Should General McChrystal be fired?

Seal of the United States Navy

For the record: I am an ex-military enlisted man who served proudly in the United States Navy. I took to the training that I was given and graduated at the top of my class for nearly every event, training or protocol I was ever assigned. I endeavored to be the best of the military and to be an example to everyone I worked with and every civilian I met. I held my work in the military to be a necessary part of my contribution to the society I lived in and I am confident that most military men and women will say something similar. I left the military in good standing and with an Honorable Discharge at the end of my tour, with no regrets.

Please understand, I did not always agree with the orders or messages of those who were my superiors, nor always the civilian authorities who directed them, but that was irrelevant. My duty was to work toward the maximum resolution of the problem with the minimum of military force required towards that end. My personal agreement was not a requirement to perform those orders to the best of my ability; end of story. I did not have to believe in the mission, I did not have to like the mission, I did not have to subscribe to the mission. But I did have to COMPLETE the mission as well as I could, with the resources, adequate or not, at my disposal. I just wanted you to understand where I stood personally before I attempt to answer this question. I shall endeavor to answer this question in a few parts.

Part I – Remember what you signed up for…

I shall list the Oath of Office that the General signed up for years ago and perhaps has forgotten due to the longevity of his service or perhaps the swollen nature of his current ego.

“I, _____ (SSAN), having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.” (DA Form 71, 1 August 1959, for officers.)

This was given to the General on a plaque upon his graduation. I make mention of it because it is one of the first documents that he would have received expressing the serious nature of his relationship to the United States military. This information is further enhanced by an understanding that the military members who defend our freedom of speech necessarily give up some portion of their own. Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the law that governs military conduct, dictates that “any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense … shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

So no matter what the rationale he may give for allowing his staff to engage in such language (stress of the event, promoting camaraderie of his team, informal tough-guy talk to reduce stress) there was the potential that such language could have dangerous consequences should it have gotten out. Allowing such language to be overheard by journalists of a publication such as Rolling Stone (which I am not bashing) known for the depth of their reporting was certain to have long-reaching consequences that I am not sure the General was aware of.

journalists publication atlantic bashing depth reporting long-reaching consequences general aware

General Stanley McChrystal (AP)

Part II – Are you so good, you can be forgiven anything?

It is said that much can be forgiven a warrior’s behavior if he is winning battles. I do not consider the work being done in Afghanistan recently to be of a winning caliber. To be fair to the General, he did acquire, in my opinion, one of the most difficult land wars ever, against an enemy that is not uniformed, that fights a guerrilla war using human shields and endeavors to attack an enemy always at his weakest points. An enemy that has a long history of using such tactics successfully against the Russians in an early era of warfare.

It was the height of hubris of the American government to believe it could quell the violence in this region with the simple application of advanced, technological, and military superiority. This region has been in conflict for more than two thousand years and is likely to remain in conflict, even after we are gone from it, hopefully sooner rather than later. The General and his staff are working from a severe deficit, particularly because the war has drawn on for so much longer than was expected, the war having lost the popularity amongst Americans, and because of unfavorable events such as the friendly-fire accident of the famed athlete Pat Tillman in 2004.

General McChrystal’s plan, which was given the green light by the Obama Administration, given the resources he requested and the ability to apply them in any manner he saw fit is still not yielding the promised results. The Afghan security forces are still timid and relatively ineffectual in maintaining peace in the region without the backing of the US forces deployed there, the Kandahar offensive has been delayed again, and the recent offensive Operation Moshtarak, a joint operation with the local governments, while it did destroy the poppy and drug production of the Taliban, did not break the back of the insurgency as expected.

Such limited results will not forgive indiscretions of the type witnessed and recorded by the reporters of the Rolling Stone and will do nothing to paint the General’s staff in a positive light. When all is said and done, the General is responsible for the behavior and demeanor of his troops and officers. There have been many precedents for Presidents firing Generals throughout America history, Lincoln alone, fired at least eight. So this should not come as a surprise to anyone that it is possible, likely and considering the nature of the offenses probable. What surprises me is the emotionally charged response to having General McChrystal even be responsible for what he has said, even if he HAS apologized. This is not some kid fresh out of college, this is a four-star General!

He has to know that there would be some consequence for his actions and that if the tables were turned and some enlisted man were saying the same things about him that he and his staff were saying about the Administration, he would bring that enlisted man up on charges, immediately. This man is responsible for the safety of thousands of soldiers and effectively protecting the lives of tens of thousands of citizens both foreign and domestic. I would expect him to be the paragon of virtue that his job requires him to be. To make only the errors that anyone who has considered the plans and operations that he has been involved with, that were unavoidable. To fall because you were indiscreet is simply irresponsible.

Part III – The Real Questions

As to whether I believe the General should be fired, I believe that there are several pros and cons which should (and I hope likely WILL) be considered. The General has an amazing level of loyalty from his troops and the local governments. Both are pleased to work and follow his orders and policies and in that regard, he has performed excellently. He has been singularly dedicated to his work having spent less than 30 days home since he was assigned there in 2003.

General McChrystal is doing well in a very hard job, trying to make a success of the war the president said is essential. He appears to be the only person involved in the Afghan war who understands how to integrate political, economic and military effects. He has shown that he is definitely the MIND necessary to win the war. The questions to be asked are:

a) Is he the MAN to win the war? Can he control his personal bias and dislike for the administration he works for enough to do his job?

b) Is he really as apolitical as he should be or is he responding to Republican pressures to attack the Obama administration as part of their agenda to undermine the President and his policies?

c) Can he control his team and their behavior long enough to remain focused on the task of completing his mission objectives and getting out of the country, alive with minimum casualties and maximum effectiveness?

d) Can he and his team coordinate enough of the remaining local governments and police services to establish a long-term method of dealing with the Taliban insurgency once the US forces are, either heavily diminished or completely out of country?

e) If General McChrystal cannot answer these questions effectively and likely to President Obama’s satisfaction, he will not be leading his forces, no matter how loyal, toward what we hope will be, a satisfactory conclusion. The only other question would be: Can anyone besides General McChrystal manage any better than he did?

Part IV – Partisan Politics (or just plain stupidity) Strikes Again

It is a sad thing such poor behavior has become the order of the day in our very partisan politics. I would have hoped our military would have the good sense to stay out of such power struggles and focus on the job at hand, unfortunately that has not appeared to be the case. The loss of General McChrystal has seriously undermined the appearance of the US government in the eyes of foreign diplomats but such behavior simply cannot be tolerated by anyone in the military toward the governing civilian authority.

It undermines the Office of the President if President Obama allows such behavior to go without consequence. And considering the behavior of the media, the political pundits and the political parties who are constantly seeking weakness in the President, either in his policies, or his behavior, it is not in his best interest to allow someone who IS under his completely control and authority to fire, to go unpunished. There are many of you who believe that General McChrystal’s behavior is acceptable, but that, my friend, is what coups are made of. I am not saying he cannot have an opinion, I am saying that as a General in the United States Army, he needs to learn when it is appropriate to voice that opinion.

So I say to anyone in the military, if you cannot remain loyal to the Commander-in-Chief, it is time for you to return to the States, resign your commission and find another line of work where you can bash your boss, with relatively impunity, until he fires you.

Thaddeus Howze Atreides
http://tinyurl.com/thexaminer

BP Oil Disaster – Day 63

Exxon Valdez aground at Prince William Sound

March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground rupturing 8 of its 11 cargo holds. No lives were lost however, the ship released 257,000 barrels of oil in its accident at Prince William Sound, though four perished later during the cleanup. The Valdez lost the equivalent of 10.7 million gallons. The accident released the equivalent of 17 Olympic sized swimming pools full of oil. They are still feeling the effects 23 years later.  (634,941 gallons fills an Olympic sized pool…)

The Exxon Valdez oil spill was not the largest in history. In 1978, the Amoco Cadiz was wrecked off the coast of France and spilled six times as much oil (1.5 million barrels). However, that spill dissipated quickly since the wreck occurred, unlike the Exxon Valdez incident, in the open seas. Gas retailers were quick to take advantage of the spill, raising prices at the pump by as much as 14 cents.

Nearly $400 million of the Exxon settlement was used by the government to purchase 650,000 acres that included 1,400 miles of shoreline along Prince William Sound as well as 287 salmon spawning streams in order to protect against development.

In the aftermath of the incident Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, strengthening regulations on oil tankers and oil tank operators. Oil companies engaged in the Alaska trade were ordered to switch to double-hulled tankers by the year 2015. In Prince William Sound, tugs escorted tankers all the way to the open sea while fully-qualified pilots remained at the helm until all vessel were beyond Bligh Reef.

Deep Water Horizon Fire (AP Photo/US Coast Guard)

At 09:45 p.m. CDT April 20, 2010, during the final phases of drilling the exploratory well at Macondo, a geyser of seawater erupted from the marine riser onto the rig, shooting 240 ft (73 m) into the air. This was soon followed by the eruption of a slushy combination of mud, methane gas, and water. The gas component of the slushy material quickly transitioned into a fully gaseous state and then ignited into a series of explosions and then a firestorm. Workers immediately attempted to activate theblowout preventer, but it failed.

Since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, 11 lives were lost and the uncapped oil well has released an estimated 100,000 barrels of oil per day. Since the beginning of this event, there has been an estimate release of 6.3 million barrels of oil.

100,000 bpd x 63 days = 6,300,000 million barrels x 42 gallons per barrel = 264,600,000 million gallons.

The Deep Water Horizon accident has released enough oil/hydrocarbons to fill 417 Olympic sized swimming pools.

Conservatively we have another 40 days before the relief wells are completed. If they were done on August 1, we will have added another 40 days or 4 million barrels (168 million gallons) of oil to the current ecological disaster… Worst Case Scenario: If they were not done until August 30, it would add another 70 days or 7 million barrels of oil (294 million gallons). So our best and worst case totals, assuming nothing else more catastrophic occurs:

Best Case Total: 63+40 = 103 million barrels or 415 Million gallons of oil, the equivalent of 400 Exxon Valdez spills.

Worst Case Total: 63+70 = 133 million barrels or 559 million gallons of oil, the equivalent of 517 Exxon Valdez spills.

With such catastrophic numbers, the effect on the environment, both on the land and the sea will be incredible and likely to be felt for decades to come.

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All You Need is…Work!

Paul McCartney, George Harrison and John Lenno...
Image via Wikipedia

The quintessential piece made famous by John Lennon and the Beatles from their wonderful song, All You Need is Love, was first performed in 1967 to a world completely different from today. Right now, what America needs as much as love, is work.

Lets draw a picture of the overall scheme of things so everyone knows where we sit:

1. America, in 2007 had an unemployment rate of 4.7%. That is the ideal number give or take. It does not take into account a variety of things, particularly minorities whose number could be considerably higher. It is also a number that is considered favorable by the economy. To be safe, double that number and you are more likely to see numbers more closely approaching real unemployment in the nation.

2. Contrast that with now, in 2010, with an average unemployment in the nation hovering at 9.7 to 9.9%. This number also ignores a variety of other elements including the disparity in minority hiring, the under-employment numbers (which talk about people working in jobs that do not help them make their ends meet) and the 99er’s (people who have lost their jobs, and their unemployment benefits because they have been unemployed for 99 weeks, the maximum time allowed for unemployment). And as before, if you double the official number, you are closer to the real numbers for unemployment (around 20%) and if you add the underemployed, you reach almost 28%. This means there are an estimated 11 to 25 million people who are unemployed or underemployed.

3. Hiring is basically flat right now. While there is much ado about the productivity of American businesses, they are boasting profits while they are hiring no new employees. This is not as counter-intuitive as you might think seeing how, by firing employees, they are cutting one of their most expensive line items, employees. The remaining employees of businesses are being super-efficient in order to not lose THEIR jobs. Unfortunately they are doing the work of two or three employees who are no longer with the company, so that level of productivity cannot honestly be expected to last. I would estimate another three months tops before the bottom starts falling out of places that are abusing their workforce in this matter.

US unemployment rate, by county (Dec, 2008)
Image by Cartographer via Flickr

4. I am going to name a few of the forces that put us in this dilemma in no particular order: NAFTA, corporate outsourcing for twenty years, H1-B visas, corporate greed, investment banks, the Federal Reserve, the housing market and its inflationary growth cycles, the tech boom and bust, for that matter, all boom and bust cycles, corporate greed (did I mention that already?), poor education in the educational industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, the legal/judicial-industrial complex, malfeasance on the part of corporations which end up raising their costs, inflation caused by administering to the national debt, wars (all of them, take your pick over the last twenty years) lazy and uninspired Americans, obesity, bad health, overpriced health care and technology in general; did I miss anything? But if I had to pick one, and only one, you might be surprised to know that I would pick technology as the number one force that has displaced more people, permanently from the workforce than any other thing on my very long list. How I arrive at that, well, you will have to wait for a bit…

5. To add another wrinkle in this tapestry, there are two workforces vying for the remaining positions. The first, college graduates, filled with the academic knowledge still in the corner of their mouths fresh from the teat of our hallowed halls of higher education. They have little or no work experience to speak of, but they are willing to work for nothing, mostly because they don’t have anything to maintain. No homes, a rust-bucket that moves if they are unlucky, something overpriced if they are from a family with a little more means. The super-elite, the sons and daughters of the privileged, will of course be taken care of one way or the other, by nepotism, or by trust funds until this tawdry unemployment thing blows over.

Our other workforce is the hoary, veterans of the psychic wars, those sons and daughters of the Baby Boomers who are still in what is today, the primes of their lives, filled with the knowledge of three decades of hard-won experience, time-tested capability and the power of knowing how things work in relationship to whatever their occupation was before they lost their jobs, were laid off, semi-retired, quit, were liquidated or treated as expendable assets. These are the people who built the mega-corporations and industries that cast them aside as detritus when the going got tough. They are viable, intelligent and a damn sight more useful than they are being treated in interviews that tell them they are over the hill and should consider a consultancy as a potential occupation for the next twenty or thirty years.

(done ranting, taking a breath now…) Where were we? These two workforces are vying for the same limited un-natural resource at the moment. Work. But one of them is being overlooked. This cannot be admitted to legally, but the trend is there, especially if you talk to those older workers; and no, I am not talking about the dewy coeds fresh from a college dorm. I am talking about anyone over the age of 45 who is told they are too experienced for a job. I am going to have to tell you that is simply (insert explicative here…)

Technology is to blame for all of our ills. Now that we know who to blame we can simply turn back time to a simpler age and we will all go back to work, happier for the knowledge and experience. Wrong. This genie is out of the bottle and is never going back. So lets see how it happened.

All technology is designed to be labor-saving. The first rock or stick was meant to improve the feeble human physiology and offer an advantage either in combat or in dealing with the environment. Tools made it easier to grind corn or to brain wolves. And each new development improved humanity’s ability to adapt to a new climate. But there was another benefit, unnoticed at first, that men lost work every time a tool improved. In the beginning this was not a serious issue because there was always work to be done, usually far more work than there were people to do that work.

When humanity was nomadic, the work was moving stuff. When the groups grew too large to move, we created agriculture and settled down into groups that farmed and the move to the Agricultural Age was born. This was not a bad deal, we needed lots of people to farm and even with animals, feeding people was still a full time job for many people. Creating towns also created new work, since we were sitting still, we needed homes; we were moving loads, so we needed vehicles. Each development created new opportunities for innovation and new developments and thusly, new jobs. This continued all over the world, different rates, different climates, different technologies suited to a people and a biome.

Then the Industrial Age came. The age of the machine, where the idea for the assembly line and mass production was born. Okay, traumatic to the Agricultural Age, because it stole manpower to fill its factories, but those factories eventually produced technology to allow those people to stay away from those farms and continue to man the factories instead. Farming, was more and more being done by machines, with fewer and fewer people. The Industrial Age also produced its shadow technologies, things that powered the Age, things that complemented the Age and things that propelled the Age forward. And thusly were more jobs created. Innovation and creativity continued to produce new jobs, but there were dark times. Particularly when the Age was first starting up, there were periods where work was unavailable for large numbers of the population, particularly in the US during the Depression.

This did not last as new ideas, new risks, new innovation spurred the economy forward and helped usher in a new age. War did not hurt either, since it spurred a particular set of innovations which did return to the populace in a variety of ways in new ideas, new cultures, new people, new opportunities for everyone involved. The Industrial Age did not come without costs. Looming budget deficits, two world wars, hundreds of millions dead, plagues were spread from continent to continent because of new forms of travel. The Industrial Age was paid for in blood, from those who work the lines, the factories, the roads, the bridges, the dams, the farms and those who lived in the cities, in the crowding, the riots, the filth, and the ever-present, black, thick, sooty smoke that stained everyone all the time. The Industrial Age wore a black boot and tracked its imprint all across the world, then and now.

Welcome to the Information Age. And like every Age before it, it creates new opportunities far too numerous to mention. But one of its specters is a familiar one, Unemployment. Where the Angel of Technology giveth, the Specter of Unemployment also follows. This is not a new development. We have known this for at least ten thousand years. But humans and their governments have very short memories. So we tend to forget that we have seen this before. Scholars of history, who warn us to remember the past, lest we be doomed to repeat it, have given us a warning that we are never able to remember, until we are in the midsts of the dilemma. We are repeating the past, just about the turn of the century, from 1900 to 1930 the economic upheavals were legendary. The world as we knew it did not make sense.

Welcome to the turn of the century; except this is the 21st century not the 20th.

If your world is not making sense, you are not alone. No one knew, per se, how this new century would start but we were certain that we would be living in interesting times. We are at a crossroad. Three paths lie before us and none of them look anything like where we are coming from, so the past is only of the most marginal of help. Perhaps a moment of prayer while we decide; toss some salt over our shoulder to keep misfortune at bay, and now we shall plunge ahead.

A Newer World Order

This is my personal opinion. I make that disclaimer so that no one will later claim I misled them. I am neither a prognosticator, nor a seer, but I do have a sense of things, particularly where they have never been seen before. I am adaptable and fearless, so the ideas I am sharing are for those who know that the world they knew before is GONE, never to return, except as an echo in a foreign country just reaching the industrial age, and are prepared to forge ahead in an uncertain world.

Rules for the Newer World Order:

1. Forget what you know. It will not help you here. It is not that knowledge isn’t valuable. Its more that thinking about the world the way it was cannot help us see the way the world needs to be. There will be plenty of people struggling to hold the world in its current form. Don’t be one of them. Those people lose. Bought a buggy whip lately?

2. Return to the basics. They are more valuable than you think. Reading will never go out of style. As a matter of fact is is now more important than ever, because there is simply so much information, that if you cannot read, it is the same as not being able to swim if you are in the ocean. Nothing will replace the written word and the skill to write, cannot be underestimated. Yes, handwriting may be heading out and typing may be the tool of the day, but the skill to write information-rich, coherent, business capable content is worth its weight in gold. If you cannot write, your future in the NRWO cannot be assured. Be numerically literate. If you are a scientist or engineer, it is likely that your numerical literacy is up to par, if not, shame, shame. But if you are not an engineer or scientist, learn as much math as you can possibly shove in your head. If you have a fear of math or a mental block, go back to school, take remedial maths until you get back to the level that failed you. Then go forward, slower, more cautiously. BUT GET THAT LITERACY! The future will have more numbers than have ever been seen before. Data will be at the heart of all things, because we will have less time, more issues and more lives will be at stake. Data-driven decision-making IS the future. If you are making decisions without data, you are likely wrong. This does not mean that intuition is dead. It’s on life-support. Do the math.

3. Increase your ability to adapt. Flexibility in the future will be your greatest asset. Do something new every week. Go someplace you have never been. Eat something completely foreign to you. Learn to speak a new language (this goes to you lazy, damn Americans, who believe they only have to know one language and that is American.) If you get the joke, bravo. The people I am talking about likely won’t. Learn a martial art, take up gardening, talk to a stranger, be kind to someone (for a lot of you, that will be a new thing, try it out), go to your PTA. Get off your couch and get involved. We are losing daylight, folks. Unless we’re all involved in everything we see and do, there will simply be more problems than we have talented people to work on them. We will need to be highly skilled and able to work at a variety of things at the drop of a hat.

4. Be fearless. Fear will only serve to make you hesitate. In the Newer World Order, he who hesitates is truly lost. We do not have time for fear or self indulgence. To quote Nike: Just Do It. And this is not an excuse to do stupid self-absorbed, narcissistic twittering stupid things. I am talking about being fearless in a just cause, in the creation of new things, in loving your family, in working with the elderly. Be fearless in the exploration of new things. Part of what is missing is our spirit of exploration, we have conquered the Earth and are sitting on our laurels. They are quite flat now, so get up and get involved.

5. Trust someone. In a world gone mad, we are the only resource we have. Find someone to trust to have your back. This is a hard one. There is so much loss. There is so much fear. There is so much pain. More than we can bear, some days. But if we are trying to do it alone, the Newer World Order will destroy you. There is too much data, too much information, too much work, too many issues, too many people, too many ideas, too much of everything for you to try and do it all yourself. Work toward your limit. The human limit of real friends that can be involved with each other and still is 150. Build your community, and get your 150 people who really could care about you and your needs. Your virtual friends don’t count toward that number, so go nuts there, if you like.

6. Be trustworthy. Give your word to someone, or some ideal and keep it. To quote Stan Lee and Jack Kirby: ‘Nuff said.

7. Age is NOT just a number. You cannot buy wisdom, but you can certainly rent it. Find someone older than you, who is looking to contribute to the world. You will find them an asset beyond measure. Ignore the outside, look to the inner person.

8. Age is just a number. In this information-dense world, our youth are plugged directly into it. They are annoyingly precocious and amazingly intelligent. Do not allow their youth to blind you to their incredible potential. Find someone younger than you, and let them teach you Our Brave New World’s technology. I guarantee they will surprise you.

9. Learn to think. This means you will have to turn off your television. This means you will have to ask questions. This means you will have to get off your couch. Thinking is your number one tool if you plan to EAT in the new world. If you are not prepared to think, then stock up on canned cat food. It will be all you can afford to eat before too long. Excuses mean nothing. And for all of you degreed folks, that paper means nothing as well. Unless you plan to use it for a place-mat for your cat food. Thinking, real thinking, critical thinking is something completely different. And no, I can’t tell you how to get it here. Do I have to do everything for you?

Back to the real question: How in the hell do I find work in this Newer World Order?

There is no easy answer to this question. Part of the answer will be for corporations to understand that for them to prosper, they will have to go back to hiring people. Simple as that. The people who are working for you will not spend any money, anywhere until they see new people coming in the door with boxes of stuff, rather than being escorted out with their personal effects. They do not feel safe. So, not feeling safe, means not spending money. Not spending money, means widgets on shelves. Widgets on shelves means no money coming in. No money coming in means employees going out. Repeat. Are you following me?

The second step is that we have to stop being complacent as a nation and start planning for the future. Not the next quarter, but for 5, 10, 20 years ahead. We are not so good at that. We had better get good at it, the stakes are frighteningly high. In my next piece we will discuss what we need to do to change ourselves for the Newer World Order.

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Language fails to help with social network “friendship”

A deceptively simple looking question

Working on LinkedIn today, I came across a comment by Wade Meyer, host, performer and public speaker, that posited a question that I am sure will be getting more controversial as time goes on: “Should a judge be required to remove any lawyers or other legal professionals from his or her Facebook friends list?” He follows with this quote:

“Since signing up for Facebook, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Rex Barbas has accumulated 280 friends. He estimates that maybe a dozen or so of those people are lawyers and only a handful regularly appear before him in court. Folks in the latter group, be warned: The judge may soon unfriend you. He doesn’t really want to, but the state Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opined last month that such friendships on social networking sites give the impression that a lawyer is in a position to influence a judge.”

Initially, I was prepared to overlook the question as more social network navel gazing, but then I thought about it. Who should determine who our social networks connect to and should we be required to curb our networks because of other obligations or relationships? Being the iconoclast that I am, I immediately rebelled against the idea of anyone telling me who I could be friends with but once I did that, it became a bone that I gnawed on and realized it was not as easy a question to answer as I first thought. Then I decided to tunnel into the question and determine what was really being asked here. And the conclusion was that this was not just about the question but the nature of the relationship that needed to be addressed. Alas, our tools simply do not allow us to parse our friendships deeply enough to work with our technology.

My much more complicated (than I initially thought) answer

Our language fails to address an issue our technology has created. A judge being on Facebook or other social network should NOT be forced to remove himself from the community that the social network provides him or her. “To friend” someone on Facebook does not require, obligate, or even necessitate communication between the two parties directly.

The word “associate” or “contact” might be a better description of the interaction between two parties on a social network. What the network allows is for different levels of information to move between two parties depending on the parties levels of interaction. Such services might want to allow the user to differentiate better between their friends to make such conflicts easier to detect. It could look like this:

Contact” – information sharing is usually one way, from the sender to the receiver. Facebook’s page services are a way to mitigate having to become friends to get information of this nature. This info is usually information regarding events or gatherings. You may be a contact because of a previous affiliation (work, school, convention) and may still desire to get information from that contact. Any conflicts should be easily determined. Organizations that sell things through social networks would commonly be considered “contacts”. This is the least committed of relationships, shouting to the world at large.

Associate” – This is a person whom you may actually share information in a two-way stream. This person may have little to do with your work, but the two of you may share a hobby, condition, or non-professional relationship that may be separated by distance or physical availability. This is the true nature of most contact on Facebook, people connected by their interests but may have never physically come in contact with each other. This is the social equivalent of a convention, people gathered around a like topic.

Friend” – this is someone you know in the physical world, not just a virtual friend. This person will know you, may have a relationship with you, but is now, someone you do not see very often, and social networks allow you to share info about your friends and family – pictures, sound and video files. This is the category of friends that a significant number of people find again many years after leaving school or the military. This is a small tight group of people with a shared history and personal knowledge of each other. Conflicts could become an issue here.

Buddy” – this is a person you see somewhat regularly, but are always sharing communications, connections, resources with using social networks. You likely work together, or have recently and still stay connected because of your ability to augment each other’s opportunities. You may be in business together, or work on important projects together. This is as close a relationship as you can get, maximizing a social network to your personal benefit. You don’t see anything wrong with this connection and are likely to maintain it as long as possible. This is likely to be the level of interaction where conflict is certain to occur but these are also people who would know this about you and you about them, so you would not allow them to put you in conflict because of the potential long-term losses.

Now these levels of differentiation do not exist currently, but if parameters like these could be established, then everyonecould decide just who or what type of connections should be established in relationship to their work. Judges are people and need to have connections to the society they sit in judgement of. This is why so many of our laws and ideas go awry, because the lawmakers are out of touch. Social networks are not going to go away, and such conflicted improprieties occurred long before social networks did. Social networks now allow us to track them BEFORE they potentially become a disaster.”

With the advent of so much technology, I suspect the answer will arrive in the future, with our technology being able to tell us before we actually know, what or who might be a conflict and why since we are putting so much of our information, our virtual selves online, there may come a time where we might find ourselves unable to friend someone at no more than the basic level because of our computer’s telling us that our interaction would not be in our best interest. To quote the infamous and less than cooperative, Hal 9000, “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.”