American Hero and Navajo Code Talker

I was honored to meet Mr. Thomas Begay, age 91, former U.S. Marine and Hero this evening at a local buffet. What first caught my eye was his red wind breaker with the big logo on back, “Survivor of Iwo Jima Feb 19, 1945”, and a print of the now famous U.S. Marines raising the American Flag on Mount Suribachi. Then I noticed his hat with the golden Marine Emblem on the side.

At first I thought perhaps this was just another old Vet wanting attention. That is until I walked back from the food line. This old Vet wore the huge silver Presidential Medal President George W. Bush presented to the Navajo Code Talkers in 2001, hanging from his neck. The medal is elegantly mounted in what I believe to be a traditional Navajo setting, a true work of art in itself.

Former Marine and Navajo Code Talker, World War II

Some of Mr. Begay’s family were seated with him. I shook Mr. Begays hand and thanked him, telling him I am honored to meet him. Of course, for me that one comment was not enough. I went back and spoke with the second man at the table. The second man at the table told me he is Mr. Begays son. He told me his dad is, Thomas Begay. A young boy is also present who is Mr. Begay’s Grandson.

Mr. Begay told me he he landed on the island of Iwo Jima as a part of the Fifth Marine Division on February 19, 1945. Mr. Begay’s Daughter-in-Law(?) told me about a video coming out on Veterans Day featuring Mr. Begay. Besides being a Navajo Code Talker on Iwo Jima, Mr. Begay’s Son told me his Dad is also in the group picture of several soldiers at the base of the raised American Flag on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima island. The group picture was taken later in the day on Feb 23, 1945 after the re-enactment of the flag raising.

I watched the video of Mr. Begay’s commercial, and was shown where Mr. Begay stood in the group picture under the raised flag. Finally, I thought I had taken enough of their time and went back and sat down, and let them enjoy their dinner in peace.

As we left I stopped to talk one more time. I told the family, it made me sad knowing that the most famous living Hero everyone in the building was likely to meet in their lifetime is sitting amongst them, and no one seems to notice. There were three or four other men in veterans hats, Korea, Viet Nam, and Iraq. No one took notice of Mr. Begay.

I felt shamed for all of us and expressed such to the family. Mr. Begay is a true Hero, perhaps the last of the Navajo Code Talkers still able to be out in public, and nobody notices? This hurt me way down deep.

The battle for Iwo Jima in WWII was especially fierce. I read the Japanese lost almost 19,000 men in the horrible fighting with only 216 men taken prisoner. American losses were 6,821 killed and 19,217 wounded. I have to wonder how many lives were saved by Mr. Begay and other Navajo Code Talker’s efforts over the 35 day battle for Iwo Jima?

I could have ignored an old man wearing a marine corp wind breaker, cap and huge silver medal. I could have decided he was a pompous old man looking for attention. I am glad I did not. In my eyes Mr. Begay is an American Hero who helped save thousands of lives during that ferocious battle.

I shook hands with, and thanked a former soldier, a U.S. Marine, who went to battle with a high bounty on his head. A Navajo Code Talker, who if captured would have suffered days of torture with unimaginable pain and suffering before he would be permitted to die.

To many of us, war is something that happens somewhere else, to other people. To Mr. Begay, I am sure war means something different entirely. Something very personal and frightening.

The commercial with Mr. Begay, retired U.S. Marine will be out Veterans Day 2015. I hope everyone watches Mr. Begay in the video. I hope we all learn from what Mr. Begay has to say, and what the other all the other Vets who I haven’t had the honor of meeting and thanking have to say too.

The commercial will be out for Veterans Day 2015. I hope everyone watches Mr. Begay in the video and appreciates his service to our country.

Mr. Begay’s video for

usaa youtube channel: Veterans Day 2015 #ThoseWhoDared | An Unbreakable Code

Remember our Veterans this Veterans Day, both those you know, and those you never met. They sacrificed for us.

Eating for the Rest of Us.

Eating better does not mean eating tasteless food.

Eating better does not mean eating tasteless food.

I occasionally get asked by the family for diet advice, as I have been on a number of diets, some good, and some horrible. I decided to create a once and for all guide of what I have learned over my lifetime about healtheir eating. Healthy eating doesn’t mean yuk, and food you do not want to eat. Healthy eating is about making better choices and taking an active role in what and when you eat. This will be a series of posts, and by no means a definitive guide. What I will write about works for me. If you have a better method of eating, follow what works best for you. This will be for you if you are struggling, and have not found a balance of healthy eating you can live with.

This is only a lead in to the lead in. More will follow as I have time. If this is something you are interested in, let me know, and perhaps I can turn it into a document or one large text file you can download. On to the lead in post.

Voices in my Head, are they Mine?

As someone who was told by their Father as a young boy to listen to the little man on his shoulder whenever a decision about right or wrong need to be made, I am no stranger to voices in my head. As a little boy, of course I believed my Father. I never heard the little man speak to me though.

In 1973 a popular group of the time named Pink Floyd released a song named, “Brain Damage”. Pink Floyd had decided to sing about voices in our head. The song was a solid hit with me, though I am sure the song, and Pink Floyd itself was more than a little strange to people in the mainstream of life.

We all have voices in our head. For most of us the voices are background noise and little else. For a few these voices are far more serious. What these voices are and where they come from is an unending discussion on several levels. This however is another topic for another time.

As I was falling asleep the other night, I was relaxing, quieting the chatter in my head. Most of the conversation is seemingly nonsense. Bits of phrases that make no sense in the context they are presented. Most are very bland. The other night however, one phrase took me from the edge of sleep to wide awake.

As I was almost asleep, I heard in a never before heard voice the words, “…going to touch your hands with hands of love and kindness…”. As I was almost asleep I do not really remember the beginning of the sentence. In the moment it was one more voice waiting to still.

Perhaps not all voices in our head are ours.

Perhaps not all voices in our head are ours.

As the voice and the phrase was said, my attention focused on the voice and the words. I was immediately wide awake and listening for more. There was no more to hear. This voice and the others chattering away in the background of my thoughts became obviously and loudly silent. They all stopped the instant I wanted to hear what was being said.



Was it real or was it just noice in my head? I am of the opinion the voice was real and not created by me as I drifted off to sleep. I do not think these types of thoughts.

This phrase stays with me as a comforting thought. “…going to touch your hands with hands of love and kindness…” I hope you too enjoy hearing something of the same as you are drifting off to sleep, quieting the voices in the background.

Does Cup Size Matter?

Every Fast Food Chain I am aware of bundles meals as combo meals. You get main entre, fries, and large soda for so many dollars and cents.

At places that do not sell sandwiches, ordering combo meals you are offered chicken, fish, taco’s, etc, fries, and a soda. Not a bad deal and usually cheaper than ordering ala carte.

Unless you are not a big soda drinker. As I am. When most of a small soda is all I want a large soda cup seems like a waste, not to mention it is bigger to hold. Here is what happens more often than not when I eat a combo meal. I see a meal I want and add up the prices with a small soda instead of the default size soda. The combo of course is generally less expensive.

Not your way, not today

Not your way, not today

The conversation generally goes something like this:

“I would like one number X please.”

“Okay, that is one number X, an entre, fries, and a large soda.”

“Yes, that is correct. I would be happy with a small soda cup as I do not drink much soda.”

“You want a number X combo plus a small soda?”

“No, I would like a number X combo, but I would like to substitue a small soda cup instead of a large soda.”

This makes perfect sense to me. A large cup is a waste as I never fill a large soda cup even half full. This also seems to make sense for the business. Smaller cup = less soda = less money spent on a cup and soda. More profit for the business. Feels like a win, win….

“Sir, the combo only comes with a large soda”

“I understand that, but a small soda cup is all I want in place of a large soda cup. I do not drink much soda so a small cup is fine.”

“I would have to charge you more because you would not be ordering the combo. It would be more expensive”

“Okay, I understand, a large cup is fine.”

Not sure this is an inventory issue, giving away small cups and upsetting the bean count. It may be the store manager refusing to allow any deviation from the menu. Or it may be something totally different. I find it plain old annoying.

Culture or Gender Thinking

I partook in an interesting informal discussion on culture and gender and how it effects our view of ourselves and our world. Afterward I took an informal straw poll. Now my views have changed on why we do what we do when it comes to our gender and culture.

The discussion question was, “Do you think of yourself as your culture first or do you think of yourself as a Woman/Man first?”

On the surface the question seems pretty simple. I was of the opinion that everyone would think of themselves as gender first and culture second. It made sense to me, starting with you and moving out to the world view. What I failed to understand is we are so intertwined in our culture, our culture is is. It is not really all that clear however.

Some people thought of themselves as their culture then gender. Other people thought of themselves as gender then culture. Why this happened in my small informal survey also surprised me.

It appears parental influence, age, and geography play a large part in how we see ourselves and our culture. I found several main differences that set each of us apart from one another once we are away from our home.

If we were raised in a traditional family setting for our culture, and others we have contact with are too, we are more likely to see ourselves as culture first, followed by gender. In many traditional families, gender roles are clearly defined and rarely crossed. The Women tend the home, while the men bring home the money. To someone raised in this type of environment without outside influences, culture and gender are the same thing.

If we live in a rural setting where big city values and culture does not effect us, we are more like to see ourselves as culture and then gender. For example, we may live in a section where our culture is very strong in a big city, so city values have only a minor impact on us. We may be aware that other people like us live in other places differently, but this is how we are.

If we come from a family that has moved from place to place, and perhaps both parents worked, we see ourselves differently again. Other influences that interrupted or disrupted our family structure. We adapted as we changes geography. We are now more likely to see ourselves as gender first and culture second. For example if both Mom and Dad work(ed) outside the home, we are open to the idea that we and our spouse will work outside the home.

Different Cultures

Culture and Gender shape our world and our place in it

Age plays a large role in how we see gender and culture in our world. The older we are, the more likely we are to have lived in a traditional family where Father worked and Mother ran the household. The older we become the less willing we are to change or conform to new ideas. That wasn’t how it was done when we were kids…. We become not so silent rebels.

When I think of situations that previously made little sense to me, it is now easier to understand why this behavior happens. How we perceive our world determines whether culture is first or gender is first. Culture has no gender and between culture and gender, culture binds the largest number of people together.

When I now think of these situations, I understand this is a culture of people who felt they are wronged in some manner. Whether they were male or female is not a concern. They are acting through their cultural beliefs.

Long Term Rental Plan

I saw this comment somewhere, “You do not own gold, you only rent it.” In the moment I thought how silly that comment was. Of course I can own gold. I can go to a jewelry store and buy gold jewelry. I can go to a coin shop and buy gold coins. What is this person thinking?

After some weeks when the quote resurfaced in my mind again, I understood. We really do not buy gold, we only rent gold. We live only a short time in when compared to a thousand years. Gold has been around longer than we have a history of remembering gold. I understood in a moment, we really never own anything. Gold is only a focus point.

We buy several assorted items such as food, clothing and sundries, and we use them for our benefit and well being. Eventually as happens in the bigger scheme of things, the food is all eaten, the clothes wear out, and the sundries are all used up. In this manner we really own nothing.

Even when it comes to our person, we are on a long or short term rental depending on our point of view. Our cells are replaced at a varying frequency depending on which cells they are. I have read that about every decade we are  completely new in that every cell in our body has been replaced with the exception of some brain neurons. No idea whether this is really true or not. For the most part I imagine it is true.

Everything we are and own is on a rental plan. Someone or something used it before us, and someone or something else will use it again after we are done. From the precious metal we buy to the food we eat and the clothes we wear. Evberything is disposed of during some time in our life span. Life span not to mean the same as being alive, but rather when we are forgotten by those who came after us.

Depending on what our beliefs are, even our spiritual self is cycled and recycled over and over. Some people believe when we are born, we are not a product of a single former personality, but rather a collection former personalities who lived before us. We either formed ourselves, or were formed using splinters of peoples personalities who lived before us.

Rented living, Rented us, we are all on the Rental Plan

Rented living, Rented us, we are all on the rental plan

A splash of Madam Currie, a dash of Drusilla, a smidgen of Cleopatra if you are a woman. If you are a man, perhaps a few grains of Napoleon, a slice of Da Vinci, a drop or two of Confucius. Several other bits and pieces of other famous and not so famous personality traits possibly added for a perfect combination that becomes us.

Of course many of us are in the eternal court. We have the same spirit evolving and changing over lifetimes, yet remaining the same spiritual essence it was when we were first created. Our creation also a matter of perception and beliefs, as old as the winds of time. We change bodies as we change clothes.

No matter we are only renting. Everything we know as us, and everything we pretend to own is transient. We are what we are. We are the only “us” here in this instance of our existence. Ignoring even us is open to speculation.

No matter what we think we are, or who we will become, or are prevented from becoming, we are all we have to work with. We divide ourselves into differing percentages of the spiritual and mundane worlds (spiritual and physical, with spiritual not to be confused as being religious though they can be the same, but do not need to be the same) and build our existence to our liking. Would we choose to have it any other way? We are all on the long term rental plan.

Chess Non Thinking Endgame

These type of games are known to turn around and bite me. When I get bit, I am they bit hard. Here is the normal game flow. I start out making good opening moves, and am able (or so it seems) to enforce my will on my opponent.

I start out cautiously. Playing my opening with respect to what my enemy is doing. Making small adjustments as I can to better my position. Finally, I complete my opening (more or less). Looking over the battlefield there is a pawn or two and perhaps a minor piece I can capture.

I pick up one or maybe two of the pieces and then it starts. Suddenly,  I sense victory in the making as the middle game has barely begun. I am ready to rumble. Bring it on!

Bloodlust sets in! I am enamored with hacking and slashing, moving around the board, showing off my vastly superior chess skills. I am laying the battlefield to waste. I am holding back on the end game, wanting to  really crush the enemy King, savoring the slaughter.

In the moment, I also forget that there are two players on the board. Both wanting the same end point for their game. I am overly consumed with my brilliant play of power and control. I am undisputed in this game. The enmy is probably wondering where they went wrong?

Then I hear, a loud boom, followed with a bang and a crash. How in the world did that just happen? I didn’t see that Bishop/Knight hovering over on my side of the board! Sitting there in the shadows waiting for the moment to strike! That dirty dog, just waiting for this moment to stab my queen in the heart! Hauling her away by one heel!  Nothing is more devastating than to be brought back to mortality by losing my Queen because I am consumed with blood and killing, owning the game.

Well it’s not the end of the world even though reality sets in, and I am really hurting in the moment. Sometime I can eek out a draw. All to often however, losing my Queen balances the game out, and my weaker tactics and game skills shine through.

As you look at the picture, you will see in the heat of battle, I fall prey to something even more silly. As I finish my opening, I have my King all safe and snug, well protected. To quench my base thirst, I start pulling pieces away to rampage across the other end of the board.

An obvious weak point in both players games

An obvious weak point in both players games

Now, I see mate in three or four moves, if I move quickly and decisively. Here I go, sending my warriors en masse for the final victory. I am a move away from being the supreme commander on the battlefield. Then it happens. In my glory, I had spotted a checkmate in three or four moves.

That underhanded enemy battlefield commander on the other side of the board spotted a come from behind, crushing defeat of his arch rival in one move less! With aplomb a Rook is sent down to the first rank. What?! How in the world did that happen? I own this game, I am crushing the board. How could you do that to me?!

Too late for reflection, as my King is hauled away to be quartered. I know exactly what happened. Instead of looking for potential captures, checks, and checkmates against me, my head is on the other side of the board. Patting myself on the back for creating such devastation. Installing fear, and slipping around in the blood of victory.

At some undetermined point in the game, I go from carefully thinking out and making my intended moves, to playing without any link from brain to finger tip. Everything is going from sight to finger. Such a silly trap to fall into. So easy to avoid. I am not beaten in these games. I give them away.

Chess and Early Bishop Check

It is surorising in Chess the things that will be discovered. For example, moving the Bishop down to check the King during the opening. It seems like a powerful move. The bishop is out there, and the enemy King is checked within the first ten or so moves. Who is the best player now?

What is not so obvious until it becomes obvious is the downside of doing this. At the very least your Bishop gets threatened by a pawn and has to move back somewhere. Moving back to a good square for the Bishop is best. However you suddenly realise the enemy is now ahead of you in development.

Move your Bishop to the side and within a few moves you may end up losing your Bishop to an aggressive pawn or spiteful knight. Now you realize you wasted two or three moves from your own development only to lose your Bishop. Suddenly your game does not look so good and you work on a fix.

Seems like a good move, until you learn it is not.

Seems like a good move, until you learn it is not.

Growing beyond being cocky with my Bishop I now find one of my Knights being picked off and I can not retaliate because my Knight was hanging. That’s what happens from fixing my Bishop dilemma. Fix one weakness and almost immediately find another weakness to replace it with.

This reminds me of watching children who are just learning to play chess. They know the end goal is to attack the enemy King. The get a piece free from the back rank and charge down the board attacking the King. And they lose their piece.

Undaunted, they move out another piece from the back rank and repeat the process. Or worse for them, their enemy has sent a lone assassin down the board attacking their King. Now they have to figure out how to stop the piece from mating the King.

Some games, I feel like one of these children. For every puzzle or problem solved another rears its ugly head. Of course I do not know it exists until it happens in the moment. Sometime it is too strong a mistake to overcome in the moment.

I put up a good fight, but I am not usually strong enough to make up for the mistake I have discovered. Those few times the enemy across the board makes a move equally poor, and I am able to take advantage of it, we are whisked into the end game.

Of course my end game is not that strong either. It is hard to become experienced with the end game when I am pummeled in the middle game and never really see an end game. I understand now why serious players study the end game so much. Eventually the end game arrives for all of us.

I imagine chess players like more puzzles than just chess. Or perhaps, chess players are satisfied mainly with chess and play other puzzle games as a small diversion. No matter how strong you become there is always another problem to be solved. To make it even more interesting the stronger one becomes, the more complex the newly discovered problem becomes.

It is an easy matter to not send out your Bishop to make a silly check on the enemy King. When a player is much stronger, and an unknown in the moment problem arises, a player may have to rethink their whole game. Their tried and tested old standby approach has suddenly revealed some serious flaws. Someone has unceremoniously torn their game apart as they watch. Until the problem is no longer solvable within ones time and ability.

If this time ever happens for me, I hope people still enjoy Chess for what it provides.

Kid Learns Chess

I may have written about this before. If so maybe I did it better this time. The Kid was seven years old and and loved the Ninja Turtles. This was when the Ninja Turtles first made an appearance, as in cartoons. The Kid would watch one show after another, even though I found them pretty boring, he didn’t.

I did not see a lot of sense to the battles, and all the moves, but as mentioned he found them fascinating. It was Memorial Day if memory serves, the family was together and the chess board came out. There were a number of us who thought we were hot stuff on the chessboard.

Of those two or three of us were sure we were the best player in the family. The Kid played a few games and lost. It is pretty hard to win when you do not even know the pieces and how they move. But for a seven year old it wasn’t a bad attempt.

The Kid’s Grandma made sure he had a chess board at home to play with. No one thought any more about it. Chess for some reason is pretty boring to most people. I thought for him even though chess was fighting, it would not compete with the Ninja Turtles.

When the Christmas holidays rolled around and we were all together, the chess board was dusted off, and we started playing. The adults who thought they were the better players were going to show off their superior skills this time, we were serious now.

After the adults who wanted to played each other, the children were allowed to play the last winning adult. When it was The Kid’s turn, one of the adults fell under his overwhelming army. We all thought it was a funny mistake.

One after another the adults were losing. Some quickly, and some more slowly, but the outcome was the same. As I watched, The Kid seemed to get stuck in a position. I would have been stuck too, it seemed he was only making random moves with no sense of end point or continuity that shows there is a plan.

It was during these times I heard him whisper to himself, “What would the Ninja Turtles do?”

How funny I thought, Ninja Turtles were just a cartoon and their fighting had no basis in the real world. The Turtles would fight, win yet another victory. WHile I was daydreaming another adult was sent away to eat a big slice of humble pie.

Family being Family, we played again over New Years. There was a minor shift in who was the chess champion for another few months, though that was not all that happened. There was a champion who remained near the helm of the family chess hierarchy. All seven years of him.

This is where it happened. Everyone took turns watching one of the others get beat, waiting their turn. Everyone saw what looked like major blunders being committed by The Kid. Many of the watchers could not contain themselves, and had to comment on what they saw as poor moves.

Three or four times a game one comment or another would be set loose from someone watching the game in progress. I felt like the only rational one making comments. Mine was always the same. He beat you, you should not be giving him advice on how to play. No one listened of course.

Don't Teach those who beat you how to play chess

Don’t Teach those who beat you how to play chess

Easter arrived, and the family was together again. The chess board came out and the family started playing. It was different this time. The almost eight year old who mopped up the floor with us, was losing slowly every game. He lost to all but the worst of us.

I never heard him ask himself, “What would the Ninja Turtles do?”. Instead I watched him making family approved moves – that really did nothing to improve his position or worsen his opponents. He was now playing as poorly as we were.

I keep waiting to see the flashes of skill I saw him once have. I think he lost whatever spark chess had lit in him trying to play correctly. He is still a good player among the family, but no longer has the Ninja Turtles to guide his play and spark his creativity.

Recently I started to understand what The Kid had learned form the Ninja Turtles all those years ago. While I was watching the sword play, and listening to the shouting he was doing that and more. He was learning strategy while observing tactics.

Even though Ninja Turtles was a cartoon created for kids, it was made by adults. Adults who in their secret lives, were some sort of undercover Super Hero waiting to be released. Their Super Hero self was released under the guise of one or more of the Ninja Turtles.

I do not remember any of the Ninja Turtle battles I watched as I paid little attention back then. I now understand the concept and how it applies to the chess board. Attack until resistance is strong, then pull back an attack on another front. Repeat until you either win, crushing your opponent with overwhelming force, or your King is gallantly struggling to survive one more move on the march to fifty moves.

Strategy and Tactics may not be the be all, end all of chess mastery. But for us mere mortals, Strategy and Tactics are usually the game changer deciding who wins and who does not.

Improve Your Chess Play

Not a lot of meat to this post. I was playing chess engines on the net the other day, and this happened. I beat Stockfish which was set at default level 1, 1350 elo. I am leaning my chess is improving despite my lack of any interest of serious study through books, etc. I want chess to be fun. I have enough other serious parts of my life.

It was a rather silly game. I was fully expecting to get trashed as usual, when I noticed Stockfish made a rather poor tactical play and left its Queen unguarded in the middle of the board.

I pretended to start an attack down the left (A,1) side of the chess board, and took the Queen with a Knight, which I lost, but who cares? In that moment when I noticed the Queen was left unprotected for more than one move, I thought to myself, ‘I have a chance to win this game. It’s not playing as hard as I thought.’

If you have been following my chess exploits, or lack thereof, you know my goal was to break 1000 elo. I was about 850 elo at the time, so it seemed a daunting task. I am happy with what I have achieved. Especially as I only have limited time to play, and less time to study.

One thing I have learned however, is to quit thinking about whether any one move is the ‘right move’. I have been instead trying to find the move that seems to be the strongest and does something. Something may be development, protect another pawn or piece, or poses a new potential threat to the enemy.

Don’t you be afraid to make non standard moves. As long as they are not weak moves, they may prove to turn the tide in a game you are in. If the move does not work, hopefully you understand why your move did not work as planned. Modify your move, and try it again.

If you are starting out in chess, and are sitting at 800 or 900 elo, don’t get frustrated and give up. You only know what you know, and you can only play within your scope of knowledge. While I am far from being able to say I play chess well, I certainly play better than when I started to learn how to play properly. You too will play better chess in time.

Of course this is another far from pretty checkmate, but I’ll take it.

Never thought I would see this result!

Never thought I would see this result!