I Support my Brothers (and Sisters) in Arms

Years ago I saw the following statement, which - as a veteran - I thought was entirely accurate: "A veteran is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to 'The United States of America,' for an amount up to and including their life." It goes without saying that military life is not for everyone; it requires a willingness to sacrifice selflessly for others. Together with my brothers-in-arms, we missed countless holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, births, and deaths - all in the name of preventing those who would do harm from reaching the shores of our nation. I can't say that we always did this without complaint, because sooner or later the sacrifices weigh heavy on everyone's conscience. Even still, the military is an honorable profession; we collectively chose to make sacrifices so that others might live in peace, and often for less pay than someone makes flipping burgers at McDonalds. In the end, we all sacrificed something, although some - tragically - sacrificed everything. The number of spouses, children, fathers, mothers, and siblings who will grow older with a void in their lives where a loved one used to be is incalculable.

Honor

But I'd like to shift gears for a moment. A couple years ago I shared on Facebook that my wife  - who is a registered nurse - saved someone's life on a flight that was about to take off from Phoenix. The man had a heart attack and lost consciousness, but thankfully my wife and an EMT were both on the flight, and the two of them took turns administering CPR. They managed to revive the man, who had been legally dead for several minutes, and he lived without complications. But that's not the end of the story. Several months later, the Phoenix Police Department invited my wife to an awards ceremony, where they presented her with a certificate to commemorate her for her lifesaving skills and willingness to save the lives of others.

It was quite the honor, but the evening wasn't only about my wife; it was an annual ceremony for the Police Department, wherein the sacrifices of police officers from the Phoenix area were officially recognized for their outstanding achievements. As the ceremony progressed, I was amazed at what I heard. For example, several officers prevented a terrorist attack at the Phoenix Comic-Con, which otherwise would have resulted in an unknown number of casualties. Story after story of personal sacrifice and heroism had me enraptured, and over time I grew angry - because I never heard any of these stories on the news. Apparently it just isn't newsworthy when a police officer stands between a crazy person with a loaded weapon and an innocent civilian. The more I heard, the more I realized that these police officers made the same deal on behalf of their fellow citizens that I once did. They made all the same sacrifices as my brothers-in-arms: they missed countless holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, births, and deaths - all in the name of preventing harm from reaching the homes of their communities. And - tragically - some of these officers sacrificed everything, too. It was abundantly clear to me that these officers had also written a blank check made payable to the citizens of Phoenix for an amount up to and including their life. And like my fellow veterans, these officers do so for a terrible paycheck, all the while having to endure the constant scorn and contempt of those dregs of society who are incapable of policing themselves.

I cannot count the number of times in my life I have heard people complain about "some jerk police officer" who wrote them a ticket for speeding, or running a red light, or driving under the influence. I almost never hear any personal culpability from these people about their own guilt in their situation; it's always the police officer's fault. I'd like to take a moment to set the record straight - if you're pulled over for speeding, it's your fault if you get a ticket. If the police officer decides to let you off with a warning, that's his prerogative - and it might just be your lucky day. But if you have to pay a fine for something that you did wrong, it's not the officer's fault; get down off your self-righteous horse, take responsibility for a change, and shut your mouth about it. You don't have to like it, but maybe next time you'll remember to obey the law.

The-Thin-Blue-Line

However, I'd like to take this train of thought a step further - there are some people in this world who do not share your sense of right and wrong. I've traveled around the world, and I've met all sorts of people who think that cheating, or stealing, or killing are perfectly acceptable ways of life. In our society, we have collectively decided that those behaviors are unacceptable, but not everyone agrees. We have our own collection of moral degenerates who still believe that cheating, and stealing, and killing are perfectly acceptable ways of life - regardless of what laws we pass or what we teach in our schools. When that happens, who is left to prevent these moral degenerates from reducing society to a maelstrom of anarchy, chaos, and suffering?

We are often told not to judge a segment of society by the transgressions of a few. We are told not to hold all African Americans responsible for the crimes of a few. We are also told not to judge all Hispanics for the crimes of a few. In a like manner, we should not judge all Caucasians for the racist stupidity of a few. Nor should we judge all Muslims for the crimes of a few. Nor should we judge all Christians for the stupidity of a few. The same follows true for police officers; we MUST NOT judge all police officers for the bad actions of a few. Because when all is said and done, and regardless of your opinion on the matter, when society starts to fall apart, sometimes the only line of defense we have is an underpaid and underappreciated police officer, who will still put himself or herself between you and a bad guy.

If you take everything that I have said into account, and you still want to destroy an institution that consistently sacrifices everything so that others can live in peace, then I suggest the following: you should join the police. If you're a good person and you think they're all bad, then join up and change them from within. On the other hand, if you can't bear the thought of living on the trivial amount of pay that police officers receive, or you can't handle the level of selfless sacrifice that is required to be a police officer, or you can't handle the thought of having to step into a domestic dispute or robbery or even a traffic stop where someone might be armed and pull the trigger before you have a chance to draw your own weapon to protect yourself, then you have no right - and I mean that sincerely - you have NO RIGHT to act as judge and jury and executioner where our police officers are concerned. Despite their many faults, most police officers are better than their peers, because these officers typically serve their communities - unthanked and unrewarded - for days on end, in harm's way, making sure that the rest of us are safe. So if you still feel the need to denigrate and defund the men and women in blue, whom I honestly regard as my fellow brothers-in-arms, then let me make this clear - you are a wicked, evil, twisted person. And yet, I hope the day never comes when you need a police officer to save you from another wicked, evil, twisted person who wants to do you harm.

Back-The-Blue

Movie Review: Radioactive

Marie Curie is one of the most-brilliant physicists and chemists in the history of science. She was a pioneering woman who was years ahead of her time, and her life deserves a biopic in tribute to her genius that is equally as brilliant as she was. Sadly, Amazon's 2020 release of Radioactive is not that biopic.

WARNING!!! SPOILIERS AHEAD!!! (You have been warned.)

To be perfectly honest, I looked forward with great anticipation for this film to be released. Marie Curie's many contributions to science and humanity are almost legendary, and Rosamund Pike is a brilliant actress who is capable of reading the dictionary and making it sound wonderful. However, this movie isn't terrible because it lacks a strong female role model from history, nor is this movie terrible because it lacks an equally strong actress to play the lead character, nor is this movie terrible because it lacks an impressive set of actors to play the periphery characters, nor is this movie terrible because it lacked an acceptable script. The primary reason this movie is terrible is because it was guided by a director, Marjane Satrapi, who was apparently preoccupied with trying to create a work of "art" at the expense of the story that she should have been telling.

Here is one perfect example of useless "artsy" direction: after the tragic and untimely death of Marie's husband, Pierre, there is a long dream sequence with bizarre imagery that resembles one of the many LSD/acid trip scenes from Oliver Stone's 1991 biopic The Doors. While I admit that it was essential to Marie's story to include various scenes that depict her extreme grief after Pierre's death, this dream sequence had no place in the film. For this travesty of screen time I fully blame the director.

Here is another example of useless "artsy" direction: at several times throughout the film, the scene would suddenly jump several decades into the future from Marie's timeline in order to show how radiation was used after her death. Examples shown were both for good (e.g. radiation therapy for cancer patients), and for evil (e.g. atomic bombs and Chernobyl). These scenes were supposed to convey the eventual impact of Marie's discoveries, but the jarring way in which the story jumped around on screen made no sense at all. All of those scenes would have been better suited as some sort of visual epilogue that discussed the long-term results of Marie's efforts, which should also have included nuclear power as one of the many positive benefits. (See FOONOTE below.)

And here is yet another example of useless "artsy" direction: near the end of the movie, Marie finally succumbs to her years of radiation poisoning, and viewers are treated with a nonsensical scene of Marie walking through various hospitals of the future to visit the eventual victims of radioactivity's many ills. However, this scene wasn't as "artsy" as the director undoubtedly intended. On the contrary, this scene was just… silly. It had no emotional impact, it didn't serve the plot, and it really had no place in this film.

One of the main arguments that I have with this movie is the fact that far too many scenes play fast and loose with history. As with all Hollywood biopics, scenes are added, or shown out of order, or lack their historical impact. For example, the movie depicts Marie being offered her late husband's teaching position at the University of Paris, which was a first for a woman and certainly significant from a historical perspective. However, Marie had already been teaching for several years at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris; a position she earned through her own merits, which is far more impressive than assuming the position that her deceased husband had previously occupied. An emotionally gripping scene from the film is a vicious argument that ensues after Pierre travels to Stockholm to accept their Nobel Prize without Marie, which is notoriously and negligently inaccurate; both Pierre and Marie traveled to Stockholm, therefore the entire argument scene is nothing but a fabrication for dramatic effect, and grossly unfair to Pierre's public memory.

Another point of contention is that this movie begins too far into Marie's career, and completely glosses over her early years of struggle to enter a university and earn her degrees at a time when such things were nearly impossible for a woman to achieve. These are important pieces from Marie's story that should have been portrayed, but those parts of her past were completely ignored by this film in order to advance scenes that were ridiculously unnecessary - such as Pierre's obsession with spiritualism and séances. (Those scenes were useless to the story and had silly-looking and unnecessary special effects; e.g. ectoplasm portrayed as green electrical sparks. This movie wasn't supposed rip off scenes from Ghost Busters.)

If I were one of Marie's descendants, I think I would have been offended at the consistently selfish behavior that Marie's character consistently displayed. Granted, I never met Marie Curie, nor have I read any correspondence from her, nor have I met anyone who met her. Perhaps she was a selfish person who spent her entire life obsessed with nothing but personal gain. However, this movie had a scene in which Marie's children entered her bedchamber while she was having an affair. In this scene, Marie's only reaction was to ask her children if they wanted her to feed them, otherwise they needed to get lost. This scene and several like it destroy the chances that today's young women would look to Marie as any sort of heroic figure to emulate.

To give benefit of the doubt, this film's portrayal of Marie as a selfish and combative creature might have been someone's half-hearted attempt to show a strong female character. However, there is a world of difference between showing strength and being a narrow-minded, self-absorbed jackass, and this movie tended to lean way too far toward the jackass side of the behavior spectrum where Marie was concerned.

In a way, this movie has a hard time finding an audience; the history is far too bad to be useful to anyone who is interested in studying about the life of Marie Curie. In addition, if I were an educator, the protracted scenes of sex and nudity would prevent me from being able to display this movie to students. Which is too bad, because the world needs more girls to be interested in STEM subjects, and this movie threw away a perfect opportunity to help out in that endeavor.

With another director at the helm, and with a better script that delved more into Marie's history, Amazon might have been able to produce a wonderful mini-series about Marie Curie's life. Instead, this director and the accompanying script produced little more than a two-hour gap in my life that I will never get back.


FOOTNOTE:

On a personal level, I found it morally reprehensible that the director, Marjane Satrapi, kept jumping back and forth between Pierre's acceptance speech for his Nobel prize to scenes of the Enola Gay dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The director's intention is perfectly clear: each time Pierre suggests how a "criminal" might use radioactivity, the story jumps to the scenes of the Enola Gay. There is no mistaking the director's meaning here: she is accusing the United States of war crimes.

I find it highly doubtful that anyone involved with this film was alive when World War II had been raging for six years, (or eight years if you include Japan's bloody invasion of China). By 1945, the war had already cost the world around 70 million lives. (See Fallen.io for a breakdown of how the number of deaths were obtained and how casualty estimates were distributed across the planet.)

If Japan hadn't surrendered, the war would have raged on for years, costing millions of additional lives. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved millions of Japanese lives. (See Operation Downfall for details on how costly the inevitable invasion of Japan would have been in terms of casualties; both allied and Japanese.)

This miniature history lesson is outside the scope of a movie review, although it is certainly indicative of the director's continued obsession with playing it fast and loose with history, while also taking a moment to cram her close-minded and naïve opinions down her viewers' throats. Shame on you, Marjane Satrapi. You're not just a bad director and bad student of history, you're apparently a pretty rude person, too.

To sleep, perchance to dream…

I have never had a time in my life where I lived with a schedule that resulted in a traditional, eight hours of sleep. For starters, I am what most people would call a "Night Person." I love staying up late working on this project or that. Adding insult to injury, I am also a workaholic; I have no concept of what a decent work/life balance should look like. (I never have; even when I served in the military I overdid everything.)

However, once I finish my career-oriented tasks for the day, that's when I work on my hobbies. Late nights are my "Me Time," and I love getting involved in something that might take me days or weeks to complete. That being said, I also have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), so I rarely finish most of the hobby projects that I begin. (But that's another story for another day.)

Anyway, as someone who has spent their entire life routinely abusing themselves where sleep is concerned, I thought that my life could serve as a warning to others of what they might have in store for their futures if they follow my example of habitual late night activities and poor work/life decisions.

Insomnia

This might seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes I work so much that I am too exhausted to sleep. I drag my sorry self around the house and eventually collapse into bed, but sleep never comes. I am genuinely tired, but I cannot bring myself to fall asleep. After an hour or so, I give up and drag myself back to my desk to continue working.

Another type of insomnia that I battle is caused by a combination of stress, workaholism, and ADD. When these three factors intersect each other in my life, they create a perfect storm of sleepless days and nights. I might lie down now and again, but my brain is constantly racing - I'm thinking of this detail or that, or this deadline or that… I think of a thousand things that I should be doing, and I cannot force my brain to rest.

I once participated in a sleep study (at the request of my doctor). The testing facility had several rooms, and I am convinced that everyone else in the facility was asleep by 10pm at the latest. In my room, however, 2am rolled around and I was still working on my laptop, reading reports from work, and watching a series of documentaries on the TV in my room. I was still wide awake and easily could have been up for a few more hours. The technicians from the sleep study eventually had to come to my room and inform me that if I didn't go to sleep, my entire test would be voided. I regretfully packed up all my things and climbed under the covers, but I still didn't fall asleep until 4am or so.

Sleep Paralysis

This is one of the most-terrifying experiences that you can imagine: you wake up, but you cannot breathe, you cannot speak, and none of your muscles will work. This scenario has happened to me on more occasions than I can remember, and based on what I have read about it, this condition is caused by a combination of stress and sleep deprivation. (Both of which are constant fixtures in my life.) What causes this condition is that our human bodies are paralyzed when we sleep, and this happens in order to prevent us from physically acting out during our dreams. (e.g. Sleepwalking, etc.) However, if you constantly impede your body's attempts to sleep naturally, you can run into a situation where the paralysis does not go away as you awaken, which quickly leads to panic.

As I mentioned earlier, I have lived through this experience more times than I can recall, and my method of breaking out of the situation feels like it takes a great deal of effort - both mentally and physically. When I wake up paralyzed and unbreathing, I immediately feel as though I am suffocating, and I panic. However, I cannot call for help, nor can I move any of my limbs. I have to force myself to think through the panic and concentrate on moving just one finger, and when I am able to do that, I work on a second finger, then a hand, then an arm, and eventually the paralysis begins to fade. All of this takes place in a matter of seconds, but it is a horribly agonizing period of time that seems like several minutes of intense suffering.

Thankfully, my sleep paralysis is not accompanied by hallucinations, but that appears to be a common problem. (See 15 People On Their Experience With The Sleep Paralysis Demon.)

Nightmares/Night Terrors

A direct result of terrible sleep patterns and living with constant stress is that your brain will inevitably take out its frustrations on your sleep time. Sometimes this will simply result in less sleep or poor quality sleep, while at other times you will be tortured by nightmares or night terrors. People with PTSD tend to experience these same sleep disorders, and in my experience - living with constant stress and constantly changing sleep patterns eventually leads to a form of low-scale PTSD.

I used to be plagued with nightmares of falling, or drowning, or being the victim of a heinous crime, or being attacked my monsters. Thankfully, I learned to master Lucid Dreaming, wherein a person who is dreaming becomes aware that they are in a dream, and then learns how to control their dreams. It might sound like make-believe or a hokey fantasy, but Lucid Dreaming has helped me put an end to all of my nightmares. I can now fly in my dreams, I can breathe underwater, and I can pick and choose what gets to stay and what has to leave when I'm dreaming. (I wish I could teach others how to dream lucidly, but the truth is - I'm not sure how I learned to do it myself; all I know is that Lucid Dreaming forever changed my life for the better.)

Narcoleptic Behavior

I do not have actual narcolepsy, and I genuinely feel sorry for those who suffer from that disorder. However, I have - on occasion - experienced some of its symptoms.

For example, I was working on a project a few years ago, wherein someone had promised someone else far too much work for me to complete in far too short a time period. As a result, I was working around the clock for a whole week. I would work for hours until I would suddenly lose consciousness, then I would sleep uncomfortably for a few minutes wherever I was located and in whichever position I collapsed. When I awoke, I would continue to work for several hours until I lost consciousness again, and then I would repeat the whole process. When the project was over, it took me weeks to recover from the abuse, and I had to drop out of a Master's Degree program that I was attending outside of work. (As of today, I have yet to return to that degree program.)

Trust me - that was a horrible way to live.

Inverted Circadian Rhythms

After several intense work projects that have required me to put in a lot of long hours, I have eventually realized that my body clock was completely upside down. I wanted to head off to sleep around 6am, wake up around noon, and work until 6am the next day. Believe it or not, I can thrive and be extremely productive with that work schedule. The trouble with this scenario is that people keep scheduling meetings at 9am (or earlier), so even if I head off to bed around 6am, I'm still getting up in a couple hours to go back to work.

Sleep-Deprived Hallucinations

Thankfully I have not experienced this situation recently, but when I stay up for three days or more, I begin to hallucinate.

A story that I occasionally tell dates back to a time in the military when I was required to be awake for more than four days. After I had been up for around 90-100 hours, I was driving a HMMWV down the German autobahn with a friend in the passenger seat. As I looked at the road in front of me, I asked my friend, "Do you see dogs all over the road?" He replied, "No… maybe you should let me drive." We pulled over and changed seats, then we got back on the road. When we arrived at our destination, I managed to get two hours of sleep, then I went back to work.

There have been a few other times that I have suffered from sleep-deprived hallucinations, but that story was the worst.

All Of The Above

When working on a few intense projects, I have sometimes experienced all of the conditions that I listed earlier at the same time. Needless to say, this is awful when it happens. I quickly feel out of control, and utterly helpless to rectify the situation. On occasion I have gone to see my doctor, who prescribes something that will knock me out at night and force my body back onto a 'normal' sleep schedule, but I hate it. I feel as though I am losing half my life unless I can stay up until 2am or 4am. When I fall asleep at 10pm, I have no time for hobbies; I lose my precious "Me Time," and I sink into depression. So even though I can be forced through medication into a traditional sleep pattern, I will quickly fall back into a "Night Owl" schedule as soon as I am done with my medication.

In Closing

It's after 4am. I should probably head off to bed soon.

Winking smile


ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: I have written in other blogs that I suffer with a disorder called Essential Tremor, which is exacerbated by both stress and a lack of sleep. In other words, my chosen lifestyle contributes to my unwelcome tremors. However, one question has recently occurred to me: my lifestyle currently contributes to my condition, but did my lifestyle originally cause my condition? I may never know the answer to that question, but it's something to think about.