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Olympics 2020? 2021?

Have you been watching the 2021 edition of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and have some questions or comments? Well, join the club. COVID imposed a painful year-long delay for us that couldn’t wait to watch our favorite athletes and nations compete against each other.

I have always enjoyed the Olympics. My earliest memories (vague as they are) of the five-ring event were the 1964 Olympics — also held in Japan. I was only six then (alright, ten).  

I marveled that Japan invited the world in to compete less than twenty years after atomic weapons devastated two of their major cities, all but ending the Second World War – quite a comeback. Moreover, they showed the world that the now prosperous nation could host the games — and excel in their execution.  So far, despite the pandemic, the recent variant resurrection, and even the threat of last-minute cancellation, Japan is showing the world how they have earned a gold medal for Olympic hosting. 

As an American Baby Boomer, I recognize the Olympics as a competition between the three great powers (China/Russia/USA) for global athletic superiority bragging rights.  Many other “lesser” nations perform quite well, for their size and infrastructure, with most focused on fielding athletes with a simple goal: competing against the world’s best athletes while representing their countries. Any medals gleaned would be an absolute bonus for most of them – but not for the big three – this is combat!   

But that doesn’t mean the games are immune from my satirical look.

Here is my view on the global five-ring event that has become a three-ring political circus.

Did you know Russia is banned from competing due to its repeated doping offenses?  Cool, fewer competitors equal more potential gold, silver, and bronze for us. But wait — there’s more! As I watched the initial swimming events, I caught sight of athletes swimming, even winning, for the nation of ROC. ROC?  Where is that? What is that? Answer: – these “athletes” apparently represent the Russian Olympic Committee (Republic of Communism?)  What the hell?  So, Russia is, indeed, competing. Huh? Just change the name? 

I was reminded of the multiple warnings given to Saddam Hussein after his 1990 invasion of Kuwait – “OK, cross this line, you die!” “No, OK, cross this line, you die, and this time we mean it!” 

Putin must have learned from Saddam – just how powerful is this dude?  On the flip side, the disqualification of an American athlete for a positive marijuana pre-screen would seem to be the opposite of performance-enhancing.  Perhaps Cannabis users should get together and form the SOC – the Stoner’s Olympic Committee and compete freely! 

This was the first Olympics where certain transgender athletes were allowed to perform openly. However, this fact was kept relatively quiet. I’m still not sure of the exact requirements allowing competition therein. I mean, if you can’t draw a competitive line between male and female, where can you draw a definitive line?

In the 1970s, Caitlyn Jenner, in a slightly different male configuration, was an Olympic Decathlon gold medalist and once regarded as the world’s best athlete. So, do we add a third “Trans” category to the current “Men’s and Women’s” groupings? 

At least I’ve not (yet) heard any complaints about restroom usage.  

This week saw the regretful exit from the competition by American gymnast Simone Biles – one of the most heralded athletes on the planet!  Pundits have had a lot to say about this topic – she’s either a hero or a quitter.  Unfair characterizations, to be sure, but a revealing look at the pressures associated with life at the top. 

I’ve heard her compared to Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and Lebron James – the connection apparently being they are all considered the absolute best of the best.  Comparison to former Olympic megastar Michael Phelps would perhaps be more appropriate.  How about we give this one some time to unfold, not rush to judgment, and certainly not assign racial overtones to the issue.  A Bronze medal in her final event (Balance Beam) would indicate she’s moving in a positive direction.

Diversity is a big part of the Olympic backdrop. 

Athletes represent all races, and countries like the US take advantage of our abundant available athletic diversity.  If only Caucasians were allowed to participate, we’d not enjoy the same level of success.  With Simone Biles out, Suni Kim became the first Hmong-American to earn a gold medal – wow! There’s also a black dude on the Men’s Water Polo team – now that’s progress!  While I don’t care for the concept of racial comparisons, I expect, at the end of the games, we’ll see a breakdown of medals won by races – that’s perhaps reflective of our society in 2021, while at the same time the antithesis of being a representative of your country.

Have you taken note of the clothing worn by various athletes?  Some of the outfits leave “little to the imagination!”  I’ve seen female Muslim athletes wearing extremely conservative gear while others on the track, the beach, and the pool, rock less clothes than you might expect to see in certain gentleman’s “establishments.” Let me make it clear – I’m neither judging nor complaining.  Whatever you feel comfortable in is fine with me.

OK – hopefully, that covers the controversial topics – let’s get down to the actual events themselves.  That is Track and Field; Swimming and Diving; Gymnastics, Water Polo, Wrestling, Weightlifting, Volleyball, etc. — you know, the ones we historically associate with the Olympics.   Some of you no doubt remember when all Olympic athletes had to be amateurs, that was a founding principle of the games and one “most” countries appeared to adhere to for years.  That changed in the early 1970s when the Soviets (who else) and their client states (mainly E. Germany) were accused of paying athletes to train without worrying about making a living while prepping for the games.  Winning was obviously pretty important to them – especially against the dreaded West!  

This came to a head in 1976 but, as most of the world boycotted the 1980 games (believe it or not because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), it wasn’t until the 1984 games, held in Los Angeles, that other nations figured they had to do the same to remain competitive.  I deeply regret that decision. I’m OK providing support to athletes in training, but not to the point of bringing high-paid professionals into the games – such as basketball’s All-NBA (except for one collegiate player) “Dream Team” (1992).  

The desire to win become all-powerful and removed opportunities for amateur/collegiate athletes to compete against such professionals – a sad day for sure.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather see the best collegiate basketball players competing rather than field an all-star team of prima donnas.

Let’s take this a step further – why are sports such as basketball, baseball, golf, tennis, rugby, and soccer (and perhaps others I’ve missed) included in the Olympics in the first place? These shouldn’t be Olympic sports – they have their own highly successful and competitive leagues to recognize their champions.  Perhaps this is all about sponsorship and money – of course, it is.  They even have three on three basketball – shouldn’t that be in the schoolyard or neighborhood park?  They also now have skateboarding, surfing, varied BMX bike events, sport climbing (whatever the hell that is). What’s next? “Cyber” or “drone” sports? And, I’m still in denial over “synchronized swimming” – now identified as “artistic swimming” – Mother of God – water ballet!

Wait, there’s more! How about these multiple “equestrian” events?  Now, plenty of folks love horses (usually to bet on), so I’m not against their inclusion – but do they get medals for their performances?  They appear to be doing most of the work.  What I did think was proper, the brief time I watched of course, was identifying the country of origin of the horse – which generally did not match that of the rider. I’m anticipating some form of future TV commercial decrying the physical condition of these “former” Olympic animals and soliciting supportive animal welfare funds from saps like me.  I don’t think so. So, why haven’t the Saudis pushed for Olympic camel races? 

I’ve got some ideas for potential new events, such as:  Hot-dog eating (we should win that one); pub darts (why not, table tennis is already included); some of the lumberjack efforts (tree-chopping, etc.) and, since so many of the big-time pro sports are already in, how about Olympic NASCAR – I bet my friends here in Florida would like that one and also ask that Bassmaster fishing now be elevated to Olympic status!  

Some of you like to hear the personal stories about the athletes, the commitment of their families,  the absolute dedication of all involved enabling focus and success in specific endeavors – good for you.  I don’t care. Everybody has a personal story – I just want to see the actual competition. So save the story for your memoirs.  That should cut the broadcast time by hours and save money in advertising and potentially lower my cable bill – don’t bet on it.

We’re very fortunate to have such exceptional athletes willing to dedicate their lives to Olympic competitions – they have my enduring respect. I’ve had the pleasure of briefly knowing two American Olympians – a female ice skater and a male track star.  Their absolute focus stands out clearly in my memories – they gave everything they had – most of us couldn’t sustain that level of commitment.  So, enjoy the games, cheer for your favorite athletes and nations, and always remember – this shit is a lot harder than it looks! OK, Boomer, time for Women’s Beach Volleyball, adios for now.

R. L. Holbrook, Interlink Consulting, August 2021

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Let’s Talk About Race

Perhaps not an easy topic to consider, but our simple goal here is to reach a common understanding of racial differences – an understanding that leads to a discussion where all can participate equally – regardless of race.  Can we all agree this is and should be a shared and common goal?  Unless you’ve spent the pandemic living underground with zero access to media of any variety, you’re likely familiar with recent events and associated terminology. This article is not about that, but let’s mention a few to ensure all are singing from the same hymn sheet.  Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, “woke,” cancel culture, 3/5ths compromise, unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion, Critical Race Theory, reparations, and my favorite, “racial reckoning.”  

We’re going to look at a much more fundamental level, at the physiology of race, and help provide you with a much simpler approach to a very complex issue. I’m not going to use complicated definitions or expose you to the voluminous available data, but rather show you how to view racial “differences” at a “human” level. Let’s get started.

First, race is about physical characteristics, whereas ethnicity reflects cultural characteristics.  This is not a primer on ethnicity, so we’ll leave that for a future study. Let’s agree on how to describe race, at least initially,  and this is by “color.” Do you know what “color” you are?  Of course, you do.  You were born with a specific color, and it’s unlikely to change over your lifetime, although there have been a few well-documented attempts by a few to change theirs. I’m “white” or, if answering a Census question – “Caucasian.” I was born in N. Europe and emigrated with my family to the US as a teenager.  

My wife was born in the American territory of Guam and is thus racially described as an “Asian-Pacific Islander.” When it comes to Asians, we generally don’t describe them as having “yellow” skin but instead talk about the shape of their eyes and other facial features.  So, in this instance, we didn’t use “color” as the primary observable characteristic but rather facial features. It’s worth noting here my wife has “round” eyes and very dark skin.  Racial mixings over time produce generations that are becoming increasingly hard to classify as one race over another.  If you asked my wife what color she is, she’d not provide an answer – and considers that an irrelevant question – as perhaps we all should.

Confused yet?  How about Hispanics/Latinos/LatinX – they’re brown, right?  Well, not always. I’ll not go into the differences or similarities of these three terms.  However, the US Census counts these terms as a percentage of the Caucasian race.  So – are we simply seeing them as speaking Spanish as their native language – good question.  If this group is considered “brown,” do they share the same race as those from the subcontinent – Indians, Pakistanis, etc.?  Perhaps color doesn’t work here either.

Well, how about native-Americans, now more properly referred to as “American Indians” or “First Peoples” and, sometimes, “indigenous peoples.” Must they be “red?” I thought you said this was easy – apparently not.  

Let’s turn to African Americans or, more appropriately, Americans of African descent. They’re black, right? But, my friends, there are many “shades” of black.  If you’ve been privileged to spend any time on the African continent, you know what I’m talking about.  Racial (physical) characteristics include color, height, facial features, and a whole boatload of ethnic/linguistic differences.  

Let’s conduct a small experiment.  For the sake of argument, you are an Asian male, middle-aged, walking down a major street in Seattle. It’s a fairly busy day with lots of pedestrian traffic.  As people walk towards you, your brain unconsciously racks and stacks those approaching within your visual path.  Your eyes are the initial screener for the brain so, a question for you: what physical characteristic do the eyes see first? 

If you answered color (race), you are correct. But, wait a minute – that must be some form of discrimination; my eyes are feeding on a source of “unconscious bias,” and my brain is adjusting accordingly, perhaps to potential “threats.”  That’s simply Bovine Scatology (BS)!  

Your brain sees colors first – it’s what it does next that supports “categorization;” body (fat/thin/height, etc.), gender (Male/female/other/attractiveness), potential threats (weapons, gestures, etc.), recognition (do I know them?), clothing (area/age-appropriate, job-association, etc.) and, finally, age.  All this brain activity occurs simultaneously in a nano-second.  If a threat is perceived, your “fight or flight” response is immediately activated.  These are, primarily, natural reactions and occur in everyone – although various factors such as age, gender, race, perception of history, etc., may impact how quickly you move between what you see and how you react to it.  As you contemplate this, think about the young black American male being pulled over by a police officer – what does he see first?

With me so far? Have you generated any feelings of guilt or racism to this point?  Hopefully not.  What have we learned?  Biological Predetermination dictates (1) you are born into and will remain in a single race, and (2) you will develop ethnic characteristics as you travel through life – in a normal learning process.  That’s internal. Externally, environmental currents, i.e., geographic conditions, access to resources, education systems or lack thereof, economic status, family stability, and a host of other external components drive different results, regardless of biological predetermination. 

The influence of these “environmental currents” is enormous. You may thrive or perish here, with many factors contributing.  Some of these you may be able to control (level of effort, attitude, etc.) and others you likely cannot (family presence, schools, food scarcity, etc.).  When these “impacting” factors include a racial component to them, you begin to see the seeds of controversy, potential violence, demonstrations, and a desire for “equality” – now more frequently coded as “equity.” 

These issues are not only American concerns and exist throughout most of the planet – with possible exceptions at the extreme edges (polar regions, etc.).  When one group, regardless of color, is seen to dominate or be in the majority, those in other groups (racial, religious, or other minorities) will be legitimately seeking to improve their overall lot in life.  Historically, and rather obviously, the Western world has largely seen dominance associated primarily with the Caucasian race – we will look no further here at that dynamic.

Where do you fit in?  After you’ve established your color (hopefully not too hard to do), take a critical look at your environment.  Does the area in which you live, work, go to school, etc., have a “dominant” race?  What races share this same space with you?  What racial problems (i.e., inequities) already exist? Has anything been done about it? Do you agree with it? Are you willing to support minority issues even if you’re in the majority?  Essentially – are you able to effectively “listen” to others from a different race, potentially less fortunate than you?  Do you agree with the minority view and, if not, are you part of the problem?  Then, the analysis turns inward – introspective.

Thoughts flow this way: if I get involved, will that potentially impact my current way of life or, in some way, threaten my family.  Am I a hypocrite if I exist within the status quo and don’t seek to improve conditions for others? Yet, you may feel you “got here on your own,” and others can do the same! But equal environmental opportunities for anyone to “get there on their own” varies in the community.  From there, you can extrapolate to your city, county, state, and, ultimately, your country.  

If you are part of the “majority” race, are you saddled with “guilt” over how your race may have perpetuated supremacy of those less fortunate – of a different race?  Are you suffering from “white privilege?” If you answer yes – you might find yourself seeking additional information and, possibly, considering activism to try and “balance” the books. “Most” major American firms find themselves working this “balancing act” through in 2021 as Diversity and Inclusion programs expand in both size and depth and become as important as company bottom-lines. Again, this supports “woke” initiatives, but specific goals are complicated to formulate.[1] More challenging is determining specific results[2]; distinct outcomes linked to achieving those goals. Measuring “woke” outcomes are often harder to learn if reached or not. 

The opposite approach – perhaps benign recognition of racial issues or even dismissal of them would put you on the opposing side – and may lead you to be “canceled.” These are not intellectual decisions but rather emotional ones – and we see them across social media daily.  To have an honest, open, and positive discussion should be the goal – yet we’ve fallen way short of that to this point.

In conclusion, let’s summarize the basics presented here and, hopefully, give you useful, practical insights into moving the discussion forward in a positive manner. 

Race/color is pre-determined – you’re born with it.  You don’t “learn” a race – you acquire cultural (ethnic) characteristics as you develop over time.  You can be black, brought up in Finland, and you’ll be as culturally equivalent to other (white) Finns; thus, your environment is a major factor in your cultural development.

I recently watched a young African American professor proudly state he was black first, American second, and everything after that third, and so on.  I doubt most white professors would claim the same.  So, if you are white and someone asked you if you could, would you change your race/color?  This was an experiment that gained some traction under Oprah Winfrey’s banner.[3] No white person asked said they would change race/color. However, many non-whites said their lives would be better (mainly in the way of opportunities) if they were white.

Many similar, non-scientific experiments have been attempted within racial groupings.  For whites, it was determined that taller, younger men with lots of hair got job preferences over those shorter, older, or bald.  It appeared more youthful, attractive, and “fit” women appeared to be more successful in initial job interviews among white working women.  Surface-level job screenings seemed quite biased and much more focused on the “desires” of the interviewer.  Significant progress has been made in this field, especially with expanded rights and equities among and between races and those with different sexual orientations.  Opposition to such advancements continues to exist at many levels, but, as above, positive conversations about how to move forward are ongoing.

By now, you realize your eyes are the window into your brain – at least at the visual level. They will see what’s open to being seen – don’t blame them – they’re working as intended.  Go with it then. If a conversation ensues, you can have as much “characterization” as you deem necessary to advance a discussion or conduct a transaction – we call that “normal” human behavior.

Human interactions are critical to advancing racial equities.  If you exist in a racial-cultural “silo,”  you’re unlikely to understand another’s point of view.  Many of you recognize the most difficult skill the communicator must master is that of listening – it ain’t easy!  As your parents may have told you during your childhood – “you’ve got two ears and one mouth,” meaning, talk less and listen more (twice as much).  If you’re like me, you’ll have to practice that one.

Race is basic, but conversations about it are not.  Start slow, listen critically (don’t look to “challenge”), and try to put yourself in the “color” of another.  Many folks much brighter than me have and continue to make this their life’s work – research what they’ve produced – you may disagree with it, but you’ll perhaps gain an understanding of the other side of an argument upon which you hold strong views.  If you’ve gained at least an awareness of racial challenges you’re headed in a positive direction.  Good luck.

We here at Interlink would love to get your views on this topic and welcome a discussion of what efforts you’ve tried to improve your racial knowledge base.  Thanks for spending some time with us.

R. L. Holbrook, Dr. Culture, May 2021

Interlink Consulting, Inc




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A Shared Moment in Time

From the Desk of Dr. Culture

Greetings to our many clients, partners, friends, and colleagues. We’ve missed you! We can’t wait to get back into your classrooms and help prep your employees face-to-face for the many cultural challenges that flow from their international engagements. In the meantime, while providing some direct “Subject Matter Expertise” upon request, we’ve asked our many contributors to pen topic-related vignettes, which we’ll hang on our website. I encourage you to review and hopefully create a worthwhile dialog as we await the opportunity to be with you in person. As always, we’ll continue to both solicit and respond to your questions.  Just email me at! 

Our first essay comes from Mr. Rich Holbrook, former Adjunct Professor of Intercultural Communications at the combined Joint Special Operations University and Air Force Special Operations School. Mr. Holbrook is updating his “Culture Shock” presentations and is potentially testing the waters for a new book on the topic. Here is his “Shared Moments in Time: The High School Reunion,” — a personal look at Culture Shock – Holbrook style.

Dr. Culture

“Culture hides more than it reveals, and what it hides,

it hides most effectively from its own participants.

Years of study have convinced me that the real job is not to understand foreign cultures but to understand your own.” 

Edward T. Hall

Shared Moments in Time:  The High School Reunion

I’m about to embark on an introspective journey back in time, something I hardly ever do, but it’s for the right reasons, and I encourage you to join me. Many of you are still working remotely, managing childcare, arranging virtual schooling, and myriad other things while trying to maintain your sanity during this continually challenging, eternal period of time. Perhaps some of you, like me, are in a “holding” pattern and wondering how to best pass the time while remaining engaged and relevant – in my case as an Adult Education professional. For you Boomers, Google may be unnecessary for some of the people/references listed. The rest of you, however, may need ready and constant access to your favorite search engines.

It seems like years since I’ve been face-to-face with students. I have responded to varied requests for information or assistance in my areas of expertise but have primarily been “reviewing” videos on YouTube. I think I’ve now watched every live performance Eric Clapton has ever done. If you don’t know who Clapton is, this story might not be for you. I’ve streamed Zumba, HIIT, P90X, and many other alleged “beneficial” workouts with my gym closed. As a result, I’ve gained ten pounds – brilliant! I now even walk daily with my wife – is there no end to this madness!

While analyzing a Mark Knopfler video for educational content, an email popped up and caught my attention. I almost deleted it before reading; my default position on addressees I don’t recognize but, as busy as I wasn’t, I clicked it open. It contained a link to a site advertising the upcoming 50-year reunion for my high school class of 1971 (since delayed, due to COVID, until 2022, thus a 51-year event). I’m not on Facebook these days and have a very limited presence on social media sites, so I’m not sure how this actually reached me, but it got me thinking. 

Fifty years – could it really be that long or, more to the point, am I really that damn old! I stood up, squared my shoulders and headed for the mirror. Son of a bitch – I am. 

The face looking back at me was weathered from too much time at the “pointy end” of DOD’s spear. From Vietnam to Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Inherent Resolve, and so many more. A once proud warrior now appeared deflated and tired. My thinning hair was of an unrecognizable color, and my once spectacular hazel/green eyes were sunken relics hidden behind sun-damaged bags and sagging jowls. I was able to suck my “slight” paunch up into my chest, but that was too much of an effort to sustain for any significant period of time – damn, I looked good! I’d earned my title – Professor Emeritus, which, for those who don’t know, is Greek for “about to die.” Great. I was reminded of my mother’s words in 1983 when I visited her after a three-year stint in Spain; she said she thought Burt Reynolds had come to visit – what a gal! How to proceed.

I shut off YouTube and started thinking. I’d never been to any reunions, be they high school, college, sports teams, or military units – never saw the value in them. I’d maintained close relationships with valued colleagues, friends, and even some family members but never saw the need to re-live past glories or, for that matter, failures. But then I’ve never slogged through the monotony of a pandemic before.  

I started thinking again. High School was not my finest hour and, to me, represented a failure in an otherwise successful life. I always wrote it off by telling folks I was a “late bloomer,” but, as I’m about to reveal, other factors were in play that I didn’t recognize at the time. With 50 years of hindsight, reflection, and recriminations, it was time to look back, a concept utterly alien to me outside of the Lessons Learned military world I’d occupied for decades.  

This action could be risky and could open me up to the unthinkable – feelings and emotions! I defeat those during lectures by using self-deprecating humor amid give-and-take sessions with students – I’m in control. However, the pen can be mightier than the mouth (unless captured on YouTube). I’ve been a guarded man for many years, hiding behind national security and classification protections – time to change all that. I’m in life’s fourth quarter, facing several health challenges, and am in a self-reflective mood – time to expose myself and opt for a therapeutic ride back to the 60s – that’s the 1960s! This journey is, for me, personal, but it might be helpful to you too. I intended this to be a lighthearted jaunt into my past – it didn’t quite work out that way. It wasn’t just me now – it was other peoples’ lives, their privacy, and their absolute

right not to join me in my quest. I started undaunted. I had issues to revisit, people to thank, and apologies to provide where needed. I was a fairly quiet kid in school, but now I was an aging, still competitive Type-A adrenaline junkie on a mission, albeit this time as a “keyboard warrior,” or is that “keyboard coward.” 

The first stage of culture shock is often overwhelmingly positive, during which travelers become infatuated with the language, people, and food in their new surroundings. The trip or move seems like the greatest decision ever made at this stage, an exciting adventure to stay on forever.

Before we start, let me be clear, no matter how clever you think you are, you cannot change the past, for better or worse. The past “just is.” Your actions there remain part of your legacy and that of the people around you. Learn from it, or reject it, but realize you exist in the present. There’s nothing “cosmic” here. I’m going back for a reason – and am clear in my intent.  

A few years ago, a valued colleague, commanding a major Air Force unit for the first time, clued me into the “Power of Vulnerability” and how it had improved her as a leader, an officer, and as a person. Admitting vulnerabilities in a leader in my day was anathema to advancement. However, the Air Force, in particular, had embraced the powerful works of Dr. Brené Brown. Exposure and awareness of personal and situational vulnerabilities were now seen as positive leadership traits. Asking for help in dealing with them was welcomed as the best course of action. Therefore, in Dr. Brown’s words, “today I’ll choose courage over comfort.” Hence, my trip down Memory Lane.

That fateful invitation I opened took me to the reunion’s RSVP page. I scanned the list of students from the Class of 1971 that were planning to attend. I recognized a few and stopped when I saw the name of someone who’d shared a moment in time with me so many years ago. I clicked on the name, and up sprang a picture of a brilliant young lady, all hair and teeth, exuding the strength and confidence for which I remembered her. At this point, I took my hand off the mouse (I’m “old school,” OK?), got up from my desk, grabbed a bottle of water, sat back in my reading chair, closed my eyes, and took myself back to 1967. We’ll pick that up a little later.

For those who have read some of my stuff or suffered through my lectures might recall, I’m an immigrant to this wonderful country of ours. When I was a 12-year-old lad, my parents forced me, largely against my will, to come with them from the United Kingdom in January 1967. In England, I was a really cool, outgoing, popular kid who could balance a soccer ball for hours while simultaneously orating on topics of the day from the Beatles to the royal family and the latest in Carnaby Street fashions. I was the lead singer in my Grammar School rock band, mainly because I had memorized the lyrics to “Love Me Do” and “I Feel Fine” and was able to make a halfway decent noise on the harmonica. What girl could resist a lead singer…watch out Mick Jagger!  

England, for the first and only time, had won soccer’s World Cup in 1966. It was my destiny, by 1974, to captain England to another World Cup victory – I had it all planned out. Then I woke up in North West Philadelphia – my life was over. Culture Shock here I come – and this is before high school. Let’s pause here and review the Culture Shock phenomenon before moving forward.

“Culture Shock is the anxiety experienced by people in completely new environments.” 

Kalvero Oberg, Canadian Anthropologist

T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia,” provided a more practical approach:

• “How could I, as me, meet these new people?”

• “How would I have to change?”

• “What of me was superficial and might be sacrificed, 

and what need I keep to remain myself?”

For the layman, culture shock is simply feeling out of place while in a certain place and time. T.E. Lawrence was one of the first to direct the power of Culture Shock towards establishing, maintaining, and manipulating positive relationships in order to achieve a shared, mutual goal – he remains one of my heroes. Rather than use military definitions and examples of Culture Shock, I’ve chosen instead to use those first developed by Canadian Anthropologist Kalervo Oberg, one of the pioneers in the field. He lists four distinct stages:

Stage One: Honeymoon

The first stage of culture shock is often overwhelmingly positive, during which travelers become infatuated with the language, people, and food in their new surroundings. The trip or move seems like the greatest decision ever made at this stage, an exciting adventure to stay on forever.

Stage Two: Frustration

This stage may be the most difficult culture shock stage and is probably familiar to anyone who has lived abroad or travels frequently. At this stage, the fatigue of not understanding gestures, signs, and the language sets in, and miscommunications may often be happening. Small things — losing keys, missing the bus, or not easily ordering food in a restaurant — may trigger frustration. And while frustration comes and goes, it’s a natural reaction for people spending extended time in new countries.

Stage Three: Adjustment

Frustrations are often subdued as travelers begin to feel more familiar and comfortable with the cultures, people, food, and languages of new environments. Navigation becomes easier, friends and communities of support are established, and local languages’ details may become more recognizable during the adjustment stage.

Stage Four: Acceptance

Generally, though sometimes weeks, months, or years after wrestling with the emotional stages outlined above, the final stage of culture shock is Acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t mean that new cultures or environments are entirely understood. Rather it signifies realization that complete understanding isn’t necessary to function and thrive in the new surroundings. During the acceptance stage, travelers have the familiarity and can draw together the resources they need to feel at ease. With that brief background in mind, it’s time to head back to January 1967.

I’m about to begin the 8th grade, mid-semester, at a monstrous concrete edifice, just a short walk from our row house in the burbs. At that time, Philadelphia utilized a 1st through 8th-grade system at one school, followed by 9th through 12th grades at the high school level. I had to survive the semester in order to advance to high school. So, on the first day, after I ditched my mom, I’m linked with my Homeroom Teacher, a very young and welcoming lady. We chatted for a while and immediately recognized we were two people separated by a common language – is this Scotland? She escorted me to class and introduced me to the students. Every single one introduced themselves and welcomed me effusively. 

Admittedly, I was somewhat overwhelmed and ready to pass out. One young lady in the class was singled out, and as I stood there, I’m told she would be “assist” me until I became familiar and confident enough with school operations to stand on my own two feet. I was a bit embarrassed but this young lady, Joann, was so positive and friendly that I couldn’t help but rise to the task. I was so warmly included in all events that I even started playing baseball and eating the occasional Philly cheesesteak sandwich. The girls wanted to listen to my accent, and many gave me their school photos and wrote how “sweet and adorable” I was – very flattering and, of course, true – I was a shiny, new toy. Most of the boys accepted me, but a few didn’t react quite so positively – I survived. It came time to graduate in June, and I found myself not in a rock band but performing a duet of “Edelweiss” from the then-popular film the “Sound of Music.” I never sang in public again. Please don’t let my Brit friends find this out.  

At this point, I’m feeling pretty good about things. As you might have guessed, Joann and I were now a “twosome,” and we were soon to start high school together. What Culture Shock – Honeymoon Stage baby! Then the bomb dropped. My uncle in Los Angeles had helped my father find a good job there, and we were soon headed for Tinsel Town — NO!  

It was a very difficult goodbye for a 13-year-old who was sure he’d found the love of his life – I went kicking and screaming. Joann and I kept in touch for a few months, but passions faded over time as they do. I never saw her again but more on that later. 

Hello, sunny and very smoggy SoCal. We landed in a mostly white, suburban enclave in SE Los Angeles, and I prepared to attend the local junior high school. We set up a home in a three-bedroom apartment close to the eastern city limits. It was a nice spot with a pool, and there were some really cool residents as our neighbors. Hmm, I thought. This might not be so bad after all; on to 9th grade.

Things started out OK. I’d made a few friends over the summer, so I was just about set for the next adventure. The school was close enough for me to walk through nice residential neighborhoods to the campus. After a brief in-processing, I was met at the door by the Vice-Principal. He didn’t seem particularly friendly, nor did he welcome me. He told me I’d better get a haircut before coming to school the next day. Nice to meet you too! I went off to class, got settled in, and headed home at the end of the day. When my father got home from work, he asked me how school had gone, and I told him about the haircut. My dad, a plain-talking, distinguished WWII veteran, was perplexed. Wasn’t this America – where Freedom rang! My hair was pretty short – especially for a lead singer. He asked me to leave it with him – and I did. 

He took the time to leave work the next day and visit the school to chat with the Vice-Principal. I don’t know exactly how the exchange went, and my father didn’t elaborate, but I didn’t get a haircut for another month or so until he indicated it was time. Thanks, Dad.

Things at school weren’t going too well, the kids were nowhere near as friendly as those back in Philadelphia, and the gloss appeared to have worn off my English persona. The extrovert from England, with a brief stop in Philly, was turning inward. Looking back now as an experienced observer, I was now experiencing the second stage of Culture Shock – Frustration! I’d managed to avoid that in Philadelphia while reveling in the Honeymoon stage. I’d developed a social network there that allowed me to transition from one culture to another with little difficulty, and I had accepted the changes and been accepted by the new eighth-grade culture group. Ninth grade – not so much. I began to hate school and lost interest in just about everything. There was no soccer to fall back on and no close friends to lean on. I was grumpy to my family and, at one point, ready to run away from home – not sure to where but I doubt I could have made it back to Philadelphia. To sum it up – a real “shit show.” I looked towards the heavens once again.

Ninth-grade science – yawn! One day early in the semester, the teacher decided to move students to new seats in an attempt, I think, to reduce some of the excess “chatter.” I was at the right end of the second row of students in front of the teacher’s lectern. Behind me was a student table that now comprised three young ladies, the one immediately to my rear was a very bright and effusive girl named Karen. By this time, I’m just an average student trying to make it through the day. I was still in withdrawal and was not engaging at any level. The ebullient Miss Karen would change that. Hello, Adjustment stage.

To this day, I’m not exactly sure how she did it, but we began to talk, and I discovered she was not only bright but also funny with a quick wit that would be the envy of my home country. She slowly brought me out of my shell – whether she knew it or not – but I think she did. It was different than Philadelphia, but I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What could go wrong? Somehow the Science teacher didn’t get the memo. He labeled me as a “troublemaker” and sent me to stand outside the classroom on several occasions, and scheduled me for detention – I didn’t care. Karen was much smarter than me and, I think, escaped all methods of student punishment. Great memories. At the end of the year, we became good friends and agreed to exchange letters over the summer. Her friendship enabled me to knock on the door of the Acceptance Stage as high school beckoned. I looked forward to her letters and felt increasingly confident that I was successfully assimilating into American culture. My English accent was largely gone, and I was energized to move forward. I’d even been able to generate some interest in a soccer league at the local park, so I now had a physical outlet to lend strength to my internal struggles.

High School didn’t seem so bad at first, and my classes were fairly easy – I even made the Honor Roll in the first semester (for the first and only time). I’d made a few new friends, had no confrontations to speak of, and felt able to survive and perhaps move forward. Sadly, I didn’t have any classes with Karen, and I didn’t see much of her. In one of her summer letters, she gave me her phone number (rotary landline of course, this was 1968) and asked me to call her, but I didn’t. We never had a home phone in England – very few did in those days. We did have a phone in our apartment now, but I’d never used it, never spoke on it. It was a technological challenge I wasn’t ready to overcome, and since it was for a personal reason, I didn’t want to ask for help. I never called – and I regret it. Joann and Philadelphia came easy, it seemed more complicated with Karen, and I couldn’t figure out how to solve it. 

I saw Karen at the first varsity football game of the year and was excited to talk to her in person. She had grown and matured over the summer. I had not. I have a fairly good memory of that conversation, which was the last time we spoke. I was wearing a Water Polo T-shirt, and she asked if I was on the team. Hey, I’m English; I didn’t learn how to swim until I’d jumped into the apartment complex pool (shallow end) at the age of 13. Water Polo was the school’s most successful sport – the team were perennial champions. However, I had spent some time with the team over the summer and actually gave it a brief go. Now 14, I was still on the small side, but I figured that was irrelevant in the pool, so I gave it a try. It was going well until one of those champion “dolphins” hit me under the waterline and turned me into a soprano. That was enough of that.

Believe it or not, I don’t think I ever spoke to Karen again. There was some high-school idiocy partly to blame (3rd party girl talk as I recall), and I let my emotions get in the way of my brain – hey, I was 14. I missed her but had to face the facts. I saw her around campus but never spoke to her – I was an immature moron, and it was beginning to affect me in other areas. We did share a semester in the same 12th grade English Lit class, but I didn’t acknowledge her – I believe intentionally on my part – what a jackass I had become. The cultural differences in the 10th grade were immense, and it took me a long time to understand why. As an immigrant, I had no ties to American high school traditions: dances, parties, plays, homecomings, proms, etc. I’d not grown up in this system.

On the other hand, Karen had spent almost her entire K through 12th educational career within this city school system. She knew the people and understood the growth and maturity that came from participating in school events – it was almost a patriotic duty and one that was and is still supported by most American parents. I only really clued into this when my own daughter was in high school – and I wanted her to be part of and enjoy this form of pageantry – almost a rite of passage. Karen moved on, met a very solid young man, and they are still together to this day – and I couldn’t be happier for them – I just wished I’d taken the time to thank her for the friendship she’d shared with me.

I recognized many of my shortcomings going into my 11th-grade year – I was angry, and I needed to find a way to focus my attention positively. I’d been suspended from school for three days for allegedly being rude to my Geometry teacher – which I strongly deny doing to this day (my eyes always got me in trouble!). I was headed down the wrong road – did I really want to be a “bad boy” – maybe! 

The school did not have a soccer program, so I tried out for and made the track team. I was an angry soccer player – I could run. I had two successful years on the Track and Cross-Country teams, earning an MVP award, so I had the physical part figured out once again but was still short of social/emotional progress. I clung to English “individualism” and refused even to try and break the cultural wall in front of me. I was, and in some ways perhaps still am, a stubborn, stiff-upper-lip type, but I gradually eased into the Adjustment Stage. Complete Acceptance would elude me. 

Now, this was high school – I’ve not mentioned hormones to this point – but mine certainly began to kick in between the 10th and 11th grade. I’d lifted weights all summer, done some odd jobs (mainly car washing and gardening – which I’m still doing to this day), and spent a lot of time at the beach. I knew dating was out in the traditional sense based on my disdain of the American high school social structure. However, I lived in a large apartment complex and very close to a park containing a teenage hangout area. I’d also joined a YMCA Club (the Nomads) and did my best to participate in some local traditions. Let’s just say “things” worked out OK, and all participants successfully avoided any form of long-term commitments. On the downside, our YMCA advisor had been drafted into the army and killed in Vietnam. That affected me, and I started to watch the extensive nightly news coverage of the war. Just a few short years later, I’d be walking some of the same South East Asia ground – that’s a story for another time.

I want to return now to the reunion and the reason for this long story of personal reflection. I don’t intend to go to the reunion whenever it is held, but I did want to revisit my early days in the US and perhaps attempt to reconnect with some of the key players I’ve mentioned so far – I needed closure. I mapped out a plan. Remember, we’re in a pandemic – if I’m not doing the laundry or mowing the grass, I’ve got the time and experience to develop and execute a plan. I wanted to find and reach out to those who had helped me transition into American culture. My list was short: Joann, Karen, and two boys, now adults, in California. The first was my neighbor (Class of ’73) and a standout water polo player – he went on to have an incredibly successful career as a college swimming coach. The second was an ally on the Cross-Country team (Class of ’72). He was my closest friend, and we shared a lot of quality time together.

First, I had to find them. In the words of Liam Neeson, “I possess a very specific set of skills.” That plus, I have several “nerdy” grandchildren able to navigate most if not all social media challenges. I now had to find the best approach, trying not to “creep” anyone out and appear to be a desperate stalker. But let’s get back to the goal – that is to discover how my “cultural difficulties” impacted my actions and those around me in those early days. Teenagers’ actions and emotions may seem unimportant but let the professor make it clear here – cultural “imprinting” occurs at a very early age – and is usually completed well before the age of 10. When you are analyzing yourself – everything is in play – just ask Sigmund Freud.  

Again, what could go wrong? It had only been 54 years – no worries.  

I reached out to both the boys but have not heard back from them – I’ll keep trying.

Karen was the easiest to find – I knew her married name, and it was a simple Internet search. I elected to write her a brief, honest letter, expressing my appreciation for her friendship and my apologies for being an immature jerk those many years ago in California. I wasn’t sure how it would be received, but I needed to prep and send it. I felt it might appear as an intrusion (which it was), be wrongly interpreted, and I honestly didn’t expect a response. Naturally, I was wrong. Ever the adult, she returned a warm note, and we began to update each other on our lives – 50 years’ worth. It’s a friendship I hope to retain, and she was among the first to review this article. So far, so good. 

Joann proved harder to find – and I tried every trick in my investigative playbook without success. I dug out the Class of 1967 picture and tried to remember Joann’s closest friends. I selected two – Miriam and Debra, who I remember were also extraordinarily nice to me back then. Well, I’ve still not found Miriam, so Debra it was. I got lucky, she was on LinkedIn under her maiden name, and an address and phone number were listed. This time I decided to send a brief text introducing myself and asked if she was a member of that 1967 class. Indeed she was. Now a very successful business owner in Washington DC, she returned my text and asked how we knew each other. I sent her a quick snap of the class picture, which included Joann and me, and asked her to remember Edelweiss. I was in – although she did initially fear I was a serial killer/stalker. So, in her first note, she brought out my familiar 1967 descriptive phrase – “you were such a sweet and adorable boy.” She’d gone to a different high school than both Joann and Miriam and said she’d also like to reconnect with both – but she didn’t know how to find them. She asked me to keep looking and keep her posted. Thanks, Debra. We exchanged some very nice notes, to be fair, and we remembered each other fondly from those days so long ago. She also could not recall who sang the Edelweiss duet with me.

Back to the drawing board. This had been fun so far but now seemed impossible. No one I could find knew Joann’s married name. I reached out to one of my former colleagues, a licensed Private Investigator, but he was also unable to locate the link we needed. I was frustrated, but I was not going to give up – she had to be found.

As fate would have it, the same night I heard from Karen, I had a breakthrough in my search for Joann. I was up late revisiting the class list for Joann’s graduating year of 1971. I’d already reviewed the list several times, but I now looked for other girls named Joann with different last names. There were two. I typed the first name into one of my trusty search engines and came up with a link to that listed her maiden name and the birth date listed as 1954. I was close. I clicked on it, and my heart sank. It was an obituary. I read with dread that she had passed away in Feb 2001.  

I’ve commanded and lost troops in all manner of situations, but this was different. This was my vibrant 13-year-old soulmate. How was this possible? It was crushing. At that moment, I learned that one should prepare for all outcomes when one goes digging into the past.  

I couldn’t sleep that night but was clear in what I intended to do. The obituary provided the names of both Joann’s brother and her daughter. For my peace of mind, I had to reach out to one or both. I decided to start with her brother and got some traction but could not link him to a working email or mobile number. I found an address for Joann’s adult daughter from the obituary, plus a possible email and home phone number. This had to be done right. I decided to call the number. It went to an answering machine, so I left a very brief message and my number. I didn’t expect an answer. Yet, several hours later, as I was writing a “snail-mail” letter to Joann’s daughter, Dawn, my phone rang.

It was Dawn, and I steeled myself for what I felt would be a difficult conversation – and for my part, it was. She was brilliant and offered details of Joann’s life, her brief illness and promised to send more information and photos by email. I’d sent her a short email with the Class of ’67 photo attached and promised to send her an enhanced full version. With a local graphic artist’s help, I obtained a first-rate, hard-backed copy of the photo, which is now headed Dawn’s way. In the meantime, I’m awaiting photos of Joann from her. Dawn has a 17-year-old daughter, Joann’s granddaughter, who sadly never met her grandmother. Joann was gone, but she’ll forever be in my memory and in my heart.

Sadly, I had to pass this info on to Debra, and she was equally distressed to receive the news. We pledged to stay in touch, and I promised to visit her on my next trip to DC. We’re also still looking for Miriam and are hopeful she is alive and well.

The story doesn’t end here, but it’s time for academic input, and my professor’s hat is back on. Culture Shock is real. It affects lives but can be lessened if not ultimately overcome. Easier to recognize in adults, in the main, easier to defeat in children. In teenagers – it bounces in either direction at any time. No matter their cultural imprinting, human beings will react to certain stimuli in predictable ways. Getting to know friends, colleagues, allies, even enemies (where possible) on a personal level reduces the chance for unnecessary friction and may lead to productive relationships that can be strengthened over time. There’s no single checklist for this – it’s people-based. In practical terms, that means some are good at it, while others are not.  

What I couldn’t see between 1967 and 1971 is now forever etched in my brain. For me, the end justifies the means. I can’t fix past transgressions, but I can acknowledge them openly and welcome both criticism and support – that’s part of the personal growth process. I didn’t seek absolution or salvation, that’s not who I am, but I now have a level of closure and have reached, in my view, the stage of Acceptance.  

I no longer view my time in high school as “lost” years – it was a process – I’m full of imperfections, as are all of you, and I just didn’t recognize their genesis at the time. Go back to the top of this essay and review the quote by American Anthropologist Edward T. Hall. The United States and the United Kingdom share an overall cultural homogeneity. If I had remained in England, I would have gone through a similar social growth period as I advanced in secondary school – not unlike what was happening in my California high school – I just wasn’t ready for it when it happened. I was stuck in one culture, trying to understand another – and I stayed in the one I was most familiar with, the one I was born and imprinted in. Things turned out right over time – but I wish I could have seen the light when going through the process. Learning is a lifelong challenge. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I encourage asking for help – that takes courage – and others are usually ready to step in and lend a willing hand. 

Some of you may view this story, not in terms of cultural indoctrination gone wrong but rather that of teenage folly on the journey through adolescence. You may well be right.

I hope to see both Joann and Karen again, in one place or another. I no longer oppose reunions – and those who attend do so with my blessing – they do serve a purpose – if nothing more than to reconnect with those of whom you shared a moment in time. Joann and Karen were my first real American friends – they just happened to be girls, and the fondness I had for them so many years ago remains firm in my memories – they truly had a significant and positive influence on my life and on who I would become. Thank you, Karen, Debra, Dawn, and Joann.  

Thanks for coming down this road with me, and I hope to see you in the next installment, where I’ll examine Culture Shock through my 18-year-old eyes as I arrived for duty in Vietnam.

Mr. Rich Holbrook (Lt Col, USAF-ret) is the former Director of the Intercultural Competence Basic Course at the Air Force Special Operations School and is now Professor Emeritus at Interlink Consulting, Inc.

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Redefining The No Fly Zone

A professional traveler, such as myself, experiences the full travel spectrum; from Uber out to Uber back. Over the years and over a million miles of travel, I have learned how to travel smartly; minimizing the unpleasant while maximizing the very pleasant.  Recreational or occasional travelers are quick to complain about the experience; the ticketing lines, baggage drop lines, security lines, no seats at gate, on-board cattle-car ambiance, no food, bad snacks, First Class lavatories off-limits, paying for drinks. Paying for bags, paying for upgraded seats they feel weren’t worth it, ad nauseam.  

I notice these travelers are quick to complain about rude, airline employee behavior or that their trip is just not going as they want. They demand better treatment – and of course, a voucher or other “accommodation” to offset their violated personal expectations or inconvenience. Sometimes, the airline is at fault, and in virtually all cases, they step up and fix it.

OK, their customers demand better, and the airline responds. That’s just “Good Business 101.” What is lost in today’s very-non-personal-communicative world is this: this works both ways. The airline (should) demand better behavior from the customers, and they respond. However, this simple, innovative concept, incredibly, will cause tremendous pushback from those unwilling to adjust or amend their actions. It’s not their fault, they might argue. They feel they are paying for a service and the provider and other passengers need to adjust to them.”

If you travel regularly, you see it almost every trip; from poorly dressed (I watched one guy boarding wearing what looked like pajamas – seriously), to scantily clad women, to passengers wearing obscene messages on shirts.  Memorable, inspirational words such as, “I have the T*Ts, so I make the rules;” Meet the F*ckers (a sweatshirt with pictures of Bush Administration Cabinet), and a too-young girl wearing a Dick’s Sporting Goods shirt with “Girls Like Dicks, too” (can’t be real, right?).  In some cases, the airlines stepped up and threw them off the aircraft. And the media went wild, of course. Incredible.

But this is stupid, obnoxious behavior from someone suffering from “head up and locked” syndrome and nothing compared to the “Unruly Passenger(s)” who demonstrate zero sense of civility and/or simply don’t care. From performing Yoga in the aisle to a man assaulting and choking a woman passenger over her reclining seat to a woman who had to be dragged from the aircraft after attacking Delta flight crew members and later, airport police and FBI reps. 

Those are the inconsiderate, terminally-stupid idiots whose behavior cause aircraft to return to the departure airport forcing all the other passengers to miss connections, lose business, vacation days, threaten the safety of passengers, etc. And, the operational disruption and extra fuel and man-hour costs are incalculable. Why does this happen? Because these sociopathic morons do this/have done this with virtually no accountability or worse, responsibility. It’s all about them.

Eleven million travelers take to the global skies every day. They should expect safe passage free of frightening behavior from a few miscreants. It’s time for an attitude adjustment; time to confront badly behaving or dangerous passengers — head on, and make them pay.

What to do? First, the airlines and particularly the federal transportation agencies, need to grow a pair of ovaries and issue a simple, policy statement. Here’s my recommendation: “You cause a problem (drunk and disorderly, fighting, throwing food, etc.) forcing the delay or return of an aircraft to the gate or airport, and you go on the “No-Fly List” for all US and International airlines for five years. No plea arrangement, no community service. Five-year ban. Period. 

Non-responsibility excuses such as “I didn’t know if I took my meds with six Jack Daniels Doubles, it would make me behave like that,” won’t work. No hard-luck “if I can’t fly I’ll lose my job” wailing or “I have nephew’s graduation” hand-wringing will help. 

Too friggin’ bad. You’re driving to the graduation now — with plenty of time to reflect on what – or who – put you on the road instead of in the air.

If, after five years, your air travel privileges are returned and you do it again, depending on the offense, you might face jail time, but you will have earned a permanent ban on all air travel for life.  

Period. Have a nice day.

If the first infraction is severe enough, you could move immediately to being banned from all air travel for life and skip the five-year wait. The possibility of jail time, however, would still be there.

To Delta’s credit, they have instituted a “banned from Delta” policy if the unruly passenger’s behavior warrants it but there are other air carriers that will still take their money.

The statistics on unruly passengers are striking. In 2017, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported an unbelievable ratio of 1 serious incident for every 1,053 flights. The top three issues were not obeying safety regulations (other than non-smoking): 49 %, alcohol-related; 27%, and incredibly, 24% of incidents were for not following the non-smoking rules in the aircraft. Is “No smoking In the aircraft” that complicated to understand?

The internet is filled with drunk/disorderly conduct types punching flight attendants, and even beating other passengers with a wine bottle before attempting to open the door of a Delta aircraft cruising over the Pacific Ocean at 30,000 feet. That earned the violent assailant two years in prison and a ban on flying — but no word on how long of a ban

To Delta’s credit, they have instituted a “banned from Delta” policy if the unruly passenger’s behavior warrants it but there are other air carriers that will take their money.

The stats on unruly passenger is stunning. In 2017, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported a staggering ratio of 1 serious incident for each 1,053 flights. The top three issues were 49% not obeying safety regulations (other than non-smoking), 27% involved alcohol, and incredibly, 24% of incidents were for not obeying the non-smoking regulations in the aircraft. Is “No smoking In the aircraft” that  complicated to understand?

Cause a ruckus, no flying on us.

Am I committing logic? Seems a no-brainer. 

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Goodnight Karen Mihoch, Wherever You Are

With apologies to Jimmy Durante for hijacking the closing line from his 1955 TV program, every July 20th I revisit an unforgettable 1969 marker in my life.  It is a signpost to an uncomplicated and yet, more confusing time: 1969. Back then, I had my “roadmap to success” albeit, a simple one but identical to many young men of the late 1960s.  My plan: I would (1) find a girlfriend (2) get a car (3) finish my Senior  high school year and (4) if my luck continued, graduate.

Assuming I accomplished goals three and four, I would begin applying to colleges.  If my grades were good enough, and I was accepted, the US Selective Service would issue me a student deferment classification.   

In 1967, for thousands of draft-aged guys, the increasing pull from the political Black Hole known as the Vietnam War was palpable. However, with a college acceptance letter, you could get “deferred.”  And, thousands did. Those recipients wildly celebrated receiving their “get out of the war free” card.

Understandable; for them, the Vietnam War had just vanished.

However, I had waited too long to begin caring about grades or college, and by May 1967, I had already received my draft notice.  I had to choose between serving as a two-year draftee in the Army — with a year in Vietnam almost guaranteed — or spending four years in a different armed service branch. I chose the latter — the US Air Force.

A little more than two years later, July 1969, I was home on leave and bravely looked up one of the most attractive Class of ’67 girls and called. Incredibly, she (1) remembered me, and (2) agreed to go out with me.

Her name was Karen Mihoch, and in the two years since graduation, she had gone from very-attractive high school girl to, frankly, a fully-grown babe.  She was a head-turner; the epitome of the late 60’s “breath-taking” model-quality woman; great body, er, … “lovely figure,” willowy but not anorexic, long blonde straight hair, big bangs, and a micro-skirt (where have they gone?).  Her final fashion statement featured white “Go-Go” boots and 1960’s pink lipstick.  Whoa.  

We headed to the then (and still today) very casual-hip-chic Georgetown Pub called, The Tombs. It was memorable; great meal and conversation that (in my mind) hinted at better things later. 

As we talked, a small “portable” television appeared on the bar for all to view. The bartender fidgeted with the antenna (not familiar with the term?) and waited for a full minute or so as the set “warmed up” (not familiar with that concept either?) and then slowly, I watched a grainy, black and white television picture fade into view. 

It was from the Moon. 

The Moon?

I was already sitting across from a heavenly body but, man was on the moon! 

Being a huge fan of aviation and space exploration, I was desperately torn between watching her — and her inviting, porcelain décolletage — or the television. Should I be empathetically talking about her last heartbreak, or marveling at man’s most significant technological event ever?

Describing the lunar event was CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite. He was uncharacteristically speechless watching Neil Armstrong leave his footprints on the moon.

I was near-speechless thinking about leaving my fingerprints all over her.

But, it was not to be. Sadly, she had to be back early that evening. Maybe due to her family’s reluctance over her dating a military guy; it was the late 60s, after all.

We watched that historical event along with the rest of the world, and although we saw each other from time to time, we eventually faded from each other’s lives. I have learned life is sometimes like that. I hope her life has been as rewarding as mine. 

But, every July 20th, I revisit “our” moment in time as if it was yesterday and then shake my head.  How can it have been fifty years ago?

I bet she is still a babe.

Good night Karen Mihoch, Wherever You Are

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The Fireworks Flag

Recently, I was a guest at the lovely Ft. Lauderdale Yacht Club for their Independence Day celebration.  It was especially picturesque–complete with happy children splashing in the pools, an enormous cookout, and open bar.  Under a large, poolside high-ceiling cabana, slowly revolving fans generated a lush tropical breeze for the adults seated below as they tried to resist the temptation of “just a little” food-coma nap. I prefer to call it caloric-overload meditation. Yummmmmmmm.

Suddenly, a very animated 4-year child ran up to his grandfather with an earsplitting announcement instantly crashing my meditation and ruining nap time for most others.

“Look, Granddad!” he proclaimed. He waved a small American Flag on a stick that had been part of a nearby table decoration. 

“It’s the fireworks flag! Here!”  He shoved at the flag into the grandfather’s hands and sped away to play with the other sugar-buzzed yuppie larva.

But it was nearly showtime. Large yachts tied to the docks (I like big boats, and I can’t deny it) outlined a grassy peninsula adjacent to the cabana. Families, including the grandfather and grandkid, now moved to the grassy area of the small peninsula where they positioned themselves on blankets.  Anchored in the waterway nearby was a floating pyrotechnics-packed platform.  Darkness arrived. Anticipation was high.  It was almost showtime.

“Granddad!” the child pointed to several other American flags flying from the nearby boats, “more fireworks flags!”

This time the grandfather asked, “Why do you call it the ‘fireworks’ flag?”

He answered immediately:

“Because the flags mean fireworks are coming!”

BOOM! The first fireworks volley began.  The 4-year old instinctively burrowed into his grandfather’s embrace.

In a few seconds, the grandchild cautiously peeked into the sky marveling at the loud, colorful spectacle above him.  He quickly learned the language of fireworks mastering “Oooooh” and “Ahhhh” and all verb conjugations.

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out the grandchild is mine.  And, that evening the 4-year old taught his youthful, virile, and ahem, studly grandfather a lesson in perception.  I never saw the “fireworks flag” coming.

As depicted in the movie Truman, you accept the world you are born into as proper and correct, framing your world and forming perceptions from a circular combination of behavior modeling, negative/positive reinforcement, observation, et al.

In my grandboy’s world, if he saw an American Flag, a fireworks show would soon follow.  

Adorable. (Sorry)

In a few years though, he will learn “the why” behind the 4th of July celebration and the sweeping, world-changing effects of that pivotal event.
He will discover our fight for independence was a horrific, brutal, and savage clash that put into place individual freedoms of speech, press, the right to bear arms, assembly, and religion.  He will understand this was an agonizing period of such suffering that history books today cannot describe it.

He will develop a sense of awe for those America-Founding Fathers, and the enormous obstacles overcome in writing arguably, the second most pervasive document in the history of man by consensus of a group. 

Well-known is their signatures severed ties with Great Britain. But, their actions also put themselves at the top of King George III’s “Most Wanted Dead or Alive List” immediately. They had to succeed, or they and all like-minded colonists were dead.

He will recognize the dangerous dichotomy produced by those 56 signatures; complete independence from Great Britain could be the only outcome.  There could be no compromise, no middle ground, no striking a balance, no give and take, no happy medium.  With this bold action, these delegates pledged to each other, all thirteen colonies, and all future Americans, their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.  

The grandboy will learn those citizen soldiers defending the declaration were poorly trained, poorly equipped, yet took on the world’s best military; the best trained, best equipped, the most experienced, and won.

But, winning the war was only step one.  The next step was hammering out the US Constitution. The result of that incredible document was the forever-fusing of three simple words; a pronoun, an article, and a noun. 

These three words were a sweeping expression of the American mind and immediately became an American Cultural touchstone. “We The People” was revolutionary political thought in the late 18th century. Even today, these three words are unwelcome in many lands. 

He will recognize the brilliance of our Founding Fathers’ vision; that individual freedom, individual choice, and the dignity placed by this culture on the individual supersede everything else, and particularly, government overreach.  He will soon realize that this nation is like no other.  

However, he and his future fellow Americans must recognize the flame of individual freedom is today and has always been in peril; targeted by violent individuals, both foreign and domestic who fear the power of the individual — particularly in a culture that places this strength, this force, above everything. 

He and his generation must be vigilant. The threats from complacent citizens or worse, those who conspire to erode this unique cultural and political structure for their own personal or political gains are real.  Protecting the creation of those three words is critical.

But for now, it’s the “Fireworks Flag,” and that’s OK.

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Flamenco Guitar’s Brightest Star Gone

For fans of Flamenco music, you simply could not get any better than Paco de Lucia. He was one of the greatest guitar players of all times and a Spanish national treasure.

For the rest of the world and especially guitar aficionados, on February 25, 2014, one of the brightest stars in the musical heavens suddenly flickered and  went dark when Paco de Lucia died. 

I first heard his music while living in Zaragoza, Spain during the 1970s. His seemingly casual mastery and unique style were stunning. I have been an avid fan ever since.  I found a 1976 Spanish TV video of him performing Entre Dos Aquas. You can watch it now by clicking here

In a musical watershed moment, the world learned about this virtuoso guitarist through his rumba; Entre Dos Aguas (Between Two Waters) referring to his hometown of Algeciras, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic. It was a sweeping introduction to the musical fierceness, passion, and elegance of centuries-old gypsy flamenco music from at least four cultures: Gypsy, Moors (Arab), Jews and Andalusian.

The global music industry immediately noticed la entrada of Paco de Lucia. They quickly embraced his signature picados (what guitar ‘riffs’ want to be when they grow up) and the unique Paco de Lucia strumming and fingering style characterized as the most advanced flamenco approach the world had ever known.

Present-day jazz greats Al Dimeola, John McLaughlin and Chick Corea were the first to add de Lucia’s emotional elegance to their work. Soon, they played to audiences of 5-10,000 all over the world. 

This was followed by several orchestral performances and even the blending of de Lucia’s unique style with Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” for the TV show soundtrack “Spain: On The Road Again.”

But, it was rock music superstar Bryan Adams who showcased the romantic, sensual, and intimate side of Paco de Lucia’s work to the enormous international pop-rock audience. In 1995 Adams wrote the Oscar-Nominated “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman” for the movie, Don Juan DeMarco. The music video for the song featured both Adams and Paco de Lucia. You can watch it now by clicking here.

Akin to a flame passing from a single candle to another which in turn, lights another candle and another over and again, the influence of this flamenco maestro cannot be overstated. Indeed, at this moment somewhere, there is an acoustic guitarist relentlessly practicing their picados; seeking to emulate and perhaps momentarily capture the essence of what was and what always will be, Paco de Lucia.