Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and now I have an even better reason to like it -- a brand new niece. Happy Birthday Allie Grace Ogren, the newest resident of Ashland, Nebraska!
As is my norm, I did my best to depress property values in the neighborhood with a garish display of gaudy inflatables. Here's the result (the new ones were my 25th wedding anniversary gifts from my wife, who understands priorities):
Unfortunately, it was windy and rainy this year, so discretion won out over valor and I didn't install the roof inflatable like I normally do. I really need a bigger yard, because I didn't have room to install the haunted pirate ship.
It looks like JO retention numbers have been pretty good lately for the Submarine Force, as evidenced by this announcement that PERS42 is going to a "Two Look" Department Head screening system. Excerpt:
The primary driver for changing the Department Head screening process is strong retention trends among our junior officers for the past two years. This strong retention has the potential to significantly impact Department Head tour lengths, which are already at the minimum required to provide adequate operational and leadership experience, and has the potential to reduce Executive Officer screening opportunity. As a result, we are shifting to a two-look Department Head screening process and will not return to a one-look screening process. The screening board will look at each year group (YG) twice, in May of the fifth and sixth year of commissioned service. Since YG05 has already passed its first look date under the new process, YG05’s first look will occur in November 2010, followed by a second look in May 2011. YG06 will have its first look in May 2011 and its second look in May 2012. The Submarine Force will always provide high quality officers an opportunity to serve as Department Head. Officers who have performed well during their Division Officer tours should not be concerned about Department Head screening. We anticipate that few officers will be placed "not cleared" on their final look. However, the Submarine Force must maintain control on the upper limit of the number of Department Heads in order to ensure each officer who does serve gains the experience necessary to develop professionally and be fully prepared for follow-on assignments.
This announcement, plus getting the retirement announcement for one of my fellow JOs on USS Topeka (SSN 754) back in the '90-'93 time frame, got me thinking about my JO experience and how the boat "command climate" impacts retention. Topeka during this time was almost legendary for having an "unpleasant" CO -- "He Who Must Not Be Named". The thing was, we ended up having good enlisted retention, and JO retention seemed to be above average. Of the cohort of 10 JOs who did all or most of the boat's '92-'93 WestPac/Arabian Gulf run, we ended up with three who got out of the Navy before their DH tour (one of whom was transferred off the boat early when he made a 1MC announcement to the effect of "I'm LTJG XXXX, and I'm drunk off my ass" when he was brought back to the boat off liberty when they were pulled into Bangor for voyage repairs), and two did lateral transfers to other communities before their DH tours (Medical and JAG Corps). That left 5 of 10 who went on to serve as Submarine Department Heads, and three of those went on to command. My theory is that the above average retention was due to a couple of factors: 1) We all developed a very strong sense of "Team", in that we were united against the common enemy (the CO), and 2) We knew -- as an absolute fact -- that we would never have it worse in the Navy in any future assignment. It would all be downhill from there.
What do you think? Does the command climate of a submarine influence the boat's retention rate? Or is it mostly the ship's operational schedule that's the driver? Or a combination of factors?
The Navy website has a story about a command flag football game between the crews of USS Georgia (SSGN 729) and USS Florida (SSGN 728):
Crew members from USS Florida (SSBN 738)[sic] and USS Georgia (SSGN 729) participated in the a flag football tournament held in St. Marys, Ga., Oct. 23 days ahead of South Eastern Conference battle between Universities of Florida (UF) and Georgia (UGA). Florida's flag football team was victorious, 53 to 41, against Georgia's team. Friends, family and crew members attended the game at St. Marys Middle School football field. One of the primary reasons for the game was to promote camaraderie between the two boat crews. The spirit was high and the competition fierce. "I run all the time, and we practiced this week as a team to prepare for this day," said Electricians Mate 2nd Class (SS) Sean Schoememan, Florida's cornerback and lineman. "This is a good game with a challenging team." Georgia's team started out strong and slowly allowed the crew from Florida to catch up and tie 34 to 34 prior to winning the game. "This is a fantastic game," said Sonar Technician 3rd Class (SS) Whitt Condit, Florida's wide receiver and corner. "This is a great opportunity for the boats to get together and have a good time." Condit's wife and best friend from the boat were in the stands cheering for Condit and Florida's crew.
There used to be a traditional flag football game between the staff and graduating students at NPTU Idaho back in the mid-80s that ended up being officially banned when too many people were getting medically disqualified from submarine duty because of injuries suffered during the game. (One of my housemates was one of them.) Have you ever participated in a football game amongst Submariners that didn't result in a major injury?
What's the difference between the Chilean miners and submarine sailors? After 69 days without sunlight, fresh air or seeing your family no one tells a third of the Chilean miners they have to go back down below because they've got the duty.
It is understood that the boat, which is first in its class, ran aground by its stern in a manoeuvre that “went slightly wrong” after it had dropped some sailors ashore in tidal waters off the Isle of Skye. As the tide rapidly ebbed it is thought the skipper of Astute, Commander Andy Coles, decided not to power it off the obstruction as it would risk damaging the hull that carries some of the most advanced acoustic tiles that make Astute virtually undetectable beneath the seas... ...No one was injured in the incident that happened earlier today. It came the morning after Trafalgar Day, where sailors celebrated the 205th anniversary of Nelson's victory. “Astute ran aground by her very stern earlier this morning as she was transferring people ashore,” a Navy spokesman said. “There’s no nuclear issue or no environmental issue that we are aware of and no one has been hurt.” The submarine, which carries a crew of 98, will now wait until later today for tug boats to pull her off when the tide comes in.
Hopefully all works out well for the boat and crew. More information, including a chart of the grounding area, is in this BBC report. I am amused by the British press calling Astute, commissioned August 27th of this year, the "world's most advanced nuclear submarine". Newest submarine class to be launched, yes, but considering she was ordered in 1997, I think I'll take the Virginia-class boats as being more advanced, and the Seawolf-class as being immeasurably better.
Update 1858 22 Oct: Here's an update from a local paper. Looks like the crew's going to be getting the Brit version of a RIM (Rectallly-Inserted Microscope) - jobbing. I feel for the poor guys. Having a bunch of press people who don't understand how tough it is to maneuver a single-screw ship without a real keel around in sketchy waters making a bunch of dumb comments, followed by politicians with the same level of input, doesn't make it any easier for for the people who really want to fix the problem. Being the lead boat of the class, this is probably one of the Brit's top CO and crew combos. Sucks to be them.
USS Wyoming (SSBN 742) and USS Georgia (SSGN 729) homeported in Kings Bay, Ga., and USS Maine (SSBN 741) and USS Ohio (SSGN 726) homeported in Bangor, Wash., are the initial four submarines that have been selected to integrate female officers into their crews. The blue and gold crews of the four submarines will each be assigned three female officers. Two of the women will be submarine officers, and the third female officer will be a warfare qualified supply officer. They will be assigned to their first submarine duty station after completing training, which consists of nuclear power school, prototype training and the Submarine Officer Basic Course. They are expected to report to their assigned submarines beginning December 2011.
More information can be found in this Navy Times article. If we could possibly keep the discussion from devolving into a series of gratuitous sexual terms, that would be great.
Going through my archives (I thought I had posted a previous conspiracy theory about Karl Rove controlling spacetime to ensure President Bush's old team, the Texas Rangers, made the World Series) I found this piece that I think will be a good source of arguments. (Not including most of the links because they're dead.) Originally posted February 2005:
Today, the blogosphere erupted in (mostly) good-natured humor as people finally realized that the Jimmy Carter (SSN 23) was about to be commissioned. While there were a lot of "attack rabbit" and peanut jokes (even from Frank J. ) there were many other posts which seriously questioned if President Carter should have been honored by the naming of a warship for him. To this question, my answer is an unqualified "yes".
First, a disclaimer. Yes, I served on the crew of the Jimmy Carter as the Engineer (Engineering Department Head) before I retired. (For those with a superficial knowledge of submarine personnel assignment procedures who may question this: the boat manned up in April, 2001. The Navy, recognizing the the long time between initial manning and the boat putting to sea in 2004 would mean that someone doing a normal 3 year Eng tour would not get any sea time, decided to bring in a served Engineer for a special "Post-DH Shore Tour" to be Eng for the first two years. Since I had already been the new construction Eng for the previous Seawolf, and was coming up for orders, they picked me.) I'm proud of my service on this unique boat, and wanted to share with you why I think the Navy did right by honoring President Carter.
Jimmy Carter is unarguably the most famous submariner in the world; not because he is a submariner, but in the same way that President Bush is the most famous former baseball team owner in the world. There are many people who disagree of the actions that Carter took as President, with his statements and actions since being voted out of office, and with his choice of family members. That's OK; as Americans we are allowed to criticize our leaders, past and present. I disagree with their apparent premise that his actions as President or since render him morally ineligible to be honored with the naming of a warship after him, and here's why. Despite what people may think about his beliefs or motives, I have never heard anyone say that he is not acting on his true beliefs. This, I don't think, can be said about other recent Democrat Presidents or presidential candidates. President Carter stood watch as Commander-in-Chief during the Cold War, when he had to live with the possibility that he might be awoken any night with the news that NORAD had detected a missile launch, and he had to decide what to do right away. Most of us remember how much the Presidency aged him; it's a tough job, and I admire anyone who can make it through 4 years of that stress. As long as ships are being named for political figures, I think that Jimmy Carter has as much right to claim that honor as anyone.
My first CO on the Carter shared this story: when he and his wife went to Georgia to visit President and Mrs. Carter, my Captain talked with Carter for about an hour in Carter's office. He noted that of all the memorabilia on the walls, there were only a few items from his Presidency, and an entire wall from when he served in the Submarine Force. Later, President and Mrs. Carter came to Groton, CT, with several members of their family, to meet with the crew and see the ship as she was being built. He spoke with passion about how honored he was to have the ship named for him, and in his abiding interest in protecting the national security of the United States. Although many don't believe that his actions, past or present, truly accomplished that goal, I think that he truly believes that by reducing tensions in the world, the U.S. will be safer. Simplistic? Probably. Naïve? I'd say so. Evidence that he supports our adversaries, or wishes the United States harm? No.
If anything, I'd say the Carter administration is evidence that submariners, being as a general rule micromanagers, probably aren't suited for the Presidency. However, I do believe that his well-intentioned service to our country, and the respect that is due the office which he held, make the naming of the world's most capable attack submarine after the profession's most widely-known practitioner a correct action. I am proud to have served on this vessel, and wish continued success for the crew as they get ready to really start having fun!
USS Pittsburgh (SSN 720) returned from a Northern Run on Friday to her homeport of Groton. Here's a story on the deployment, with a picture:
More pictures from the Navy website can be found here and here, and there's a 17 photo spread from the New London Dayhere.
A couple of thoughts:
1) According to the Navy article, the boat made port calls to Faslane, Scotland; Haakonsvern, Norway; Brest, France; and Portsmouth, England. That's a good set of ports for an Atlantic run.
2) The caption of the first picture in The Day indicates that they had two "first kisses" -- one for officers and one for enlisted. Has this become more common? It seems to me that it would just tend to emphasize the officer-enlisted divide. (Please note that I'm not questioning the intentions of the wives, just making an observation. I've learned that it's a very bad thing to get on the wrong side of Submarine wives.)
Here's a blog entry from a guy who has collected "first kiss" photos. What is your best memory of a deployment / patrol return ceremony?
An excellent article in the Oct. 18 edition of Navy Times (10/18: now online) provides insight to what led to the DFC last month of CAPT Ronald Gero from command of USS Ohio (SSGN 726)(Blue). I'll post a link when the story gets posted; here are some excerpts:
The arrival of a birthday card in the ship’s mail addressed to Capt. Ronald Murray Gero, who was turning 56, marked the beginning of the end of his command of the guided-missile submarine Ohio. The card — from a woman, postmarked June 19 from Hawaii — first landed in the hands of a crew member whose job it was to screen the captain’s mail. He opened it, noting that the heart-covered letter was not from the captain’s wife of 32 years... ...An officer was mulling all this over in late August when things came to a head. The training meeting at the Sam Adams Lounge on Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton, Wash., had wrapped up. It seemed, the officer told his colleagues, like their captain was about to use government funds to visit his girlfriend. Other officers agreed. Something had to be done.
If you have access to a Navy Times hardcopy, I highly recommend reading the whole story. Also included is an account of how CAPT Gero supposedly brought his "friend", an active reservist, to a final oral board for Submarine qualification for one of his JOs, and invited her to ask a question. He also apparently called her on his government phone from the bridge during surface transits.
The whole incident brings up a good question for all of us to think about -- at what point would you turn in your CO if you thought he was breaking the rules?
Bell-ringer 1308 15 Oct: Posted without comment, and based on a commenter bringing it up, here's the final scene from The Caine Mutiny:
An Interested Observer's Take On American Elections
I've always been interested in the process of political campaigns, wondering if the system we've set up is really the best way to pick leaders for our Republic. Before answering the question, I should provide my perception on how American election campaigns work. (I'll use examples from the current competitive race in my area, that for Congress in Idaho's 1st Congressional District between incumbent Democrat Rep. Walt Minnick and Republican/Tea Party challenger State Rep. Raul Labrador. My previous posts on this race can be found here and here.)
There are three basic groups of potential voters each candidate has to consider in any election; their interactions with and message to each group will differ. For lack of better terms, these groups are (1) Those predisposed to support you; (2) Those predisposed to support your opponent; and (3) The undecided "swing" voters. Since voting isn't mandatory in the U.S., candidates can turn voter excitement (or apathy) to their advantage. A smart candidate will tailor his campaign to maximize the likelihood that group (1) will vote, while trying to suppress voting from group (2). Most of the "horse-race" coverage of elections focuses on the efforts of each candidate to win over group (3), but I think a smart candidate can get just as much mileage from working on the other two groups. An example of this is the 2004 Presidential election; where many observers believe that the key to President Bush's victory was getting an additional several million group (1) religious conservatives who failed to vote in 2000 to turn out. Likewise, getting those predisposed to vote for your opponent to decide that it's not worth the trouble to bother to vote, or to vote for an unelectable 3rd party candidate, is a potentially fruitful strategy. While I don't want to give the Republican leadership too much credit for planning this ahead of time, one could see how their refusal to compromise on basically anything during the last two years and therefore keep the Administration from claiming victories could be a cause of the "enthusiasm gap" being reported in pre-election polls this year.
In the ID-1 race, this model is a little bit skewed, because the Democrat's group (1) is smaller than normally found throughout the country. While there are clearly Idaho Democrats who have become so disillusioned with Rep. Minnick's independent voting patterns that they vow not to vote for him, the Minnick campaign has apparently decided that it's more important to work on groups (2) and (3) than to try to shore up their base. I think they're probably right, even if I don't like the way they're going about it. Based on the advertisements the Minnick campaign has chosen to run, it appears that they're trying to break off the substantial "anti-illegal immigrant" bloc that normally votes Republican from Raul Labrador. Having a candidate with an Hispanic name in Idaho is probably a negative to begin with (I don't want to say there seem to be quite a few "brown people are bad" voters in Idaho, but...), and the Minnick campaign seems to be hoping to stoke those doubts those voters may have had otherwise to make them less excited to vote. While it's unlikely these people would vote for a Democrat ("Pelosi" seems to be a really bad word here), if they can be convinced not to vote -- a possibility since the other Republicans on the ballot in the up-ticket races are more "establishment"-type candidates, and not the Paulite bomb-throwers these potential voters are looking for -- that would be a win for Rep. Minnick.
Since it's not as easy to get the group (1) and (2) voters not to vote (they tend to vote more regularly than people who may be independent more based on apathy than anything else), there's still money to be made from convincing group (3) potential voters to vote for you. If your opponent has extreme positions, it's wise to try to highlight those, as Rep. Minnick did in his closing comments in the televised debate last night. Rep. Minnick has a built-in advantage with this group, as most of them who did vote in 2008 cast their ballots for him, and as a moderate he is likely a closer fit to their political ideology to start with. Likewise, he has an advantage with voters with military experience; even those who won't vote for him are being convinced not to vote for non-veteran Labrador.
The debate last night, which I attended, should be the last public interaction between the candidates for this election. (Neither of the major candidates are impressive debaters, but neither made an election-altering gaffe. Since debates tend to be watched only by the most involved political junkies, I'd be surprised if anyone's mind was changed by the debate; the number of truly undecided voters who tuned in to decide how to vote was probably in the three digits district-wide, based on no real data.) Assuming Rep. Minnick's internal poll numbers are favorable (all the publicly-released numbers to date have been), expect to see him start playing "prevent" defense and avoiding settings where the press may be present. As a general rule, the candidate with more money and a lead in the polls in the last couple of weeks will recognize that only a gaffe could cause the election to slip away. In this election, however, I'm not sure that's the case. Turnout on November 2nd will depend on either the group (3) voters deciding on their own that they want to vote, or being convinced by more politically-active friends. While Rep. Minnick rules the airwaves by sheer force of money, and therefore is more likely to gain votes from the 1st subset, it's the Tea Party-inspired voters who are more eager to vote. If the Republican GOTV effort pays off, expect this election to be a nail-biter than could go either way.
My initial question remains -- is this the best way to select candidates to lead our Republic? I used to think it was; that the effort required to put together a team to win an election, and to understand the electorate well enough to put together a message to which they could respond, was a good predictor of the attributes required to be a successful legislator or executive. Now, however, since there's so much more money being poured into campaigns, I don't think it is; I don't think we're getting the best candidates for office anymore. (Note that several Tea Party-backed candidates for Senate have basically refused to have any unscripted interactions with the press not because they have the lead, but because they say something stupid whenever they open their mouth. At least two of them -- Paul and Angle -- have a chance of winning.) I don't have an answer for how to fix this, but I hope the electorate will decide after a few campaigns like this one to no longer reward that type of behavior. Yes, I know I'm an idealist, but I can still dream...
Update 1343 15 Oct: Here's an opinion piece from the New York Times discussing the Minnick-Labrador race. Surprisingly insightful for a stuffed-shift Eastern media elite guy.
Here's an interesting article from the Daily Mail about a reporter who spent five days on HMS Talent (S92) during her current deployment. It's not an official source, but I was interested to see an article that I imagine was vetted by the British MoD saying "well over 1,000 feet down" when discussing the submarine's operating depths. I especially liked this picture:
My only experience on a British ship was spending a day on the carrier they had in the Arabian Gulf in 2000 (I think it was HMS Illustrious, but maybe HMS Invincible - it started with an "I") when I was the SubOps guy on the Carrier Group SEVEN staff aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). I rode over on the helicopter with my Admiral, worked with the submarine guys on the British ship planning a Combined exercise (including an American submarine officer who was permanently assigned to the British equivalent of the Strike Group Staff), and flew back the same day. My fellow staffers were upset that I got to go, because they figured it was a wasted opportunity for someone to drink while at sea. That's still my only helicopter ride.
Have you ever cross-decked to an allied vessel? (Alternate topic: Haven't the Brits ever heard of temporary racks for the guys who have to sleep in the torpedo room?)
Today is the 235th birthday of the U. S. Navy. From its humble beginnings, the United States Navy has become a force that more effectively controls the maritime areas on the earth than any organization in world history. Idaho's own Jeff Bacon has put out some tips on what not to do at a Navy Ball. Excerpts:
Do not throw dinner rolls. It is rude and obnoxious. Unless you have a clear shot, in which case it may be difficult to resist... ...If they parade the beef, don’t shout, “That’s my DATE!” (This applies to men and women.)
What are your favorite Birthday Ball stories? (Submarine or Navy, i.e. "Spring" or "Fall" Ball.) When I was on USS Connecticut (SSN 22), we incorporated an inflatable sex doll into our centerpiece. (For those who think this topic sounds familiar, it is -- we discussed it about 30 months ago. I figure we have some new people on board since then.)
Got to thinking about how Nuclear Power School was ran back when I went through in the mid-80s, and thought it'd be interesting to see how it's changed over the years. This post will focus on my memories of the Enlisted side (I was single then, so I have more interesting stories from that time) but feel free to put in your inputs on the Officer experience as well.
I got to Orlando in May 1984, right before we classed up. Back then, all Nukes went to boot camp and "A" School in Great Lakes, and I had my "stash" duty there while all my friends went down for their useless "wait to class up" make-work jobs in Orlando. My friends had hooked up with a group of women from the Recruit Training Command, so I got assigned a girlfriend from the least desirable member of that group. She was a Company Commander at the RTC (an AZ2, if I remember right), and was just finishing up with a company. We went out on the town on the night her girls had their Pass-in-Review, and they kept sending champagne over to our table. I had told my friends where the girl recruits were going to be that night, so they had easy pickings. They appreciated it a lot. The CC never let me come over to her house; she said it was because her three roommates (also CCs) were militant lesbians, and she had to "pretend" to be one in order to live there. (She estimated that about half of the women in the Navy who were past their first enlistment in the mid-80s were lesbians.) We stopped dating after a month or so, and I later heard that she was being discharged for homosexuality. I ran into later, and she said one of her recruits had accused her of coming on to her (which she denied) and said she wasn't fighting the charge because they were giving her an Honorable Discharge, and she was going to be forced out for medical reasons anyway. She ended up marrying another guy from my Nuke School class (8406).
When I got to Orlando and went to Cocoa Beach, that was the first time I'd ever seen an ocean. I think there are a surprisingly large number of Sailors who never saw the sea before they joined the Navy.
They had stopped the Carter experiment with female Nukes by the time I got there, but they still had some female Nukes running around on shore duty. There was one who everyone had to see for some sort of radiological screening, and everyone -- I mean everyone -- talked about how big of a bitch she was. When I saw her, sure enough, she was a bitch for no reason at all. I thought about how sad it must be to go through life being such a jerk.
Back then, Enlisted Nuke School was divided into 14 sections -- 3 for ETs, 4 for EMs, and 7 for MMs. They assigned you to a section based on your Nuclear Field Qualification Test (which I think is now called the Navy Advanced Placement Test) score, so the highest scoring ETs were in Section 14, MMs in Section 13, EMs in 12. Sections 1 and 2, as I remember, were for the lowest-scoring MMs, and those sections frequently merged about halfway through due to attrition. Back then, they did most of the attrition (I think it was about 1/3) in Nuke School, which meant the guys who failed out ended up having a hard time moving into a new rate, since they were already a PO3 (or, frequently, an ETSN/EMFN/MMFN, because they tended to mast guys in conjunction with disenrollment). By the time I got back for Officer NPS (8904), I'm pretty sure they had instituted the Nuke Field "A" School in Orlando, and they did most of the attrition there, before the students start Nuke School proper.
They tended to give less homework and mandatory study time to the guys in the higher-numbered sections, so my group of Section 14 geeks tended to have a lot of time to be stupid. We hung out at a bar called "O'Brothers" about a mile off base on the main drag (I think it was Colonial). They had a 2-for-1 Happy Hour from 5-7 every night, and we'd order 3 or 4 extra drinks just before it ended. (That six months marks the drunkest period of my life.) They had a Breathalyzer in the bar, and we used to let whoever blew highest drive back to base. It was a different time back then; I'm glad we, as a society, have gotten smarter about that.
If you're interested in what Nuke School is like now, you can get an "official" version from this video that's a few years old:
What good Nuke School stories do you guys have? And would anyone who's been there more recently like to share how it's different now?
Bell-ringer 1251 10 Oct: From the comments, here's a new blog by an Ensign currently at Nuke School.
I got an E-mail from Navy TogetherWeServed telling its members they could build a "virtual shadowbox" (example here). This got me thinking about my own actual shadowbox:
As you can see, I went the traditional route, with rank insignia (E-3 to O-4, plus shoulder boards for retirement rank), medals and ribbons, and list of major commands on brass placards, along with the obligatory flag. It's so heavy I fear hanging it on the wall, so it's been sitting propped up against my dresser for 6 years. The main thing that keeps me from going to the Navy and getting the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal I should have got from my IA duty at CENTCOM added to my service record is that I don't want to mess with my shadowbox.
What do you have or will you have in your shadowbox?
It seems like more and more people are wanting their very own submarine these days, because let's face it -- submarines are just cool. Some stories about people building their own subs big enough to carry people can be found here, here, here, and here.
Have you ever thought about building your own submarine?
I was going to add an application to my Facebook page listing the cities I've visited (I took last night off from work, so I'm bored) when I ran across a conundrum - what is the status of cities you've seen through the periscope, but not visited? Can you really say you've "visited" them? (For submariners, of course, we normally couldn't even say if we've "visited" a city or country that way, since we weren't "officially" there -- outside the 12nm limit, of course.)
What do you think? Do you personally count it as being in a country if you've hung out off their coast for a long time?
Meridian City Council: We're Technophobic Fearmongers!
My city is trying to sneak in a texting ban that would "make it illegal for drivers in Meridian to write, send, or read text-based communications while operating a moving motor vehicle." Since I enjoy a good unnecessary law as much as anyone -- especially one that would ban reading a text but not ban someone from revising their PowerPoint on their laptop in the passenger seat while driving through a school zone or looking at dirty pictures on their phone -- I figured I'd repost a portion of my post from earlier this year when the Idaho State Legislature was (unsuccessfully) trying to pass a similar ban:
The Idaho legislature is mostly made up of people who claim to support less government interference in people's lives, but it sure seems like they're happy to support more government interference in people's lives. The latest example is the passage of a bill in the Idaho Senate on a 29-5 vote to ban "texting while driving". While some Senators seem to be saying that the bill would not criminalize the simple act of reading a text while stopped at a stoplight, a quick review of the actual text proves otherwise. The bill defines "texting" as: "engaging in the review of, or preparation and transmission of typed messages via wireless devices." The section of law that's being amended, dealing with Inattentive Driving as a less included offense of Reckless driving, says it applies to "Any person who drives or is in actual physical control of any vehicle upon a highway, or upon public or private property open to public use..."
Unless the apologists for the new law want to claim that the police can't arrest someone for DWI who's passed out at a stoplight with the car running, then clearly the law applies to people stopped at a stoplight, and it clearly applies to reading texts. This whole issue is just the latest example of Idaho legislators who want to control the lives of those without political power -- in this case, teenagers. They claim they want to save lives, but what they're really interested in is passing a law that criminalizes behavior they lack the technical wherewithal in which to engage that's mostly being practiced by people they don't understand.
There are approximately 250 people a year who die in Idaho traffic crashes every year, and in essentially every case the accidents involve cars going over 20 MPH. However, I note that there's no bill currently introduced to lower the speed limit to 15 MPH (with exceptions for emergency vehicles, of course). I guess Idaho legislators are happy sending these 250 people to fiery deaths each year so they can race along at 50 MPH to get to the coffee shop for their mocha latte. [Rant inspired by Berkeley Breathed] Who knows, maybe next the Idaho Senate will decide that people are at risk of running off the road if they're outraged by the sight of people of different races walking down the street engaged in PDA, so they'll outlaw miscegenation. All in the interest of public safety, of course...
Hopefully the Idaho House will see through this attempt at election year political grandstanding, and keep this flawed bill from passing (or at least amend it so that it's clear that it doesn't apply to the simple act of reading texts, especially when stopped).
There's no doubt that texting while driving has the potential to cause accidents; that's why we already have a reckless driving statute. This is clearly an attempt by old people to show younger citizens that they are, in fact, the boss of them. Since the old people on the City Council actually have learned how to dial a phone, they aren't going to ban that. It's just texting, which is beyond their capabilities, that they want to crack down on. I look forward to hearing if they come up with any statistics of how often texting while driving causes accidents, as opposed to other behavior. (Unfortunately, I have to work during the meeting on Tuesday night, so hopefully I'll find someone to go testify for me.)
I really need to find the actual text of the ordinance (they claim it's on the city website, but I couldn't find it after a diligent search), because if it really does outlaw "reading text-based communications" I guess that means we won't be able to read roadsigns anymore without violating the law.
Update 1005 04 Oct: Here's a response I put up on Facebook to a friend asking if texting while driving isn't actually a problem. Agreeing that it is, I responded:
There are a lot of things I've seen here that are bigger problems that aren't being addressed by this law -- specifically, just plain idiots talking on their cell phone while drifting into my lane. My problems with this proposed law are threefold: 1) By outlawing a behavior more likely to be done by young people (the preamble [essentially] states this) it continues the trend here in the U.S. of the more powerful forcing laws down the throats of the less powerful just to keep them in their place; if they were really interested in reducing accidents, why not outlaw cell phone use altogether? Or reduce the speed limit to 15 MPH? It's because the more powerful like to be able to talk on their cells while driving. 2) It's just another example of a law that encourages people to break it, rendering the younger generation into a bunch of scofflaws. Here in Idaho, we sell fireworks but everyone has to sign an "agreement" not to use them in the state. People laugh their ass off at the law. 3) The law is poorly written, specifying "wireless" devices. You'll end up with a bunch of kids leaving their cell phone plugged into the power cord and texting away.
Here's the text of the proposed ordinance that the Mayor was kind enough to provide to me. Unless the city code otherwise defines "wireless", they really could have a problem with people keeping their cell phone power cords plugged in and texting away, if they choose to fight the law in the courts.
Bottom line -- yes, texting while driving is a problem. I think idiots talking on their cell phones while drifting into my lane is a bigger problem. New laws that kind of address one problem while ignoring a bigger problem just because that behavior is more popular among likely voters doesn't seem like the best use of law enforcement's time. If the police see someone driving negligently, pull them over. Don't keep me from reading a text from my wife to pick up a gallon of milk on my way home from work. Idaho's supposed to be about personal responsibility, not nanny-statism.
Update 1045 04 Oct: If the Meridian City Council really wants to protect its citizens, here's an example of another resolution they could pass.
I'm Joel Kennedy -- a married, 50-something year old retired submarine officer and esophageal cancer survivor with three kids who has finally made the transition to civilian life. Politically, I'm a moderate realist. In Idaho, that makes me a Democrat. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me. Don't call me at home.)