Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Opposite of Idealism

Everybody in any type of movement is an idealist. For example, the Patriot movement is all about idealism - we advocate an ideal society, an ideal form of government, an ideal way of life.

What can go wrong with idealism?

One way idealists go wrong is by choosing the unachievable ideals. Socialism, communism, and fascism are the political manifestations of unachievable ideals, carried to genocidal extremes.

Incorrect ideals need not be writ large, however. Incorrect ideals are sometimes adopted only for brief periods of time, at certain times of the year. Let’s call this “holiday idealism”. A good example of this is described in the audio version of David Sedaris’ essay “SantaLand Diaries”. The narrator describes a parent who must threaten her child in order to get a good photo with a department store Santa Claus:
“On paper, it means that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be, that everything is snowy and wonderful. It’s not about the child, or Santa, or Christmas, or anything but the parent’s idea of a world they cannot make work for them.”

A far deeper way idealists can go wrong is to abandon their principles completely. This doesn't happen all at once. People sell their soul in such small quantities - a seemingly trivial compromise here, a rationalization of a minor evil there - that they don't realize what they're doing until it is too late.

The immediate result of abandoned idealism is an embittered and drained man, whether he realizes it or not, whether he likes it or not. He is capable of acting in his own interest, but only to the extent that those interests coincide with those of the lowest animals.

It gets worse, once the embittered man realizes not all people have chosen his route.

The embittered man understands that something has gone wrong, but instead of identifying the problem and repairing the damage, he pretends that perception trumps reality, so he puts on a happy face. He becomes an uncheerful cheerleader for what used to be his opposition: “there but for the grace of Obamacare go I”, “there but for laws prohibiting cocaine go I”, etc.

For a brief while, the embittered man believes his own propaganda and becomes mildly happy. He finds similarly mildly happy men, and they might even come to think of themselves as a pack. In reality they are a herd, and are perfect for being in a herd, for they are incapable of believing they are being herded.

Here’s looking at you, 1960s counterculture hippies.

As time goes on, the embittered men see the gulf between what is and what could be - but they push such thoughts away. They view their abdication of principle as a sign of maturity, and they pride themselves for their pragmatism. They advocate for things that would horrify their younger selves. When they encounter those who haven't sold their souls, they call them immature, or say that they aren't living in the real world.

Here’s looking at you, old-school Republicans.

People say - popular culture advocates - government demands that we sell our souls, for nothing but the cheapest of baubles and bling, if even that. If you do sell, the result is a gray, cheerless, and dreary existence.

If you stay true to your principles, you have confidence, conviction, purpose, values - in other words, you have a future.

Why would anyone be happy with less?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Survivalist for All Seasons

The theme of JC Dodge's essay "The Importance of the Right Label" is exactly what the title says: the importance of integrity and honesty in thinking about ourselves and others, how labels are perverted by nefarious people for nefarious purposes, and what our choice of labels says about ourselves during crunch time.

In the process of explaining all this, JC answers the question: what is the difference between a survivalist and a prepper? He has very interesting things to say there, and it is worth reading three times over to absorb it all. The following is what I gleaned from having done just that. All quotes, except for one, are from that essay, and are used with his permission.

First, what is a survivalist?
"A “Survivalist” has a mindset that makes preparing for bad times a lifestyle and looks forward to the training, education, and acquiring of the means to accomplish that goal."
He takes this further by outlining a survivalist manifesto...
"A “Survivalist” is one who isn’t afraid of the task ahead. Even though those tasks appear foreboding. The “Survivalist” is optimistic about the outcome of any future calamity, and realizes that being prepared for anything is a lifestyle, not a hobby. A “Survivalist” doesn’t give two shits about being politically correct, since reality dictates that “The politically correct” will be the first to die. This is true, when you consider their lack of foresight and the unending need for their “perception of things” to be real, and that perception will always override the true “reality of things” in their mind."
The best part of that paragraph is the realization that a man lives by his mind. Appearance is irrelevant, perception is irrelevant; what matters is that reality exists and that we are capable of understanding it. This is the absolute key to survival. A man who lives by his mind, lives; a man who ignores his mind, thereby ignoring reality, dies. Simple.

Second, what is a prepper?
"At the end of the 90’s, we started hearing a term describing those that were getting ready for the Y2K event, and that term was “Prepper”. The term “Prepper” was apparently politically correct, at least as much as a term describing a self reliant individual could be. My take on the “preppers” of that time frame was that they wanted to be ready, just in case, but they generally didn’t want people around them to know they were “nutty” preparedness types."
JC goes on to affirm the first and reject the second: "I AM A SURVIVALIST, not a Prepper! I don’t need to use a politically correct term to describe my less than politically correct mindset and actions."

Later, JC must be credited for coming up with a new name for when the SHTF: TEOTWAWKISTAN, heh! Courage wants to laugh, and you can tell he was having the time of his life when he invented that!

Finally, we have this very telling sentence: "Learning to survive alone and planning to survive alone are two different things. The difference is similar to the difference between “Living” and “Existing”." In other words, a survivalist wants not simply to live but to live as a man.

So, is the difference between a survivalist and a prepper simply that the former "has grown a set" and the latter never will? Is a prepper a "survivalist in the closet" at best? I think there is more to it.

Everyone's heard the saying that begins "Give a man a fish...". What that phrase means is that knowledge is more valuable than the immediate consequences of applying that knowledge. JC applies this to milquetoast survivalism, the prepper movement: "A lot of the “Preppers” I’ve met... seem to have a mindset similar to 'If I acquire enough stuff, I’ll be fine.'"


Let's play devil's advocate, put ourselves in a prepper's shoes, and apply Pascal's Wager to the "prepper lifestyle": either there's a ________ coming, or there isn't (fill in the blank with whatever catastrophe you want). If it does come, and I have acquired enough stuff, great! If not, I spent a lot of money and I look like an idiot. The former outcome is favorable, the latter is inconvenient or irrelevant; so I should be a prepper.

There is so much wrong with that approach, but you hear this type of spineless utilitarianism all the time. Let's start at the start, and staying with JC's theme of the importance of integrity, all of the problems that preppers have - and that survivalists don't - stem from that blank spot in the above argument.

The goal of the survivalist is just that: to survive as a man. By "as a man" I mean that the survivalist wants to protect the ideals, people, and things he values - in a manner appropriate to men, not savages nor animals. Whatever the catastrophe, the survivalist's goal remains the same. For the survivalist, it is the goal that determines the means.

For the prepper, it is the catastrophe that determines the means. The prepper focuses almost exclusively on the means to get through a calamity, and any goals beyond that are left nebulous. The prepper wants a lifestyle, not a life. He will end up having neither, for no prepper's hyper-detailed plan will survive contact with reality: change the details of the catastrophe, and the prepper is caught off guard.

(You can also see the consequences of this omission of goals in prepper fiction: their novels frequently read more like how-to manuals than fiction. The goal of fiction is to show, not to teach. Besides, any good how-to manual must have an index.)

There's also a problem of magnitude: many preppers fill in that blank with huge and sudden natural disasters, such as: Yellowstone volcanos, solar flares, asteroid strikes, etc. What about events that aren't huge? What about events that are gradual rather than sudden? What about man-made disasters?

February 2010 Snowstorm in Frederick, MD: Not something a prepper would consider worthy.

By being stuck in the mechanics of prepping for a particular large-scale event instead focusing on the goal (to survive as a man), the prepper is missing the opportunity to apply his "preps" to small and/or gradual events. Instead of worrying about Yellowstone volcanos, think of major snowstorms. Instead of solar flares, be concerned about the impending layoffs at your company. Instead of a sudden asteroid impact, prepare to fight creeping socialism.

From that standpoint, the S has already HTF, repeatedly.

Going back to Pascal, and back to JC's essay, there is another problem that preppers have and that survivalists don't: the "if not" part. What happens if the catastrophe never comes? As a solution to this, JC quotes Robert Heinlein's Lazarus Long character (in "Time Enough for Love"?) as epitomizing the survivalist:
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
The particular list of skills is not as important as the contrast between that variety and the single-mindedness of an insect. Taking this quote in isolation, one must ask of each of those activities: to what end? For Heinlein's answer, read any of his novels.

Notice not only the breadth of those skills, but also the depth to some of them. Most of those skills are nontrivial tasks, and require serious effort and discipline to complete. What Heinlein is saying here is the ideal man is not to be just a "competent man" or a "generalist", but an "exceptional man". He won't know how to do all of those things, but he has the ability to learn and adapt, and he knows that he must do so in order to survive.

One last thing about those skills: all of them are worth doing outside of catastrophic situations, and many of them pay quite well. This, I think, is a key difference between a prepper and a survivalist: the prepper wins Pascal's Wager only if a catastrophe happens; a survivalist wins either way.

In summary: a prepper is prepared to live through a disaster; a survivalist lives as a man, regardless of whether a disaster happens or not.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Eyes on the Prize

We think of militias in terms of what they prevent - government intrusion and foreign invasion. While militias can indeed defend against those, that’s a negative description. Think of it like this: a Catholic is a non-Protestant Christian, but being non-Protestant doesn’t tell you much about Catholicism!

So really, what does a militia do? More to the point, what does active membership in a militia do for us, individually? Everybody has their own answers; what follows are mine.

What convinced me to join was the expressions you see in people's eyes.

When you look into a man’s eyes, you sometimes see confusion and apprehension – he is confused by the present and fearful of the future. Other times, you see a sick kind of giddiness, as if he is being pushed off of a cliff, and no amount of his scheming can prevent it. On still other occasions, you cannot look into his eyes at all, for he is always looking at other people – he is trying to determine what to think since he is too lazy to think for himself.

No fire, no passion; no brightness, no eagerness.

Those are not the looks of men; those are the looks of chattel.

I grew tired of seeing that in people's eyes, and what it implies: that they are not men; that they are indeed chattel.

That’s why I joined a militia: the fire and passion in a militiaman’s eyes has not been extinguished; the brightness and eagerness remain. I want to be around such men, for they are the only ones worth knowing.

Now, why I stay in a militia is more about how our society got to this point.

Let’s face it: our popular “culture” and our “education” system do as much damage to our way of life as does the intrusive government. This is especially true of the education system.

We are taught just enough knowledge so that we can barely hold-down jobs we hate, instead of being able to use knowledge as the powerful and elegant tool that it is - and we are left with nothing but superstition, rumor, and opinion. We are taught that we exist for the state, not the other way around. We are taught that we should turn control of our lives and property over to "qualified experts," without questioning why those so-called "experts" are qualified and how they'll be held accountable if they aren't. We are taught that handouts are the way to success, not productivity.

We are taught that confusion, fear, and the lack of control are normal and acceptable – and if we doubt that, just ask what everybody else thinks.

Pop culture distracts the chattel, the government herds them, but it is the education system that produces such helpless people.

That is why I stay in: the militia is a rejection of this learned helplessness. Active members of a militia expand their comfort zone, and learn to take care of themselves in that expanded zone. Then they repeat, repeat, and repeat again. Militia members are anything but helpless.

There’s more, though. To quote Nietzsche somewhat out of context: "Free from what? As if that mattered...! But your eyes should tell me brightly: free for what?"

Free for what, indeed!

If we don’t make our own future, it will be made for us. The militia is living proof that we can make our own future. It is human ability made manifest.

Those are my reasons for joining and staying in. Everybody will have their own. Some assembly required, and your mileage may vary. However you approach it, though, the end result is the same: not only freedom, but worthiness of being free.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Freedom Fighter's Creed

Last Friday, the militia group of which I'm a member attended Operation American Spring in Washington, DC. This essay started out to be an "after action report", but the important details belong in another forum. Instead, this is a "lessons learned" report. I've been to plenty of protests in DC before, but this was the first one I attended as part of a group, wearing a uniform. Those two facts completely altered the dynamics, and the lessons I learned came to me as complete surprises.

Now from day one, people have been predicting that OAS would be a failure. That’s not surprising, especially given the goals as specified by its organizers: millions of protesters? Please. Obama, Boehner, etc., stepping down of their own accord? Whatever, ain’t gonna happen. And, OAS started on a weekday.

Besides all that, there were two very telling criticisms of OAS that came from members of the Conservative and Patriot movements.

1. "It will be a bloodbath"
No, it won’t, and no it wasn’t. The Bundy Ranch was an exception: the means by which government controls us is not through guns, but rather through behavioral psychology ("nudging") and, for those of us who fall through that net of propaganda, administrative sanctions. We who went to OAS were never in any physical danger.

(By the way, the government's reliance on administrative sanctions raises the following question: is the most effective way to combat such sanctions through a militia? This will be addressed in the future.)

2. "Militiamen don’t do protests"
This isn't a critique of OAS per se, but rather of how people participate in OAS. I find this one to be the strongest criticism of all. I have tremendous respect for the man who said this, and I still do: difference in opinion does not imply difference in principle. And, I don’t completely disagree with him.

Does this mean that when soldiers march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, they stop being soldiers? Did the WW1 veterans who participated in the Bonus Army march cease to be veterans?

No. What the writer meant by “militiamen don’t do protests” is that when members of a militia attend an organized protest, they aren’t acting in the capacity of militiamen.

But, we who attended OAS as part of a militia weren’t acting strictly in the capacity of protesters, either. What were we, then?

If there is one label that would be applicable, it would be "freedom fighters". Let this, then, be the freedom fighter's creed:
We do whatever it takes to win back our freedom. Period. We speak instead of remaining silent. We speak, we debate, we protest. If we can convince, we recruit. If we cannot convince, we sow the seeds of doubt. If need be, we fight with any available weapons. We don’t complain about “unfair odds” - we turn those into opportunities. If we find ourselves in a “fair fight,” we make it unfair to our opponents, however possible. We leverage our successes and we learn from our mistakes. We let the world know of the rightness of our cause through word and deed and example. The only constraints we have are those imposed by the dictates of our conscience and the limits of our ingenuity. 
No, I wouldn't call our participation in OAS a complete mistake. Sometimes, the lessons that are learned by accident, or in the process of failing, are the most lasting.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How History Is Made

The 2014 State Meeting of the Pennsylvania Militias started with a phone call from one of our members. We put him on speakerphone. He was on his way to Nevada to stand with the Bundys and against the Bureau of Land Management. Near the end of the meeting, we learned that the BLM backed down. Perfect bookends for that meeting!

History was made at the Bundy ranch on April 12th, 2014, but not in the way people expected. On that day, the BLM blinked. But they weren't the only ones - we blinked, too:
- Government overstepping its bounds - everyday event, alas
- Americans getting pissed-off at government overreach - that's expected
- Americans getting pissed-off at something other than 2A restrictions - that's rare, unfortunately
- Government flexing its muscle - that's expected, too
- Other Americans showing up in support - also kind of rare, unfortunately, but not surprising
- Government backing down without a shot being fired - now that's "off script"!

That last step is so unexpected, I believe, because we are "educated" to think that the world is shaped by "historical forces" and not individual actions. According to this view, history is something you survive, not something that you make. As such, whatever happens in our country is inevitable, and that we cannot change the world.

News flash: the world is changing all the time. But who does the changing?

On that day, it was the Bundys and their supporters who did the changing. The militiamen and other supporters went there not to make history, but to protect the Bundys from the government, to stand against tyranny. They were there not to be remembered, but because it was the right thing to do.

They made a difference, and that's all that matters. History comes later.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Improvise, Adapt, and…

Last spring, I was talking with this one retired Marine - his maritime security business wasn’t doing too good, and I was encouraging him to make some changes to it, but to persevere. He should “improvise, adapt, and be victorious,” I said.

He stopped me in the middle of what I hoped was an inspirational rant and said: “Overcome. It’s ‘improvise, adapt, and overcome’.”

Rant: over. Moment: gone. Marine-turned-business-owner: not victorious.

This is how I learned the phrase “improvise, adapt, and be victorious”.

The context: The year was 1981 or 1982 1979 or 1980. Jimmy Carter was the asshole in office. It was a couple of years after the asshole gave the Panama Canal away, and a year or so after the asshole Peanut Farmer in Chief decided to impose draft registration on all men 18 and over. Asshole.

The scene: I was in downtown Akron, Ohio, my hometown. There was a man holding a sign that read “Don’t Register for the Draft”. He was a few years older than me, light brown curly hair, wearing a red checkered shirt. He wasn't part of a group or anything, just a one man protest.

He was being harangued by this one woman. She was right in his face, in an emotional state somewhere past furious, past apoplectic, and bordering on homicidal. The man with the sign stood there, perfectly calm. It was irresistible force vs immovable object, and it was the best show of restraint I have ever seen!

The lady saw me. I don’t remember exactly what she did next, but she walked away.

The man and I started talking. I had already made up my mind not to register. I was having trouble finding the words explaining this decision. It would be years before I would phrase it as: “because I’m a free man, and I intend to stay free.”

I asked him “what can be done?” He replied: “all we can do is improvise, adapt, and be victorious.” I remember thinking that that was a strange phrase, but didn't inquire.

I sometimes wonder whatever happened to the man with the sign. Did he survive? Yes, I’m sure of it. Did he survive intact? No: none of us did. The treatment we all got was, and continues to be, quite rough. 

Getting through all that will leave one with enough anger, enough rage, to last a lifetime. And, enough pride for 10 lifetimes. Exactly the ingredients needed to overcome and to be victorious.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How "No" Becomes "Hell, No"

It doesn't take an army to change the world, or an average-sized militia group, either. All it takes is one individual to say the word "No". Be it a man refusing to register for the draft, or be it a gun owner refusing to register his weapons in Connecticut, it is the same: defiance in the face of arbitrary authority.

However, unless that individual wants to live the life of "Bartleby, the Scrivener", follow-up action is required.

Gene Sharp has written extensively on techniques of non-violent resistance. Here's two samples:

List of specific techniques:

Specific methods and why they work:

Many of the techniques that Sharp describes require a large number of people to implement. Also, some of the methods are aimed only at "raising awareness" instead of achieving results. As such, instead of non-violent "propaganda of the deed", those specific methods are "propaganda of the wussie".

We can do better.

Here's a 32-page OSS manual from 1944 called "Simple Sabotage Field Manual." Chapter 5 (the last and longest chapter) is great, especially the part on organizational sabotage! All the techniques listed there can be carried-out by a single individual. Some of the ideas are out-of-date, but can be adapted to present day situations.

One of the most important parts of the OSS manual is the creation of a "feedback" loop, where "the citizen-saboteur acquires a sense of responsibility and begins to educate others in simple sabotage".

Link: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/26184/page-images/26184-images.pdf

In 1983, the CIA airdropped copies of "The Freedom Fighter's Handbook" over Nicaragua. The techniques in this 15-page handbook, while being more modern, aren't nearly as creative as those found in the OSS manual. Also, the CIA manual doesn't include a "feedback" loop like the OSS manual does. The cartoons don't help either.

Link: http://www.nostate.com/docs/The-Freedom-Fighters-Manual.pdf

It is with techniques like these that "No" becomes "Hell, No"!

Monday, January 27, 2014

With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?

Detroit's problems are numerous:

All of this has left the city dilapidated. Detroit has all the ruin of Dresden, but none of the firebombing. In fact, the phrase "ruin porn" has been applied to photos of the state of decay, and "ruin tourism" (what used to be called "slumming") is now a business.

No politician in Detroit is fit to manage their own bank accounts, let alone that of a whole city. Which means... outside help.

Rick Snyder, Michigan's governor, proposed on January 22, 2014, that the state provide $350 million to cover city pensions. "This is not a bailout of paying the debts directly of the city of Detroit. This is not a bailout of banks and other creditors," Snyder said. No, it is a bailout of retiree pension funds, using other people's money, of course.

To follow this bad idea with a worse idea, Snyder then proposed bringing in 50,000 skilled immigrants over the next five years to revitalize the "motor city".

In other words, Detroit is now the equivalent of a third-world country, and the politicians are now trying to populate it with third-world workers.

Snyder is yet another Republican, abandoning working class people. With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bracken's Books on Amazon, Free on Jan 15th and 16th

Matt Bracken will be making all three e-books in his "Enemies" series available on Amazon for free on January 15th. Hooray, and thank you Matt!

The impact of dystopian fiction is sometimes weakened because of "scifi" aspects (think of the movie versions of "V for Vendetta" or "Logan's Run"). There is little of that in the "Enemies" trilogy, and the result is that the novels strike close to home - sometimes too close! Here's a review (titled "One character's plight...") I posted on Amazon on February 4th of last year.
Matthew Bracken's "Enemy" trilogy is well written, but I am attaching this review to the third installment, "Foreign Enemies and Traitors" because of one particular scene... 
There is a character named Doug who describes how his university tuition was tripled as a means of coercing him to join the military. The same thing happen to me in 1984 in Ohio. Unlike that character, I resisted, and left the university. However, the fact that an event like this was mentioned at all literally brought tears to my eyes - and that doesn't happen often! 
Politicians of both parties, though they have their (staged) disagreements, like to pretend that we're all one big happy country. We're not, but the way they maintain this illusion is by marginalizing and ignoring those who question authority, demand accountability, and care about individual rights. Over the course of the trilogy, Bracken presents how this marginalization and "sweeping under the rug" occurs, and what the consequences not only could be, but actually are. 
I'm not sure the power of that particular scene would have on somebody who hasn't been in that character's position, but it was certainly quite moving for me.
Two of Matt's other books, "Castigo Cay" and "The Bracken Anthology" will be available on the 16th. I've not read "Castigo Cay", but the anthology is a mixture of short stories and essays, mostly essays, that are worth reading. One of the essays, "When the Music Stops", describes a scenario that starts when the back-end to the EBT card (food stamp) system goes off-line for an extended period of time. This essay was written in September 2012, over a year before the EBT system really did crash; many of the consequences predicted in that essay didn't occur - but the system was offline for only a few hours. Prescient, no?

Here's a link to Matt's author page on Amazon.

Kindles ready? And...download!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Robert M. Gates' 'Duty': a Pre-Review

Like many wonks, I'm eagerly awaiting the January 14th release of Robert M. Gates' upcoming memoir, 'Duty'. Gates was deputy director of the CIA under Reagan and Bush 41, director of the CIA under Bush 41, then Secretary of Defense under Bush 43 and Obama. In between the last two positions, he was president of Texas A&M for just over four years.

Gates' publicity machine is working overtime, dropping snippets that promise insight into those four administrations. Personally, I'm interested in his time at Texas A&M - the revolving door through which politicians/regulators/administrators and academia pass deserves as much attention as the revolving door between the regulators and lobbyists.

After leaving the Obama administration, he accepted - and still holds - the chancellorship of the College of William and Mary.

The memoir, being written by a beltway insider, has also generated pre-release panning by Gates' detractors. A fine example of this is "Robert Gates's Narcissistic 'Duty'" by former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman. Previously, Goodman attributed the CIA's policy of "sexing-up" intelligence reports to Gates. In this latest essay, Goodman describes Gates as a "sycophant in all of his leadership positions" and "[f]or the most part, Gates has been a windsock when it came to policy decisions and typically supported his masters."

It gets worse...
"Regarding Gates’s selection in 2006 to head the Defense Department, I encountered many key Senate staffers who opposed his appointment but believed that it was important to abort the stewardship of Rumsfeld. At that time, I labeled Gates the 'morning after' pill."
We don't need to wait for the memoir for certain insights, though...
"In many ways, the most stunning aspect of Gates’s national security stewardship was his reappointment at the Defense Department by President Barack Obama in 2009. Indeed, the appointment of Hillary Clinton and the reappointment of Bob Gates were rather cynical gestures, naming Clinton to keep the Clinton Foundation (Bill and Hillary) inside the White House tent pissing out instead of outside the tent pissing in. 
"Gates was left in place so that the President could signal to the uniformed military that there would be no significant changes at the Pentagon. Gates's Cold War ideology (which caused him to miss the end of the Cold War) and his politicization of intelligence were completely forgotten."

Will 'Duty' be a rationalization of and apology for his actions and those of his bosses? Perhaps. Will it be a fount of insight? Maybe. Will it be easy to separate the former from the latter? No.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How Chris got his Groove Back

If "Grizzled Veteran" were a term in the dictionary, a picture of my friend Chris would be next to it. People would approach him, shake his hand, and thank him for being in the military.

Now Chris usually wears a yellow Army jacket when weather turns cold, but when he visited here in early November, though, he was wearing a blue jacket that belonged to his late brother. Apparently, the zipper on his Army jacket broke.

No stranger thanked him for being in the military while he was here in Pennsylvania, nor while we were in New York City.

A plan was formed!

When I was at his house over Thanksgiving, I broke into his car and stole his Army jacket - not as exciting as it sounds, the car was unlocked. The jacket then made a trip back with me to Pennsylvania where it was repaired and dry-cleaned. Then it was wrapped in bubble wrap, put in a box with the lint-roller the dry-cleaner provided. Add some wrapping paper and a bow, and you have a great Christmas gift!

We exchanged gifts at Chris' house in Columbus. He opened the box, was puzzled by the lint-roller, then opened the bubble wrap, and unfolded the jacket. He was speechless for a moment, then tried the zipper.

The day after Christmas, we did dinner and a movie. In the brief time we were out, two complete strangers came up to him, shook his hand, and thanked him for being in the Army.

And that is how Chris got his groove back!