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The Parable of the Hollow Tree

When I was a kid, I used to love climbing trees, it was one of my favorite things to do. On one particular afternoon when I was about 11, I was down the street from my house hiking in a wooded area with a bunch of trees and tall grass. I remember there was this one specific tree with a low branch that looked easy enough to jump up, grab, and climb. However, when I ended up grabbing the branch in mid jump, I was greeted with the loud crack like thunder as the branch snapped and completely ripped a large side off of the tree. Both the branch and myself hit the ground with a significant force as the air was violently sucked out of my lungs. I was lucky the branch fell in front of me and not on top of me because it was extremely heavy and I was alone out there. I could have found myself in my very own rendition of 127 hours.

As I slowly got up off the ground with a groan, I was shocked to see that the tree was almost completely hollow. It wasn’t dead…yet. It still has some leaves on all of the branches, but it was barely strong enough to sustain its own weight. All it took was about 135lbs of my weight at the time to completely deface the tree. It seemed pretty obvious that this tree was on its last leg. It was probably termites or something, but at the time I had no idea how it happened or how such a thing was even possible. I remember the confusion I had as I brushed the dirt off of my cargo shorts. How on earth did this tree get completely hollowed out?

So a little backstory is required here. A couple years ago, I used to be in a Facebook forum with a decent number of other Protestant Christian ministers of varying different denominations and belief systems. From fundamentalists to universalists, the diversity was noticeable. There were times of rabid disagreement, blow ups, and the occasional troublemaker that would be removed from the group, but for the most part, everyone was united by this core belief in Christ and this desire to make his love known to the world. There were many beautiful moments where people found a common ground with each other despite gigantic disagreements elsewhere theologically. Calvinists, Armenians, Preterists, Post-Tribs, and occasionally there would be an emergent guy asking the “Rob Bell questions” that would often stir the pot. The forum was a journey for everyone and eventually it settled down and activity ceased. Everyone reached what appeared to be their destination of belief and there are only so many times you can discuss if baptism is necessary for salvation before you start to desire to pull your hair out. Eventually, the discussions there ceased completely

On Sunday, I stumbled upon a thread where many of these very same Christians were discussing James Fields, the man accused of driving his car into a crowd of protesters that ended up injuring 19 and killing 1. It was a discussion regarding the guilt of the driver, explanations for how, and, or why he wasn’t at fault. A link was eventually posted to an Allen West page pushing a 4Chan /pol/ theory alleging that the driver was driving slow until a protester hit the car with a bat which caused the driver to fear for his life. Of course, the video attached is edited to mute the sound of the screeching tires and engine accelerating as found in the raw video. I read on another post somewhere, but i didn’t manage to get a screenshot, “If you don’t want to get hit, get out of the road”, despite the fact that the road was closed the next block up prior to the protest. The sheer moral disconnect on display sent chills down my spine. I was reminded that a few months ago, I’ve seen memes of cars driving through protests on highways were met with laughter in the comments like “They better not be in front of me ha”. Fox News and The Daily Caller used to have articles advocating for cars to violently drive through protesters. As you would expect after this weekend, both of those posts were removed after the death of Heather Heyer.

This gave me pause, and it made me question myself. I’m not one to stand in the courtyard and cry for crucifixion. I believe in our justice system and long for justice for all, I believe James Fields deserves a fair trial trial by a jury of his peers. Now it is one thing to try and remain neutral, but to try and justify the act is another far more disgusting thing entirely. Eventually, the conversations I found myself in on Facebook began to widen in scope to include the Charlottesville protest as a whole. Who’s responsible for this whole thing? Franklin Graham, who has over 5 million followers and has a significant influence over American Evangelicalism decided to weigh in.

Franklin offers a bold suggestion, blame should instead be assigned to the city council, city politicians, mayor, or even governor. Really? I can think of no easier time of knowing who to assign blame than the swastika flag waving Nazis that are marching in the street starting the protest.

Franklin touched on how long the statue has been there, clearly a subtle endorsement that the confederate memorial should stay there, thus leading into yet another conversation with people about its justification.  The response I received was quite harsh. “Erasing history”, “ISIS does the same”, Orwellian”, “un-American”, and “similar to destroying Mt. Rushmore”, are just some of the lines thrown at me. Any conversation about the confederacy will naturally lead back to the Civil War. I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I spent a few hours on Tuesday butting heads with people who were not just defending the memorial, but the confederacy itself. Just a couple of the arguments I heard are,

“The vast majority of confederates were not slave owners.”

“These monuments aren’t connected to racism or white supremacy.”

“African Americans fought for the confederacy too.”

“The Civil War wasn’t over slavery, but state rights.”

And don’t forget the most repugnant, reprehensible one.

“Black people were better off as slaves in America rather than back in Africa.”

I’m not going to debunk these myths here, that’ll be another post for another time. However, it was at this moment that I felt like I was on my back again staring back up at that hollow tree. How on earth did this happen? How did we get to a point where almost unlimited excuses are given for the perpetrator, but no one even considers the victims? It seems I have found myself in a culture that I clearly don’t fit in.  It seems to everyone around me that the least of these only considered when it fits their politics, every…single…time.  Does the blood of Heather Heyer not cry out like Abel’s did? Does the blood of millions killed under the Nazi flags waved in history not cry out? Does the blood of those lynched in the name of White Supremacy not cry out like Abel’s did?

Instead, more devotion is given to defend an inanimate statue of concrete and iron, more time is spent sanitizing the confederacy which was quite clearly founded upon slavery, and more work is put in to defend a President clearly comfortable with the support of those reprehensible people.

I’m reminded time and time again over the last couple years when others’ blood would cry out. Philando Castile, Eric Garner, 12 year old Tamir Rice, and so many others. The average response from these people was always the same…bumbling justification or just crickets and shrugs. It still blows my mind that many of these Christians are willing to paint the entire Black Lives Matter movement with a broad brush…but somehow white supremacists and people literally waving swastika flags are given the benefit of nuance. Perhaps this is what Moses felt like when he came down from the Mount Sinai and found everyone worshiping a golden calf. As of this writing, 7 CEOs have now resigned from Trump’s Manufacturing Council due to his comments on Charlottesville, but not a single pastor has resigned from his Evangelical Advisory Council.

Like the tree I tried to climb as a kid, much of American Christianity appeared full of life at first, but at the core, it’s dead and rotten. Now I know that American Christianity is not a monolith. There are much smaller organizations and denominations that have separated themselves from this larger group for these very reasons.  But for the mainstream evangelicals, the termites of politics has burrowed in and now there is no going back. In my opinion, such a reform is impossible. If a pastor tries to correct course, those corrupted people will just leave and go to the church down the street that agrees with them. Greg Boyd lost about a thousand people in his church when he preached a sermon series with the intent of freeing the church from the claws of partisan politics. Now if that church down the street tries to correct course too, well then those same rotten people will start their own church. I know this because some of the racist arguments I heard over the past few days were from people who did just that.

It’s only a matter of time until the the leaves fall, the rest of the tree collapses, and the wood of mainstream American Evangelicalism fully disintegrates into the soil. One can only hope that in the future, something better will eventually grow in its place.

The Tree of 100 Dead Faces

The night was a cool 61 degrees, much more comfortable than the 95 plus of the daytime. Liam was at his campsite in rural southeastern Utah, about 100 miles east of St. George. He started a campfire, cooked some corn, and then found himself in the comfort of his tent as he stares directly overhead to the stars above. Earlier that day, Liam hiked 3 miles up and back from the top of Angels Landing, a popular vista at Zion National park. There’s this achiness that one feels after a long strenuous day of hiking. Legs begin to give off this minuscule, subtle, vibration. Liam was at that point zipped up in his sleeping bag, the fire was already out and the red glow was almost completely faded from the coals. The stars felt closer, they felt as if you could almost see the tips of the flames fluttering outward, even through the fine mesh of the tent roof.

“This is such a starkly different way of experiencing the world.” Liam uttered to himself in a soft, whispery voice. “Out here, you can’t hear the constant hiss of the highway traffic off in the distance, the occasional hot rod ripping it down main street, you can’t see the orange glaze covering the blackness of the sky.”

The moon was in a new phase and that almost removed the last of the light pollution. The stars were bring enough that you could just barely make out the milky way. This silver smokey clouds swirling beyond the stars drove home a feeling of insignificance unlike any other. In almost any direction upward, those burning lights are trillions and trillions of miles away. As the milky way slowly rose over the side of the red canyon, now as black as the edges of a movie theater, Liam felt his reference point change. Instead of watching the stars rising, he felt as if he could feel the earth turning.

As a child, Liam often rode the UFO at the county fair where he grew up. The UFO was setup with seats all around in a circle, where you laid down on an incline of a large disk that everyone sat around and the disk spun fast enough to cause the riders to lose the feeling of gravity. There’s this confusion in the beginning as the body attempts to reconcile the visuals the eyes are seeing and the feeling the inner ear gives as the forces shift. Often times this is what causes seasickness, stationary surroundings with shifting directions of gravity. However, Liam was doing ok. Instead of standing against a wall with a pad, his brain quickly felt as if he was laying on his back. There were these moments in the ride when the light from the outside of the ride would would bleed in through cracks and would break the illusion. Liam could then make out the speed that they were spinning and then orient himself directionally. In that brief moment, Liam’s senses felt as if it were moving to a truer form of reality, one beyond the edges of his current enclosure. The only thing he could make out was direction, but it was enough to break the illusion of the ride. In the same way as a he spun on the UFO ride and as as if he was walking out of plato’s cave, Liam felt as if the stars in the sky were just enough to break the illusion of the ride, to give him the feeling that something was beyond his newer, more vast enclosure. The meetings on data retention policies, change management procedures, and risk data flow diagrams that bugged Liam in the previous week suddenly felt idiotically meaningless. This felt like the few and far between moments of gasping for air above water if you found yourself living your whole life below it.

A few weeks ago, Liam got the idea from camping in the desert from his father John.
“You see…things in the desert.” John said, faintly suggesting in the supernatural sense. “Things visit you, and sometimes, you end up meeting yourself.”
But it was never about seeing other things, it was enough to just experience more of just what was there. Little did Liam know that sometimes those things are sometimes both one and the same, but when you can’t tell, does it even matter?

It was in that moment that as Liam stared off through almost infinite distances to the twinkling fireballs beyond, that the twinkles of a couple stars looked less like fluttering, and more like jiggling. After a few moments of squinting, jiggling became a word not fit to describe them, swaying more now. Liam questioned if perhaps a slight breeze is pushing on the fine net at the top of his tent, partially distorting his view. Despite lowering temperatures, his sleeping bag kept him warm enough to sleep with the entire tent top off, except for the mosquito net and support rods. As his view adjusted to asses the entire sky, he quickly remembered that he was in the floor of a canyon, and the tips of the trees were as still as glass. The single star in question wasn’t the only thing swaying slowly in the sky. Now, most of the stars were swaying slowly back and forth. Enough to where Liam couldn’t orient the spinning of the world anymore. Like the tips of foam on each tiny break in the water to make up a giant wave sloshing back and forth, were the stars now almost all moving in unison back and forth, but not perfectly. Still giving each star a little variance to break any sort of uniformity.

The stars were now swaying in differing directions, up and down, back and forth, against each other and apart, taking up almost all of Liam’s field of view. Occasionally, a couple or a few would appear to be locked and moving in unison for a brief moment. This gave off the appearance of negative shapes or a plane, as if all the stars are just small reference points of a much larger picture or shape. Suddenly, the stars in the middle of the sky appeared to lock in place as the rest continued to move. The shape produced was a rectangle with a wider bottom than top. One by one more stars began to freeze and naturally grew the lines created by the frozen dots of light.

“A bridge.” Liam confusedly uttered under his breath. “A city? A bridge toward a city!” Liam gasped as he could finally make out the image.

The stars were all frozen in place and in the negative space was a bridge starting at him ending directly straight up in the sky toward a city. Liam was on his back, but the picture in the stars made him feel as if he was standing upright. As his eyes wandered, he could make out the large spires, buildings it seems. The twinkle of their edges were all made up of stars. The buildings didn’t look futuristic or ridged, but as if they were natural crystalline formations giving off an ambient jade green light. All building from the outward in, grow in height sporadically to a central point at the center of a city. The white stars somehow made it seems like the city was a mountain of intricate green glass. One that was overwhelmingly busy, teeming with life.

Liam was able to make out the railings of the bridge, accented swirls of metal around each intersection. Borderline elvishly Tolkien in its aesthetic going on for a few miles directly toward the city. Just as he pondered if he could step out on the bridge, the stars instantly all broke apart, completely dissolving the image of the city. As if the stars were a school of fish suddenly spooked by a predator, suddenly shifting and swirling around in the sky in a uniform contour.

Before he even had the time to ask himself what he just saw, Liam began to watch the swirling stars and felt an odd, but deep connection to them. As if they were a hive mind of fireflies connected to some much larger, sentient being. A being that is reaching outward from itself down deep into Liam. He could feel as if a new plane of communication opened up that made his voice and ears obsolete. It was similar to still having a landline, but all communication is done over the internet, Liam felt like he could communicate over feelings. Nothing lost in translation, completely perfect 1:1 transportation of thought.

“God?” Liam asks in his head, “Is that you?”

Liam has been disillusioned by religion over the past few years, but at the very core of his being, there was still something there. Spiritually, he felt like a political refugee, unable to go back and unable to go anywhere else. The continuous waves crashing against the ship of his own spirituality over the distance he’s traveled has made him feel far more mentally exhausted rather than spiritually rewarded. It wasn’t till about a year ago that he let everything go completely, only to wait and see if something ever returned to him, but nothing ever did.

It felt to Liam as though the stars responded to his silent call, bouncing from their movement into a new and different direction. Aligning to slowly create the shape of a triangle, then slowly clarifying, but also complicating and expounding the shape into a face. Lips, eyebrows, cheeks, all coming into view. No irises or pupils in the eyes, all empty space filled with only the furthest, faintest background of the smokey universe.

The face was feminine, the angled cheeks combined with the eyes and lips were all giving the face features of an African woman. The stars above the face were either braids of hair or a doek or duku, a traditional African headscarf many women wear. Liam stared upwards in silent awe as his entire field of view was filled with this giant face.

“Is it you?” Liam felt.

Suddenly, the stars giving the contours of the lips started to move and stretch, the face now was smiling, but still completely silent. Liam felt like an infant, swaddled in a crib with his mothe, god’s warm love emanating downward. Everything that Liam saw before him, what he felt, was a fly in the eye of everything he thought he knew, but only a foolish man would stand in the rain and claim that he read somewhere that it wasn’t.

The face was gone, the stars were now swirling in a symmetrical, kaleidoscopic pattern. The stars slowly morphed into small, wiggling, bioluminescent fish. They were swimming around in symmetrical patterns as bigger fish followed each one individually, swallowing each one up, one by one. The even bigger fish appeared, followed, and swallowed the next fish so on and so forth. Liam felt a little dizzy, his eyes were following so many things morphing so fast that his mind didn’t have the opportunity to catch up. So he turned his head and looked to the left, out of his tent when his eyes spot a tree only a few feet from the side of his tent.

The tree next to his tent was a single-leaf pinyon, a type of pine tree, but it didn’t resemble a tighter pine that many are more familiar with at Christmas time. This pine had more traditional tree branches that spread much wider at its base and reached upward, making the shape of a tree almost like a wide egg. The tree wasn’t densely packed either, you could easily see through the tree if one was so inclined. However, this tree was odd because scattered throughout, from the top to the bottom were all various types of human faces. Liam immediately recognized that these faces all belonged to people who are dead.

Men, women, children, of all various expressions, each as distinct as a personality. Liam didn’t recognize the people, but he could tell what most of them were. Some faces, however were disfigured, bloodied, and a some even had torturous expressions that conveyed excruciating pain. Not only from their appearance, but over feeling, Liam could feel them all as dead, but nonetheless all staring at him as if they were all standing next to his tent.

Liam immediately closed his eyes as he felt as if Ice water coursed through his veins. His mind thought about jumping out of his sleeping bag and running as fast as he could in the opposite direction, but some odd feeling kept him right there. His heart felt like it was was beating a hundred miles an hour as he opened his eyes back to the faces in silence. Breathing heavily, his eyes wandered to each one, examining them all a little closer. He was disturbed when he came across one that appeared to be completely missing skin. He wondered if these faces are how they all appeared when all these people died. If so, then this face was a person who was tortured to death.

People die, painful and excruciating deaths all the time, but rarely do any of us ever find ourselves in the situation of staring at it in the eyes. The fear that Liam had began to be replaced by sorrow.

“There is so much unknown pain.” Liam spoke verbally in a soft tone to all of the faces on the tree. “So many people die, die painful deaths and their voice is nothing more than a distant echo. Their suffering, their story is nothing but a drop in an ocean, rippling off to nothing. So many people are forgotten.”

Based on his statement, some of the faces changed their expression. Some of the more sad or angry faces shifted into a more pleased ones.

“Sometimes, the only thing people seek is just a little acknowledgment. A glace, a wave, a nod, I’m here, and so are you.” Liam uttered. “You’re here all the time.”

Liam felt like the world peeled back and there was only a film of saran wrap separating the himself from what was beyond. This felt like a grandiose version of placing your hand against a glass pane and letting someone align their hands with yours. Seeing all the subtle differences between each other, this is my hand, and that is yours. The faces never spoke, but Liam could feel them, and right now he could feel that these faces and so many others are always present, but in a different way. This caused him to think of something a little humorous.

“So does everyone see me when I’m in the shower or jerking off?” Liam asked with a grin. “It’s an honest question.”

Many of the faces turned to smile and what appears to be laughter as Liam could feel their response. It doesn’t exactly work like surveillance, but the present nature of the dead was one more along the lines of solidarity of being. Like when you’re driving in a snowstorm when there’s snow fully covering the road and you see you’re following another single set of tracks. Or when you walk into a room that someone just left and you can just barely feel the warmth their body heat brought to the room. Like hearing coyotes howl to the moon in the distance, you then know that something else is here, and something else is there. This caused Liam to think of another question.

“Am I doing what’s right? Liam pleaded “I’m always worried that I’m headed into the completely wrong direction in life. I’m scared i’m not living up to my potential. I’m a dud when everyone else is exploding beautifully.”

Everything is fine, Liam felt as a mental weight falls off of his shoulders. He was always worried that there was a moment earlier in his life where the universe fell off kilter and he was like an astronaut thrown from a ship in deep space. Hurling aimlessly, helplessly into the dark, never being able to get back to the ship. Everything he thought, didn’t match up with how he felt, because felt good. He felt like he was being told, everything is ok.

With tears in his eyes Liam asks, “I’m talking to this girl.” As he cracks a smile. “Should I move forward with her or take a hike?”

Liam was honest and did what he felt anyone would do if given the opportunity to consult omnipresent wisdom, indulge a little. There was a face that caught his eye, one accented by wrinkles. It looks like it’s an older woman, 70s or 80s perhaps. For a minute Liam felt like it could have been his late grandmother, but it wasn’t. Although based on her face, he felt as if she were equally as warm. Liam missed his grandmother, she and many grandmothers have this unique warmth about them. It’s a feeling easy to miss until they’re gone. A baking brownies on a summer day and her letting you lick the spoon kind of feeling. Like the hugs that felt like nothing could ever bad happen kind of feeling. The times she calls you sugar kind of feeling. A reminder that the story you are a part of goes back a lot further than you remember kind of feeling. Liam hasn’t felt it since, but he feels it now. Her face changed, it was in response to his question.

She gave him this big warm smile, but the feeling. The feeling was one of a thousand words and a million moments of possibilities swirled into a vortex and fired out of a fire hose. If emotions all have a temperature equivalent ranging from hot to cold, this felt more like a texture. Something completely different, smooth, course, fluffy, or even sticky. So much more information condensed into a flash of light. Like experiencing an infinite number of lifetimes in a single moment.

“Thank you…For everything.” Liam says.

Liam didn’t realize that it’s been a few hours and it won’t be long now until the sun comes up. With one final nod that’s returned by many in the tree of 100 dead faces, Liam rolls over and begins to drift off asleep knowing full well who’s always there, and in some unique way, that kept him feeling warm.

 

 

Selling My Soul To Football

There’s a popular movie trope where someone sells their soul to the devil for some immediate benefit. Good looks, guitar playing skills, it could be anything. Whatever they gain isn’t really the point, the point is that eventually the devil will make his due and those chickens will come home to roost. In a way, I feel like that’s what I and many of my friends did with football. I’m a product of football, so much of my character was formed from the grit of football. The lessons I’ve learned about hard work, determination, dedication, camaraderie, teamwork, and so many others I’ve tried to apply to my life. And looking back, I think they’ve all added something positive to me. But I and I know a lot of others never knew the true cost that would come back years later.

The Journal of American Medicine Association released a report on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) study that studied the brains of former NFL, college, and high school football players. After studying over 100 brains of deceased players of various levels, 99% of the NFL players tested positive for the degenerative brain disease, 87% of the players of other levels did as well. I played football for…a while, so then the math starts off in my head.

As a center, I played in approximately 50 plays every game, that’s roughly 50 hits to the head. I don’t think there were ever many plays where I didn’t at least make contact, maybe a hail mary in the 4th quarter and that was a rare circumstance. Every week, we practiced in full pads and full contact 3 days, we would run through about 20-30 plays in practice, plus the drills where we would always go full speed. So let’s ballpark it as 60 hits. So 60 times 3, plus 50 on gameday is 230. That’s 230 hits to my head in a week. Multiply that by 10 games is 2300 hits to my head a year, not including camp. Assuming I took the same amount of hits a year means that I probably took well over 20,000 hits over my whole life. I never had a concussion before, or at least diagnosed, but it still makes you wonder if that matters.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t naive, I always knew there were risks in football. Torn ACLs, labrums, broken bones, but luckily I never found myself getting any of those. In 2010, when Eric LeGrand from Rutgers became paralyzed from the neck down after getting hit on a kickoff return, there was this spooky feeling in the air at the gym the next couple days. Other than that, there were never times where we all really tried to take into account all of the long term risks. The only thing I expected to pay was the time spent doing it and the alternatives I missed out on. Maybe a couple more hours training in the gym a week, first two weeks in august, some weekends when we traveled, but never this. The cost of playing football might be a few decades more of time than any of us originally considered.

It’s at this point that my mind starts racing a hundred miles an hour and attempts to at least ask all of the paranoid questions my brain can naturally come up with. Am I going to go crazy eventually? The other day when I was a little scatterbrained, was it because I was tired or is it early onset CTE? Am I a ticking time bomb of sadness and pain for my partner in life? Will I become unrecognizable to myself?

It’s at the point of bargaining when you want to look deeper into the study to see if they missed something. The New York Times had an article shedding some more light on the study.

The set of players posthumously tested by Dr. McKee is far from a random sample of N.F.L. retirees. “There’s a tremendous selection bias,” she has cautioned, noting that many families have donated brains specifically because the former player showed symptoms of C.T.E.

But 110 positives remain significant scientific evidence of an N.F.L. player’s risk of developing C.T.E., which can be diagnosed only after death. About 1,300 former players have died since the B.U. group began examining brains. So even if every one of the other 1,200 players would have tested negative — which even the heartiest skeptics would agree could not possibly be the case — the minimum C.T.E. prevalence would be close to 9 percent, vastly higher than in the general population.

So it’s not exactly a set in stone guarantee, but the chance still exists and it varies for everyone. We will only know more the more we study CTE. However, at 9% it still exists enough to the point where at least 1 person has it on the field at any given time.

Nothing prepares you for the idea that your own path in life might become seriously disrupted 20-30 years sooner than you expect. That’s just an overwhelming emotional mountain to stare at. How does one even attempt to climb it? This is the kind of thing that causes you to reevaluate lifelong plans, investments, retirement. Will this cause people to walk away? What will happen when I get older? Perhaps maybe I’ll just pull a “Benjamin Button” and run off to India when I get into my 40s and not allow myself to become a weight to anyone here.

There’s no blood test yet and currently CTE is only able to be diagnosed after death. Ironically, letting this out of my mind is practically impossible. It’ll always be this raincloud following me around for the rest of my life. Every single time I forget where my keys are, I’ll ask, “Is…it why?” I’ve had a couple conversations with close football friends. Some have mentioned to me the memory problems they feel like they’re starting to have, everyone is thinking about it. So I think the question to ask is not whether or not I have CTE, the question is what I would do if I do indeed have it, because I might as well live as though I do.

It’s strangely convenient my last blog post was also a little related to confronting one’s mortality. I’ve been chewing on these thoughts for a couple days anyway, but I’m again reminded that I should never allow anything or anyone get in the way of me living my life to the fullest, ever. So often we let others steal our happiness away. Never let people take advantage of you, but always try and treat others how you want to be treated. Wipe away the tears of other eyes. Never let the sun set on my anger, fix things when I can and treat all goodbyes as if they could very well be the last. Let people know when they mean something to you or have impacted your life for the better. Appreciate the temporary things, because in the end, it all is. Appreciate all of the moments, the ups and the downs, because eventually that’s all that’s going to be left. Appreciation is like turning the saturation knob up on life. The world fills with so much color. Food is more delicious, music sounds better, intimacy is priceless.

In the end, I could walk outside and get hit by a city bus. My heart could pop in my chest in the middle of sets at the gym. I know too many people younger than me already in the ground. Taking all that including the idea of my mind slipping away, the worst thing I could possibly do is let another day go to waste.

Does John McCain Deserve Sympathy?

John McCain

After it was announced that John McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma, I’ve had my eye on the responses across the political spectrum. From Barack Obama, to Donald Trump, to Bernie Sanders, and they were all as expected.  Thoughts and prayers and warm outpourings of support.  However, the further I deviated my attention from the mainstream in either direction, I noticed the more vitriolic and perhaps honest they became. This stark contrast made me reflect, because it appears many people vehemently disagree about this, but does John McCain deserve sympathy?

Horseshoe Theory

Jean-Pierre Faye formulated a political theory called the Horseshoe Theory which argues that the extreme left and the extreme right are much closer to each other than either is to the political center. It’s certainly not perfect, it’s heavily contested and often outright rejected, but it’s primarily used to challenge the generally accepted idea of the dichotomous political spectrum of only left and right.  In reality, it’s far more complicated, but it was in this context that you could see the similarity in the far left and far right and how they are both similar in their resistance to showing any sympathy for John McCain. For example, Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer pushed the envelope and suggested the following,

“We can take some pleasure in the thought of him dying painfully.”

That is absolutely brutal, but not surprising considering the source. Spencer’s justification is probably due to the times McCain deviated from party lines several times and undermined Donald Trump. Spencer continued in his rebuke on twitter,

“If only what John McCain represented could die with him. Alas, many “conservatives” who destroy European nations will outlive him.”

Flipping the coin to the other end of the political spectrum some liberals were less aggressive, but also equally squirming at the norm of offering sympathy to McCain due to his past actions around healthcare and war.

“You can be sad a man has a brain tumor but also that man can be a real piece of shit who hurt a lot of people in his political career. Literally a month ago, McCain was being a spineless toady for Trump instead of displaying actual moral turpitude.”

On the surface, it appears that both sides endorse the idea that McCain’s worthiness of sympathy is dependent on his political utility to that side. Even though their political aspirations couldn’t be further apart.  That is a big can of worms if true.  Which caused me to ponder, is it truly sympathy if it’s just dependent on political positions?  We can wander down a rabbit hole deconstructing the underlying motivations of the fringes if we wanted to, but that’s not what I’m trying to dig at here.

Now as unsettling and even disturbing I find both reactions, I can’t help but find the unfettered honesty somewhat refreshing when compared to the mainstream.  The same people who claimed only a few months ago that the Republican healthcare bill will kill people (that is assumed McCain will support and might be the deciding vote) are now sending their warm wishes. It’s feels almost as if politics are isolated in a bubble and do not affect the population outside of Washington D.C., but nevertheless we know that what happens there does in fact alter the lives of people outside of it.  It was in this moment that I stumbled upon the story of Kevin Pratt and Tashi King.

Kevin Pratt and Tashi King.

In 2010, Kevin Pratt was diagnosed gliobastloma, the very same cancer that John McCain was just diagnosed with. The Phoenix New Times has a story about their struggle.

Catastrophe struck at the worst possible time. Since neither had college degrees nor full-time jobs, neither had insurance. And so, through no fault of their own, Kevin’s cancer ended up plunging the pair into the hell of poverty and all its attendant government programs. The programs have been a blessing. At the emergency room in October, Kevin was signed up for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, the state’s publicly funded health plan. Since the first two surgeries easily ran into the six figures, not counting the hospital stay, that was essential to keeping him alive.

But keeping him enrolled has proved to be something of a full-time job.

In January, AHCCCS administrators sent Kevin and Tashi clumsily worded letters, saying they were both about to be kicked off.

Kevin desperately needed to stay on. He was in the midst of his chemo cycle. Without insurance, his medication alone cost $8,227 — a month. And other than Tashi’s hourly wages at her part-time job, the couple’s only income came from Kevin’s Social Security check. Yet AHCCCS determined that, in the preceding month, Kevin and Tashi had notched $612.25 in earnings. The monthly limit for AHCCCS users? $608 a month.

Tashi and Kevin were $4.25 over the limit.

The whole thing was galling — not just because $612 a month is nothing, and not just because that $4.25 seemed so arbitrary. At that point, health insurance was literally the only thing keeping Kevin alive.

Tashi King, his wife posted the following on Facebook this week.

“We wrote to McCain in 2010 to beg him to help Kevin keep his AHCCCS insuranceMcCain sent us a letter back saying it might be best to move out of Arizona because he did not consider health insurance (and thus, access to healthcare itself) a human right.”

Without viewing the letter in question, it is impossible to verify the specific words of John McCain (or if it was just a letter from his office), but much of Kevin and Tashi’s story is documented elsewhere. (here and here)

Kevin Pratt died on September 11th, 2012, just a month after turning 28 years old.

Holding the Deciding Vote

Now you can see the irony, it’s as subtle as a 5 alarm fire. John McCain will be benefiting from healthcare that he refuses to support for his own constituents even when they specifically suffer from the rare brain tumor that he does.  Furthermore, Mitch McConnell is specifically delaying the vote because it’s starting to appear as though the GOP is dependent on McCain’s vote. Kevin Pratt is one person, but there are multitudes of other people I know personally who would lose their healthcare if the AHCA was passed.  The newer “repeal only version” is even worse.  It’s estimated by the CBO to cause 32 million people to lose insurance and the premiums of those left would increase 100%.  To put it short, it would literally be a humanitarian disaster of incomprehensible scale.  I work for a healthcare company specializing in dual enrollment (very low income + over 65 or severe disability) and it is quite clear how catastrophic it would be.

This is only healthcare, this isn’t touching on the numerous times McCain has marched us toward unnecessary wars that have destabilized an entire region and led to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths.  Even war with Iran was joked about in the 2008 election. I remember, because I voted for him in that election. I often wonder what would have happen if he won. Obviously I’m glossing over the fact that McCain wasn’t alone in his votes, but he might be the deciding one coming up. Now I’m not ignorant of John McCain’s military contribution. Almost everyone in my family has served in the military and I do not take that contribution lightly.  However, a lifetime cannot be summed up by a single event.

Speaking Truth to Power

Is John McCain worthy of sympathy?  That’s a question everyone will have to answer for themselves, because in the end, it’s theirs and theirs alone to give. And only they will know if it’s honest and not superficially given out in bad faith. But that question should drive us to see that the world is not one painted in black and white and people aren’t dichotomies. There are good and bad decisions that accent the painting of one’s life and we need to confront the fruit of those decisions no matter how good or bad.

A cancer diagnoses of a public figure will often bring politics and news to a halt.  Many will say things such as “now is not the time for politics”, but I believe we all have the responsibility to speak truth to power, even when it’s uncomfortable. In fact, especially when it’s uncomfortable. It’s our way of at least shining a spotlight on things that get lost in the noise of the daily news cycle.  Most of the time, there are people who want those things lost in the noise.

I, for one, do not find any pleasure at all in someone suffering, cancer has this demented way of sucking all the joy out of life. Changing people you love into people you don’t even recognize. It’s not something I would wish on anyone. Losing a father, a wife, a child in this sort of excruciating way is a nightmare scenario for me. Furthermore, a public figure facing a threat to their existence should remind us all to stop and reflect about our own inevitable mortality that we so often sweep under the rug. It should cause us to contemplate our place in the world filled with so many other people around us.

Remember this though, John McCain will never have to worry about paying for anti-nausea medication while undergoing chemo. He will never have to worry or even choose between food or medical bills. He will never have to dig into the kids college fund, mortgage his home, or even drain his retirement in order to pay for treatment either. However, many of his constituents will. In fact, some might be dead before they are even diagnosed.

 

I’m Building a New Computer

The past few days have motivated me to build a new computer from scratch.  I mean I’ve been meaning to build one for the last year, this just was the straw that broke the camels back. This is an embarrassing story given how boneheaded I was in assessing the problem, but nonetheless.

It all started when I moved to Long Beach, for some reason my monitor was going to sleep immediately after booting up.  A fix I saw online had me reset the CMOS to no avail, but it wasn’t until I was able to finally boot in safe mode (with a DVI from the onboard video rather than the Nvidia video card either) that I realized its an issue is something deeper.  So I decided that a clean install of windows was in order, hey I’ll finally make the plunge to windows 10 then, I thought.  After $200 dollars on a clean license, the USB tool that Microsoft provides to create a bootable USB wouldn’t work in safe mode.  So I downloaded Rufus and then scoured the web for a clean, uncracked version of windows 10.  I have the license, I now just need the iso file.

After finding a clean iso online, then installing it on the usb, then installing that onto my computer, the monitor issue was now fixed (at least with the onboard video) and I could boot into windows.  After about an hour of installing some of the usual apps, Steam, Discord, WinRar, I noticed that my RAID 10 wasn’t being recognized anymore.  OH SHIT, and I mean it. My raid(called Library as a volume) doesn’t just have terabytes of books, music, shows, games, and movies, but it has almost 2 terabytes of photos from all my childhood, my high school football career, all my photos I took when I was a professorial photographer. Even old photos I scanned, its my entire family Polaroid collection. It’s my entire life digitized. There is no other place where it’s stored. The files in my library are priceless. When this snowball of data started growing about a decade ago, (some songs even still remain from napster in 1999) it was too big for any cloud storage solution.

It got to the point where I bought 4 3TB drives so I could set up a RAID10 and have not just size, but redundancy. I didn’t want to mess with a raid 5 either with the parity bit. So I pondered for a moment while the hairs on my neck stood on end, Wait a second, its probably just a windows 10 issue, I thought.  I’m going to take this as a sign that I should just stick with Windows 7.

So I decided to find a cracked copy of Windows 7 online (Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in). I overwritten my windows 10 usb drive and reinstalled.  I quickly remembered the wifi usb adapter wasn’t  going to work on windows 7 without the software, so it looks like I have to haul my computer into the living room and plug it into the Ethernet cable and download the software. So I haul my computer into the living room, set it up next to the TV where the Ethernet cord to the router will reach.  I suddenly discover that this windows PC has literally no drivers, not even for the onboard Ethernet. So even with the cable plugged in, I still no connection to the internet.  This computer has practically became a paperweight. I don’t have any other computer to use except for my work laptop, so it looks like I’m going to have to use that to save the drivers onto a USB and then transfer it over.

Nope.

Murphy’s law is in full affect here.  My work’s endpoint protection doesn’t allow any writing to mobile drives, at all.  So I have no way to get drivers to this computer.  Looks like I’m running down to FedEx Office about 15 blocks away.

About 45 minutes, a Jimmy Johns sub, and then a lazy uber back, I finally install the drivers onto my PC, then can I finally get back to work, but wait, my raid isn’t being detected here either. Instead there are two drives (D: and E:). Clicking on either brings up a dialog box that declares that the drives need to be formatted in order to be used.

Umm yeah, that’s gonna be a firm no on that one there professor.

These drives might as well be priceless Egyptian relics with coordinates to the Stargate as far as I’m concerned. So I sat and thought for a while. This has to be a BIOS issue, i just feel it, because resetting the CMOS probably early on probably turned the raid off somewhere. So when I finally reboot, turn on SATA RAID, and go into the Intel Raid controller, what do I see?  The official status of the RAID says FAILED and suddenly my brain starts to play gymnastics with semantics.

Only a little more than halfway done with scanning after 6 hours.

By “failed” do they mean that there’s a slight issue, or that all hope is lost and everything is gone? I have 2 striped discs, mirrored. I should be able to recover the data on a single drive failure. Right? Worst case scenario, I bag these drives up and take em down to someplace with a clean room or something.  To add even more head scratching, when I try to regularly boot with raid on, windows doesn’t even start.  Despite my boot order, it says it cannot find windows, so I have to then turn it off. When I get back into windows I decide to use Data Essentials Raid Recovery.  With it, I was able to finally piece together the raid where I was able to identify folders that were in my library.  Being so spooked by the idea of having no place to put terabytes of data if I can somehow recover it, I quickly found a 8TB external hard drive on Newegg for $200. Delivered the next day, which is how long the deep scanning to rebuild the NTFS took(8 hours) to allow the files to be transferred someplace else.   After selecting the main folders in my library, it took about 4 hours to transfer all the data to the external hard drive.  However, I noticed after a moment that I was not out of the woods yet.

In my library I organize media by type, folders for images, movies, music, etc.  My images folder wasn’t there, as well as a couple of other ones.  When I went to play music I transferred, the songs were all distorted every few seconds.  Alt-J sounded like Metallica’s Kill em all every 6 or so seconds. I quickly realized that the folder structure and some files were recovered for the most part. However, all the data within the files themselves were completely corrupted.  I’m a newbie at raid recovery, so I figured I probably used the wizard wrong.  Still, I’m really starting to sweat a little here.

For the life of me I couldn’t defend my reasoning, but I decided to hop back onto windows 10 and then piece it together there.  I already bought a license, so I might as well do it.

Over the next day I tried every driver I could find, I tried googling Intel’s Smart Storage tutorials with no results. Started seeing a lot of this Intel software was super buggy and had compatibility issues with Windows 10 and the chipset support was also extremely vague.  I ran into multiple installs that ended due to platform incompatibility.  It was about right then that I stopped focusing on getting the drives recognized and shifted my focus with recovering the data. After all, I now have a new drive where it’ll all fit. After I can confirm transfer, I’ll just wipe the whole raid and remake it or set it up where the configuration is clearer and more concise before transferring data back. After 3 more different deep scans to rebuild the NTFS, all had the same results, partial files, but all internals corrupted.  Home videos of me playing with action figures looked like Kanye West’s Welcome To Heartbreak music video.  I need to either get another tool (got one and then realized it wasn’t meant for raid 10s), or do some deeper digging.

I found a thread on HardForum.com that is dealing with what appears to be the exact same issue on the same Z77X intel chipset.  On that page, there was a link to an Intel thread that discusses this same “issue” with a guy that has the exact same size HDs and a similar setup.  The guy at Intel said he was doomed.

It was at this moment I felt like Aragon confronting the mouth of Sauron in The Return of the King when they are faced with what appears to be the death of Frodo.  “I Do not believe it.”

God, I hope allan_intel stumbles on my blog.  If you’re reading this Allan, Fuck You.  For about 15 minutes, I felt like my entire memory of life was lost forever.  Gigabytes of family photos going back decades where I don’t know if the physicals exist anymore, Gone.  That’s like a game breaking bug in Final Fantasy, how on earth would I know that if I allow it to boot into IDE just once it destroys all the data.  That seems like a absurdly gigantic design flaw.  That would be like attempting to open a car door when it’s locked destroys the engine of a car.  After a half hour of cooling down and even pondering acceptance at losing all my data, I kept digging, I saw that this guys issue was close, but not exact as mine. A little more scrolling I saw that these guys on HardForum were ABLE to recover their data, but the steps provided were prefaced with warnings about how the steps do walk extremely comes close to physically wiping the whole drive.

I think this guy is telling me to not delete the raid, only reset the disks to be non members. 👌

Apparently, I need to just “unmake” the raid group, it does a logical wipe of the metadata, resets all the disks to be non members and then I recreate the group. From that, I can recover the data using RAID Recovery.  So here I go, I unmade the group which destroyed the metadata, but for some reason, the big bold flashing letters warning of data loss scared me away from remaking a new group.  It was at this moment I noticed the new Raid size would be about 2.7TB smaller than it originally was.   It should be just under 6TB with 12TB of total space in a Raid 10, that doesn’t make sense until I finally decided to do the child skill that was long overdue, I counted.  I realized that there was only 3 physical disks that one could choose to be a part of the new RAID. One hard drive is disconnected. Suddenly, I ponder if it’s just a power or cable issue, so I open the side of the case and I see that one of the drive’s power cable is indeed loose.  Oh God, kill me now I think to myself as I plug it in and I see it now appear on screen.

That’s it. that’s all it was.

I could boot up to Windows 10 and it should work natively since this RAID is on the chipset level, if I didn’t JUST DELETE THE GOD DAMN METADATA ONLY 10 SECONDS EARLIER.  IF ONLY I COUNTED AND CHECKED THE CABLES FIRST, THIS WOULD HAVE WORKED DAYS AGO WITHOUT ANY ISSUE. OH MY GOD.  I haven’t felt this rage in me in years. Now that I deleted the metadata, I’m forced to recover the RAID through deep scanning.

So back in Raid Recovery after 12 hours of scanning, I see the new folder list of the RAID that has Images and other folders that are indeed correct. So far so good. Another 6 hours of scanning to transfer the most precious image files later and I’m only about 30% done.  It appears the images are all there, uncorrupted.  But this is going to take at least 20 or so more hours of transferring.

I somehow turned a 5 second issue, into 6 days of misery. So yes, life is meaningless, we’re all going to be dead soon and that’s why I’m building a new PC. And fuck RAIDS, especially if the support and documentation with them is sparse. I can afford to store this all in the cloud now, so I’m done managing my own infrastructure beyond a single internal and external HD.  Give me the thinnest infrastructure I can get.  Going for a micro-ATX Ryzen Build with M2 storage for about $1200 and storing everything else in the cloud and this 8TB external as an easy second backup.

I hate computers sometimes.