The Sydney Siege & Self-Protection

Police Hostage Situation Developing In SydneyNOTE: I originally wrote this up over on Facebook, but a good friend of mine, Jim Cobb, requested that I turn it into a blog post. So here it is.

My newsfeed is filled with a staggering amount of ignorance today in the wake of the Sydney siege. We live in a dangerous world; there are no places that are immune to violence and bad things can happen *anywhere.* Your life is first and foremost YOUR responsibility. To that end, you should – at the very least – have a basic understanding of the following items.

1. Environment: when you enter a new location, take note of entrances and exits. How many avenues of escape do you see if it became suddenly necessary to flee? If you’re in a restaurant, the kitchen likely has a door in the back. Does your office have a freight elevator? Stairs? Are you sitting with your back to a wall so you can observe a wider field of view in your area? Run down a mental checklist in your head; it’s not hard and it doesn’t take that long.

2. Firearms: a lot of people don’t like guns. That’s fine, but you should still have a working knowledge of various types. In the Sydney incident, for example, the gunman reportedly had a shotgun. If you were in that situation, you could ask yourself several questions: what type of load does it potentially have? Slugs or shot? (the difference between a “spray” effect or not) Does he have to pump every time to shoot? If so, there’s a better chance of escape before he can chamber a fresh round and fire again. (compare that to a situation involving a full-auto AK47 where he could spray off a full clip of devastation before needing to swap magazines).

3. Hostage Rescue Tactics: if you find yourself in a situation, you should understand the basics of hostage rescue. This way, you’ll have an idea of what is going on on the outside and that knowledge could well keep your morale up. Ordinarily, this will break down as follows: the assault team arrives and immediately sets up an immediate action plan (this is the plan for what happens if everything goes to shit immediately and the gunman starts killing people; they have to storm the location and do the best with what little info they have). Sniper teams will set up to relay intelligence to the assaulters. Negotiators will be trying to establish first contact and then develop rapport with the offender. All intelligence gathered will be relayed to the assault teams and they will develop and refine the plan for going in. One assault team is usually ready to deploy immediately while another rests. Negotiators will attempt to get the offender to release a few people as a token of good faith, usually in exchange for a small demand from the bad guy. This isn’t always the case, nor will the negotiators promise things they can’t deliver since that jeopardizes any rapport built up. As the hours drag on, both sides will grow weary. In a confined space like an airplane, it will smell like hell. This is a dangerous time, especially at night, so you need to be extremely vigilant. In the event the situation deteriorates and the decision is made to send the assault team in, they will lead with flash/bangs that will shock and disorient you. Lay down as the team comes in – get your head down. Once they have neutralized the threat, you will be roughly manhandled out of the immediate area. This is not the time to be offended at how you are being handled. The team’s concern is twofold: get you out of the danger, and also make sure you are not another threat. Don’t give them a hard time and pretend you’re important – you ain’t. This is a brutally short thumbnail of tactics, research for more comprehensive stuff.

4. Your Priorities: If you’re alone and can escape safely, you need to know what you are willing to risk. Some people simply can’t bring themselves to try to escape. Others jump at the chance. Be honest about what you are prepared to do. If you have children with you, how will you get them out of harm’s way? What will your exit route be? Can you put obstacles between you and the gunman? Can you hide? Are you prepared to fight and potentially kill someone? All of these are hard questions that you need to ask yourself. Are you armed? Have you trained under extreme duress conditions? In low light? Amid screams and confusion? If you haven’t, then don’t make the matter worse by pulling a gun. The team coming through that door has no clue if you’re a good guy or a bad guy. They will see a gun and label you immediately as a threat. And those guys HAVE trained to shoot under the worst possible conditions. In other words, don’t think you’ll go Hollywood if the shit hits the fan. Be smart. Otherwise your ego could make a bad situation catastrophically worse.

5. Practice Being Gray: in the event you become a hostage, don’t try to stand out. Don’t make eye contact – even if you’re the biggest baddest SOB on the planet. In fact, if you stare at the bad guy or if you make him feel intimidated, he may simply use you as an example of his intention even more readily. You want to blend into the background as much as possible and reduce the likelihood that you’ll be noticed. Don’t try to friend the attacker. Instead, keep your wits about you. Practice simple breathing exercises to keep calm. Don’t ask for anything. If the bad guy lets you go to the bathroom, or eat, or drink – take advantage of it, but don’t press the issue. Don’t ask the bad guy questions about why he’s doing this or if he has family. Make a note of anything you can potentially relay to the authorities in the event you’re able to escape. They will interrogate you about what you saw: how many bad guys? weapons? explosives? what is his mental state? what languages are they speaking? etc. etc. All of this will be fed to the intel teams that are developing a picture of the bad guys, which then is fed to the assaulters. The longer the duration of time you are held hostage, the more likely it is that some of your fellow hostages will begin exhibiting signs of Stockholm Syndrome, which is a tendency to start sympathizing with the bad guy. Be aware of this. And make a note of who among the hostages may be aligning themselves with the hostage taker.

At the end of the day, this isn’t paranoia; it’s self-protection. The world is a dangerous place and you have choices: you can be active and embrace life, knowledgable about a wide variety of topics that could help lengthen your lifespan. Or you can live lazily among the sheep, given to hysteria and panic when things go bad.

Eyes up, head on a swivel. Stay alive.

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How Manipulation Works

By Jon F. Merz

Let me preface this post by saying I am an Independent when it comes to politics. I have some things that I am conservative about (mostly national security issues) and yet I am also very socially liberal. As far as I’m concerned most, if not all, politicians are two sides of the same coin. I think serving in Congress should be like jury duty rather than an opportunity to stay in Washington and skim the system for the rest of your life. And there’s hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle.

Okay, so this is an election year, which means the manipulation machines of both parties are hard at work. It also provides a great opportunity to point out how they manipulate facts in order to sow confusion and spread misinformation to the general public. We’re going to take a look at one such example right now.

Last night over on my Facebook page, I posed a question directly at those female friends of mine who happen to tilt to the Right or consider themselves Republican. I wrote, “How do you reconcile your support of Republican agendas when every single one of them just voted against the equal pay for women bill? Are you truly interested in being seen as equal to men or is that not important to you? If what we hear from the Right is to be believed, then this election is all about the economy – and yet, they just voted NOT to give equal pay to you; they just voted NOT to improve YOUR economy. Does that make sense?”

Specifically, I wanted to hear from Republican women. I didn’t get any responses. But then late last night (I went to bed early before he posted) another friend of mine, Scott Brody posted this reply to another one of my friends who had called out legislators in this way: “So my question is, should female legislators be paid less than male legislators? Perhaps THAT would make them see the light.”

Scott’s response was this: “Laurie, your question about legislators needs to be posed to Nancy Pelosi who pays the women on her staff less than the men for the same jobs.” Scott also had some other comments about both sides of the aisle that aren’t germane to this post. But his initial line there intrigued me. And being Independent, I consider it mandatory that I try to figure out if there’s any truth to such a claim.

I googled the following search string: “nancy pelosi staff salaries” and a bunch of hits came up. The first was for a website called Legistorm and then every other hit on the first page was for a Right-Wing blowhole website from the likes of Michelle Malkin, The Washington Beacon, and others. I clicked Malkin’s website first and saw her assertion (well, not HER assertion, but some dude named Doug Powers) that Pelosi’s staffers make less than their male counterparts. The blog post would seem to be backed up by a quote box that linked to another Right-Wing blowhole that said – nearly word-for-word, mind you – the exact same charge that Malkin did. (Side note: this is a favored tactic of the right: hand out a script and then repeat the exact same wording over and over – none of their proxies stray from the script, they just keep hammering it home – and eventually people will believe it – whatever it is. Democrats, by comparison, often suffer because they can’t get everybody on the same page saying the same lines, so their message comes across as diluted and confusing.)

The Washington Beacon’s article linked back to Legistorm, so that’s where I went. But first, look at the “script” – this is the talking point that the Right wants to use to combat the fact that every single Republican just voted against the Equal Pay Bill for women. Here’s how they are trying to avoid that by leveling the following charge:

“According to publicly available salary data at the website Legistorm, Pelosi’s female employees earned an average annual salary of $96,394 in fiscal year 2011. Male employees earned $123,000 on average, a difference of 27.6 percent. The gap is even larger if calculated using the median salaries for men and women. For Pelosi’s female employees, the median annual salary was $93,320 in 2011, compared to $130,455 for male employees—a difference of $37,135, or 40 percent. Pelosi’s entire staff—men and women—earned an average annual salary of $108,150 and a median salary of $114,662. By both measures, women made considerably less.

Those percentage points are the “whoppers” they want people talking about. Those percentage points would lead you to believe, “Holy crap, what a hypocrite Pelosi is.” And because the Right knows all too well that the vast majority of the people it speaks to will not go and research these claims, they can float something like this out there, see it get traction, and not have to worry about the fact that their claims are, well…full of crap.

So, let’s head over to Legistorm and see for ourselves. Legistorm is a website that tracks Congressional data and tries to be a non-partisan entity. And they have disclaimers on their website like the following: “Congressional staff salaries shown are the amount paid in the period shown. They are not annual salaries. Because bonuses may be included here and other payments may not be (most notably with aides working for multiple offices or for a political campaign committee), please use caution in extrapolating annual salaries from the figures shown here.”

Hmm, “please use caution in extrapolating annual salaries from the figures shown here…” Something to keep in mind as we progress. Going back to the “script,” the Right claims that for fiscal 2011, women on Pelosi’s staff earned a difference of 27.6% or 40% versus male counterparts depending on whether you want to look at averages or medians. Legistorm lists figures on a quarterly basis, which means in order to figure out the annual pay for staffers, you have to get the ol’ calculator out and do some basic accounting. Even for a math-phobe like me, this isn’t asking too much.

The bone of contention with regards to the Equal Pay Bill is that women are paid LESS than men for the same work. It’s important to remember that. Because what immediately stands out as you look at Pelosi’s staff is that very few people share the same job title. In fact, there are only two job titles that are identical and have more than one person working with that title. Those titles are: Staff Assistant and Co-Director of Communications. Every other staffer has a different job title. And those titles range as they should.

Why is this important? Because in the same way that no rational human being would expect someone working the fryolator at McDonald’s to earn as much as a neurosurgeon, no one should likewise expect that everyone in Pelosi’s office will be earning the same salary given the fact that they have DIFFERENT jobs with DIFFERENT responsibilities. But the “script” that the Right wants to use to manipulate you into thinking Pelosi is a hypocrite is deliberately set up in just that way.

Let’s get back to the folks who actually DO share a job title in the Pelosi office. At varying times in 2011, Pelosi had upwards of five Staff Assistants. Three of them were women and two were men. None of them worked all four quarters. Ally worked for just two, Katie for three, Patricio for two, Ricardo for three, and Ethan for just one.

Katie for her three quarters of work earned $24,301.42 while Ricardo for his three quarters of work earned $29,641.80. Ricardo was paid $5,340.38 more than Katie. Which is a difference of a shade over 22% for the same job.

GASP! Shocking! How dare Pelosi pay Ricardo 22% more for the same job that Katie has. What a hypocrite! ZOMG!

But wait…going back in time to the previous years, we see that the first time Katie shows up on the pay register is in fiscal 2011. But Ricardo worked in Pelosi’s office back in 2010. So Ricardo had more experience or previous experience than Katie did and was probably hired on at a slight pay difference for just that reason. As any rational human being would expect. More experience? More pay. That simple.

Let’s move on to the second job title that features more than one worker and that was for the Co-Director of Communications. Robyn and David both split this title and it’s not unreasonable to think their duties are probably about the same. So what about their pay for fiscal 2011?

Robyn earned $38,660.51 while David earned $40,005.21. That’s a difference of $1,344.70 or 3.48%. Now, both of them have been around since 2007 and both were put into their current position in February 2011. So, why did David earn an earth-shattering mind-blowing insanely-insulting extra $1,344.70 more than Robyn? Part of the reason is he worked a shade more overtime than Robyn did – to the tune of $133.41. But another part of the reason may be that David’s position was listed as being with the Office of the Speaker of the House up until January 2011 when Pelosi had to give up the Speaker role to John Boehnert. During that time, David was primarily working in the Speaker’s office and not in Pelosi’s congressional office, although he soon transitioned over once Pelosi lost the Speaker position. Robyn, on the other hand, was always employed in the actual Congressional office. Now, I don’t know for certain, but it seems there might be a shade more prestige and therefore money attached to working out of the Speaker’s office than there would in the normal Congressional office. But I’m not sure.

There’s definitely a discrepancy there, but the discrepancy is hardly what the Right wants you to believe. It’s not some insane amount of money. We’re talking about $1,344.70 or the equivalent to $25 bucks a week.

As to the Right’s use of percentages like 27.6% or 40% that’s just bullshit. They’re comparing apples and oranges and expecting you to be dumb enough to swallow the whole twisted mess. I don’t expect a Staff Assistant in Pelosi’s office to make the same amount of money as the District Administrator makes. And yet, that’s exactly what the Right wants you to think in this case.

And why does it work? Because in our fast-paced lives, it takes time to research this stuff and figure out where the truth is. Now, it may, in fact, be that there is some pay discrepancy there between David and Robyn – after all, $25 bucks is well, not much – and if so, then clearly Pelosi needs to rectify that on the next performance review-

-huh? Did you say “performance review?”

Why yes, I did, actually. And therein lies the variable that we unfortunately do not have access to. It’s entirely possible – especially since for the first two years of her employment Robyn earned MORE than David – that either Robyn had a not-so-good performance review or that David had a stellar performance review that gave him this extra $25 bucks per week. You know those pesky reviews…sometimes you get a decent one, sometimes not so much, and sometimes you get a great one. And you get a little extra pay for those great reviews. Merit increases, I think they’re called.

Food for thought.

The genius of the Right is that they come out with a script and then everyone repeats it verbatim. That script is then reposted on blogs that link to other Right Wing blogs that link to Right Wing newspapers and columnists. And the old adage of the more you see it, the more it must be true comes into play. Links on one article go to another website that repeats the same talking points over and over. And since most people are lazy at best and uneducated at worst, the script is seen and believed.

I don’t like Nancy Pelosi nor do I dislike her anymore than I do most politicians. But trying to generate silliness like this as a means of combating outrage over Republicans blocking the Equal Pay Bill is simply ridiculous. The percentages used might be right, but the jobs aren’t the same, and things like experience, overtime, and performance reviews weren’t taken into account.

At the end of the day, you can cook numbers and get pretty much any result you want. The Right knows this. They know they can twist things just so and give the appearance they are correct – and they know better still that the vast majority of people are too lazy to do basic fact-checking or too dumb to question it or too filled with hatred that they don’t even care if they’re being lied to. It happens on the Left as well. And there are just as many vehement nutjobs on the Left as there are on the Right.

So rather than swallow the scripts that the players read and post, make sure you do some homework and try to get the real truth. You owe to yourself to do so. The world already has enough sheep.

The Strategy of Chaos

A few quick questions to start this post:

If you were a big organization looking to maintain control, which would you prefer: a cohesive, well-run, well-integrated company, or a fragmented, mismanaged environment rife with ego-battling?

If you were a shadowy conspiracy type, do you think the powers that be would have an easier time controlling and manipulating the populace if they pitted multiple factions of the bitter, angry folks against each other or if the people were living in harmony with one another?

If you were a boxer, do you think it would be easier relying solely on a one-punch knockout, or would you rather use a series of combinations to set up your opponent for an eventual knockout shot?

In each of the above situations, the element of inducing chaos is one of the strategies that might be employed. Chaos, by its definition, is great disorder or confusion. And perhaps more than ever before, inducing chaos is a strategy being relied upon by anyone looking to control or manipulate something or someone.

The martial art of ninjutsu, which I’ve had the great fortune to study now for over twenty years, is a system of espionage and intelligence gathering as much as it is about actual physical fighting. In some respects, the importance of espionage and intelligence gathering is even more important, because if through objective observation one can determine the scenarios which might unfold, then a physical confrontation may never even be necessary. And it’s always nice to win a fight without having to fight.

The lessons within ninjutsu are both common sense and profound, but only if one sees the lessons being presented. Within the Bujinkan organization, the grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi, is the ultimate spymaster. He knows what makes every person who walks into his dojo tick. And he often gives them exactly what they’re looking for. Back when the rest of the world was just beginning to learn about ninjutsu, Hatsumi-sensei’s organization was a small, type-knit group of core practitioners. These men were his original circle of trusted students and friends. But when “The Ninja Boom” of the 1980s happened, Hatsumi-sensei was faced with a great task: how to manage an organization that exponentially exploded almost overnight? Was it best controlled through a series of stringent guidelines that produced a cohesive student body governed by an established hierarchy?

Maybe.

After all, there are rules for “participation in the Bujinkan,” that spell out what is expected of the practitioner, his or her ethics, morals, etc. (And there is some degree of hierarchy, but it’s frankly rather silly. Westerners with a tenth of the time training in the art are promoted to obscenely high ranks and then attach titles like “shihan” to their names in an effort to make themselves look better than they actually are.)

But Hatsumi-sensei uses a better technique for controlling his organization: chaos.

How does he do it? Pretty easily, actually. His understanding of human nature is so refined that he knows what a little bit of disinformation will do if placed in the appropriate ear. All it takes is a few insecure individuals puppy-dog eager to consider themselves as close confidants of the grandmaster and you have all the messengers you need. Hatsumi-sensei then plants a small seed of suspicion, or an opinion, or some other statement. Then he sits back and watches it work.

Perhaps he says something like, “Teacher X doesn’t visit me that much in Japan anymore.” It’s a pretty innocuous statement. But when placed into the ear of an insecure person, it becomes much more than that. That recipient then starts spreading this nugget around. “Well, I heard Hatsumi-sensei say that he’s concerned that Teacher X doesn’t visit him in Japan anymore.” And knowing how gossip grows and spreads, the rest is history. Before you know it, the internet is abuzz with people declaring that Teacher X is no longer part of the Bujinkan or some other equally silly notion.

Consider this: if Hatsumi-sensei knows he’s got someone nearby who happens to be among the most vocal of gossipers, he might just wait until they’re getting ready to leave the dojo. Hatsumi-sensei will then ask for their help “removing some of the highest ranks name plackets from the rank board.” The student dutifully does this for Hatsumi-sensei and then leaves, already texting that he saw Hatsumi remove Teacher Y’s name stick from the board. Of course, Hatsumi-sensei may just have been dusting the board, or he may have removed it at Teacher Y’s behest. Or he may have done it to further induce chaos into his organization.

Perhaps Hatsumi-sensei has a particularly annoying visitor always hanging around his office. This guy just doesn’t know how to take a hint that Hatsumi-sensei would like some alone time. So, rather than simply telling this guy to take off, Hatsumi-sensei uses it as yet another way to control his organization. So he shows this clown some of the scrolls from one of the schools we study from and says something like, “This is the only way this kata was done.” Now the clown goes around telling practitioners that Hatsumi-sensei told him the kata was only done this particular way. Further, this clown now states that anyone training with him should only be training with him because he alone knows the true correct way to practice the art. (Of course, you’d have to be pretty stupid and naive to actually believe this, since this is a combat art and there is no ONE way to properly apply this art in the midst of combat. You do what works and what gets you home safely – if you’re bitching about whether your rear hand is properly positioned to approximate the Gyokko-ryu, you’re probably already dead – and mercifully so.)

So now, the grandmaster of ninjutsu has an organization that functions exactly the way he wants it to. There are rival factions, massive egos belied by even more massive insecurity, and rampant silliness that produces a mockery not seen before in the martial arts world. The vast majority of students fall for this manipulation because they forget what the nature of the art is. And this is perhaps the biggest lesson of all: Hatsumi-sensei isn’t doing this maliciously, per se, (although he is most certainly interested in keeping things under control) but he’s offering students of ninjutsu a tremendous opportunity to learn how they might ensure they aren’t manipulated by others in this fashion. And how to include this technique in their own arsenal.

Of course, you’ve got to be able to see it and most of these people never will. Which is fine. And even though some of the people this article speaks of will read this, they will just as quickly shake their heads and discount it. Because if they acknowledge the theory that this might be true, then the foundation of lies they’ve built their shaky house of fantasy on comes toppling down and what they’re left with will be a truth too brutal to bear.

But what if you don’t practice ninjutsu? Does this concept hold true elsewhere?

Let’s look at the political world. We’re less than one week away from midterm elections and the airwaves are filled with more attack ads then ever before.

Ignore your own political leanings for a moment and consider this: when President Obama was swept into the presidency, there was a real groundswell of optimism brewing in a significant chunk of the population. Those who voted for him were enraptured, to some extent, by his promises of a brighter future, change, and prosperity. He had the charisma, the ideas, and the oratory skills to make his case for occupying the highest office in the land. And he won.

If you agree with the idea that the real power in this world isn’t held by politicians at all – but by various consortia, corporations, dynastic types, the ghost of Elvis, whatever – then can you imagine what they must have felt seeing that emerging sense of unity and optimism? I’d wager they saw a significant amount of their control slipping away. After all, a unified people are much harder to control, much harder to sway. So what to do?

The Tea Party.

Independents.

No longer do we have a political landscape dominated by two parties (some might argue this, but both parties have been endangered by the emergence of these new players). The Republicans and the Democrats now have other things to worry about from both a new third party wanna-be and disgruntled members of both parties going Independent. An undercurrent of fear – which the previous administration used so adeptly to finagle nefarious legislation through Congress – percolated until it was ready. Now we have a nation that is being subjected to the most divisive extremist thought being espoused by candidates in decades. We have long-time incumbents being accused of ethical violations. We have a voter body so exhausted by the continuous mud-slinging that many of them don’t know who to vote for, just so long as the advertisements and robo-calls stop. And nowhere in this election cycle do we have candidates actually fielding solid plans for making things better. Every one of them is engaged in countering attacks, redirecting attacks, ducking the mud, and just trying to not look as bad as the other guy long enough for Tuesday to get here.

And you know what? That hope and optimism that endangered the control of this country is now gone. It’s been replaced by fear and division.

Chaos.

Those in control know that the vast majority of people won’t take the time to actually get the truth about things. They know that a whispered snippet of suspicion, that a sound bite that hits a primal fear, or that just the right look of contempt, are all the majority have time for. “President Obama is a Muslim.” “Christine O’Donnell is a witch.” “Sarah Palin is an idiot.” “Nancy Pelosi cohabitates with a transvestite koala bear named Zippy Garlin.” So that’s exactly what they give us. They don’t want one party in command because that’s simply too dangerous. They want a divided union; one easier to sway and manipulate and bend to their own actual agendas.

For the boxer who relies on the single knockout, it can be a dangerous road to victory. He’s got to bob and weave and jab and position himself just so perfectly in order to unleash that one single juggernaut shot that will end the fight. While some have the skill to make it look easy, it’s anything but.

Most boxers work combinations. And for good reason. A series of shots to various parts of the body overloads the nervous system, inducing chaos within the opponent. As the opponent’s nervous system struggles to catalog and address all the impulses flooding it (registering the hit, the pain it causes, the physiological reaction to the shot, etc. etc.) the boxer sees other openings – other targets to attack. And the tidal wave crashes down on the opponent again and again until a knockout is achieved or the fight is stopped. The boxer divides the body of the opponent; he breaks up the harmony that his opponent has trained so hard to achieve; and he uses that to ultimately control the opponent with a KO.

The inducement of chaos is brilliant strategy for controlling and manipulating situations and it’s literally all around us. What makes it so hard to defend against is our own human nature.

In the case of the ninja grandmaster, he knows that people want to feel like he’s confiding in them, that they are “special” or that they need to be “protectors of the lineage.” The truth is the lineage doesn’t need them; it’s been around for a thousand years and will be long after they’re gone.

In the case of politics, those really in control understand that most people are easily swayed by that which requires the least effort on their part to understand. The truth is they don’t care how we vote, provided no one party/ideal/attitude has too much sway. A divided union is an easily controlled one.

In the case of the boxer, he knows that a string of hits is going to be harder to defend than a single KO shot. The truth is if he can overload his opponent, then the KO shot will come naturally.

Using chaos to control a situation, a body of people, or even a nation is a pretty fascinating concept and by studying it, it allows us to objectively understand how others might be trying to employ it on us. Then we can take steps to make sure we don’t fall prey to its incredible power.

Thanks for reading!

The Rebirth of BOSTON NOCTURNE!

You might recall a few months back I asked a lot of you what you’d think about an idea I had to develop what was basically a Jon F. Merz magazine – something much more than just a newsletter, with free fiction, reviews, non-fiction, and more in it. Based on your responses, I’ve decided to reformat my official newsletter BOSTON NOCTURNE and turn it into a newsletter/magazine very much along the prototype I asked you all about.

Tomorrow, issue 1 – the February 2010 edition – launches.

BOSTON NOCTURNE is free. Free fiction. Free reviews. Free opinion. Free practical safety tips. And free much more. Imagine an innovative experience unlike any other author newsletter and you get BOSTON NOCTURNE. It will be published monthly and delivered straight to your email, hassle-free.

The only way to get it: send me an email. That’s it. Quick, simple, easy, and best of all – free.

One more thing: if you’re already subscribed to my original newsletter from way, waaaaay back, you don’t need to resubscribe. I’ll import your email address from that list and get you going right away. But if your address has changed or if you haven’t gotten any recent updates, you’ll definitely want to send a new email to receive BOSTON NOCTURNE.

The Importance of Memorial Day

Here in Boston right now we’ve got an absolutely gorgeous day warming outside. Sun’s bright. There’s a nice dry heat with no humidity out there and it feels like an early summer. Without a cloud in the sky, it’s easy to imagine you’re in the midst of paradise. All over our country right now, people are excited about leaving work early, maybe cranking the grill and enjoying the unofficial start of summer.

And I’m right there with them. I love a nice long weekend. I love the idea of sleeping in and catching up with friends and family. Fifteen years ago, I got married on Memorial Day weekend and every year I get to be with my wife is time spent in no better fashion.

But I also love Memorial Day for what it is truly about: thanking those brave warriors who have laid down their lives in service of our country.

We’re not unique in observing a holiday like this; most countries have a day set aside to honor those who have paid the ultimate price. But far too often, the importance of Memorial Day is overshadowed by car sales, shopping, and early release from work. Too few remember who this holiday is really for. Too few understand the sacrifice. Too few know what it is like to walk in the boots of those who have braved far greater strife in seconds than most will ever encounter in an entire lifetime.

And too many mock the holiday itself with idle commentary and insipid attempts at humor. Usually this comes from cowards who don’t possess even a fraction of the courage it takes to serve or the intelligence to understand what it means to face death.

Whether you support the wars being waged right now is irrelevant. Whether you voted for Obama or McCain is irrelevant. Whatever party you belong to is irrelevant. What is most important about Memorial Day is understanding that without the sacrifice of so many brave men and women in uniform, we would not have the nation we have today. Memorial Day is a time to pause – no matter how momentary – and give thanks to those souls who have known the roar of explosions, the sound of gunfire, the pounding of heart and lungs, the urge to throw up, urinate and defecate simultaneously, the sting of sweat, and the smells of blood and too many far less pleasant things, and the rush of tunnel vision, shouting, screaming, crying, praying – who have kept going, kept advancing, kept fighting because that’s what they were: soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen – dedicated to a country they loved, duty-bound to defend and fight for her ideals, and honor-bound to protect those who served beside them.

When you enjoy the weekend, no matter how you choose to celebrate, take a little time away from the fun and festivities and remember those who have fallen, those who are no longer with us, those whose families feel the pain of their absence – and say thank you. The flags that wave in the breeze or stand in silent homage at cemeteries are there to remind us of the citizens who have answered the call, endured much, and fallen in distant lands and closer backyards. Without their sacrifice, our nation would be a far different land. With their sacrifice, we all enjoy more than most. And it’s a place we call home-flawed yes, but a wonder still-even for the cowards who may never understand the true significance of such a day.

In honor of those who have gone before, in remembrance of those who have braved the crucible of combat…Happy Memorial Day.