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Monday, January 02, 2006

Mutiny on the New Year

Checked the boat on Saturday, then made a morning out of going to the dump. Took the whole family, including the dog. As we drove through the gates of the transfer station, my Mom said: "Oh, I remember this place. You took me to eat here once."

The dump. Ouch. Good thing I didn't have a DHS case worker in the car with me. I'd be in jail now.

Later that night we had a really nice New Year's Eve dinner at a French-style bistro in Camden. After that we went to a party where the conversation eventually ended up on the subject of New Year's resolutions. I mentioned I'd seen William Safire on the news and he was talking about trying to be more of an optimist. I decided to go one step further and I promised to keep clear of cynics and doomsayers. To that end, I plan on reading more William Safire and George Will and less Maureen Dowd and Robert Novak. In fact, The Free Press, if ever in my house again, will be used exclusively to light the wood stove. (Check out the economic, monetary, and global policy theories of Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman, if you want to be more of an optimist in 2006.)

I'm surprised more people aren't sick to death of the professional cynics, whiners, naysayers and pessimists. They wouldn't last very long at sea.

One time, on a particularly rough outing, I had a lady screaming about how we were all gonna die. I had to tell her to shut up and sit down or I would be forced to sedate her. (I really didn't have any sedatives other than a few Dramamine and a billfish billy.)

I've seen it happen more than a few times. Someone hits the panic button and scares all the passengers. They get freaked seeing someone lose it, especially when their captain is running around with a box of Dramamine in one hand and a billfish billy in the other.

Seriously, panic from a passenger doesn't do the captain and crew any good either. They have their own jobs to do. They're busy. They don't need distractions. In fact, most of us in the passenger carrying trade view panic -- or any other form of extreme negativism -- as a kind of stampeding virus. The more it spreads and gets away from you, the harder it is to stop.

Insubordination doesn't help much either.

On a boat, if you can't make the situation better, you try not to make it worse. Constructive advice is OK. Asking questions is OK. Negativism is not. You don't challenge the captain's authority or question his or her decisions, unless, of course, the captain really doesn't have a clue. But that's the tricky part, isn't it? How do you know? How do you know when the time has arrived for you to become a human monkey wrench? It can't be because you disagree with the course of action the captain has chosen. It can't be because you think it's too rough or too dangerous to continue.

Here's are some suggestions. Not suggestions for when to panic. There's never a good time to panic. These are suggestions for when to challenge the person in charge.

1. He or she has lost the ability to make a decision.
2. He or she has a history of decisions that have resulted in unequivocal disaster.
3. He or she can no longer maintain their leadership by legal, moral, and/or ethical means.
4. He or she has engaged in or promoted illegal or unethical activities.

Not respecting the person, disagreeing with their methods of leadership, not liking their style or personality, doubting their knowledge or ability to lead, questioning their motives, are not viable reasons for challenging their authority.

The Caine Mutiny. Crimson Tide. Two great movies dealing with insubordination and mutiny.

In the first, Queeg, an idiosyncratic and uncharismatic captain, is systematically destroyed by negativism, panic, insubordination, and, eventually, a mutiny. He never really does anything wrong, except that he fails to stand up to his insubordinate executive staff. (The subliminal message here is that any and every person of authority can be broken given the right set of circumstances.)

In Crimson Tide, the captain of the sub, played by Gene Hackman, is entirely in the right by Navy standards. But under increasing pressure, vis a vis a relentless challenge of authority posed by his first officer, his character slips into the third leadership condition given above. He lowers himself to using racial insults and other unethical psychological methods of regaining control of his first officer. (The message here is that under the right set of circumstances, even the strongest leader can make a decision that has dire consequences.)

Although Crimson Tide is packed with tense drama and fine acting, the premise of a recalled launch sequence, in this case the rationale for Denzle Washington's character's actions, is a complete Hollywood fabrication. Nothing like that could ever happen. It's either, get the order to launch and launch, or . . . there isn't an order to launch. Again, there is no such thing as a recall. It's a plot devise created so that by the end of the movie we will view the mutineer, Denzle Washington's character, Lt. Commander Ron Hunter, as the hero.

In fact, in the two movies listed above, the mutineers are wrong. Dead wrong.

Which brings to mind the current spate of extreme negativism being purported in this country by growing numbers of television and political personalities. Some, obviously, have their own self-serving agenda. Others have different motivations, altruistic, ideological, etc. Whatever the reason, I almost wish it were possible to drop them off at the next port of call.


Copyright © Bob Bernstein (seabgb) 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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