Wit, Wisdom and Joe Biden at USNA

Covers awayHe may not be known for his oratorical/linguistic skills, but as commencement speakers go Joe Biden did himself proud at the U.S. Naval Academy’s recent graduation and commissioning ceremonies: a few pearls of wisdom, a handful of jokes (some better than others), a smattering of policy comments and it was all over in a matter of moments.

For the serious heart of his talk, Vice President Biden spoke of the significance of the planet’s waters, from the Arctic Ocean to the Baltic Sea to – most specifically – the Pacific. He recounted a conversation with Chinese president Xi Jinping during which he was asked why he referred to the U.S. as a Pacific power, and he responded, “Because we are.” Biden added that he told the Chinese leader further, “Mr. President, you owe your stability over the last 30 years to the United States Navy and military.”

Pacific oceanThe midshipmen were congratulated on having “spent summers on real ships instead of internships,” and for having a job immediately upon graduation. “You chose to join the real 1%,” Biden told them, “to protect the rest of us 99%.”

But it was Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, USN, Chief of Naval Operations, who got in the best words in the briefest amount of time, offering four lines of advice before administering the oath of office to the Navy-bound members of the Class of 2015.

“Guard your integrity,” the Admiral said. “Learn unconditional trust.”

His third piece of advice probably hasn’t been given to graduating seniors over very many years: “Keep your social media private.”

And lastly, “Call your mother once a week.”

If any of those 1,070 men and women commissioned by Adm Greenert (and General Joseph Dunford, USMC, Commandant of the Marine Corps), were listening, someone from the USNA Class of 2015 could certainly wind up Chief of Naval Operations – or Vice President of the US.

Sailing as Metaphor

Sailing under Bay Bridge 4.11.15Life. Play it safe – or risk everything? Avoid conflict or seize the day?

At the end of a long-anticipated visit from across the country, this writer’s family – west coast grandmother, east coast son and daughter-in-law, granddaughters 11 and 13 – was invited to go sailing on San Francisco Bay with a close friend who owns (and carefully operates) a 36-foot sailboat. After showing us around – it sleeps seven, with almost all the comforts of home – our captain delivered a safety lecture, explaining things like where the life jackets are, and the way the boom can swing quite suddenly and one is advised to stay out of its way. He went into some detail about what to do if he fell overboard: a safety device attached to the stern contains rope and flotation collar, so all that’s required is to keep circling until the man overboard can grab the line. He then issued life jackets to the girls and offered them (this boat has life jackets for about a dozen) to the grownups. I declined, knowing full well that I would last about five minutes max in the chilly waters of the Bay; go figure.

Skip & Georg 4.11.15For the next several hours we had a glorious sail, under the Bay Bridge, around the back of Alcatraz, nearing Angel Island, swinging parallel to the Golden Gate and heading back to meander homeward along the city’s edge. Picnicking in the sunshine and taking advantage of spectacular photo ops. I had one scary moment on the turnaround; it’s been a long time since I last sailed. Almost home we were stopped by the bay patrol and told not to sail back below the bridge for 10 minutes or so. Once we were cleared they explained to boats waiting on either side that Vice President Biden had been driving across the bridge. All in all it was a glorious day. In looking back, though, it’s hard to miss the basic messages:

1) Let the kids explore the universe, but keep the life jackets on.

2) White caps and turbulence make things interesting, and are seldom fatal.

3) The vessel with more power is supposed to get out of the way.

4) You can circle around someone who’s sinking, but he has to grab the lifeline himself.

5) On the other hand, when the sinker is you, be grateful for those circling around.

6) When you think the world’s going to keel over, there is ballast that brings it back to steady.

7) Sometimes the vessel with more power claims the right-of-way. Chill.

8) Wear sunscreen, and bring extra layers.

9) Don’t miss the scenery while you’re looking at your camera phone.

10) Life’s a breeze.

 

Sailboat behind Alcatraz

 

 

Mr. & Mrs. Salahi vs Emily Post

Tired of the party crashers who won’t disappear? Aren’t we all. But since they are now accepting bids for TV appearances or something, they are clearly going to need a lot more high-priced agents and lawyers and publicists, and the least we can do in this space is offer a few more lines of coverage to help out.

One thing seems to be missing in all this. We are obsessing about security, and celebrity status or lack thereof, and too much or too little media coverage, and the excesses of reality TV which I have to admit to never having seen. But what about decorum? Could we sit the Salahis down with Letitia Baldrige? Preferably in a small, closed room? Lock them up in there (just Mr. and Mrs. Salahi, that is) until they finish Miss Manners’ Guide to Excrutiatingly Correct Behavior, every last word?

I grew up on Emily Post myself. Extend a hand contrary to the way Emily instructed (Ms. Salahi’s casual finger-work on Vice President Biden’s chest? Good grief) and one would suffer terrible, unrelenting embarrassment.

I think these people don’t know how to spell embarrassment. And as my Emily Post Book of Etiquette-bearing mother would say, “More’s the pity.”