A distraction for the species

A debate of epic proportions took place last week. Streamed live via the Internet, the audience was massive and motivated. Each debater was bolstered by their respective armies of supporters and intellectual warriors. The concepts being addressed were critical to all humanity — or so the hype would have us believe. Evolution or creationism, which is the more viable option?

On the science side, Bill Nye. The Science Guy is in fact not a scientist at all. Rather, he’s an entertainer who has honed an ability to share highly technical information with non-scientific audiences and make the quest for knowledge sound appealing.

On the creationism side stood Ken Ham, president of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., which hosted the engagement. Ken believes the book of Genesis can and should be taken literally.

It should have been a pay-per-view event. Interest in the discussion was certainly high enough to have brought a windfall to both speakers and their causes.

Yet, like so many purportedly great events, it fizzled. Neither debater was swayed by the other. Few, if any, viewers were inclined to switch affiliations based on what they saw and heard, either. What it all came down to in the end was two men defending their beliefs as strenuously as possible. That’s a good thing. Bravo for both debaters.

Not everyone holds that position, of course. In fact many in the scientific community wince at even the suggestion of this debate taking place, ever, between any two debaters.

They’re wrong, of course. Debate is good. Not only is it good, it’s necessary.

Debate allows for an exchange of ideas, both good and bad. It is this airing of perspectives that leads to learning, understanding, and ultimately a new sense of wonder that pushes humanity forward to new inventions, new technology, and new ways of perceiving our place in the universe.

No debate is too stupid to allow. Send the participants to their podiums and let’s get rockin’. If physicist Stephen Hawking gets the opportunity to debate comedian Pauly Shore about the likelihood of earth being swallowed by a black hole in the next decade, and both parties are willing to engage in the verbal sparing, they should do it. Really. Imagine the audience attracted to that intergalactic donnybrook.

The hubbub about the Nye/Ham debate continued to rage after the debate ended. Those who backed Ham suggested he’d won. On the other side, Bill Nye has taken a bit of a beating for not convincing the audience at the Creation Museum to lose their faith, convert to Darwinism, and embrace the idea of an earth that is many hundreds of millions of years old. Seriously? Does anybody think that was a reasonable expectation given the audience and the venue?

Who won is unimportant. The fact that they participated is what it’s all about. The only thing that could have made it better for me would be if they had debated a better question — a question that actually matters.

Consider this: Let’s imagine that instead of a worldwide audience, Nye and Ham were debating in a closed room. Their only audience consists of the three hosts of the Fox Business News program, The Independents. Kmele Foster, Kennedy, and Matt Welch attend with open minds, ready to adopt the position that’s best represented. Nye knocks it out of the park, virtually proving that Darwinism is the correct answer. Ham does equally well making that case that Genesis can be taken literally as a description of how life on earth began.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Kmele buys Bill Nye’s position hook, line, and sinker. He becomes a dedicated disciple of Charles Darwin and the theories he expressed in Origin of the Species. Matt Welch goes the other way, adopting Ken Ham’s creationist perspective completely. Their counterpart and big ol’ ringleader, Kennedy, hangs on the fence, intrigued by aspects of both arguments, but not enough to be swayed one way or the other. She vacillates like a cheap tabletop fan.

All of this begs the question, so what? Would Kmele’s belief in the scientific method make it impossible for him to attend religious services at his leisure? Would Matt’s alleged embrace of theology keep him from experimenting with photo-voltaics and possibly discovering a new, lighter weight, higher output crystalline structure that would make solar panels cheap, efficient, and plentiful? Would Kennedy’s indecision prevent her from showing up at the studio tomorrow morning where she knocks out an epic program on Los Angeles’ most astounding alternative radio station? No. Their beliefs about where we came from don’t have a thing to do with what we’re doing now, and even less to do with where we’re headed.

Debate is important. It allows us to participate and even compete in the arena of ideas. Yet, what matters is not the topic or even the outcome of the debate. What matters is that the debate happens.

When the purveyors of two divergent trains of thought meet, interact in a respectful manner, and part ways again, we all win. That’s true whether the topic is evolution, creationism, raising the sales tax, or lengthening a runway.

Talk may be cheap, but it matters. Let’s not become so entrenched in our positions that we lose sight of what really matters — our ability to interact productively with other people — even with other people who hold very different beliefs from our own.

The elephant in the room

Superbowl Sunday was anything but super. Not only was the game a huge disappointment to anyone who enjoys competitive sports, but earlier in the day news broke that Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead in his Greenwich Village apartment.

Aviation shares something in common with sports and show business, whether we choose to believe it or not. [Read more…]

Searching for that last straw

Long, long ago I was fortunate enough to hear a joke that’s stuck with me for all these years. What I hadn’t anticipated was that a single joke would help inform my political sensibilities forevermore. That’s right, a joke has become a guiding light to my method of dealing with others.

[Read more…]

Courting the cross-over effect

While out and about recently I saw something that left an impression on me. It was a line of sports cars and a Formula racer parked right there on the ramp in Sebring, Florida. They were bright red and carried names like Porsche and Mazda. Their engines had the ability to put out significantly more horsepower than the light airplanes I typically fly.

[Read more…]

Everybody has a game plan

General aviation is something of a massive storage locker that houses a plethora of game plans designed to save the industry. It seems as if virtually everyone has one they’ve been working on, refining, honing to perfection. And the story of each plan is the same. It’s better. It will achieve more impressive results. Honest, it will.

There’s only one problem. For all the rock’em sock’em can’t-possibly-fail game plans on the table, there’s no team willing to take the field and implement them. We’re all chiefs with no indians. [Read more…]

AOPA gets back to basics


With the new year came a big new announcement from our friends in Frederick, Maryland. Six new fly-in events will grace the calendar starting in 2014, spreading from the east coast to the west coast, with important bases of operation in the middle of the country, too.

Yes, this is big news. It signifies and entirely new and different approach for the largest and arguably most important of the aviation-centric alphabet organizations.

[Read more…]

One size does not fit all

Imagine walking into a restaurant, sitting down, grabbing a menu, and finding only a single item listed there. One entree, that’s it. And let’s limit it to only one size of that entree. You don’t get to choose between the 6 ounce steak, the 9 ounce, or the 12 ounce. It’s the 12-ounce version or nothing.

What are the odds you’d go back there again?

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Mentoring our way to success

Every week or two I spend time with a young man I have come to respect. He’s smart, creative, curious, and searching for a better way to identify and achieve his goals. So we sit and chat.

Sometimes we have coffee and a snack during a brief get together. Sometimes we jabber away for hours. The range of topics we cover is as big as all outdoors. There are no limitations on what might come up or where we might take the discussion.

He is a professional, I am his mentor. I’d like to believe I’m his friend, too.

Mentoring is one of those terms that comes up in conversation from time to time, usually in the context of, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way to help these kids today get a better handle on things?”

It’s not nearly as popular an activity as it might be, though, and that’s a shame because it’s not hard, it’s not expensive, and it doesn’t really take up much of your time. There are no rules either.

The goal is so basic as to make mentoring a virtual slam-dunk for anyone who wants to give it a try. Basically, you’re passing along information. Information leads to inspiration, or insight, or confidence, or any number of things that might make the mentee’s experience less rocky and more productive.

If we were to reduce the mission statement to just a few words, they might be these: Mentors help mentees find their way.

The process can be quite long, lasting for years in some cases. Yet it can be surprisingly enjoyable. If you do it well a relationship develops.

In our case, that relationship is valued by both parties. We like each other. Maybe because our time together isn’t dominated by completely serious, nose-to-the-grindstone discussions. We laugh quite a bit. Admittedly, it’s not at all unusual for us to get into deep discussions about social issues, historical events, or personalities my mentee is interested in or curious about. And that’s all good stuff.

After all, I’m a chubby white guy in my mid-50s and he’s a fit young black man a whole generation younger than me. Somehow we find things to talk about that satisfy both of us. To be honest, finding those topics of conversation is a lot easier than you might imagine.

Earlier today he said, “I’m interested in flying.” That surprised me because I’m not making any attempt to turn him into a pilot, or a mechanic, or an aviation enthusiast of any kind. In fact other than a few meetings at my airport office, and a single occurrence of walking him out to an airplane and putting him in the pilot seat to shake things up a bit, I’ve never suggested he should consider flying.

You see how mentoring works? It’s subtle. What my mentee is getting out of the process is not limited to the topics we discuss. He’s also benefiting from seeing someone he respects do things he never even considered doing. He meets a wide array of people through me that he would likely never meet otherwise. Each of them brings something to his thought processes, too. And it is those thought processes that will lead this increasingly impressive young man to do big things one day.

Who knows? Maybe he will learn to fly one day. If he does I suspect he’ll find a way to pass his newfound interest in aviation on to his friends and neighbors — people whom I would not normally come in contact with.

Now I’m not suggesting that every pilot in America should rush right out and find a young person to mentor. No, not at all. They shouldn’t limit themselves to young people. Mentor anyone who expresses an interest in it. Can you imagine what an impact a couple hundred thousand aviation-friendly mentors could have on life in America?

Admittedly you can’t just go out and grab the first person you see by the lapels and announce in a loud, commanding voice that you intend to mentor them. That sort of things tends to get you locked up in a small room under professional observation. You can be a bit more diplomatic and stylish about your search for a mentee. But do it.

Your local high school may have a listing of students who are interested in making contact with local men and women who have experience in specific fields of endeavor. I have a friend who is involved in such a program in my city, and I’m pleased to say he hands off a small number of high school students to me each year who think they may be interested in a career in aviation. We talk, ride around the airport, stick our heads in some hangars, talk to the mechanics in the shop and that sort of thing. So far, so good.

Civic groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts may be able to identify teenagers who have an interest in whatever it is you do for a living. Your local Chamber of Commerce may include a young professionals sub-set where you can offer your services as a mentor.

What a great way to start off a new year, by making the decision to help someone else. Good on you for that one.

Where’s our message?

If you’re like most people, you commuted to work this morning, set up shop, got involved with the projects on your schedule, took a lunch break, got back to work, and then commuted home again. The whole process took something like nine or 10 hours and in that time you were bombarded with messages, advertisements, and sales pitches.

They’re so common to our daily lives you may not have even noticed them. [Read more…]

That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong…

Dennis Miller, the comedian, social commentator, and all around intellectual bon vivant, once had a popular cable program that was famous for two things. His guests were encouraged to disagree without becoming disagreeable. There was no shouting on Miller’s show, even when the topics were incendiary enough to have degenerated into a slobbering, spittle-spewing, scream-fest had they been conducted by any other host of the day.

But perhaps more than that, Miller distinguished himself by beginning each program with a rant. These five- to eight-minute long diatribes were pithy, funny, often on target, and written with a highly specific perspective in mind. Yet no matter what the topic, Miller always ended his rants in the same way, saying, “Of course that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.”

[Read more…]