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.