an american badass.

What if I told you a story about an American who began life in captivity, broke free, then risked life and limb numerous times to save hundreds of men, women and children from a life of captivity. What if I told you a story about an American who fought for human rights? What if I told you a story about an American who worked as an armed scout and spy for the United States Army?

These are not different people. This is the same person. This person led a life dedicated to justice, freedom and ending human suffering; even if it meant dying for that cause.

You would call that person a hero. You would call that person an American badass. You would demand history tell this person’s story over and over. You would demand statues be erected and schools named in this person’s honor.

Who is this American hero?

Harriet Tubman.

a705fb06-4843-4a9c-904f-bfff8abf2d39.pngIf you’re surprised, it’s only slightly understandable. You probably didn’t hear much about Tubman beyond elementary school. That’s when I learned her story. We learned of her bravery in leading former slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Sure, she was covered in Civil War history classes, but not to any great extent. Her life’s journey is an iconic story of triumph over evil and of American exceptionalism.

Yet these days, if you listen to the rancor across social media, you don’t hear people championing Tubman as a pivotal figure in American history. You hear people cheering the decision by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to delay plans to put Tubman on the $20 bill.

Mnuchin claims this is not a high priority. Even if you take him at his word, the most troubling aspect of this story is the response from (white) people. At the low end, it’s ambivalence. But the most vocal proponents of this decision speak of Tubman as though she’s not an American, that she’s now worthy of the honor.

How did we arrive at this minor public debate? Last year, then-Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced Tubman would replace Jackson—seventh president of the United States—on the $20 bill. Tubman would be the first African American on the front of paper currency. The plan included keeping Jackson on the bill, but he’d be riding in the back of bus (on the backside).

For reasons beyond me, this seemed to cause quite a stir among conservatives. So much so, that rank-and-file conservatives cheered this week at Mnuchin’s announcement.

Personally speaking, I mostly don’t care whose face is on my foldin’ money. To me, the deeper subtext is more troubling; that people openly and vocally opposed this move with such vigor is disturbing to me. And, yes, the vast majority of the opposition is coming from white people, which confuses me. I’m a white guy (news flash!) and I don’t see the big deal about putting Tubman on the bill.

Some have argued Jackson, a former president, shouldn’t be pushed aside because Tubman was not a Founding Father or a president. My response: EXACTLY! There is no pecking order for whose face is placed on American currency. After all, did people make a stink over Susan B. Anthony coins? Probably, somewhere. But most people simply didn’t cotton to the idea of dollar coins in this country. Same thing with the Sacagawea coins. There might have been some quiet rumblings here and there about the person on the coin, but most people just seemed confused by the idea of dollar coins in circulation.

Fast forward to 2016 and the thought of a black woman on the $20 bill didn’t confuse people. It made people angry. In fairness, some of the backlash came from the left, as well. Some argued it was antithetical to Tubman’s legacy to place her image on currency. I’ll leave that to the liberal scholars and social justice warriors to hash out. You could say that argument is either absurd or warranted, but it’s not pernicious, like the not-so-veiled racist vitriol that flew around after the announcement.

Some said it was a form of “reverse racism” (which is both absurd and stupid). Others, like news commentator Greta Van Susteren, said it was “dividing the country.”

Huh?

Is this really where we are? People feel “divided” simply because a black woman will be on money? If that’s true, then those people seriously need to get a grip on reality.

At the end of the day, I honestly didn’t care one way or the other. Until Mnuchin made his announcement. By itself, the decision seems innocuous and, possibly, rational; until you look at the recent actions and decisions by this administration.

Before Mnuchin’s decision, you had the President of the United States referring to Confederate statues as “beautiful” and lashing out at decisions to remove them from public spaces. Prior to that, you had that same president give soft-pedaled denouncement of violence “on all sides” in Charlottesville. Oh yeah, he also said there were “fine people” on the side of Nazis, Klansmen and white nationalists (racists). David freaking Duke thanked him—THANKED HIM!—for his response. And let’s not forget the “build the wall” and so-called “Muslim travel ban” this president wants.

Never mind that we haven’t even discussed that this decision also feels oddly personal, since Trump is a self-identified fan of Andrew Jackson. That a president’s cabinet secretary would do the bidding of an American president based upon his own fancy vs. a decision that was put through a public vetting process during the previous administration is unsettling.

Now, I’m not saying this administration is overtly racist, but there is no question their policy decisions, their rhetoric and their actions clearly favor one group of people over others; so much so, that white supremacists have openly thanked the president.

Against this backdrop, Mnuchin’s Tubman decision—and those who applauded it—leave me feeling slightly queasy about people’s grasp of history and their understanding of what it means to be an American. Harriet Tubman is an American hero…FOR ALL AMERICANS. Her history is complex, brutal, angering and, at times violent. But it is also inspiring and champions those who made this country better for its sins. It is a testimony of how America is better for those who fought against tyranny in order to form a more perfect union.

Harriet Tubman’s history is American history. We all should celebrate her, whether she’s on the $20 bill or not.

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if i were the white house communications director for a day.

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Yes, that is my giant, jack-o-lantern-like cranium perched atop Anthony Scaramucci’s tiny, Lilliputian-like body. And yes, it’s bad PhotoShop. Sorry. My graphic designer sucks.

Presidents have to wear many hats. Outside of the actual duties of the job, as laid out by the constitution, they also have to sometimes serve as moral leaders, mourners in chief and wise, empathetic “dad” to the American public. The good ones know how to give voice to our anxiety, our pride, our pain and our anger. Where Ronald Reagan was masterful at communicating to the American public with sincerity, our current president—who burns through communications directors the way Spinal Tap burns through drummers—is the exact opposite.

Because I’m a communications hack by day, I’ve been viewing the post-Charlottesville events unfold through my public relations prism. Bottom line: this president and this White House couldn’t have botched it more if they tried. If I were the White House communications director for a day (which is about how long they usually last), I have my own thoughts on how I would’ve advised this president on what to say in response to Charlottesville.

Let me break it down for you in parts.

Part I: The Initial Statement
This is a delicate matter. In times of national crisis and/or tragedy, the nation looks to the president for reassurance and validation. Trump blew it. He absolutely blew it. You don’t tweet at an event like what we witness last weekend. That should never be the president’s first reaction.

Instead, the president must deliver a statement that conveys empathy, condolences and a sharp rebuke against Nazis. In the pantheon of political no-brainers, opposing Nazis is about as easy as it gets; or so we thought.

Anyway, if I were the White House Communications Director, I would’ve advised the president to deliver a statement that goes something like this:

[BEGIN]
My fellow Americans.

You are all aware by now of the awful tragedy that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. Like you, I am appalled, saddened and angered by the violence and tragic loss of three lives. The awful events of this weekend were set in motion by a gathering of hate groups with long histories of violence in this nation. These racist organizations took to a college campus to foment fear, hatred and to spread their racist ideology.

Let me be clear: these hate groups are an abomination to our American values and our American way of life. Nazis, white nationalists and racism have no place in civilized society. In no uncertain terms, you are not welcome here. I am instructing the Justice Department to conduct a full and thorough investigation of this weekend’s tragic events. I am also instructing the Department of Homeland Security to regard these hate groups as terrorist organizations that must be eradicated.

Our constitution avails all Americans the right to free speech, but it does not avail rights to hate groups to spread their pernicious ideology of hatred.

What cannot be lost in all this is the loss of human life today. We mourn for Heather Heyer, a bright young woman who felt her true purpose in life was to spread a message of love and hope. We also mourn for Virginia state troopers Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Pilot Berk Bates who tragically died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the protests. I offer my deepest condolences to the families of these three victims.

Throughout the history of our great nation, we have encountered civil unrest too often as a result of racism. While I understand and appreciate the passion and dedication of those who speak out against racism in all its forms, I implore you to not resort to meeting violence with violence. We must appeal to our better angels and spread a message of peace, inclusion and togetherness. Answering violence from this awful scourge with violence will only dampen our efforts to achieve a more perfect union.

I encourage you to continue to speak out, to not allow racism to take root, but to do so peacefully.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” I call upon each of you today to carry Dr. King’s message forward and continue to spread love throughout your communities. This is the only true way—the American way—to stamp out this threat to our great society once and for all.

May God bless you, may God bless our fallen victims and their families, and may God bless these United States of America.
[END]

I know it’s not perfect, but it’s a first (and only) draft. Either way, you get the point. You offer empathy. You offer condolences. You tell the Nazis they are not welcome. You let the counter-protestors know you’re with them, but you ask for calm and nonviolent means to achieve their goals. You’re knocking it all out in 500 words or fewer.

That’s what a president does. You don’t step in a bear trap. And, by bear trap, I mean the false equivalence of “both sides.” No. Wrong. You condemn violence, but you do not lump counter-protestors in with racists. If you do that, you’re essentially validating the racists’ ideology.

A statement like this inoculates him from falling into a combative, disturbing and horrifying press conference where he gets into a push-and-shove over Confederate statues. Which leads me to…

Part II: The Great Statue Debate
Simply put: PUNT!

I say that because this president doesn’t share my views on the matter. But even if he did, I would advise against taking a hard position on it. Doing so would undermine and unravel the above statement that calls for unity and nonviolence against hate groups.

The goal is to keep the president aligned with the larger issues and to not get pulled into quicksand over hunks of bronze.

No, I’m not trivializing people’s feelings on the statues; but the president needs to focus attention on those about as much as he does the paintjob on Air Force jets.

Let the pundit class deal with the statues.

I would let the press secretary (eeeeeek!) say something like: “The president understands that passion runs deep on these statues in the communities. Therefore, the communities should decide for themselves how to address the issue. The president remains focused on addressing and eliminating future threats from racist hate groups.”

Also, what not to do: equate two Founding Fathers to Confederate generals. That does you no good at all.

Part III: When in Doubt, Denounce the Nazis
If you wish to be the president of all 50 states, don’t fall into the false equivalence trap. Don’t do the bidding of cable news hacks and Infowars. Just stay away from it. We aren’t talking about the ACLU vs. the Christian Coalition. We aren’t talking about Planned Parenthood vs. Focus on the Family. We’re talking about Nazis. NAZIS! No politician will lose points by denouncing Nazis. But the moment you start lumping other groups in with Nazis—and let’s be clear, NO OTHER GROUPS COMPARE!—you once again validate the racists. Simply put, don’t do it!

Of course, all this is predicated upon the belief that the president will be a rational, pragmatic, empathic, clearheaded and focused leader.

Your mileage may vary.

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“i heard it on my radio…” happy birthday, brian may.

Yesterday was Brian May’s birthday. He turned 70. How does a stately, freshly-minted septuagenarian British astrophysicist celebrate this milestone birthday? In the middle of a North American tour with Queen + Adam Lambert, of course. May’s birthday fell on an off day between gigs. He just played Toronto, now on his way to Detroit.

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Brian May at The Joint, Las Vegas, 6 July 2014.

I saw Queen + AL about three years ago when they rolled through Las Vegas. They crammed their monstrous arena show rig—well, a portion of it, at least—into the 3,000-seat Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. My buddy Brit and I went to their second of two shows at The Joint.

You’ve heard me talk about this show more times than you care to remember, I’m sure. But it was a pretty big deal for me. I’ve been listening to Queen for as long as I can remember. No, really.

“…and everything I had to know, I heard it on my radio…”
One of my earliest memories of listening to Queen was sometime in the mid-70s. I was five years old or so. I think my parents were having a party or something. Since Shawn and I were little, we had to go to bed fairly early so the grown-ups could keep the party going. Mom and Dad let me sleep in their room with a radio on.

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This is a pretty close version of the clock-radio my parents had when I was a kid.

I distinctly remember Dad asking me if I wanted the radio on. It was a vintage “digital” clock-radio. You know the kind—white, molded plastic with the analog-style digits that would flip over like a Rolodex. With the lights turned off, the clock numbers glowed a hazy, green hue. I was little and afraid of the dark, so Dad left the bedroom light on. I was also a night owl from a very young age. Sleep has never come easily for me at bedtime. So I remember vividly lying awake in bed—wide awake, staring at those numbers on the clock tumble over—trying to focus on the radio to drown out the faint noise of people downstairs. I don’t remember any songs that played that night, but for one. It was a song I’d heard before in bits and pieces. It always caught my attention and I thought I might like it, but I’d never had a chance to really listen to it. Until now. The opening was already familiar to me…

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy…”

In that instant, in that moment, I became a Queen fan. Bohemian Rhapsody is the first song I could identify as a Queen song. What was it that I liked so much about it? Was it the lyrics? Was it the harmonies? The guitars? What was it? Who cares?! No, nothing about that song made a lick of sense to me. None of it. But gimme a break. I was five years old. What did I know about Bismillah and Beelzebub? I didn’t care. I just knew I liked the song, and maybe that’s the real point about music appreciation. You don’t have to quantify it. If you like it, that’s all that matters. And I knew I really liked Bohemian Rhapsody!

“…when I’m holding your wheel, all I hear is your gear…”
Not too long after that, I began going through my dad’s record collection, plundering for Queen albums to play. He had A Night at the Opera and Jazz. I played those records endlessly. He also had a couple songs from Queen I dubbed onto a cassette or 8-track that I’d dig out and play on occasion. I always liked the drum parts on Liar and Keep Yourself Alive (still do). One song Dad played quite a bit back then was I’m In Love With My Car, a Roger Taylor cut from A Night at the Opera. Of all the Queen songs I listened to in my youth, I tend to associate that one with Dad more than any other. Was he a car nut? Yes and no. I think he just liked the song a lot.

Mom has her favorite Queen song, too, I should mention: Don’t Stop Me Now. She’s always said it’s a great driving song. She’s right, but be forewarned: playing Don’t Stop Me Now while driving may lead to a lead foot and a speeding ticket (you’ve been warned).

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Dad’s stereo in the 70s looked an awful lot like this. We got a lot of mileage out of that thing, too.

If you’re wondering why in the hell our dad would let Shawn and I monkey around with his precious stereo system, it’s a good question. Truth is, we had to work our way up to it. We got our own record player when we were six or seven years old. And we were taught very early on that albums are to be treated delicately; especially Dad’s albums! Many times, he’d cue up the records. Over time, he eased us into using his system. And whenever Dad upgraded his hi-fi, he bequeathed the old system to us. If you knew our dad, then it doesn’t shock you at all that Shawn and I are audiophiles. Anyway…

“…that’s why they call me Mr. Fahrenheit, travelin’ at the speed of light…”
The next Queen record I got was Live Killers (it was for my brother Shawn and I, actually). Our parents bought it for us at a family outing to the mall (Hampton Mall, I’m pretty sure; not Fashion Square Mall in Saginaw). I remember coming home from the mall and we put the record on the turntable and gave it a listen as a family. I don’t really think Mom and Dad originally intended on sitting there and listening with us, but they did anyway. I was maybe nine or ten years old at the time and this was my first experience with a live album.

Another year or two later, my parents bought me A Day at the Races for my birthday. They went to Detroit for the night and I think they bought it during a mall excursion down there. I think it was Christmas 1980 when Dave Wade (a family friend) got me The Game. At the time, this was a very popular album; probably the height of Queen’s popularity in the States while Freddie was still with us.

“…he spends his evenings alone, in his hotel room…”
Throughout 80s, I rounded out my Queen collection with my paper route money. I remember, to this day, buying News of the World, taking it home and playing it for the first time. My ritual with new album purchases was pretty much the same. I’d drop the needle, sit on the floor in our spare room (that’s what we called our “play” room) and listen with the album sleeve in my lap. I can still feel that semi-shaggy white carpeting and see the dark brown woodwork all along the baseboards in that room.

587abcd3c795f89809a0361d8ff22662.1000x1000x1Over the next three decades, I swapped my Queen vinyl for Queen CDs. Lately, I’ve been buying Queen on vinyl again. Go figure. I guess I’ve gone full circle.

Somewhere in the middle of all that on a Sunday night in early/mid 1992, my buddy Mike and I go to movies to see Wayne’s World. And what greets us in one of the opening scenes?

“Mama…just killed a man. Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger now he’s dead.”

“…I’ve been with you such a long time…”
Hearing Bohemian Rhapsody while Wayne, Garth & crew were riding in Garth’s Pacer was like an unexpected visit from an old friend…and a pure joy to watch. Freddie had already died by the time the movie was released so he never got to see it, but Brian always said Freddie would’ve loved Mike Myers’ and Dana Carvey’s tribute.

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Anyway, Brian May’s birthday this week got me to reflecting on that earliest of Queen memories (and a few others). If you ever wondered—and I’m sure you didn’t—my lifelong love of Queen started with an old clock-radio in my parents’ bedroom, thanks to Mom and Dad having a party.

Happy Birthday, Brian May. May you live forever.

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…you weren’t here long enough.

19905403_10154873073733251_8429214582927218739_nSadly, our Bay City Central Class of 1988 has lost another of our classmates too soon. After nearly eight months of battling a brain tumor, Rehana Khan-Brown is now at peace. She died Sunday night, July 9, at her home in Bay City—just a few days shy of her 47th birthday—surrounded by family and loved ones.

I was casually friendly with Rehana in high school. Thanks to Facebook, we were able to re-connect and, over the years, shared common interests and commented on one another’s threads. Occasionally, we’d exchange messages back and forth; usually dealing with something politics-related we read and wanted to talk about it. One time she even said I should run for president. I’m reasonably certain she was joking, but the sentiment wasn’t lost on me.

The thing I’ve learned the past few days is just how many people’s lives Rehana touched. The outpouring of sentiment she received on Facebook has been incredible to see.

I don’t pretend to be a close friend to Rehana. We were acquaintances, at best; certainly friendly with one another, but I’m way down at the end of the bench on this depth chart. That being said, I’m glad I was on her team. We were a part of a larger collective that holds together pretty tightly to this day. My heart is with those who knew her best; her closest friends and family.

One thing I always appreciated about Rehana is she co-organized our one and only official class reunion. It took place in 1998. It is my sincere hope that someone—or a group of someones—can come together to plan a 30-year reunion.

Maybe that’s trivial (and certainly the least of our worries today), but I think Rehana would like that. After all, what better way to honor her than with a celebration?

Years ago, Rehana posted to my FB wall, “You’re my hero!” We joked about it at the time. I don’t recall the context of that statement at all. I’m guessing it had something to do with the upcoming general election. Anyway, it made me laugh; including her insistence I “just take the compliment.”

Truth is, she’s the heroic one. Faced with the battle of a lifetime, she gave cancer everything she had for eight months. She fought for her life. She fought for her family. To this day, I marvel at her strength and courage to stare into that diagnosis and choose to never give up. To put yourself through that sort of fight requires strength, love and courage that I can’t even begin to imagine.

If you’re looking for a hero, THAT is a hero.

Anyway…I’m very sad that we lost Rehana this weekend. My sincerest condolences go to her family; especially her kids. This isn’t about me, but I know what it’s like to lose a parent too soon. So…yeah. I feel for them the most.

You weren’t here long enough, Rehana, but you packed an awful lot of love and living into your nearly 47 years. We all should live a life as full as yours.

Peace be with you on your journey.

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breakfast with dad at 4 a.m. in las vegas.

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Mom & Dad, circa 1994. I think this was at the ARCOM prom that year.

I’ve told this story about my dad a few times to folks, but I don’t think I ever wrote it down. Back in April 2000, my parents and I went to Las Vegas for a quick, four-day vacation. It was our second trip to Vegas. We stayed at the Imperial Palace (now the Linq) and got into town early in the day.

Back in 2000, Dad and I were dealers Blue Chip Casino. It seems kinda silly in hindsight, but back then, it felt like Vegas dealers were the major leagues of dealers. We both fancied ourselves decent dealers and decent blackjack players, so it was a chance to watch Vegas dealers to see where we stacked up. We weren’t jerks about it, though.

On that first afternoon in town, we sat down at a 21 table at Harrah’s while Mom was off playing a slot machine. We were the only players at this table. I don’t recall what our hands were, but I do remember the dealer was showing a six and flipped over an ace and proceeded to take a hit. Both Dad and I yelled, “whoa!” The dealer looked at us like we were idiots because, in Las Vegas, the dealers hit a soft 17. It’s written right on the tables.

Once Dad and I realized we were idiots, we both put out dealer bets on our next hand as a mutual act of contrition. It was our way of saying, “you aren’t an idiot, sir. We are the idiots.” The dealer laughed about it.

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Family Christmas, 1990-something. Not sure why Major looks like we’re choking him. But the worst tragedy in this photo is my Cosby sweater…and my hair.

We made our way down to the Venetian, which was still being built during our first trip in 1999. It was an out-of-this-world experience walking through the casino. Dad and I sat down at a Caribbean Stud table (good luck finding one of those in Vegas anymore). It was hard to not be mesmerized by the sheer opulence of the place. The marble floors, the paintings on the ceiling, cocktail drinks in actual glasses…it was something. “It’s like playing cards at the Vatican,” I said to Dad while we were losing at the worst card game in the world.

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Dad, circa 1968, before Shawn & I were born. I have no idea where he is in this photo.

Later that night after dinner, we knocked around the Imperial Palace gaming floor. I was playing double-deck pitch blackjack—which was relatively rare on the Strip in 2000. Dad walked up and jumped into the game. He’d never played before and seemed to need constant reminder on a few simple rules: hold the cards with one hand only, scratch the table for a hit, tuck the cards under your bet to hold. He kept wanting to hold his cards with both hands, much to the chagrin of every dealer we had. He eventually got the hang of it.

I don’t remember what time we sat down at the table to play, but pretty soon it was about 4 or 5 a.m. and we both ended up getting our asses kicked. “Let’s go get breakfast,” Dad said to me as we were walking away from the table. “Should we go get Mom?” I asked. “Nah,” Dad replied. Now, this led to a bit of a tense situation later on. I tried to warn him. I swear, I tried to warn him. Anyway…

On the escalator ride up to the restaurant, Dad and I were quietly reflecting on the ass kicking we just took at the blackjack table. Looking over the ledge of the escalator as we were near the top, I turned to Dad and said, “You want to throw yourself off first or should I go?”

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One of my all-time favorite photos. This was July 2, 1990. We were on our way back from Chicago after seeing the Tigers vs. the White Sox at old Comiskey Park. Just east of Gary, the engine blew a rod, bringing us to a grinding halt on the highway. As you can see, Dad was pretty stressed by the whole thing.

After breakfast, we made our way to the room. The sun was already rising, lighting up the morning sky. Dad and I were (mostly) sobered up, but our noise ended up waking up Mom. I think she brewed herself a cup of coffee as she listened to Dad and I replay the carnage at our blackjack table. “So,” Mom said after the story. “Should we go get breakfast?”

I wasted no time throwing Dad under the bus. “I told you,” I said. “I told you we should’ve gotten her.” I know, I know. Not cool, dude. I get it. I panicked, I admit it.

Mom was NOT happy with our decisions. While we slept, she went downstairs and gambled.

That trip was 17 years ago. Dad died a few months later, unexpectedly. I was a couple months shy of my 30th birthday when he died. It was a gut punch that never goes away. But I have a lifetime of good memories about Dad that I carry with me. That late-night /early-morning breakfast we shared to lick our wounds is one of my favorite grown-up memories. I’m sorry it came at my mother’s expense, but I’m not sorry that we had our own father-son bonding over eggs and bacon, replaying our mutual ass kicking and how we’ll do better the next night. I couldn’t tell you a single thing we talked about; probably about dealing, which hands really killed us and what we’ll do differently after a few hours of sleep.

Over the years, I’ve met lots of people who didn’t have a good relationship with their fathers; or some soured into adulthood to the point where they no longer speak to them. I feel bad for them. Even though I will always feel cheated out of 20 or 30 good years with my dad, I’ll never live with regret over our relationship. But I’m sure I speak for the both of us that we both might regret not walking away from that blackjack table about an hour or two earlier. It might’ve saved us from two ass kickings that night and early morning.

Lest you think Father’s Day is a sad day for me, it’s not. Even though I only had him for 29 years and some change, I realize I had it better than most. So, no, Father’s Day is still a good day for me because I’m thankful and happy for what Dad gave me while he was here.

So, Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You left us too soon, but you were the best while you were here.

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survivor: game changers season wrap-up.

Logo_MainPage_SliderAll’s well that ends well. That was my initial reaction to the outcome of Survivor: Game Changers. A great player beat another great player for the title of Soul Survivor. Having it come down to a Final Three usually guarantees that some of the best players will remain in the game. Sure, many great ones get knocked out early (Malcolm, Ozzy, Cirie), but we still have Sarah vs. Culpepper vs. Troyzan. That’s a pretty strong final three.

S34_Sarah_Cast_Photo1Sarah Deserved to Win
Absolutely. Unequivocally. Sarah played a smart, patient social game. Her takedown of Sierra might be the most legendary, in my mind, because she first convinced Sierra to will her the Legacy Advantage and then stuck a knife in her back. That is EPIC Survivor game play, if you ask me!

Is she the best winner ever? Who cares?!?! But the answer is ‘no’. She did what she had to do to win this season of Survivor. That required building strategic alliances, but it also meant Sarah had to gamble a bit on her choices at Tribal Council. With the exception of Hali and Cirie, Sarah was on the right side of every vote for the remaining jury members. In some cases, she took them down. In other cases, she played along. Taking out Sierra, Andrea and Michaela were probably her best moves because they were strategic threats all along.

brad2However…
Culpepper deserved to win, too. One of the unfortunate realities of Survivor is physically dominant players get very little respect from the jury. Culpepper joins a fairly distinguished group of players who were challenge beasts when it counted but couldn’t take home the title of Sole Survivor.

Here’s what I mean:
Colby Donaldson. Dude was unstoppable the first time he played in the Australian Outback season, setting the bar at five consecutive immunity challenge wins…and lost to Tina Wesson, 4-3.

terry-deitz-7-1_thumbTerry Deitz. He was a brusk dude at times during the Panama season, but got hosed when he lost the final immunity challenge with three players in the game. He was the most dominant player that season and didn’t even have a seat at the table. Aras Baskauskas backed his way to what I consider the least deserved Survivor victory in the history of the show. I’m of a mind that Terry’s loss is the reason we now have three-person Final Tribal Councils.

Ozzy Lusth. In fairness, Ozzy did lose to a smart, athletic and strategic player in Yul, but still…dude won FIVE OUT OF SIX IMMUNITY CHALLENGES! That’s got to count for something! Ozzy lost by one vote and, sadly, he’s never gotten that close to winning ever again. He’s been in the game for more days than any other player, but he always gets bounced early because of his physical prowess.

441256dd0c7930ea857d205e02937fefThe Fatal Flaw
Outside of being challenge beasts, Culpepper and Colby share the distinction of making a fatal flaw right at the end of the game: voting out the wrong player. In orchestrating a vote to knock out Tai, Culpepper let his heart rule his head. There was no way Troyzan could beat him. None. I think he knew that. But a smart guy like Culpepper should’ve recognized Sarah as the greater threat than Tai and taken her out.

Colby made the very same mistake in the Australian Outback. Tina Wesson—another undeserving champion, in my eyes—sidled up to Colby all season long and used him as a human shield. She couched it as a team mentality, but she was playing him and he didn’t recognize it. By virtue of wearing the Immunity Necklace, Colby lulled himself into believing he didn’t have to think as hard about the jury. It cost him dearly when he wrote down Keith’s name in the penultimate Tribal Council. Had he taken out Tina, he would’ve won.

If Terry had a flaw, it was personality. He locked horns with players that season (Cirie and Aras, mostly). But he didn’t even get the chance to take it to a jury.

the-best-moments-froAs for Ozzy, his fatal flaw is he never adapted after his first season playing Survivor. He continued to be a physical threat and one of the best providers at camp. But he never learned to strategize and work alliances better. He simply relied on his physical prowess to get through the day. While I certainly believe physically dominant players get the short shrift at times, they also have to recognize this and work the social aspect of Survivor to compensate.

To that end, Culpepper adapted and made it through most of the 39 days before he kinda went psycho. His treatment of Tai was both creepy and disturbing. In fairness to Culpepper, he recognized it, owned it and apologized for it at the reunion show. I’m sure a big part of that was his competitive nature as well as genuine frustration with Tai. I’m not sure what it is about Tai, but he must make his fellow Survivor players insane, because he left people feeling the same way during his previous season, Brains vs. Beauty vs. Brawn.

The only one for whom I feel any level of disappointment, it’s Ozzy. This was likely his last time playing Survivor and he went out getting blindsided. It’s a pity, but he joins a long line of great players who never won.

survivor25_malcolm_652Best Player Who Didn’t Make the Merge
Even though Sandra seems like the obvious choice here, I’m going with Malcolm. He’s got a better all-around game than Sandra, in my mind, because he can win challenges and build alliances at camp. Believe me, I take nothing away from Sandra, but the reality is she’s a one-trick pony in Survivor. To her credit, she is an expert at the social game. But I think a champion should have more than one club in his or her bag.

It’s also worth noting the only reason Malcolm got voted out when he got voted out this season is because J.T. was a complete screw-up at Tribal Council and tipped his hand to Culpepper, leading to Tai playing his Immunity Idol for Sierra.

Unfortunately for Malcolm, he aligned with some ridiculously bad players this season. If he gets another shot at Survivor, it’ll only be tougher for him to build alliances. People know he’s a threat.

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(Photo by Timothy Kuratek/CBS via Getty Images)

Speaking of Dumb Players…
J.T. is fast moving up my list of Dumbest Players in Survivor History. I swear, he’s doing everything he can to prove his Survivor: Tocantins victory was a complete fluke. He played a solid game that season, but I still question his unanimous victory over Stephen Fishbach, who was a very smart and crafty player.

After Tocantins, J.T. has done everything he can to deconstruct his own championship. Remember Heroes vs. Villains? When J.T. had the great idea of giving his Immunity Idol to Russell Hantz—who was on the opposing tribe!—as a means of building an alliance later in the game? Yeah, how’d that work out for you, J.T.? And then, when he had a chance to redeem himself this season, he openly betrayed his alliance by trying to curry favor with Culpepper. AT TRIBAL COUNCIL IN FRONT OF EVERYONE! Dude, what were you thinking?!?!

J.T.’s sin is one committed by many players. He was thinking too far ahead of the game and ignoring the most immediate fire that needed extinguishing. He crossed the wrong player (Sandra) and it cost him.

2017-03-30T00-29-23.466Z--1280x720_711x400_910084675878Craftiest Move of the Game
Speaking of Sandra, she proved her bona fides by exposing a growing rift between Michaela and J.T. and using it to her advantage. Remember the sugar incident? To this day, I don’t know how Sandra ate all that sugar without puking her guts out, but it exemplified her ability to seize upon an advantage in the game. She knew J.T. already had a personal beef with Michaela over the sugar. By misleading J.T. to believe Michaela ate all the sugar, it fed J.T.’s obsession to vote out Michaela and take his eye off the ball.

One might argue Sandra didn’t need to go to such lengths to get rid of J.T., but the point is she saw an opportunity to take advantage and tilt the game in her favor where no one else did. That is the mark of a smart player.

Debbie-1Worst Player Ever
This season’s Worst Player Ever Award (first time we’re doing this) goes to none other than Debbie. She rivals #CluelessKass as the most obnoxious, most unnecessarily arrogant, most self-UNaware, most self-absorbed load on two feet to ever play this game. With the exception of getting Ozzy out of the game, Debbie’s time on the island must’ve been an absolute nightmare for her fellow players. Strategically speaking, nothing she said or did made sense. Remember when she “acted drunk” at the merge? …the hell was THAT?!?! How on earth does that advance your lot in the game, you wackadoodle? Or, prior to that, when she went apeshit bonkers on Culpepper? And then insisted it was all an act? Mmm-hmm. Sure it was, Debbie. Sure it was.

Yes, orchestrating the vote to blindside Ozzy out was a smart move, but she screwed the pooch by overplaying her hand and burning her second-vote advantage.

That was dumb for two reasons:
1) You already had the numbers to get him out. Even if the plan backfires, you can lay low and use the advantage later when you need it.

2) Win or lose, you’ve shown everyone your hand—Ozzy included—and now he knows you were out to get him the whole time. That’s just bad jury management, man!

How do I know I was right? Debbie got bounced out the very next Tribal Council. In this game, Debbie with an advantage or power of any sort is like giving a monkey a blow torch: he’s gonna burn shit down and probably hurt himself in the process. That’s exactly how Debbie plays Survivor. Unpredictability only works when you have a strategy no one else can see and can’t predict. Debbie is just a nutbar. Even SHE doesn’t know where she’s going!

taiclimbIn Defense of Tai
Tai is a player I can’t help but like. He seems like a goodhearted guy. In the game of Survivor, he’s a decent competitor; better than people want to admit. Unlike Sarah, he did win individual immunity. His ability to sniff out hidden Immunity Idols is positively Russell Hantzian. To me, those are some pretty strong credentials for his gameplay. Where Tai blows it is his inability to articulate a strategy. He freestyles a bit too much and is therefore an unreliable ally. I’m sure that’s what frustrated Culpepper.

I also think he screwed up his own game by sharing information about his two idols. Sure, he saved Aubry and led to Cirie’s ouster, but he should’ve kept those both to himself.

SURVIVOR game changers aubry eyerollMy Favorite Player
Aubry is easily in my Top Three Survivor Players list. I think she’s one of the smartest, most mentally dialed-in players we’ve had in the game. But, for whatever reason, she just couldn’t get any traction this year and she knew it. Being on the wrong side of so many votes had to be frustrating, but she hung in there right to the bitter end; even winning immunity once! I hope she comes back and has a bit more luck next time.

lfsfu0hrA Word About Michaela
Michaela could very easily become one of my favorite players. She’s very close to it right now for the simple fact that she understands Survivor the same way I understand Survivor. She called out her fellow jurors for displaying any hurt feelings about getting voted out or getting blindsided or getting backstabbed. It’s part of the game! And the only reason those people bitch is because they got backstabbed first. Michaela’s like me when people bloviate about “integrity” in Survivor: I roll my eyes at that nonsense.

Approach to Survivor aside, Michaela is a smart, strategic player, but I think she got swept up into Cirie’s aura this season; which is easy to let happen. She’s certainly not the first. But playing from under Cirie’s wing didn’t allow Michaela to stretch out and show everyone just how strategic a threat she is to go with her athletic ability in challenges.

To Michaela’s credit, she knows her flaws. She allows her emotions to get the better of her and it ends up costing her. If you listened to her during the reunion show, she even talked about how she learned the game is more than just challenges and votes. If she gets a third chance to play—and I hope she does—I think she could win the whole thing.

Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers
All right, Survivor. You’re trying too hard now. I think we’re going to see some interesting players next season, but let’s cut the cutesy nonsense, eh?

See you in the fall with more Survivor chatter, kids.

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survivor finale prediction: someone will win, but who?

Game-Changers-e1486573854660Yep, it’s already the end. Seems like we just got re-acquainted with these 20 former players; some we missed, some we wish would never come back.

So, who’s going to be crowned Ultimate Survivor tonight? Good question. The remaining six players are cagey veterans of the game; three of whom have made it all the way to Final Tribal Council in previous seasons. But when it comes to crowning a winner, it’s almost more important to analyze the jury than the players.

Jeff-snuffing-torchThe Jury
In order, it’s: Hali, Ozzy, Debbie, Zeke, Sieerra, Andrea and Michaela. Three more to come tonight for a total of 10. In a Final Tribal of three players, it takes at least four votes to win Survivor. Does anyone have four votes out of these seven? Honestly, it’s too difficult to know. But I’ll take a stab at guessing for whom (of the remaining six) these seven would vote.

Hali—She’s been on the jury awhile now. I could see her going with Culpepper, even though he did vote her out.

Ozzy—Tough one. Cirie, maybe? The person who orchestrated his ouster is on the jury, so he may go with whom he thinks is the next best player. But if Ozzy thinks athleticism matters more, he might go with Sarah or Culpepper…even Tai could get a vote here (but I doubt it).

Debbie—Culpepper or Sarah, leaning toward Sarah; just because she may have an axe to grind with Culpepper.

Zeke—Sarah. Even though she had a hand in voting him out.

Sierra—Culpepper. She was in his back pocket all along.

Andrea—Tough one, here. Maybe Cirie.

Michaela—Cirie. She worked hard to pull Michaela in. I don’t see Michaela betraying that.

Survivor-Game-Changers-Finale-PRThe Final Six
Who’s odds-on favorite to win? No idea, I’ll rank them in order of how I think things go tonight.

Tai—Though I hope I’m wrong, I have a sinking feeling Tai’s going to do something classically stupid to get himself bounced before the Final Four.

Aubry—I think she’s got a great shot at being at the Final Tribal again, because she’s yet to make a really big move. Her next target has got to be Cirie.

Troyzan—He’s been floating along this entire game on borrowed time. He’s got his idol to play, which could hurt one of the big players. Can he win? Well, if he goes on a run at the end, he could.

Cirie—The sneakiest player left in the game. She has almost no shot at winning immunity in any challenge (unless it’s a quiz or something). The rest of the players should bounce her immediately before she has a chance to talk her way out of last week’s Tribal Council fiasco. If they don’t vote her out when they get the chance, she’s going to win.

Culpepper—His back has been to the wall for quite a bit of this game, but he’s avoided the chopping block. So far. After Cirie, I think everyone’s most afraid of Culpepper going to the end. He’ll get votes. Can he win? Yes. But he’s got the biggest target on his back.

Survivor-Game-Changers-2017-Spoilers-Week-10-Sneak-Peek-17-550x310Officer Sarah—For my money, the best player this season, so far. If she makes it to the end, I think she could beat anyone; including Culpepper and Cirie. But if she’s smart, she bounces them and takes Tai and Aubry so they can be runners up again.

My Final Three Prediction
Sarah, Culpepper and Troyzan.

aubry-bracco-survivor-kaoh-rong-winner-620x360What Aubry Needs to do to Win
Because she’s my favorite player, I’ve given this some thought. She needs to win a couple more immunity challenges, just to beef up her résumé. Then she needs to vote out Cirie, Sarah and Culpepper. She’d be sitting at the end with Tai and Troyzan. That’s her best shot at winning.

Who Will Win
I’m betting on Culpepper or Sarah. But who knows? Tune in tonight!

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