I say he’s just been gutsy enough to stay in the box when it matters. Sometimes it hurts him, but that’s how a team wins games.

Provided the other players can at least manage not to cheer for the other team.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A House of Sharp-Edged Cards


It’s been a rough week. I would sure like to go sooth my nerves by borrowing my buddy’s 70-cal and waste a few tree stumps. Come to that, I wouldn’t mind seeing the USAF demonstrate a little shock & awe on Stupidistan, specifically the parts of Iran being used to prepare nuclear weapons. A midair interception of Mr. “I wanna be the Mahdi” with a Phoenix or a nice simple AMRAAM the next time he takes a flight somewhere would be nice too, give him that green glow he’s talked about in his fantasies. Of course, a lot of people have that same desire, and as always happens these days, the United States Elected Leader Envy and Slander Society starts blaming the President for not turning Iran into a glass lake already. As nice as fantasies can be, the President (as usual) has more on the ball and is moving with better diligence and foresight. This is because President Bush has paid attention to the military leaders and regional experts, and understands the weight and consequence of possible actions far better than most people comprehend.

To start, we need to understand that Iran both is and is not like Iraq, and our actions must acknowledge the condition. Like Iraq, sanctions against Iran are not reasonable; ruthless militants are not swayed by economic arguments. As with Saddam Hussein, assassination of Ahmadinejad is not a viable option – the regime would simply install someone else they could control, equally ruthless. As with Iraq, the United States cannot expect the United Nations to take decisive action in the matter of Iran. But there are also important differences between the two cases. Iran has had more than a decade to build up its military, where Iraq lost the best of its armor and aircraft in the first Gulf War. The United States government had already made Regime Change in Iraq the official policy of the government when Bush took office, whereas today it would be difficult to get the House and Senate to agree to make it official policy to change the regime in Iran. The consensus of the Intelligence Community was that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of WMD, just as that same community now is sure that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, but this time the Intelligence agencies are not willing to stand behind their own professional assessments. And where the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was based on clear violations of the cease-fire agreement, and the United States held a UN Security Council resolution amounting to an ultimatum to Saddam, and the actual invasion was performed by a coalition of dozens of countries providing material, political, or financial support. In the case of Iran, no such Coalition should be anticipated. The United States would have supporters, to be sure, but this time the support would be covert and unofficial, and largely from nations with direct concerns about Iran’s aggressive intentions, as well as nations which see an opportunity to curry favor with the dominant world empire, as the United States is increasingly seen, for purposes of rebuke but also admiration and alliance. Also, it has become obvious that the Democrats, unable to oppose the Iraq War through any honest policy disagreement, have instead salted the ground to prevent public support for the war by lying about the results of the fight, the context of our actions, and the morale of our troops. One could hardly expect the Democrats to rediscover Patriotism if we target the evil of militant Islam. Rather, one should expect the lie of ‘War for Oil’ to become all the more shrill.

A look at the likely Orders of Battle leaves no question that the United States has many options at hand. Most of those options would eliminate Iran’s Air Force and Navy in less than an hour, and would make Command & Control (to say nothing of Communications) a fiction in the same span. But those options are compromised by the strategic goals pursued. Air strikes are an obvious choice, but Satellite imagery cannot tell us where the underground facilities are located, or how they are protected. Further, damage assessment can be impossible when we need to know whether specific targets were destroyed or not. In addition, the development of technological components is only one part of the program, and hardly the most crucial. So long as Iran has the will to pursue development of nuclear weapons, they remain a threat to succeed, especially given the educational level of the country and the carefully-built agreements Iran has made with nations which can supply material or technology. As a result, there must be regime change, to install a government which does not want nukes.

Also, a look at a map shows where some potential post-attack threats exist. Invading Iraq was feasible, because the United States saw that direct opposition by other countries was not possible. In the case of Iran, a tactical situation exists which is again both similar to and different from the condition of Iraq. Just as Iran and Syria were able to send terrorists across the border into Iraq to harass Coalition forces, Syria and Saudi Arabia are in position to do the same if the United States invades Iran. Further, Iran has long been a plum in sight of Russia, but the Russians have long understood that the United States would not permit Iran to be seized. If, however, the United States were to invade Iran, it would become very likely that the Russians would become suppliers and allies, however unofficial, to the Iranian defenders and insurgents, in hopes of driving out the United States from Iran and so becoming the chief trade partner of Iran. This scenario is heightened in likelihood by the fact that China would like to play that same role. At present, Iran is courting attention from both Moscow and Beijing, in a very like ambition. Therefore, an American attack on Iran raises the risk of indirect retaliation from Russia, China, or both.

Now, let’s stop here and go back to the hand we have been dealt. A lot of people tend to look only at the threats and miss the opportunities. Going back to that map, the United States has forces in place in Iraq and Afghanistan, service and supply locations in the U.A.E. and a number of coastal locations, especially Oman. The United States also has a reliable ally in Israel, and good relations with the governments of Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, and to a lesser degree Egypt. Color these in favorable tinctures, and Iran starts to sweat about its strategic position. Add to that the unpublicized-but-very-real private discussions between the Bush Administration and the Putin and Hu Jintao, and you begin to sense that for all the bravado, it is Iran and not the United States which is feeling encircled and defensive. And then there is the little matter of demographics. Every so often word gets out to the West about protests by Iranian students, usually demanding reform and secular freedoms. That gets less attention than it should, because Iran has been doing everything it can to shut down stations like NITV (shoot – Iran thinks Al-Jazeera is too pro-Western!), and has theoretically outlawed satellite dishes and ISPs, yet companies like IRANET offer connection speeds and wireless technology faster than what is commonly available in Europe, and they advertise publicly! That right there demonstrates that the government of Iran is in far less control of the public and the culture than it pretends, and the people of Iran have opinions which do not support the government actions very much. Remember Shirin Ebadi? She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, and is a loud, female, Muslim voice demanding human rights reform in Iran. And she represents not only a lot of Iranian women, but more than a few Iranian men.

It’s not to say that Iranians would be delighted to see their country invaded by the United States, yet there is even surprising support shown for such a notion. It is, rather, the confidence that if only a representative government can be given a chance in Iran, America will find the Iranians not only cordial and competent, but eager for trade and political alliances. This is for a number of reasons. First the obvious one; Iranians see America as the natural world leader for commerce and international agreements. The road to financial security for an Iranian businessman is paved with a U.S, trade agreement. Second, for all the hype raised by Liberals, the late Shah was a – forgive me – rather progressive leader, spending oil money on schools and civic improvements at a time when most Sheikhs and Sultans were just building more palaces. This is paying dividends now as a generation of internationally-aware young adults come of age, and see Iran as a player on the world stage, not just the Middle East, and they see Iran as a political leader more than a military conqueror. You get the idea, I think – a lot of people forget that Iran used to be called “Persia”, and there is a distinction to that identity, separate from the Arab or Muslim identity alone. The biggest mistake Mr. Ahmadinejad has made, in some ways, is trying to play Iran into part of a Muslim movement, when Iran demands, always, to be treated as its own case.

A functional strategy for Iran, then, may best be one which tries to avoid invasion per se (while keeping troops at the ready), but which attacks all of Iran’s weaknesses simultaneously. Unlike Iraq, Iran could not easily put down a popular uprising, especially in Teheran. And more, there is reason to believe (from Iran’s history of backing whatever looks to be the winning horse) that a popular uprising would soon find support from the clerics, whose love for the next “Mahdi” has always been conditional on his not putting their lives in danger. In addition, the business leaders (and they are there, believe me) will find it easy to approve a pro-U.S. regime, so that we could find a much different “Revolutionary Government” in power. What is needed is the right combination of conditions and catalyst. The best war is the one we win before any bombs are dropped.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Security, Mediscare, Coffee


My father is guarded more closely than the National Archives, it seems. Certainly better than classified documents in general.

My father is presently resting in the Critical Care wing of Memorial City Hospital, where he has been diagnosed with severe pneumonia, complicated by the vestiges of a viral infection, along with a weak heart and his diabetes. Until this morning, I had to take their word for where he was, because I wasn’t allowed to see him. The hospital staff was worried that his immune system had failed, so only his immediate care-givers were allowed into his wing, let alone his room. After the first few hours, they relented somewhat and let Mom in to see him, but only after getting her into one of those bio-hazard suits, a bulky awkward affair that no 73-year-old woman can easily manage, to say nothing of doing so while wearing a leg brace.

This morning the rest of the family was admitted, though only one at a time, and under strict conditions. First, you show your ID to the floor RN, and you scrub up at a wash station while they prepare a code card for you. It has your photo on it and must be returned to the duty nurse every time you leave the wing. After you put on the bio-suit, which smells of ammonia and plastic, the duty nurse enters a code on the wing’s magnetic doors, which will then open when you swipe the code card through it, which registers your entry time and identity. You are also on camera while you are on the floor, and your visit inside the wing is taped. You then proceed to the room for your patient – your card will open no other room door – and swipe the card through the holder at the door to Dad’s room, which then unlocks to admit you. Then you can go in to see the patient, who may have a hard time knowing who’s visiting, since the suits all look alike. Certainly it took Dad a while to recognize me.

Anyway, to get to the point, first I’m happy to say Dad looks a bit better. His kidneys are no longer on strike, and his fever is down a notch to 101. I can’t speak to the long-term prognosis, but at least it’s better, although those geniuses at MCH still think a breathing tube would be a swell idea. But I was struck by the level of security used there. I mean wow, I’ve handled some sensitive material before, but with nothing like that kind of precaution. And needless to say, in light of our recent discussions about border security, the level of attention at the hospital certainly made an impression.

The next element is Medicare. Where to begin with those guys? I guess I started thinking about that, when it occurred to me that Dad has been in either a Hospital or Hospice for two and a half weeks, plus the various ambulance trips, and special care in ICU, Intermediate Care, and now Critical Care. I began to wonder just how big the bill was going to be. I mean, I got hit by a drunk driver back in 1994 and just a quick ER trip without even an overnight stay rang up $1,800 very fast. I can only imagine what this whole episode is going to cost. I tried asking the hospital, but as I am not the patient or his spouse (even though I was calling on behalf on Mom) the hospital refused to tell me. As for Medicare, let’s just say my calls to them enjoyed the same kind of success as my 2004 attempt to contact every member of the House and Senate on the hot issues. Sure, maybe the guys at Medicare will have it all covered. But maybe they won’t and a few weeks or months down the road my Mom and Dad will have a demand letter from the hospital for whatever Medicare does not cover. So far all I have been able to confirm is the “initial” deductible of $952.

Look, I’m not saying Medicare should always be ‘this’ or never do ‘that’, specifically. But finding out how to meet your responsibility should not be this difficult, especially when you are already under the stress of a medical crisis. Maybe that Medicare Reform, if it actually gets here before I’m old enough to need Medicare, could include better access to information?

Lastly, just on a personal note, thanks to everyone for your prayers and good wishes. And thank God for coffee.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Paving The Career Path - Part 3

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Okay, after all this you may well have more information than you find interesting, but it was necessary to establish a basic overview of the matter. It should be clear by now that while you want to be sure that your selected school is properly accredited, and to consider how your desired employer will view that school or degree on your resume, the actual value of the choice is different for each person. In my case, for example, any of the three schools I have chosen would represent serious work and a fully recognized degree on my resume, but they would be much less expensive than other options. Talk about your ROI! Also, the ability to study and test at home in a flexible schedule allows me to continue to focus on my existing work and family responsibilities. I have no illusion about the extra weight to come, but at least if an emergency comes up, I have more control over my studies and with proper planning should be able to avoid the crisis of having to damage school, work, or family because of a conflict. Also, not having to deal with traffic saves me time and no small amount of stress.

Having chosen the Online MBA has its costs, of course. I will have to be self-disciplined even more than the ordinary graduate student. I will have to make time for the studies, assignments and examinations on my own responsibility. I have to find the places to get my textbooks, since I won’t be on campus, and since I will be hundreds of miles from the campus, I will have to pay close attention to when and how the professor will be available for questions. I will have to maintain my own equipment to insure that I get all the lectures, and I will have to run my own degree plan with the knowledge that no one is watching out for me. I will have to accept that my path does not include internships, and probably far fewer interviews with potential employers than students who can schedule an on-campus interview. And of course, no matter how hard I work for my degree, there will always be those employers who believe, however wrongly, that my degree is not worth as much, not as deserved, as an MBA claimed by the more traditional method. Knowing this in advance helps me not only understand the range of my opportunity, but play my hand to its best advantage.

I do not want to bore my readers, but from some of the mail I have received there seems to be a desire to understand the MBA process, especially as it impacts advancement to executive positions. I think we are all somewhat intrigued by top-level positions, seeing people of great wealth and power, and wondering if and how we might climb there ourselves. It certainly follows the mantra of the American Dream to believe that we can make our dreams reality if we work hard and can get lucky just once or twice. And it suits my personal ideals, to believe that anyone who figures out the way to success has a moral obligation to show that way to anyone interested in making the commitment. So I plan to chronicle my journey as I go, and I appreciate the feedback from my readers, especially questions and insights.

Good luck and God bless.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Paving The Career Path - Part 2

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( continued )

In choosing a school, therefore, you will have to know your requirements. If you are young and have little or no effective work experience, you need to get into the best-known program you can afford, which offers the sort of degree you are seeking. Be sure to keep an open mind, however, and measure not what the street says but a value based on the qualities you are looking for in specific. If, like me, you are old enough to have done a few things with your life, the resume will have a greater impact on your course, and the school has less influence than the degree, provided your school meets reasonable standards. If you are young, by the way, don’t forget the internship, which not only is pretty standard for young MBA students but a great way to create an opening for your first position after graduation. If you are older, like me, internship is not an option, so keep that in mind as well.

I strongly advise anyone to make their own decisions, because what fits one person may not be right for someone else. In the case of the University of Phoenix, for example, I cannot say whether that school is good or bad for an MBA, because I don’t know the exact situation of the person considering or attending the school. I will say that once you begin graduate studies at a school, you are not going to want to drop that school unless you are completely unhappy with it, because most graduate schools I have spoken with will not accept transfer credits from another graduate school, especially if it is from a different region or accrediting body. So if you are already attending the University of Phoenix in pursuit of an MBA, you would need to weigh the cost of throwing away everything you’ve done up to that point, although if your grades are good, that could help with your application to another school.

Maybe explaining how I decided on my schools for application will help. I began by considering all AACSB-accredited business schools in the U.S., which gave me more than 400 possible choices. I trimmed that list pretty fast, however, when I decided that moving from the Houston area was not a possibility, especially since I could not afford to give up my full-time job, and it would be an unacceptable burden on my wife and daughter. That dropped the list down quickly to only a hdnful of schools. Next, I considered whether I could manage to go to school full-time and decided no. That meant considering only part-time programs at area AACSB-accredited schools, and that is a short list, folks. In my case it lowered the count to Rice University, the University of Houston, Texas A&M in the Woodlands, Tulane University, or the University of Texas Houston MBA program. It got worse when I considered what was needed to participate in these programs. Starting times for classes, as well as on-site residency requirements, further cut down the feasibility. So much so that I added Houston Baptist University and the University of St. Thomas to the list as possible contenders, even though neither is AACSB-accredited. I began to feel that I could not find a program which was a good fit, and given the commitment a student makes at that level, this is a serious issue. So I backed off from AACSB, and did some more research. I mentioned that full-time studies was not viable for me. I recognize that this takes away some of the experiences that make the MBA path, such as face-to-face peer discussion in class and on-campus recruiting later. It also removes the possibility of internships, though at my point in work that’s not so big a deal. I point it out here because of what it means for younger students.

So, back to the search engines, and once again I had to consider the value and limits of online education. It’s no surprise that I found it easy to get information from the University of Phoenix, Capella, and similar for-profit schools. And as I have mentioned before, these schools are fully accredited at the regional level, the same as many traditional ‘brick and mortar’ schools. Such schools exist for the simple fact that many people cannot attend school in the old way. They either do not have a schedule which allows them to meet the demands of even many part-time programs. For some reason, a lot of schools do not offer starting times which allow working people a decent chance to get from work to the campus, to say nothing of the Saturday-only programs which are the best face-to-face option I have seen yet. I can only conclude that because of the functional difficulties for the universities, most schools with a significant reputation do not feel compelled to make their schedule ‘student-friendly’, since they get all they need through the traditional methods. Of course, that cuts out a lot of smart people with solid experience, but that would not be the first time a school proved unaware of real-world conditions. Not to insult the schools which are not attentive to experienced people, but it seems to be that a Business School should be more responsive to people who have real Business experience. When schools cater only to students with theoretical experience, that explains how people like Ken Lay can happen, officers who have never had to look too deep below the surface to test their theories. I have a sneaking suspicion that sometime in the future, those schools which have paid the most attention to veteran businesspeople will gain prestige for the accomplishments of their students, while schools which insist on remaining on old-style methods will find themselves less in touch with evolving business practices. This should give hope to people who attend schools like Capella and U-Phoenix; while the schools lack respect now from many employers, the degree is solid enough and over time, the eventual emergence of successful alumni from those schools will win respect, albeit slowly.

But the AACSB holds its respect for good reason, and many of its members also have learned the value of offering online MBAs. More than a hundred of its U.S. member schools, in fact, offer an online MBA, which blew up the roster of candidate schools again. This I sorted out by examining two critical components; residency requirements and cost. Many schools, even when offering an online degree, have certain minimum expectations of campus time, and if the distance was too far or the amount of time beyond feasibility, that scratched them for me. Also, state schools charge tuition according to the residency state of their students, so Texas schools would be significantly less expensive for me than out-of-state schools. For the most part, private schools either did not offer an onine MBA, or their tuition was already beyond my scope. Don’t misunderstand me please; if a school was expensive but offered a significantly higher level of professional advantage, it could be worth the cost. In the same way, a school which was less expensive might not be the best choice if the resulting degree could not be expected to procure the openings I want. So, to get to the point, I wanted schools with names people would recognize, which offered a serious MBA and within practical cost and effort ranges. When it was all sorted out, my top three choices were the University of Texas at Dallas, Texas A&M University - Commerce, and the University of Houston at Victoria. All three schools offer an MBA on generally the same level as their home schools at UT, A&M, and UH, all three are themselves specifically credentialed as accredited members of the AACSB. All three offer low tuition to Texas residents, and all three offer a program which is almost completely online. So these three schools are my primary selections. You may note that I chose UT-Dallas instead of UT-Austin; this is because UT-Austin does not offer an online MBA. The same for Texas A&M; the College Station campus does not offer an online MBA. And again the same for UH; the Houston campus does not offer an online MBA. What Dallas, Commerce, and Victoria have in common is the high standard of their home school, but the need to go online to bring in students they cannot recruit in normal way, because of their geographic location. From conversations I have had with advisors at the schools, the online students are treated on the same level as any other, which means the same expectations and comparable results; in a low student-to-teacher ratio and with a flexible access to the professors for questions and assignment, the conditions are ideal for a disciplined and self-motivated student.

So, having decided on these schools, I took my GMAT and sent my scores in to the schools, followed by my undergrad transcript. I asked managers at my company to send in letters of recommendation to the schools, and I have completed my online applications. The next step is completing the essays and sending them in with my resume. Then I will have to wait and see. I mentioned these steps, because I want the reader to understand that any significant school is going to want a lot of information from applicants, and if a school is not diligent when you apply, you have a warning sign early on about how they will regard you later on into the program.

[ to be continued ]