How Robert Redford Changed My Life

When I was a kid, I had a crazy dream.  Naturally, it didn’t seem so crazy at the time, it seemed perfectly reasonable. You see I grew up with a pretty active imagination and something of a wild streak.  Not ridiculous/reckless, but I was known to get into a fair amount of trouble in the name of adventure.  I climbed a lot of things I shouldn’t have, jumped off those things, crawled into tunnels, swung on a rope across a (seemingly) huge ditch, wandered the streets from home to Peter Piper Pizza and so forth.  As my grampa used to say, I was “all boy.”  I grew up pretending to be G.I.Joe or Rambo or Iceman from Top Gun.  I never wanted to be Maverick, he was just plain out of his mind.  My favorite toys were Nerf guns, army sets and Legos I’d build into armed spaceships to defend the planet.  So it wasn’t so crazy to dream that someday I’d save the world.

Or at least help.  I was never delusional like some kids.  I have fair amount of former military in my family, including an entire generation of WWII vets, West Point grads and grunts.  I was fairly young when I learned what people meant when they said “All gave some, some gave all.”  Nobody saves the world alone.  But sometimes a group of people come together for a cause and can accomplish some pretty amazing things.  And so I figured that someday, somehow, I’d find a way to contribute.  At the time I had my sights set on flying an Apache helicopter, but mostly only because I hadn’t yet discovered the face-melting awesomeness that is the A-10 Thunderbolt.  I mean really, that thing is sweet.

But then, as usual, the universe stepped in.  For me, this deus ex machina took the form of some pretty bum knees.  It’s no secret at all that I hate running.  I don’t get it.  I only run when I’m being chased, and I don’t get chased much.  I know better.  So as I entered my teens (and probably just before that), my poor knees decided “well if you hate running, we’ll just turn to garbage and you won’t have to do that anymore.”  At the time, I was something of an athlete.  I say “something” because I was not good.  I played a handful of sports, but none of them exceedingly well.  I was good at soccer, I was a good short stop and I had a good mid-range jump shot.  But it was painfully obvious that I’d never make my junior high school basketball team or anything even remotely close to that.

Well, I thought, that’s kind of a drag.  I’d grown up seeing tough guys, strapping young men in the peak of physical fitness throw on a uniform and mow down Russians with an M60, lead platoons into Grenada, fly jets upside down, and have juxtaposed homoerotic beach volleyball games.  How would I be able to do any of that if I couldn’t run?  This was probably about the same time I first heard the joke about the “Chair Force,” but still, those dudes had to be in shape.  I saw “The Right Stuff,” those Air Force dudes were tough as nails.  I never got to the point where I couldn’t walk, but I had a number of doctor’s visits, some special exercises to do and a string of braces to wear on one knee or the other.  To this day they make a pretty sickening grinding sound when I climb stairs.  Yeah. Gross.

So I sort of put that thought aside.  I started dreaming of being a movie star or a toy designer or Secretary of the Interior.  Typical kid stuff, you know?  I figured “well, maybe I can save the world by bringing it cinematic joy or the hottest new board game or sensible land management policies.”  That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?  I don’t imagine I’d give all, but darn it, I could give some.

And then this happened:

sneakers-movie-poster 

This is the 1992 not-epic film Sneakers, starring Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Ackroyd, Ben Kingsley and the ghost of River Phoenix.  Oh, never mind, he was still mostly alive at the time.  I was 13 when this came out, at the perfectly young and impressionable age when movies finally made sense to me and I could grasp the deeper meanings behind them.  Or, conversely, fabricate a deeper meaning in my head and just roll with it.

The plot of the movie, if you haven’t seen it, revolves around a bunch of old men who break into banks and steal things to test security systems.  “Barry,” I’m sure you’re saying, “you mean you wanted to break into things and be a thief?”  Gosh no.  Mostly.  The boys get themselves a gig doing a clandestine job for the National Security Agency (cue your boooos now).  There’s an interesting little bit of dialogue that lays out the very basic differences between the NSA, the CIA and the FBI.  At the time, my whole understanding of the intelligence world and espionage was limited to James Bond’s chest hair and a vague recollection of possibly seeing old episodes of Mission:Impossible.  I had no idea what the NSA or the CIA did.  And Sneakers changed all that.

Suddenly I was reminded of that crazy dream I’d had about saving the world.  Suddenly I saw some dudes (yes, fictional characters, I know) who were the antithesis of Rambo and James Bond.  They weren’t using missiles and machine guns to help save the world, they were using math.  Granted, I’m six kinds of horrible at math, but the point hit me like a ton of bricks: sometimes you just have to be smart.  And doggone it, I’m kind of smart.  So I decided that I’d try to save the world after all.  I’d find a way to use my brain, since I couldn’t rely on my stupid legs.  Then when the Navy came calling, I decided to take their silly ASVAB and see what my brain could do.  Turns out, it could do just about everything.  I tested into two different job categories: nuclear technician….or naval intelligence.  Ah! Perfect! I’d be well on my way to accomplishing my goal, all I had to do was……join the Navy forever. 

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now I did not join the Navy.  I don’t regret not joining, but I do often wonder where I’d be if I had joined.  My four year hitch would have run until 2002, and we all know what happened in 2001.  I don’t imagine I’d have been in a hurry to leave.  Instead, I went to college.  Then I stopped going to college.  Then I went back to college.  I studied history and political science, things that would give me the knowledge to apply to saving the world someday.  At the same time, I accidentally earned an undergraduate certificate in Intelligence and National Security Studies.  The undergrad certificate was basically like a minor, but since I double-majored, I didn’t actually have a minor.  Then, an awesome Master’s program got thrown together and I signed up for that too. 

Which brings me to today.  I’m not on the front lines overseas.  I’m not a mile underground in a missile silo.  I’m not driving sports cars, dodging bullets and sipping martinis.  I don’t wear a uniform.  But in my own way, I have no doubt that I’m helping to save the world.  One (thousand) lines of Excel data at a time.  I’d never consider comparing myself to men and women who join the armed forces to defend their countries, family and loved ones.  Their sacrifices make everything that I enjoy possible and I’m eternally humbled and grateful.  The moral of this story is that everybody has unique abilities and skills that they can contribute to the greater good.  Not everyone is cut out for carrying a rifle into combat or flying jets over war zones.  But if I can do one thing that helps them with their work, then I can be proud to tell my son that “I gave some.”

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Of Punk Rock and Republicans

Not too long ago, something rather odd happened to me.  I was going about my business on the Facebooks, trolling hard as I am wont to do, and posting rather inane and pointless drivel, as I am compelled to do.  I don’t recall the exact posting that I made or the context or even the subject, but I do know that it drew some interesting responses. Many of the things I post elicit responses from my friends which are typically fully in support of my statement or vehemently opposed.  For the sake of not making waves, it would probably be best that I only post links and homages to music that everyone can agree upon.

However, that’s the easy path, and I have chosen a much more difficult path.  I’m hardly a thin-skinned dude, I can take the abuse just as easily and cheerfully as I can dish it out.  Don’t believe me? Ask this clown.  And ask his friends to recount some of the ridiculous vitriol they’ve spit at me in retaliation for my poking and prodding.  Yeah, I like to throw gas on your little fires sometimes, but I’m fair game, so bring the ruckus.

But what transpired recently was interesting in a couple of regards.  A comment on one of my postings (probably about guns), I was told that I have become “another punk rocker turned Republican.”  Michale Graves jokes aside, this really got me wondering: have I gone soft?  Have I forgotten my punk rock roots and sold out to the man in favor of an easy life wherein I don’t question things and just go along with everything?  Have I given up on my history of anarchy and rebellion to take a menial office job with a mega-corporation that is slowly destroying my will to live?

Well, no.  I’d say not exactly, but really what I mean is “no, not at all in the slightest.”  For a person to make such a statement as “punk rocker turned Republican” leads me to believe that this person knows 1) very little about me as a person, and 2) absolutely nothing about punk rock.  Punk rock is not about being a Democrat or a radical anarchist or communist or listening to Crass and believing that governments and McDonalds are all out to exploit you and ruin your life.  Punk rock is not about telling people they’re horrible people for supporting the military or not supporting your cockamamie theories about the Illuminati running the world from their secret lair somewhere in Switzerland.

Just so there is no confusion in the future, I’ll go ahead and set the record straight as to what punk rock actually is: it’s about YOU.  Punk rock is that amazing feeling you get when you discover something that speaks directly to you and gives you some purpose or goal or inspiration.  Did a Propaghandi song make you want to get a job with a locally-owned business rather than a neo-colonial monster corporation?  That’s punk rock.  Did a Marvin Gaye song make you want to fight for civil rights? That’s punk rock.  Did Stonewall inspire you to crusade for LGBT equality? That’s punk rock.

Punk rock is about finding those things in the world that you can embrace and pursue in order to improve your life and the world as a whole for others.  Notice, however, that YOU come first.  This may seem like a wholly selfish statement, but it really is.  Punk rock is about YOU, remember?  And for the last 38 months, punk rock has also been about my son.  Punk rock has inspired me to work towards a better world for my son, and that work has a number of different forms.  I’m a firm believer in the Constitution (all of it, not bits and pieces like some of ya), I believe in national security (and by extension the security of the world), civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, animal rights (lol), environmental protection and so on.

At the same time, though, punk rock has made me a pure pragmatist, for which I offer no apologies.  I work for a big, multi-national banking corporation.  I’m sure Johnny Rotten is spinning in his grave at the very thought of that.*  My job allows me to do a number of things: it keeps my boy in school, fed, clothed and insured; it keeps a roof over my head; it keeps me interested; and it allows me to have some level of involvement in protecting people.  If you’re not at all sure what I do, I’m happy to sit down and discuss it with you some time, but this is neither the time nor the place.

I support those who chose different lifestyles like xStraightEdgex or veganism or train hopping or this or whatever.  Punk rock taught me that I can support your freedoms, even if I don’t want anything to do with them.  I’m not xStraightEdgex and I never will be.  Want to be a vegan because you think animals are people and deserve to live? Whatever, I don’t care.  I might find that ridiculous because on the basest level chickens are stupid and deserve to be eaten and minks are jerks that deserve to be skinned.

And you can all disagree with me on any or all aspects of anything I believe.  THAT is punk rock, THAT is about YOU.  YOU have to make those decisions about what YOU want to believe in and support and live for.  I’ve made my choices and I sleep soundly at night knowing my punk rock card is still punched and I’m still getting into the show.  I’ve accumulated enough punk points and I’m cashing them in for the future that I want now.

So now tell me, what do YOU think punk rock is?  Maybe it’s just this, and nothing more.  I hope not.

 

 

*Note: He’s not dead? Well then, consider it a metaphorical grave of his relevance.

Good Guns….Bad Guns….

Most ­­­of you know, by now, that I don’t like to clog up this blog with too much political banter or opinion.  I’m no political scientist who can offer relatively-educated insight into such matters.  And I’m certainly no historian who can offer historical context and precedence to the issues.

Except of course that I’m both.  Completely.

Today a friend of mine asked me what the whole deal is with gun owners and their defensive stance against gun regulation.  In order to avoid confusion, let me include his exact quote:

“So why do gun dudes get crazy about banning guns that are meant for battle fields?”

This, of course, sprung forth from a question raised at the Presidential debate last night.  The question last night was phrased so as to elicit a response as to what either candidate would do to limit access to what the questioner referred to as “assault weapons.”  In order to attempt to address this issue, I’m going to break it into a few smaller issues and hope that I can answer my friend’s question.

First, let me address exactly what an “assault weapon” is:

1) It is redundant, in that any weapon is, by definition, designed for assault.  Examples of “assault weapons” include, but are not limited to: high-powered rifles, shoulder launched missiles, nuclear submarines, slingshots and hurled rocks.

2) It is a political construct.  An “assault weapon,” as is likely referred to by this question, is probably actually a rifle, we’ll say an AR-15 variant (for reference only).  This rifle uses a 30 round, detachable magazine, which means it holds 30 bullets and can kill people. Meanwhile, a Remington 700 hunting rifle holds six bullets and can kill people.  But only one of these is considered an assault rifle/weapon.  (note: the AR does not stand for Assault Rifle, as some would have you believe.  It is a reference to the gun’s original manufacturer, ARmalite.)

However, for me at least, the issue of attempting to ban assault weapons doesn’t boil down to high-capacity magazines or full-automatic machine guns or anything like that.  I prefer to look at this as a purely constitutional issue.  The Second Amendment protects out right to keep and bear arms.  The bit about a “well-regulated militia being necessary” does not imply that only such militias have the right to possess firearms.  To limit this Constitutional right based on one group’s definition of a certain type of firearm is tantamount to protecting one’s right to be Catholic, but banning them from reading the Old Testament (it’s all war and sex and that’s bad for society).

Many people consider the First Amendment to protect the most sacred of our rights: freedom of speech.  The amendment is trotted out every time someone tries to ban a book or protest rally or “hate speech” or pornography (I know it when I see it) or anything that might offend a segment of the population.  Fine, I’m good with that.  My query is: how is defending the First Amendment so much more vital and accepted than defending the Second?  Do you defend the First but only insomuch as it doesn’t protect books like Catcher in the Rye or the Turner Diaries, both of which have been cited as inspiring acts of violence?  Defenders can say that books are only books and it is up to the reader to make the horrible next step towards violence.

But therein lies the problem.  Is that not a double standard?  You defend a book or writing as just a thing that is open to interpretation and not necessarily a tool of violence.  While at the same time declaring that the only reason a person might want an “assault weapon” is to carry out a massacre somewhere. I’m not a religious person, but I’m sure I own a Bible somewhere, and I assure you it is not preparing me to wage war against Egypt or kill the first born sons of Israel.  I also own a rifle, but I assure you it is not preparing me to shoot at anybody.

I will say, though, that I don’t necessarily think everyone should own tons of guns and buy guns just for the sake of buying them.  I also don’t think the KKK should run their mouths about why they hate everybody.  But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have the right to do so.

I own two guns currently which I use on a semi-regular basis for competition shooting.  I go out every so often and put holes in cardboard cut outs and knock over steel plates.  I’ve never hunted a living thing in my life, and I don’t really have any intention of starting.  It’s just not my thing.  If a bad guy attacks me or my family or my friends or even a complete stranger though, I hope I have the awareness and strength to use my weapon in their defense.  And I won’t hesitate to do so.

Let’s also keep in mind that a number of gun controls and regulations already exist in a number of states.  California has some of the strictest controls on firearms of any state in the Union, including bans on high-capacity magazines and the requirement for what is called a “bullet button” on rifles.  Yet in 2010, California had nearly 50% MORE homicides by firearm than Texas (1,257 vs. 805).  Arizona, with some of the loosest gun laws in the U.S. recorded 232 firearm deaths in 2010.  Per 100,000 population, Washington, DC had the highest firearm murder rate in the country…in a city where private ownership of firearms was legislatively outlawed until recently.  As of Oct. 2, Chicago (insanely strict gun laws) has recorded 400 murders this year.  After the 2008 Heller v. D.C. case (which loosened gun ownership laws in D.C.) the firearm crime rate in the city fell two-and-a-half times faster than the national average.  I know, I know, correlation does not equal causation.

Before turning this piece into an insane research paper fifty pages long, let me just close with this little bit: gun control and regulation just plain aren’t popular.  Gallup polls over the past decade have shown support for stricter laws fall from around 80% in the mid-90s to less than 50% in the late 2000’s.  It is the hottest of political hot button issues.  That said, strict regulations and “assault weapon” bans have absolutely zero possibility of being passed in a split legislature and very few members of Congress would risk their political futures to push the issue with much aplomb.

So really, the entire argument is moot.  But I went there anyway.  Hope this helps, Spike.

We Didn’t Invent the (Gay) Chicken Sandwich

I’ve always hated when people preface anything they say with phrases like “I’m not racist but…” or “I don’t support them but….”  Typically anything following such statements is going to prove that the speaker is, in fact, racist or in support of or whatever they claim they are not.  However, I’ve become comfortable with the fact that in some cases this type of fore-warning is not only acceptable but necessary.  Unfortunately this is one of those times.  Those of you who know me or have read any of my previous writings on related subjects know that I am a supporter of marriage equality for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.  So I preface this posting by saying: I am not opposed to gay marriage. I am not opposed to anyone’s right to oppose those who are opposed to gay marriage.

Whew, good to have that out of the way. Now, on to the actual point.

Chick-Fil-A sells chicken.  And lemonade and brownies and waffle fries and milkshakes.  These are the things for which people turn to Chick-Fil-A.  If you have been going to a fast food restaurant for moral guidance, political convictions or any other type of guidance other than “get fat,” you’re misunderstanding the fundamental reason fast food restaurants have to exist. Nobody goes to Burger King for advice on how to live their lives, am I right? Do you?

My issue arises from the overwhelming public response to the stance that Chick-Fil-A’s CEO took recently, in speaking for the values on which the company was built and operates.  First, let us keep in mind that his/their stance is opposition to gay marriage.  There was no talk of turning away anybody from their services or from benefiting from the services provided by the myriad other, non-anti-gay charities to which the company contributes millions of dollars annually.  I fully understand why people hate this.  I understand why some people will never eat at Chick-Fil-A again.  All I hope that people understand is that if you start to boycott every company that takes any kind of stance against any issue that you support, you’re going to run out of options really quickly.

Second, while there is no doubt (and it’s no secret) that Chick-Fil-A has contributed to established anti-gay groups, remember that they also donate millions of dollars every year to other charities.  I won’t even begin to defend their questionable contributions, and bring this up only to make a simple point: lots of companies give lots of money to lots of charities.  Are you going to boycott every single one of them because they may give a tiny pittance to a group you don’t support? Likewise, would you boycott because they cease support to a cause you DO support?  Remember when Target decided the Salvation Army could no longer have their Christmas-time bell ringers outside Target stores?  If you’re a Salvation Army supporter, did you stop shopping at Target? Did you boo-hoo their obvious hatred for charity? Or did you do a little research and find out that they give roughly $2 million a week to other charities?

Oh hey, TARGET! That’s right, their CEO made some contributions to an anti-gay political candidate! Uproar? Hullabulloo? Ruckus? Not so much. So what makes Chick-Fil-A so different.  Sure, the money.  They contributed quite a bit larger amount that Target’s CEO, but that’s a ridiculous point.  You can’t argue in opposition based on the AMOUNT of the contribution, only on the principle of the contribution itself.

While we’re on the subject of principles, let’s talk about Wal-Mart for a second.  Why? Wal-Mart is known for its evil. But keep in mind that they’re also the single largest contributor to charities in the United States.  In 2010 Wal-Mart donated almost $320 million to various charities.  Guess what they were doing at the same time: firing gay employees and getting away with it. Uproar? Hullabulloo? Ruckus? Meh, not so much.

Can I get a little hipster on your faces for a second? Thanks. Urban Outfitters isn’t into supporting gay rights, and not just because folks failed to see the obvious irony in selling Robert Mapplethorpe t-shirts.  Folks have been able to put aside this little issue because, you know UO is cool and they probably didn’t really mean it.  I mean, it’s not like they do this stuff all the time. Except that they do.

As a matter of fact, lots of companies make lots of donations to lots of groups and individuals who either do not support or actively oppose gay rights.  Let’s face it folks, this is a hot-button issue and there’s really no way to please everybody.  Just ask JCPenney.  They took a pretty admirable stance in support of gay rights, and conservative groups attacked them.  And their attackers have no problem telling us all why they’re right and JCPenney is wrong.  (note: I hate that a Google metric somewhere just notched up some ad revenue because of the fact that I visited that horrible NOM blog.)

Finally, let’s discuss Boston.  Thomas Menino, the Mayor of Boston wrote a delightful letter to Chick-Fil-A today laying out the reasons why Boston does not want anti-gay boogeyman chicken salesmen in their city.  Naturally, Bostonians are not the easiest people to speak for, and it didn’t take long for some to voice their opposition to the Mayor’s stance.  The Boston Globe posted an editorial today in an attempt to remind the Mayor that he is not in any position to overrule the First Amendment rights of Chick-Fil-A’s CEO.

My questions for Mayor Menino are these:

  1. Who are you to speak on behalf of Bostonians who may agree with Chick-Fil-A? (I assure you, there are some.)
  2. When will you be issuing cease-and-desist letters to ALL companies and business with view in opposition to yours?
  3. Unless your city’s unemployment rate has suddenly hit zero (it hasn’t), why would you take an active stance against a company that may want to come in and give people jobs?

Pro-gay or anti-gay, these are constitutional and just plain economic issues.

In conclusion, I’m not anti-gay anything.  At all.  I hope that after all of this you’ve kept that in mind.  A friend mentioned online today that political discourse in our generation has been reduced to “liking” memes and idiotic Facebook posts.  Remember that I’ve tried to contribute some serious points to this discussion when your own knee-jerk reaction is to call me an insensitive ass.

Feel free to post intelligent comments below.

Prospectin’

Just in case anyone is actually interested in what I’m doing, here’s a public link to check out my Thesis Prospectus.  I welcome any feedback from anyone who dares to read the darn thing.  Happy hunting, folks!

Barry’s Prospectus

 

Kony Island

I understand why people want to embrace this whole KONY 2012 issue, but let me throw in my two cents.  Kony has been active in Uganda and surrounding countries for about a decade, so why is he suddenly the cause du-jour­?  Why does Invisible Children want you to donate $25 in exchange for a t-shirt, bracelet, posters and other assorted junk?  If you’ve got $25 that you really want to donate to a cause in Africa that is already making a difference, check these out:

http://www.nothingbutnets.net/

http://www.child-soldier.org/

http://www.oxfam.org/

https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/

http://www.redcross.org/

http://www.unicef.org/

http://www.un.org/children/conflict/english/index.html

http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.6150481/k.C0C1/Uganda.htm?gclid=CNDgg-fD1q4CFXRrtgodnT5Mbg

 

There is a lot going on in Africa that folks are not aware of, but they should be.  So when you’re done learning about Kony (you’ve all looked him up and read all the history and documentation, right? You didn’t just watch the video…right?) look up some of these people and groups.  Then decide how you can best contribute to making Africa a better place.

Boko Haram

Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta

Al-Shabaab

Laurent Nkunda

Why Can’t We Be Friends?

In the past, I’ve sort of been a bit of a Facebook hermit.  I don’t approve a lot of friend requests and I haven’t been known to request many people.  My thinking had always been that I like having a relatively small, core group of folks who I could share all this with and who’s lives I wanted to be part of in some way.  I never quite understood how some people could have 3000 “friends” and yet still maintain any semblance of contact with even a tiny fraction of them all.  I was absolutely flabbergasted when I hit 200 friends, figuring that was about my limit, there couldn’t possibly be anyone else who I’d want to interact with.

Well, as it turns out that’s not a great strategy.  What I’ve decided only recently is that I’ve got great friends and I don’t know what the hell I’d do without them all.  Unfortunately it took some serious tragedy that affected all of us to make me realize that there are WAY more people out there who I want to know.  There are people who I may have met only briefly, friends of friends, complete strangers who I hear interesting things about, whoever.  The only way I can ever hope to know any of them is to straight up ask.

So for those of you who I’ve added as friends recently, even if you don’t really know me, I’m determined to get to know you.  I’m not saying I want to be best friends, I’m not saying we need to hang out three times a week until we’re absolutely sick of one another, I’m not saying we need to swap stories about every mundane thing that has ever happened to us (lots of mundane things happen to me, not great stories).  I just want to make sure I don’t miss out on meeting someone who may be fully awesome just because Facebook is weirdly anti-social (considering the socialism of it all).

New friends: get to know me. Ask me ridiculous questions. Troll hard through my random pictures of the kid. Stalk me a little bit.  I promise not to be offended.  And if you insist on inviting me out for a drink, keep in mind I like scotch and cold beer.  I’m not picky.

But please, just don’t ask me to play Farmville with you.