Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Photo courtesy of 123RF

Photo courtesy of 123RF

I have never kept a normal bedtime schedule for my entire adult life. To me, the grandest ideal of being an adult is the freedom to choose my own bedtime. That, and maybe eating Oreo cookies and pizza rolls in mass quantities with nobody’s permission but my own.

My bad bedtime habits began in my more formative years in college and carried on with me well into the prime of my life. This was enabled tenfold after I met my Christine, especially since she works nights. Since neither one of us relished the grim prospect of going to bed as soon as she got home, our bedtime was usually somewhere between the time they stop airing syndicated episodes of “CSI” and start running infomercials about Arkansas timeshares.

However, the moon has shifted and the planets have aligned in such a way that Christine no longer has to work nights.

Instead, she now works early in the morning, which means she has to readjust her bedtime to better accommodate her sleep cycle. This basically means I need to do the same thing as well.

I’m not complaining (that much), but I am a man of routine. It’s difficult for me to change — literally — overnight. Our new bedtime is midnight, and that makes me feel 80 years old just typing it.

I have had a few midnight trial runs so far. Some involved sleeping pills, others involved booze and in other cases a combination of the two. All resulted in the same conclusion: lying in bed with my eyes plastered open, staring at the red digitized numbers on my alarm clock and thinking — down to the minute — how many hours of sleep I would get if I fell asleep this moment.

And wondering in my state of chronic insomnia just how many pizza rolls I would normally be eating at 1:30 a.m. and speculating as to what crimes David Caruso is solving in Miami on my television.

Midnight to me is my kind of hour. The way I feel at midnight is the way most of society feels at noon. At midnight the Sandman needs a lot of sand to put this Sanders to sleep.

The new midnight referendum has changed my normal nightly routine that I grew accustomed to in the last 16 years of exercising poor sleeping habits.

Now I am in bed at midnight, which means no more late-night snacks and no more late-night showers.

It’s like my wife is treating me like a gremlin all of the sudden.

We have managed to reach a few compromises along the way.

Since I don’t recognize breakfast as a meal, the three meals I have each day consist of lunch, dinner and a small battery of snacks, many of which are pizza-based or the byproduct of pizza. It’s not that I can’t eat pizza rolls in bed. I can, but doing so is very messy, difficult to do in the dark and hard not to choke on when lying down. Frantically shaking Christine awake and having her give me the Heimlich maneuver is not my definition of getting a good night’s rest.

For me, going to sleep is the hardest thing I do on any given day. My body only wants to sleep when it needs to meet a work obligation (and this explains why I am starting to doze off right now). Considering my surly and demeaning predisposition toward labor, this should come as no surprise.

So far the midnight bedtime has been an aggravating ordeal to overcome.

It’s a sad state of affairs to admit that my insomnia is something that I truly lose sleep over.

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Will E Sanders, Creators Syndicate

Will E Sanders, Creators Syndicate If he were to die today, the obituary would read: After receiving a solid C in high-school English with no college ambitions, Will E (no period) Sanders embarked in his father’s footsteps and worked at a factory in 1998.

After three months of hard labor, college sounded like heaven. Sanders then attended Bowling Green State University, where he attempted to quit smoking seven times, committed petty drunken crimes, worked at the campus newspaper covering petty drunken crimes (sometimes his own), and in his spare time managed to obtain a double degree in journalism and binge drinking in 2002.

A week later, Sanders was hired as a news reporter with a small Ohio newspaper. Since that time, he has received more than 25 Associated Press awards. In the fall of 2004, Sanders began documenting his ridiculous adventures and outrageous observations in a weekly humor column, called “The Usual Eccentric,” which quickly gained an impressive fan base of his mother.

After his wife ended their marriage over the telephone, Sanders, 30, then attempted to get his humor column syndicated to earn spending money for video games, “Dungeons and Dragons” books and his mortgage.

A professional 30-something slacker, Sanders resided in his childhood village of Laura, Ohio, with 600 other crazy people — including his clannish family members, who all live within a two-block radius.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to a charity that directly benefits Sanders. Condolences may be expressed to nobody in particular.

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‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’: Chris Pine in a Franchise Reboot

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is a “Bourne” movie without the showpiece action scenes, the quirky characters or the carefully layered narrative. There’s plenty of “Bourne”-like vehicular mayhem, and there’s a ferocious close-quarters fight scene, too; but little of it is new, and its familiarity reminds us how much more distinctively this sort of thing was done in those earlier films. “Shadow Recruit” isn’t a bad movie — director Kenneth Branagh has constructed a professional piece of tech-thriller product — but it’s clouded throughout by an air of insufficiency.

The four previous “Ryan” movies — which starred Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck as the resourceful CIA intelligence analyst — were based on Tom Clancy‘s best-selling novels. This one isn’t. Now Ryan is played by Chris Pine, an actor whose default expression of drooping uncertainty seems wrong for the role; and his character has been inserted into a tale devised by screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp. The story hinges on a sinister Russian banker named Cherevin (Branagh, with a thick accent that’s pure Pottsylvania). Cherevin nurses a bitter grudge against the United States and is plotting a terrorist attack on Wall Street (no cheering, please) and the destruction of the American economy. The movie is therefore heavy with talk of international finance, which is not especially thrilling, and further lumbered with the usual ratta-tap computer wizardry.

The picture appears to be an attempted reboot of the Ryan franchise. (The most recent film, “The Sum of All Fears,” came out in 2002.) So it gets underway, rather slowly, with a back story montage. We meet Ryan while he’s studying for a Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in 2001. Jolted by 9/11, he joins the Marines and is deployed to Afghanistan, where we see a helicopter on which he’s traveling blown out of the sky by a barrage of choppy editing. Shipped back to the States, he regains use of his limbs with the help of (this is a little unclear) an aspiring ophthalmologist, named Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley). Then a CIA honcho named Harper (Kevin Costner) turns up to recruit Ryan for duty on Wall Street, where he’ll monitor the funding of worldwide terror networks.

Ryan agrees, and before long his attention is drawn to Cherevin’s fiscal machinations. Ryan and Harper take off for Moscow, where they soon are joined by Cathy, who doesn’t know that Ryan is a CIA agent. (They’ve now been together for three years.) There’s much cat-and-mousing with Cherevin, and there’s a good scene in a fancy restaurant where Cathy distracts the silky financier with flirtatious small talk while Ryan slips away to do improbable things with computers. There’s also some business with a Russian sleeper agent, a very old-school ticking time bomb and a vital algorithm. Dazzling Harper with his higher-ed erudition, Ryan says, “We’re looking at the Panic of 1837!” Harper says, “We still need this algorithm!”

This sort of picture really requires the dash and charisma of a full-bore movie star in the lead. Pine isn’t there yet, and he’s outclassed by Costner’s easy warmth and old-pro line readings. And while Branagh is, of course, an excellent performer, he’s not really a “movie star,” either; murmuring his dialogue (“America vill bleed”) through tightly compressed lips, he seems more like a ventriloquist in search of his dummy than he does a world-class villain. The actors go through all the motions of genre intrigue, but the movie goes nowhere new.

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Kurt Loder, Creators Syndicate

Kurt Loder, Creators Syndicate Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. He was born in Miami, where he remained for about a minute; was then relocated by his parents to Lima, Peru, for a few minutes more (his dad worked for an airline); then spent the next 17 years or so growing up on the Jersey shore.

After two years frittered away in deciding that institutional higher education was not something he wished to pursue, he joined the U.S. Army for three years, defending his homeland in the beer halls of Bavaria, mainly from hostile drunkards. He also learned everything there really is to know about journalism in an Army training school in about two months.

Returning home, he eventually made his way to New York, where he secured a position, at derisory wages, editing a freebie rock-music weekly on Long Island. This was in the mid- to late ’70s, so he also drove nearly nightly into Manhattan, not far away, to marvel at the punk scene evolving in clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. He saw the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads fairly early on and even got to know some of them -- a thrill for him, if not them. He also witnessed Blinding Headache and other terrible bands now long- and well-forgotten. It was a truly wonderful period.

In 1978, Loder escaped Long Island to take a job in Manhattan as an editor at Circus, a heavy-metal magazine with an intense interest in sweaty-chested young rock gods. Less than a year later, he got a call from Rolling Stone magazine to take over its “Random Notes” column. This involved endless attendance at stadium shows, club gigs and glittery parties beyond number. Loder was surprised that anyone would actually be paid to have so much fun, however health-imperiling. He remained at Rolling Stone for nine years, moving up to become a staff feature writer and eventually a senior editor.

In 1984, he interviewed Tina Turner, who was releasing a comeback album called "Private Dancer," for a Rolling Stone cover story. The album was a worldwide hit, and when he encountered the singer again in Australia a short time later, he suggested the possibility of a Turner autobiography, which he would write. Which he did. The book was published in 1986 and became a New York Times best-seller. (It was turned into a movie in 1993, with Angela Bassett playing Tina.)

At the end of 1987, Loder was approached by MTV, wanting to know whether he ever had thought about being on television. He hadn’t, ever. Nevertheless, after a decidedly unpromising camera test, he was hired to host a weekly MTV news show called "The Week in Rock." The concept of a news show on MTV was hailed by most observers as a preposterous idea. However, "The Week in Rock" remained on the air for more than a decade, traveling around the country and to such overseas locations as London, Paris and Tokyo.

After the show’s run reached a natural end, Loder continued doing MTV interviews with all manner of musicians and filmmakers and, in 2004, began writing weekly movie reviews for the channel’s website, MTV.com. More than 200 of those reviews are collected in his book, "The Good, the Bad, and the Godawful."

Today Loder still lives in Manhattan, with his Special Lady. No pets.

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Unknown Soldiers: He’ll Always Be With Us

 U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Eggleston spends time with his wife, Karen, and two daughters, Molly (left) and Avery (right) before leaving for his third combat deployment. Staff Sgt. Eggleston, 29, was killed in Afghanistan on Apr. 26, 2012. Photo courtesy of Karen Eggleston.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Eggleston spends time with his wife, Karen, and two daughters, Molly (left) and Avery (right) before leaving for his third combat deployment. Staff Sgt. Eggleston, 29, was killed in Afghanistan on Apr. 26, 2012. Photo courtesy of Karen Eggleston.

Moments after Karen Eggleston learned that her husband had been killed in Afghanistan, the couple’s oldest daughter, Molly, returned from a fun day at preschool.

“She said ‘Mommy, what’s wrong with you?’” Karen told The Unknown Soldiers. “You look like you’re going to cry.”

Karen’s casualty assistance officer knelt down and told Molly, 4, that her father, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Eggleston, wouldn’t be coming home from Afghanistan. The terrible news was too much for Karen’s little girl to process.

“I said that Daddy was in a car accident, he hit his head, and he’s in heaven,” Karen painfully recounted. “And she said, ‘but that means I’ll never see him again.’”

Years before military messengers arrived at her Raeford, N.C., doorstep on April 26, 2012, Karen was drawn to Brandon’s outgoing, unwavering personality.

“He was a person that was very determined,” she said. “He was always seeking a challenge.”

When the young couple began discussing marriage, Brandon told Karen that he was thinking about joining the military. Fearing for his safety, she was “totally against” the idea until Brandon explained his rationale.

“If I’m not willing to fight for this country, I’m not worthy of enjoying its freedoms,” he said.

The couple married in 2007. Two years later, Brandon was heading to Afghanistan as a member of the U.S. Army’s elite 4th Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), based out of North Carolina’s Fort Bragg. While she called the first deployment “very, very difficult,” Karen credited fellow Army wives for helping her young family weather the storm.

“Molly wasn’t even one year old when he deployed, so I felt like he was just missing out,” she said. “(But) we had very good communication.”

Brandon’s second overseas combat tour was even more challenging.

“I was pregnant with our second child during that deployment, so I was extra emotional,” said Karen, noting that the deployment ended happily with the birth of their youngest daughter, Avery. “He came back early in time for our child to be born.”

Just before midnight on Jan. 4, 2012, with their two little girls asleep in the back seat, Karen dropped Brandon off at Fort Bragg for his third combat tour, which the couple knew would be the riskiest deployment of all.

“Everyone knew it was going to be a very, very dangerous place where they were going,” she said. “He never really got upset too much before he deployed, but this time, he had a hard time going in.”

After hugging his precious daughters and beloved wife, Brandon vanished into the darkness. For months, he would be running perilous combat missions to find high-value targets.

“Daddy’s got to go over there and get the bad guys so they don’t come over here and hurt you,” the soldier told his daughters before he left.

Karen talked to Brandon as often as possible during what tragically wound up being the last four months of his life. After one particularly difficult phone call, during which the soldier said how much he missed home, Karen sat down and wrote him a two-page letter.

“It was just telling him exactly how I felt — how proud I was of him — about how the girls were proud of him,” she said.

On April 26, 2012, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Eggleston, 29, was killed in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province alongside Navy LT Chris Mosko, 28, Army Staff Sgt. Dick Lee Jr., 31, and a military working dog, Fibi. The Pentagon said their vehicle struck an enemy improvised explosive device.

Speaking two years after Brandon left for his final deployment, Karen recalled several poignant moments during the difficult days following his death.

“I met so many people telling me stories,” Karen, 30, said. “He just touched so many peoples’ lives, and I had no idea.”

The day after her father’s death, young Molly sat alone in her family’s front yard. As relatives tended to her youngest daughter, Karen went outside and asked the 4-year-old how she was coping.

“Mommy, I’m happy,” the little girl said, prompting her surprised mother to ask why.

“I’m happy because daddy is in heaven,” Molly continued. “He can see everything that we do, and he’ll always be with us.”

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Tom Sileo, Creators Syndicate

Tom Sileo, Creators SyndicateAn award-winning journalist who worked in newsrooms for eight years, Tom Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and communications director at the Travis Manion Foundation. Tom's weekly newspaper column, also titled "The Unknown Soldiers," has been distributed by Creators Syndicate since its February 2011 launch.

Tom is the author of "BROTHERS FOREVER: A Marine and Navy SEAL's Sacrifice." Written with Col. Tom Manion (Ret.) and published by Da Capo Press, "BROTHERS FOREVER" will be released in Spring 2014.

Previously, Tom spent almost five years as a copy editor for CNN's broadband news service. He also worked at the USO, Associated Press, Tribune, WSPA-TV, and WTVM-TV. Tom has a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Media from Rutgers University.

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Difficult Holidays: Peace in the Midst of Our Own Expectations

christmas-garbageThanksgiving was fun. We spent a week at The Farm in Jasper, Alabama with Zeb’s family. I love them and I have the best in-laws in the world. I don’t even have to try to like them, because I just do. They are awesome. And I say that because I don’t want anyone, anywhere to confuse what I’m about to say– but sometimes the holidays just suck.

Yeah, I said it.

The holidays suck. Maybe not for everyone, but I know I’m not alone in this.

I mean, I guess EVERYTHING about the holidays doesn’t suck, but for me, anyway, they are almost always emotional.

You know that hollow, day after Christmas kind of feeling?? That. I hate that.

I guess it boils down to expectations. No matter what, we always have them. Other people have different ones, and then we are all in the same place trying to celebrate and be happy, but there are kids everywhere and tons of people to be fed. And I crave the quiet corner in my bedroom but I’d be sad if I was there because I want to see everybody and do everything but that’s hard too.

My parents divorced when I was sixteen.  It affected every member of my family differently but deeply. Sometimes it still surprises me that my parents aren’t together anymore. Like it just happened yesterday.

Then, in 2006, someone broke into my childhood home and burned it to the ground. (BTW, great job on never doing anything about that, ever, Jasper Police Department.) Thankfully my mother wasn’t in the house when it happened but she lost everything. And for me, the last bit of “home” was gone. Even after my parent’s divorce, home was still home. But then it was just gone and part of my childhood went with it. I miss that house, and the life I thought I was supposed to have pre-divorce. I struggle to this day with my expectations being so very different from my reality.

The day before Thanksgiving, I cooked dinner at The Farm for my wonderful family. The in-law family that has accepted me as their own for the last sixteen years. My dad came by for a quick visit before dinner and I was so happy to be there with everyone.  We ate dinner, my nieces washed dishes and cleaned the kitchen, and I went upstairs to the room Zeb and I share at The Farm, and cried for two hours.

It wasn’t about anybody or anything, it’s just that sometimes, when you are broken– the things that are supposed to feel good, don’t. I’m not sure if I should attribute this to being from a “broken home,” having chronic depression, being human, or all of the above.

I texted with my friend Heather, (because she’s the kind of friend you can text the day before Thanksgiving, when you are crying in the bed), and just talking with her made me feel so normal that I cried harder. Mostly because I knew I needed to write about this moment, because I don’t want you to think you are alone if having to force yourselves to keep moving forward through the holidays when you don’t always feel like it.

I took for granted when I was growing up in my parent’s huge house that one day it would be full of their grandchildren. It never crossed my mind that not only would I not be spending the holidays with my parents, but they wouldn’t be spending it with each other. And every year, I find myself holding my breath around the holidays. Not figuratively. My chest aches and I realize I’m not breathing and it hurts. It hurts to breathe, but it hurts not to. So I take a deep breath and pack up my family and we come to the Farm, where my husband and kids feel like they’ve always belonged but where I still feel slightly conspicuous. I love it there but it’s not my home– it’s not where I was raised. It’s not mine.

Sometimes it just hits me so hard that I need to be saved from myself. From my expectations of other people, from my expectations of me.

The weight of these expectations is what keeps me from breathing. 

But I keep it breezy on Facebook and say things like,  “Have a great turkey day! May all your food dreams come true! Happy Holidays! Fa la la la laaaa!!!”

Because it’s easier than saying, “Hey, I realize today may be really hard for you because it’s not what you thought it was going to be 5 years ago, or 3 months ago or 2 minutes ago. But I hope it’s bearable. I hope it’s good. I hope you make it through this day with a smile. I hope you are kind to yourself today. I hope you breathe and notice something beautiful. Maybe it’s not what you thought it was going to be. But maybe you’ve been adopted into something that is lovely and beautiful and full of light.”

But maybe that’s what I should say instead. Because maybe then you’d feel less alone, and so would I.

Because if you’ve lost someone, if you are struggling with depression, if you feel out of place or out of step or out of sync… I simply hope your holidays are bearable. I hope you breathe through them. I hope you embrace what is beautiful and let go of everything that isn’t and I pray for peace for all us in the midst of our own expectations.

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Robin O'Bryant

Robin O'Bryant is a stay-at-home-mom, syndicated humor columnist and author. Her kids keep her laughing and/or gagging every day. She started Robin's Chicks to document their lives together and as a way to make other moms laugh and realize it REALLY is funny, when it’s happening to someone other than YOU!

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Unknown Soldiers: Six Reasons to Pay Attention to Afghanistan

An UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter from 2nd Battalion (Assault), Task Force Knighthawk, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, makes its approach at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Logar Province, Afghanistan, Nov. 26. A second aircraft can be seen in the distance just above the mountains. Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot.

An UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter from 2nd Battalion (Assault), Task Force Knighthawk, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, makes its approach at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Logar Province, Afghanistan, Nov. 26. A second aircraft can be seen in the distance just above the mountains. Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot.

It’s no secret that most Americans are ignoring the war in Afghanistan. Some simply don’t care, while others aren’t even aware that thousands of U.S. troops are still serving there.

If you fall in that category, the point of this column is not to chastise you. It’s to give you six reasons to turn your attention back to a war that our brave men and women in uniform have been fighting since al-Qaida attacked our homeland on Sept. 11, 2001.

On Dec. 17, six American lives ended when a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed in southeastern Afghanistan’s rugged Zabul province. On the same tragic day, the lives of six U.S. Army families, including five based at Fort Riley, Kan., were forever altered.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Randy Billings, 34, of Heavener, Okla., served multiple overseas deployments, according to KJRH-TV in Tulsa, Okla.

“He really loved it,” CWO 2 Billings’ uncle, Hurschel Billings, told the television station. “He couldn’t wait to go back.”

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Silverman, 35, of Scottsdale, Ariz., traveled to Israel as a teenager, according to the St. Louis Jewish Light. Before and during his first deployment to Afghanistan, he inspired those around him with his sense of humor and commitment to service.

“He was never concerned with what was cool,” Matthew Litwack, a friend of CWO 2 Silverman, told the newspaper’s editor, Ellen Futterman. “He did his own thing, and people gravitated around him.”

The impact of losing Sgt. Chris Bohler, 29, of Willow Spring, N.C., can be felt by reading a two-sentence Facebook post by his mother, Deborah Bohler, on Dec. 18.

“At 5:30 this morning my heart shattered into a million pieces,” she wrote. “Dear God give us strength to get through this pain.”

According to Thomasi McDonald of the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., Sgt. Bohler preserved a family legacy of military service that goes back to his great-grandfather’s European combat tour in World War I.

“News like this brings it all home,” Wake County, N.C., District Attorney Colon Willoughby told the newspaper. “Especially when it’s someone close to us.”

Staff Sgt. Jesse Williams, 30, of Elkhart, Ind., last saw his six-year-old daughter, Madison, when he deployed to Afghanistan on Father’s Day, according to WSBT-TV in Mishawaka, Ind.

“He lived for Madison,” Staff Sgt. Williams’ grieving mother, Debbie Passerallo, told the television station. “She was his little princess and she knew it.”

Spc. Terry Gordon, 22, of Shubuta, Miss., graduated from high school in 2011. According to The Meridian Star, his former school and the surrounding community are in mourning.

“He was a great kid,” Michael McDonald, principal of Quitman High School, told Brian Livingston. “His leadership and confidence was clearly evident.”

To some, these cities and towns may seem like faraway places. With the war in Iraq over and the war in Afghanistan in its 13th year, you might think the days of being impacted by a post-9/11 conflict have long since passed.

The sixth soldier to die in the Dec. 17 helicopter crash was Sgt. 1st Class Omar Forde, 28, of Marietta, Ga., where I have lived for more than seven years. The soldier, who was stationed at Fort Riley with his wife and children, went to high school less than seven miles from my house.

According to Sgt. 1st Class Forde’s high school football coach, who spoke to the Marietta Daily Journal, the future soldier was a picture of integrity, even in his teenage years.

“He had a lot of class on and off the field,” Scott Jones told the newspaper.

The harsh reality of this ongoing conflict just struck my town, and, someday soon, it could impact yours. But the real reason every American should be paying close attention to Afghanistan lies within the six stories above.

As Fort Riley’s commanding general reminded us in his statement honoring the six fallen heroes of the Dec. 17 crash, we owe our daily thoughts, prayers and appreciation not only to the warriors who bravely serve our country, but also to their courageous families.

“We stand ready to support them, and I urge our community and the nation, while remembering their sacrifices this holiday season, to do the same,” Maj. Gen. Paul Funk II said.

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Tom Sileo, Creators Syndicate

Tom Sileo, Creators SyndicateAn award-winning journalist who worked in newsrooms for eight years, Tom Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and communications director at the Travis Manion Foundation. Tom's weekly newspaper column, also titled "The Unknown Soldiers," has been distributed by Creators Syndicate since its February 2011 launch.

Tom is the author of "BROTHERS FOREVER: A Marine and Navy SEAL's Sacrifice." Written with Col. Tom Manion (Ret.) and published by Da Capo Press, "BROTHERS FOREVER" will be released in Spring 2014.

Previously, Tom spent almost five years as a copy editor for CNN's broadband news service. He also worked at the USO, Associated Press, Tribune, WSPA-TV, and WTVM-TV. Tom has a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Media from Rutgers University.

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‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’: Scorsese’s Electrifying Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Very Dirty Money

wold-of-wall-streetMartin Scorsese’s new movie hits the ground running with a montage of dwarf tossing, sex grappling and extreme drug behavior of a sort I don’t believe I’ve ever seen on screen before. Then it gets really crazy. Frantically edited down from four hours to three, and now arriving at the last moment for Oscar consideration, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is hilarious and appalling and, by the end, a little exhausting. Scorsese shows us bad men doing very bad things — ruining lives, treating women like dirt — and declines to take a moral stand about what we’re seeing. And with Leonardo DiCaprio giving an explosive performance at the center of the film — sometimes in long, rabble-rousing orations — it’s hard not to get caught up in these people’s demented exuberance.

The story is true-life, drawn from a memoir by Jordan Belfort, a stock market shark of unapologetically skeezy inclinations and prodigious appetites. We meet Belfort (DiCaprio) arriving on Wall Street in 1987, and being quickly wised up by a top broker named Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey, taking total possession of the movie in a very brief appearance). The dirty secret of stock-trading, Hanna tells Belfort, is that while the clients are only getting rich on paper, the brokers are getting cash-rich on commissions. He counsels taking as much cocaine as possible.

Before Belfort can put this advice to use, though, the Black Monday stock market crash wipes out his job. He’s reduced to working at a grubby suburban “boiler room” that specializes in pumping and dumping penny stocks to the financial detriment of workaday suckers reeled in by visions of quick riches. Belfort is astonished to learn that, while the standard Wall Street broker’s commission is 10 percent, in the penny-stock market, it’s five times that. He quickly takes over this piddly operation and turns it into a major company called Stratton Oakmont. Before long he’s wearing $2,000 suits and putting $26,000 dinners on his credit card. Money, Belfort says, “makes you a better person.” (In real life, Belfort was ultimately jailed for inflicting $200 million dollars’ worth of damage on his clients.)

There’s barely a dull scene in the movie. Belfort acquires a henchman, a brash weasel named Donny Azoff (Jonah Hill in one of his best performances), and moves his burgeoning enterprise into swank new offices. Here we witness uproarious staff parties with call girls servicing the cheering brokers right at their desks. Emulating the boss, everyone is cranked up on booze and drugs. There’s a gaudy beach house bacchanal and a wild orgy on an airplane (the movie is heavy with full-frontal nudity, almost exclusively female). None of the carousing scummers can imagine the good times will ever end.

But after Forbes magazine slams Belfort as “The Wolf of Wall Street’ (he welcomes the recognition), a straight-arrow FBI agent named Denham (Kyle Chandler) begins taking an interest in Stratton’s dodgy doings. By this point, Belfort is roaring out of control. Despite the blizzard of cocaine that blows through the movie, his drug of choice is methaqualone, and there’s a long, hysterically funny sequence, following massive Quaalude ingestion, in which he’s reduced to crawling from a restaurant out to his car as if he were swimming through a sea of glue. (“I went straight to the drool phase,” Belfort says in voice-over.) It’s borderline slapstick territory into which I don’t think DiCaprio has ever ventured before, and he’s surprisingly terrific.

Early critical reaction to the film has been understandably divided. In his classic “Goodfellas,” which this movie sometimes resembles, Scorsese grounded the fun in a clear-eyed acknowledgement of what monsters his mobsters really were. Here, he presents Belfort and his fellow shysters simply as raucous lowlifes, and he invites us to laugh along with them. There’s virtually no character development: Through all the episodes of unbounded debauchery, no one has second thoughts or regrets — everyone remains as heedless at the end as he was at the beginning. And apart from Cristin Milioti playing Belfort’s shabbily discarded first wife, and the sleek Margot Robbie as her trophy-babe successor, women in this picture are a tertiary concern. (Belfort offers one female employee $10,000 to allow her head to be shaved while her co-workers watch; she accepts because she wants the money to buy breast implants.)

But there’s so much to marvel at — not least the excitement of seeing a legendary director, at the age of 71, working close to the peak of his powers, his energy and technical invention still dazzling. (As is his facility with music — the picture is filled, counterintuitively, with rowdy R&B oldies by Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker.) The story eventually stretches out to Geneva, where Belfort consorts with a slick banker named Saurel (Jean Dujardin, star of “The Artist”). There follows an elaborate maritime sequence that feels distinctly out of place, and from this point, the movie begins to falter. (You wonder how much better it might have been if Scorsese and his peerless editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, had had sufficient time to tighten it.) But “The Wolf of Wall Street” is an electrifying piece of work, and the actors are wonderful, especially DiCaprio and Hill, who go all out and sometimes well beyond. Whatever the movie’s flaws, it’s a great Rabelaisian entertainment whose grimy pleasures can’t be denied.

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Kurt Loder, Creators Syndicate

Kurt Loder, Creators Syndicate Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. He was born in Miami, where he remained for about a minute; was then relocated by his parents to Lima, Peru, for a few minutes more (his dad worked for an airline); then spent the next 17 years or so growing up on the Jersey shore.

After two years frittered away in deciding that institutional higher education was not something he wished to pursue, he joined the U.S. Army for three years, defending his homeland in the beer halls of Bavaria, mainly from hostile drunkards. He also learned everything there really is to know about journalism in an Army training school in about two months.

Returning home, he eventually made his way to New York, where he secured a position, at derisory wages, editing a freebie rock-music weekly on Long Island. This was in the mid- to late ’70s, so he also drove nearly nightly into Manhattan, not far away, to marvel at the punk scene evolving in clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. He saw the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads fairly early on and even got to know some of them -- a thrill for him, if not them. He also witnessed Blinding Headache and other terrible bands now long- and well-forgotten. It was a truly wonderful period.

In 1978, Loder escaped Long Island to take a job in Manhattan as an editor at Circus, a heavy-metal magazine with an intense interest in sweaty-chested young rock gods. Less than a year later, he got a call from Rolling Stone magazine to take over its “Random Notes” column. This involved endless attendance at stadium shows, club gigs and glittery parties beyond number. Loder was surprised that anyone would actually be paid to have so much fun, however health-imperiling. He remained at Rolling Stone for nine years, moving up to become a staff feature writer and eventually a senior editor.

In 1984, he interviewed Tina Turner, who was releasing a comeback album called "Private Dancer," for a Rolling Stone cover story. The album was a worldwide hit, and when he encountered the singer again in Australia a short time later, he suggested the possibility of a Turner autobiography, which he would write. Which he did. The book was published in 1986 and became a New York Times best-seller. (It was turned into a movie in 1993, with Angela Bassett playing Tina.)

At the end of 1987, Loder was approached by MTV, wanting to know whether he ever had thought about being on television. He hadn’t, ever. Nevertheless, after a decidedly unpromising camera test, he was hired to host a weekly MTV news show called "The Week in Rock." The concept of a news show on MTV was hailed by most observers as a preposterous idea. However, "The Week in Rock" remained on the air for more than a decade, traveling around the country and to such overseas locations as London, Paris and Tokyo.

After the show’s run reached a natural end, Loder continued doing MTV interviews with all manner of musicians and filmmakers and, in 2004, began writing weekly movie reviews for the channel’s website, MTV.com. More than 200 of those reviews are collected in his book, "The Good, the Bad, and the Godawful."

Today Loder still lives in Manhattan, with his Special Lady. No pets.

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Dave Says, “Don’t Just Throw Up Your Hands and Default”

Photo courtesy of Fotolia

Photo courtesy of Fotolia

Dear Dave,

My husband and I have about $60,000 in federally insured student loans. Can our wages be garnished if we’re paying less than the actual payment amount? If so, how far behind do we have to be for that to happen?

Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,

To the best of my knowledge there’s no set formula for making this determination. In counseling people, we find some folks who are two years behind making payments before anything is done, while others are flagged at just a couple of months. In reality, they can garnish you immediately if you’re paying less than the agreed-upon amount. But in most cases they won’t mess with you as long as there’s reasonable activity on the account.

The thing most people don’t realize about student loans is that a lawyer doesn’t have to be involved for them to garnish your wages. It’s a lot like the IRS in that they don’t have to sue you in order to take your wages. Congress gave them that power because it’s a federally insured loan. And in my mind, that’s way too much power.

If you’re having trouble making your payments, don’t just throw up your hands and default. Talk to them about a deferral, and keep sending them whatever you can. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive in situations like these. Let them know you want to make good on your obligation, and ask what you can do to make this happen under terms you can afford.

Good luck, Jennifer!

—Dave 

Dear Dave,

I live in Los Angeles, and my daughter makes $3,000 to $5,000 a month modeling. I don’t want her to become spoiled by this job and the income, and I need advice on what to do with the money. Should it be put aside for a car, and do you think she should have to pay for something like that herself?

Lisa

Dear Lisa,

So how do we keep a high-income, high-profile job from ruining this little girl? I think a lot of it has to do with her interaction with you, and how you gently mold her work ethic and attitude. Don’t let her become a diva. She’s not there to be fawned over or placed on a pedestal. She’s there to serve. That means working hard and doing the best she can. That’s her job whether she’s flipping burgers or making $5,000 a month modeling. The money’s nice, but what we’re really doing is making sure she learns some important life lessons. And you’re still being a parent, not a friend or peer, through every moment.

When it comes to the money, you guys should sit down and discuss some goals for the future. I think it’s important that any car purchase be reasonable, because the best thing a kid this age could do with that kind of money is save up for college. Even if she goes to school on a full scholarship, she should be driving something low-key. Just because she gets a free ride in college doesn’t mean she gets to cruise the streets in a Lamborghini. Set the rest of it aside for when life really begins—after college.

As her mom, it’s very important that you teach her these lessons now. It’s essential, too, that you don’t surrender the position of parent, teacher and leader. Chances are when this young lady is 34, no one will give a flip that she modeled for a while as a teenager. The most important things here are the lessons taught and learned, not the money.

—Dave

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Dave Ramsey

Dave RamseyDave Ramsey is America’s trusted voice on money and business. He’s authored four New York Times best-selling books: Financial Peace, More Than Enough, The Total Money Makeover and EntreLeadership. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 6 million listeners each week on more than 500 radio stations. Follow Dave on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the web at daveramsey.com.

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‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’: Will Ferrell Returns in a Good-Not-Great Sequel

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

One understands why Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay waited so many years to follow up “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” That 2004 hit, which they co-wrote, seemed to take wild non-sequitur humor as far as it could go — its scabrous raunch approached perfection. A sequel would have to expand upon the earlier film’s concept of a preening TV nitwit amok in the happy-talk local-news scene of the 1970s. Could such a movie ever be more than a re-tread?

Well, Ferrell and McKay finally went ahead and made that sequel, and here it is, and yes, they’ve extended their story in a clever way. The year is now 1980, and Ron (Ferrell) and his onetime nemesis Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are married-with-kid and have moved up to the big time, co-anchoring a weekend newscast in New York City. As the story begins, we see their boss, Mack Harken (Harrison Ford), firing Ron — for being an idiot, of course — and promoting Veronica to become the first female anchor on the network’s primetime news show. Ron is crushed. After Veronica dumps him, he returns to his home turf of San Diego, where he fails to stay classy. Then he’s approached by a talent-scouting producer (Dylan Baker) who’s assembling an on-air roster for a radical new venture: a 24-hour news operation called Global News Network, which is being launched by an Australian gazillionaire named Allenby (Josh Lawson). (This conflation of CNN and Fox News is way off chronologically, but still pretty funny.)

Ron accepts the offer and sets about rounding up his old team. He finds weird sports guy Champ Kind (David Koechner) running a fast-food chicken restaurant (well, “chicken of the cave” — also pretty funny). Onetime investigative reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) has become a kitten photographer for a magazine called Cat Fancy. And bonehead weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) has just died — although not exactly. (When the boys arrive at his funeral, they find Brick, himself, giving the eulogy — a scene that’s more than a little limp.)

After surviving a really funny slo-mo auto crash on their way to New York, Ron and company arrive at GNN headquarters to discover that the hard-ass news chief (Meagan Good) is not only a woman, but a black woman (“Black!” Ron blurts out, by way of introduction), and that a rival anchor named Jack Lime (James Marsden) is already Ron’s sworn enemy. But it’s Ron who comes up with a game-changing concept for the upstart network. “Why tell the people what they need to hear?” he asks. “Why can’t we tell them what they want to hear?”

And so we see that witless Ron Burgundy is the author of ratings-obsessed cable news as we now know it — heavy with soft features, over-lacquered anchors and extra-heavy with zap-pow onscreen graphics. Very clever, as I say — although laced with predictable Hollywood condescension toward Middle America (GNN’s viewers are shown to be even bigger morons than Ron Burgundy) and lightly pocked with liberal cliche (“What happens when the powerful own the news?”).

As serviceable as the plot is, though, it’s the strafe-and-burn dialogue we’ve come to hear, and this is a bit of a letdown. There are some rousingly absurd lines. (Looking back over his long life, Mack Harken says, “I killed four men in Okinawa. That was four weeks ago.”) But Ron’s out-of-the-blue oaths this time around (“By the hymen of Olivia Newton-John!”) are strained; and some of Brick’s verbal eruptions (“I’m wearing two pairs of pants!”) are fake-funny — semi-amusing because they come out of nowhere, but basically just odd and flat.

It helps that Brick has been given a love interest here, a spaced-out secretary (Kristen Wiig) who’s just as loosely wrapped as he is. And while a big battle of international network news teams is essentially a re-run of a sequence in the first Burgundy film, here it’s pumped up with an all-new herd of guest-star cameos (as well as the ghost of Stonewall Jackson). But Ron’s jive-talking dinner with a black family is gratingly dated, and interludes with his sweet, needy son (Judah Nelson) are a recurring annoyance.

“The Legend Continues” isn’t likely to resonate in popular culture the way the first film did — its japes and random jabberings aren’t as memorable. It’s a funny sequel — there are some choice bits. But for prime Burgundy, it’s not quite funny enough.

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Kurt Loder, Creators Syndicate

Kurt Loder, Creators Syndicate Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. He was born in Miami, where he remained for about a minute; was then relocated by his parents to Lima, Peru, for a few minutes more (his dad worked for an airline); then spent the next 17 years or so growing up on the Jersey shore.

After two years frittered away in deciding that institutional higher education was not something he wished to pursue, he joined the U.S. Army for three years, defending his homeland in the beer halls of Bavaria, mainly from hostile drunkards. He also learned everything there really is to know about journalism in an Army training school in about two months.

Returning home, he eventually made his way to New York, where he secured a position, at derisory wages, editing a freebie rock-music weekly on Long Island. This was in the mid- to late ’70s, so he also drove nearly nightly into Manhattan, not far away, to marvel at the punk scene evolving in clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. He saw the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads fairly early on and even got to know some of them -- a thrill for him, if not them. He also witnessed Blinding Headache and other terrible bands now long- and well-forgotten. It was a truly wonderful period.

In 1978, Loder escaped Long Island to take a job in Manhattan as an editor at Circus, a heavy-metal magazine with an intense interest in sweaty-chested young rock gods. Less than a year later, he got a call from Rolling Stone magazine to take over its “Random Notes” column. This involved endless attendance at stadium shows, club gigs and glittery parties beyond number. Loder was surprised that anyone would actually be paid to have so much fun, however health-imperiling. He remained at Rolling Stone for nine years, moving up to become a staff feature writer and eventually a senior editor.

In 1984, he interviewed Tina Turner, who was releasing a comeback album called "Private Dancer," for a Rolling Stone cover story. The album was a worldwide hit, and when he encountered the singer again in Australia a short time later, he suggested the possibility of a Turner autobiography, which he would write. Which he did. The book was published in 1986 and became a New York Times best-seller. (It was turned into a movie in 1993, with Angela Bassett playing Tina.)

At the end of 1987, Loder was approached by MTV, wanting to know whether he ever had thought about being on television. He hadn’t, ever. Nevertheless, after a decidedly unpromising camera test, he was hired to host a weekly MTV news show called "The Week in Rock." The concept of a news show on MTV was hailed by most observers as a preposterous idea. However, "The Week in Rock" remained on the air for more than a decade, traveling around the country and to such overseas locations as London, Paris and Tokyo.

After the show’s run reached a natural end, Loder continued doing MTV interviews with all manner of musicians and filmmakers and, in 2004, began writing weekly movie reviews for the channel’s website, MTV.com. More than 200 of those reviews are collected in his book, "The Good, the Bad, and the Godawful."

Today Loder still lives in Manhattan, with his Special Lady. No pets.

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‘Her’: Joaquin Phoenix and the Woman Who Wasn’t There

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Theodore Twombly, lonely guy, may have found the perfect girl. She lives inside his computer. Her name is Samantha, and she is the voice of Theodore’s new operating system. She’s really something. At first she was all small talk: “Good to meet you,” “Do you want to know how I work?” Very Siri. Then things got more interesting. “At every moment, I’m evolving,” she informed Theodore. “You’ll get used to it.” Will he?

Spike Jonze‘s “Her” is an enchanting tale of love among our many machines. The movie is charming and funny and a little unearthly. It features yet another uncanny performance by Joaquin Phoenix and an improbably dazzling one by Scarlett Johansson, who never actually appears.

The story is set in a future not far ahead of our own (a period in which the fashion in menswear inclines toward high-waisted trousers). Theodore (Phoenix) is an underachieving writer employed by a company that provides handwritten letters for clients who can’t be bothered to write their own. His wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), a successful author, is divorcing him. He is bereft. At night he cruises Internet chat rooms in search of romantic connection, but encounters only sex maniacs. His broken heart is scabbing over. “Sometimes,” he says, “I think I’ve already felt all that I’m gonna feel.”

Then, booting up his computer one day, he encounters Samantha (Johansson). With all the resources of the Web at her non-existent fingertips, Samantha quickly learns how to make herself of service. She starts by sorting through Theodore’s emails — saving this, deleting that. Soon she’s proofreading the letters he writes for work. Before long, they’re stepping out together (Samantha travels by phone). Theodore is smitten. He tries to explain this unusual new relationship to his only real friend, a videogame designer named Amy (Amy Adams). When he’s with Samantha, he says, “I feel cuddled.”

Some of this has literary overtones, recalling the Mark Twain short story “Eve’s Diary” as well as the traditional science-fiction theme of sentient machines. But Jonze, working for the first time from his own script, creates narrative inventions that are unique. (The question of virtual sex, posed by Samantha, is resolved in a novel way.) And the actors do some of their best work. Phoenix, who’s in every scene, never falters in conveying the dreamy confusion of a man for whom life is a puzzle whose pieces may never fit together. And Johansson, who’s not in any scene, is a wonder, dancing around Theodore’s befuddlement with a voice at one moment sparkling and sweet, yet at others hurt and even irritated. (Samantha’s lines were originally read on-set by Samantha Morton; when Jonze brought Johansson in to re-do them, he adjusted the movie to accommodate her extraordinary performance.)

There’s also strong support by Mara — who’s only in one scene (apart from a few flashbacks), but hits telling notes of conflicted affection and regret — and by Adams, giving a full-hearted account of a woman with love problems of her own who’s open to alternatives. (Her character assures Theodore that he’s not weird — she has another friend who’s also dating an OS.) And cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy“) wraps the L.A. exteriors in a gauzy haze that’s ideal for the story’s understated otherworldliness.

The movie has more on its mind than the old question of “What is love?” In a bracingly original way, Jonze suggests that whatever the future of digital evolution might hold in store for human romance, the danger of heartbreak will always remain, along with its attendant torments of desperate yearning and unfocused jealousy. “You helped me to discover my ability to want ,” Samantha tells Theodore. Want what, he wonders.

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Kurt Loder, Creators Syndicate

Kurt Loder, Creators Syndicate Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. He was born in Miami, where he remained for about a minute; was then relocated by his parents to Lima, Peru, for a few minutes more (his dad worked for an airline); then spent the next 17 years or so growing up on the Jersey shore.

After two years frittered away in deciding that institutional higher education was not something he wished to pursue, he joined the U.S. Army for three years, defending his homeland in the beer halls of Bavaria, mainly from hostile drunkards. He also learned everything there really is to know about journalism in an Army training school in about two months.

Returning home, he eventually made his way to New York, where he secured a position, at derisory wages, editing a freebie rock-music weekly on Long Island. This was in the mid- to late ’70s, so he also drove nearly nightly into Manhattan, not far away, to marvel at the punk scene evolving in clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. He saw the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads fairly early on and even got to know some of them -- a thrill for him, if not them. He also witnessed Blinding Headache and other terrible bands now long- and well-forgotten. It was a truly wonderful period.

In 1978, Loder escaped Long Island to take a job in Manhattan as an editor at Circus, a heavy-metal magazine with an intense interest in sweaty-chested young rock gods. Less than a year later, he got a call from Rolling Stone magazine to take over its “Random Notes” column. This involved endless attendance at stadium shows, club gigs and glittery parties beyond number. Loder was surprised that anyone would actually be paid to have so much fun, however health-imperiling. He remained at Rolling Stone for nine years, moving up to become a staff feature writer and eventually a senior editor.

In 1984, he interviewed Tina Turner, who was releasing a comeback album called "Private Dancer," for a Rolling Stone cover story. The album was a worldwide hit, and when he encountered the singer again in Australia a short time later, he suggested the possibility of a Turner autobiography, which he would write. Which he did. The book was published in 1986 and became a New York Times best-seller. (It was turned into a movie in 1993, with Angela Bassett playing Tina.)

At the end of 1987, Loder was approached by MTV, wanting to know whether he ever had thought about being on television. He hadn’t, ever. Nevertheless, after a decidedly unpromising camera test, he was hired to host a weekly MTV news show called "The Week in Rock." The concept of a news show on MTV was hailed by most observers as a preposterous idea. However, "The Week in Rock" remained on the air for more than a decade, traveling around the country and to such overseas locations as London, Paris and Tokyo.

After the show’s run reached a natural end, Loder continued doing MTV interviews with all manner of musicians and filmmakers and, in 2004, began writing weekly movie reviews for the channel’s website, MTV.com. More than 200 of those reviews are collected in his book, "The Good, the Bad, and the Godawful."

Today Loder still lives in Manhattan, with his Special Lady. No pets.

More Posts - Website