Author: laytonaho

An avid gamer, reader and writer.

Ebola and You

I am again obligated to go on a semi-rant about hysteria caused by the media: Ebola will not destroy the US. We are not going to have a pandemic with chaos and death in the streets.

Here are the facts: Ebola is a deadly virus, with a high mortality rate. Ebola has an incubation period two days to three weeks, but the average is around eight to ten days. After that period the patient becomes visibly ill. Not the “oh I have the sniffles ill” more like “I’m delusional with fever, sweating, joint, muscle and abdominal pain with a splitting headache and a bad rash and could soon possibly die” kind of ill.

The kind of ill where you just lay in bed and hope beyond hope that it will be over soon kind of ill. Not the go for a jaunty stroll down the street kind of ill.

Most people who freak out about this disease panic because of the first fact, that it is deadly. They confuse the fact that it is “viral” and relate it with the most common virus they know: influenza. The biggest difference is influenza does transmit easily. Ebola does not.

Stop comparing the two.

Ebola is not transmitted by people who are in the incubation period, only by those who are visibly afflicted by the crippling symptoms of the virus.

Here’s how you CAN’T contract the Ebola virus: being near someone with Ebola, seeing someone with a cough on the street corner or the subway, hearing the word Ebola mentioned 10,000 times on social media.

If you make a habit of pressing open, bleeding wounds together with your buddies or letting strangers vomit/spit in your face or letting them get bodily secretions into open wounds or if you like to cozy up to visibly ill people for a wet tonguey kiss then you could contract Ebola. But if you do all that I don’t want to be around you anyways, deadly virus or not.

The biggest difference between Liberia/West Africa and the United States when it comes to the Ebola virus is basic medical awareness from common citizens and robust medical facilities staffed with caregivers who know what they’re doing with proper quarantine protocols.

The other big difference is Americans know and believe Ebola is real. Many people in West Africa think it is a myth, so they go about trying to cure the illness with folk remedies and continue unsanitary death rites like cleaning dead bodies and embalming them without adequate protection to prevent accidental exposure.

Bottom line: quit flipping out like a bunch of ignorant apes because some media pundit wants more ratings so they can sell more ad space to make more money. Just stop.

The Ice Bucket Challenge

Around the beginning of August my Facebook feed began showing numerous videos of friends and family doing the “Ice Bucket Challenge”. I figured it was only a matter of time before someone in that mix of friends and family decided they would challenge me. Given that I had yet to be challenged I considered what I would do when the inevitable came around.

On August 18th I was challenged twice, once by my dad and the other by my cousin (and her roommate by proxy since they did it together).

So here’s what decided to do, and it’s what I feel I do best: write.

First off, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that bit by bit reduces the motor function of those afflicted. As the disease runs it’s debilitating course, which can last years, the sufferer loses all motor control, relying on the aid of others for tasks which are often taken for granted, such as eating, walking, even standing. Nothing is ever simple with ALS.

Stephen Hawking is probably the most famous person afflicted with ALS, apart from Lou Gehrig. Hawking has been living with ALS since 1963, when he was given two years to live at the age of 21. His 72nd birthday was in January 2014. For a closer look at the disease, and many life lessons at that, look no further than the Mitch Albom book Tuesdays With Morrie. The titular Morrrie is dying of ALS throughout the course of the book.

Now, onto this, the latest of social media fads.

This whirlwind of videos about the “Ice Bucket Challenge” began long before the summer as a way for professional golfers to raise money for their favorite charities. Most of the time it was them just trying to one-up each other, more about the goofiness and showmanship.

It gained traction in the US when Greg Norman issued the challenge to “Today” host Matt Lauer who accepted and donated his money to the Hospice of Palm Beach County.

Around the same time another golfer challenged his cousin whose husband has suffered from ALS for 11 years. She donated to ALS. From there it spread to a baseball player who himself has lost the ability to walk from ALS. From there #StrikeOutALS was born and the ALS Association became the de facto charity for this #IceBucketChallenge.

A month later is where I come in.

Philanthropy is defined as “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed often by the generous donation of money to good causes”

Philanthropy comes in two forms. Those who donate time and money and champion causes they believe in out of a desire to help others.

The others who donate money so they can have some building or fund named after them. It’s still benefiting the greater good and helping people but has a narcissistic “Look at me, I care!” attached to it.

This “Ice Bucket Challenge” nonsense is the latter.

Everyone posting these videos is doing what they’ve been doing on Facebook and other social platforms for the past decade: going with whatever the current trend is.

Remember planking? This is pretty much the same thing. #TBT? Same thing. Those giraffe pictures that were a plague a few months ago? How about the “Truth is…” Or “I like it…” or “That moment…” All of them are fads. This Ice Bucket Challenge is nothing different.

The options for the Ice Bucker Challenge are “Dowse yourself in ice water or donate $100 to the ALS Association.”

Why is the “donate $100 to the ALS Association” the negative here? From seeing the videos all over Facebook it appears most Americans would rather just dump a bucket of water on themselves instead of donating money to good cause. It’s gotten to the point where I just ignore most of them that show up in my feed.

That leads me to my next point. Are you aware that the ALS Association spends only 27% of its budget on research into ALS? Another 19% go into “Patient and Community Services.” 46% of the money donated goes to research and patient care. An additional 32% goes to what is listed as Education, which could be good but I don’t have enough information to make that determination. The rest is spent on Fundraising and Administration. That amounts to almost 25% of all funding just for administrative efforts. That number should be much lower.

In 2011 the former CEO of this nonprofit took in a tidy $281,250 between salary and benefits.

But the point of all this isn’t to rant against the ALS Association or even the Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s just a preface to my response to being issued the challenge, so here’s my response:

For the past seven years I have donated to research I care about and helped communities I live in and then some. I have never had the desire to trumpet “Look at me, I care about this! I gave money to this cause!” all over social media while I do it. I ran in charity 10K for foster children a few months ago and my mom asked me to let her know next time I did something like that so they could contribute. The idea hadn’t even occurred to me.

This is the first time I have ever posted about it online in the seven years I’ve been doing so. The only reason I am doing so now is because I have been dared to donate money to a cause. That’s what this amounts to, a dare. “I dare you to do this good thing.” What a novel, and insipid, idea.

I will continue to contribute long after this craze has ended. Because that’s all this is. Some craze that everyone seems to have jumped on board with because they love the attention and trying to be quirky in how they drench themselves so they can avoid donating money. Like donating money to a foundation for a disease without a cure that affects some 30,000 Americans was the worst thing they could do.

People shouldn’t need to be guilt tripped and shamed on social media to “promote the cause”. I have seen “Doesn’t count! $100 dollars! Hahaha!” Like it was embarrassing. I’ve seen people react with “Hey thanks asshole!” because donating money is such a despicable thing to do.

Here’s my call out: I’ve been contributing for years. Have you? No need to answer. Just a call for self reflection.

So if you’re still reading this then consider yourself challenged. Challenged to question why you’re even doing this ice bucket challenge. After that, if you’re still set on doing it and agree with the cause or the means, then by all means, go ahead and dowse yourself. Or better yet, just donate the damn money to a charity you care about instead of plastering videos all over social media.

An Addendum:

I realize people are having fun with this. That’s good. I also realize it has generated a ton of money for the ALS Association. That’s better.

I am aware that many people who have done this challenge also donate plenty of time and resources to other causes, without the narcissistic streak. I am also aware that many people both take their lumps and donate.

I am not trying to detract from these points. This is just my take on the Ice Bucket Challenge and I am sure I have pissed a few people off. You do what you want.

Facebook Messenger And You

Everyone losing their mind over the supposed privacy invasion from the Facebook Messenger app for iPhone and Android has been driving me a bit crazy. The articles you’re reading and sharing are nothing but hysteric fear mongering to drive up page views and here’s why:

Every messaging app requests similar permissions – able to use SMS, camera, pictures, contact info, know when calls come etc for one reason: so it can work. You can’t send photos through the app without the app being able to access your camera or photos. Nor could you make voice calls through it without access to the microphone etc. You can’t call contacts without the app being able to know what their phone number is.

The reason these articles say “without permission” is that the app will ask the first time you try to do something (this is for iPhone, Android just accepts permission for all features in one approval) for permission to use that feature. Then it will not ask again. The “without permission” part comes in so they don’t have to ask you every single time you try to send a friend a picture of your cat through the Messenger app.

So if this “insanity” is too much for you then go ahead and uninstall almost every app on your phone since they all have permissions like this. You had better believe your beloved Snapchat can see your contacts and photos without your permission. Even games can see your call log, so they can pause the game when calls come in.

Bottom line: This is the Internet. People lie on the Internet. People will post anything for ad revenue. Do some research before losing your mind and screaming bloody murder in the streets.

One last note. If you’re upset that Facebook is splitting off the Messenger into its own app. Too bad. You don’t pay a dime for Facebook so you can’t say what they can and can’t do. Deal with it.

Ever Curious

Anyone who has spent any decent amount of time around me is aware of my habit of looking everything up. American society is obsessed with being as anti-social as possible in public thanks to the advent of smart phones. Most of these people are perusing their Facebook newsfeed, checking Pinterest or reading the latest whatever it is they publish on “news sites” like BuzzFeed. Probably some vague list of “uncommon” things people do.

I happen to be the person on a smart phone that probably has Google or wikipedia open. I could be reading about who wrote the script for some movie, or what song writer wrote a particular country song or who did what when and how they did it and probably the name of their dog too.

I look up everything.

This came up today because a few days ago I sent a picture of  tattoo  (taken from Pinterest, of course) to a friend of mine to  illustrate a certain style I liked. Now, I didn’t actually go to Pinterest, it came up in Google when looking for watercolor negative space tattoos. I never looked more into where it came from. I just thought it was neat. End of story.

Enso

Now today I pulled up YouTube to listen to the Knife Party remix of Swedish House Mafia’s Save The World. Scrolling down through the comments (not a good idea on YouTube, most days) I noticed that someone’s user photo was a near identical version of that circle in red.

Now I was curious. No way was that a coincidence.

Out comes the Google-fu. I tried searching for “painted circle logo” but that didn’t come up with much. Instead I went back to the source and punched in “painted circle tattoo” and sure enough dozens of photos of the same brushed circle came up. The fourth image was that circle with ENSO written in the middle and the article was titled Circle of Zen – Explaining the Ensō. I didn’t pay much attention to either of these, with “circle of zen” having caught my attention already.

ENSO

Instead of following the image (I never tend to do that, not sure why that is) next came up Googling “circle of zen” to see what I could find. I was not disappointed as the first entry was Wikipedia’s entry for Ensō. A quick  perusal of the article reveals the ensō originates from Zen Buddhism and it is a hand-drawn circle, in one or two brushstrokes, to

“express a moment when the mind is free to  let the body create”.

And “the ensō symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and mu (the void). It is characterised by a minimalism born of Japanese aesthetics”.

That’s something new I didn’t know.

In hindsight had I followed the original tattoo, from Russell Van Schaick Tattoos, I would have seen he marked the tumblr/instagram photo with #zen #zencircle and #ensotattoo. But oh well.

All of this stemmed off of a random picture from YouTube. Ever curious.

Six Years: Six Birthdays

I celebrated celebrated my birthday a week and a half ago. Thanks to some greats cousins and their friends here in Texas it was the complete opposite of what I expected.

I’ve had my share of disappointing birthdays.

Six birthdays passed while in the Navy. Some of them were great, some of them were good and some of them were terrible. Here are my Navy birthdays:

2008: I left boot camp on February 15th and went straight to Corry Station in Pensacola, FL. Since it was a training command what we were allowed to do was still limited until we went through all of our initial training and completed each of three liberty phases.

Phase 1 was the most restrictive: unable to wear civilian clothes, unable to leave the base and in your barracks room by 9:45 PM (11:45 on the weekends). Phase 2 you were allowed to wear civilian clothes and leave the base, but the curfew remained in effect. Phase 3 allowed for weekend liberty: after duty for the day (ie class) was completed you could leave base and not have to return until Sunday night, so long as we stayed within 300 miles of the base.

My birthday fell square in the middle of phase 1, a week after I arrived at Corry. I didn’t know anyone and wasn’t allowed to go anywhere, I couldn’t even wear what I wanted that day. Easily the worst birthday I’ve ever had.

2009: This is the birthday I do not remember. Looking at my Facebook eleven people wished me happy birthday. Granted Facebook wasn’t as ubiquitous in 2009. I was in Hawaii and still living in the barracks. If I were to hazard a guess I can assume I played video games and maybe went out to eat at Chili’s. That’s only a guess.

2010: The 21st birthday. No, I did not do anything crazy. My friends and I went to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Waikiki and I had one drink. Something tropical, they gave me the cup. That cup is still kicking around somewhere. It was just an overall good birthday with good friends.

2011: My last birthday in Hawaii. I may have lied about 2009 being the only one I can’t recall because I don’t remember this one either. I was in my townhouse but I don’t know if we did anything or not. The beginning of 2011 was hectic for me between large family vacation, major car problems and prep for my surgery in April. Best guess would again be video games and food.

2012: First birthday away from Hawaii and first with family in 4 years. I drove up to Maryland from Virginia Beach to meet my friend Lisa and from there we headed north to New Hampshire. This birthday would be a mix of new and old: dinner at Chili’s with the family, Lisa and my newest (at the time, we had only talked a handful of times before) friend Tiffany. Traditional cheesecake, which for my family means nothing fancy instead made from a box mix. It was the best birthday I had had in a long time.

2013: I don’t exactly remember this birthday. I know who it was spent with (I assume actually) but since it was on a Saturday I can’t be too sure. The one thing I do remember is Troy claiming he would throw me a party and not following through with it. So where I actually was and what I was doing is sort of a mystery to me. If I did anything I know who it would have been with, so I guess that’s what counts.

2014: My most recent birthday (more of a birthday weekend) while not in the Navy was my first outside the Navy so I am including it anyways. I moved to Texas at the beginning of February and didn’t have most of my belongings and didn’t really know anyone. Thankfully two of my cousins, each of whom I hadn’t seen in years, about 20 years for one and about 14 years for the other, live a few exits down the highway from me. They made it their mission to have a great birthday weekend. They succeeded, with some advice and traditions relayed to them from my mom.

Those are my birthdays, the ones I can remember anyways. Funny how that goes sometimes. They’re just another day half the time. It all depends on who you have around.

Six Years: Boot Camp Stories

The first memory I have from boot camp is sitting in a hallway with dozens of other people. It’s probably close to two or three in the morning. We have been given our smurfs and our seabag full of miscellaneous items. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to make the shoulder straps connect, something I’m not sure I could do in seconds today, let alone half asleep in a hallway midst organizing mayhem, ears full of cursing. Someone fixed it for me, enough so that I could carry it. I am grateful to whomever that may have been, they saved me an ass chewing.

I am a few inches below average height for an American male, which meant that in my division I was among the shorter half. The shortest guy in my division was a full head shorter than myself. When marching in formation a division is put into what is called a height line: shortest in the front, tallest in the back. At the front of the formation are flag carriers, led by the guidon who carries the number of the division on his flag, in my case 082. Sorting by height means that the shortest in the division end up carrying the flags for the division. We were called “sticks.”

It wasn’t much of an honor being a stick as it meant more work when it came to drill since all eyes were on us. If we screwed it up it was obvious within seconds. The flags were significant for things we had accomplished as a division in boot camp: Scholastic, Athletic, Inspection flags, Drill. There are also the Battle E flag which designates divisions that scored above a set average and the best in a graduation group (usually seven or eight divisions) received the CNO flag.

082 was a disgrace of a division. It almost got to the point where we were all ASMOed due to not performing well as a team. As I said before, most of the people in my division we idiots. I think we had four flags total, which is nothing because every division has at a minimum two: the guidon and the division flag. I carried the Athletic flag for my division since I was the furthest right (that’s starboard in the Navy) when the division was in formation.

Carrying flags was brutal on your fingers. You can try it if you’d like: go find a dowel or something about and inch think and place it between your index finger and thumb while keeping all of your fingers straight. The muscles in your hand hurt after a while.

I also designed one side of my division’s flag. Most of the division had no aptitude for art and while they had good ideas I was the one who took them all together and translated it into something presentable. We created our flag one Saturday and it was later turned into t-shirts and sweatshirts the parents and family could buy during graduation. For the life of me I cannot remember what was on the other side, some sort of animal I think.

There isn’t a better picture of our division flag, unless there is one in among my boot camp “yearbook” which is 2000 miles away in a box in New Hampshire.

Football is the most beloved sport in the US (sorry baseball, you just don’t stack up anymore) and in the south it’s almost a religion and in Texas it’s everything. A guy in my division played high school football in Texas. He played at Katy High School, which is just a few miles from where I now live in the greater Houston area of Texas. It’s funny how things work out that way.

Many years later I realized that he played football on the same team as Andy Dalton and while we were in boot camp Dalton was named starting quarterback for Texas Christian University and would later go on to become the starting quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals.

There is more to say about boot camp and football but I will save that story for later.

I  only have one story I tell when it comes to boot camp being “brutal  and demeaning” to the recruits. There was a man in our division, who was, I think, in his later twenties to early thirties which is much older than most people who join the military. He had issues with following direction, but that was only one piece of his many problems.

RDCs tend to form pairs to become a “good cop, bad cop” routine. One of them will often be the mean one who beats the recruits. Not literally. Beating means the physical training part of boot camp. When they’re screaming at you to do push-ups, that’s beating.

The good RDC is there to make sure the recruits don’t feel alienated by their instructors, as that is counter-productive when you’re trying to train people. When the good RDC is administering the beating you know your division has screwed up above and beyond the status quo.

Our “mean” RDC was in a foul mood one night since he was standing quarterdeck watch for the ship, which is what the buildings the division’s compartments and classrooms were in. During a talk that evening this recruit, let’s call him Bob, had a case of gas. Bob thought it was hilarious.  Mean RDC did not. After warning him not to do again Bob proceeded to let her rip. Mistake.

Since our RDC was on quarterdeck duty he wasn’t allowed to stay in an individual compartment for long. He was meant to stand watch downstairs. So he took Bob downstairs to the quarterdeck for a one on one beating session. Our compartment was on the third floor. The elevators in the building are next to the quarterdeck, while the stairwells are on either end of the hallway several hundred feet away. Our compartment door was also near the elevators.

Once he was done with a round of beating our RDC made Bob race him back to the compartment. Bob had to take the stairs. Our RDC took the elevator at his leisure. The first time Bob didn’t make it in time so back down to the quarterdeck for another round they went. The second time Bob beat him by seconds, crawling into the compartment on his hands and knees, wheezing for breath.

Bob didn’t last much longer in the division. He wasn’t just ASMOed. A week before live fire he was processed out of the Navy for mental instability.

There are three major academic tests you take during boot camp. They are rote memorization for multiple choice tests. I aced them, I think my final record was 98, 100, and 100. For the last two I was told I would be given additional phone calls home. That never happened.

Because my personal scores for inspections, academics and PT were stellar I was in competition among the graduation group to be promoted coming out of boot camp. My contract already stated I would come out as an E-2 but meritorious advancement would have made that E-3.

After Battle Stations was over my Chief took me into the RDC office to show me some paperwork. In the competition for meritorious advancement I came in second. She wanted to tell me herself because she felt it was her fault I didn’t come in first.

The one inspection I received a sat on (the one they refused to let me stand due to my wisdom teeth) is what kept me from having the highest individual score.

During boot camp you learn to operate on little sleep. Lights out is at 10:00 PM and on a typical day you wake up at 5:30 AM if not earlier. That doesn’t account for having watches in the night, which last for two hours or waking up when it’s your scheduled time to use the irons. Yes, you iron your clothes in the dead of night. There’s no other time for it.

Unless you’re like my division and just sign your name saying you ironed when you didn’t. I estimate half the division did that, and we all got beat for it. I told you my division sucked.

Also after Battle Stations I have eye witness accounts of the following: showering, changing clothes, getting into the proper height line to go downstairs for breakfast, eating breakfast and then returning to the compartment. The problem with this is I have zero memory of any of that since I was asleep the entire time. That’s how automatic boot camp becomes.

Boot camp is easy if you follow three rules.

  1. Do not think for yourself.
  2. Do what you’re told, when you’re told.
  3. Do not half-ass anything.

If you follow those you can make it through boot camp in your sleep.

I did. Literally.

A New Look At Valentine’s Day

I have never been one to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I did as a kid in grade school, exchanging Valentines with classmates, but as I grew up I my desire dwindled. As my cynicism grew along came a dislike for such a “fake” holiday, one driven my Hallmark and florists alike.

It is a fake holiday.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be special. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a day to celebrate a loved one, an enduring relationship or send someone an unexpected gift.

No you don’t need a holiday to celebrate love. You don’t need to block out a day to go out for a fancy dinner, to spend money on gifts and flowers or create an extravagant display of your affection. You don’t need a holiday to tell someone how much they mean to you.

You don’t need a holiday to say “I love you.”

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a holiday to celebrate love. Yes, Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday driven by huge expectations and the one emotion that motivates everyone. But what holiday isn’t commercial in today’s society? Holiday decorations appear on shelves months before hand. Billions of dollars are spent in preparation for a single day.

Instead of saying “Valentine’s is stupid” why not just go with it? I’m not saying you have to embrace it. I’m not saying you even have to celebrate it. Just don’t ruin it for anyone else.

The one thing most people want out of life is to be happy. If celebrating Valentine’s makes someone happy, who are you to ruin that for them? I’ve said it before: don’t be the asshole in someone else’s story. Nobody likes those characters. Most of them could do with a good punch in the nose.

Don’t feel like you have to do something for Valentine’s Day because “it’s expected of you.” If it’s expected of you because the calendar says so then you should take a serious look at whatever relationship you’re trying to cultivate. I’m not saying you shouldn’t celebrate because it’s there, but you shouldn’t just because it’s on a calendar. Celebrating Valentine’s Day as a couple should just that, a decision made as a couple. Communication is key in anything. If you don’t talk about what you expect of Valentine’s Day then don’t be surprised by what you may or may not receive.

Another note about expectations. Valentine’s Day is not a woman’s holiday. It is a celebration of love. If you, as a woman, are expecting your man, or any man for that matter, to go the extra mile for you then you had better be prepared to reciprocate in kind. It’s not about “It’s Valentine’s Day so he had better get me something special.” That’s not love. That’s being self centered.

Whether you celebrate it or not is up to you. How you celebrate is up to you. My sister and her husband don’t buy gifts for Valentine’s Day. Instead they donate to causes in each other’s name.

Personally I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day that often. It depends on the circumstances.

Tiffany Roses

That doesn’t stop me from taking advantage of it to celebrate someone either.
(Or from buying discount Sweet Tart Hearts)