Monday, November 15, 2010

The 'civil' in civilization

On a recent four day trip I was flying with a fellow Christian, a Baptist from Tennessee.  He’s a good guy and a solid Pilot, with a great work ethic and a sensible attitude.  We didn’t really connect much until we shared our faith stories with each other; there was some difference between us when we talked politics a little before.  He didn’t say so, but seemed surprised that I identified myself as a democrat, was conservative on personal moral issues, and was an evangelical Christian.  Hearing his views on things it was clear he was a politically conservative republican.  Our encounter was a good demonstration, I think, that God is neither a republican nor a democrat.  If Jesus came back tomorrow he would be not be a member of any political party. 

 At 6:25 AM the last morning of the trip we were ready to push back from the gate in a dark, but dawning Greensboro, North Carolina.  My good First Officer was trying to get a word in to ground control, but the frequency was being taken up by an intense back and forth discussion between the ground controller and a Cessna pilot.  The Cessna Pilot was requesting to ‘go fly IFR approaches under VFR’, but the Controller didn’t like his terminology, not at all.  Their banter quickly turned into a pretty heated argument.

It went something along the lines like this (Cessna pilot in bold italics): “We’d like to do some IFR approaches under VFR.”   “You can’t do that unless you have an instrument flight plan, do you have one on file?”  “No, we can do it, I’d like to fly a few local IFR approaches in VFR, I don’t need a flight plan.”  “Now, you’re confusing me here, and don’t go getting an attitude now.”  “I don’t have an attitude; we just want to fly some approaches locally.”  “You can’t fly IFR approaches without an instrument clearance, and I don’t see a flight plan on file for you.  Flying practice instrument approaches under VFR is different than what you’re asking for, is that what you want?”  “Yes, we want to fly practice IFR approaches locally under VFR.”

Shortly after that another controller took over, it seemed the one involved in the argument was taking a break.  The Cessna taxied out with a clearance and so did we, appreciating the glowing horizon that promised an absolutely beautiful sunrise that was to come.  We didn’t stop along the way and rolled onto the runway and ‘Scott’ advanced the thrust levers smoothly for takeoff.  Our jet was light and accelerated quickly on the smooth, new runway 23R.  I glanced at the aircraft moving on the taxiway parallel to the runway, I assumed it was the single engine Cessna that was involved in this early morning dustup.  There was also something else, an airport vehicle, a white sedan with yellow lights flashing, moving at high speed behind the Cessna, trying to catch up to it.  I think it’s a solid assumption that it was the ground controller, wanting to resolve the conflict he had with the pilot.  I see no other reason for an airport vehicle to be doing 50 MPH down a taxiway at the crack of dawn, especially with what we heard go down on the frequency. 

I hope he treated the pilot with respect and vice-versa.  Technically the Cessna Pilot was using the wrong terminology; you can’t be cleared to fly ‘IFR approaches’ without having an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) flight plan and clearance.  But a pilot can fly PRACTICE instrument approaches under VFR (Visual Flight Rules) without an IFR flight plan; the meat of the matter here is explained in the FAA AIM (Aeronautical Information Manual, section 4-3-21): "Pilots not on IFR flight plans desiring practice instrument approaches should always state `practice' when making requests to ATC."

I feel the slight lack of respect the Pilot showed for the controller, combined with his improper use of terms, tripped the controller over the edge.  Maybe he had a bad day on the night shift and was irritable.  On the other hand, I also believe he knew what the pilot was asking for and once he felt he was getting an attitude of entitlement from the pilot, he wouldn’t play along with what he suspected that he wanted.  In fact, the pilot was entitled to service from the controller, his taxes (and ours) provide his income. 

We’re losing our civility in our civilization, it seems.  It’s sad, and it scares me sometimes.   We’re more connected to other humans online with social networks, to our ‘friends’ on Facebook and to our ‘followers’ on twitter and other networks, but in that process we seem to be losing the ability and will to engage civilly with others we disagree with in conversation and debate.  As we get more friends online we seem to have fewer close, personal friends.  This is happening in conjunction with a further polarization in politics nationally and locally, which the media, especially cable news and talk radio, have seemed to fan the flames with as entertainment has been integrated into the partisan news and opinion experience.  

Shifting to a similar item in the news, I was disappointed with the way the South Fulton, Tennessee ‘Fire Dept.’ responded to Gene Cranick’s 911 call asking them to put out the fire on his rural property recently as well.  It seems he hadn’t paid the $75 annual fee to the fire department for fire services (instead of having a tax there it is an optional service, the phrase ‘pay to spray’ is coined from this).  Gene told the operator on the phone that he forgot to pay it, that he would pay anything, just come and put the fire out.  They said no, and the Fire Chief is on record saying that if they put it out for him then no one would pay the fee.  How’s that for optimism and faith in your fellow man (or fellow Tennesseans)?  I’ve learned that this attitude is a part of the politically oriented right wing of Libertarianism, which I obviously disagree with.  One of the more popular supposed Libertarians is Rand Paul, the newly elected Kentucky senator.

The South Fulton, Tennessee Fire Department did show up at Gene Cranick’s mobile home though, to put out the grass fire on his neighbor’s property, who had also called 911.  He had paid the $75 fee.  His neighbor held out his checkbook in his hand and attempted to pay the Fire Department the fee for Gene, but his gesture was rebuffed by the Fire Chief on site.  It was reported that firemen were shedding tears in the truck as Gene’s home burned to the ground, while four family pets died inside.  They were not allowed to do their job.  I simply ask, how is this policy maintaining the civil in civilization?

I have a few questions also.  Was Mr. Cranick sent a notice in the mail that he would not get a response from the fire department if his property caught fire?  If so, how many notices?  It’s customary for multiple notices to be sent to a resident/customer before the electricity and/or gas is turned off, it’s a matter of ethics for the utility provider, I believe.  On the other hand, playing the other side, did Mr. Cranick really ‘forget’ or was he just trying to save a little money?  Apparently he and his wife both forgot, and they had paid it previously.  What percentage of rural households in this ‘pay to spray’ area have paid the fee?  Why didn’t the fire department have a pre-planned and signed for “billing agreement” with future, possible users of their services who haven’t ‘paid to spray’?  He told them he would pay anything, why didn’t they take him at his word and bill him later?  Why did they choose to have an optional plan instead of a regular $75 tax?  Many questions, but it’s justified.  What if humans were inside the house, would the fire department have sprayed then?  (They said they would)   There are better ways to manage our civilization.  If such a policy is to be enacted, let’s have a little more faith in your fellow man, can we?

Pessimism applied to social policy can get ugly, optimism in human nature and faithfulness in serving others for the common good works better, in spite of a few taking advantage of the system; there can be better oversight for these situations.  Living ‘under grace’ is better than living ‘under the law’.  This doesn’t mean one is exempt from the law, however, it means a measure of grace and mercy should still be applied.  To explain my sentiments a little more, it bugs me that some who call themselves Christians, who should hold ‘New Covenant’ ideals (New Testament teaching from Jesus' death on the cross onwards) don’t wish to apply much of that sort of thinking as philosophy towards how modern government should function.

Let’s carry this ‘pay to spray’ application out to other areas and visualize what it looks like.  Many citizens are upset that the government will be requiring them to have health insurance in the future, in spite of the fact that this policy was also supported by at least one republican presidential candidate in 2008 (Tommy Thompson and Mitt Romney).  Out of principle, they don’t want the government telling them what they have to do, overlooking the fact that most all states have laws requiring you to have auto insurance, and citizens don’t complain about that.  Going without health insurance intentionally, just out of opposition to the ‘government’s oppression’ of you, makes the high cost of healthcare even higher when more uninsured show up at the hospitals and clinics. 

In a Libertarian run, cash strapped society, one who chooses not to purchase health insurance might lawfully and legally be refused care at the doctor or hospital after showing up with a car accident injury, an illness, disease, or other condition.  (Currently there is a federal law which requires everyone to be treated in emergency rooms, regardless of their ability to pay, but this could theoretically change.) “No health insurance?  I’m sorry, by law we can’t treat you here, step outside, you’re bleeding on the carpet”.  Free health clinics would still exist, but they can only do so much good for patients with untreated disease and/or terminal illnesses.  A Libertarian philosophy based health care system would produce self-imposed death panels for some of our citizens who choose not to buy health insurance (even though they have the means), and that’s not the America I want to live in.
God bless you, and thanks for reading my blog. 

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