Monday, December 31, 2012

A NYE that matters

I could give less than a shit about New Year's Eve generally. Back in the day it was an excuse to drink more than I reasonably should. Not that I needed a reason back then, but it helped convince my liver that the attack it would soon be under was for just cause. Aside from the partying, I never saw the allure. I knew my resolutions would fail before I even made them. If I'm not committed to something every day then January 1st won't help me. We go around the sun in 365 and a quarter days and call it a year. The year had 10 months until 2 very modest Roman emperors, Julius and Augusts saw to it to add July and August. We could do away with months and just call it a year. We could also say that a different part of the orbit is the beginning and sometime in the spring is January. I suppose astrologers would say differently, but you get my point. Rarely, if ever, did any big changes line up with the start of the year. My favorite part about the new year is knowing that a chunk of change from the government's overcharging is on its way back to me shortly (you're welcome for the interest free loan, by the way).

This year it's different for me. Nothing changes officially as of January first, of course, but that's ok. So many things change in 2013 that the next 12 months are critical for me. Call it a new year or just call it the next 12 months, the name is arbitrary. Maybe I'm a little stuck on the commercialization of New Year's Eve this year and realize that it rounds out the last set of holidays spent in the military for me. Maybe it's the fact that my discharge orders came just a few days ago and January 2nd (my first day back to work), I really start organizing my exit strategy. Maybe it's the whole thing.

So it's 4:43pm on New Year's Eve. Linda and I are just relaxing before our low-key festivities begin later. We were just comparing our favorite versions of Auld Lang Syne, which always tugs at heart strings when you're separated from those you love. My brother is hanging out in midtown Manhattan with his girlfriend and sent me a photo of the Chrysler building, my favorite in the world. My mom is preparing delicious food for 30+ people set to arrive at their house later. There is mounting evidence in my home that packing will commence soon.

All I can do is think about leaving the military and starting a new career. My new place in Jersey City. Living with Linda. Being a stone's throw from my parents and family and close friends (and their expanding families). There are 7 hours left to the last full year I'll spend in this insular society we call the Air Force.

As always, I make no resolutions that coincide solely with the calendar. I'm changing nothing because it's the New Year. But as the new year rolls around and my life changes anyway, I'll steel my resolve to stay progressive about my life and be appreciative of all the amazing things coming my way soon. For the first time, life change and the date change coincide in a very big way.

Out with the old, as they say, in with the new and for me, almost everything is new. It's a little overwhelming.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Fully vested investments

Today is an interesting day for me. I got my separation orders from the Air Force. That means that my separation date of June 20, 2013 is official (minus all my stored leave days). We all knew it was official in my mind and plans. We all knew I wasn't going to reenlist and by natural attrition I'd be out. We all even knew that I had submitted for separation. It was as official as official gets before you see any results on paper.

Based on the leave I have accrued, today is 90 days out from when I serve my last official day in uniform. That means it was time to call Air Force Personnel Center. Much to my surprise, the experience was smooth and I had orders in less than an hour. It is now 100% official. I'm going home! There are many boxes checked that are important; one of which is "honorable" under the discharge type.

I immediately posted my exciting news on Facebook, the go to place to share everything from your favorite song, to how you're feeling that day, to major life events. The "likes" and comments started rolling in. Some wonderful comments showed up in that thread. I'm ready to leave the military, I'm ready to move on, but for the last 9+ years, the Air Force has been my home, my way of life. It has helped shape and guide me as an adult, a professional and an American. I've had many mentors, most of whom served in that capacity a little differently from each of the others.

I'm tentative about putting names to paper because I will inevitably leave people out from what's to follow, but I mean no disrespect. So many of you have played a part over the last decade.

In the early days, Dan and Dusty were a tag team of country, redneck advice and leadership. I frustrated them constantly, but they never turned me away. They'd find answers to my most obscure questions and tease me while doing it. Matt, a young lieutenant at the time, never treated me like a young Airman. As someone on the outside before his military service, he recognized civilian experience and it's inherent value. Tommy was someone I didn't work with directly with until years later but with more stripes than me he helped keep me in check and was my personal voice of reason before the inevitable explosion. It's nice having a friend that is close enough to know you as a person, works close enough to know your situation, but is far enough removed to not directly influence. He was my consigliere through the toughest times in South Carolina. Chief Master Sergeant Frank Dannals became my Air Force dad and like a father he was quick to say good job, lend an ear or put a foot in my ass when it was most needed. I had people like Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Loveless, Colonel Hayes and Colonel Faughn that saw, in a young Airman, someone who had vision and energy and gave me opportunities beyond my Air Force years and let walk out onto limbs, even when they knew that not all of them would hold my weight; and they let me hit the ground in some cases as well. Mike Gifford played a bigger part than he knows. An extra stripe than me and my boss at one point; he didn't have the fire for technology that I had and was nearly in motion for his own separation and he all but handed the reigns to me and let me create an Air Force networks quality assurance, standardizations and evaluations program that has become the lion's share of the Air Force level program of the same name.

When I returned to Keesler to teach, due in no small part to Chief D's efforts, I immediately aligned with several people who have been there at every turn and in different ways. My "Tommy" of Mississippi is everyone's favorite "Pastor Sergeant" (retired Master Sergeant, now Pastor) Bill Collum. I vent and bitch and moan to him. I ask him questions. He hunts down answers. He advises and talks about the changes. He prognosticates (almost always correctly) about things to come in the Air Force.

Looking back at my decade of service, I can't begin to imagine what my life would be like without these people and their impacts on me. It's anybody's guess who I'd have turned out to be otherwise. I've stayed enough of myself and Dusty never got me to a NASCAR race, but I'm certainly more complete because of the efforts of everyone.

I'm going home and I will be successful at all costs. There's no doubt about it. My intellect and passion and work ethic will take me where I need to be. I have it in me to get there. I always have. That's exactly why so many people took me under their collective wings in the ways I needed most at the time to help build this complete package. I can't give you all the credit, right? It was what you already saw in me that caused you want to help along the way.

So, in 90 days or whatever it ends up being, I'll turn my car north and head for home and leave the military behind, but I'll take with me all the best parts I've gained over the years and those parts are the parts that many people have left with me. That makes you all shareholders in my success (non-voting shareholders with no dividends, of course - before you all start looking for payouts. HAHA).

So with that analogy in mind the only thing I can say to everyone is thank you for your investments in me over the years. I am who I am because of them.

Friday, December 21, 2012

What if...

Less than one week after the senseless killing of teachers and students at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT the Internet-connected world turned its attention to the non-existent Mayan Apocalypse. People waited with bated breath for the world to spontaneously combust. Some went far enough to prepare doomsday kits. I think that deep down inside we all knew it wasn't going to happen. If the Mayans were that good at predicting the future, you'd think they could have predicted their own eventual slaughter by encroaching Europeans.

Now that the fanfare has died down and we're all still floating around on this big, blue marble maybe now is the time to ask the ever important question "what if?" What if the world ended today? What if YOUR world ended today? What if you and a bus try to occupy the same space at the same moment and you inevitably lose that battle?

Are you content with your station in life? Have you chosen your battles wisely? Have you invested your energy into the causes that will profit you? Profit, in this case, is defined as whatever is most fulfilling to you - be it money, spirituality, love, family, etc. In the wake of a week's worth of news about topics of sudden loss I think we should all realize that the only thing that's certain is that it all goes away at some point.

I'm not trying to be morbid here. I'm trying to let the sunlight in, actually. We all came to terms with mortality post-9/11 and then we forgot. Over the last decade we have had reminders that were subtler nudges than that violent shove on a sunny September day. We need some shaking up I think.

We're severing friendships over partisan ideologies. We're attacking each other over tax rates. We get angry at the most successful people and spend more time feeling sorry for ourselves for not being like them instead of actually trying to be. We protest funerals and embrace an eye for an eye mentality and many do it in the name of a higher power. We blame all of our problems on elected officials that, for all their faults, took that plunge while this country slips into a pit deep enough to be worthy of the words of Dante. For these folks to get there we don't praise the strengths of those we align with; we assassinate the character of those we don't.

There is no indication that it will get better before it gets worse.

So, when the timer goes off and you have a split second to look backwards, what will you do? Will you smile at what you've accomplished or gasp at what you haven't? Will you find peace or remorse in your approach to relationships? Remember, you may not even get that split second so if you want to prepare for the end; leave the bunker, empty the bug out bag and craft a life that satisfies you. Try being proactive instead of reactive. For the sake of our future, I hope we learn from our past.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Polarization in times of crisis

It's obvious that America is more polarized than ever before. People used to fall just on their preferred side of the center. As time has gone on, the gap has widened and we've gotten further and further apart. Biased media is said to be the culprit. Others pin it on information overload in the Internet age. Some others just call it the next step in the mindset of America. While the cause may not be clear, the effect sure is - we just don't agree on any-damn-thing.

As everyone in the country is painfully aware, there was a shooting at an elementary school last week (that's more of the archive viewing of this post later than it is for making you aware now). As expected, this lit the fuse on a powder keg of arguments over gun control. It takes a moron to find NO validation in both sides. I have my preference, but I can see at least a piece of the opposition's point.

Pro-gun folks say that gun control laws make no sense because whether there's 1 hoop or 100 hoops to go through to get a gun, criminals will ignore them all anyway. That's true. Pro-gun people also say that a gun is just a tool and a violent person will be violent with a knife or a rock or a stick or bare hands if so inclined. I agree with that also. Then there's the whole 2nd amendment argument. It is, in fact, a constitutional right.

Anti-gun advocates (or even pro-gun control) say that without guns it's one less tool for people to use to do harm. True. Can't stab people at long distances. I agree unless your arms are 50 feet long. The country has changed since that amendment was written and we need to adapt with the times. I definitely see the first half of that sentence, but not sure I buy off on the need to alter that document.

If you look at suicides, it's evident that gunshot inflicted wounds result in more completed suicides than any other method because there's no time to have that "oh shit" moment and rethink your actions. Impulsivity and guns are a pretty nasty cocktail. On the other hand, I own guns and they've never leapt up out of their cases and killed a bunch of people all on their own and I'm not of the exact flavor of mental instability to do that purposefully myself. So I see no harm in owning them.

The real item that needs to be addressed is the mental health situation in this country. Clinics and hospitals are being shuttered in the wake of a financial crisis and poor economy. The highest population of people deemed mentally incompetent are in the prison system.

So, what does it all mean? It means we don't know what to do. Something has to be done. It can't be ignored any longer. But I don't think anyone has a real solution. I don't want my guns taken away. I paid good money for them. Being stripped of that right is the least likely scenario though. If anything, we'll see increased difficulty in obtaining weapons and harsher punishments for those who gain/use them illegally. Not the end of the world.

It seemed like the same old rhetoric from both sides since the day of the shooting. Personal attacks, misquotes, skewing of both truths to prove their own points and a general disregard for civil discussion. No surprise. Then yesterday all hell broke loose when many retailers stopped selling Bushmaster brand firearms. Bushmaster was used in the CT shooting. That began the downward spiral of celebrating from the left and panicked stockpiling from the right.

None of this is the real issue. The problem amongst this nonsense is the lack of regard for human decency. The art of conversation has been totally lost. One such instance was when a Facebook friend requested that all pro-gun people "shut the fuck up" to which I asked if the point of Facebook was to discuss and ask and converse, etc. I was unfriended over it. Just goes to show that he can have his opinion for more gun control and that all who differ should be quiet. Any person who feels differently can't be his friend. To the contrary, the folks on the right aren't any better. They are requesting that anyone who believes in gun control delete them right now.

In a day and age where Americans of Israeli and Palestinian decent are posting photos on Facebook to show an ability let bygones be bygones, are we really ending multi-decade friendships over a personal opinion in a different category? I can be Christian and you can be Jewish and we stay friends. Even the digital era's religion of Mac vs PC has calmed to a point of peaceful coexistence (that was tongue-in-cheek).

Have we really reached a point of polarization so extreme that if people have an opinion the opposite of ours, we just choose to not be friends with them at all? We should all be aware that no matter how staunch one may be in their opinion, they hold no direct sway over the judicial system. The rest of the population that shares our opinion won't string us up for cavorting with the enemy if we stay friends with the opposition. Chances are, firearm views weren't the ties that bound us together in the first place.

Where is the focus? I just don't understand the need to add arguments and stress into our lives. You do your thing and I'll do mine. I'll shoot my guns and leave you out of it. I don't, however, want to hear from you if you need a weapon to handle a situation in life. Beliefs and convictions are not based on fair weather. If you feel them, then they span all situations. Likewise, I don't want the "I told you so" routine if/when something goes wrong. Why can't we put this in the same box as any of our other differences - race, gender, sexual orientation, etc - that we now choose to ignore as they are less important than other parts of life?

So that's that. I have my beliefs, you have yours. If you want to unfriend me over it, so be it. Just know that I'm stating, for the record, that I wouldn't have done that to you. I'm choosing the road of personal belief and tolerance of yours. I may not share your thoughts, but we both share the freedom to disagree. If we want to yell about the 2nd amendment, we have to yell about the first. You're entitled to think and say whatever you will. Just remember, I'm entitled to the same and the right to not agree.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Appropriate blame and timing

It's been a long, long time since I've written anything here. With multiple projects going on at all times and so many web platforms screaming for attention, it's not always easy to stay engaged. But now it's time to unleash many thoughts in a single stream.

As you can imagine, the events in Connecticut's Sandy Hook elementary school are upsetting, but what's more troubling is the reaction of so many people. Immediately the partisanship showed through on social media and everyone blamed something for what happened. I doubt parents of the murdered children were on Facebook that day, but had they been the last thing they'd want to see is arguing and bickering. I also find it repulsive to see a single status that asks for prayers for those killed and then calls for the shooter's head. Violence should not beget violence, end of story. What he did was disgusting and pure evil, but vigilantism solves nothing. You're free to hate him, but not free to unleash that hate in the form of violence.

It's no secret that I have a far right lean in my values. I'm not afraid to admit certain liberal approaches. For example, while I have personal conservative feelings about lifestyles, I also recognize that not everyone is ME and their life is not MY life nor my place to run their lives. I wouldn't want someone to tell me I MUST do what they do so I can't tell them to stop whatever it is they do.

I digressed a bit. I'm conservative. I am a gun owner. I maintain a few things:

  • A gun will never fire itself and must be in the hands of someone willing to use it to be dangerous, just as a parked car never ran someone over.
  • A good, honest, law abiding citizen isn't a potential murderer the moment there is a gun in his hand.
  • A criminal is likely to commit a crime even if the gun is removed (the psychology of criminal minds tells us this).
  • A gun is only dangerous when used dangerously and not respected, just as ignoring ocean warnings for rip tides and undertow makes water dangerous.
  • Owning a gun is not a law or permission. It is a CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT. The right to bear arms is as inalienable as freedom of speech. And before you tell me that freedom of speech isn't harmful or dangerous, look at suicide statistics for children who have been bullied or verbally terrorized.
Some, none or all of the above may be true. I maintain all of those belief firmly. They aren't necessarily facts, although I believe them to be. I hold them to be self-evident truths, but don't expect everyone to see them the same way. As they are very personal and strong thoughts, they are, however, beyond contestation. You can disagree with my thoughts, but not tell me they are wrong.

That brings me to the next point. The outrage over people's beliefs and thoughts on social media sites has reached new heights lately. The typical scenario is: User A shares a belief. User B berates User A for thinking that. User A defends his or her claims and delivers a disclaimer that they are just personal thoughts and opinions. User B disregards latest disclaimer and prattles on about how their own opinion is fact. User A publishes a warning that anymore personal attacks will be met with consequences to their association/friendship. This is the fork in the road. It either a) dies on the vine right then and there or b) it continues until they part ways. What is missing from the whole thing is a mutual respect for personal opinion.

Back to the issue at hand, people are screaming for gun control. How many things are illegal? How many of those illegal things do people still do? Since when has setting laws actually curbed illegal behavior? Shouldn't we focus on health, information, understanding and some more compassionate forms of prevention. Anyone with a child knows the difference between screaming "don't ever do that again" and sitting and chatting with explanation and disappointment in their voice. I'm not suggesting we lecture criminals and tell them we are disappointed in them, but it's the idea that stern prohibition never works. Speaking of prohibition, remember the 1920s and alcohol. That worked well.

The point is that no matter what you do, evil will exist. People will be crazy. There is no protecting everyone from harm and lunacy. If you ban guns, you've reduced a method, but not solved the crazy. Is it true that it's easier to kill someone with a gun than a knife? Sure it is, but someone who walks into a school or a movie theater and kills a large group of people has an intent to do harm that no law is going to stop. Take away the tool and they will find another tool.

And from a technology perspective, did you know that for less than $10,000 someone can buy a printer that will print a physical gun? 3D printing is on the rise and getting more powerful. No single person is going to spend that kind of money, but that's not expensive for the right person looking to manufacture and sell them. And that's fledgling technology. When 3D printing matures these printers will be in everyone's homes.

To make matters worse, the social media world took to their keyboards and found the guy that did it and shared his profile all over the place and threatened him. As it turned out, it wasn't even him. It was his brother. The actual guy was already dead at that point. Then they thought they found him again, on Twitter this time, and went on the attack. For the 2nd time it was the wrong guy. 

One final point about skewing data. I saw a list over and over again yesterday in the aftermath of the CT shooting. It listed several countries and their gun death rates. It compared them all of the U.S., which had way more deaths than anyone on the list. However, it was raw data. There's a reason Denmark has less gun deaths than the U.S. It's a fraction of the size. Who has more speeding tickets? The guy that's been driving for 35 years or the guy that's been driving for 1? Get real people? Without accounting for the size of the country and population, there's no way those numbers make sense.

By now, many people are thinking that this is just the ramblings of a conservative asshole. I know it. That's ok. Then tell your story, the true story. Use real numbers. If I'm getting it wrong, then get it right.  You want to say that now is the time to change, then do it the right way. Blame the appropriate cause and pick the right time. There's no harm in waiting a day before getting political. There's NEVER harm in taking a moment to choose words.

Yesterday was tragic. Everyone that screamed from the rafters about some blanket policy solution made it worse.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Definition vs. Connotation

In my social media travels this morning, someone asked an important question - "Are we too sensitive? Have we emotionally evolved to where we can't take criticism or worse yet, jokes? Must everything be so P.C.?"

To his question I replied, "I agree we are overboard. It's all kinder and gentler. I break PC rules constant because as adults we should be able to recognize context and intentionality. As such, w can distinguish between what's offensive and what's not. So I do what I do. If people are offended, they can either realist what I truly meant and get over it or stay offended. I'm not going to change my habits because someone else didn't get the joke. Your perception doesn't dictate my meaning."

I truly believe that. George Carlin once said that you can joke about anything; that no topic is off limits. He said you could even joke about rape and if you don't believe him, he challenged you to picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. The idea was that an offensive concept is not offensive in all contexts.

I find humor in just about every topic, if it's posed right. That is because I understand the intentionality. If you make some grease ball Italian joke I don't take offense. The funniest and most offensive racial joke I ever heard was about Puerto Ricans. I heard it from a Puerto Rican guy who was reminded to tell it to me by another Puerto Rican guy. Funny is funny if you allow it to be.

By the same token we need to find a good line on connotations of words. Things change and sometimes we accept and embrace it and sometimes we don't. We are offended because we are finicky.

Once upon a time, gay meant happy. It's been a long time since we used it as such. Over the years the connotation has changed to mean homosexual as everyone knows. Everyone has accepted and adopted that definition of the term. When was the last time you heard someone argue that it's offensive to use the word gay for a sexual preference and went around using it to describe a mood? However, that word has changed again, hadn't it? We throw it around to mean stupid, idiotic, annoying, etc. "Gotta work on Saturday? That's gay!" Nobody likes that one though, do they? Why? I know why they say they don't like it. The story is that to make gay = stupidity when it currently means homosexual employs some transitive property to say being homosexual = stupidity. That's NOT what is meant though. It it simply an evolution. When gay evolved to mean homosexual, what was the standing of homosexuals in society? Do you think those who used it to mean happy, were particularly thrilled with the idea at the time? No, but it stood. So, rather than getting pissy pants about the change, let's first understand what's meant by it.

Another one that gets people really furious is actually in the news right now. Retard and/or retarded. People getting offended by this word in all of its usages is simply ridiculous. Don't worry, I'll explain why. The definition and connotation have not changed over the years. Every time you get pulled over by a cop, you are retarded. To retard something is to hold back its progress. If you were driving and you were stopped, but needed to continue, your progress was slowed and, therefore, retarded.

Over the years we applied that to people and then suddenly everyone hated it. Why? It's true. If a person is not developing as quickly as he or she should or as fast as what's expected for the age, then the progress is, in fact and definition, retarded. It's not offensive. It's just what it. Now, the noun version of being a retard is new, but a retard is just one who is retarded, which is one who is slowed in developmental process or abilities when compared against the norm. Either you are or you aren't. If you are, then so bet it - you're retarded. I'm not faulting you for it or holding it against you or insulting you. But if someone is developmentally challenged then they are retarded. There's no other way about it.

So the next evolution of that word is how we say something is stupid and call it retarded. This is a bit of a stretch from the truest definition, but it's MUCH closer to the definition than saying that the dictionary version of gay can somehow mean homosexual. Follow the logic. "Oh I have to work on a Saturday, how retarded." I can't go out and do my thing, my plans are delayed. That makes my weekend slowed in what the plans I had for it to progress socially. The progress of my weekend has been retarded. My boss' idea to make me work holds no value. It advances nothing. It is retarded.

So there's the flow. It may not be the truest version of the word but it's a hell of a lot closer than the gay/happy/homosexual evolution. Why have we accepted one change in implied meaning, but not the other? What's with the duality and hypocrisy? Oh, that's right. That's just what we do in America. Well... that's retarded.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Long and winding road

That led me to this door.

The road I've taken over the last 15 years feels like it winds more than a plate of spaghetti. So many items of my history are so far from each other that people at different points can't seem to fathom the others. I look on Facebook and see so many people who haven't ventured far outside their comfort zone over the years and I am partially envious of them. In some ways I love that I've held a myriad of jobs. I love that I've been to more countries than most people have in states. On the other hand, when it comes to identifying with people around me, I feel a little like a citizen of nowhere.

I may have taken you on my journey in previous posts, but let's recap some of it now. I graduated high school in 1997. I tried my hand at college and went away to a closed campus with a big grassy quad that looked like any campus in any movie. Three months later I found myself at home because I didn't get my head in line quickly enough. I don't regret it. It was hard, but it was a step in my process (although I didn't know it at the time). I held part-time retail jobs from managing a video store, to a cashier and front end manager in a supermarket to a computer technician in a store the size of my current living room. And then my big break came; from a friend of a friend I found my way to Gemini Systems, Inc as a technology consultant, but that position had me walking in and out of the front doors of the New York Stock Exchange. In September of 2001, New York hit a rough patch and in January of 2002 I found myself out of work. I worked at Best Buy for a while and as an admissions rep to a technology school for a while and in 2003 I enlisted and have been doing that ever since. I've been in school off and on for the duration of this time.

Today I got told by someone who doesn't know me very well at all that I was full of shit and there's no way I ever worked at the New York Stock Exchange. I don't need to lie. I will not have my integrity questioned. I've always gone to great lengths to leave out names of people in my blogs but I want to outline the connection between myself and the NYSE. My father, Vincent Viglione worked at Arnhold and S. Bleichroeder, Inc (now Natixis Securities LLC). When I was 16 years old I worked as a summer intern at A&SB for Anthony J. Maio, fixing computers. That continued for the following two summers as well. When I went off to college and left my intern days behind, Tony DelBusso went to work there and then moved on himself. The Tony's stayed friends as I stayed friends with Maio. When Tony D. was looking for a young person, Maio passed my name along. Tony D. was working for Gemini Systems, Inc, a small boutique technology consulting firm. Through the mutual Maio connection, I interviewed under Tony DelBusso. Gemini focused on development which is my weakest link so I got farmed out to the NYSE as help desk technician and worked my way up from there. Either I worked there and this is true or I made up names, timelines and connections among people and put it all out on the street for the world to see.

I was told that there was no way I left Wall Street to join the military. I didn't leave Wall Street. Wall Street left me. I had no degree (I'll have mine in 29 days). The economy was in a downward spiral. The hiring boom of the late 90's turned into a hiring freeze in a post 9/11 New York. Did I want to join the military and leave my family after our family loss for a tens of thousands of dollars per year pay cut? Of course not. I was left with little choice financially. Beyond that, my adversary today knew nothing of my personal story. He didn't know that I'm a surviving family member of a NYC firefighter from 9/11. He had no idea that I'm a World Trade Center survivor myself. He took what seemed realistic (or unrealistic as the case may be) according to his frame of reference, which is vastly different from my reality.

Keep in mind that the individual I had this interaction with is not someone who holds much credibility with me or my organization. He has recently undergone a character assassination by his own doing and is held in low regard by the entire United States Air Force. His lashing out against me was a desperate attempt to strengthen his position in a technical argument we were having at the time. When my history and experience played to the clout that I may have the correct answer, he behaved as if he was in a schoolyard, but that is not the root cause.

The root cause is my long and winding road. Just like one of my best friends growing up cannot fathom life in the military, some of my military counterparts cannot fathom my life prior. My friend Alan cannot begin to get his head around getting screamed at by a military training instructor or doing the screaming to young Airmen. Many people here don't know what life is like outside of a sleepy, southern town. Salaries, cost of living, home prices and home sizes are examples of the types of issues most military friends cannot seem to comprehend.

I have abandoned my friends and family. I have abandoned much of my culture, heritage and traditions. I have abandoned certain foods. I have abandoned my career path. To continue the 1960's rock quote theme, "what a long strange trip it's been." It's been a necessary one, however. I've grown as a person and a professional. I've finished my education. I've aligned my finances. I've honorably served my country - I'm a veteran of two foreign wars. The military honored its promise to feed me, clothe me, house me, train me, educate me, and pay me.

I was furious during my negative interaction with this person earlier today. As the night wore on, I changed my line of thinking. My history is so varied that is is virtually impossible for people to bridge the gaps at all times. What a long and winding road.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Happy Columbus Day!



Today is the day that my paisano Christopher Columbus found America. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He was trying to find India by going left instead of right and ran into "The New World." And that's how we got America. At least that's what a 2nd grade text book would want you to believe. It is, of course, more complex than that. He never made it to mainland America, but he did realize there was new land in this direction.

What the bleeding hearts want you to believe is that he was a genocidal maniac who came here to introduce disease and kill Native Americans and take over. That sounds a lot like a 15th century Hitler to me. Many of these people feel so strongly about it, that they actually want to change the name of today to National Explorer Day. I'm not willing to explore that option, how about that?

I'm not naive enough to think that Christopher Columbus did nothing wrong (by today's standards). But that's the way it goes in history. He also did a lot of good.

I love how everyone that wants to do away with the day and calls him a murderer and downplays what he did and is overall against the man, are all Americans. He didn't land on what is now the mainland United States, but he wasn't trying to. He was looking for India and took a left turn instead of a right trying to go around the world and he slammed into the new world. As it turns out, it was not the east coast of this country and he wasn't the first to find it and people already lived there.

That's why people think he did nothing but kill those he found and introduced disease, but that's not true. If he didn't do what he did and popularize that path would we have seen people like Vasco de Gama, Amerigo Vespucci or even Henry Hudson? People would have found it eventually, but the timing change would have changed the course of American and, consequently, world history. He triggered a chain reaction of explorations that resulting in people complaining about him from their computers in this country. It was Columbus' four treks across the Atlantic that gave Magellan the idea to circumnavigate the globe.

We are not made up of Native Americans. We are a conglomerate of just about everything there is to be. If it wasn't for this country, there would not be the blending of cultures and ideas that there is now. No other country is as diverse as us because we are the only ones that don't truly have an indigenous culture. Even the Native Americans are believed to have roamed over here from elsewhere (one Pangean theory).

As far as the killing and butchering and mutilation that all of the perfect people who throw stones form their glass houses want to mention, let's remember that this was almost 600 years ago. People make mistakes in history. We learn from it. We evolve as a society, a culture, and a human race. There were witch hunts once, a holocaust among other genocides and we used to shock the crazy out of schizophrenics or kill them accidentally while trying. We get better at existing by learning from our mistakes not condemning those who made them.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Anti-anti-bully

I've stayed quiet on this topic for about a week because I was so frustrated that I couldn't even gather my thoughts. And then the topic died on the vine like every other Internet cause that has people spitting mad for about 8 hours - or so I thought. The Internet is ablaze with more people standing up for something without truly thinking it through. And yet I get called a sheep for buying Apple products, while the rest of the world blindly cosigns to anyone that uses the word cause.

So, recently some local newscaster from the Wisconsin area received an email from an occasional viewer that addressed her weight. She responds back, on air, calling him a bully. Of course the rest of the bleeding heart, liberal media came to her rescue and headlined every article to make it sound like she ripped him apart on air, which wasn't even remotely true. Before this gets any further, let's look at his email. Stick with me on this.

Hi Jennifer,
It's unusual that I see your morning show but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn't improved for many years. Surely you don't consider yourself a suitable example for this community's young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you'll reconsider your responsibility as a public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.

That's the entire thing. This is the email that has caused a shit-storm of anti-bullying rhetoric. I will say that I don't see the big deal. Where is the insult? Is obesity healthy? Put 2 people side-by-side and make one healthy and lean and one obese. Who will have heart trouble as life goes on? Who will have joint trouble as they get older? High blood pressure? Cholesterol? Breathing issues? Now, I'm not trying to pick on overweight people either, but let's face facts here. The human body is designed to be a certain ratio of height and weight. Over or under that by too much and you're causing issues for yourself. Look at anorexics, they are undernourished and the body cannot function.

Let me give you an analogy. You buy a performance vehicle that calls for premium fuel and you put regular in it, what will happen? It'll run, but it'll shorten the lifespan. I won't get into octane and compression ratios, so we'll just say that your car is malnourished. Likewise, take your run of the mill sedan and let it guzzle high octane fuel. You'll have the same issue. It's too rich for the car and won't run right over time either. Balance is the key to life.

Now, maybe it wasn't his place to tell her that and I certainly think there are parts of that that he could have worded better. For instance, when he added "girls in particular" to the end of that line, he made it about image and not about health. By saying "choices" he alluded to the fact that she wants to be this way. Those were stupid word choices, but they shouldn't dilute the intent of his message.

The next step is to reference the be all, end all bible of word usage - the least used book in 2012 - the dictionary. I do this a lot because it's important to know what the fuck you are saying, especially when you rant and rave and call people names like bully. So, how does the dictionary define it? "a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker." Here is where I have an issue with her calling him a bully. For starters, by calling him a bully, she admits to being weaker than him but her intent was to show her strength. Did he harm her? No. She said she wanted to laugh it off, but her colleagues and husband made her address it. Did he intimidate her? Did he "frighten or overawe (someone), esp. in order to make them do what one wants?" No. Nothing he did fits the definition of bully. At worst, he was just being a rude asshole. As a news anchor she should really have a better command of the English language.

She goes onto say that she's overweight. She even calls herself obese. So what the fuck is the issue here? She's obese. She knows it. He said it. And he's a bully for pointing out the obvious? Again, maybe he's rude. But he didn't even do it in a rude way. Not only did he avoid insults and flat out rude language, but here's the part that nobody in the media seems to have picked up on. He sent it in an email, which by nature is private. She is the one that brought it to the world. How can you be pissed off at the example he's setting when nobody knew anything about it until you told EVERYONE? I see her as the bully here. She used her power by being on air to intimidate him and get him to change his behavior and apologize (which he did after media pressure). Didn't she force him to do what she wanted by using power? Sounds like that fits the definition of bullying.

In her rant against him she fires back by saying, "attacks like this are not ok." It's not an attack. He's stating a fact that being overweight isn't healthy. She says, "do you think I don't know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don't see?" He wasn't illustrating that she's fat. He said he was surprised that she hasn't done something to reign it in. At no point did he say, "hey by the way, in case you didn't notice - you're fat." She's attributing words to him that he never said. Then she says, "You don't know me, you're not a friend of mine, you are not a part of my family, and and you have admitted that you don't watch this show. So you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside." This is what really enraged me. He never once attacked her character or even made a mention about her as a person. Everything he said was exactly about what was on the outside and its unhealthy implications. To defend the type of person she is, is taking every word he said entirely out of context. She misappropriated his intent to bolster her defense (and, truthfully, attack him). Somewhat off topic, I have to mention the moronic comment she made that said "Luckily for me, I have a very thick skin, literally as that email pointed out, and otherwise." Being overweight doesn't thicken your skin. It's an excess of fat, but your skin is your skin. That comment there just proved that she missed the point of his message and went on a rant in return without making any sense.

"We need to teach our kids to be kind, not critical" is another thing she says that is completely inane. Have you ever heard of constructive criticism? How about critical thinking skills? Critical has multiple definitions, but not all are bad.

  1. Expressing adverse of disapproving comments or judgements - This is the one we have to be wary of.
  2. Expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work or literature, music, or art - BOTH merits and faults. Not all bad.
  3. Involving the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment - thinking it through instead of responding blindly.
So what's wrong with being critical? Knowing our faults is how we get better. If I showed you a painting I did and it was just terrible and you told me it was awesome, who does that help? Is lying to me to save my feelings the way to help me hone my skill and get better? It is this mentality that creates kids sports that have no score, giving them no ability to know if they're doing well or poorly. Everyone gets a trophy. Kinder, gentler approach to life doesn't pay the bills. Competition is a part of life. Putting your head in the sand thinking you'll wake up as a successful adult just isn't reality.

Look, I'm not defending this guy. He's basically an idiot. Did he think this was going to stay quiet? While I don't disagree with the content of his message, I see why even sending it was a stupid idea. It's a David and Goliath fight with one guy at his computer and her with the wattage of a news organization at her back. The unfortunate coincidence of it being anti-bullying month didn't help.

At the end of the day, he had a viewpoint about an individual person and communicated it to that person - quietly, discreetly, and privately. She didn't like it so she addressed with the public and then vilified him for having this viewpoint. You want to talk about respectful communication? She should have politely responded and disagreed. I have NO support for this woman or her action. And neither should you.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Spirit and intent

Those are words that are thrown around a lot in the military, although rarely do we stop long enough to answer the question. What is the spirit and intent of a rule? For example, Air Force students aren't supposed to speak in the hallway. They are to keep right and walk in a single file silently. Is the rule to make them quiet specifically? What is the spirit and intent of the rule? It is there to make sure they don't disturb classes in session. That's its purpose. So, on my shift, if they're walking quietly and chatting in a way that is not disruptive I think the spirit and intent is upheld. That's important in my book. It keeps us from doing things because something, somewhere says so. It forces us to examine the deeper meaning and importance of it all.

There is a new outrage floating around on Facebook and those that are pissed off about it haven't taken a minute to examine the spirit and intent of the whole thing. I saw it yesterday and it got heated, but cooled down quickly. Apparently the negativity was deferred because it's back. Let's take a look at the picture.

"I pooped in the shower and daddy had to clean it up. I hereby sign this as permission to use in my yearbook senior year."
I have seen all kinds of reactions from people. Many of them laugh at it, but there is a large contingent of people that think this guy should be ashamed of himself for taking the picture, more so for putting it on Facebook and some think that if he's the kind of dad to do this, he should lose his child because that mentality obviously makes him unfit.

First of all, the girl is laughing. This is all in good fun. Look at it, what kind if idiot would think that writing a contract for a young kid like that would mean it's official? The whole think reeks of silliness. I don't think he's even trying to teach a lesson here. And maybe he will put it in the yearbook, but I doubt it. If the kid is 18, graduating from high school, what kind of negative effect would this picture have in a yearbook? A little embarrassment. Everyone is embarrassed by every baby picture that goes in a yearbook anyway.

When I was an adolescent, about 12 years old, I had an embarrassing moment in front of some family that I was meeting for the very first time. My father teased about it and still brings it up whenever we see them or whenever he's reminded of it, or whenever he simply wants to break my chops about something. Is he bullying me? Of course not. He's the best father a boy could have had. We are close, knit and loving. We joke, we tease, we talk, we share. We don't take life too seriously. So, over 20 years after I farted at the dinner table, he still mentions it and cracks up, I still shake my head and my mother says, "Oh poor Jason. He was so embarrassed." Then we all laugh and go on about our business. Life is serious enough. Laugh at the silly parts of it.

All of the negative comments I've seen about this just vilify the father for being a bad parent, a bully and everything else. Everyone needs to get off their perfect parent soapbox for a minute. Ever curse in front of your young, impressionably child? Ever yell a little too loud at them in public when they're acting up? Have to been there for them immediately at every turn? Never told them to wait when they needed something? Hit them when they're bad?

Look, everyone can be better at everything. Friendships, relationships, parenting, etc. You've made mistakes so quit throwing rocks at this guy, especially when you have NO idea what he meant by this. However, there are some context clues here.

  1. A young girl smiling is one. 
  2. A signature too young to be discernible, let alone contractual. 
  3. An age so far off from when the "sentence is to be served" that he can't possibly hold this over her head all those years.
  4. And he took the time to write it, photo it, and post it. How angry do you think he was to do all of that? Facebook is not my first choice when I'm pissed off about something.
So... spirit and intent. A joke. Let's focus on that instead of vilifying a man, nay a complete stranger, to make us feel better about our own shortcomings. You don't even know this man and some of you are calling for his kid to be taken away. At the least he should be ashamed. You should be ashamed for passing judgment on a single out of context photo that is likely just a joke.

Edit: As I wrote this I got off track and forgot about another item that I wanted to mention along the way. We are motivated by many things, not the least of which is motivation by fear of failure. Nobody wants to be last. Nobody wants to go unchosen. Nobody wants to be the only person without something. It's why we are constantly trying to keep up with one another. On the night before an exam, I ask my students if they are nervous. They more scared they are, the happier I am. That means they are going to study harder. I know the test, I know the material they were given, I watched them the whole time. As a result, I know who is nervous, but well prepared and who will benefit from studying. Do you know that, statistically speaking, the students who are the most scared the night before, do the best on the test? The confident ones, often falter. The ones who are scared, take that to heart and buckle down and study. Motivation by fear of failure. It is unhealthy to be our ONLY motivator, but not A motivator. Signs like these teach lessons. It's no different than time out or getting put in the corner like when I was a kid. Reinforce good things positively and bad things negatively. People will put a lot of work into not getting singled out. So will this shame sign keep on shaming her? No way. She's too young to understand it fully and it's a joke, but even if she did, after a couple of days the fanfare dies down, the Facebook community moves onto its next cause du jour and she takes away a lesson. Case closed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where did you all come from?

It may very well have been September 15, 2001, the first Saturday after that fateful Tuesday; I'm just not sure exactly what day it was. You'll soon see why. We had all been huddled around each other in my house - me, my mother, my father, and my brother. However, on this day my mother and father were headed to my Aunt's house in Staten Island. I wasn't ready to go yet. My brother had plans with his girlfriend of the time, plans that were in place for months so he pressed on with those plans. This left me home alone.

I had not been alone since my trek from New York City back to New Jersey on September 12th, after being stranded there all day prior. Being alone amidst a personal crisis is hard; being left alone suddenly is harder. I was alone maybe an hour when it hit me that I really had nobody around me. So, I decided I was going to relax and have a drink to take the edge off. You know how that goes. A little vodka softens the world around you just enough. I was a big vodka drinker back then. So a vodka and tonic with a lime to refresh me, distract me, and help me settle in for the many hours I was to be in that house entirely solo.

How long does a vodka/tonic on the rocks in a highball glass last? It's 10am. One drink isn't going to to the trick. So it leads to another. And another. And another. Before long, I ran out of tonic. Vodka on the rocks it is! A friend had checked in with me to see what I was up, as most were doing periodically. Some time had gone by and it was the afternoon by now and my inability to control my lips and tongue made him aware of my state. He got himself ready and came to my house, by which point the ice had run out and I was relegated to 2 fingers of warm vodka per glass.

From that point on the minute to minute details get fuzzy with only certain moments sticking out and the rest pieced together from stories later. I suppose others had called to see how I was, unbeknownst to them I was staggering around my house in a drunken stupor. My friend had been answering the phone and letting people know what was going on and that despite his best efforts to stop me, I was finding ways to get alcohol into my face. So... they started showing up, one by one.

At some point I managed to wipe away the haze to see a house full of people. 10 or more people had shown up after speaking to one another. One drove up from South Jersey about an hour away. One took a train from NYC out to the house. Nobody was doing anything. Everyone just kinda sat around. They were just there. Some were super close friends, others were friends of friends, some were people I kinda knew from around the way.

My brother eventually came home to find everyone hanging around and me nearly in an alcohol induced coma. Shortly after that, my parents called from Staten Island to see how things were going. They heard a nervous voice in my brother and enough background noise to know something was up. From what I was told, he said something simple like, "you need to come home" before someone else got on the phone and explained things.

I vaguely recall them walking in the door, but I can't begin to guess when it was. I don't know how the night tied up - wen people left, when I went to bed, what was said. I don't even remember the next day. I do know that my behavior was never addressed. As upset and worried as my parents and friends must have been, nobody scolded me at any point. We were all searching for a way through this and for one day I had a break in logic. It was self-medicating. It wasn't persistent or prolonged. It got the better of me for a day.

But regardless of the fuzzy details, I'll never forget the outpouring of support in my home that day. I sat down to have a drink and relax and before I knew it there were more than a dozen people at my side. Going through all of this over the years has been hard. Without some of the people in my life, it would have simply been impossible.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stupid calendar

So I was fine. Being out of work I had lost track of time and the calendar. It wasn't until September 8th that I realized just how close to September 11th it was. It snuck up on me so quickly that I didn't have time to let any anxiety build and get me down. I think everyone knows my association to the event. Even after 11 years it's still quite hard for me at times. So much so, that a friend of mine who is named Thomas, the same as my late uncle, is also a firefighter and each year he changes his profile picture on Facebook to that of my uncle. It is so jarring to see my uncle's face paired with the same first name, that my friend lets me know ahead of time. Part of it is the loss of my FDNY uncle, but the rest are me own demons from surviving that day - barely at times. The loss hurts, but I could live with that. It's the fact that I am the only World Trade Center survivor walking around down here that gets to me and really hurts. It's a struggle to see those images and snippets in my memory. Moreover, it is the sounds that I'll never forget. 110 stories of crumbling, twisting, burning steel makes a noise you don't easily forget. If you're new to me or the blog and you don't know the story there are many blogs here about it

List of 9/11 related blogs:

  1. It's September and time to remember
  2. Anniversary Anxiety
  3. September Blues
  4. 10 is just a number like 9
  5. 10 years later I'm changed

Once a couple of people reminded me by asking how I was feeling, it started to set in a little bit. But still I was ok overall. It is now the day before and I was going on about my business without much worry. I had some paperwork items to accomplish at work that were time sensitive and, consequently, had my attention. On the way out I grabbed a navy blue t-shirt. Given how few shirts of that color I have and the amount of FDNY t-shirts I have, the odds are that if it's that color it has an FDNY reference on it. Sure enough it did. Again, I thought nothing of it.

Next thing I know, I'm on a common office at work, discussing some paperwork and convalescent leave items with a boss. As luck would have it, someone I know VERY well and was once incredibly close with comes over to shake my hand and say hello. I said hello back and continued my conversation. When it was over he came back. Remember... it's September 10th, I'm wearing an FDNY T-shirt. Ok, got the image? What does this person say when he walks over for the second time? "Nice beard, you look like a terrorist!" and proceeds to look at someone else and say, "Doesn't he?" while waiting for a response from them.

Contrary to your expectations of my reaction, I just sat there in disbelief. I did not address it. I knew there was no middle ground. I could have either sat in silence like I did or I would have gone off the deep end and ended up in tears. I also do not think there was any malicious intent. This person just thought he was real fucking funny and didn't have the situational awareness, social ability or plain common sense to think about his words before they flew out of his mouth. If he was dumb enough to not know how offensive that was, he doesn't deserve my attention, even to correct him.

Unfortunately that comment brought the levees to max capacity. When I got home and told a friend and my girlfriend about it I felt the swells beginning to overtop them. Then I sat down to tell everyone about my progress this year and that was it. That did the trick. Recounting the story to my readers is just more than I could bear. It has come around in full swing and I now dread tomorrow.

Facebook doesn't make it easier either. While I appreciate how many people want to keep the memory and patriotism alive, the barrage of "so and so updated their profile picture" updates in my newsfeed to see pictures of the firefighters raising the American flag at ground zero or the beams of light or the buildings themselves only brings the horror to the forefront of my memory. The TV footage of that day and the commemoration at Ground Zero with the reading of the names is a brutal assault on my emotions. I can never fully recover from it, but I get a little closer to having a scar instead of a live wound each year. I just wish the anniversary didn't rip off the scab every September and I could complete my process. Maybe once I'm home with family I can take the final steps of grief and come to a terminus in my healing.

I don't know. Clearly, this isn't my year though.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

That is a tasty burger

I saw this picture today.


This is the world's largest burger. It has 60 pounds of bacon, 50 pounds of lettuce, 50 pounds of onions, 40 pounds of pickles and 40 pounds of cheese. In its entirety it weighs 2014 pounds. That has to be about 1500 pounds of beef.

Here is the video of it being built for the Guinness Book of World Records:

None of this is even about the burger though. The responses I saw had people complaining that this wasn't going to Africa or the poor here in this country. Could they donate this if they wanted? Sure. Do they have to? Nope. Should they be ridiculed if they don't? Absolutely not.

This is the Black Bear Casino that did this. They made their money and it is their call how they choose to spend it. It's not like they robbed the poor. They didn't get beef from government assistance and use it for this. People walked through their front door every single day and willingly handed over money. They took their profits and made a gigantic burger out of some of it.

For every single person that thinks this burger should be donated to the homeless, I want you to stop and think about the last time you bought something with the sole intention of donating it. Beyond that, I'd be curious to know when you donated something you already had and weren't going to use. One step further. How often have you thrown things away that could have been donated, but it was just easier to dump it? If I was a betting man (I am), I'd bet that many of the complainers find some hypocrisy within themselves after taking a long hard look at these questions.

As I was writing this I stopped to watch a video of a Republican that snuck into the Democratic National Convention and asked random passers-by the same question. Are you in favor of banning corporate profits? Nobody was against it. Some modified their answer to say they supported a cap on corporate profits.

That means that every year, no matter how many people walk through the doors of Best Buy or how many products they sell, or how well they market themselves, or how awesome they are as a business, they stop earning at a certain point and have to give that money away. The ban means that after bills and employees are paid, they keep nothing. NOTHING. NO PROFITS. How can they expand or build new stores or grow as a company or innovate? These lunatics want the whole country to be built as a non-profit organization.

Do I think companies are greedy? Yes. Am I greedy? You bet your ass I am. Do I want to make as much money as possible by being handed it from other people? You can fucking keep it. I'll make my money. I'll earn it. I plan to earn more than I can spend. I don't want a handout. I don't plan on giving handouts either. I will donate to charities. I donate now, while I'm not making any real money. There are less fortunate than me and as a good person I choose to help them. However, to mandate how much of my EARNINGS I have to give away is ludicrous. The word earn means - obtain in return for labor or services. That's an exchange at a pre-determined rate. And now you want us to give it back?

People handed their money to this casino, knowing full well they may lose all of it and then want to dictate how the casino spends that money? I know the rich get richer. They have the resources to keep building. I know people who have come from absolutely nothing to be wildly successful. Do you know the name John Paul DeJoria? Probably not. Do you know the company Paul Mitchell? That's the connection. Did you know that John Paul DeJoria slept in his car while developing his hair care products? Did you know that his plain white bottles with the black writing that are now trademark of the company are that way for a reason? He couldn't afford to print them in color. Now he's a billionaire and he gives back. He's a huge philanthropist - BY CHOICE!

If I make a ton of money and I have to give some of it then I want even less fortunate to give some to those even less fortunate than them. There's always someone less fortunate than you. If we mandate it, then that goes for everyone. If you are given 10 food stamps. Give 1 to someone who only gets 5. You still come out ahead, right?

Either that or get your heads out of your liberal asses and realize that free markets and capitalism are important. People are entitled to keep what they earn. They worked for it, it's theirs. They can make gigantic burgers and then throw them away if they like. It's their choice. You cannot tell me what to do with MY resources you lousy communist bastards.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Pop goes the question

The last two things I watched on TV included a marriage proposal. Now I consider myself to be a fairly traditional and old-fashioned when it comes to items like marriage and all the parts leading up to it. I wouldn't get married on a beach, I don't understand destination weddings and I never challenge the old way of doing things. However, both of these instances on TV got me thinking.

In a typical engagement proposal the man asks and the woman either says yes or no. Now, as we advance through the years, men and women approach a level playing field. Salaries are nearing equilibrium and other than front line combat in the military, women and men can hold pretty much all the same jobs. Progressive thinking tears down the oppressive gender roles of the 1950s. True love shows us all as partners. I agree with all of that.

But when I got to thinking about the proposal itself I wasn't sure how I felt about it. The man asks and the woman holds all of the power to say yes or no. Presumably, the proposal isn't random. If the question is popped, the asker should have some indication of the answer, I would think. I guess the idea is, for the question to be asked the couple is in love and has had talks about a life together. The answer from the girl shouldn't be too much of a surprise.

However, she does hold all the power, doesn't she? As they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. No matter how sure we think we are, as men, she can always spontaneously say no for any real reason or for none at all. And then all of the planning and preparing are laid to waste. So, we ask in earnest and whether or not the relationship proceeds is in the hands of the woman.

I suppose I don't understand why an engagement, which is the first major and formal step toward a union and partnership, all hinges on the decision and, sometimes, whimsy of the female. They don't propose to men (generally speaking). We don't get an opportunity to decide. Our decision is valued on in whether or not we actually ask the question. Bear in mind that the question is only asked after we have already invested a significant sum of money. Imagine the embarrassment of having to bring an engagement ring back. Buyer beware doesn't really apply here, simply because the onus is not on us as men.

So a surprise proposal requires the man to assume significant risk. I feel as though women get the best part of this situation and men can end up holding the bag. The whole concept makes me nervous and I'm not sure I understand how it's fair in 2012 when all anyone wants is equality and to tear down the walls between genders.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

When it rains, it pours

Ever feel like life is bored with the status quo and feels the need to kick you in the teeth for a while? I sure feel that way right now. Things are just about as hectic as they could be. It's a damn shame too because I just came off a high point of enjoying everything around me and so the pendulum swings in the other direction and life gets difficult. I know things aren't fair. Life isn't fair. What I never understood is why there's not a fair and equitable distribution of the shit. I could handle a little shit ALL the time much more easily than no shit and then a lot of shit all at once.

The last few months have been amazing. We had a phenomenal crew at work and it was tons of fun. One guy moved on to his next location and I can't begrudge him that. He deserved to be paroled for time served. The other one changed shifts, as tends to happen from time to time. Our group of 5 was knocked down to 3, 2 of whom will be changing shifts in just a couple of months it seems. They're still around and still friends, but the interaction all day long will be gone, which is just too bad. So many laughs lost.

One of those dudes is someone I haven't known very long, but he's damn near one of the funniest people I've ever met and we get along great. He joined our little group and hit the ground running. His wife is a terrific friend and his kids are precious. Glad to have him aboard our silliness and fun for sure.

Things with Linda get continually better. We were fortunate to have lots of time together. She does her long weekend trips here about every 5 weeks, but was here for 10 days at the end of March, then a weekend trip in April. And then came the surprise. She had a May trip and as luck would have it, showed up again at the end of May for a long Memorial Day weekend. Then she came back at the very end of June for another 10 days. For 2 people that are halfway across the country from one another, we sure do get to see a lot of each other - not that I'm complaining, of course.

This last trip just took the cake (where we take all these cakes to is unknown to me). While my lovely was in town, one of my best friends in the world, Matt, showed up. I love this guy. I've known him for so many years and we just keep growing closer. He's also my business partner. He and Linda had gotten to interact only on Facebook until this point and he finally got to spend time with us. Having both of them here was more than a guy can reasonably ask for.

And then it happened... the week was over and they both left. I went back to work after some time off, which, we all know, always comes with it's difficulty. But that wasn't the half of it. Everything went to shit. I got a one day reprieve from nonsense on the first Monday back before it all collapsed. I was already not looking forward to it since our work group was forcibly disbanded, but all was well enough anyway. Not so much.

The larger drama in terms of local scale and prolonged influence in my life is all work related... kinda. A co-worker who was a friend at one point or another perceived something. For some reason, people say that perception is reality. That's total horseshit. Perception is perception. Reality is reality. What makes reality? Fact. It has nothing to do with how one individual sees something. In any event, he perceived something. Rather than making a call and finding out, he told someone to tell me and do it in secret without attribution to him as the source. If there are a couple of things I cannot stand, they are being sneaky and an inability to address an issue with someone you claim you like and trust. So I reacted and then it snowballed with sweeping effects throughout the office. In the long run, I couldn't give less of a shit at the outcome, although I'll never respect the execution. That is a hassle day-to-day but is neither here nor there in terms of life plan.

A friend I have had for over 20 years who lives back home is in a rough spot. This is a man I'd step in front of a bus for, if necessary. That, by the way, is not hyperbolic to make you understand the depth of our friendship. I would actually do that for him without giving it a second thought. So he's got a tough gig at home with a job and a move and a huge test and the icing on the ol' crap cake is the impending loss of part of his nuclear family. I can't be there for him the way a friend like that deserves. The person we are prepared to lose has been a part of my life for the same two decades as him. It's a misery all around. I've been distraught over the near future, what my buddy is going through in terms of timing and feeling guilt, against all advice from sane and rational people around me, that I can't be there for him in his time of need. So, I'm going home this weekend. I fly home on Friday evening and back here on Sunday. Just long enough to hold my buddy's hand, say my goodbyes and hopefully get my pal out for a pint so he can exhale for 5 damn minutes.

Three days later, I'm in the car for South Carolina. A military hero, mentor, and friend is retiring after 30 long years of service. He was once the senior enlisted person in my squadron, when I was stationed up there. He has guided and mentored me. He has shaped me into the Non-Commissioned Officer I am today. He has been a good friend, counsel, and even beer buddy. We've been to the Middle East and back together and we're both New Yorkers originally. I don't know where I'd be today without him. Either out of the Air Force prematurely or at some terrible assignment, as he helped me get this job with a recommendation so awesome, I don't know how I ever lived up to it. And four days after I arrive I'm back here.

I get a minor two week break and then I go in for back surgery, which I'm not looking forward to beyond the painkillers and 30 days of getting paid to blog, interact, post, tweet and watch TV. That's not entirely true. According to the doc, I'll come out of this pain free, once and for all. It'll be my 5th surgery, although the first 4 were predicated on a misdiagnosis from the lack of proper tests. But if this fixes me, then so be it. So I guess I'm looking forward to being well, but it's going to be a bitch of a time getting there.

The social side of work falling apart, losing a much respected person in my life, traveling up and back to SC to say goodbye to someone else and then this surgery. It is the confluent odor of shit, shit, shit and more shit all at once. The SC trip will be awesome, but the timing of it sucks and getting there and back with my back in the shape that it's in will not be easy either (I'm driving).

All the while, I'm knuckling down on the last 3 classes for my degree. I have a final the week of the SC  trip and another while I'll still be flying high, Vicodin style. Let's not pretend to forget that as these items all begin to pass and subside, September rolls around, which is always a difficult month for me, for obvious reasons. I have bolstered my support system with new, close people in recent months, but 2012 has severed several people from my life, which I could have used around then.

I'll make it through all of it and come out the other side ok. Like my tattoo says, "Life's challenges only strengthen me." But to use the reference of strength, even when we work out, we don't dead lift 300 pounds at once. We do something that works us, that's hard, but is easily manageable and then make it progressively harder, but only when we're ready for it do we move that pin further down the weight stack. I don't know why I've got to press the whole stack. What would happen if Atlas shrugged? (I know the book is about objectivism and politics. However, I use it here in deference to Ayn Rand, but about the weight of the world on my shoulders).

So, as they say - when it rains, it pours. I hate that. Maybe it's a function of living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast during hurricane season. It does the same thing outside right around now.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My promise to you... America

So comrade Obama had his way with us this morning when SCOTUS upheld the ACA. In case you are under a rock, the bottom line is that every American must have health insurance and a plan that qualifies. If you don't, you have to pay a tax. To me that sounds a lot like a fine. Some penalty for not playing by their rules. I disagree with this on a molecular level. I don't see how the government can force me to do business with people. I understand the intent - to make people healthier. I don't think it'll work. It'll force the good people to pay more or face a fine. And the people who can't afford health insurance? Can't afford the tax either. So, what happens next? I bust my ass and shell out my money to a company, not just because I want to be responsible and cover myself, but because I HAVE to.

People are citing that socialized healthcare makes a healthier nation. Look at this country. We are spread wide in terms of geography and demographics. We have super rich and destitute. Hard workers and some of the laziest people on Earth. Thankful and entitled. Do you think that this is going to make those without work ethic rise up and get it together? Professional welfare receivers are not going to get a job? The low income, project housing denizens will not go to college and better themselves. While we don't enforce a caste system here, there most certainly is one. It's not racism, it's placism. Know your place. We breed that. And now we have to start paying for it. And I know all the details about how we pay for it already when it comes to healthcare. That's a choice. That's my beef. Don't you tell me what to do. I pay federal taxes. That's not a choice. I pay sales tax. Not a choice. Doing business with a for profit company; not an organization; not a nationalized agency run by the government. Can they tell me which car to buy? Buy American or be taxed?

So regardless of the stupidity of this, the powers that be have decided that this will make us a better nation. So, now onto the title (it always ties together at some point). Somehow... ME having healthcare makes you healthier. I don't know how I can pass that on in some intangible, disconnected, mystical way, but apparently that's how it works. So, do you know what else makes people better? Education. Proper word usage and grammar. Ability to hold command over the English language. Being cultured. Knowing what is happening in the world around you. Striving to know more, understand more, be more, see more, experience more, read more, etc will always help and never hurt.

So here is my promise to you... America. I'm not going to JUST write blogs about the annoyances I see in social media or in life when it comes to ignorance. I'm not going to be vague and hope you take a hint to save you the embarrassment of speaking at an 8 year old level. I'm going to call you out. If I have to pay out of my own damn pocket after working my tail off so you can have health care or risk being taxed to death over it, then I, damn sure, am going to make sure you know how to speak like an adult. Just maybe that'll have a direct impact and you can buy your own health insurance and leave me out of it.

So if you say things like
- should of
- fuck up the usage of to, two, too or they're, there, their
- use "are" instead of "our"
- repeatedly make the same stupid mistakes to the point that I'm confident it's not a typographical error, but rather and deep rooted level of not understanding basic constructs of the language you never shut up in

...then I am going to address it. If I am held financially accountable for your medical well being, then you will hold yourself accountable for acting like a functioning, productive member of society... or I will do it for you. It's that simple.

Remember, Dictionary.com is free. You can do what's right, and you know I certainly will. It's your call. No more free passes. Because if you grow up and learn to speak you just might impress someone and improve your life. I wasn't born with the rules of grammar and spelling in my brain. I learned them. And you will too or suffer the slings and arrows of your own stupidity in a public space.

On your mark, get set, go...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Make it happen

I saw a post on Facebook today. Someone shared a link for a local company that was hiring. The response from someone came immediately and said, "imagine that- there are jobs out there." Naturally, my annoyed meter pegged immediately. There are jobs everywhere. I don't care what anyone says. There are jobs.

Is it the late 90s when we gave jobs to anyone who walked through the door with more money and responsibility than they asked for? No. Do we have jobs to hand to untrained people? No. Salaries are lower; benefits packages and total compensation are both lower than in years prior. The job you want may not be the job you get, but there ARE jobs. 

To the people that swear up and down that there aren't any jobs, I can only suspect that you aren't looking hard enough or swallowing enough of your pride to take what IS available. It is amazing to me how many people will struggle on unemployment until the dream job comes their way rather than taking what is available for now. You have to realize that a job looks better on your resume than unemployment right?

Our economy is not the greatest it has ever been, but it is far from the worst also. And while everyone blames us for the world's problems, let's remember that while we are not out of the woods entirely, we are better than we were in... let's say... late 2008. If you're up on recent news, then you know that Greece is still in trouble, as is Spain and Italy and the European Union as a whole. We are on the rise, albeit slowly. 

The American philosophy of gimme gimme, I want, I want NEEDS... TO... STOP. How about? I want so I'll earn? How about I deserve it because I proved it? Too many people think they deserve it because they arrived. Go out and get what you want. Work for it. Learn a trade or learn a new trade or get better at your trade. Be the person that a company cannot live without. Nobody is going to show up and drop a duffelbag full of cash in your lap, whether you're at home on your laptop or shitting in a park bitching about big companies.

Companies make money. People who work for them make money. It is a simple equation. Americans seem to have an idea that either it's perfect or not at all. Either it's a dream job or no job. There are no shades of gray. As any woman can tell you these days, there are at least 50 of them, but that's a separate topic. For now, let's take some responsibility for our own actions and build ourselves up so we are worthwhile, functioning, AND productive members of society instead of entitled, whiney, bitchy, spoiled brats. 

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Personality pet peeves

The two personality characteristics that I cannot stand are ignorance and hypocrisy. Unfortunately, both of these seem to be very prevalent. It also bothers me because both of these are well within the control of each individual.

Ignorance is far different from stupidity. Ignorance is a choice. It is a the lack of information and knowledge, not aptitude or ability. People who choose to not be educated or informed get not sympathy from me. It is a sign of laziness. In the worst case, it is purposeful instead of lazy. These are the people that have the ability to be anything, but choose to work a job that creates financial struggle. These are the people that say school is stupid or reading is stupid. They misspell things and know it and get angry when corrected. The would prefer to sound unintelligent. They believe things they learned from their parents that may be hateful, racist or otherwise backwards in 2012 and stand by it. They just don't know better and are generally comfortable with that.

I don't fault people who can't do better. I don't fault people who give 100% and fall short. I'll never be a doctor. I don't have the brain, the ability, or, quite frankly, the stomach. I am not capable. I have little tolerance for people who have ability to succeed and don't, for no real reason. These are the same people that make the your/you're mistake and when corrected they tell you "I don't care. You know what I mean." To them I say, "I'm sure a prospective boss will care so you should too." or "Don't you want to be able to teach your children how to speak well as they grow up so they can be successful." I have literal said both of those and got bullshit, copout, rationalizations back. That is someone who is working, on purpose, to do poorly in life, or at least not as well as they could. Why would you WANT to make less money, have less opportunity and put in an effort to sound less intelligent?

Ignorance goes way beyond spelling and grammar. It is learning from other people and your environment as well as the ability to experience new things. There are people who won't watch a movie because it's black and white and that means it's old. Some of the world's best movies are old. You just may like them. Give it a shot and if you don't like THAT movie, that's fine, but to throw out a whole category over the color is ignorant. Same goes with music and culture. It is the people who, under favorite books, on social media sites say things like "I don't read. It's stupid and boring." I read a lot and not nearly as much as some people and there have been times that people are talking about something and I have to sit quietly because I don't know what they are talking about. I'm left out of the conversation. People who choose to NEVER read will be in that situation more often as they get older.

Overall, to me, ignorance is a purposeful state of lacking - whether it's knowledge, information, culture, or anything else. This is a big, big world and there is lots to see and do and know. There are lots of people who can make your life better in a million ways, but you have to be able to recognize it. Similarly, there are lots who will make it worse and you have to be able to recognize it. I know I've had my ignorant moments. I'm human. We all do. I try not to live ignorantly though.

I'm not sure which is worse - ignorance or hypocrisy. Each seem to really chap my ass. Let's look at work for example. I don't pretend to be "all in" all the time. There are some rules that make sense and some that don't. I follow all of them, but some closer to the letter of the law. Some I find to be a hindrance in doing my job or they just do not make sense. I won't blatantly break them, but we find acceptable boundaries and thresholds.

For example, my students are supposed to walk on the right side of the hallway, single file, not speaking. The spirit and intent of the rule is to keep good order and discipline in the schoolhouse and not interrupt other classes. Ok, if they are not walking single file and whispering, does that interrupt other classes? If not, then the objective is met and I don't enforce it. I'm also supposed to wake them up if they doze in the classroom. I don't. They know they shouldn't sleep. They know they have to pass the tests. They know it's necessary if they want to do their job in the Air Force. So if their own career, future and paycheck are not important them, why would it be important to me? I let them sleep. And I warn them on day one, "Sleep if you want, but if you ask for tutor time, I'll say no; if you want extra help, I'll say no; if you fail the test, I'll have no mercy." I will go above and beyond for someone that wants to try, but if they don't meet the minimum investment in themselves, I won't go to the maximum. So I set my standards within the acceptable levels of the Air Force standards. I don't find it to be hypocritical. I crafted my environment.

Now, the boss that tells you to do something that he won't do himself is different. The guy that says you have to be here at 6am and strolls in at 7:30 is hypocritical. I see people on Facebook that post about friends and forgiveness with more grudges than I can count on two hands. Just like the ignorance thing, I'm sure I have actions that seem to conflict and therefore end up hypocritical. If anything, it's more of a flip flop. I make a statement and do the opposite because I changed my mined. That is because I do NOT waffle. I'm not wishy washy. I make a decision. Sometimes more information comes to light and I have to change my stance I try to not make snap decisions, but I mostly try to have a firm belief and set of morals and guiding principles, which lead me to making decisions - sometimes prematurely.

A blog or two ago I spoke about people in the military life who don't act like friends. They don't call or show they care. Someone asked me, while discussing the topic, "You said they don't call and you haven't talked to them. That means you don't call them either and that's hypocritical." So I thought about it and I realized that was inaccurate. I spent lots of time calling and calling and chasing and keeping it up. I stopped and the conversation stopped. If people call each other back and forth, it's tough to keep track of who owes who a call. Dr. Jim and I always owe each other a phone call and 10 bucks. We go back and forth and are so close to even we don't even keep score. However, when someone owes you 30 phone calls, it's hard to not notice the one-sidedness of it all. It isn't about number or "catching up." It is about effort. Some of those same people that were the subject of that blog made posts about forgiveness and/or keeping people in your life. How do they expect to do that with ZERO effort on their part? Who is that fucking special that they are owed everyone else's attention and love without giving any back? Nobody.

Ignorance and hypocrisy are both on purpose. They are both controllable and avoidable. They are both hurtful to other people and affect the world around you. They both cause negative situations in your life. They are both human nature that we can't get rid of entirely, but can mitigate with some attention. Doing so, screams to the world you want to be the best version of yourself. Why would you work at being less than that?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Windswept

It's no secret that with less than a year left on my current life, I've been thinking, talking, and writing about it pretty consistently. It seems that every time my fingers hit these keys, the words that form revolve around my impending separation from the military and all the other changes that come as a result. I speak with excitement about moving home and being close to family and working in whatever aspect of technology my new career focuses on.

What I haven't mentioned is something that I've been avoiding, whether I knew it or not. The fact remains that over the last decade I've done something. Something big. As my last blog mentioned, the military is comprised of less than 1% of the US population. It's not a job. It's a lifestyle. It is actually a way of life. And while it's not the way of my entire life, 10 years is a long time. Hell, it's nearly a third of my life to this point.

More than that, what we actually do in the military matters. I remember conversations with my mother about joining the FDNY in what was our new post-9/11 life. It was the initial inspiration to do something bigger than myself. I recall talking about that desire. The Palm Pilot was still all the rage and I made reference to my legacy being synchronizing some executive's computer calendar to his Palm because he knocked the cable out with his fat foot in $400 wingtip shoes. Residency requirements and demons with the FDNY loss my family suffered, precluded fulfilling that new legacy. After some floundering I found myself in a different uniform.

What we do is not about business. It serves a higher purpose. There is much good in it. I managed to get that chip off my shoulder. I found purpose. And for all these long years I served my country and that purpose with a deep sense of pride, despite getting caught up in the day-to-day at times. I'm going back to the NY technology lifestyle, but differently. It isn't about corporate and money anymore. My plan is to exist within the startup space. Lots of innovation and vision. Using new and emerging technologies to change the world and how we interact. Civilian work with military sense of purpose and bigger picture accomplishments.

The uniform I wear every day is functional. It camouflages me and my brethren from those who wish to do us harm. Additionally, it helps us accomplish our mission by virtue of the fact that we all wear it. We call our squadrons units. We work as one team. We move as one. We are uniform and we wear a uniform to remind us of that. Every single work day since July 15, 2003 I  have, robotically, grabbed one from my closet and put it on. They've traveled and been donned in many states and multiple countries. They identify me to a very grateful civilian public. They are not clothes. They are equipment. They accompany and enable me.

Tonight, I had a series of images flash in my mind. It was my last day of my military service. I finished my final bit of out processing. I surrendered my military identification and drove off base. I couldn't get back onto a military installation if I wanted to. I came home. It was mostly packed for my move. I took off my uniform and laid it on my bed. In my realization, I had a realization. I would not put it back on ever again. My second skin was officially a memento. My clothing would never again be representative of me more than style and comfort. They would not be a utility.

In my realization within a realization I stopped. I looked at my uniform. I touched it. I ran my hand over my embroidered name tape carefully feeling the letters. I did the same, even more carefully, over the one that reads U.S. Air Force. Then I grabbed one of my sleeves and pinched my stripes in half, enhancing the sharp crease that runs down the middle. Staff Sergeant - a rank of leadership. A non-commissioned officer in the United States Air Force. I folded the uniform neatly and squarely with crisp corners and razor sharp edges. Blouse on top of pants. Hat on top of both. I picked them up between my hands - one underneath, palm up and the other on top, palm down; cradling it the way we hold the American flag. I nestled it on top of everything else in a suitcase. It was the only thing so neat and rigid on top of a pile of haphazardly packed clothes. It was as if it had been laid to rest and maintained itself as a shining example of the order and discipline instilled in me from the day it was issued to me.

They say clothes don't make the man. These aren't clothes. One more example of how these threads are woven to represent something. They have come to mean something to me. I will miss the message they deliver. I'll miss the mission they help accomplish. I'll miss the global sense of purpose.

I know I'm onto the life meant for me. I know I'm preparing to do what I'm meant to do with the rest of my life. I also know that none of that would happen without this. I've been windswept by what I am heading toward that I have been quick to gloss over what I'm leaving behind. The gain outweighs the loss, but there is loss nonetheless. Somehow, I foresee more of these realizations in the ensuing months.