The Wednesday Rant.

November 22, 2017 | Posted in General

The Wednesday Rant.

Ah…Thanksgiving…

The official beginning of the holiday season,the day that we give thanks and stuff ourselves into a food coma, the day that family and friends gather together in great fellowship and cheer, the day we set aside to take stock of our blessings, that pre-game warmup to get our priorities in order, before we buy a shitload of stuff on Black Friday and fall back into the assembly line of consumerism.

The one day a year everyone seated at the table puts aside politics, religion and politics and solely focuses on the blessings that have been bestowed on each of us.

Well…maybe not.

For many, Thanksgiving is a time filled with a great bird, real canned cranberries (the great debate continues but personally, I want to see those rings around my perfectly shaped cranberry loaf) a dozen football games to choose from (I remember when only the Detroit Lions played on Thanksgiving.) The good china comes out, the napkins are cloth and the glasses are clean.

But for many more, Thanksgiving (and Christmas for that matter) is hardly a Martha Stewart experience.

The forgotten, the lost, the lonely, the ill and the missing in action humans endure what so many of us take for granted.

A note from my cousin Bob who has been fighting for years against more health challenges than I can count, had me thinking once again on how important it is to remember those who might not be with us physically on Thanksgiving, and those who sit in a small room somewhere, no family to spend time with, waiting for a nurse or healthcare worker to deliver a turkey dinner, thankful for a few minutes of conversation perhaps.

In so many ways, we are a throw-away society. When something becomes obsolete be it a cell phone or human being, it gets discarded, forgotten…replaced.

However, the circle of life shows us that one day we too become “yesterday’s model” and be it by choice or chance, our turn comes to face this often difficult time of the year, not with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, but often times through the tired, defeated and heavy gaze illness, disease or loss and all the cracks in the human spirit that take their toll over time.

When I was a kid, couldn’t wait for the relatives to show up to the big old Victorian on Berteau Avenue. My pop held court as king and my mom of course was the queen of the castle. Up at 4am to roast the bird for what seemed like an eternity, endless bowls of stuffing, racks of pies, gallons of gravy and perhaps later in the evening another round of cold turkey sandwiches layered with mayonnaise on white bread.

But times change, and people change and eventually leave us, but the memories linger and are bittersweet.

Most of my family has gone ahead of me on the arc of life, that house has been sold three times since my dad passed and its been more than three decades since I heard my mom yell out “Dinner!”

But if I listen closely,  I can hear her in my mind.

I cannot imagine what Thanksgiving will be like for families of the 26 slain in Sutherland, Texas or the 58 in Las Vegas or at the tables in Sandy Hook that will always have an empty chair.

Sometimes, its very hard to find something to be thankful for when so much of what comes our way doesn’t validate the gift of life, which no one ever said would be fair or easy…but perhaps that is the gift right there…hidden in plain sight.

Humans above all other creatures have the ability, the choice really to determine what something does or does not mean-to literally define our circumstance rather than letting the circumstance define us.

No matter what they might be.

As Norman Rockwell-ish as it sounds, its imperative to dig for the good, small as it may be, insignificant as it may seem, the tiniest bit of light in a world that often times so very dark.

Why? Because for reasons known (and unknown) what we focus on tends to expand. That expansion creates a ripple effect and that ripple effect goes out and eventually comes back to us.

For the record there are days I get up and after about five minutes in the landfill of FB, filled with news I can’t use I often wonder what is the point?

Then I remind myself that while I cannot control anyone else, I can control my response, while I cannot change the world better, I can make sure the world doesn’t change me for the worse.

That’s the point.

And that starts by giving thanks, as difficult, challenging, sad, or hard as that might be.

For a little perspective consider the following:

If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of the world.

If you have money in the bank, your wallet, and some spare change you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness you are more blessed than the million people who will not survive this week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of imprisonment or torture, or the horrible pangs of starvation vou are luckier than 500 million people alive and suffering.

If you can read this message you are more fortunate than 3 billion people in the world who cannot read it at all.

So consider taking a moment or three, to put a thought on those less fortunate than us. The homeless, the hungry, the lost, the hurting, the suffering and the lonely.

And I wish you a very blessed Thanksgiving.

Be well…safe travels.
JSA

 

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The Breakfast Club.

November 15, 2017 | Posted in General

 

 

I hit the gym four mornings a week, usually before 8:30am .

One of those mornings I also go to breakfast with my dad…well kinda, sorta.

My dad passed away in 2004, I miss many things about him, one of which was having breakfast at McDonald’s as he had an affinity for the #11- Steak, Egg & Cheese Bagel that absolutely drips butter and oozes onions. Toss in the obligatory hash browns and a coffee and its a nice throwback to my pop as I ponder my life for a few minutes and think on him.

I vary up the days that I hit Macs, and since I’ve been back in the gym again for the past three months, not too worried about my weekly foray into the land of fast food. Down nearly 15 pounds, shoulder feels good, neck and back in working order, knees check out fine.

The first time I grabbed breakfast at Mickey D’s I was within ear distance of a long table filled with old fellas that clattered like an assembly line. All of them were old enough to be my father, a few my grandfather. I sat and soaked up their conversations that ranged from how to increase font size on their phones to sharing pics of the grand-kids to giving the manager are hard time.

He was complaining that all they do is take up space and spend about $1.80 per week, they pushed back that without them, it wouldn’t be the same. He of course agreed, while serving them hot coffee and laughing.

After six or more “sessions” where I was eavesdropping, I finally made the move to stop and thank them for their “entertainment” as it was a refreshing way to start my day.

“This is the real Breakfast Club kid” barked one guy. “Do you remember that movie?”

“Yep”

“All those kids were being punished but ended up learning a lot about themselves and each other in the process” he continued while the others listened and nodded in agreement.

“We are doing the same thing but the only punishment is how crappy the coffee is here!”

The table roared with hoarse laughter, the manager rolled his eyes.

Sometimes the Breakfast Club has eleven members, other days just three or four, so yesterday I stopped again on my way out and greeted them, and got an invite to sit down.

Figured that was some kinda big deal, so I did.

“You a cop?”

“No”

“You look like a cop kid” said William who served in Vietnam and proudly wore his cap filled with buttons from combat. ” Mac was a cop” he continued, pointing to a dark haired guy sitting by himself, sipping coffee quietly.

“Nope, I’m not a cop. I usually spend most of my time writing these days, even though most of my career has been in radio.”

“Yeah? No shit. Do you write cop stuff like Mickey Spillane?”

“No.”

“Maybe you should write cop stuff. That shit sells big time” William explained, while half a dozen other guys listened in.

I thought I would change course, so asked them how long they have been meeting.

“Thirteen years ago Leo passed away. Did you know him? He lived around here for a long time. Anyway, Leo kicked and we came here for coffee after his burial. Next morning I came in for breakfast and there was Don in line next to me” explained Freddy.

Don who was seated a few chairs away gave a nicotine stained thumbs-up.

“So we just started showing up every morning, more and more guys came along and so we are here seven days a week from about eight in the morning until ten-thirty or so. Someone is always here and we like it that way. Gives us something to look forward to each morning. People need that, you know a reason to get up each day.”

“Yea we look out for each other. No politics or religion allowed. We all know God in our own way and sure as shit ain’t gonna spend our time arguing over the Almighty” insisted Hal who’s gnarled fingers were straining to bang out a text message. “It’s the wife, she is making sure I take my medication” he said.

“Here’s all the medication you need Hal” said Freddy, as he tossed a box of cookies down the table. They all laughed.

“Yea we had a guy that tried to come in here and mess stuff up with politics and shit. Saw right through his bullshit. There are nine veterans at this table and this clown was gonna tell us what is what. We kicked his ass out” barked William. “Did you serve kid?”

“Yes I did. Coast Guard.”

“No shit” said William. “Coast Guard eh. Pete there is a Navy lifer and so is Chick, but he’s not here this morning. Thanks for your service kid.”

“So let me ask you guys a question before I head out” I said.

“Sure kid…shoot.”

“What is the greatest lesson you have learned in your life?”

Table got quiet, the only sound came from the television on the wall blaring out the news of the morning and the line of customers ordering.

“Every day is a gift.” came the first response.

“Take care of your shit” said another voice.

“Cellphones are a waste of time.”

” Forgive people before its too late.”

” Don’t drink the coffee here.”

” Be proud of who you are.”

“Do unto others.”

“Take care of the people that are important to you best you can.”

” Never go to sleep angry.”

“Count your blessings.”

I thanked them for their time and the invite, slapped a few backs and shoulders and then bought them a round of coffee.

“Hey kid, if you want to join in that’s fine but you have to start at the far end of the table and work your way up, just like life” snorted Freddy while the others smirked their approval.

Might just do that.

Be well
JSA

 

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The Saturday Morning Memo.

November 11, 2017 | Posted in General

 

To be clear, I am well aware that nothing gets solved in this blog.

This space wasn’t set up as a platform for as an exchange of ideas that can create changes that can be implemented bringing about solutions to the ills of society, the pandering of politics or the absurdity of human behavior.

So, while I know absolutely zero change will come from my words this morning, I will type them anyway, a protest of sorts against what has felt to me like a slow slide from our ability to discern what reality consists of that is part of our undoing as human beings.

I’ve been stewing on this particular subject for years, and as the profits grow from video games that have “war” as their subject, so does my anger, angst and disgust with it all.

Today the vast landfill of Facebook is filled with images and thanks for and to our veterans. I have done my fair share adding to the piles, the one time a year I can haul out my USCG stuff and remember when I was a lean, mean Coastie machine and thank those who I served with and those who have served.

I served in peace time, didn’t have to face an enemy hiding in the jungle or burrowed in a bunker with at .50 raining lead on me at the age of 19.

But I know and have known men who have had that experience and far, far worse. They came home dragging Pearl Harbor, The Battle of The Bulge, Iwo Jima, Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan with them.

Nothing jacks up my shorts more than seeing a commercial for “Call of Duty” on the tube and the billions of dollars made on the backs of veterans and the bodies of those who did not come home.

Its obscene to me as a vet to see this description- “Call of Duty: WWII is a first-person shooter video game developed by Sledgehammer Games and published by Activision. It is the fourteenth main installment in the Call of Duty series and was released worldwide on November 3, 2017. It is the first title in the series to be set primarily during World War II since Call of Duty: World at War in 2008. The game is set in the European theatre, and is centered around a squad in the 1st Infantry Division, following their battles on the Western Front, and set mainly in the historical events of Operation Overlord; the multiplayer expands to different fronts not seen in the campaign.”

Oh cool, “the player” sitting in his bedroom with a multi-control device instead of an M-1 rifle can “expand” to different fronts not seen in the real campaign that took place.

“Operation Overlord” is another name for “The Invasion of Normandy.”

Between 6 June 1944 and the end of August, the American armies suffered 124,394 casualties, of whom 20,668 were killed. The Allied air forces, having flown 480,317 sorties in support of the invasion, lost 4,101 aircraft and 16,714 airmen (8,536 members of the USAAF, and 8,178 flying under the command of the RAF).

In WW II the famed 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One) that the game is based on suffered 20,659 casualties, had 3,616 KIA, 15,208 wounded, 499 MIA and 1,336 POW’s.

WWII is the first title since the original game and “Call of Duty 2: Big Red One” not to feature “health regeneration” in the campaign. Instead, players must find “health packs” scattered throughout levels, or rely on their medic squad mate to provide “health packs.” Other members of the player’s squad can provide ammunition, grenades, call in mortar strikes, or spot enemies and reveal their position in form of silhouettes. In certain sections of the game, enemy soldiers in the campaign can be captured, and wounded allies can be dragged to cover. In some parts of the campaign, players are able to control vehicles.

Wow how cool is that! Control vehicles right from the comfort of your gaming chair! Virtually pull the wounded to safety while stuffing down a candy bar!

Nothing in the game about GI’s being tortured, cut in half on the beach, never making it off the transport, holding each other’s guts in calling for a medic or blown to bits so small they would never be found.

I wonder how much those 19 and 20-year old kids on Omaha Beach would have given for “health regeneration” or their medic could give them a “health pack” so they could put their mangled arms and legs back in place and keep heading into enemy fire.

In “Call of Duty” the “shooter” faces “Zombie Nazi’s.”

At The Battle of the Bulge, they faced…you know…REAL Nazi’s. Out of 610,000 troops involved in the battle, 89,000 were casualties. While some sources report that up to 19,000 were killed, Eisenhower’s personnel chief put the number at about 8,600. It was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States in World War II.

Again… “heath regeneration” was not an option.

Fair to mention that “Call of Duty: Vietnam” was cancelled.

Not because it would be a controversy over perhaps our most difficult and divisive war, but because the company needed help finishing “Call of Duty 3: Modern Warfare” and had just experienced a major loss of employees due to firings and departures.

In real life, there were 58,220 permanent departures that are etched in stone on The Vietnam Wall. “Firing” meant something very different.

The masterminds behind these “games” are Glen A. Schofield who is trained in both fine arts and business, earning a BFA from Pratt Institute and an MBA from Golden Gate University. His influence is felt in “Gunstar Hero” and a bunch of other stuff I’ve never heard of. Michael Condrey graduated in 1997 from the University of Washington. The following year, his senior thesis on applying biotechnology to conservation biology was published in the Molecular Ecology. After serving as scuba diving instructor and boat captain in the Cayman Islands, he began work on a graduate degree in Seattle. It was there that launched his game development career, beginning with a summer job at Electronic Arts during the peak of Seattle’s gaming explosion.

Neither one of these guys ever went to boot camp, put on a uniform, stood at attention during the raising or lowering of the colors, ate sand in Afghanistan or carried out a wounded buddy in Nam or took enemy fire in Iraq.

My longtime friends Greg and Debi Daniels lost their son Nick in Afghanistan on November 5th, 2011-six years ago.

When I heard the news, I went to the funeral in Chicago that was framed by the USMC Honor Guard at each end of the flag draped casket that held their boy inside. There was no sound at all in the room as I stood off to the side, watching my friend, this hulking 6’6 football player with his broad shoulders hunched in pain, and his wife, Nick’s mom next to him, forever changed.

Nick Daniels was 25 years young.

War is no game…and its all based on the fact that the human mind has a hard time discerning reality from “virtual reality.”

These “games” have grossed over $10 billion dollars since 2003 and are played by millions of mostly young men giving them “the thrill of combat,” the adrenaline rush of “the kill” and the ability to “regenerate their health” and continue fighting “zombie nazi’s” and simply turn it off, and return a few hours later without ever having to actually put their lives on the line.

For Nicky there was no returning a few hours later to start over again, and for the Daniels, there is no turning if off.

Today, 22 veterans will take their own life.

I didn’t see that option in “Call of Duty.”

Far as I can tell…not a single dime from their profits has gone to veteran’s issues, care or consideration. I hope that I am wrong and just missed where they donate millions to veterans and their families…because you know they get all that “real life action” royalty free.

Their tag line is “GREATNESS AWAITS” and it will only cost you $59.99 at Walmart.

But for some the cost is much, much higher.

For the record, if by some remote chance you think I should lighten up and just see these as “games” and for what some suggest they are, harmless entertainment that kids will grow out of…I’ll be happy to discuss it with you on the 5th floor of the VA or in the military section of your local cemetery.

Semper Paratus
JSA

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Unflinching.

November 6, 2017 | Posted in General

 I don’t even flinch anymore.

My lack of response is the result of learned behavior.

No longer a matter of “what if” but rather “when and where?”

And… how many?

“I didn’t think it would happen here…”
“Everyone knows each other, we are close knit community…”
” Thoughts and prayers…”
” Sunday’s massacre is the deadliest church shooting in modern U.S. history.” ” . . . This isn’t a guns situation,” Said President Trump. “It’s a mental health thing and fortunately someone else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction” or it “would have been much worse.
Well…there it is…Thanks be to God it wasn’t “much worse.”
You know…like 58 people slaughtered at a country music fest in Las Vegas on October 1st…just over a month ago.
That was much worse, see now we have a new gauge to work from. Under 58 is “less worse,” more than that…much, much worse.
Last week an ISIS whack job plowed into six people crushing them to death in New York. That wasn’t a “truck thing” it was a “terrorist thing.” …26 are gunned down by a former member of the United States Air Force and we should be thankful it wasn’t “much worse” and that it was a “mental health thing” and NOT a “terrorist thing.”
See the difference? Good.
The ages of the 26 dead range from 5 to 72 however, one family reported the death of a year-old child. Most were shot in the pews as they worshiped. 8 of the murdered came from one family including a pregnant mother and her unborn child.
I stopped flinching back on December 14th, 2012 when Sandy Hook became the worst mass murder on our soil in a school and 20 children ages 6 and 7 were systematically blown apart along with six adults who died trying to shield their students from the bullets.
A piece of my humanity left that day and never returned.
“We ask for God’s guidance and healing in this time” said the Governor of Texas.
Huh…now where have I heard that before?
Healing? Sure…but asking for God’s guidance after another mass shooting is like asking for a price check at the Dollar Store.
Makes no sense. We already know what the price is for this stuff.
“The reports out of Texas are devastating” Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted. “The people of Sutherland Springs need our prayers right now.”
Right now? Really? That’s what they need? If thoughts and prayers really prevented things like this, humans wouldn’t be mowed down in churches where they were kneeling in worship. Or at a movie theater, mall, concert venue, school room, college classroom, or fill in the blank list of potential places you need to have a SWAT Team in your back pocket.
If you are  among those out there praying for “Divine Intervention,” a giant hand perhaps that will come out of the clouds and with one sweep change all the warped minds and belief systems that have slipped through the cracks, melt down all the guns and make sure no other pregnant women in church, 2nd graders in class, ten-year-olds at a concert and retired railroad engineers on their knees in prayer get sawed apart by an assault rifle, I got some news for ya.
Its gonna get “much worse” before it ever gets “much better.”
Each mass murder confirms the lesson we are bent on repeating, no matter how high the body count, the age of the dead or the mental health of the killers or the “motive” that pulls a trigger.
We become what we allow…for betteror for worse… and that’s not up to God.
That’s up to us.
JSA
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The Wednesday Rant.

October 25, 2017 | Posted in General

Back in the saddle as it were.

Since none of you were in the audience at the Capitol Theater for “Human Math”…thought I would share this abbreviated “Cliffs Notes” version of my 18 minute platform rant at my 2nd TED Talk at TEDx Chatham-Kent in Ontario last week.

Disclaimer- The odds of me doing any sort of presentation involving math is a bazillion to none. My best grades in grammar school were lunch and recess. In high school, lunch and gym (which is just recess in a uniform.) When I brought home a report card to my dad who was a banker and “numbers guy” there was usually a big red F- and it wasn’t for “FANTASTIC.”

So here ya go.

The odds of being born is 1 in 400,000,000,000,000 (the number 400 trillion doesn’t even take into account the incalculable variables that put all the right people in all the right places at all the right times for us to exist.

You beat out 399,000,000,000,000 other potential humans to get here. The odds of winning a $700 million Powerball is 1 in 292 million–so compared to being born, you’ve already won the biggest lottery there is.

You can take up space or you can occupy it.
You can let your circumstances define you or let them reveal you. You can see a life full of accidents that have pushed you down or a life full of incidents in disguise designed to lift you up. Life is an ongoing exercise in adjusting perspectives. What we focus on tends to expand. So consider not majoring in minor things.
So, while the odds of being born are nearly infinitesimal, the odds of dying are currently at 100%.
Your eventual cause of death is nothing compared to your ongoing cause in life.
151,600 humans left the planet overnight. If you can read this…you win again.
Don’t worry about adding years to your life, be about adding life to your years because how you were born isn’t nearly as important as why, and how you die isn’t as important as how you live.
Joan of Arc had just 6,935 days to lead France to victory and become a saint in the process.
Terry Fox ran across Canada on one leg and became a nation hero in 8,030 days.
Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana both had 13, 140 days to bend history.
John Lennon re-defined the word “Imagine” in just 14,600 days.
My late, great friend John Denver became a voice for the planet in just 19,345 days.
Once you figure out the “why” the “how” will take care of itself.
If my numbers hold up I have an estimated 7,300 days left or 20 years.
So, today isn’t just another “day”…its an unfolding miracle…and so are you.
Don’t just count your days, make your days count.
Or not.
What you do with your winnings is matter of choice not chance.
Safe travels.
JSA
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