Thursday, November 10, 2016

What a Long Strange Trip

Well, it’s been two days and the world hasn’t melted like it did in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. So there may be some hope yet. But hey, at least we can look forward to Miley Cyrus and a few other of our wonderful celebs packing her bags and heading for Canada. At least it’s over with and we no longer have to be bombarded with political ads and mailings every 30 seconds or so, at least not until the mid-term elections come around. But at least we had quite the pay off in terms of a nail-biter on Tuesday.

I think this may have been the most intense and interesting election that I have watched in a long time, especially since I didn’t have an interest in either of the candidates. I ended up pulling an all-nighter awaiting the next turn of events throughout the night, and completely fascinated by the fact that, as the night went on, it became clear that not only did Trump get a lot more support than many had anticipated, but that he could actually pull out a win. I never would have thought it possible, but there it was and here he is, our President-elect Donald J. Trump. I must say I did take some bit of glee in the looks on the faces of most of the commentators, especially the MSNBC liberal troop after it was certain that there would be no glass ceilings shattered in 2016. I think that may have had some influence in how the results of this election turned out.

As I mentioned in previous blogs on this subject, I went into the voting booth with the firm intention of voting for the person I thought could carry out the position of President of the United States the best – Bernie Sanders. Now a lot of people will say that I wasted my vote, and that irks me more than anything else. The ability to elect our leaders is one of the greatest opportunities our form of democracy and freedom provides for us – I find it much more onerous that people continually fail to exercise that right – even if to hit that “Abstain” button that each voting booth contains. That sends more of a message than just sitting it out. But the point is that we are electing someone to essentially become the leader of the Free World. Just like any job, I feel it is my duty to make sure I choose the person I think is the most qualified for that job. Neither Hillary Clinton, nor Donald Trump met those qualifications in my mind. Choosing the “lesser of two evils” is just completely asinine. To me, neither were lesser nor greater evils. Neither one was fit to lead this country, let alone the world, so neither was going to get my vote. The true wasted vote is the one cast for either of these candidates.

At the end of the day, the elections that our Constitution calls for are to allow us to move our country and society forward; to grow and progress to a more positive future. The problem is that the positions that our government created were supposed to be performed in the service to that end and to be a public service. However, those positions have become a type of career that they were never meant to be. As such, our government has stagnated for the better part of a century or more. One of the primary objectives of the career politician that our system has allowed to arise is to ensure that the system is molded to be of the most benefit to those who are elected into those positions. It is no longer about progressing our society, but about advancing political ideologies and agendas. Because of this any vote cast for a candidate who is a member of a political party is the true wasted vote as it allows the stagnation to continue. Of course we don’t always have that much of a choice when since, as is no surprise, most viable candidates have to be a member of one of the current political parties. However, we have seen a trend that tries to break out of this mold, which started with the Tea Party, and continues with candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump that aren’t afraid to act of their own accord and not tote the usual party line. There will not be an ideal candidate for a long time to come until we can get more of the “revolutionaries” and individual thinkers into the lower offices and work on changing the system, but when someone does come along that has the potential to get genuine change done, then we need to support that candidate to the fullest.
Therefore, I voted for the person I thought could fulfill those objectives, even though he was not on the ballot. I would do so again, even if my one solitary vote could have been the difference in who ultimately won on Tuesday … err, Wednesday morning. Ultimately, it’s quite easy to understand why someone, including myself, could not in good conscious support Trump, even though he is one of those outsiders that I want to see running for political office. There were several reasons that reinforced why I would never vote for Hillary, her position as one of those career politicians notwithstanding.

I mentioned the issue with the e-mails in a previous blog, and that extends to the fact that she still thinks she did nothing wrong despite being goaded into admitting it was a “mistake.” It’s quite clear that she still things there was no wrongdoing in putting an entire government network at risk of security breaches. Beyond that was the hypocrisy she showed between her campaign message and the political ads released by her campaign. First was her infamous “deplorables” comment. I don’t care how fast she backtracked on that, it appeared to me at least, to be one of the first times where she looked genuine when speaking instead of putting on the typical false face of a politician. Despite that fact that she was toting a message of being “Stronger Together,” she had just insulted what turns out to be about 25% of the country. That comment told me that we are all stronger together – just as long as you think and believe the same way she and the rest of the Democratic Party does. If you don’t then there is no place for you. The other instance was the constant harping upon Trump’s past comments and attitude regarding women. Make no mistake, he’s an misogynistic moron for what he said and may (or may not) have done, but quite frankly, the acts of former President Bill Clinton were certainly not much better, and quite frankly worse, since at least one we know of occurred while he was in the Oval Office. That is more disgraceful to me than anything Trump has said. Personally speaking, I don’t know one woman who would have tolerated Bill’s “indiscretions” throughout the years, nor one man who would have not gotten kicked to the curb for the same. To me, that bespeaks a lot of her desire to maintain some form of political power than of setting an example of how a woman should be treated in a relationship.

Of course there’s that whole incident that came out during the DNC about some shady business of ensuring that Hillary would be the nominee instead of Bernie Sanders. That didn’t necessarily influence my support (or lack thereof) of Hillary, but most certainly reinforced my disdain for the system of political parties in this country. Ironically, had Bernie Sanders been the nominee I fully expect that the results of the election would have been much different. In fact, I think had either one of the candidates been someone else, we would have seen the election decided much earlier, and it is only because the choices we had could only have been worse had Sarah Palin been the Republican nominee, we saw what ultimately transpired this past Tuesday. I look forward to the time when I can cast my vote for a female candidate who is imminently qualified for the position of President, and that woman will be one where we don’t have to hear about asinine glass ceiling because that time is long past – this country has been ready for more than a decade for a woman president. We just need one that will actually do the job of servant of the people rather than servant of a political party and special interests.

But here we are. We’ll have a new President come the new year. Let’s hope that Mr. Trump can assuage whatever fears people may have of him and lead this country into the greatness that he claimed for the last year and half that he would do. I, for one, am interested to see how things play out. It could be that the campaigning was simply a shrewd political act to ensure he got the support he needed at the time he needed it. Only time will tell. Life goes on and nothing changes the fact that tomorrow I will have to wake up and go to work to try to earn enough of living to support my family and try to pay the myriad of bills that will arrive in the mail regardless of who is running this country.

In the meantime, I guess Canada better get to work building a wall. After all, I am sure they have no desire to be overrun by our slew of celebrities fleeing the country.

Monday, September 19, 2016

One Dollar At A Time

We’re past the halfway point now. At least in terms of something called #100DaysOfGaming. This event, or challenge if you will, was started back in 2014 by an Extra Life participant who goes by the handle of HeroByClicking (he is also our current Extra Life Stream Team Leader!). He did as a way to help promote what Extra Life does, as well as gear himself up for the annual marathon. The concept was that he would play one game for at least one hour for 100 consecutive days, ending on the day the marathon begins. Hero further challenged himself to play a different game for each of those days – no repeats. That may sound like a lot, but nowadays, with things like Steam and Origin (services that allow you to buy games directly from the Internet), it’s not as tough (or expensive) as it was even a decade ago to accumulate several hundred games in one’s library.

I am nowhere near that, however. I still cling to the old school ways of the brick and mortar way of shopping and purchasing. Naturally, things like my Massively Multi-player Online (MMO) games don’t usually have that option any more, but comparatively speaking, my 5-shelf bookcase is a rather modest collection of games over the last 30-odd years. Unfortunately, some of them are relegated to the dust collector category since the computers I can play them on have long since ceased to function. One of these days though, I keep telling myself, I’ll find the time to cobble parts together and get at least one of the ancient beasts moving again. For now, I will just have to satisfy myself with keeping a couple of the not so ancient PCs running (my old Windows 98 HP Pavilion for instance), and see what I can jury rig to run in a Virtual Machine (in essence, a digitized computer that runs on a real, physical computer). I also can’t forget about all those board games we have sitting on another shelf as well. Thanks to my little experiment on Day 52 (September 17th, 2016), I can stream some non-digital gaming goodness.

So, with this being Day 54 (and International Talk like a Pirate Day – Avast thee here, me hearties!), we have only 46 days left to go before this year’s 24 hour marathon – 25 if you include the hour we fall back on Sunday, November 6th this year. Just a month and a half left, and it will be here before we know it. This summer and the first 54 days have just seemed to fly by. My initial eight week stint with the official Extra Life Stream Team ended a few weeks ago, but fortunately, members have the option to keep actively streaming as long as there are time slots available, so I look forward to my weekly romps on the official Extra Life channel, chatting away with people and playing some games that I haven’t been able to get to for a long time. If anyone would like to join me, just watch the Extra Life Channel on Sundays from 9-11 PM Easten Time.

In my last two blog posts about Extra Life, I talked a little bit about my motivations for participating in the charity for the last four years. Because of that, and because of my determination to make sure Extra Life is as successful as it can be, I have challenged myself to become more involved, hence my participation on the Stream Team and inclusion in the 100 Days of Gaming challenge. To date, Extra Life has added over $22 million to the Children’s Miracle Network’s collection total over the last eight years. That may seem like a lot, but compared to the over $100 million spent on political advertising for this year’s election campaigns, and the $5 billion raised over all by CMN since it started in 1983, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Surely, if so many millions can be raised to fund what pretty much amounts to as asinine television commercials, then we can certainly do better for something like Extra Life that does some genuine good in this world and, at the end of the day, can help children from dying. Surely that’s worthy enough for a few more bucks to head our way.

That’s why I have decided to start the #1DollarAtATime initiative. I sort of hijacked the hashtag that has been around on Twitter for a while now, but it’s all for a good cause. Like I mentioned, CMN has raised over $5 billion to date, and most have that has been through simple $1 donations – either via the traditional CMN balloons, or through things like Dairy Queen’s Miracle Treat Day. Even Sam’s Club gets in on the action, as my local Club had their fundraising effort a couple weeks ago – selling candy bars and snacks for $1 a piece. In year’s past they have raised over $10,000 for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia that way. So even something as little as a single Dollar Bill can add up and go a long way.

I thought to myself, “What can we, at Extra Life, do to try to raise more money?”

The answer kind of presented itself as I was streaming a gameplay session for #100Days. At the end of the day, those of us Extra Lifers who stream or create YouTube videos for people to watch are doing it as an attempt at creating a piece of entertainment, not unlike a TV show or a movie. Others things have come to my mind, like giving away prizes for people donating certain amounts, or even original artwork made by Erin and Abby. But in the end, these things cost money and time, and that is something I have in short supply right now. Truth be told, I would rather use any extra money I have to donate right back to another Extra Life participant, which is what I have been doing as part of my #1DollarAtATime initiative. Perhaps next year, I can throw in some of that artwork for donations, but for this year, it will just have to be that one hour of entertainment I am trying to provide through my gaming videos.

So I am hoping, that with all my Extra Life videos thus far, and with the ones to come, people will find them at least mildly entertaining enough to be worth just a simple $1 donation. Heck, it’s cheaper than an hour at the movies at any rate, and certainly cheaper than a cup of Starbucks brew. If I can just get one person to pick one #100Days video to make that $1 donation, then I could potentially raise $100 for CHOP just through that. Of course, I plan on walking the walk and not just talking the talk. I have committed to donate $1 a day to each of my fellow Stream Team members, past and present, for the remainder of the Extra Life campaign. That should net Extra Life and CMN another $30-$35. Not too shabby, I think, and when I combine that with my $5 donations to my Judgement Gaming teammates (the team of other Extra Life participants I have joined up with) to bring that total to over $50. And then there’s the $15 donation I made when I signed up to be a Platinum Participant this year.

One Dollar may not seem like a lot on its own. But as we can see, it can all add up when people come together for a good cause. That’s why I participate, but it takes more than just us Extra Lifers to help these Hospitals get the funds they need. It takes people willing to give that money for that cause. That’s why I also donate. God forbid that either of my children will have to go through what many of these thousands of other kids have to go through on a daily basis. I am just glad I can do my small part here to help. I hope everyone else reading this will feel the same way.

It just takes $1 at a time to make a difference in a life.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen Years

“A date that will live in infamy.”

How appropriate that phrase seems for today. And how disheartening that it can be applied to far more than just that cold day in December 1941. No one living back then could have imagined anything more appalling than the attacks on Pearl Harbor, yet there have been far worse atrocities committed far too often since then. September 11th will most certainly be a day that will live in the hearts of every American  who is old enough to remember the events of that day back in 2001.

I made mention of 9/11 in my blog last September, but I think on this 15th anniversary, it is appropriate to put down my thoughts and memories of that day. It seems to me (again) that the 10th anniversary was just here and gone not so long ago, and I remember watching many a special about the attacks and the remembrances during the week leading up to the day. This time, however, nothing seems to be as prevalent this week. In fact, it seems I am hearing and seeing more about the murder of JonBenet Ramsey (the 20th anniversary of which is in December) than I am of 9/11. A co-worker of mine had asked what day the 11th was back in 2001, and it was easy for me to recall that it was a Tuesday.  It’s strange, though, that some of my memories of that day are much more vivid and clear than others, despite the impact that the events of the day had on all of us.

It was a morning like any other, and I was getting ready to head to work at Slocum’s Bowling Center that day. We had a Tuesday afternoon Senior Men’s league, which is how I remember that the day was a Tuesday – some of the Seniors wondered whether we should cancel the league for the day. I first heard about something going on in New York due to the news the radio. I was an avid listener of NJ 101.5 back then, and recall for a time that they also broadcast the morning show, with Jim Gerhardt on NJN – the local television station. I don’t recall whether it was through the TV broadcast or on the radio itself – I think it was the radio – but I remember them announcing that a plane had struck one of the towers in New York City. I do recall flipping on the local TV news to see more about what was going on. At the time, of course, I was thinking what the heck could have gone wrong for a plane to have flown into the side of the building. It just like another one of those bad, freak accidents. Then I saw the second plane fly into the side of the second tower.
I think it was then that everyone realized that something more than an accident was happening. Even then though, it was more of a puzzled fascination with the events and trying to figure out just what the hell was happening. I don’t remember thinking anything about terrorism or being attacked even at that time. It was just too strange to understand what was going on. But then talk about Hijackings are circling and then the President’s message about terrorist attacks is announced. It still didn’t seem real, and was more a numbing shock to feel than anything else.

But then, as I was getting ready to head out to my car, it was announced that the Pentagon had been attacked. It was then that I learned what a cold fear was. I can still feel the chill that filled my body when I heard that bit of news. It was then I realized what was happening was real, and if the Pentagon could be so easily attacked, then our very country was in dire danger at that moment. The rest of the day was spent riveted to the overhead screens in the bowling center, watching the tragedy unfold as first one, then the other tower collapsed. It simply was stunning, in an unreal, numbing way. It was a day that can’t, nor should, be forgotten.

One of the strange things that followed, on a personal level, was the strange instances I had of glancing at a clock and noticing the time was 9:11 for months afterward. It happened regularly enough for me to try and avoid looking at clocks around that time, but it seemed inevitable – regardless of what I was doing, it just seemed natural that I would just happened to look at the time, and it would be 9:11. Looking back at it now, 15 years later, it seems stranger still, in that as many times as I look at the time now and in recent memory, I can’t remember the last time I did it when the time was 9:11.

A lot has changed since then. The unity that we felt as Americans has seemed to have faded. We have had many more threats arise, and many more attacks occur on American soil, as well as around the world. The loss of life in these other incidents hasn’t been quite as significant as those attacks on the Trade Center, but they are no less tragic or dramatic. It is a particularly strange and disturbing habit that the human race has of trying to kill one another with such regularity. Conflict of one form or another seems to be the mainstay of humanity through all of its history.  It’s amazing to me that we have this knack of holding such hate for complete strangers one has never met, nor will likely ever meet, and who could have no possible affect over one’s life. I have to wonder when we’re going to smarten up and realize that it’s time to grow up and try to make the world a better place by doing it together. We are all unique, and it is that uniqueness that can make us truly a fantastic species. Hatred and death get us nowhere.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A New Extra Life

There have been quite a few things I could feel compelled to write about this time around: the aggravation of trying to find and watch Olympic events on TV that don’t comprise Swimming, Gymnastics, or Track and Field (and even some of the Field events) at a normal working stiff’s time of day.

Or perhaps another tirade about the idiocy of our current political situation in America, and the absolute frustration of never having a genuine choice in an election when one not a political party idiotic drone who would have no idea who to vote for if the name of the parties were left off the ballot and all those running would just be one long mixed list.

But I am hoping to remain on a positive note for the next couple of months in this blog, and talk more about something that I have been passionate about for the last few years. I wrote about Extra Life last October (check out the previous blogs entries on the right – October 8th), so I want to expand upon that as we begin approaching the main event for 2016.

Earlier this summer, the doldrums had a hold of me once again. They seem to come and go a couple times a year at random, and I have never really figured out what can bring an onset of them over me. This time however, I think it was a case of some news reports, the beginning of summer, and Extra Life. Yup, that very thing I am passionate about put me down in the dumps. Now, one would think that summer arriving wouldn’t be all that depressing, but I guess I was already starting in that frame of mind, because the strange thought struck me that the beginning of the summer is really the beginning of the end.

The first day of summer is the longest day of the year, so all summer long, the days are getting shorter and we are slowly losing all that extra daylight we were getting all through Spring. I just found that very disheartening. Summer was one of the best times of the year, back in those days of yore when the only thing one had to worry about was the planning of the next Super Intergalactic Battle between every action figure IP available at the time, plus a few imaginary ones, and the return of the school year seemed a long way off. Now the only thing to think about is how the sun was just a little lower in the horizon every day while heading off to work.

Next up was that news story about the little boy in Florida who was on a family vacation and was killed by an alligator. That one especially hit home since he was close to Abby’s age, and I couldn’t help but imagine myself in the father’s position as everything unfolded in front of his eyes, and the absolute lack of power to be able to do anything to stop it. Both I and a co-worker of mine teared up talking about it since she also has a boy who was around the same age.

The culmination of that was gearing up for Extra Life. As part of the yearly promotions EL does for their fundraising, they produce videos that highlight what the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals do and the reasons why fundraising for them is so important. Some of those videos highlight a family whose child has required the resources of a CMN hospital. I have posted one or two of them already on Facebook, but there are more, and the unfortunate part is that not all of them have happy endings. Again, as I watch these videos, I can’t help but put myself in the position of the family as their child suffers through some ailment that requires hospitalization and treatment. I am forever thankful that I have two healthy children who (knock on wood) have not needed the services of our local CMN hospital – The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The powerlessness I feel just watching the videos would only be compounded in spades if it was my own child who was suffering.

That’s why I am an Extra Lifer, and am in my fourth year of participating in the fundraising organization. I may not have the power to cure and stop the suffering of these kids myself, but I do have the power to make sure that the hospitals that these kids need to survive have everything at their disposal to do what I can’t.

Fortunately, our annual vacation to Hershey came at just the right time to reset my mindset and remind me of all the positive I can do by talking about and promoting Extra Life. Plus, my inclusion this year as part of the Official Extra Life Stream Team makes this all the better. For those who are unfamiliar, streaming is sort of like a live TV broadcast. I’m sure pretty much everyone knows YouTube and streaming is very much in that vein – people upload videos of everything under the sun on YouTube and streaming is just the same thing except the video is broadcast across the Internet live, as the action is currently happening. The go to site for streaming is for right now, though Facebook and YouTube have started getting into the action as well. Regardless, the Extra Life organization thought it would be a great idea to get a bunch of people together to stream videos on the official Extra Life channel on Twitch last fall, around the time the main event 24 hour marathon was planned. It went over so well, that they continued the Stream Team into this year, and it has continued to grow.

Gaming has always been a part of my life. It’s just another form of entertainment that I have always enjoyed along with reading books and watching movies. The difference with gaming, though, is that it is more interactive and immersive because, through games, I can be part of the story that is unfolding, and can shape that story based on my actions as I play. It allows me to escape those depressing things in the real world and gives me the control that I can never have going about the drudgery of the daily grind. It allows me to truly be the hero that I can’t be in real life.

The truly amazing part is that gaming is universal. Anyone can play a game – be it a baseball game, a game of Hearts, a computer or console game, or a board game. Heck, we have all played a game of Tic Tac Toe. Now with the Internet and On-line games that allow people from all over the world to play the same game at the same time, we can break through cultural and language barriers and be united in a game just like the athletes on the field in Rio de Janeiro are united in competition. I have played games with kids no older than Erin and also with grandmothers in their 60’s and 70’s (and they kicked my butt!) I am currently playing a castle building and warfare game where I am literally playing with people from all over the world – Poland, Russia, Australia, Spain, France, Africa – you name a country, and more than likely I can find someone from that country in the game. Nowhere else can you get that and have everyone enjoying what they are doing together with no hate and no fear of one another (except for their elite army of knights coming for your village).

Games bring people together, and that’s why gaming is perfectly suited for something like Extra Life. It gives us gamers (and I consider everyone who plays a game of some kind a gamer) a way to come together and be heroes in real life. But it takes more than just sitting down and playing a game. It takes people who can emphasize with the families who we are playing for to really make the difference. Extra Life cannot exist without us gamers to come together to play and promote the fundraiser, but at the end of the day, we can’t do what we do without the generosity of people willing to donate money to help these hospitals perform the function for which they are so vital.

I am extremely grateful to all the friends and family who have donated to CHOP through my Extra Life efforts over these last four years. Every dollar, every penny, counts towards helping CHOP, and all the CMN hospitals across North America (US, Canada, and Puerto Rico) with funding research, purchasing new equipment, and treating children, regardless of whether the family can pay for that treatment or not. So over these next few months leading up to this year’s main event marathon (November 5th and 6th), I hope to provide updates and insights in this blog and will implore all who read to help me reach my goal in raising as much money as I can for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, regardless of where you live. At the end of the day, the particular hospital for which we are playing is not as important as the fact that the money the hospital receives goes towards helping a child somewhere in North America get better. I participate in Extra Life as part of a team of other gamers who I met through gaming and make it a point to donate to each and every one of them as encouragement, regardless of which hospital they represent, for that very reason I just mentioned.

Over 112 million dollars have thus far been spent on Political advertisements by the two Presidential candidates. That is an insane amount of money for mud slinging ads that could do so much good in the hands of these CMN hospitals. Please help me continue to be a Hero in Real Life by supporting my efforts with Extra Life and making a donation #ForTheKids.