May 10, 2013
In the last few months I have seen several stories that demonstrate the resolve of the human spirit, in the face of tragedy and evil. When the unexpected happens many chose to think of how to best shape the situation according to their immediate needs. There are also those among us that decide to put others before themselves. The first example everyone is familiar with is the immediate reaction to the horrific events of the Boston Marathon bombing.
This past April, two brothers from a Chechen family swore to lash out at American society through the use of IEDs. Tamerlan, the elder, brainwashed his college-aged brother Dzohokar to commit an act of terrorism at what he perceived as the evil of western society. As they set their bombs and waited for the runners, they could never have foreseen the result of their crime. As the explosions ripped through the crowd and wounded dozens of bystanders, several brave souls responded almost immediately. In the attached video the testimony from Jarrod Clowery, a survivor of the attack best summarizes the publics reaction. http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2013/04/30/bts-clowery-boston-bombing-rescue-efforts.whdh
I remember immediately after this terrible event a friend posted a meme about Mr. Rogers on Facebook. The quote was “When something terrible happens always look for the helpers, they are always there”. This fact was highly reassuring. As I watched the footage play on CNN and other stations, there were individuals that risked their lives in the face of other potential bombs. This reinforces my belief that despite our personal differences and needs as individuals, people will band together. No matter what the circumstances.
March 9, 2013
Today I downloaded a new bestseller on my kindle about the Second World War. A Higher Call by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander is an incredible true story of the fraternal bond of warriors across the battle lines. Part of it reads as a war memoir as well as a tale of mutual humanity. In the first few chapters the reader learns about The lives of then 2nd Lt. Charles Brown of West Virginia and Oberleutnant (Senior Lieutenant) Franz Stigler of Bavaria, and how they were forever changed one December day in 1943.
In the course of the story Charles “Charlie” Brown struggles to bring his bomber back from his first mission over the skies of Germany. On his crews attempt to destroy the German war production complex in Bremen, their plane was hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire on their approach. Almost immediately, as they dropped out of formation, they were set upon by 15 enemy fighters. With his tail gunner dead, four wounded and two engines dying, Brown had no choice but to dive below cloud cover.
When he struggled for altitude, he noticed an ME 109 next to his cockpit. The enemy plane had a large kill Talley on its tail, signifying an ace pilot. The veteran enemy ace was Franz Stigler, part of a dwindling number of German pilots from the start of the war. As Brown’s plane flew over the treetops it caught the attention of Stigler, who signaled his crew chief to ready his plane. As he climbed in pursuit he thought of personal glory as he was a few points shy of earning the Knights Cross, Germany’s wartime Medal Of Honor. He also thought of revenge for the death of his brother and fellow pilot August, killed earlier in the war as well as taking down one of the bombers responsible for targeting his home country. As Stigler closed in and peered over his gun sights he noticed the rear gunner of the enemy plane was dead.
Staying his hand from the trigger, he flew beside the American plane. He could see the fuselage peeled away by Flak guns, the machine guns were knocked out and the crew tending to their wounded crew mates stared at his plane in sheer terror. Upon reaching the cockpit, Lt. Brown saw his plane whose eyes were also wide in shock and disbelief. Stigler matched his planes speed and weighed of his options. His need for vengeance and honor would be satisfied upon destroying the bomber. Yet, he also thought of his families ancestry as he was descended from an old knighthood, holding honor above other virtues. He also aspired to become a Catholic priest before the war. The thought of treason entered his mind as a German servicemen who spared the life of an enemy would face execution. He finally remembered his old mentor, Ace pilot Gustav Roedel, telling the then inexperienced Stigler in 1939 that to shoot a defenseless pilot would be murder.
After deciding to spare his enemy, Stigler escorted Brown’s plane. He acted as a shield so his comrades manning Flak guns wouldn’t shoot. When the bomber reached the north sea, he saluted and dove out of sight. The respective pilots kept their silence. Stigler out of fear of being informed upon and executed by the Gestapo. Brown was told by his Wing Commander to stay silent for fear of spreading positive propaganda about the enemy.
After decades the two found one another via an ad for a military aviators gathering. The two met in florida in 1990 and began a friendship that lasted until 2008, when they died months apart from each other. In their respective obituaries they referred to each other as their brother.
This book is an amazing example of wartime endurance and the triumph of the human spirit. It certainly should share book space with Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. Enjoy it, you certainly will.
March 6, 2013
This past weekend I had time to sit down and see End of Watch, a recently released Police thriller/documentary about Officers that work for the LAPD. Despite it being a Hollywood attempt to glamorize police work through action movies there is also a fair degree of realism in this film.
Unlike Street Kings or Training Day, Director David Ayer decides to do away with the crooked detective motif. Instead the viewer is put in the drivers seat of the average patrolman. We meet Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena). Mike, a family man with a newborn daughter, and Brian, A former Marine looking to settle down. The footage is almost entirely shot from go-pro cameras mounted on the dashboard to Brian’s hand held camera. The actors performing the roles have a distinctly fraternal on screen partnership that is both well nuanced and realistic. Together they give an insight into the average day of a police officer ranging from responding to a domestic violence case, saving two children from a burning building, and discovering a house full of illegal immigrants run by a drug cartel. Despite the sub-plot of the two officers being put on a drug hit, the rest of the film is as realistic as it gets.
End Of Watch is an interesting movie that provides insight to the challenges and life that lawmen lead. The hand held approach to the filming leaves it both edgy and spur of the moment.
March 5, 2013
A friend of mine once said that all martial arts are similar and can be placed into several categories. Some like Akido are needed purely for self-defense and exist to redirect an opponents attacks. Muay Thai, Jui-Jitsu, Karate and Shaolin Kung-Fu are designed to go on the attack utilizing fluid, acrobatic movements. There is a special type of martial art called the hybrid or mixed martial arts. This category is reflective of real-world fight scenarios and are part of most law enforcement and military organizations across the world. One of the more famous examples is Krav Maga, the standard combative technique for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).
In the 1930′s the Jewish quarter of Bratislava, in modern day Slovakia was consistently under attack by Right-Wing gangs conducting pogroms. A boxing and wrestling teacher named Imi Lichtenfeld came before his synagogue and offered to train the neighborhoods young men into a self-defense league. Utilizing the human body’s natural reaction to fighting and creating a series of quick counterattacks. The young men were able to fight back against street thugs and kept their community safe. Until the rise of Hitler and the German conquest of Europe. Upon fleeing his home country, Lichtenfeld vowed to take his art with him to the British Mandate of Palestine, in what is now modern day Israel.
As a combat instructor Lichtenfeld’s art was valued by members of the Hagganah, the Jewish underground, and later the IDF. The success of the program caught on with several European police and military agencies and even America’s FBI and CIA began to train their personnel in it. To this day Krav Maga has become a worldwide phenomenon, offering the best self-defense system. The ease of learning this art is measured by the ability to protect oneself in a dangerous situation, ranging from an unarmed opponent to a brawl and even and armed mugging. Please view the attached video to see it in action.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ignz0VLLwA
March 4, 2013
Advanced methods of waging war seem to progress with the advancement of technology. When modern rockets were first pioneered in the 1920′s by Professor Goddard, they were designed to measure altitude, climate and physics. This initial curiosity lead to the golden age of space exploration by America and the Soviet Union in the 1960′s. The Space Race was, however, preceded by military scientists using this technology as a weapon. Notably by Werner Von Braun and the German military during World War Two as they launched the first tactical Cruise and Ballistic missiles against London and other cities in England. The advancements of robotics seem to be following the same path.
The most famous of drones is the RQ-1 Predator, a former surveillance drone that is now used as a Rocket-firing weapons platform against Taliban forces in Afghanistan. While effective as a military weapon it has also invited controversy. Doubts range from how a pilot remotely controlling such a machine cannot utilize their experience and instincts, to being unable to make judgment calls in the field. There is a fear now that drones will no longer need a military serviceman to operate them. The new X-47B will include a new A.I. system that will allow it to make independent decisions free of a command structure. While this new innovation will supposedly cut down on pilot error and other issues regarding performance, there is a small danger of the system becoming compromised by hackers or of the drone itself becoming a self-aware weapon. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21576376
March 4, 2013
Finally some good news about humanity’s war with HIV/AIDS. Doctors in Mississippi report that an infant born with the disease has been ‘cured’ after drug treatments, 30 hours after birth. For the first time in our history we wont have to deal with a generation that has AIDS. There wont be anymore candlelight vigils, no benefit concerts, no more families standing by waiting to hear grim news from a doctor. This could be our turning point in our struggle. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/03/baby-hiv-cured/
March 1, 2013
About four years ago I made a life changing decision. It was the summer of 2009, my graduation year. The idea of committing to a national service program was born from a distinct need to push myself past my limits and to explore a bit of America. After a long search through several programs I came across AmeriCorps NCCC. It was perfect. A 10 month long service term for 18-24 year old young people, the opportunity to serve in diverse settings across the U.S. and, best of all, making a direct impact for my fellow Americans.
After getting a call from Washington D.C. that July from AmeriCorps offices, I set out to Vicksburg, Mississippi. I was amazed at how the landscape changed from the Carolina foothills to the swamps of the Deep South. I arrived after three days on the road, often driving 12 straight hours to get through the wilderness. Arriving in town was an experience in itself. The downtown area looked like it hadn’t changed since the 1860′s. I sat by a blues cafe on the waterfront, watching barges laden with goods make their way up the Mississippi river. I took a tour of the National military park just off the interstate where General Grant made his march east towards Virginia. The most amazing sight was the Al-Saints school, the headquarters of AmeriCorps NCCC’s Southern Region Campus.
On each campus one may find an amazing cross section of people from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. What struck me, as the greatest factor in the organization’s success, is how well so many different people can operate together in the most adverse conditions.
During my service, I learned a great deal from living with nine other strangers. All of us recognized that we were different and came to accept each other’s quirks and personality traits. We ended the year with, for lack of a better word, a second family. During work and off-hours we learned individual integrity, team effort, flexibility and reliance on each other in whatever environment we were positioned. Our work took us from rebuilding homes on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, to building trails in West Virginia and culminated in assisting flood victims in Nashville, Tennessee. Even to this day I would enjoy having that experience again.
December 11, 2012
Every generation endures its most shocking moments. At the age of 14, I witnessed one September morning two 747s crash into the World Trade Center. As my class sat riveted to the television in my second period history class, the memory of my mother telling me of President Kennedy’s Assassination came to mind. I felt shock back then, and fear, constricting fear. It was a reminder that the world was not especially safe nor was it full of innocence as I let myself believe. This past weekend I took some time to understand what my grandparents must have felt one December morning over seventy years ago, when the entire world was at war.
At that point in history beginning in the 1930’s, Japan had ambitions to rule Asia and subjugate its people. In 1931, Emperor Hirohito’s army invaded and assumed control of Manchuria in order to exploit its coal and iron rich mountains. From there, the coastal areas of China were overtaken, culminating in the infamous Rape of Nanking in 1937. Over 300,000 civilians were massacred by Imperial troops, prompting a great outcry by the League of Nations. Despite promises to initiate trade embargoes with Japan, the League was ultimately powerless to halt Tokyo’s territorial expansion. On the other side of the world, Germany and Italy prepared for war as well.
1933 saw the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. His vision was of a world where his Reich would rule a vast stretch of territory from the English Channel to the Pacific coast. He instructed his previously defeated nation to embrace his dream of conquest as a means to avenge itself of the First World War. In order to do this, Hitler silenced all opposition and initiated a campaign of terror for Germany’s ethnic and religious minorities, especially targeting its sizable Jewish population. Many of these millions of innocents would be relocated to secret camps that would enforce slave labor, to assist in the buildup of Germany’s war machine. With Germany effectively a police state, Hitler had his security services later develop a horrific program called “The Final Solution”. This action would murder over 10 million human beings from many nations and creeds during the war’s progression. In 1939 the German military (Wehrmacht), while operating alongside the Soviet Army, invaded and subjugated Poland.
With its Eastern front secure, the German Army then turned its attention to the West. Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands, Belgium, and France fell before the Wehrmacht Panzer divisions and endless columns of troops. Nothing seemed to stop the German conquest of Europe. By June of 1940, England stood alone. For three long months, the British Royal Air force fought the German Luftwaffe for control of the skies over London and other major cities. Bolstered by the courage of their pilots and the profound words of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the people of Great Britain vowed to fight to the bitter end. It was at this time that they and other besieged nations began to receive aid from the United States.
Respecting the American people’s wish to avoid the horrors of war, President Roosevelt met with Churchill to discuss mutual aid. That year, the U.S. Navy and Merchant Marine under orders from Washington D.C., began supply operations to the British, bogged down in heavy fighting with the German and Italian Armies in North Africa, and the Chinese, who were engaged in a guerrilla war with the Japanese. President Roosevelt also agreed to sign a strategic war materials embargo in the face of Japan’s continued war in China as well as its invasion of French Indochina. Viewing restrictions on oil, steel, and other necessary materials as an affront to their ambitions, Tokyo’s war ministry drew up plans to attack the American Pacific fleet. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, a national hero and military genius, urged his Emperor and the Japanese high command that attacking the United States would “awaken a sleeping giant” and would lead to Japan’s immediate triumph or ruin. Ignoring this appeal, Prime Minister Hideki Tojo demanded action in order to secure the empire.
In late November 1941, a combined carrier battle fleet sailed from Japan to the island of Oahu. By the time they arrived it was a Sunday morning, The 350 pilots readied themselves below decks, fastening hachimaki headbands with the words “Certain Victory!” to themselves. With a shout of Tenno Haika Banzai! or “Ten Thousand Years” they boarded their planes for their bombing missions.
As the sun rose, the fleet was at rest. Even as mounting tensions between Washington and Tokyo escalated, no one expected an attack. Religious services were about to be held, fleet bands played “The Star Spangled Banner” on decks, the University of Hawaii was set to play a football match with Willamette College, and military personnel everywhere readied themselves for duty after shore leave. This was the environment before observers reported planes with red circles on their wings.
Mitsuo Fuchida, the attack commander, deployed a flare over the area signaling the attack. A wave of torpedo bombers let loose their payload on the U.S.S. California, Maryland, Arizona and five other battleships, dive bombers proceeded to destroy airfields, oil tanks and other targets. The entire island was in chaos. Entire crews became trapped in the sinking ships. Survivors frantically swam to shore. Air defense teams manned their weapons. Sailors and Marines saved their friends from burning oil slicks. Moments of bravery became common.
Dorie Miller, an African-American ship’s cook, manned a machine gun with two white compatriots. They, along with other weapons teams, saved the lives of hundreds of sailors struggling ashore from strafing attacks. Ensign Francis C. Flaherty sacrificed his life saving a turret crew from the sinking Oklahoma. Warrant Officer Thomas Reeves handed ammunition from a burning passageway on the California to a gun crew, later dying of asphyxiation. Machinist Mate Robert Scott stayed behind and manned an air compressor unit for his battle station as his station became flooded. Before he drowned he was quoted by surviving shipmates as saying “This is my station and I will stay and give them air as long as the guns are going.”
When the raid was over, The U.S. Pacific Fleet was crippled. Over 2,400 Americans lost their lives, half of whom died when the Arizona exploded. As news of the attack spread, the American public flew into a panic. Air raid shelters were constructed, windows were blacked out overnight, gas masks and supplies were bought in bulk, and children were evacuated to the countryside by their parents. The following day when President Roosevelt addressed congress, a miracle happened.
In a tone of determined realism, The President declared Dec. 7th a “Date that would live in Infamy”. While many lives were lost, the attack reminded us of who were and not to give up. Our unbounded determination as a people would see us through. With this speech, America literally responded as one.
City boys from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles became sailors, manning guns and stoking boilers in our fleets. Ranch hands from Colorado and Texas became crews for the Flying Fortresses. African American and White men worked side by side in munitions factories from Mobile, Alabama to Philadelphia. The sons of autoworkers became tank crews. Mothers, Sisters, Wives and Daughters went to work in factories. High school students everywhere enlisted as Paratroopers, Marines, and fighter pilots. They all accepted the challenge.
The Second World War generation is named the “Greatest Generation”. I think this is not because of their deeds or moral standing. They were great because they overcame their challenge, they ensured that millions of people had the right to live without fear, to survive, and realize a life of dignity. It’s all right to be afraid when challenged by tragedy. You must fight for what you believe in, no matter what the odds.
September 6, 2012
Sparkplug Game’s New App, Plight of The Zombie, puts the player in the shoes of Craig, an innocent couch potato turned zombie on his quest to satisfy his hunger . A humorous take on the traditional zombie horror sub-genre, the game depicts the familiar monsters as innocent creatures in search of food. An amusing intro sets the stage with subsequent levels revolving around Craig’s consumption of brains for points and conversion of humans into fellow ghouls.
Played via the users fingertip as a guide, the game is about stealth action. Most of the human characters carry weapons and have a line of sight. That said, it’s extremely important to run into humans in order to make friends/victims. After increasingly challenging obstacles, the player is forced to overrun human barricades with the collected “converts”. When all of the humans change into zombies, the player wins the level.
As an easy strategy game, Plight of the Zombie certainly delivers. The game play is challenging yet not overly hard, the mechanics are user friendly and has replay value. It’s currently available on the App Store for $2.99. Happy Feasting!