What the Hell, America?

I wish this article from The Onion, a satirical (that means fake) news website wasn’t so on point. Because right now I’m wondering when and where is the next mass school shooting going to take place? OBVIOUSLY, it’s going to happen again. I’m not being pessimistic. School shootings are a thing now, and literally nothing has been done on a national level to really figure out how to prevent them.

When the Columbine school shooting, the first mass school shooting I was old enough to personally be aware of, occurred, everybody looked for something to blame, whether it was Rock music, or The Matrix, or Satan himself. The general consensus was that this was a fluke, it couldn’t happen, it was an abomination, but at least it was over. Except it wasn’t over. The school shootings continued, and all we have left to blame is ourselves.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, an event that occurred six miles from my mother’s house and deeply effected my community with the type of lasting repercussions that can only truly be felt by those people directly and immediately impacted by a tragic event, I really thought we might see some actual changes, whether due to government legislation, or cultural shift. Evidently, 20 dead six-year-olds was not enough for that to occur however.

Now, it’s happened once more, this time in Parkland, Florida, and again, outside of the immediate Parkland Community, who right now are feeling the same sense of betrayal and anger and fear that my town experienced following the Sandy Hook event, for the rest of us, no change has occurred. Life goes on for those not directly impacted by the dead. Sure, people give their thoughts and prayers on social media, everybody points fingers at everybody else seeking to place blame, people who hate guns post about how guns are bad, people who like guns post about how guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and everybody points their fingers at the bogey-man of “mental health”, but ultimately it’s the same exact narrative, with the same exact results that it has always been. The results by the way, are that there are no results.

There are no results, because this is a complex issue that everybody wants a simple solution to. That, of course, is not how the real world works. There is no one keystone issue causing these mass shooting events, so what we’re going to have to do is resolve a bunch of different issues before we begin to see any progress being made.

PROBLEM ONE: The first, is unfortunately, guns. As many of my readers know, I am a gun owner. I hunt. I go to the shooting range. I am licensed to carry, and I often do. I enjoy shooting, and talking about guns, and being immersed in the gun culture. I have family members that work for Colt, and Smith and Wesson. I live in Connecticut, America’s Arsenal, where most of our domestic firearm manufacturing occurs. I have guns, and I’d love to have more. After the Sandy Hook shooting, I even wrote a blog post explaining why I supported gun ownership. I am part of the problem. Because guns are fucking weapons, and they make killing really, really easily. So, while I personally would love to own a fully-automatic machine gun that can fire a million-billion rounds a second and cut a mature oak tree in half like a chainsaw, because I think that would be bad-ass and gives me a massive violence hard-on, I think it’s pretty damn clear that our current gun-laws, gun-availability, and gun-obsession as a country is a big fucking problem. Especially because pro-gun people’s arguments are so very flimsy.

Their arguments usually go like this: Criminals get guns illegally, therefore we need guns to protect ourselves against the criminals! This of course completely ignores the fact that the vast majority of criminal firearm use is against other criminals, not against normal law-abiding citizens. It also ignores the fact that restrictions on the type of guns available to the public won’t decrease your ability to protect yourself and your family. I live in a place where bear and coyotes and the occasional home-invasion are legitimate concerns. I advocate for responsible gun ownership and our right to own and carry arms. But the truth is, my classic pump-action shotgun is a much more reliable deterrent to those credible threats than a high-capacity semi-automatic military style assault rifle would be, while still being a much less efficient tool of mass murder. So while I love plinking through a 30-round magazine with an AR-15 or Ruger mini-14, or High-Point carbine, or AK variant at the range as much as the next guy, I think it’s time to admit that maybe we shouldn’t have such easy access to these types of weapons. So yes, while I personally think assault weapons are really fucking cool and fun to shoot, I agree with banning them. Because they are a tool that makes mass murder very, very, very easy, and the more that are available in the market and in our homes and communities, INEVITABLY the more they will be used in mass shooting events. Will making these types of weapons illegal stop all criminals from getting their hands on them? No. Does making the legal drinking age 21 stop all underage people from buying booze? No. But it sure is a lot fucking easier to buy a bottle of bourbon after you’re 21 than before.

guns-don-t-kill-people

Their second preposterous argument is that Guns don’t kill people, People kill people. I’ve seen Facebook posts where they’re literally like durr, I left my Glock and my scary AR loaded and unlocked on my front porch all day and they didn’t get up and murder a bunch of folks, they must be broken. Congratulations, you’re an asshole who is being willfully obtuse. Yes, my fellow gun-lovers, people kill people. But the easiest way for them to do it is with high-capacity semi-automatic and automatic firearms. Limit those firearms, limit the deaths. Guns are weapons meant for killing. Clearly, if there are more weapons, and those weapons are more efficient at killing, there will be more killing. Just like clearly, if there are more cars on the road, there will be more automobile accidents, so people have grudgingly accepted the existence of speed limits on our nation’s roadways. Not because they are bad drivers with poorly maintained cars, of course not, they’re all professionally trained F1 drivers with brand new hyper-cars who can safely travel 200 MPH in a school zone. Yet they allow the existence of speed limits because they understand that not everybody else is. In fact, most people are shitty distracted drivers with a death wish in broken down jalopies, and since they can’t safely drive 200 MPH, it makes sense to limit everybody to a safer speed. Just like since not everybody is a well-adjusted and stable responsible gun owner, it makes sense to limit the capacity of our personal arsenals to civilian levels of lethality, not military grade hardware.

Argument three is that they need these high-capacity semi-automatic firearms for legitimate purposes like hunting. Nope. Bullshit. I am a hunter. I do think semi-automatic firearms are great for hunting! The ability to put multiple rounds on target quickly allows for clean and ethical two shot kills where a bolt-action firearm may result in an animal being wounded but not immediately killed, and then escaping to bleed out painfully before a second round can be placed on target. So a semi-automatic rifle with a 5 or 6 round internal magazine, like a Browning BAR or something of that nature is absolutely appropriate for hunting. The only time that a 10, 20, or 30+ round detachable magazine is necessary for hunting is if you’re hunting multiple targets. Like say, on a battlefield…or a school.

Argument four: We need these battle rifles to protect ourselves against the government! Um..the government has drones, and helicopters, and tactical nuclear warheads. Your AR-15 won’t be saving you from a military assault. Also, why do you think we are in danger from our own military? These people are our own neighbors, friends, family members. They’re not going to turn on us if they’re ordered to by a suddenly homicidal government.

Argument five: Yeah but…we need guns in school to protect the childrens from these maniacs. Really? Because it’s realistic to believe that we can obtain trained and trustworthy armed security in our schools now? The schools where teachers have to spend their own money for pencils and crayons and calculators for their students? And where do we find these mythical affordable trained and trustworthy armed security guards? Retirees from the Kern County PD? Graduates from the George Zimmerman school of Community Protection? I’m sure some of the larger, urban, or wealthy school systems can place actual on-duty police officers in their schools, but not all the schools, and not all the time. So maybe instead of promoting an unrealistic solution to counter the symptoms of the problem, we focus on fixing the cause of the problem.

Argument the sixth: The Second Amendment! Yes, the Second Amendment guarantees our right to keep and bear arms. It is a great amendment, one of our most cherished rights as American citizens. But it is conspicuously  absent of any language guaranteeing us a certain type or class of arm. It can do with some updating and clarification, for which there is of course precedent. Example. The 18th Amendment enacted prohibition of alcohol. The twenty-first Amendment stopped it. So, amendments can be changed if the need is great enough. 17 dead people in Parkland, FL might be saying that the need is great enough right now.

So problem one – we’ve got a lot of guns, and many of those guns are super good at killing loads of people quickly. Solution one – Less guns altogether, less high-capacity guns specifically, and more stringent rules and regulations regarding purchase and ownership of said guns. Again, I like guns. I’m just being realistic about what they actually are.

PROBLEM TWO: “Mental Health”. This is actually more about health in general. The fact of the matter is that our for-profit health system in the United States is a joke and a LOT of people go without necessary assistance because they simply can’t afford it. You break a limb in Canada, you go to the hospital, it gets fixed, you get your medicine and you go home. You break a limb in the United States, you go the hospital, it gets fixed, you get a bill for $100k, your friends make a Go Fund Me asking for donations, you can’t work while you’re recuperating, you have no income, you lose your car and house, you’re now homeless, you get cut by a rusty nail, you get tetanus, you can’t afford the tetanus shot since you still have no health insurance, and you die. Similarly, you have depression or anger issues, or PTSD, or some other mental illness or issue, you have no health insurance so you can’t get the care or medicine you need, you flip out, grab one of your eighteen legal assault rifles and go shoot up a school. Meanwhile Chad who just got a $750k bonus for securing the Henderson account is stoked that he didn’t have to pay an extra $4.99 on his taxes for universal healthcare because fuck em, that’s why.

So problem two – we’ve got shitty expensive healthcare and sick people can’t get the help they need. Solution two – we get just a bit socialist and end the for-profit healthcare system in favor of a single-payer or other nationalized healthcare system. When an essential medication costs $3 to produce, and other countries can happily buy it for $5, but we’re getting billed $800, so many people just go without…something needs to change. If our sad, angry, mentally ill young men can get the help they need, things won’t reach a crisis point where they’re showing up to school with guns and pipe bombs.

PROBLEM THREE: Men. I mentioned sad, angry, mentally ill young men in the previous sentence for a reason. That’s who is doing all these mass shootings. Not women. So we need to figure out why. Are men simply violent, uncaring brutes susceptible to rage and anger issues? Maybe. But probably, we just exist in a culture where the male ideal is to BE a sad, angry, violent brute because feelings are gay and gay is bad. Young women get sad and angry and mentally ill just as much as men, the difference is they are allowed to cry and emote and discuss their issues in a supportive environment, so their most violent impulses are safely blunted and redirected. Men, who do not have that support system, and who are raised to believe that the strong, stoic, violent alpha male is king never evolve those healthy coping mechanisms, and then when something goes wrong, like a girl dumps them, or a cruel classmate or coworker mocks them, or they are mistreated at home, their only recourse is to blindly lash out. Their instinct when they feel pain is to cause pain. I know it is. Source: I’m a man. When I was young, my dad was killed, and I became very angry. Violent even. Because I was a child without a fully developed mind, and I did not know how to cope with my strong emotions. So I lashed out, got in fights, was generally a dick. Luckily, I had the support of my mother and extended family and community, and I was able to afford therapy, but more importantly, I was able to begin playing football, and then get into boxing, so during my most formative and angriest years, when hormones were raging and I was still learning about myself and learning how to control my feelings and my responses to my typical youthful angst, I had a safe environment to get out my aggression in a healthy and productive manner. THAT more than anything, the cathartic release of football and boxing helped me work through my anger until I got old enough and mature enough and secure enough in my masculinity to handle and express my emotions in nonviolent and healthy ways. I have no idea what type of person I would be if I didn’t have those healthy and safe avenues for releasing my pent up frustrations and anger. And those avenues are not available or appropriate for everyone. So we need to do better with our young men’s emotional intelligence. Basically, we need to allow them to hurt. We need to allow them to express themselves. We need to be kinder.

Problem three – toxic masculinity and the unaddressed rage of young men. And that is our fault. All of us. Solution three – be better to each other. Change the cultural ideal. Place more focus on the Mr. Rogers’ of the world, and less on the Conan the Barbarians. Allow our boys to admit when they are hurting, and applaud them for their bravery instead of mocking them for their perceived weakness. Because otherwise they might just choose to prove their strength with a semi-automatic firearm.

Unfortunately, this issue is even more complex than what we have already discussed, and these three problems, even if completely solved, likely won’t stop all of the violence, but I think we can all agree they’d be a really good start. Because otherwise, we’ll just have to live our lives waiting for the next mass shooting. And next time, it might be at our own school.

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Pilgrim Granny and the Legend of Tiny Town

Grandma!?

Grandma (Targaryen?) and her suspected twin brother Maester Aemon Targaryen

Gaze in wonder upon the mystery and glory that is my Grandma. Some may say that this photograph is proof that eventually, all old people end up looking exactly the same, regardless of race or sex or gender, before eventually slipping back into the bubbling primordial ooze from whence they came. I choose to believe that it is incontrovertible proof that my unassuming grandmother is actually a previously unknown Targaryen heir, and should be elevated as such to her rightful place on the Iron Throne of Westeros. Which she would promptly replace with her over-stuffed power recliner, because Iron Thrones hurt her back, and she prefers to raise her feet up when she’s working on her crossword puzzles.

With or without this ancestral link to the dragon lords of Westeros, the woman is a legend. You know how people always like to joke about how “kids nowadays” have it so much better, usually followed by hyperbolic anecdotes about how the older generation had to walk to school sixteen miles every day, in a snowstorm, uphill both ways? I think my grandmother is where those jokes came from. The woman grew up on a tobacco farm in South Western Massachusetts, in a roughly 400SF, two hundred-year old farmhouse, with seventeen brothers and sisters. Her childhood was like the Beverly Hillbillies, if the Hillbillies had never struck oil. This is no joke, the house was so small, and the family so large, that the boys had to sleep outside in the chicken coop. Being stout Puritanical stock who could trace their lineage back to the Mayflower and beyond, the lads never even complained about their sleeping accommodations as far as I know. There are no records surviving regarding how the chickens felt about the situation.

Being raised on a tobacco farm, my grandma’s male siblings had the dubious pleasure of working in the fields until their lungs filled with tumors and were coughed inside out, courtesy of their constant exposure to carcinogenic pesticides. The womenfolk, spared this particular fate, tended to have longer lifespans, and were expected to enter into suitably feminine careers, such as marriage, or nursing followed by marriage, whereupon they would engage in stern Puritanical sex for the sake of procreation only.

My Grandmother, being a good and proper woman, became a nurse, and then married, and then, through a series of encounters with her new husband that likely involved lackluster, fully-clothed missionary in an unlit bedroom, began producing children of her own, eventually giving birth to three daughters before her husband suffered from a sudden and irreversible case of death. Thanks to the untimely demise of her first husband, which was endured with the typical stoicism of a woman whose entire experience with men to that point could have been summed up as “they work hard, then die horribly”, Grandma soon remarried, this time to a widower who brought two sons of his own to the family. Together, they swiftly set about doing what people without easy access to Pornhub or Japanese Manga have been doing for millennia, and they quickly welcomed three more girls into the family. One of which died shortly thereafter. As did her second husband, thus ending the Brady Bunch era of her life.

After losing two husbands and a daughter to the various cruel twists of fate, Grandma never remarried, instead devoting her energies to her nursing career, raising her seven surviving children, and then being the best loving but no-nonsense grandma ever to her swiftly multiplying grandchildren.

Eventually, she moved back to that hilariously tiny farmhouse in Massachusetts alongside a couple of her surviving and also widowed sisters, and they spent their days cranking the thermostat up to 8,000, counting pills, and bickering about whatever it is that geriatric roommate sisters bicker about. This, naturally, would be the Golden Girls era of her life.

This would also be the scenario I grew up accustomed to, and to this day I love visiting Grandma’s, not only because all of her many children and grandchildren, despite living in different states, are all super close and truly enjoy spending time together, and not only because the farm has horses, and sometimes peacocks, but mostly because of the house. The hilarious, ancient, miniature house. Sure, it’s appropriately sized for my increasingly diminutive Grandma, but it was most certainly not adequate for the seventeen people it once housed. It just doesn’t seem possible to me. My imagination cannot fathom it. Not just because of the small footprint of the home. It is legitimately SMALL. We all call it Tiny Town for good reason.

BEHOLD. TINY TOWN.

This is....nice?

I enjoy a comfortable stand up in the Tiny Town sitting room

tinytown3

I enjoy a refreshing cup of water in the Tiny Town Kitchen

I’m not a short man. But I am not a giant man either. I’m 6’2″ on a good day. Tiny Town is not for the claustrophobic.

Although one of her sister-roommates has since passed on, Grandma remains in that little farmhouse absolutely slaying at solitaire, puzzles, and crosswords, and inhaling those smutty harlequin romance novels that are the mainstay of elderly lady’s nightstands everywhere. All of her grandchildren are grown, but she now has an ever increasing swarm of great-grandchildren periodically underfoot whenever she hosts a family gathering. These usually involve her inviting all of us into her home, where she will promptly turn off her hearing aids and ignore us as she plays solitaire or reads her books. Positively Legendary.

I write this ode to Grandma and Tiny Town, not because anything tragic has happened, thankfully it has not, but because this year, for the first time that I can remember, my sisters and I will not be spending the night in Tiny Town on Christmas Eve. This has been a tradition for my family harkening back to when my own father, holding strongly to family tradition, died young, suddenly and terribly, and my mother couldn’t face doing Christmas at home alone. Like all traditions eventually do however, it has at long last come to an end. Partially because I now own a house of my own only twenty minutes away from Grandma’s, where Mistress and I have our own comfortable bed, in stark contract to the Tiny Town sleeping arrangements, which usually end up looking something like this:

Such Comfort.

Five Stars, would recommend.

But also, not insignificantly, we won’t be spending the night at Grandma’s Christmas Eve because my sister and her husband had their first baby last month! While I can only imagine they made that strange decision because it provides them with a semi-mobile bag of replacement organs or blood, should they find themselves in desperate need of spares, but that’s such a long-term investment for something they may not ever even need, and in the meantime here they are stuck with a semi-sentient potato who thus far just farts and shits his way through life, so I don’t know, it just seems like a risky investment to me. In any case, the existence of this brand new creature whose entire life revolves around drinking titty milk, crapping his pants, sleeping, or crying really precludes any possibility of my sister’s family being able to spend the night comfortably in Tiny Town, and if they’re not spending the night, I sure as hell aren’t either.

Don’t go feeling bad for Grandma however, we’re all still going to be visiting Tiny Town bright and early Christmas day for family brunch, so she’ll have plenty of opportunity to turn her hearing aids off and ignore us then. Legend.

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Take a Knee

This isn’t supposed to be a political blog. My intent has always been just to tell jokes and talk about spaceships and shit. I lasted thirty years without having the slightest interest in politics, and I could have easily gone an additional thirty comfortable in my own ignorant apathy. Hell, growing up I never had any idea who my parents voted for in national elections. I don’t think they even discussed it with each other, because honestly, it didn’t really fucking matter. When the choice traditionally fell between one interchangeable blandly incompetent democratic politician, or another assembly line produced inoffensively evil republican politician, there was really nothing worth talking about. I certainly never would have felt compelled to talk about it. Besides, who was I to share my opinion even if I had one? I”m just some regular jagoff, a dumb stupid idiot, who is not even cool.

Unfortunately, thanks to our wildly incompetent, divisive, offensive and childish POTUS, having strong feelings one way or another regarding the current political landscape is, like getting crabs at UCONN, 100% unavoidable. So what is there to be angry about? Take your pick. Environmental protection rollbacks? Affordable healthcare? Education costs? Women’s rights? Current and potential foreign wars? Civil unrest? Tax breaks for the super rich? All very important topics that we should be concerned about, for sure.

Let’s talk about athletes kneeling during the national anthem instead. THAT’S the one. THAT’S the topic worth fighting about.

Here’s what is going on, for those of you who are lucky enough to be living in an isolated cave or impenetrable jungle, and haven’t had access to outside news for some time. Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat down during a televised performance of the National Anthem preceding an NFL football game, in order to protest and draw attention to the issue of police brutality and the unfair treatment of People of Color, which is endemic in our society. After receiving an enormous backlash for his actions, and discussing the issue with a friend who was a military service member, Mr. Kaepernick adjusted his protest to kneeling, which is an otherwise universally accepted position of respect that hurts nobody, but still quietly and unobtrusively gets his point across. Inspired by his actions, other teammates, players for rival teams, and indeed even athletes competing in different sports began to take a knee as well.

Predictably, people lost their fucking minds. Their arguments were many and varied, but generally followed the same basic themes.

Argument 1: Who do these athletes think they are? They’re rich, their lives aren’t so bad. They have nothing to protest about.

To which I say, I did not realize that you had to be personally victimized by injustice to fight against that injustice. I guess we should go remind the people who protest against animal abuse that they aren’t allowed to, because they themselves are not animals. Or maybe we should make a time machine and travel back in time to remind everybody who fought against the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews that they shouldn’t bother if they’re not Jewish themselves. Evidently, you simply cannot stand up for what is right and just, if you’re not a direct victim of injustice. You’re not qualified to have an opinion on the matter. It’s somebody else’s problem and you should just keep your stupid mouth shut. It’s the same logic, right?

Argument 2: They are paid employees of their respective teams. We don’t pay them to have opinions, we pay those boys to battle for our entertainment. Dance monkey, dance. They can feel feelings in their free time. At home. Alone. Where we don’t have to see it, and it will achieve nothing.

Okay, but here’s a thought. The NFL supports the American Cancer Society by wearing pink apparel during games and raising money for the fight against breast cancer. We don’t pay those darn athletes to fight breast cancer. They probably don’t even HAVE breast cancer, so its like, why do they even care? I hate pink. I think it’s an ugly color and I don’t want to see it. I also hate cancer, and I don’t want to be reminded about it. So why aren’t people angry about #NFLPink like they are about kneeling for the national anthem? Is it conceivable that they’re angry, not, like they’re saying, because they don’t think athletes should show support for an important cause, but actually because they just don’t respect the cause those athletes have chosen? Weird.

Argument 3: Our armed forces members are heroes!

That is…potentially true. Doesn’t have anything to do with the flag though. Yes, I get that the flag and the national anthem are deeply tied to our military and our military service members, but they are not one and the same. So protesting one is not necessarily protesting the other. Gandhi often went on hunger strikes. That doesn’t mean he hated food, or chefs. It means he used his hunger strikes as a vehicle for change on a completely separate issue. Athletes are kneeling during the national anthem. This doesn’t mean they hate the national anthem, or the military. It means that they feel so strongly about an important issue that they are willing to endure anger and ridicule and scorn by carrying out an activity that, although it literally couldn’t be more peaceful, or quiet, or unobtrusive, was always going to be unpopular. So maybe we should be asking what problem is so bad that they feel strongly enough about it that they are willing to do something so unpopular to draw attention to it, instead of just being angry at them for doing the unpopular activity. It’s worth thinking about.

Argument 4: These assholes are disrespecting the flag!

I’m going to tell you a little secret. The flag doesn’t care. It’s an inanimate piece of cloth material literally incapable of feeling anything or recognizing disrespect.

…Well, it’s a symbol of the United States, therefore they’re disrespecting the United States!

Okay. But maybe, just maybe the USA deserves a little disrespect right now. You know what they’re really protesting right? You GET it, don’t you? By kneeling, these athletes are saying, hey, this flag is supposed to symbolize a cultural ideal, that of liberty and justice for ALL. And, right now, it’s not keeping that promise. Our country is not keeping that promise. We DON’T have liberty and justice for all, and we want it.

Real talk, that sounds like a great, admirable, righteous thing to protest for to me.

And, if you don’t think they have a legitimate complaint, you’re actually proving that they have a legitimate complaint. Look at it this way. They’re complaining that young, innocent, unarmed black and brown human beings are being mistreated, beaten, and murdered to death with impunity, and you are WAY more offended about the fact that they are complaining, than that young, innocent, unarmed black and brown human beings are being mistreated, beaten, and murdered to death with impunity.

Logic would dictate that you be more concerned with the suffering of actual, real life, living, breathing, human beings, than with a perceived slight against an inanimate object. So, why aren’t you?

US flag

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On North Korea

I am a creature of routine. I prefer eating the same things at the same times for days on end. You could set your watch to the regular motions of my bowels. I have a set sleep schedule, from which any deviation causes me to spiral into a bottomless pit of rage and despair. I enjoy the same books, and the same music, and the same TV shows and movies on repeat to infinity and beyond.

Because I am a creature of routine, I find that I am often stuck slavishly adhering to my habits, even when those habits are no longer desired. In the morning for instance, after I’ve been woken up approximately six minutes before I actually want to get up by the insistent demands of my bladder, and after I’ve stretched the kinks out of my back and shambled downstairs blinking the unpleasant crusties from my eyes , I enjoy a crisp, refreshing bowl of sugary cereal, even though at my age, that really isn’t the healthiest choice to start my mostly sedentary day. Intellectually, I know I should be consuming some sort of fruit, or maybe a couple of egg whites, and not eighteen servings of cocoa blasted sugar bombs, but the thought of eating anything other than a bowl of cereal first thing in the morning to me is simply inconceivable. Equally as unhealthy, while I am eating my cereal, I like to catch up on my social media.

It’s always a disappointment.  First comes Facebook, which honestly, I don’t really even know why I still have, since nobody posts hilarious jokes or sexy pictures except me. Instead, I’m treated to a disheartening parade of newly engaged couples, or newly wedded couples, or newly be-babied couples, all while I know that Mistress is lurking somewhere in the shadowy background of my kitchen like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings, scratching behind her ear with her taloned foot and mumbling demands for a precious ring of her own. Next, I try Snapchat, in the naively optimistic hope that I might have received some tasteful nudes from hitherto unknown admirers. Sadly, this is never the case. I don’t like Twitter, since it doesn’t have enough bright lights or pretty colors, so I finish my tour’de’media with Instagram, which, thanks to its abundance of fitness babes and motorcycle companies I follow, is always a consistently enjoyable note to end on. Also, it has memes.

I don’t know if as a whole, we’ve all collectively recently become depressed nihilistic bastards, wallowing in a mire of existential dread, or if we’ve always been this way, but it’s finally socially acceptable to share our macabre cynicism with a wider audience. Either way, I love me some sadness memes. Of course, the State of the Union being what it is, most of the trending topics have to do with President Trump, and the bewildering circus freak show that is the current White House. His most recent focus has of course been Kim Jong Un, and North Korea, probably in a transparent yet somehow still semi-successful bid to direct our attention away from all the other perplexing bamboozlery going on over there at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Kim

Here’s the thing about a war with North Korea. It’s a bad idea. It’s a bad idea for so many reasons, and really not a good idea for any reason, but Trump is likely salivating over the idea because he knows that nothing creates a patriotic fervor like a foreign war, especially amongst the type of people who form his support base, and also because he thinks of himself as some sort of godlike gift to this nation, and he figures crushing one of the last great bad guys of our era will cause us to spontaneously erect statues and shrines in his honor.

That’s really it, that’s probably the extent of his thoughts on the matter. He doesn’t want to invade North Korea to save the poor oppressed North Korean people. He doesn’t want to invade North Korea to protect the vulnerable South Koreans. He just feels like him and Kim Jong Un are in a dick wagging contest, and he wants Kim dead and mounted on his wall like a hunting trophy. Trump has, unfortunately, surrounded himself with incompetent stooges, shady businessmen, and military leaders. He has no experienced diplomats to temper his impulsive urges. Admittedly, unlike his other political appointees, I have nothing bad to say about the military leaders Trump has appointed, they are highly respected, experienced, and intelligent individuals, BUT when presented with a problem, military people will invariably come up with military solutions. When the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, everything suddenly looks like a nail.

This is not a good situation to be in when it comes to North Korea. Especially because any punitive military action we take with North Korea will have huge ramifications for their neighbors, like China and South Korea. This being the case, you would think that we would be closely engaged with our friends and allies in South Korea, but the disheartening fact is that we don’t even have a current ambassador assigned to South Korea. Go figure.

Here’s the thing about North Korea. They don’t actually want a war with us. If we went to war with them, we would crush them. We would have air superiority, naval superiority, technological superiority, strategic superiority and tactical superiority. We would win that fight, likely with little to no actual danger to any United States lands or properties, other than the hundreds of thousands of young soldiers who we would throw away in the meat grinder that is any land war in Asia.

Kim Jong Un is not a dumb man. He’s a fat greedy fuck who wants to eat Doritos, snort coke, and pound hookers while getting a continuous handy job from his cowed, brainwashed and starving populace, but he’s not a dumb man. He knows that he has no friends. He knows that if he pushes too hard, he’ll finally get swatted down like an annoying child. But he also knows that he would make that swatting unbearably costly.

North Korea’s weapons program is not advanced enough to threaten the mainland US, despite their best efforts. They likely do not have reliable long range ballistic missiles. What they do have, is plenty of mid-range missiles. So they can very much devastate the population centers of South Korea. Hell, there’s ten million people in Seoul alone, and that one city happens to be a stone’s throw from the North Korean border.

There’s no way around it. If we bomb, invade, or otherwise antagonize North Korea too much, their nukes are going to fall on South Korea. Our friends and allies will die by the millions. We’re putting our friends in real danger of being bombed, and Trump hasn’t even saw fit to send them an ambassador to talk about the situation. If they get fucked over because of our saber rattling aggressiveness, all the rest of our friends and allies are going to start questioning their safety with us around too.

Even if, by some strange miracle, we are able to win a war and topple the Kim regime quickly and bloodlessly, we still won’t be making any friends. The North Korean people are the most militaristic culture in modern history. Nearly everyone serves in the military. Sure their equipment might be rusty old Soviet cast offs or cheap Chinese knockoffs of Russian throwaways, but Western powers have more than learned that a sufficiently determined indigenous force, even if they’re just armed with sticks and rocks, can still seriously fuck up our shit. So, if the Kim family gets deposed, and another warlord takes his place, we get to keep fighting, probably for years and years and years. I’d guess this to be the most likely scenario, knowing what I know about the indoctrination present in the North Korean culture. That or China or Russia would rush in to claim some land and a cheap labor force, and we and South Korea would push back, and World War Three would start.

Less likely, but probably equally as devastating, is if no one stepped up the fill the void, and the North Koreans were suddenly left to their own devices. It’s basically a medieval country over there. They have no internet, limited electricity, limited reliable technology, limited medical resources, and nonexistent education beyond The Great Leader is Great. They have no idea what the outside world is like. If they lose the stability and control of their current oppressive government, their economy, such as it is, will collapse, and they are going to start starving and dying in droves. For a good many of them, their first idea is going to be to get the fuck out of North Korea. So where will they go? First, they’ll go to China, their ostensible allies, but you know damn well the Chinese are going to lock down that border hard, probably with deadly force. Next, they’ll go to reunite with their cousins in the South, where their influx will, if not stopped, likely cripple the South Korean economy and lead to continued strife and violence. So then their diaspora will look elsewhere.

Who is going to take them in? Us? Come on. We’re not even letting our own Southern neighbors in. We’re not even letting wealthy and well educated Doctors and Scientists from Muslim countries in. We’re certainly not going to welcome a horde of anachronistic Asian peasants across our borders, even if they’re just coming here because we blew the shit out of their homeland and they have nowhere else to go.

So there it is. War with North Korea is a bad idea. It would be a Pyrrhic victory at best, and the start of World War III at the worst. It would cost us a lot, it would cost the rest of the world a lot, it would cost our friends and allies in South Korea a really real lot, and it would cost the poor North Korean people everything. Millions of people on both sides of the 38th Parallel would die. Innocent people. Trump would know that if he had some diplomats to talk to, but alas he doesn’t. He has Fox News and a Twitter account instead.

Oh well, at least the memes will be fire though.

ww3

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Everybody likes an eBook sale!

Everyone will (HOPEFULLY) be happy to know that I’ve been plugging away on my next book, The Night Ripper, and as I draw closer to completing it, i’ll periodically be releasing some FREE short stories set in the same universe as The Night Ripper here on this website. These stories will introduce you to some characters and themes which may or may not be present in the book itself, you’ll just have to wait to find out.

In the mean time, look what is currently on sale for kindle. If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet I mean, shit, it’s $0.99 :

Apostate_Konstantin_Cover_for_Kindle

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Life, Death, and the Paris Climate Agreement

I post something to this site roughly once a month, and for the most part I try to keep those posts light, you know, something sexy and hilarious, just like me. Sometimes however, I feel compelled to drop some real talk instead. This is one of those times.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the infamous D-Day invasion of Normandy, France by allied forces in WWII. This is a day remembered for the bravery and sacrifice of American and Allied soldiers, who stormed the beaches of Normandy against a fortified German army. Their attack is remembered, not just because it was a dramatic and bold large scale assault against an entrenched foe, but because it was also a message. It was a message sent around the world that we and our allies would no longer stand idly by in the face of fascism, tyranny, and oppression. This assault, not through luck, but through grit, determination, and the mutual support of the USA and her allies working together toward a common cause was a turning point in the War, and the beginning of the end for the obscenely inhumane Third Reich. It was also the point where the United States really began asserting themselves as a Super Power, one ostensibly dedicated to being the “good guys.”

D-Day is always extra poignant for me because it is also the anniversary of my father’s much more recent passing, so around this time of year I often find myself introspectively contemplating mortality and death.

Now, being exposed to death at a young age, both from my father’s passing as well as from an inordinate amount of friends who have also died far too young in far too undignified manners,  I have long since come to terms with it emotionally, but still wrestle with its implications philosophically.

My father was, by all accounts a brilliant, hilarious, larger than life individual, but he was killed when I was so young that he’s never been more than a shadow to me. My memories of him are so limited that he was never a real presence in my life. His influence for me was really only noted as an absence in the lives of those around me whom he used to touch. Tragically, as the years go by, that sphere of influence inevitably shrinks. People forget him, people die, his footprint in the world fades. His legacy lives on, in an ephemeral manner, in those who knew him and were influenced by him, in my mother, who handled her heartbreak by devoting herself fully to her children, at the cost of losing a bit of who she was as an individual, and who, based on her cautious and cool relationships with men since then, appears unable or unwilling to open herself up to that level of vulnerability again. So my father, like every other person who has ever passed away, enjoys a sort of limited immortality while his memory lives on in those he left behind, but eventually they too shall pass, and everything he was, everything he did, everything he dreamed, everything he hoped to be, will be well and truly gone.

This is in part what drives me to write, not just because I like being creative, and not because I think I have any extraordinary ability to do so, but because of my hope that my words can live on after I am gone, and like a stone dropped in a pond, cause ripples long after I myself  have faded from sight. I don’t dare hope to reach the level of immortality enjoyed by the greats like Shakespeare, or Tolkien, or Nietzsche, or the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, author of the dreaded Necronomicon. Mine is a more humble desire, that maybe some day, some nerdy kid with glasses and an unfortunate bowl cut will come across a scuffed up, dog-eared copy of one of my books on the shelf of some second-hand bookstore that smells of dust and cat-pee, and will take it home and read it by flashlight under their covers until long after bedtime, and will go to school the next morning red-eyed and tired, but in some way affected by my words and ideas. That’s the best kind of immortality I could hope for. (Of course this won’t be possible if all of our publications transition to digital copy, and then civilization crumbles and the internet fails and electronics become useless, and we all slip into a new dark age because all of our accumulated digital knowledge is lost forever, but that’s a discussion for another post altogether.)

My understanding and acceptance of the slight, transitory, fleeting nature of our lives also shapes my feelings regarding our place on the planet. This is why I am so wounded by our current president’s decision to remove us from the Paris Climate Agreement. Now, admittedly, the Paris Climate Agreement was burdensome for the United States, much more so than for most of the other Countries involved, but those were burdens we placed on ourselves, and I believe they were not so onerous that it was worth withdrawing from the Agreement.

The countries involved in the Agreement set their own goals, many which were much less ambitious or costly than the goals committed to by the USA, but in a fight like this, every little bit helps, and it behooves us to continue our efforts even if those efforts are not immediately met by everyone else. From a certain point of view, Trump’s action can be seen as a savvy move meant to extricate the United States from an unfair and biased initiative. The problem is, we helped create that initiative.

From a practical standpoint regarding the actual net impact on climate change over time, it is not that important that we have left the Agreement IF we continue our own efforts to combat climate change. It is still very important however because of what it says to the rest of the world. Appearances are very important, and it appears to our allies and rivals and everyone else that we cannot be trusted to honor our obligations or commitments, which is especially damning because we set those obligations and commitments for ourselves. The world is now wondering how selfish the United States could be, that they have reneged on their own promises to do something which benefits literally the entire world in the long term for the express purpose of saving money today. It is saying that our ideals of life, liberty, and happiness for all, which a healthy and vibrant world are necessary to achieve, are actually less important than our ability to make sure American businesses make the most money possible as quickly as possible, right now, today, consequences be damned. It is saying that all the goodwill and trust our soldiers bought with their lives that June 6th in 1944 amongst our allies was a waste, because going forward we may not maintain those relationships or honor our commitments to each other for the greater good.

If the price of remaining in the Paris Accord is some of my tax money going to fight climate change, whether domestically, or abroad in developing nations, I’m okay with that price. There is no ultimate downside to fighting for cleaner air, and water, and land. Cleaner air, and water, and land, is GOOD. We all share one Earth, and the repercussions of climate change will not politely respect our national borders to go bother other people, no matter how big of a wall we build.

Mr. Trump ran on a populous platform fueled by promises to bring coal mining jobs back to coal country, which honestly seems like a pretty crappy promise. Why specify that they be coal jobs? Coal mining is a tough, dangerous, unhealthy, unpleasant, outdated industry. Our nation’s coal miners don’t really want to go back underground. They just want jobs so that they can support their families. If we invested instead in healthy, modern, high tech alternatives like the burgeoning green energy sectors, instead of relying on dwindling fossil fuels, we would both create enduring jobs in wind, solar, water, and other renewable power systems, and we would also make great strides in reducing our carbon footprint and combating climate change. The long term benefits and reduced costs are undeniable, and if a former miner were able to choose between earning a living wage breathing more coal dust underground, or working in the clean air and sunshine erecting a windmill or solar farm, I think we all know what they would likely pick.

Here’s my philosophy. We are stewards of this world. We are not its conquerors, we are its caretakers. We are here for a short time only. Our lives, as previously discussed are short. Fleeting. Insignificant. We don’t really own this world. We don’t even rent it. We’re more like hotel guests. If the entire history of Earth was condensed to a single day, humans have been around for two minutes. We’ve barely had time to check in, and we’ve already pretty much wrecked our hotel room. I don’t know what kind of person you are, but I don’t want to be the type of dick who wrecks his hotel room.

Especially since I won’t even have immigrant cleaners available to pick up after me because Trump wants to deport them all.

Soon me, and everybody I’ve ever known will be dead. That’s unavoidable. We don’t have to take the world with us. If my legacy is a few remembered lines of prose and a healthier planet, I’ll consider it a life well lived.

Earth

The one and only, no refunds, no replacements, so don’t break it you dumb idiots – God, probably

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The Legend of Florida Man aka Our Trip to Miami Beach

It began, as these things often do, with a birthday party. The party in question was two weekends ago, for my thousand year old grandmomma. Full disclosure, I had mixed feelings about going to the party, mainly because we had celebrated Mistress’ thirtieth birthday party well into the wee hours of the evening before, and I was nursing a disastrous hangover, courtesy of my overindulgence in crisply refreshing american lagers and enough fat rails of Dr. Rockso’s White Lightning to build a train track from here to the Rio Grande. Additionally, even though Grandma and I have been acquainted for the entirety of my life, we don’t really know each other at all. To me, she’s the loving but no-nonsense matriarch of the family, the mother to my mother, and the scarily old woman who sits in a plush recliner in the corner of her living room, her short, white hair poofed around her head like a wispy halo, and the tiny bits of her papery old lady skin which are not covered in knitted afghan blankets mottled and discolored like an overripe banana. To her, I’m just another one of the vaguely familiar, but bewilderingly multitudinous mass of grandchildren who intrude upon her tranquility during holidays and birthday celebrations. Even before she started going deaf, for years the extent of our personal communication has been limited to “You being good?”, Grandma’s generic catch-all query to all of her numerous descendants, and my reassuring reply of “Yes, Grandma.”

As it was however, I forced my abused body into motion and Mistress and I made the short drive across state lines to share in her birthday celebrations. Once there, after completing the obligatory round of affectionate greetings with those various aunts, uncles, cousins, plus ones, and hangers-on in attendance, and filling a plate with the somewhat untrustworthy smorgasbord of food available at any holiday potluck, Mistress and I were discussing our upcoming trip to Miami when I was startled to find my arm grabbed by Grandma’s claw-like grandma hand. Since we were not within striking distance of her recliner, and she is generally only semi-mobile at best, and that’s with the help of a walker cane, I’m still not sure how she had threaded her way through the crowded room without solicitous younger relatives clearing her path like the Genie of the lamp announcing the entrance of Prince Ali Alibaba from Disney’s Aladdin. Even more disconcerting, she then addressed me by name, something I had been fairly certain she had never bothered to learn, blessed as she is with an overabundance of grandchildren, of which I am in no way the most interesting or memorable. She said, “Max. When you enter the land of the newlyweds and nearly-deads, beware the Florida Man.”

I don’t know about you, but when a deaf, infirm, anachronistic dowager references an internet meme, and when a previously sunny, warm day turns dark and forbidding while she does it, I sit up and take notice. Understandably shaken, I soon excused myself from the party, and returned home with Mistress, where I began to research.

It didn’t look good.

“Florida Man, accused of murder, wants to show his penis to the jury…”

“Florida Man choked co-worker for talking to his girlfriend…”

“Florida Man exposes penis during church service…”

“Florida Man’s dogs test positive for cocaine…”

“FloridaMan crashes car into zebra…”

“Florida Man steals 200 pairs of panties…”

“Florida Man attacks mailboxes with machete naked…”

“Florida Man seduced by horse…”

“Florida Man killed Florida State mascot for gumbo recipe…”

As my research progressed, I grew more and more disgusted. Unfortunately, I also grew more and more intrigued. Who was this Florida Man? Where did he get his strange super powers? When would his reign of bizarre terror end? Could he be defeated? I tried to hide my obsession from Mistress, but as we boarded the plane for our flight to Miami, I think she suspected the direction our vacation was about to take.

No longer would we simply be resting in the warm sand of Miami Beach, pickling our insides with overpriced beverages, and playing “hot-or-not” with the various passerby. Nay. I was on a mission. I needed answers. I needed to find the Florida Man.

What was clear, is that he is a shy and elusive creature, but prone to outstanding bursts of physical violence of a hilarious and ironic nature. If Mistress and I just waited around for him to appear, we would surely fail in our quest. We needed to be mobile. Step one, we would need a car. Since their was no 1989 Camaro RS with a leaky T-tops roof and color mismatched replacement passenger door conveniently waiting for us when we got off the plane, we had to use the next best thing, a rental Ford Fiesta. Our hope was that its particular mix of rickety inexpensiveness, shoddy domestic craftsmanship, and exotic latin name would appeal to the conflicted sensibilities of the unpredictably patriotic FloridaMan, allowing us to get closer than would be possible in a nicer foreign vehicle.

Once our transportation was secured, we drove to our lodging, an Airbnb rental in the North Beach area of Miami Beach. I won’t give you much details, since there is currently a war on between Airbnb and the local hotel industry in Miami beach, and I wouldn’t want our lovely hostess to be caught in the crossfire should this post garner national attention, which it likely will since it’s topic concerns such a polarizing figure as the mighty Florida Man. Suffice to say, it was a small ranch style home which we shared with another couple who were also on holiday. Unfortunately, they spoke very little English, so I was unable to impress upon them the great danger posed by Florida Man. They may well be dead now, their faces consumed by Florida Man in a fit of bath-salts fueled pique, but I maintain hope that they were able to enjoy the entirety of their vacation unmolested.

IMG_2041

Our Airbnb room. That painting wasn’t the only elephant trunk in the room that weekend if you know what I mean.

Since our flight was late and we arrived at our rental in the evening, we resolved to get some sleep before we began our search, so we settled down for a night of uneasy Florida dreams on the creaky and uncomfortable pull out mattress present in our Airbnb bedroom. I was briefly woken around 4 am by the distressing sound of multiple cats screaming outside our bedroom window. Probably because Florida Man was nearby, perhaps murdering his auntie-wife with a coconut or popping his scrotum through the gaps in a chain link fence for no discernible reason, or doing some other Florida Man type activity. In the morning, unrefreshed, but resolved to move forward with our quest, Mistress and I decided to spend the day at the beach. Although or quarry was more likely to be found in the mosquito infested backwater swamps further inland than a well patrolled busy beach, we figured that only by thinking like the Florida Man could we hope to root him out, so a devastating case of sunburn and heat exhaustion would be invaluable in bubbling our brains back to the troglodytic level of self-restraint and common sense usually demonstrated by the mysterious creature.

After drinking a disgusting slurry of room temperature shower beers, and fully crisping ourselves for the entire morning in North Beach, we drove to South Beach to see what all the fuss was about. South Beach was…not my scene. Imagine an overcrowded beach full of mostly unattractive old people with leathery walnut brown skin. Imagine a road along that beach full of bumper to bumper traffic, with everybody driving the finest of expensive exotic high performance super-cars at .2 miles per hour screaming look at me, look at me, look at me, while their underutilized and abused vehicles overheat in the unforgiving sun, and on the other side of the road are a series of overcrowded mediocre restaurants serving over-sized, over-priced drinks to sunburnt tourists who really shouldn’t be day drinking any more, and all of them are wearing less clothing than they should, and are also screaming look at me, look at me, look at me in a vulgar display of wealth particular to the newly wealthy or strangely insecure. This is South Beach, a shrine to classless ostentation and self-centered peacockery.

IMG_2028

Personal favorite gimmicky drink of the trip

Escaping that nightmarish pit, we returned to North Beach, where we went out to dinner, eschewing the various delicious looking Cuban restaurants near our rental for a stomach churning brinner feast at the local Denny’s, high cuisine for Florida Man.

The next day, we beat a path inland, driving out to the everglades where we chartered an airboat to assist us in our hunt. Unfortunately, all we ended up seeing was a bunch of fascinating scenery on the river of grass, full of interesting creatures and exciting experiences. It was quite lovely, a lot of fun, and entirely disappointing. Who cares if we had seen a million alligators? We hadn’t seen the only prey we really cared about.

IMG_2039

My Alligator bride eagerly waiting for me to go into the water

To cheer ourselves up, on the way back to our Airbnb rental we stopped in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, a former commercial district which has been fully hipsterified with a plethora of incredible street art, trendy bars, and various art and music exhibitions. It was pretty cool, but it was not the type of place where we would come face to face with the Florida Man.

The following day, somewhat dejected from our failure to find FloridaMan in the swamps, which had been, we thought, the plan most likely to succeed, we returned to the beach to recenter ourselves and plan our next move. Mistress Kay, suffering from a bit of a hangover, and a distinct lack of determination, was content to admit defeat and enjoy the remainder of our trip relaxing in the ocean, but I would hear none of it. I had come to this crappy panhandle with a distinct goal, and damn it I was going to do everything in my power to achieve it.

Everything.

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I’m not proud of what came next. I left Mistress there on that beach. Taking the car, I careened back inland, stopping just long enough to buy a trunk full of cheap liquor and a few pounds of crystallized meth amphetamines. Posting up in an empty Walmart parking lot, I evidently spent the next several hours putting all of the substances which had filled the trunk of the Fiesta into my body with single-minded purpose. I say evidently, because I, not surprisingly, don’t remember what happened after that. I do know that my plan was to achieve a mental state of heightened shenaniganry close to the thought patterns of the volatile Florida Man, in the hopes that in this state, I would be drawn to him like a moth to a flame or iron filings to a powerful magnet.

Unfortunately, exactly what happened after then will always be a mystery, since I eventually blacked out, and awoke two days later face down on the floor of a double-wide trailer home in a burnt down trailer park, naked, covered in mosquito and hooker bites, in a puddle of blood and viscera from my disemboweled alligator bride, whom I had stabbed with a broken moonshine jar during an argument over Pokemon Go. In my obsessed quest to find Florida Man, I had found something far worse. I had become that which I hunted. I WAS Florida Man. With the right circumstances, we are ALL Florida Man.

Legend has it that this knowledge drove me mad, and I remain in Florida to this day, lurking in the darkness, biding my time, waiting for the next opportunity to strike. Beware the Florida Man.

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