A Murder of Crows

To my small coterie of readers I now offer my shortest and most painful post.

In relating the story at the core of my last post, Cookie Diplomacy, it was my intention to reflect on human nature and its role in the subtleties of  how bureaucratic decisions are made.  Anson Burlingame, Captain, USN (Ret.) took me to task for it, pointing out that by doing so I had given the non-Navy public the impression that I “. . . revealed corruption and politics in our professional assignments . . .”  As I have said in replies to comments on that post, I never in my 22 year career had any evidence that the assignment system was other than merit-based.

Raven perched above Tanner Trail at Lipan Point

Image by Al_HikesAZ via Flickr

Captain Burlingame is correct.  I asked my wife to read my post and she agreed with him that it well might give the wrong impression to someone unfamiliar with the Navy.  (She doesn’t read all my posts.  I may enlist her as editor from now on.)

That “Ron” got his assignment because of the cookies was purely circumstantial and there is zero proof of any misconduct.  In fact, I am certain that Ron himself has no evidence as to whether the cookies made any difference.  I would also add for the civilians out there that

Navy duty assignment is serious business and well-supervised.  While I intended no harm, it is harm I have done and I apologize for it.

My appetite for sugar cookies is sharply diminished.  It is probably because I now detect in them the flavor of crow.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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11 Responses to A Murder of Crows

  1. This is really not necessary. If someone were looking to pick a fight with you they could find something wrong with the piece, but I believe the average reader is capable of understanding what you meant. It saddens me to see Anson take a point that was CLEARLY metaphorical and use as a billyclub. I hope this will not discourage you from continuing to write freely, because your work is important and meaningful. Seeing the response to this piece made me both sad and angry. I’m sorry you had to deal with this sort of browbeating. You deserve better.


  2. ansonburlingame says:


    Don’t beat yourself up. Just because Molly and I agree that you may have overstated a case to make a point about politics, it is not a grave anything. Hell, I overstate stuff all the time.

    I use the comment sections of my blogs to clarify or even acknowledge errors. If the errors are big enough I edit the post, usually with a note in italics to make corrections.

    You are a good writer, good observer and from all I can tell a good and caring man. Keep up the good work.



    • Jim Wheeler says:


      I have always viewed the service as a higher calling and the thought that I had damaged the public perception of that was painful. Some would say “a teachable moment”. Additionally, it is important to me that I retain enough respect from fellow bloggers that they care to continue serious discourse with me. In that regard your note here is much appreciated.



  3. ansonburlingame says:

    Jim and Ken,

    I fully understood the intention of your initial blog, to suggest that in government “cookies” are a big deal. I agree. But the example you selected was the wrong one in my view and thus I responded, strongly.

    For Ken, I of course stand by my response. The assignment of increased responsibility to anyone in any profession is very important. When “cookies” are used, frequently, to make such assignments it is despicable to me. That is why I am so adamant against Affirmative Action for example where skin color is a “cookie”.

    I wonder for example if Jim had blogged that “Ron” was black and made his case for preferential assignment, how would you have reacted. You might well have called him a racist for even attempting to make such a point.

    Jim told me initially to “don’t take it too seriously” or words to that affect. Well when he made light of one of the best, if not the best, systems to select those for assignment to positions of increased responsiblily, I took it seriously, based on personal experience, and responded accordingly.

    To me that is serious debate, not browbeating or whatever you want to call it.

    Now if you want to see some browbeating or chest thumping go read responses to some of my comments on the Erstwhile Conservative blog. I have been called almost every name in the book on occasion. But I “keep coming back” to that blog site because ideas and the debate of such are important to me.

    To some degree, again, Jim, in making such a public acknowledgement of his potential error, increased the visiblity of my disagreement and/or his possible error. That was, as stated above, not necessary in my view. The comments section flow could have served the same purpose.

    Back to the Erstwhile Conservative blog. Sometimes Duane is so “wrong” in my view that I post a blog in response showing my view as well. Again that is legitimate and usually civil debate. And that is what blogging is all about to me. And you might be surprised to find that I respect Duane and his ability to TRY to make his points. He is persistent if nothing else and a very good writer and researcher.

    So I suggest that we all put this little episode behind us and keep on blogging and commenting in order to share and debate ideas. Jim, Duane and I do it all the time in many different ways. And while “I’m not Sure, Are You?” I believe we respect each other in doing so simply because all three of us think such debate is important.



  4. First of all, I am Keith, not Ken. That is not a particularly difficult fact to get correct, Anson.

    Jim’s original post was classy and interesting, your replies were disgusting.

    Since this is a serious debate, I figure a tough guy like you can take a little browbeating himself. You seem to want to take the gloves off and do the “say what we mean thing”, so let’s dance.

    Because some people have treated you disrespectfully does not give you the right to take the nasty, condescending tone you took in your response towards Jim. Your reply here was better, but I wonder if that is more of an attempt to get away with the original nastiness you displayed. Since you have decided that the “cranky tell it like it is guy” is your main internet persona, I’ll address you in these terms.

    Your reply was nothing short of embarrassing. You alternate between wallowing in self-pity because people have called you out for making ignorant, ill-informed comments and nearly breaking your arm for patting yourself on the back for getting to where you are by being such a magnificent performer. Self-congratualation, self-pity, self-congratulation, self-pity. A seemingly never ending cycle.

    I figured you’d trot out the old race argument. It’s what folks like to do when they are looking for cheap points. Oh…let’s see if he continues with his point if race is involved. I bet that scares him (and all other liberals, or whatever the sad little voice in your head thinks I am). Race-baiting is the last bastion of the defeated.

    You function from the delusion that the world is a level playing field and by helping anyone you are feeding their “addiction” (I still laugh when I think of that brilliant assessment). I am certainly not going to talk you out of it in one post. You have a lifetime of experience to support the ignorant ideas you seem to think are true. If you just thought your facile-minded ideas about life were true that would be bad enough…but you are PROUD of them!!! You wear your obtuseness as a badge of honor thinking that your brave ideas are somehow contributing to betterment of mankind, when in fact they do nothing but allow you to puff your chest out and think of how your doing the world a favor by “telling it like it is”.

    We can dance anyway you like, Anson. But if you are going to take a bullying tone I’ll be glad to push back. I can do civil debate as well. It’s your call.


    • Jim Wheeler says:


      I appreciate your motivation in coming to my defense, but it’s not necessary. It has become an emotional roller-coaster for me and I think for you and Anson as well. His advice to drop it as “enough said” is good IMO, but with one exception, and that is the race aspect which you mention. That appears to be an especially hot-button issue with Anson. I think the issue of race/fairness/social justice lies at the heart of the conservative-liberal issues currently being debated on these pages.

      The nation fought its ugliest and most divisive war over slavery 150 years ago and despite much progress, resentment, envy, hard feelings and even hatred still exist over the same issues. The descendants of Native Americans and of African American slaves harbor strong resentments over the past. Conservatives such as Anson express those resentments strongly, feeling apparently that all currently-living generations are too far removed from the original injustices to justify the resentments of the “minorities”. In fact, IMO, poverty should be included in the list of the unjustly-treated because its effects transcend generations. Examples include Appalachia and many pockets of “poor white trash” in the deep South. In my opinion, such injustices can never be eliminated entirely because, like waves from a storm over the ocean, their effects diminish exponentially with time but never completely disappear. Thus perfect social justice can never be achieved. But is this not the stuff of life and our evolutionary nature? I contend, as William Blake did even in the 17th century, that it is.

      I have found a truly remarkable essay on patriotism and ethnicity in the Old South written by a very articulate Southerner. His feelings of pride are deep-rooted, but he is also circumspect. I highly recommend it. Link:


      We have achieved progress and even now have a mulatto president. It is a hopeful evolution, facilitated by people like Barack Obama, MLK and Bill Cosby (one of my favorite “tell-it-like-it-is guys who rightly speaks tough-love to others of his color). I wonder if Obama’s presidency may be premature for society, judging from the intensity of the current political divide. I hope not. Let us hope that our society continues to ethnically homogenize and not implode into angry sub-tribes, as it now seems to be doing. That is the challenge that political leaders face.

      The amazing thing to me is that we as successful as we are so far. I have hope that the waves of ethnic resentment are diminishing and we are progressing towards a future in which we can all succeed or fail based on our own conduct and effort. But basic human nature isn’t going to change and the ripples will always be with us.



  5. ansonburlingame says:

    First Ken or Keith or whatever moniker you choose,

    Do you now agree that the assignment of men and women to positions of increased responsibility in our military is perhaps one of the best systems ever developed in our country. If you concede that point, I rest my case. If you disagree, I rest my case as well. I could not have been any clearer in stating my views on that subject.

    For Jim,

    Again I tend to disagree that race is still the dominant theme is this discussion. The more important question is the one of distribution of “things” by anyone. How do we choose to educate, feed, clothe, provide shelter, provide “benefits” of any sort as a society seems to be the central question.

    What is the correct criteria to be used to determine who NEEDS outside help in such matters? Who should pay for those benefits? How much can anyone afford to pay for such matters? Who gets to make those choices?

    It is my belief that INDIVIDUALS should make such decisions for themselves and their families. It is also my opinion that our country was founded on such a radical (at the time) concept. We as a people decided we could make those decisions much better than a remote King. We fought and won to implement those principles of freedom to choose and suffer the consequences or benefits for our own choices.

    The whole world thought we were crazy at the time. People cannot decide what is best, only governments, then embodied as Kings, could do so.

    Well we certainly proved the naysayers wrong way back when, did we not.

    Now we are having the same argument again, only this time it is “our” government trying to act like a King. I, arrogantly according to “K”, disagree. And of course I use my 68 years of observing and participating in such matters as a point of reference.

    I wonder what “K” with his Christ-like logo herein uses as his?



    • If the Navy produced and promoted a person who can’t even get a first name correct, it can’t be all that good of a system. “Performance, performance, performance” and the man can’t even get a 5 letter name correct. Pretty sad if you ask me.

      Your writing only served as an act of self-important, humiliating self-aggrandizement. I am in no better position to evaluate the Navy than I was yesterday. The only thing that your writing made clear is that since you were promoted, it is entirely possible that the system is highly flawed.

      I rest my case, tough guy.


  6. Jim Wheeler says:


    Thanks for your clarification on the “dominant theme”. My impression that you were more focused on race derives from your comments (and “Clem’s second comment) on my post, “A Political Conversation”.

    It strikes me that race (or ethnicity) and the issue of “social justice”, about which we have blogged much, are tightly bound. It seems to me to be a case of leverage and culture. Let me explain.

    In a perfect world all children would have an equal beginning: good pre-natal care, nutrition, folic acid for development of nerves and brain, absence of alcohol and tobacco products in mom’s bloodstream, maybe even some classic music heard by the fetus through the placental wall. Then, good nurture through early childhood. Again, good nutrition, exposure to a brain-stimulating environment together with a strong sense of protective love. Finally, a caring and stimulating early education giving the child a strong sense of self-worth, emphasizing her own special talents.

    We both know this perfect world exists only for a few and the lower we are in the food chain the greater the chasm between reality and the above perfect world. Now I’m guessing that you will say it’s the parents’ responsibility and if they fail to provide that perfect world for their children, then to hell with them. We others in society should not be responsible for their irresponsibility. We should not, for example, have to pay for a Head-Start program that provides breakfast and educational-stimulation the kids should get at home.

    But the problem lies in reality, and in that reality the majority of the poor are also black or come from a long cultural line of poor people. The kids at the bottom of the food chain do NOT generally get these things without such programs. You can say, tough s**t, that’s the way it is. I’ll take care of mine and that’s it. But you then have to live in a society of degraded quality, one in which there is greatly increased crime, homelessness, mental illness, and burden on the medical establishment (ER’s, in current America).

    It is easy, particularly for as a person such as yourself who has lived up to your own responsibilities, to condemn those who have not been responsible. I too have contempt for such people. Strong contempt. But I also want to live in a better society, one in which children at least have a fighting chance for a good life. I want to live in an America that typifies Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill.

    I personally grew up relatively poor, although I didn’t know I was poor. I had good loving parents, a mother who taught me to read before I ever went to school and and Andrew Carnegie library that I devoured. In addition, I had luck. But it’s easy to imagine those things as a chain with links, physical, medical and cultural links. I think the fracture of any link could have led to a much-degraded life for myself.

    One of those links that is often broken if fatherhood. I refer to the reprehensible, disgusting irresponsibility of many black men who get a woman pregnant and then completely ignore their responsibilities for her and their children. This is a really tough one, one which Bill Cosby and MLK both took their brethren to task for, and which Head Start tries to patch up. If you don’t approach the problem that way, then how do you do it? Or do we just ignore it?

    I assume that you had good parents and a good start in life. (I will even strongly assert that there are examples of people overcoming massive disadvantages to become successful, but these are rare.) To condemn those who start with a broken chain for not equaling your own responsibility may be morally satisfying, but to do such is based on the assumption that their beginning chain was equal to yours. In my opinion this ignores reality. The chain is complex, it is part cultural, and it is generations-long. Fixing it is not simple.

    I think we agree that societal assistance, welfare if you will, should be provided in a way that promotes and encourages self-help, that inspires effort by the poor such as in Habitat for Humanity, that avoids simple hand-outs. The local program you are helping is like this too. This is a difficult thing to leverage, but it shouldn’t keep us from trying. Affordability is the other aspect. With the Tea Party now a political power we may well get to see what happens to a society of much less government.




  8. ansonburlingame says:


    We both grew up in rural small towns with loving parents. My parents had a fatal flaw that also greatly affected my life but they loved me and did the best they could no doubt about it.

    We both came from that environment into a much larger and tougher world. We endured or survived a really tough educational experience and went on to professional and honorable success in the same profession.

    We both have now chosen to write on poltical subjects using those points of reference as well as others to make our views known. We “stick our noses out” publicly in doing so which is good and constructive, in my view. For sure our mutual goal is a stronger and better society for those that follow. We both have the best of intentions, as does Duane in that regard. That is one of the reasons I keep “doing this”.

    I have always liked you description of “tribalism”. While for sure there are racial elements to any tribe, their are exceptional cultural elements as well that go deeper than race alone, in my view.

    Now you might have considered “Clems” views expressed in comments as racist. They were not intended as such.

    Bradey was a pure racist commenting on Lincoln’s “wingnutism” from strictly a racist view. You showed how wrong such views, expressed in 1861 have become. It was a great approach to challenging “wingnutism”.

    One of Clem’s points however is that ALL Presidents are “wingnuts” in the views of some, however wrong those views, particularly when viewed through the lense of history might be. Clem merely said that in his view HIS wingnut was worse the Bradey’s wingnut. In fact Clem acknowledges that Bradey’s wingnut was the best one we have ever had.

    Clem then went further to show why he thought HIS wingnut was much worse than Bradey’s. “Hell Bradey, those black folk now get mo sowbelly and conbread (preferences) than my chilluns cause their grandaddy didn’t have as much to eat as mine fer a hunnerd years”.

    Clem is not a racist in my view. He is simply trying to sort out how we continue to struggle with issues to achieve equality. Clem also thinks “carpet baggers” (bureaucrats from “up north”) are misguided “along wit them damn unions which you ben fightin gainst” to achieve such equality.

    Now Clem and Bradey both discuss their situations in the venacular so to speak, a redneck sounding venacular because they are both from the south. But either of us could have discussed many other situations using different venaculars from anywhere in the world. I wonder how someone in the Gold Rush of CA back then would view the government of CA today for example. Race would have nothing to do with the first but tribalism would have a lot to do with the second individual.

    And neither one of them would like one tribe getting more sowbelly and cornbread than his tribe in whatever year they chose to argue.

    Such is the quest for equality. And we both know what deToucville had to say on that subject.

    Now I have to go find my chart-o-meter!!



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