Avalon Hill, the old board game maker best known for military war games, created a zombie version of its perennial favorite, Axis & Allies. It’s called Axis & Allies & Zombies and has an MSRP of $40. Amazon has it for $33.
My Air Force Days
A long, long time ago, I was at my local Walmart after work and noticed a t-shirt in the men’s department that looked a lot like a Nazi Death’s Head, a Totenkopf. I took a picture of it with my Motorola Razr flip-phone.
When I got home, I compared the photo I took at Walmart to an image of a Nazi death’s head I found online:
You’ll notice they’re almost identical.
I decided to blog about it. I just started this blog and I needed things to write about. After I posted it, I linked it on Digg. Like I said, this was a long, long time ago. The post took off like wildfire infected with weapons-grade syphilis. Evidently, people had a craving for stories involving Walmart and Nazi imagery.
My blog post made the national news
A reporter from The Associated Press contacted me and interviewed me over the phone. I was then interviewed on TV by my local station, then NBC 25, now called Local DMV as in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. They also run stories from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. They lost their NBC affiliation some time ago. Now they show the news and lots of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I didn’t want to go on TV. The reporter who arranged the whole thing said if I didn’t agree to come in, she would show up at my front door with a camera crew. I didn’t want the reporter and the camera crew to show up at my door, so I relented. I went to their studio and was interviewed.
The interview appeared not only on NBC 25, but a lot of other places, including CNN. Other news organizations ran articles about it. I remember getting a call from someone at ABC News asking my permission to republish my photo.
I bring this all up because I noticed a lot of visitors coming here to read my old blog post about Walmart selling the t-shirts. It turned out Rollingstone.com published an article on Walmart.com selling “Impeach 45” t-shirts and they mentioned other teachable moments in Walmart’s long history. They included my story about the Nazi Death’s Head t-shirt including a link.
If I had to describe who I am to someone, I would never say I was a Maryland Air Force veteran-turned-blogger. I live in Maryland. I’m an Air Force veteran. I have a blog. The article seems to suggest that I got out of the Air Force so I could move to Maryland and become a blogger. I got out of the Air Force in 1994 and moved to Maryland for a job. My “online journal” didn’t begin until 2006. These two events were in no way connected.
Walmart never removed the t-shirts from their stores
The funniest thing about this whole incident was Walmart promised to remove the t-shirts from their stores. They never did. They kept on selling them like nothing happened. A good many news organizations reported Walmart removed the t-shirts because that’s what they said in their press release. If any of the reporters ever bothered to go to their local Walmart, they would have seen with their own eyes that the t-shirts were still for sale.
My biggest regret is that I never kept a t-shirt as a memento. I bought one, but then Sheri gave it to her brother from Christmas as a gag.
I am not a buff
A reporter from the Miami-Herald wrote an article about it and she described me as a “World War Two buff.” I emailed her and told her I was not a World War Two buff. She argued that I was, otherwise I wouldn’t have known the image’s history. If I was a buff, I think I’d know it.
I have only a passing history in World War Two. I’ve read a few books and I used to play Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader when I was in the Air Force.
Although I played Squad Leader, I also played a lot of Battletech and Dungeons & Dragons.
It was important to me that I not be labeled a World War Two buff because I thought it was insulting to real World War Two buffs, people fully dedicated to the buff lifestyle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get this point across to the reporter.
The Internet is funny
I think it’s funny how something I blogged about nearly 12 years ago can still be a thing. It’s also quite hilarious the worst photo I’ve ever taken turned out to be the most widely disseminated and viewed photo I’ve ever taken. I used to be quite into photography and I’ve taken some decent photos over the years. This grainy pic taken with my flip-phone is the most famous.
Today is the Fourth of July, the anniversary of when our ancestors declared their independence from Great Britain. According to my calculations, we’ve been our own country for 88,388 days or more plainly put, 242 years.
My ancestral origins
My mother’s side of the family has been here since the beginning. Knowing them like I think I do, they were probably kicked out of England and put on a leaky wooden ship because they were weird and/or practiced a strange version of Christianity.
My father’s side of the family hasn’t been here as long. I know my father’s grandfather came here from Germany in the early 1900s. He left Germany with the last name of Oldenkamp, but when he later got married in Nebraska, he did so with the last name of Rottman, the surname of his mother’s second husband back in Germany. So I’m not even a real Rottman.
So I’ve been told. Who knows if any of that is true. What I do know is I don’t care.
I am an American
I don’t really care about where my ancestors came from. I hold no allegiance to whatever moldy part of Europe they came from. If they liked Europe so much, they would have stayed there. No, I come from people who wanted to leave Europe and come here to America. They did so knowing full well they’d never go back or even see the people they left behind.
My race is Human and my nationality is American. That’s as basic as I can break it down. That’s as basic as I care to break it down.
The Philippines taught me what being an American is
The period from 1985 to 1988 was very instrumental in forming who I am. I was in the Air Force and stationed overseas in the Philippines. There were two types of people over there: Filipinos and Americans. I learned then you were either an American or you weren’t. It didn’t matter what color your skin was or where you’re ancestors came from, if you were an American, you were my brother. Any differences you and I had didn’t matter. If you were an American, you were just like me, a stranger in a strange land.
Even today I feel the same exact way. There’s no need to hyphenate your nationality. If you’re an American, your an American. The word before the hyphen is meaningless.
You should feel proud to be an American
People should feel proud to be an American. It doesn’t matter who we currently have for president or what they’re doing in the White House. Most of the presidents in my lifetime have been awful. The current president is a dolt, but I can guarantee you he isn’t the first and he will not be the last.
You should feel proud to be an American because of your fellow Americans. We come in all kinds of colors and sizes. We bring parts of our culture with us. We collectively then decide what we like and what we don’t like. We keep the best and throw away the rest. We are Americans. We love pizza, tacos, sushi, salsa, and spaghetti.
Whenever someone accuses one of us of cultural appropriation, I just laugh. Cultural appropriation is what we do, we’re Americans. Now blindfold me so I can beat this red, white, and blue piñata and make it rain candy.
Happy Fourth of July
If you’re reading this and you’re an American, I hope you have a happy Fourth of July. If you’re reading this and you’re not an American, I hope one day you can become an American.
To say someone is an American is the nicest thing you can say about someone.
For a while now I’ve heard about something called white male privilege. As a white male who has never felt especially privileged, I never quite understood what the term was trying to refer to.
I think I first heard about it when one of my favorite science fiction authors at the time, John Scalzi, wrote about it on his blog back in 2012. He wrote:
Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?
Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.
I dare you to read the entire article.
Up until this time, I liked John Scalzi. Up until I read that post, I read every book he wrote. This was before I realized what a massive social justice warrior he was. At the time, I didn’t even know what a social justice warrior was. I only knew that unlike the words in his novels, the words on his blog bothered me. The words on his blog made me feel insulted.
Does any of the following sound privileged?
I may have been born white and male, but I assure you I am not privileged. When I was 19, I joined the military, the United States Air Force to be exact. Not because I had an unquenchable thirst for patriotism and aviation, but because I felt I had no other choice. I couldn’t find meaningful employment anywhere in Southern California, where I was born and raised.
The only jobs I could find were dead-end minimum wage jobs. I was even turned down for a job as a janitor at a convalescent home. I think that’s when you know you lack privilege when you cannot get hired to mop up old person pee.
My parents weren’t big on education. My father was kicked out of high school and earned a G.E.D. in the Marine Corps. My father thought college was a waste of time and money and at first refused to even allow me to attend classes at the nearby community college while I lived under his roof. I was supposed to just go out and get a job. He finally relented and I was allowed to start taking community college classes after the second semester under the stipulation that I also worked.
I couldn’t afford to go to a real college. Let’s just say my work in high school wasn’t the type that earned scholarships. I failed to qualify for any type of grant or student financial assistance. I do remember trying to fill out the paperwork for student assistance and it asked about my parent’s finances. When I asked my father about it, how much he made a year, he told me it was none of my business.
Does this sound at all like privilege? Having parents who not only refused to help you go to college but refused to even help fill out the financial aid paperwork?
So I joined the Air Force. They promised I would learn a skill in electronics that I then could turn around and use in civilian life. They even promised they would help me go to college in my time off so that I could earn an Associates degree.
After basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, I was bused to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississipi. Both basic training and tech school were hard for me. Nothing was handed to me because I was a white male. I had to work my ass off in tech school because going in I knew absolutely nothing about electronics.
I attended tech school with guys who grew up playing around with electronics, building batteries out of potatoes and stupid things like that. With most of the guys I was in class with, electronics was their hobby before joining the Air Force. It was their passion.
It certainly wasn’t mine.
When we went over Ohm’s Law, it was treated as a refresher. I was the only one in my class who didn’t already know what Ohm’s law was. Worse, I didn’t really understand it even after it was explained to me a number of times.
Electronics was not something I took to naturally. Why the Air Force decided to assign me to an electronics career field is a mystery to me. I know when I took the aptitude test to see what I was good at and what I was not good at, I scored lowest in electronics.
After barely passing basic electronics, I was sent off to electronic warfare systems technology training across the base. Electronic warfare is also called electronic countermeasures or ECM for short.
It has to do with the detection and countering of anti-aircraft radar. Essentially, it was the equipment that stopped aircraft from getting shot down. I was going to work on the electronic warfare or ECM equipment used on combat aircraft. At the time, it had one of the longest tech schools in the Air Force, 11 months.
Electronic warfare has zero civilian applications.
Work on jet engines in the Air Force and it’s completely possible to get a job with South West or American Airlines doing the same thing you did in the military. That’s not true with working on electronic warfare equipment.
People may dislike South West, but not enough to fire a Soviet-built ground-to-air missile at one of their planes.
In March of 1994, I got out of the Air Force armed with an Associates degree in avionics, specializing in a branch of avionics with no civilian application. I had already reenlisted once, but because the cold war was over and Bill and Hillary Clinton were the president, the military was being drawn down and budgets were being cut. I was offered money to get out early from my second enlistment.
To make matters even worse, my wife of eight months totally blindsided me the month before by announcing she wanted a divorce. I didn’t even know we had problems, let alone she wanted a divorce. Deciding to get out of the Air Force had a lot to do with getting married eight months prior. I was stationed at Griffiss Air Force Base, located in Upstate New York. She had a great job with a local company.
I didn’t have a job. My wife just left me. You might think, under those circumstances, my family in California would want me to return home. The complete opposite was true. My mother warned me about coming back to California unless I first had a job. She even recommended I try to reenlist in the Air Force. Granted, the Air Force could be stupid sometimes, but when they pay you to get out early, they don’t then turn around and allow you to reenlist.
How was I supposed to find a job in Southern California while I was living Upstate New York? I was truly alone. I was still living in the apartment close to my soon to be ex-wife’s job, but 32 miles away from Griffiss Air Force Base. My ex-wife moved in with her mother.
This was before the Internet became a thing. I was trying to find a job by physically mailing paper copies of my resume to prospective employers in California. I remember spending a lot of money on stamps, envelopes, and making copies of my resume at Kinkos.
Mailing my resume to companies and headhunter firms didn’t get me any potential job opportunities in California. It turned out there are so many people living in Southern California, employers there are able to find qualified job candidates without going through their mail.
My hard work with the U.S. Postal Service and Kinkos was not for naught. Mailing hundreds of copies of my resume did get me a job offer in Maryland, somewhere I had not even tried to find a job. Having spent close to three months looking for meaningful employment in the land of my birth without any success, I accepted the offer in Maryland when it was made. I figured I’d work in Maryland for a while and continue to try to find a job in California.
It’s now 24 years later and I’m still in Maryland. I met the woman I’m now happily married to shortly after moving here “temporarily.”
In time, I finally realized that if my family wanted me to return to California, they would have wanted me to return after completing my stint in the Air Force. They wouldn’t have discouraged me from returning.
I found out much later that nobody in my family wanted me to return to California because they were collectively afraid I would end up perpetually unemployed and sleeping on someone’s couch. They were also ashamed I was getting a divorce. My parent’s religion forbade divorce. I was brought up to believe divorced people were second-class citizens.
In the 24 years since moving to Maryland. I cannot count how many times I’ve gone back to California to visit my family. What I can do is count how many times a member of my family has come to Maryland to visit me: zero.
Nobody in my family has ever come to Maryland to visit me. Even when I was in intensive care for nine days and almost died, did a member of my family even try to come to see me.
Even as a “privileged” white male, my life often sucks
Since leaving the Air Force, I’ve had a string of jobs I didn’t like. Usually, the more they had to do with electronics, the more I hated them. I’ve worked on photofinishing equipment, both for Walmart Photo and for Fujicolor USA when they acquired Walmart Photo. It’s why I came to Maryland. I then took a position with Greytag, a company that manufactured photofinishing equipment. I traveled around the United State repairing Gretag equipment.
I’ve worked on electrostatic printers in a large printing plant. I worked for NCR repairing cash registers at Walmart, Food Lion, and other retailers. I worked up in Pennsylvania as a bench technician at a company that made three-phase motor controllers.
When I got laid off from that job, I spent a few months on Pennsylvania unemployment and thought a lot about what I wanted to do next. I took a job at First Data working as a call center eCommerce support agent. Finally, a job that didn’t have anything to do with electronics. Call center work is many things, but a privilege is not one of them.
At this point, I was heavily into WordPress. I enjoyed messing around with themes and plugins, teaching myself PHP, CSS, and HTML along the way. This self-taught knowledge allowed me to get the eCommerce support position with First Data.
After working for First Data for over seven years, I left and started my own web development business. While at First Data, I talked to a lot of people on the phone who identified themselves as web developers. I knew from speaking to them that I could do what they do.
When I was still working for First Data, in my off time I created a WordPress plugin that connected WordPress to First Data’s eCommerce gateway, Payeezy. It created a form that a cardholder filled out to make a payment or a donation. The plugin is hosted on WordPress.
I began modifying the basic plugin for clients on a case by case basis. I’ve since created three more WordPress plugins that I sell on my business website. I also take on custom work. Not only do I integrate WordPress with Payeezy, I also integrate Wix with Payeezy. I think I’m the only one offering that service.
When I’m not doing any of that, I drive for both Uber and Lyft. All combined I make a decent income. I wouldn’t say I’m privileged.
I imagine back in 1818 or 1918, white males had it pretty good. The thing is, it’s 2018. Time travels in only one direction. Men don’t wear top hats or use pocket watches anymore. Things change. Contrary to what some people might believe, things are not handed to white males because they are white males. I’ve had to fight and claw for everything I have. I assure you nothing was ever handed to me.
Tell me how privileged I am when I’m driving for Uber with someone who smells bad in the backseat. Tell me how privileged I am when someone spills some of their breakfast in the backseat of my car and they don’t bother to tell me about it or even try to clean it up.
To assume I’m privileged because I was born white and a male is not only racist and sexist, it’s completely wrong. It’s a gross generalization based solely on skin color and biological sex. Anyone who believes white male privilege exists today is dumb. Anyone who uses it to make judgments about people had better be prepared to be wrong most of the time.
Toys R Us is going out of business. They owe more money to creditors than what they have and have declared bankruptcy. I keep reading that Toys R Us will be liquidating their current inventory with massive sales. The science fiction blog io9 said that sale was to begin yesterday. That didn’t happen.
I went to the Hagerstown Toys R Us yesterday and although the shelves were looking quite bare, there wasn’t a massive sale going on.
I’ve got my eyes on an Iron Man statue that normally costs $39.99. I have a Spider-Man statue from the same line that I was able to get for only $6.99 earlier at Toys R Us.
One of the byproducts of paying only $6.99 for a statue that normally costs $39.99 is that you don’t want to pay for retail for one ever again. You get spoiled.
The Hagerstown Toys R Us has one of the Iron Man statues in stock, but it’s $39.99 with a buy one, buy another at 40 percent off. Since they only have one, it makes that gimmick sale even worse than normal.
I have a lot of good memories associated with Toys R Us. Not as a child, but as an adult who has collected a lot of stupid stuff over the years.
It began with Playmates Star Trek: The Next Generation action figures. I was in the Air Force stationed in upstate New York and my boss was collecting them. He asked me to be on the lookout for a Deanna Troi for him. Since she was a girl, toy companies made less of them since it was a toy line for boys.
It got to be fun looking for her. I finally got her for him at a KB Toys in a “black” mall in Los Angeles when I was home on leave. My ex-wife and I were the only white people in the entire mall. I didn’t even notice until my ex-wife pointed it out. If memory serves, she cared about things like that.
I gave my boss the Deanna Troi figure when I got back and he was able to then finish his collection. I missed looking for her, so I started collecting them myself.
From collecting Playmates Star Trek: The Next Generation action figures, I moved over to collecting Star Wars: The Power of the Force figures when they were released in 1995.
I then got into collecting sports-related Kenner Starting Lineup figures. I was into collecting those in a very serious way. I made many a trip to Toys R Us, KB Toys, Kmart, Walmart, and anywhere else I thought would stock them. Once they hit the pegs, they usually went pretty quickly.
I even started and maintained a Majordomo message email list for fellow collectors of Kenner Starting Lineup figures. It resulted in my very first online death threat. A member of the list got mad about something and decided to show his frustration by threatening me with death.
I still collect Hot Wheels cars off and on. I take a look at die-cast cars when we go to Walmart or Target. Sometimes I’ll pick up a car I like, but my interest in the toy cars is nothing too serious. They’re usually less than a dollar each, so it’s easy to pick one up if I see something I like.
I think I’ll miss Toys R Us, not for anything it can provide today, but for what it was able to provide before.
Famed evangelical Christian evangelist Billy Graham died. He was 99 years old.
I saw Billy Graham speak in person once. It was in 1990 while I was in the Air Force. I had just PCS’d (permanent change of station) – moved – from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam to Griffiss Air Force Base in upstate New York. A friend I knew from Guam was also stationed at Griffiss and evidently, he had become somewhat religious since moving back to the mainland.
Billy Graham was speaking at an arena in Albany and my buddy from Guam wanted to go. He asked me if I’d go with him.
I figured, why not? I’d never been to Albany before. I was such a new arrival to New York, I hadn’t really been anywhere.
Up until that point, the most famous evangelical Christian speaker I had seen was Paul Crouch. He, of course, was accompanied by his wife Jan. They were speaking not in a big fancy arena, but in the church in which I was raised in, the Lancaster First Assembly of God.
I don’t remember much of the Billy Graham event, other than it was extremely boring. In other words, it was just like attending services at the old Lancaster First Assembly of God. I do remember an announcement about protestors out front of the arena and how we were not to pay any attention to them.
I didn’t see any protesters when we entered the arena, but I was immediately intrigued. Why would anyone protest a Billy Graham event? I thought Billy Graham was loved by Christians and non-Christians alike.
I don’t really understand the allure Billy Graham had with people. He was famous for ministering to presidents and other heads of state. I’m not sure why this was the case. It’s not like the message he was providing was special or different than all the other professional evangelical Christian.
Granted, most professional evangelical Christians have an ethical stink about them that turns most people off. One has to look no further than Paul and Jan Crouch to know what I’m talking about. Billy Graham was unique in that he didn’t have that stink about him. He didn’t come across as a dishonest scumball out to make a quick buck.
With that said, Billy Graham did make a living, a very good living, telling people things that were factually not true. He spent his life telling people that unless they asked a man who lived over 2,000 years ago in the Palestine region of the Roman empire to come into their hearts, they would spend eternity burning in a giant lake of fire.
Billy Graham told millions of people this message even though there was absolutely no proof that substantiated any of it. Facts? Like all evangelical Christians, facts were nonexistent.
Billy Graham dealt with faith, not fact.
I’d probably look at Billy Graham differently if I could ignore all the damage he did in the name of his religion. How many gay and lesbian people were made to feel subhuman because of the teachings of Billy Graham? Billy Graham taught homosexuality could be healed with prayer. How many families with a gay or lesbian member were forever fractured and destroyed because of Billy Graham’s message? We will never know, but the number is probably quite high.
There are undoubtedly some people feeling sad today because Billy Graham passed away, but I do not include myself in their numbers. Afterall, Billy Graham is now in Heaven with Jesus, right?