Monday, December 30, 2013

The Great American Journey -- in your own backyard

I like the image of a train for discussing a new year: it reminds me about the mobility of people -- lives -- but at the same time each of us takes what we want with us on our journeys.

As part of my 'schtick' I talk about reconciliation and loss a lot; moving on to another day after times have been hard. There is a lot in my writing about redemption and God too. Well, that is my walk of life so it is not unusual that it is also the direction of my writings these days.

Perhaps my generation (b. 1966) was among the last to even be aware that singer Willie Guthrie was famous for being more than just Arlo's father. Oh, and if you're not following me at this point about the Guthries -- look them up because they are worth the read, or find a "Call of Duty" game site to read and leave mine off your list.

This year has meant a lot to me, personally.

Since 2009, I lived through a lot that I thought I wouldn't have to do in this life, not at this point anyway. The issues of being poor and homeless, sick and injured, turned out and given up upon, have never really been on my radar -- these things never touched my life before. I never thought they would happen to me: Famous last words.

Well, they did. I was a real-life, bona fide hobo, bum, alcoholic -- rummy -- who lived in the woods and drank my dinner, consorted with the worst of people and found the robes of our Lord somewhere in the deepest dark. It can happen.

It happened to me.

Hard times taught me about humanity some -- sure did. These times have also taught me that placing even one false friend or relative in my wake is begging for trouble. This can bring you as much trouble as trying to believe in religion, politics or TV ministers. I don't have enough time for that, and I don't believe anyone else does either.

I can pray for people, but I don't need them messing up my life. And, though I will pray for people, I sure as Hell won't pray to them or their idea about what is right or wrong for me. It was my trust in Pop Culture, plastic friends and silly kids that put me in the deepest hole I have ever been in and it was only by renouncing those beliefs that I started to climb the heck back out. The only thing worth anything at all that my old man told me growing up was that "every time someone stabs you in the back in this world is a dress rehearsal for every other time they're going to do it as well." I'll give it to Pop, at least he got that right.

What Pop had no idea about is appreciating the beauty around each of us every time the sun decides to show up in the morning. I relish this more than ever, especially as I start nearing my twilight years bit by bit. Yes, there are some spectacular sunrises and sunsets that should be caught, by all means. And, praying to and being near the Almighty has helped me more than unlimited data on my Smartphone -- that is also for sure. So now I will go back to Willie Guthrie and singing about the Great Expanse of the United States: It's still here. Yet, the greatest expanse -- the land of a million journeys -- isn't just along railcars and hobo camps (which still exist -- let me tell you).

No, the greatest journeys happen in our hearts and for our spirits in this life, as they make their way round one turn and down another straight away and loop around yet again. You don't need to travel a million miles to find something new and brilliant every day -- you just have to open your eyes and pay attention.

It took me almost 50 years -- a half century -- to stop trying to keep up with being the man society and late-night television wanted me to be. It almost drove me nuts trying to stay 'successful' in a world that is as true as a $3 hooker on pay day at a mining camp. And, impressing this world has nothing to do with being close to God or even one's self. So, rather than try to reconcile all this nonsense -- I try to just live simply today, with God and my loved ones near me, just trying to get by every day and appreciating those sunsets a little more every time I get to see one -- especially a good one.

Happy New Year -- and I hope you take the time to shut out the world a little more this year, and catch some of those sunsets yourself.

God Bless

Monday, December 23, 2013



Friday, December 20, 2013

It came upon a midnight clear

My Dad was 10 in 1929, when the worlds of so many people he knew crashed all around him during the “Great Crash,” and that event is widely believed to have caused the Great Depression. If someone doesn’t understand the references, look it up -- I’m not teaching history here.

Well, 2009 might as well have been the Great Crash for me. Then, 2011 was really the end of my old life, which wasn’t so bad really. Between 2011 and 2013 I found my bottom, and was it a pip.

This column isn’t about what was lost, though. Because people lose things; all kinds of things get lost over time, from people to things, money and possessions, reputations and dreams. It is truly a wonderful life, but not everything is going to turn out sweet as pie at all times.

As advice, I would say people are the worst investment I ever put stock in, by and large. Still, if I hadn’t done that, went through the good times and the very hard ones, seen what hell looked like from the cheap seats and found some kind of redemption along the way -- well, it wouldn’t have been the life I am so very proud of and pleased about.

Here is a news break for the kids out there, or those who have suffered getting hit in the head with something big and heavy: Hard times comes and hard times go. Sometimes, plans work for people and sometimes they don’t. No one can control the world around them and believing they can will do nothing but disappoint someone and make them cry for a long time  But, the good news is very good: There is something good even in hard times, the worst of hard times.

I am never going to get back the things I lost in this life, but do any of us actually ‘own’ anything anyway? We rent our houses, which will eventually be owned by someone else. We only handle ‘our money’ because, eventually, it always ends up in someone else’s pocket: Last time I checked no one has a checking account in either heaven or hell. Loved ones, for as hurtful as it can be, will come and go more often than anyone wants. But through everything, if you can find and keep yourself -- you own everything you ever need in this world or the next.

Christmas has never been a big holiday for me. Hard times feel all the harder when there are holiday trees and all those people smiling and gushing cheer all over the place. If someone isn’t feeling good about their life, the first thing they will make a joke about is Christmas; because somewhere down deep they are miserable. Well, being ticked off at life is easy enough to do -- lots of things suck and that is no lie.

It is easy to hate the cards one has been dealt, because the dealer isn’t fair and is sometimes so repugnant you can smell him before you see him. Nevertheless, no one can take anything of value from someone if that someone possesses the one thing that is waterproof, fire-proof and even death-proof: Themselves. No one can stop the tides, hard luck or bad weather but they can like who they see in the mirror and have a little sympathy for the guy. Hell, I will go one further. Being the best friend to yourself will prevent one from living or dying hopeless -- because if you are your own best friend then you’ll never be alone and between you, your best friend and the Lord (whom I believe has walked with me every day in my hard times) you can even have a good game of cards.

Life is a gift. Even the bad parts of it is a gift. Sure, it is not always a gift one wants or even likes, but if someone lets the hard times do their best then, one day, they can look up and maybe they’ll have one more reason than they did the day before for getting out of bed. And, after that, they may come up with another one. And, so on. And, so on.

This is Christmas: A time when people should be kind to one another and overjoyed that the Lord gave them the life he did. At least that is what is on the marquee. I don’t believe people are all that nice (at least not in this day and age if they ever were). As a matter of fact, I don’t put a shot glass full of confidence in the better angels of humanity, as a rule of thumb. But, I have come to believe in the Lord and myself -- the greatest gift a man entering his last act can have. So, the sun is a little brighter, the birds chirp a bit louder and, having acknowledged that this life never will be that “Wonderful Life” Jimmy Stewart knew or Andy Griffith’s “Mayberry RFD,” I look at things around me for what they are and I can like them well enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not happy I was ruined or that those who helped me out in getting ruined did it. Still, last time I checked I’m not in charge of anyone but me. There is someone who is in charge of sorting out what people did and didn’t do, and I’m not talking about Judge Judy. I don’t have to carry the weight of the world, or anyone else’s weight for that matter. Heck, I have my own problems just fending off another piece of pie for dinner.

I lived through the hard times, though, despite horrible, horrible experiences. Those experiences don’t own me anymore, as much as they have been lived and are simply a part of the record where I am involved.

There are special people in my life today, and they don’t expect a damn thing from me other than that I try and do the best I can day to day. God put them in my life and I am really happy about that. And, the people he took away, I guess he knew what he was doing with that too.

If you are reading this and you’re life has been going fine and everything is just wonderful, well this is wasted on you. God bless and may the road rise to meet you still. But, if you are down-and-out, if you are looking at the wolf at the door and he is either getting in or he is walking around the living room -- and it seems like all hope is lost -- I’m here to tell you it isn’t.

Sure, things are going to suck for a while. And, don’t lie to yourself or listen to any of that cheap confection TV ministers are shoveling at you: Not everything is roses and its not supposed to be. Sometimes, you take your licks and go through a little hell. Maybe some violence will be done to your spirit, body and mind. Never think you’re alone, though. There really is a God. If someone doesn’t believe that I really don’t give a damn. The Lord doesn’t need me to ring doorbells for him. I’ll just say he is there and leave it at that.

This world is really very beautiful, even with the muck and mire in it here and there. It’s definitely worth a good long look. When you’re out of money and luck, don’t throw your cards in -- it gets better. If you hang around long enough good stuff will happen. Just look at high school, all you have to do is show up enough and you can be the dumbest bump on the log out there and they’re still going to hand you a piece of paper one day saying you graduated. Maybe life is just a little like that, I don’t know.

So even if you’re not having the happiest of Christmases this year, not to worry. Hang around long enough, do your best not to be stupid (even if you’ve previously made a career out of it) and good things will happen. No one is perfect and everyone deserves a second, third or even fourth chance. There was only one perfect man in this world, and we killed him for it. So, if you are a screw up trying to dig yourself out of a big ass hole, not to worry, there are a whole lot of other people digging right next to you.

Oh, and if you ever have another shot at love (I don’t mean the insane kind) -- do it. I am pretty sure it’s why we were put on this earth in the first place.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Service, patriotism and professionalism

AMERICA: Love it or get the hell out
I served in the United States Army and its various components between 1983 and 1998. I was nothing special, just another soldier doing the best he could, among so many other soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines doing the exact same thing.

What disturbs me about today, on Facebook and other social media, on television, radio and along Main Street, USA, is this feeling that individual members of the Armed Forces should be so loud and vehement about their political or personal feelings regarding the American president (regardless of who it might happen to be) or Congress and what is 'right' or 'wrong' governmentally in this nation.

I think there is a point here that bears repeating at least once: Members of the Armed Forces preserve the principles of our Democratic Republic, they do not participate in them. Consequently, they serve to protect the freedom of speech for all Americans, which does not mean they possess it while on Active Duty in any way, shape or form.

A professional armed service is not staffed by professional philosophers, loud civic naysayers or the barroom politicians who spend their time 'devil's advocating' for un-American causes (like those who advocate domestic overthrow and the like). Advocating too loudly for causes potentially hostile to the elected U.S. Government is and has always been punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for very good reasons.

Besides, the U.S. armed services have never been melting pots for the opinions of the disenfranchised, disloyal or deranged opinions of its members and I do not advocate for them becoming so now.

I have heard service members speaking loudly about their dislike for the current president, Barack Obama. I have heard extreme things said by some of them, particularly on Facebook -- in agreement with causes like the "Tea Party Movement," which I do not think particularly well of as a so-called "American" political entity. Regardless, though, of the agency of the derision against the Government of the United States and the governments establish by the governments of the United States, be it Democrat or Republican, Communist or Socialist, Pepsi or Coca Cola, a member of the armed forces of the United States adding their voice to any echo of dissent is patently wrong.

Inasmuch as I do not approve of the Tea Party or its principles, it is my right, according to the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, for me to be able to express this feeling loudly and publicly. In addition, should a president be selected from the ranks of the Tea Party Movement (God forbid), it is my right to protest actions by that president in all the ways acceptable to our government. Why? Well, I am no longer in the military: I am a civilian.

When I served in the military, I did not particularly like several actions taken by then-President George H.W. Bush. I thought he was a good person but some of the things he did were inappropriate where it involved the U.S. military. But, while I held these opinions privately, I did not make these views public in any way. At the time, I was a soldier serving in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). It would have been a clear conflict to my service to make disparaging remarks about the commander-in-chief. And, I am fairly certain that, at the time, my chain-of-command would have rightfully pursued charges against me for doing so if I had.

Today, though, as the country is more polarized as it has ever been between what is perceived as "Republican" or "Democrat," "Conservative" or "Liberal," "Ignorant" or "Progressive," service members have indulged themselves to new heights of participating in political arguments -- while in uniform and on Active Duty -- than ever before, in my humble opinion. It would take an investigator only a few moments to find nests of ne'er-do-well service members on Facebook, making outrageous claims and boasts about what they will or will not do when ordered by the chain-of-command to perform various orders. And, I find that quite alarming. Since when did the U.S. military become a haven for people of questionable or marginal loyalty to the country and the officers appointed over them?

I have said several times I do not find the evolving way of the world to my liking very much, insofar as technology, relationships, education, the economy or politics. Nevertheless, I have equally made the statement that simply because I do not like something does not mean it is bad or innately wrong -- I simply might not like certain things (as I am entitled to do). But, where the new 'trend' becomes disloyalty to one's nation while serving under arms -- I draw the damn line.

Is it wrong for members of the Armed Forces to protest? I say 'yes'
The first soldier of our American Republic was a fellow named George Washington: surveyor, planter and back woodsman. He was also commander of the Continental Army during the Revolution and our nation's first soldier and president. After the Revolution, when victory had been secured, many officers in the U.S. Army thought it best that Gen. Washington be offered a kind of kingship over the newly minted American colonies and so they approached him with this idea and offered him the services of the U.S. Army to facilitate his transition to power.

Washington was outraged that officers, all of whom he had led during the Revolution, would ever contemplate such a thing. He turned away and railed against any notion of the United States being a monarchy or of the Army daring to usurp a civilian-elected government. He was astonished that his soldiers would ever dream of such a thing.

It was a 'lesson learned' early in the history of this nation that soldiers with too much time on their hands and too much leniency to speak and act in the realm of the political create havoc, tyranny and disorder. However, the very job of military service, in itself, is intended to be the very example of order and discipline. Well, Washington sorted that nonsense out, and so have commanders for time immemorial after him, right up until today.

In my opinion, American service members who loudly protest the elected Government of the United States are not suitable for military service. Members of our military are trained to and, in the course of their service, do use firearms and are given assignments of great trust. No one needs such things to be done by an unstable person, unsure of their loyalty or the responsibilities of their positions.

"The Great Experiment" of the United States is now almost 250 years old. It has weathered a great deal, but there are surely storms ahead. Yet, the prospect of compromising the political seclusion of members of the armed services, and the granting of permission to them to participate in political processes of this country, is nothing but dangerous and flirts with disaster for every man, woman and child in this country.

Excellent service to this nation while in uniform is characterized by many things, and among those things is political silence. Patriots do not attempt to abridge the codes of conduct that our nation's fighting men and women have lived by for centuries. Rather, they make every effort to abide by the codes and provisions in place for political involvement of Active Duty military service members.

Of course, service members are welcome to take part in the revolution that takes place at the polls in every city and hamlet, from sea to shining sea, in the United States at the end of every office holder's term -- it's called an election. During elections, which currently only about 20 percent of Americans participate in, on average, who will or will not serve in office is decided. Once that election is over and the votes are counted then the result of that election is characterized as "...the will of the people."

To be plain, I thought the presidency of George Bush (the younger) was terrible. I thought and still believe he was an absolute idiot. Consequently, I legally protested the Iraqi War in New York City in 2004 and wrote one or two editorials (in the newspaper I published at the time), decrying some of his policies. Well, this is how Americans are permitted to agitate for change when they are not in the U.S. military. When they are in the military, after they have sworn an oath to serve and protect the United States and accept orders from the president of the United States and those officers appointed over them, it is a whole other kettle of fish.

Even if "W" were the president during my tenure in service, I would have shut my mouth, voted my conscience and concentrated upon my work -- not make a spectacle out of myself or, by extension, my branch and chain-of-command.

Yes, things change -- they certainly do. Everything marches on, from hairstyles to television shows, sports and even social norms. However, generations tinker with fire when they move too far away from the blue print first established by the framers of this nation; a blue print, I might add, that was etched in the blood and service of countless men and women through the march of time.

Sometimes, on rare occasion, it can unilaterally be said that change is not for the better. And, in this case, I think it is so. What would I do with members of the Active Duty U.S. military who engage in political activities, the likes of which I have described in this opinion? I would identify them, charge them and adjudicate them and, subsequently, separate them from the U.S. military with an "other than honorable" discharge.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Praise the Lord! Now, send in the Armor

NOTHING SAYS CHRISTMAS LIKE A TANK! I shot this a few years ago at the PNC Bank Arts Center, in Holmdel.

Does anything say 'birth of Jesus' like an American tank roaring into battle? Apparently not for some. This shot was captured at the PNC Bank Arts Center some years ago, in Holmdel, NJ. It was one of the more spectacular pieces of the light show. But...ah...Armor....really? I's...a tank. It looks more like the Christmas Battle of the Bulge than the birth of an infant. Maybe Santa's mechanized infantry is following up behind the tanks, just in case the Baby New Year calls in an airstrike.

INCOMING! I can only surmise folks at this nearby 'village' were hiding 'anti-Christmas elves.' lol

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The obsession of staying online: Losing Touch

Relationships were hard enough before computers
PEOPLE ARE ONLINE MORE THAN EVER BEFORE and it has become a fact of life that, for many people, most transactions, business and personal, are completed online. While this is a fact, it is also a fact that how some people see the Internet and its use is generational and not just functional.

I will come right out and say it: I lost a six-year relationship with someone because they could not, would not get off the darn computer.

Not only did this young lady, let's call her "Erica," keep her face buried in one computer, but she usually had two going and her iPhone as well -- all working at the same time. Erica was having her love affair with technology, it wasn't important for me to be in the room, or so I thought.

I sure do wish it was another way, because of all the reasons to end a relationship -- technology being one of the main contributors is absolutely preposterous to my withered, seemingly ancient way of thinking.

Now here comes the insight I gleaned from this: I was born in 1966 and Erica was born in 1982. Our disparity in ages represented not only a wide gulf in cultural experiences and perspectives, but also technological ones.

Technology did not make deep marks upon my perspectives and choices in the 1970s and 80s, when I was in prime developmental years as an adult. Technology was felt in the mainstream most where it involved video gaming for my generation, perhaps here and there in office equipment, but patently nothing that would set the world afire. So, while technology was and is incredibly interesting to me, it will never be the most important way I communicate or be seen as anything other than an implement by me (and I wager I am not the only one from my era).

Meanwhile, Erica came from that generation which grew-up with technology as a near constant companion, almost from the cradle. By the time Erica was a teen, public telephones were becoming more and more scarce. In 1992, when she was 10, New York City had more payphones than any city in the world (50,000). However, within a few years the payphone would shrink into the yellowed pages of history.

Online banking, which is still not strictly done by members of my generation, was an ordinary way of doing business for Erica's generation. "Movies" were less a family or couple's event than they were something seen on a cellphone screen upon first viewing. And, where it involved things like blogging, Facebook, Goodreads, Linked-In, Twitter and Instagram...well, this was how Erica's generation moved socially. To say the least, it was not for me or all that many in my generation. I would say many folks from my era do socializing the old-fashioned way, for the most part, in person.

There are already enough obstacles to May-December relationships, but without really being able to understand the technological norms of someone, and how important that is to them, relationships can be very hard.

I despaired about how many computers Erica was using at home earlier. Yet, Erica was actually working at her full-time job on one computer, working her part-time job on another and speaking to her mother on her iPhone (via Instant Messenger). Working and keep in touch with family is nothing new but how this is done is different from my experience. If I had family to call, I would use the phone. But, if I were calling children, I suppose they would want to communicate with me in much the same way as they would their friends (which may be using text, Instant Messenger or something like that). I couldn't wrap my head around the need to do that all the time.
Times move on, just as they always have

I believe there are important things computers have stolen from young people, and here is my Top 5:

1. The regular use of computers has 'dumbed down' the language for younger people. Simply, they do not speak or write the English language as well as those before them, so that also means they understand its nuances less since they are not entirely fluent in it. I believe it is important to be fluent in at least one language spoken or written;

2. In learning to socialize online first (and primarily) generations of young people in the Age of Technology are more socially awkward and less sophisticated in this way than previous generations. I have never seen so many young people unable to adequately express themselves to each other appropriately or effectively than I have in the generations of people raised alongside technological aids. Home-schooling does not help this at all. This includes both men and women, some of whom have seemed positively baffled at what I see as appropriate, normative dating or relationship parameter;

3. These younger generations are, physically speaking, far less vibrant or energetic than their fathers and mothers or generations before them. They do not play football or baseball on back lots or in school -- they play them on monitor or television screens. Consequently, these generations are physically heavier and less ready at an early age than perhaps ever before. Physical fitness is not fun, per say, to many young people. Fitness is a chore, which many will do or not do as they see fit;

4. With all of the above going on, is it any wonder that, sexually speaking, younger people have changed a great deal from generations of yesteryear. Where young men and women were once, for right or wrong, driven by strong biological urges -- younger generations have a distorted and sometimes bizarre take on sexuality compared to their older counterparts at a comparable age. For the sake of decorum, I will not note my observations in any more detail than that. It is enough to say I have noticed something of a difference; and

5. While male/female archetypes have not always been good in all ways in society, I have found much good in them from time to time. The phrase "ladies" and "gentlemen" can only be loosely applied these days. The computer has robbed kids of so much they have no idea what kinds of attitudes and actions are attached to these phrases. I have noticed a certain degree of androgyny in young people today that is not alarming, per say, since all things change. But, it makes being able to relate to young men and women today more enigmatic and even more challenging, on top of everything else. If anything, men learn what being "a man" is from watching rap videos and popular entertainment, not their fathers, elders or friends. Women learn what it is to be "a woman" from representations of same in popular media. The personal touch is, in my opinion, quite gone.

I am not writing this to discuss the 'horrors' of the computer age or those who live within it. The 'old days' were not better, in so many ways, and were frequently 'worse' than many cultural encounters today. In fact, the computer has transformed society into something new. And, the 'differences' I have noted from when I was younger, in my prime, are, in essence, my issues and not an issue created by the computer or those who grew up with them side-by-side. Still, I think saying there is a 'wider gulf' between my generation and newer ones is not a stretch. In addition, I think it is also fair to say technological advents have made one-on-one communication and empathy harder than, perhaps, ever between older and younger generations.

With all of this as a backdrop, it is not outrageous, I believe, to say that it is more difficult to have a May-December relationship (of any kind) when the scripts of two people can be so different. Literally, even the language seems to be diverging from the two, shaking relationships to the core at times between nuclear families, let alone interpersonal relationships with anyone outside of one's family unit.

May-December relationships have always, in their long history, worked unevenly, as I see it, and as a seasoned veteran of them I would caution anyone against them. However, I will say my time with Erica did give me a good luck into a new day. She was a tour guide into today and tomorrow, as well as a wonderful person, indeed. 

Yet, I am sure that if anyone has read this all the way through it is someone from my generation or earlier, as many younger people today do not or cannot read for long periods of time where it involves anything: 'If it's not in a video it's not worth knowing.'

Without using an "lol" or "lmao" I will conclude this and simply say if you live long enough, you see so much, and it is a pleasure to do so (though not everything may strike everyone as all that pleasurable). I hope I gave at least a few people whom have read this some food for thought.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hail, hail...PATCH is dead

I was a journalist for many years. I worked primarily in print newspapers, but I did blog and the newspaper I published did create a news website.

In addition, I was an active member of the New Jersey Press Association as part of my duties as publisher of The Courier, a weekly newspaper in Northern Monmouth County that covered 10 towns in the area known as "the Bayshore." However, though I worked full-time for The Courier, I still wrote for other newspapers, depending upon how much more income I needed to make.

Between 2006-2009, the most active discussions between journalists at NJPA, in professional periodicals, magazines and on telephones all over this country was 'How can we monetize news on the Internet?'

Actual journalists, as opposed to what cropped up later on in abominations like, tried to earnestly figure out how to interpret traditional journalism and news organizations to the web in a way that would allow for the same quality of work and quality of life for serious, educated and experienced journalists.

I understand from credible media these days that is on its last legs, and to this I say: HURRAH!

Well, to my understanding, an effective monetization plan never did show up, though, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal did do the most work in advancing such concepts. However, it was PATCH that held the unique place in media history as destroying many daily and weekly newspapers, ensuring that when it collapsed only a few publications would be standing (online and in print) and so these publications would become king-makers. This is not a good future for journalism because it smacks of the darkest periods of news, when publishers such as Randolph Herst roamed the land like predatory dinosaurs looking to eat smaller publications.

I have always criticized PATCH, not because it closed down so many publications of my era, mine among them, but because it lacked any quality in its presentation. Its writing was poor. The use of language by its reporters and editors was atrocious; in all, it was a generation of 'journalists' where the blind were leading the blind.

Every now and again, in every trade, a herd of young people with great enthusiasm and absolutely no aptitude at what they do seem to take over for a while, destroying everything that was before. In some cases, these young people actually do have something to say -- these are people who are the likes of  Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Yet, the more common experience is that young people simply, by virtue of their lack of years or experience at their craft, coupled with their determination that they know everything (though they know very little) push their way into a field, destroy the frail ecology of an industry and fail miserably and end by sitting on some corner somewhere trying to look pathetic and sorry for their actions.

PATCH's inaugural staff perhaps?
All PATCH cost the American public was its tradition of the independent newspaper and a vibrant media. As media is the informal check or safeguard against governmental excess, PATCH and organizations like it gave license to political grifters and thieves of every make and model to loot public coffers from sea to shining sea as its legion of inexperienced college prep reporters and editors hacked away at journalistic standards and the English language. Violence the scale of the Little Big Horn was visited upon the written word and there was much metaphoric blood-letting done before this little revolution by AOL (in the form of PATCH) finally wound down and, thankfully, began to fade into that good night.

I knew PATCH editors who were firm that their publication would do no investigative stories and would break no critical information about anyone. This was despite the fact that the newspapers PATCH supplanted and shuttered (by their advertising people all but giving away space to anyone who would take it) newspapers with long-standing histories of actual service to their communities.

So, for some years and up until now, no one has been looking at who has been spending what money at town halls wherever PATCH has been "strong" and, consequently, wherever PATCH has been strong, freedom of speech and service to the community has been weak.

PATCH was a plague and now (with its passing) the conversation returns, once again, to how to effectively monetize newspapers online. I hope veterans of PATCH do not believe they advanced this argument even a little. All they did was destroy one of our nation's most precious resources: the news. With Ariana Huffington at the helm of AOL's PATCH, public discourse about celebrity gossip and Hollywood fluff eclipsed discussions of governmental budgets, fraud, waste and abuse, as well as public corruption all around this nation; and every single community in this country suffered for it.

I bid PATCH a hale 'goodbye' and am glad to have lived long enough to come to its wake. Though my time covering news and events is over, I have high hopes that the institution of the news will again re-emerge after this terrible hurricane that was PATCH.

Of course, in my day (which was the 1990s and 2000s), not all newspapers had the best of intents at all times, nor all journalists (myself among them). However, I feel confident saying mostly anyone who made their living in print knew how to write a story, in proper English, using AP Style, employing photographs that were taken fairly well, in a timely manner and discussing topics more weighty than benefit chicken dinners in the community or what hairstyle local celebrities had begun wearing. No well-crafted misuse of established ethical journalistic standards could approach the outright murder of the news that was done by the shaking, child-like hands of that enormous screaming baby that was PATCH.

I mourn PATCH not at all. If anything, it should be cremated and its ashes scattered over the sea to avoid the prospect of it ever being resurrected by some demented entrepreneur. Hail, hail the wanna-be king is dead...and good riddance.

Friday, December 6, 2013

LTC Leonard B. Scott and 'Charlie Mike'

LTC Leonard B. Scott

When LTC Leonard B. Scott strode out to the microphone, he looked less like a veteran Army officer than he did a Hollywood star.

LTC Scott looked the same way Airborne commanders might be envisioned on the silver screen, and he had a distinctive style: mirrored shades, insanely polished jump boots, a uniform that was more starched than possibly any other on the whole fort and his inevitable cigar.

LTC Scott's Combat Infantryman's Bade, Jumpmaster wings, Pathfinder badge, Ranger tab above his "Follow Me" patch on his left shoulder and his swagger made it clear he was the boss here. Maybe he was a benevolent dictator, but he was absolutely the man.

I was standing on the bleachers like the rest of my Airborne School class at Ft. Benning, Georgia in 1986. We were waiting for LTC Scott to allow us to sit and then listen to his 'welcome speech' for us at the beginning of Ground Week at the school.
Airborne School was a part of the Infantry Training School when I attended. The school included several other schools within it, such as enlisted and officer skill qualification courses in the Infantry career field, Ranger School and the Ranger Indoctrination Program, among others.

Airborne School was broken into three distinct weeks: Ground, Tower and Jump weeks. Service members from not only the Army, but also the Navy, Air Force and Marines attended the course. And everyone, enlisted and officer alike, was treated nearly the same.

LTC Scott stood behind the microphone and scanned his new Airborne candidates through his mirrored shades. Then, he whipped the glasses off and started with, "Welcome soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to Airborne School. My name is LTC Leonard B. Scott and I will be your commanding officer for the remainder of your stay here with us."

The commander stated that, regardless of the service one was in, the fact of airborne soldiers being part of any branch's elite was undeniable. He explained that, as a 22-year-old second lieutenant in a Ranger company during the Vietnam War he saw the brotherhood that was the backbone of Airborne forces on full display.

"I came to the conclusion very quickly that it would be impossible to serve on a Ranger team without there being a strong sense of brotherhood. But, in fact, it is hard to serve in any unit without brotherhood being a big part of it. So, if there isn't that sense of brotherhood from the top, then start it from the bottom. Whatever you do, though, you make that Job No. 1. Because you watching your buddy's back, and him watching yours is the whole damn reason any of us are here!" he said.

LTC Scott spoke like a tough-minded teacher and made a lot of sense. After covering the need for dedication in life, he discussed exactly what that meant to him. The commander said soldiers tend to fall out of running formations when they do not know how far they are going to go. Yet, with a firm understanding of exactly how far they are going, a soldier who might otherwise drop out may well stay in a running formation.

"But that isn't life, ladies and gentlemen! That isn't life!" he said.

LTC Scott said it is sometimes impossible to know how far you must run, either physically or in life. "And, that is why in the Airborne we greet each other with 'How far!?' and respond with, 'All the Way!' " he said. "We will run as far as this life makes us, and when we are done running, and if something needs its ass kicked...we're the ones to do it."

Powerful words. He was compelling.

Then he got quiet and came from around the microphone and said loudly, "Do any of you know the secret to life!? Any of you!?" didn't. We hadn't even put together the meaning of lunch yet.

Like a reverend giving his homily LTC Scott raised his hands and said, "Because today -- right now -- I am going to tell you the whole meaning to everything in your life, everything in this world and everything in the whole damned universe!"

'That would be good to know,' I thought.

So, with his finger he indicated the Airborne trainees should come forward and join him. Everyone. He was the, whatever.

Everyone was dead quiet, standing around LTC Scott like a 20-foot thick human wall on all sides, with generous space in-between for him to stand. "The secret to life gotta love it! The secret to being a good paratrooper is to love it! The secret to being a good damned man or woman is that you have to love God, yourself and those around you!" he shouted.

He explained, "You are each going to be caught in shit someday that you cannot get out of. You will have to stand or fight, somehow or the other. And, when that day comes...all you have to do is act brave. You can be as terrified as you like inside...but you act brave in the face of what would frighten you and I guarantee you that you will one day stop acting brave and that will be a part of who you are."

Then he said, "And stay up, if the Army send you to some god-forsaken part of the world, and there are quite a few places like that, don't say, 'I hate this!' Tell everyone you love it there. Tell yourself that this is the greatest place you have ever been and you would rather be here than anywhere on the face of the earth."

There was a dramatic pause and then he added, "LIE TO YOURSELF ALWAYS about when the going gets tough! Lie like a damn rug to yourself. That shit chow you are eating isn't shit chow -- it's the best T-bone you ever ate. Visualize it. Because in the Airborne and in life, there is no room for being defeatist. The enemy is everywhere, and very frequently you will be cut off, alone and facing great odds. And, in life and especially the Airborne...your job is to beat down the bad guys. We are the good guys, if you haven't put that together yet. We come out of the sky when some murderous tyrant takes his shot and oppresses good people and we destroy that person and their armies! We save people in times and places where we might be lucky to save just ourselves! Every single Airborne soldier from Private to General is charged with one thing: No matter how hard the going gets -- 'Charlie Mike': Continue Mission!"

He concluded, "Now, I am going to stop this little speech by asking one thing and one thing only: HOW FAR!?"

Like thunder, the Airborne trainees barked in unison, "ALL THE WAY, SIR!"

He smiled. Put on his shades and walked away, instructing the training sergeants (called "Black Hats") to "get these people back in training."

If there was water anywhere on the ground I was sure he would have walked calmly atop it back to his waiting vehicle.

I learned later that LTC Scott wrote a book called "CHARLIE MIKE!" about his experiences as a young lieutenant in a Ranger team in Vietnam. Even later I learned that it sold a lot of copies. To this day I have not yet read it. But, I remembered what LTC Scott said and, in lieu of biblical Proverbs, I still use what he has to say.

If anyone ever needed a sea parted, I think that just might have been in his wheelhouse too.

UPDATE: According to Google, Leonard B. Scott retired from the U.S. Army in 1994 as a full colonel. He authored not only "Charlie Mike," but also "The Last Run," "The Hill," "The Expendables," "The Men of Iron" and "Forged in Honor." Col. Scott served 27 years in the United States Army. Among the colonel's decorations are the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He and his wife reportedly retired to their home in Oklahoma. Best of luck and God bless, sir.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Merry Christmas to All!

If for just a few weeks a nice to each other. 'Merry Christmas to all!' old friend

An old defender of a lost cause
I don't know when I started being so up-in-arms about written English. I think it came in little bits.
In grade school, there was this really rough junior school adviser and science teacher named Mr. Kauffman. I think his first name was Lee, but to utter it as a child in referring to him would certainly have warranted some unwanted recourse.

Anyway, Mr. Kauffman couldn't handle bad English on any papers or really in anything his 7th and 8th graders did at all. Quite a few times he said: "Most of you speak only one language. It is all you have to communicate with: Don't you think you should be fluent in it?"

Well, he had a point.

Later on, I was at another boarding school during high school, this time in Texas. The school had a military theme and that was important -- but so was school. And, my freshman English teacher, Maj. Jimenez, was unforgiving -- albeit with a reason.

"How you use language is a big deal in life. You cannot make up words or you own grammar: If you cannot effectively communicate in English then how can anything you say be taken as credible. Meanwhile, those who are seeking to go on to college: Why bother if you are not going to take the time to be able to read and write your own language well?" Maj. Jimenez pressed home with us.
Finally, there was my college English guru, a history professor from Georgian Court College, in New Jersey, named Dr. Claribel Young. Dr. Young just wouldn't suffer the abuse of language in any way around her. She said, "The most important part of education was to be able to communicate effectively in writing and speaking. Without language, one is lost and no one is interested in the slightest if one wants to edit English for the sake of their own ignorance," she said.

Dr. Young would be an outstanding candidate for "Language Police" if ever such a post became open.

As I grew older, it dawned on me a little bit at a time that Mr. Kauffman, Maj. Jimenez and Dr. Young were all correct, and made their points in their own way.

During undergraduate studies in college, I consciously worked to improve my writing and language skills. So impressed with my own progress, I actually wrote a manuscript for a novel (which was never sold) called "Clan of Secrets."

Then, in class one day, Dr. Young asked who intended some kind of writing career. I have no idea why I raised my hand, but I did. Further, when Dr. Young asked what kind of writer I was thinking of becoming, I said I contemplated perhaps being a journalist.

She liked what I said, but warned, "Well, remember, everyone writes but only very few are actually paid to do it. Become very good at writing then and always keep up with language."
Truer words never said.

The Age of Technology is not, however, very conducive to young people learning language. In my opinion, by and large, proper use of English, be it written or spoken, has been as mangled as a drunk driver in a one-car accident with a tree.

After college, I did actually find jobs writing news. I received several promotions in the newspapers I was employed by. Eventually, become promoted enough and, one day, you look into the mirror and have somehow become an editor. Written English took on a new dynamic then: Horrible writing was actually painful to read when I had to read all day long.

Meanwhile, kids coming out of college, and subsequently working as reporters, were infuriating with their poor use of spelling, grammar and punctuation. At the weekly newspaper I eventually published, I cannot recall even one reporter in 11 years who actually knew how to use a darn colon: Not one!
Since no one knew how to use it, should the poor colon be axed from the language, just as some talked about dismissing the penny from its place in currency? I believe the argument for not using colons anymore went something like this: 'No one knows how to use colons anymore, or semi-colons for that matter. So, if no one knows how to use them they should just be dropped from the language.'

But, wait.

I have an idea.

Rather than dropping random punctuation marks, instead of paring down the language to a series of grunts and groans, perhaps it might be better to actually learn how to speak and write English. Now, that would be refreshing: A burst of sunlight before an ever-advancing darkness.

Most writers do not know that much about English. Similarly, and sadly, there are also many English teachers who take more care with their wardrobe than they do their language arts abilities also.
So, is that it? Is English destined to go the way of the T-Rex, dying slowly in a black bog until not even its head sticks out from the endless pool?

My opinion: Maybe.

Not all change in the world is for the best. Language always changes. Dictionaries anoint new words every year. Those new words are reflections of society. Language is nothing more than a reflection of the society that uses it. Otherwise, how would "e-mail," "texting" or "e-commerce" find themselves legitimized by their inclusion into formal language.

While I understand language, like everything else under the sun, changes, I do not believe there is any law on the books saying I have to like it. Besides, at this point in the game, I don't exactly think anyone is clamoring to hear my estimation of this matter.

Nevertheless, I will gather what abandoned colons, semi-colons and old bottles I find along the way and hoard them in my dwelling like some old eccentric. I will read the beloved classics of literature without the need for anime or a soundtrack. And, like the old curmudgeon I am, tell those 'young rascals' in the neighborhood to both use English right '...and get the hell off my lawn while you're at it!'
In the end, language expands and shrinks, like everything else does as we age. Sometimes, shrinkage and expansion occurs in the wrong directions, as is the case with human aging. 

Yet, even when older folks look in horror upon the way of the world these days, it has to be remembered that all life is change, and that goes for language as well. No, I still don't like it...and I would like those pesky kids off my lawn...but sometimes things just are as they have always been -- changing.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Is Chris Corcoran the Devil?

I lived at Admiral Farragut Academy, in Pine Beach, New Jersey for most of the year in 1978. Everyone in the 8th Grade was staying on the top floor of Farragut Hall, which is one of two main housing areas at the then-all boys military school.
There are any number of ways for cadets to billet. The way the academy powers that be chose was to put cadets in rooms ranging from single-occupant to four-person. I was always very flexible when it came to living arrangements, by and large. I didn't mind a four-person room. I liked most of the people I went to school with. Sure, there was no privacy. But, at 12 years old, what is anyone going to do with privacy anyway?
I shared my four-person room with Alfred Bibeault, Luciano Licursi and Chris Corcoran. Bibleault was a new guy, while Licursi and Corcoran had attended the previous year, which was my first year. After the long march of time, I can say aloud that Chris was considered an absolute genius by some of us, myself included. Among everyone in the junior school, it was Corcoran who figured out and implemented a program of fermenting fruit juice and turning it into alcohol. It wasn't wonderful tasting alcohol...but it was alcohol.
This was strange coming from Corcoran, actually. Because Corcoran, who was from Florida and blonde, was the very stereotype of a laid-back, future surfer guy who was easy to get along with, had a good sense of humor and absolutely avoided trouble or anyone who went near trouble at all. Still, he became our class's rough equivalent of a 'moonshiner.'
He had found the perfect place to ferment the juice. As it turns out there were two large windows in our room that looked into a quad. So, the scene was unremarkable, at best, when someone looked out they saw the window across from them on the other side of the quad: that was it. And, I don't think any of us -- or the cadet cadre or adult staff -- ever really bothered giving the exterior quad area a look. After all, the doors were sealed-up downstairs and it was very difficult to see anything wandering in and breaking a window in the quad or in anyone's room.

Even a lone, deranged bird would have great difficulty breaking a window in the quad, because it wouldn't have the room to really build up a head of steam before it hit the glass in what would have to be a (theoretical) kamakazi attack. So, there was nothing going on there...except darkened bottles of fruit juice hanging out of my room's window, tied together with a thin, but strong, rope and lowered down, in-between the outside of our room and the downstairs, along the side of the building exterior (where no one observed or inspected).

Indeed, our room was inspected many times, and Corcoran's homemade hooch was always there, a thin rope attached around a nail inside the window pane. Meanwhile, Corcoran and the rest of us were always very cool during inspection. I have no idea why. I think I was confident because Corcoran and Licursi were.
It was brilliant! The darkened plastic bottles (Corcoran explained later the fermenting process required a dark place) were outside, occasionally clunking into one another during bad weather, and producing Corcoran's own version of a wine cooler. This was a closely guarded secret in our little community and such a secret required not only no one ratting Corcoran out to the cadre or the administration, but also for all his roommates to shut up and not tell anyone else. Even if we didn't rat on Corcoran, anyone else we told might have ratted him out. So, it was strictly a TOP SECRET project. And, since we were in a military academy, I equated the need for security for this project with the same need to keep a military secret in the real world, especially against the 'hated' Russians: 'The fortunes of lives hang in the balance,' I dramatized in patriotic fashion to my roommates, who rolled their eyes at the sentiment.
In a few months, each of us were moved to single- or two-person rooms for one reason or another. Meanwhile, four new guys moved into my old room. Interestingly enough, Corcoran kept using the same room for the process -- without the current residents even being aware of it: they never bothered to open the window and look down. They had no knowledge of the distilling process going on right next to them. I asked Corcoran what something like that was called and he said, "Plausible deniability. I learned about it on television."
Corcoran befriended the new inhabitants of our room also, so he had a regular cause to be there. And, since doors were kept open anyway, if he were caught in the room with no one there, Corcoran would just say he was waiting for someone; truly, an evil genius. Sure, it was against the rules to wait in someone’s room when they were not there. But, it was far from a hanging offense. Usually, a member of the cadet cadre or adult staff would just tell the waiting cadet they couldn’t wait there and to wait somewhere else.

In fact, Corcoran, who might have been taken as vacuous because of his manner of speech and demeanor, was a closet intellectual: amazingly smart and very quiet about it. He had my vote for 'most likely to own the world' after school days.
Before we moved out and went our separate ways, though, Corcoran had yet another idea. He came into the room on a Saturday afternoon: we were all there. He brought in an empty garbage can from the hall; OK, he has my attention. Corcoran placed the garbage can in the rough center of the room. Then, he withdraws from his pocket a can of Copenhagen snuff. It was a kind of chewing tobacco.
"Guys! I found the most incredible shit! Get this, you put this between your cheek and gum -- don't swallow! -- and then spit it out," Corcoran said.
Licursi was the first one to comment: "Why the hell would we do that?"
Corcoran explained that, as the tobacco rested in someone's cheek, the tobacco mingles with saliva and mouth tissue to transfer nicotine to the bloodstream. He said the transfer was quick and very powerful and that this transfer would result in us "getting high."
Everyone was doubtful, but Corcoran was the class evil scientist. If science has taught us nothing, it has stated the need to venture forward and try new things. So, Licursi said, "Alright, let's give it a try."
We all placed a chair next to the garbage can and took a pinch of snuff, some of us more than a pinch. While we were doing that, Corcoran said, "OK, let's try to fill up the garbage can with tobacco juice we spit out." I don't know why that sounded intriguing at the time, but it was a boring enough Saturday to do something stupid. It just happened.
So, the four of us talked and joked with each other as we chewed this tobacco. At first it was awesome! It made us each feel really high and good. It was a friendly feeling that was very nice. Sure, the taste was terrible -- but the effect was good. If there was a Nobel Prize for science, we would have conferred it immediately upon Corcoran, without delay.

Corcoran was the first, however, to spit out all of the tobacco he had after choking on it. He washed his mouth out with a soda he had squirreled away, spit the vile liquid into the garbage can, and went to bed unceremoniously. Not long after that, in succession, Licursi and Bibeault did the same thing, leaving me the sole survivor of the 'Great Experiment.' I wasn't feeling all that good myself, though.
Looking into the garbage can, we hadn't managed to fill it all the way up with spit -- but we managed to create quite a bit at the bottom. It sloshed about in a sickening display of grossness, which could easily make someone heave.

I looked down into it and ended up puking in it as well. If I looked in a mirror at that point my reflection would have been green. I washed out my mouth with an orange drink I had in my footlocker and was in the process of crawling back to into bed for some much-needed sleep. The other guys were out like a light and I was going to get there too.
Well, it was Saturday and no one was there and so, when Corcoran came in and started all this, none of us thought to close the door. Before I managed to get back into bed, a cadet petty officer third class, his last name was Kelly, walked through the door out of nowhere and went to the trash can.
"Hey, you guys don't get a personal trash can. This is for everyone in this side of the wing," said Kelly to me, as the only conscious person in the room. I nodded and said I was sorry. The teen-aged petty officer quickly inspected the can and then took note of the most vile concoction ever brought into being at the bottom of the big trash can.
"What the hell is this!?" Kelly asked.
I thought, 'How can these guys be sleeping through this? They're awake...jerks.' I told Kelly we were playing a kind of game and I would get one of the other guys to help me take it out after I woke up.
Not good enough.
"You're going to get your ass down here right now, and bring this downstairs and empty this shit onto the grass outside is what you're doing!" he said.
I asked, 'Are you sure this can't wait until someone else is awake to help me? This thing is pretty heavy and it's disgusting on top of that.'
Kelly was firm. OK.

I grabbed the trash can and waddled outside and down the black, metal staircase to ground level; ironically, next to the chow hall. I have never been so sickened. I put the sloshing trash can down momentarily on the upstairs landing just so I could puke into it again -- but all that came up this time was bile.

Unable to puke anymore, I dry-heaved once or twice as I brought the trash can to ground level. I dumped out the hellish soup into the grass and then rinsed the can out with a green hose not so far away. I drank some water from the hose too, and it stayed on my stomach and made me feel a little better.

Then, I brought the trash can upstairs and placed it back where it belonged, and even put a trash bag in it (which did not always happened). Kelly was gone also, satisfied I did what he said.
Finally, I went to bed, sick and with the distinct taste of ass on my lips.

So much for killing some time on a Saturday.

It is for sure that Corcoran was not the Devil. He was a precocious, inquisitive, bright youngster who was adventurous and a leader. Sometimes, adventure meant great things, and other times -- not so much. This was just one of those latter times. In the end, though, it just went to show that all of us just have to take the good with the bad. In this case, the bad was really, really bad. But, even then, I knew it would make one heck of a story one day.