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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Two Wolves

I was invited to speak before a meeting of the MatSu Democrats at their monthly Egan Dinner in Palmer, Alaska. This is an approximate transcript of my comments.


 

…your Earth was crumbling all around you. You've got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation! Explain that one! Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you. Won't. Take. The. Hint!

In every moment there exists the possibility of a better future, but you people won't believe it. And because you won't believe it you won't do what is necessary to make it a reality. So, you dwell on this terrible future. You resign yourselves to it for one reason, because that future does not ask anything of you today.
      - Governor Nix, Tomorrowland, Walt Disney Pictures, 2015


One of my  favorite movies last year was Disney’s Tomorrowland.

This is exactly the kind of movie I enjoy. I’ve watched it a dozen times. I love it. I love everything about it.

It’s on old fashioned Disney film, the kind I grew up with, the kind old Walt himself would have dearly loved.

On the surface, Tomorrowland seems to be a lighthearted romp across time and space where the bad guys aren’t really all that evil and the good guys are quirky smart kids who manage to save the day with equal parts pluck, ingenuity, and courage. Also there are robots. The brilliant young stars, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Pierce Gagnon, and Thomas Robinson, easily hold their own on screen against larger than life veterans George Clooney and Hugh Laurie – and that’s an impressive feat indeed.  

But, underneath?

Underneath Tomorrowland is a pointed examination of an America that that has become jaded and tired and bitter and lost the ability to dream of a better future.

Ultimately, Tomorrowland is about love and hope and above all, optimism.

Optimism.

Yeah, right.

Old fashioned Disney optimism in an age of dystopian teen flicks and bleak dark movies of war and conflict? That was the movie’s one unforgivable sin. They should have stuck with pirates. Everybody loves pirates.

Naturally the critics hated Tomorrowland.

Strip Tomorrowland down to its essentials, and you get an ending out of "I'd like to teach the world to sing" and a moral which boils down to: Just be positive, OK? So OK. I'm positive Tomorrowland was a disappointment.
- Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger 1.5 Stars out of 4

Predictably it bombed in theaters.

Yes, the two bad guys of the movie were bitter, angry white men. The rest of the film was mostly women and a wide range of races. The entire final montage, where they seemed to be collecting people to rescue the world of the future included no white males (I believe). In a painful exercise of political correctness they had Asian artists and African tribesman who were going to save the future.
- Comment Forum, Internet Movie Database

But the most telling comments were ones like this.

The annoying “smart” girl at the beginning of the movie says she's an optimist and it just went down hill [sic] from there. It's nothing but another liberal propaganda movie about saving the planet.

The word “propaganda” appears often in internet comments describing Tomorrowland, followed a close second by “liberal.”

 

When was it, exactly, that optimism became a bad thing?

 

When did belief in a better future and the willingness to do the things necessary to make that future a reality become something Americans sneer at and dismiss as propaganda?

When was it that optimism became a liberal ideal?

We used to believe in optimism, we Americans, most of us anyway.

America was literally founded on the idea of a better future. It’s right there in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, “…in order to form a more perfect union… ” and if that’s not optimism, I don’t know what is.

You don’t fight for freedom from tyranny if you’re not an optimist.

You don’t tell the nation that the only thing to fear is fear itself if you’re not an optimist, if you don’t believe in a better future.

You don’t take to the streets demanding freedom, the right to vote, civil rights, or to rail against the war (whichever war), or to rally America to battle (whichever battle), unless you optimistically believe you can change the world for the better.

For most of our history, optimism wasn’t some silly liberal idea, it was an American idea.

Sure it was.

The movie Tomorrowland begins with young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) at the 1964 World's Fair and this is no coincidence.

The 1964 World World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York, was the very epitome of optimism. It’s where Disney’s Tomorrowland was born. Fifty-eight nations came together in Queens to build 650 acres of technology and innovation under the Unisphere.  Fifty-one million people from all over the world came to see the future as envisioned by General Electric, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, IBM, Bell Telephone, US Steel, Pepsi Cola, Dupont, RCA, Westinghouse, and Walt Disney. The motto of the fair was “Peace through understanding” – less than two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly ended civilization.

That’s optimism indeed.

The Unisphere still stands in Flushing Meadows to this very day, a testament to innovation and technology, to a time when human beings of courage and vision came together to build a better future. Three years before the fair opened the first American flew in space, five years after the fair closed, men walked on the moon.

That fair was famous. It's still famous as a moment in history when we truly believed.

And that wasn’t the first time. 

Thirty years earlier, on the eve of world war, forty-four million people from all over the world gathered in Flushing Meadows for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The theme of that fair was “Dawn of a New Day” and the world of tomorrow:

The eyes of the Fair are on the future — not in the sense of peering toward the unknown nor attempting to foretell the events of tomorrow and the shape of things to come, but in the sense of presenting a new and clearer view of today in preparation for tomorrow; a view of the forces and ideas that prevail as well as the machines.

To its visitors the Fair will say: "Here are the materials, ideas, and forces at work in our world. These are the tools with which the World of Tomorrow must be made. They are all interesting and much effort has been expended to lay them before you in an interesting way. Familiarity with today is the best preparation for the future.

Beginning in 1851 in France and continuing into the late 1970s, the world’s fairs were about optimism.  The theme was always about innovation and vision. About building a better future. About the world of tomorrow.

But then, somewhere in the 1980's, in the post-Vietnam malaise, at the height of the Cold War when superpowers rattled their sabers and the world could end at any moment in nuclear fire – and nearly did more than once – optimism fell out of fashion. Somehow the world of tomorrow became a liberal hippy ideal to be sneered at and dismissed as na├»ve and old fashioned and unsuited to a bitter and jaded America.

And the world fairs became Expositions of nation branding instead of celebrations of a brighter future. And now? Nobody remembers them at all.

That's a reflection of our world, an America where over the last three decades we've become a nation of bitter pessimists and a people who embrace the terrible future. Who resign themselves to that future, the one of disaster and ruin, because it’s easy. We hope for it. We pray for it. We stock our basement arsenals and dream of a day when we’ll get to live on cold canned hash and use those weapons on our neighbors.

That's the entire message of people like Donald Trump. It is. "Make America Great again" only resonates with people who believe the future is a terrible place and that everything is going straight to hell. It’s a message that only appeals to those who sneered in contempt at “Hope and Change.”

That’s the pessimistic message of America’s largest religion, Ted Cruz’s God. The End Times, Armageddon, fire and brimstone. Salvation by force, under threat of eternal damnation. Everything ends the same way in this religion: Gay people get married? Their god will destroy us all. Trans people can use a bathroom? Death from the sky! Women control their own bodies? Damnation from upon high! Peace treaty with Iran? End of freedom! And so on and on and on. That’s the punchline to every joke with these people, death and ruin and God’s wrath.

Somehow, that bitter defeatist frightened message has become the entire Republican platform. Woe. Doom. Misery. War. Pessimism. You better watch out or God will kill us all!

Everything is a worst case scenario with these people.

From Ebola to the End Times, it’s an endless litany detailing a terrible future. They dwell on it. And they resign themselves to it for one reason, because it’s easy, because that terrible future doesn’t ask anything of them today.

When is the last time you heard one of these people speak of Tomorrowland? That bright shining optimistic future, that better world, the one we ourselves can create now if we only had the will and determination?

It's not just limited to conservatives.

Somehow, over the last few decades, we’ve allowed the pessimists to define the narrative.

Take this last Thursday’s Democratic debate. What stood out? What was the takeaway?

Minimum wage.

That's about the only thing I remember from the Democratic debate. Minimum wage.

Clinton and Sanders arguing over making the Minimum Wage into a Living Wage. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. And everything.

Bear with me for a minute.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage, Wall Street, conservative business owners, Republican politicians, say that minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage (it actually was, but there are damned few places in America you could live on it, even if you worked 60 hours a week). Rather, they say, it was intended for entry-level jobs, burger-flippers and toilet scrubbers and convenience store cashiers. The idea of the so-called American dream is you start out at the bottom, changing the sheets in one of Trump's hotels say, and work your way up until one day you own the casino and can hire a bunch of maids of your own.

This is the very cornerstone of American capitalism.

This is the green beating heart of trickle-down economics. 

In fact, for conservatives it doesn’t go far enough. A number of prominent conservatives have advocated elimination of the minimum wage altogether. The logic being if business can pay employees less they'll hire more employees, Reaganomics in action, and a low wage will incentivize those dull proletarians at the bottom of the heap to better themselves, to move up to better paying jobs, ones that do pay a living wage, instead of being content at the bottom of the ladder. Those that don't? Well, that’s their problem, they had their opportunity same as everybody else.

Except over the last years all those good jobs what pay an actual living wage?

Yeah, the same sons of bitches who floated this Dickensian Utopia have been sending all of those jobs to Mexico and India and China and Bangladesh where they can get away with paying actual slave wages.

Then they moved their Headquarters to the Caribbean so they could avoid paying taxes on the resulting profits.

And so, here we are, arguing over the minimum wage, because those are the only jobs left.

That’s what Clinton and Sanders should have been talking about on that stage. The deliberate and systematic and ongoing loss of opportunity, the fact that we’ve actually accepted that as not only the status quo but the future, so much so that we’re reduced to quibbling over a miserable $3 at the bottom end of the scale.

Yes, I know this is a large part of the substance of Sanders’ campaign. But I’m not talking about his campaign, I’m talking about the national narrative as reflected in the substance and format of our political debates on both sides of the aisle.

We’ve settled.

We’ve resigned ourselves to a future of minimum wage, to a dull gray proletariat ruled over by fabulously wealthy oligarchs.

You see it all around you.

You live in a nation that incentivizes business and industry to pay slave wages overseas instead of building Tomorrowland right here.

You live in a nation where we’d rather put our kids into charter schools instead of fixing public education for all.

You live in a nation where we’d rather pay farmers not to grow food instead of feeding the hungry or employing people and paying them enough to feed themselves.

You live in a nation where a significant fraction of people would rather buy guns and build bunkers and pray for the end of the world instead of building a better future right now where those things are unnecessary.

Why?

Because that terrible future doesn’t ask one damned thing of us today.

In every moment there exists the possibility of a better future, but you have to believe in it.  You have to believe in Tomorrowland. You have to believe optimism is an American trait.

And then you have to do the things necessary to make that better future a reality.

They’re out there, you know. The dreamers. The optimists. The ones  working every single day to literally build Tomorrowland. 

Last week something amazing happened: a robot spaceship successfully landed on a robot ship at sea.

An incredible technological feat – but for many it was just a stunt, they have no idea of the larger picture. Because they don’t believe.

You see, Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX and that landing, he wants to go to Mars.

And not just go to Mars, he wants to build Tomorrowland there.

And if SpaceX can land a rocket on a barge in the middle of the ocean, they can land a ship anywhere. Including Mars. What Musk has here is the basis of a transportation system that can fly men and machines anywhere on the globe in a matter of minutes – any globe, especially one like Mars with a surface gravity one third that of earth. What Musk has is the first step in a system that can loft the parts needed to build the ships that will go to another world and land human beings and cargo there safely. More, Musk’s Tesla company is building high performance cars that can go hundreds of miles on a charge. And that same battery system can be rapidly recharged from a variety of sources. More, that same battery can be installed in a Tesla Power Wall and used to power a house, or stacked in series to run much bigger installations. And then there’s SolarCity, Elon Musk’s pioneering company dedicated to sustainable solar power systems – like the kind you’d need on Mars to charge those Tesla power packs, which in turn can be used to distill rocket fuel from native Martian resources to power those rockets. The rest is just details.

What Musk has is literally the basis of Tomorrowland, a new human civilization on another world.

Elon Musk is one man.

One man of vision and daring and courage and optimism for a better future. A single man who gathered around him those of similar vision and determination, SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity, and they are literally building that better future right now.

That’s what that rocket landing last week meant. Tomorrowland.

Imagine a nation of such people.

Imagine a nation of optimists.

Imagine a nation of people who believe in that better future instead of the terrible one.

Imagine a nation of people who are willing to make that future a reality.

There was a time when Americans believed in Tomorrowland. Some of us still do. And it is our duty as citizens to be optimists. To do the things necessary to make that future a reality.

Pessimists don't build starships.

If you want a better nation, be better citizens.

 

A young Cherokee boy came to his grandfather, angry at a friend who had done him an injustice, and asked for advice. 

"Let me tell you a story,” offered the grandfather. “I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times. It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.  But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger! The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit."

The boy asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather?"

"The one I feed."
   - The Wolves Within, often attributed to oral history of the Cherokee people
      (edit: the origin of the story is vague, it may or may not be native American)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Bang Bang Crazy, Part 12 - God, Guns, and Suicide Machines

 

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That’s how it began.

My Twitter timeline was suddenly one day last week filled with the anguished wailing of tortured Christians.

Persecution! Persecution! They cried. Our sincerely held religious beliefs are being daily thrown to the lions because people we don’t like are allowed the same rights as us! Woe! Woe! Why if gay people are allowed to buy cakes, if trans people are allowed to use the bathroom, if women are allowed control of their own sexy bits, why, why it’s just like being nailed to a cross and poked with pointy sticks! Persecution! Persecution!

Hmmm, said I to myself. What’s this deviltry in my timeline?

Now, yes, I know I bring this stuff on myself. I know it. You don’t have to tell me.

But, dammit, that’s what Twitter is for, poking at the internet with a pointy stick.

And so I did.

Dear, Christians. Poke. Poke.

And it took only moments for the internet to come howling back in all its crusading spittle-flecked glory.

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Said no heads laying [sic] on the ground after being severed ever.

I … right.

Awkward grammar aside, is this really a thing American Christians are worried about? Beheading? I mean, beheading?

As a Christian in America you’re a hell of a lot more likely to be eaten by lions than to be murdered for your faith.

No, really.

In the last 15 years there have been two Americans killed by lions in the United States, one in California and one in New Mexico. That’s two more than the number of Christians who were beheaded for believing in Jesus.

I mean, if you’re going to be afraid of something, as a Christian in America statistically you’re twice as likely to be killed by a mountain lion while jogging than beheaded by an angry Muslim with a sword.

God, Guns, and Constitution, Dana’s profile declares.

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God, Guns, and Constitution. Pro-life. Anti-big Government. God First!

When asked to provide examples of severed Christian heads here in America, she was able to produce only one example: Alton Alexander Nolen, a recent convert to Islam who murdered Collen Hufford by cutting off her head. Hufford was a former coworker of Nolen’s at an Oklahoma food processing plant. Hufford and others had filed a human resources complaint against Nolen for racism. Nolen was fired. The case is still ongoing and the exact reasons for Nolen’s murderous actions are not yet fully known – if they ever will be. What is known, however, is that Nolen specifically targeted Hufford because he blamed her for his termination, her (supposed) Christianity does not appear to have anything to do with it.

Hufford’s murder, horrific, violent, bloody and brutal though it may be, is hardly proof of Christian persecution in America.

In point of fact, one hell of a lot more Christians are murdered by Christians in America than by anybody else – including mountain lions.

God, Guns, and Constitution?

I couldn’t resist. Poke. Poke, poke.

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I’ve done this before. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I knew what was coming.

I noted the time and waited.

And in less than a minute, Mike arrived:

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Nothing if not predictable, aren’t they?

He didn’t look to see who I was responding to or what the context might be.

He didn’t bother to look into my background. He couldn’t possibly have had time.

It’s a reflex with people like Mike. God? Guns? Constitution? Hallelujah!  He searches social media for those keywords. By Jiminy! There’s something wrong on the internet! Let me just butt right in here and straighten you out! He doesn’t need context, he’s got the fire of righteous on his side. He’s that guy.

Plus, he’s got a cool American flag on his profile page and he hates social justice, so you know he’s a patriot.

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On average, 33,000 Americas die every year in gun-related violence.

God, Guns, and Constitution. My point being that somehow in Dana’s mind one case of workplace violence that didn’t actually target the victim for her religion somehow equals mass persecution of Christians in America, but tens of thousands of gun deaths every year somehow equals … hi ho liberty, I guess.

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Funny how that’s always the first response from gun nuts, isn’t it?

Funny how they always dismiss 20,000 dead Americans. Suicide? Fuck it!

As if 13,000 dead Americans were somehow okay.  30,000, yeah that  would be bad, sure, but it’s really just 13,000, man, so no problem!

As if 20,000 dead Americans don’t matter. One abortion is too much, but 20,000 suicides? Whatever. Sanctity of life only applies to a liberal woman’s belly, folks, nothing to see here, move along, move along.

Again, I couldn’t resist. Poke. Poke.

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I’d have a hell of a lot more respect for these NRA droolers if they’d at least be honest with themselves, let alone with the rest of us.

But they never are.

They never are.

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Let’s go back and review my comments to this point. Let’s reread what I’ve said here and on social media and in talks before groups of people. I’ve written half a million words or more on guns over the ten years, many of them are in the essay linked to at the bottom of this piece. Let’s see. Hmmm, let’s see, fuck law abiding people, fuck law abiding people who want to protect themselves, doh de doh, let’s see, gotta be here somewhere…

Well that’s funny, I don’t seem to have said that. Anywhere. Ever.

I’ve never even implied it. Not in this conversation, not in any conversation. And if I had, well, that would be damned odd, wouldn’t it? Given that I’m a gun owner myself. Given that I keep a weapon handy for personal defense of me and mine – mostly because I’m prone to getting death threats from gun nuts and militia types and religious fanatics and other assorted conservatives. Also, it’s Alaska, I’ve never seen a lion but there are bears…

I digress.

I wasn’t deflecting, it’s Twitter, I was being a smartass and I’m honestly not sure how he got to “Fuck law abiding people who to protect themselves” from anything I said, but given the context and my experience I strongly suspect he was simply driving around the internet looking for a target to pin his preconceived notions on.

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I guess it depends on how you define “violence” but hey, whatever. I’m easy. Looks like we’ve reached a mutual understanding, thanks for coming by.

You think he’d let it go? Move on without another comment?

Heh heh, you’re so adorable.

 

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You know, I once saw a man beat the hell out of a woman. She was running in full panic, screaming in terror, shouting for help. He chased her out of a building into the street right in front of me. He ignored the rest of us and kept yelling for the woman to stop. She didn’t, she kept running. He caught up to her in the middle of the street, right in the middle of traffic, he tackled her, knocked her violently to the ground and started beating her with his hands right there on the pavement.

I cheered him on. Yes I did. She had it coming.

Terrible right?

A man savagely beating a woman in the street.

I’m a horrible person for letting it happen. Am I not?

Except for the … context.

You see, I left out one thing.

She was on fire.

She’d somehow (cooking I later learned) caught her clothing on fire. She panicked and ran from the building engulfed in flames. Her neighbor heard her screams and chased her down and beat the flames out with his bare hands and saved her life.

Context.

“I don’t care if I’m wrong. Doesn’t change my agenda […] one bit.”

Ironic.

Hilariously ironic, given he started out by completely ignoring the larger context that my comment was made in and moreover really has no idea of what my “agenda” actually is.  I also really enjoy the part where a guy who hides behind a fake identity is planning on lecturing me about “intellectual honesty,” I think that’s a nice touch.

Now, given experience, I’d expect Mike’s next move would be to support his argument with a logical fallacy, say an ad hominem attack.

Let’s see, poke, poke. 

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Mental illness.

Right on cue.

These gun nuts, they’re as predictable as the clock in the National Rifle Association’s lobby. 

Guns don’t kill people, mental illness does. 20,000 gun related suicides per year don’t count. It’s got nothing to do with guns. It’s mental illness. That’s it and that’s all.

Now, I’ll be honest, up to this point I was just stringing him along, shining him on a bit to see if maybe I could get a funny Facebook post out of it. Why? Because it amuses me. Because they make it so goddamned easy. These people are so deadly serious in their fanaticism. So tediously predictable. They’re exactly like religious fanatics, in fact many of them are. God, Guns, and Constitution, right?

Perhaps it’s childish to mock them, to provoke these people to impotent rage.

But see, every once in a while, it’s educational.

 

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Mental illness.

Mental illness, the go-to dismissal of the NRA gun-fetishists.

 

Mental illness, when it comes to gun violence those two words are a Mobius Loop, a tautology which folds back upon itself in a logical fallacy of finger pointing and inaction.

 

Observe:

Mike blames mental illness for 20,000 gun-related suicides each year.

So I put it to him: Would you agree to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people? Would you agree to increased funding for mental health?

Mike replies that he’d agree to both, provisionally. But, he only wants guns taken away from those who’ve openly declared their intention to harm themselves or murder others. Okay. Sane responsible non-suicidal non-homicidal people can have guns,  people who intend to harm themselves or others can’t.

Sounds good, right? Reasonable.

Except … how do you know?

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President Obama has suggested 23 executive actions relating to gun violence, I examined them in detail in Bang Bang Crazy, Part 5.  Not one of those actions, not one, has anything whatsoever to do with “pre-crime.”  As to the TSA nonsense, conservative gun nuts are perfectly fine with that list so long as it keeps Muslims off airplanes – in fact, it was their idea, signed into law under George W. Bush and when liberals protested the lack of Constitutional protections they were shouted down as unpatriotic and un-American. I know, I was one of those people and I still have the hatemail and death threats from conservatives to prove it. That’s one of the reasons I carry a gun. 

I digress. Again.

We’re talking about guns and mental health, not terrorists.

Mike first says he agrees people who have expressed a desire to harm themselves and others shouldn’t be allowed to have guns.

I asked him how law enforcement and gun sellers would know that?

He says “voluntary evaluation.”

I … wait, what? Voluntary evaluation?

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Ah, that’s more like it. Mike doesn’t really mean voluntary evaluation. He doesn’t think you should have to prove your fitness to own a gun before you purchase a gun. 

Or does he? image

I’m starting to doubt he’s actually thought any of this through.

Somehow, he says vaguely, if a person has maybe gotten or is currently getting help for mental illness, see, those people, if they’ve maybe said something about harming themselves or others to their mental healthcare provider, then we could maybe take away their guns or prevent them from buying one. 

At least I think that’s what he said.

So, how would that work? How does law enforcement know? How does the gun seller know? Who provides the information? What format is it in? How is it validated? Where is it stored? Who can access it? How often is it updated?

Details, man, let’s hear the details!

 

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The health professional contacts police.

How’s that work?

Hi, I’m Intern Larry down here at the local Mental Mart, we got this guy, Robert Jones, Crazy Bobby we call him, and he’s nuts, man, he’s got the voices in his brainium like bad, Dude. I can’t give you the details because medical laws see, but he’s probably gonna kill some people, like three or four, maybe twenty, I guess, not really sure, mental health isn’t an exact science. So anyway if that guy comes in to buy a gun, yeah, don’t let him have one. You’ll be sure to let everybody know, right? Like in other states too? Okay. Well, thanks!

Again, I’m a little vague on the details here.

Let’s back up to that part about responsibility.

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To summarize so far: Guns don’t kill people. Mentally ill people kill people. 20,000 of them kill themselves with guns every year. We should keep those people from getting guns. Using a voluntary screening system based on the forthrightness of homicidal/suicidal mentally ill people. With the responsibility ultimately resting in the hands of doctors, not gun makers, not gun sellers, and not gun owners.

It’s not just me, you people see it too, right? Right?

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Does this guy seem a little … paranoid to you?

No one, not President Obama, not Congress, not any prominent liberal, certainly not me, has suggested forced mental evaluations via government doctors to own a firearm. For one thing, it would be utterly impossible to get any such thing passed into law and I’m not prone to pissing into the wind. 

And yet, that’s what Mr. Fake Last Name is afraid of.  The Boogeyman. Forced mental evaluations secretly rigged by “The Government” (Insert Doctor Evil quoty fingers here) to take away guns.

On my list of shit to worry about that’s right after Mountain Lions. You bet.

I begin to see why he’s afraid of mental health evaluations for gun ownership.

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I’ll be honest, I read that last bit while picturing Mike as Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy, “We didn’t have time to work out the minutiae of the plan!”

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What he’s proposing, a federal database of mentally ill people who can’t own guns, would require management, contracts, operations, oversight, regulation, training, access, and funding, which can’t be done without federal legislation – i.e. a new gun law.

So, it sounds to me like we’ve got a NRA gun nut who’s good with a new federal gun law.

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Or maybe not.image

Like I said, he obviously didn’t think it through. What? A new law, but but but….

We were talking about religious extremism and supposed Christian persecution in America. Mike arrives in a blaze of red, white, and blue glory to tell me how 20,000 Americans dead by their own hand aren’t really gun violence. He’s mad that I’ve implied he’s dismissing those 20,000 dead as unimportant, he calls me a douche and suggests the problem can be addressed with a federal database maintained by doctors and populated by mentally ill people who’ve voluntarily told their doctors they intend to buy a gun and kill people and who’ve then voluntarily given gun-sellers access to that information, because something something haven’t figured out the minutiae of the plan.  He waves his hands over the “logistics” of such a system. The fact that the utter ineffective ridiculousness of his idea is blatantly obvious to even  the most rudimentary of intelligence is of no consequence. No, it’s the idea of a new law that frightens him.

And so, nothing.  He’s  spent an hour of his life and he’s got nothing.

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We’re right back to where we started.

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Exactly as I predicted three years ago.

 

It’s always the same circle-jerk with these gun nuts, always.

Every single incidence of gun violence, 33,000 or 13,000 per year, no matter how you count it, all of these events have one thing in common.

Guns.

And yet, guys like Mike will blame mental illness, or video games, or society, or gay people, or big government, or a lack of Jesus, or drugs, or illegal immigrants, anything but guns. And then they aren’t willing to do anything about any of those things either – because they’re afraid somebody will take away their guns.

Now, you’d think he’d be done at this point. A reasonable person would be.

But these are not reasonable people. He can’t walk away. He can’t admit his argument is nothing but fairy dust and moonbeams, a vague bit of poorly thought out bullshit even he won’t support – and it was his own idea.

True to the NRA, he has to stand and fight, he has to keep throwing out that hail of bullets hoping maybe one of them will find a target.

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I’ve lost track of the logical fallacies at this point. What number are we on?

Once again, he’s arguing a point nobody made. I’m sure this passes for a clever argument down at the monthly NRA Bang Bang Banquet, but ban driving? Nobody suggested we ban driving. Just like nobody in this conversation actually suggested we ban guns – unless you count the voices in Mike’s pointy head.

30,000 people die on America’s roads every year – about the same number who die from gun violence – and we work damned hard to reduce that statistic. We make people get licenses. We make them get training. We make them get insurance. We make the cars safer. We make the roads safer. We improve the technology constantly. We require safety systems. We research the causes of motor vehicle deaths. We impose draconian penalties on those who kill people with cars. We pass new laws and regulations all of the time and nobody screams about Nazis and government overreach.

So, I’ll ask  again, are you sure you want to use that as your example? Because I’m totally cool with it.

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Guess not.

So, he won’t support his own database law idea. His driving example blew up in his face. What’s next? What logical fallacy haven’t we tried yet? Move the goalposts! Dump it on me, sure.

Fine. Let’s do that.

I’ll be honest. So long as people like Mike refuse to budge on new legislation, so long as the gun-lobby buys off congress and stymies a national dialog at every turn, then yes, 30,000 dead Americans – including 20,000 dead by their own hands – is the price we will continue to pay for this gun nut lunacy.

Unlike the NRA, unlike gun-fetishists, unlike Mike, I’m at least honest enough with myself to face it.

So what am I saying? Fuck 20,000 dead Americans a year? Am I really writing off all those suicides? Please. You people know me better than that. Of course not. And I’ve written tens of thousands of words about it.  See the article linked to at the bottom of this piece.

Suicide is a red herring with these people. It’s nothing more than a way to cut overall gun deaths by two-thirds. It’s an NRA tactic designed to invalidate the single most compelling argument for action on gun violence: 30,000 Americans killed by guns in America every goddamned year.

And so long as the gun-fanatics control the conversation, control congress, nothing will be done because nothing can be done.

Cynical?

Four years ago, a mentally disturbed man enabled by the NRA and his gun-nut mother walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered 20 children. Nothing happened. Nothing. We did nothing. The NRA, the gun nuts, their paid lackeys in congress, told us those 20 murdered children, well, that’s just the price of freedom.

Now, you tell me what cynical is. Go ahead.

And it’s only gotten worse since.

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Deflecting? Hmmm.

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Good thing he wasn’t asking for respect.

Because I really don’t have a lot of respect for this guy’s disingenuous bullshit.

His very first comment dismisses two-thirds of gun violence victims as “suicides.”

He cries foul when I point that out, he claims I’m putting words in his mouth. But in the end, his concern for his unrestricted right to own a firearm outweighs any actual concern for his fellow man. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

And that, that right there, is the whole goddamned problem. 

That’s the NRA in a nutshell. 

That’s America.

THAT’S THE  ENTIRE POINT OF THIS ESSAY, RIGHT THERE. 

That’s why I put you through this, Tweet by tedious Tweet, so you could see it in the NRA’s own words.

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And that was the end of it. At least for me. I’m sure he continued to seethe in impotent rage long after I blocked him from my timeline. But I could see no further point in the conversation. Logical fallacies. Ad hominem attacks. Disingenuous double talk. Poorly thought out ideas. And at every turn, he attempts to put responsibility for gun violence on everybody but actual gun owners.

This guy is the very epitome of the American gun-fetishist.

These people, they’re not defending my rights.

These people, they’ve made gun ownership into a bizarre sexual fantasy of grade school machismo.

These people, they think in sound bites and non sequiturs and logical fallacies like a hamster frantically going ‘round and ‘round on a wheel.

These people, they’ve perverted the Second Amendment into religious zealotry of God, Guns, and murder/suicide and they’re not amassing arsenals to defend America, but rather to shoot down their neighbors who they believe aren’t American enough and to burn down their own country in an insurrection of paranoia and fear and manufactured fever dreams. 

In the end, Mike Fake Last Name is right: mental illness is the problem. 

And it’s long past time we stopped letting raging nuts like him run the asylum.

 


Addendum 1:  Every time I write one of these, I hope it's the last. But it never is, there's always another massacre, also another nut with a gun. Always.


The Seven Stages of Gun Violence


The Bang Bang Crazy Series:
Part 1, What we need, see, are more guns, big fucking guns
Part 2, Gun violence isn't the exception in America, it's who we are
Part 3, Sandy Hook, the NRA, and a gun in every school
Part 4, More dead kids and why we have laws
Part 5, Gun control and a polite society
Part 6, The Christopher Donner rampage, they needed killin'
Part 7, Still more dead kids and let's print our own guns!
Part 8, Let's try blaming the victim, shall we?
Part 9, Armed soldiers on post, sure, nothing to go wrong there.
Part 10, Big Damned Heroes!
Part 11, Two in the Bush
What do we do about it? How do we change our culture of gun violence? Bang Bang Sanity

 

Addendum 2: As noted elsewhere, I’ve  been around guns my entire life. My dad taught me to shoot when I was a kid – in fact the very first gun I ever fired was my dad’s prized black powder .75 caliber smooth bore Civil War trench piece when I was about four years old. I still own my very first gun, bought from Meijer’s Thrifty Acres in Jenison, Michigan, for me by my dad when I was fourteen years old – a lever action Winchester 30-30. I got my first deer with that gun.  I grew up shooting, at home, in the Boy Scouts, hunting, target shooting, plinking, with friends and with family.  Thirty years ago I joined the military and spent my entire life there. I know more than a little about guns. I’m a graduate of the Smith & Wesson Rangemaster Academy, the nation’s premier firearms instructor school. I’m a certified armorer and gunsmith. I’ve attended pretty much every boarding officer and gun school the military has. I hold both the Expert Pistol and Expert Rifle Medals. I’ve taught small arms and combat arms to both military and civilians for nearly thirty years now. I’ve fired damned near everything the US military owns, from the old .38 revolver to a US Navy Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser’s 5” main battery – and everything in between. I can still field strip a Colt .45 M-1911 pistol and put it back together in under a minute, blindfolded – I happen to own several of them, along with numerous other semi-auto pistols and a number of revolvers. I used to shoot professionally and in competition. I helped to design, test, field, and fire in combat US Military weapons systems. I’ve spent my entire life in places where gun usage is extremely, extremely, common. I have a Concealed Carry Permit. I’m an Alaskan and I typically carry a gun in the wilds of Alaska on a regular basis. I am neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, a gun is a tool, nothing more. If you feel that I’m ignorant of guns, or that I’m anti-gun, or unAmerican, well, you’re welcome to speak your piece – just so long as you can live with what comes after.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Free Stuff


It always amuses me when a random denizen from the internet shows up to explain to me what I really meant.

On March 12th I posted the following comment to Twitter:

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Calling universal healthcare and public education free stuff is the same as calling a Navy aircraft carrier a free ship.

That’s what I said.

Twenty Words. 106 Characters.

A fairly typical Tweet for me.  

On the surface, a soundbite, a throwaway line.

Underneath, however … well, we’ll get to that.

And two weeks later it’s been viewed by more than  333,000 people, responded to more than 10,000 times, retweeted 2,300 times, and garnered more than 3,000 “likes.” (Those numbers do not include the interactions where people clipped my words and attributed them to Bernie Sanders – Dread Cthulhu only knows what the stats are on that)

It’s not the most popular thing I’ve ever said on Twitter,  but it’s up there and it’s still going around even as I write this.

 

So?

 

Well, it’s funny you should ask. 

As I noted on Facebook, the comment was originally prompted by a brief online exchange, to wit:

During the course of a conversation regarding use of public monies with regard to military spending vs public welfare (welfare in this case being the public good, not the federal program for assistance to poor people) a commenter on social media, after a string of insults and non sequiturs, ended his message to me with “Liberals just want FREE STUFF!

Free stuff.

Free stuff?

Evidence would suggest that everybody, liberals and conservatives, likes “free stuff” -  just so long as somebody else is paying for it. However, in the conversation at hand,  nowhere did I or anybody else suggest or even attempt to imply that public education or public healthcare programs were “free.”

In fact, it was just the opposite.

Those programs, public education, public healthcare, are costly.

However, In the US, money spent in both areas combined is but a fraction of that spent on the military, particularly when you examine how and why citizens are taxed and how the resulting local, state, and federal monies are allocated to various portions of the various budgets.

The point being that if you call public health and public education “free,” then you must  also consider national defense “free.”

It also means you’ve redefined the word “free.”

This didn’t go over well with the original commenter, a self-declared libertarian who really, really loved the idea of publicly funded warships and really, really hated the idea of publicly funded education and healthcare. He yelled something about the Constitution, then stormed out of the conversation and blocked me from any further interaction.

Writers are not ones to waste good words or interesting ideas. And for political writers, well, It’s all grist for the mill.  If we could figure out how to deduct social media conversations on our taxes, we would and to hell with the aircraft carriers.

So I boiled the conversation down to twenty words, 106 characters, Calling universal healthcare and public education free stuff is the same as calling a Navy aircraft carrier a free ship and posted it to Twitter.

Why?

Because that’s what I do.

As I noted last week in a post on my Facebook page, which was also published on American News X, sometimes it’s about tossing out ideas and seeing what comes back.

What came back in this case, and continues to come back two weeks later, is endlessly fascinating.

 

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Noted writer and futurist Karl Schroeder responded that while universal healthcare and education are certainly not free, ultimately such programs cost far less than the cost of not having them.

This is true.

Provably so. As many times as you’d care to run the experiment.

And it is, in point of fact, why we have such programs in the first place – because there was a time when we did not. Because epidemics kill rich and poor, taxpayer and freeloader, alike. 

So do revolutions of impoverished torch wielding proletarians.

So do wars, and blight, and poverty, and ignorance.

Over time, against the scope of history, a healthy educated population benefits the nation as much, or more, than the aircraft carrier.

But not everybody saw it that way.

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These two comments are the antipodes of citizenship.

This is the difference between those who regard civilization as a social construct which is only as good as the weakest link and those who see it as every man for himself.

The point of my statement was this:

Here in America, when someone suggests perhaps education and healthcare should be the birthright of all Americans and not just those who can afford it – or at the very least accessible to all with a little work – and that the resulting healthy, educated population would benefit us all, certain conservatives inevitably respond with YOU JUST WANT FREE STUFF!

However, when someone suggests taxpayer dollars should be used to buy trillion-dollar stealth fighters, or tanks, or nuclear missiles, or another aircraft carrier, conservatives don’t shout, “YOU JUST WANT FREE SHIPS!”

And that, that right there, is the very crux of what divides us today.

That is the difference between “Ask not what your country can do for you…” and “what’s in it for me?”

For example, take this conversation from yesterday:

 

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Ebadirad considers public roads and Navy aircraft carriers as a “fee for service.”

And by extension healthcare and education are apparently not.

I suggested that he might have misunderstood my comment:

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No, he really doesn’t know why I said what I did.

He was confident he knew what I meant, even after I told him he was wrong.

Ebadirad, who calls himself a "Developer with a serious passion for trail blazing in the startup tech world" and says "If it can be imagined, I can design and build it" apparently can't stretch his serious trailblazing imagination to encompass the idea that there might be more to my comment.

And he didn’t bother to check.

From my own experience in the field of cutting-edge technology and my extensive experience with technology "developers," I find this hilariously familiar.

A digression: A number of years ago when I was still on active duty with the US military I was at a defense contractor reviewing a system they were developing for use on Navy ships. The project leader, whose military experience existed solely inside of an XBox, spent a week demonstrating a "tactical, quick-response" weapon that required two operators, an hour of sensor sampling followed by 30-60 minutes of alignment and tuning, had to be programmed for each target by complex differential equations performed by an 18-year old Navy tech - in his head, on the fly, where a mistake could kill our own people – and nobody else on the ship could do anything during the setup phase (including changing course or speed, operating radar or communications equipment, firing other weapons, and so on).

I laughed.

You have no idea how I laughed. I couldn’t help it.

When I could speak, I had to explain to a room full of disbelieving developers who simply could not fathom (yes, I did that  on purpose) that a warship in a hostile environment might have to change course or communicate or use its radar or fire its guns or do all of those things simultaneously at high speed plus thousands of other operations. While I appreciated the engineering and the capability inherent in their system, while I might admire what it could do if its use was the only consideration, in reality, practically, all  we really needed was a single large heavy-duty red knob with two settings: "Off" and "Full Power." Because if I ever had to use this thing, well then circumstances were dire indeed and I would never ever use any setting other than full power. Off. Or Vaporize. And screw the math.

Because that is the difference between a lab and a battlefield.

Because that is the pragmatic nature of war.

And because in war, weapons, like people, are part of a greater whole which must be able to work together for the benefit of all.

(The contractor came back several months later with a redesigned system which was twice as complex and took twice as long to set up. They didn't get the contract)

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A wise man, like a wise developer, would have looked for context before attempting an argument.

Alas.

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“Unless you feel that my healthcare and education directly benefits you.”

Well, if you go look you’ll see I never said exactly that – though if pressed I would agree that it’s entirely possible his healthcare and education might indeed directly benefit me depending on circumstance. Certainly his education and healthcare, and by extension that of all Americans, indirectly benefits me – though I suppose I’m just arguing semantics here.

He says that he has to pay for both his healthcare and his education, but his tax dollars cover aircraft carriers.

He calls this a “fee for service.”

 

You see it, don’t you?

 

First, our tax dollars don’t cover the aircraft carriers.

If they did we wouldn’t be looking at a $19,000,000,000,000 debt, would we?

(for the literalists, “aircraft carriers” in this context is a metaphor for the US Federal military budget, as it was in the original Tweet)

Second, I’m a self-employed writer with a kid in college, tell me about paying for education and healthcare. Go on. Make me laugh.

Third, the truth of the matter is that you’d be paying a hell of a lot more for both education and healthcare if the government wasn’t involved. That was the whole point of the Affordable Healthcare Act. That’s the whole point of tax credits for education. And so on.

I do feel public health and education of the population at large both directly and indirectly benefits me.

Benefits me and you and society as a whole.

For example: federal vaccination programs paid for by my tax dollars directly benefit me. I get to live in a society where the diseases which killed literally billions of people down through history are practically nonexistent. And I benefit whether the various recipients of those vaccines paid any taxes or not.

Look around. How many of your kids are currently in an iron lung from polio? How many of your relatives died from small pox this year? How’s that typhus outbreak going? What? There hasn’t been a typhus outbreak in your neighborhood in living memory? How beneficial. And unless you’re just being a facetious ass, it should be no great effort to extend the example of vaccinations to all healthcare in general. And to education, as well – uneducated ignorant people fear doctors and vaccinations, don’t they?

Another example, it benefits me to pay taxes which support the fire department – even if my neighbor doesn’t.

It directly benefits me if that protection extends to my freeloading neighbor. Why? Well, because if his house burns down, mine might too if the fire department doesn’t show up and put out the flames on his property. Maybe the whole damned city burns down.

Ultimately, of course, it depends on how you define “benefit.”

 

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How do you know you’re talking to a libertarian?

“Wealth transfer.” That’s what a libertarian calls taxes.

“You’re [categorizing] a wealth transfer as a fee-for-service provided by the gov[ernment].”

 

You may at this point, if you like, picture me shouting at a room full of engineers, “Big. Red. Knob. Big red knob! Off! On! BIG RED KNOB!

 

I digress.

In this case, like most libertarians, Mr. Ebadirad labels an aircraft carrier a legitimate “service” and education and healthcare as not.

Because he can point to an aircraft carrier and say that it benefits us all – even if some of us don’t want another damned aircraft carrier.

And because he can’t (he thinks) point to a person’s healthcare or education – which he sees as only benefitting the recipient.

As such, he considers the aircraft carrier a legitimate use of public money

Healthcare and education he considers theft.

Ironic, isn’t it, that the very same people who believe if the rich are given more wealth at taxpayer expense the resulting largess will somehow benefit us all, but at the same time those very same  people do not believe their vaunted sacred principle of Trickle Down Economics applies to healthcare and education.

Maybe it’s just me.

Ultimately, I suspect, this is less about the constitutional limitations of government and more about a self-imposed limitation of imagination.

Look here, as an American, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion.

If you believe aircraft carriers are a public service but education and healthcare are not, well, you’re wrong but the guys manning that aircraft carrier are out there with their government healthcare and education defending your right to be a selfish ass anyway.

In reality, America doesn’t work that way.

Right or wrong, good or bad, aircraft carriers, healthcare (to varying degrees), and education (again to varying degrees) are all benefits of civilization and therefore funded, regulated, and overseen by government because most of us understand that the alternative is far worse – and far more expensive.

“Someone’s education is not gov[ernment] owned.”

Perhaps.

And perhaps not.

Someone’s education might not be “government owned,” but it’s entirely likely they got that education in a government owned facility – unless they went to a private school, and even then it’s very likely the government provided funding, certification, standards, access, grants, leases, land, materials, tax credits, and etc. Not to mention paid for much of the larger science, engineering, technology that education references and not to mention those aircraft carriers out there ensuring you have a safe environment to go to school in.

Note, again for the literalists, in this context, “aircraft carrier” is a metaphor that includes but is not limited to military forces, police, security, legal structures and courts, infrastructure, standards, transportation, safety systems, communications, knowledge, and social systems which ensure the functioning of our society and therefore access to education and ultimately give you a place to exercise that knowledge once your education is complete.

If you went to a government owned and operated military school, like I did, or your education was paid for and directed by a government military program such as ROTC and OCS, well, then the government does own your education – at least until you’ve completed your service obligation and paid back the taxpayer.

More to the point, while the aircraft carrier might be a tangible government owned asset, the larger “service” it provides as part of our national defense isn’t.

National Defense is as nebulous and as intangible as national education.

We tend to only notice it when it isn’t adequate.

Saying the government doesn’t own your education while technically and grammatically correct, is incredibly shortsighted and ignorant of a much larger context.

Education doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

And neither does healthcare or national defense.

Ultimately, warships and bombers are only as good as those who build and wield them.

Throughout history, the societies we admire, the ones we seek to emulate, the ones our founders modeled the United States on, those societies advance by education, by science and technology, by increased standards of living, by increased public health, by innovation, and most especially through a sense of shared purpose and shared destiny.

The societies we despise advance by the sword.

Those who believe their civic duty extends only to warships and not to education and healthcare are fools.

Taxes are the price you pay for the service of civilization.

And it’s damned cheap, given the alternative.

Monday, March 14, 2016

‘Fraidy Cat

Note: This essay first appeared on Stonekettle Station in April of 2013.  Given the current state of affairs, an update seemed in order // Jim


This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
           -
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1st Inaugural Address (March 4th, 1933)

 

I’ve got a number of pets.

Including several cats.

One of those felines is utterly fearless.

She came to me, that cat, as a castaway. Literally, cast away by some cowardly waste of humanity.

I found her at my back door on a -20F Alaskan winter morning, a tiny ball of fluff damned near frozen to death.  Crying piteously, hungry, cold, and terrified.

Now, the very last thing I needed at that point was another damned cat.

I suppose the prudent thing, the safe thing, the conservative thing, to do would have been to shoo this unwanted immigrant away from the house with curses and kicks, send her back out into the Alaskan winter to find her own way in the world. Honestly, what did I owe this needy creature? I had my own problems, my own pets, my own cats already.

I’ve spent my entire life in war zones around the world, one more life – and an animal at that – what difference could it make to me?

As it turns out, I’m not the kind of guy who would leave a kitten to freeze to death – make of that what you will.

I spent some time and effort looking for her people, but it became obvious fairly quickly that she’d been tossed out of a car and abandoned to her own devices in the midst of the Alaskan winter.

And so, because there was no one else, she became my responsibility. 

For various reasons involving two large male cats already in residence, the tiny kitten couldn’t be let into the house.  So she made a home for herself in my woodshop and eventually grew into the fabulous world-renowned ShopKat, famous from one end of Facebook to the other. 

At first she was afraid of nearly everything, as all babies are, and spent much of her time hiding in the many dark nooks and crannies of my large cluttered workshop.

But very quickly she became fearless.

Howling woodworking machinery, the various loud shop vacuum systems, the chainsaws, the ATV’s when I’m winching logs into the woodpile or plowing snow, nothing frightens her.  She spends her time perched on top of running equipment, intently watching my various projects. Which isn’t to say that she’s a happy-go-lucky idiot or not sufficiently cautious, or overly dependent on me for protection. Alaska is a dangerous place for small creatures and the ShopKat is more than aware of that fact. You have only to watch her cautiously scanning the sky for bald eagles or carefully checking for bears before venturing outside the shop to see immediately just how aware she is – however, that said, ShopKat has been known to charge full grown bull moose, it’s the damnest thing you’ll likely ever see.  And she never, ever, goes near the road.

It’s many years later, and the ShopKat has become my affectionate and cheerful companion. She is the most singularly funny, intelligent, and amazing creature. She brightens my many hours in the shop, and not a day goes by that she doesn’t express just how grateful she is for a home.

And then there is the White Cat. 

Stupid, we call him, and the label suits him perfectly.  He’s pretty and decorative, but he’s just none too bright.  He lives in the house and never, ever, ventures outside. And for a very good and very costly reason.

As I said, Alaska is a dangerous place for small fuzzy creatures.

Stupid is afraid of everything

The vacuum cleaner nearly gives him a fright-induced stroke. A sneeze can cause him to cower in the basement for hours. Loud noises, and not so loud noises, terrify him. He was once ambushed by a tennis ball. Stupid is afraid of his own tail.  He can start violently awake from a sound sleep in the middle of a quiet sunny afternoon, hounded by dangers only he can see, and race madly for shelter behind the wood stove or under the couch, peering suspiciously out at the world with wide terrified yellow eyes.

He cries piteously for attention, but when you reach for him he screams in horror and shies away, deathly afraid of being touched. 

If you try to pick him up, he goes completely rigid, legs and tail sticking straight out like an electrified statue of a cartoon cat made from barbed wire. He is at once both the most pathetically needy and the most spastically unaffectionate creature I’ve yet come across.

What is the difference between ShopKat and Stupid?

What makes one creature so utterly fearless and one so utterly fearful?

Is it just the perversity of cats in general?

Is it because one appears fantastically intelligent and the other is as dumb as a catnip mouse?

Is it nature or nurture?

Is it an accident of genetics? Happenstance? Or the natural extremes of a normal curve?

I have no idea. Cats are slaves to their nature and their nature is alien to human perception.

I do know, however, that fear can be learned. 

One of the (several) reasons I don’t want ShopKat in the house with Stupid is that I don’t want her to pick up the White Cat’s fear, his everyday terror at mundane things, the nameless shapeless dread that rules Stupid’s very existence. 

Because I know fear can be contagious.

I’ve seen it, out there in the world, on the battlefield, in crisis. 

I know fear can spread until people, like cats, become frightened by the slightest adversity, the smallest setback, the tiniest upset, until fear becomes habit.

 

The question is if the habit of fear can be broken, unlearned.

 

Fear.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

That’s what Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said.

It’s one of the most famous, and most recognizable, quotes in American history.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Nameless.

Unreasoning.

Unjustified.

Trembling paralyzing bone chilling fear that keeps us from doing what needs to be done, fear that turns advance into retreat, victory into defeat, hope into ashes, cheerful resolute optimism into endless bitter pessimism.

Fear.

Roosevelt sure got that right, didn’t he?

Eighty years ago there was plenty of fear to go around. The country was afraid, hell, the whole world wallowed in fear – and for good reason. It was the darkest hour of the Great Depression.  In America, the economy had collapsed, banks failed one after the other, ruined investors took to stepping off high ledges or swallowing bullets, entire industries vanished overnight, tens of millions were out of work, millions were on the brink of starvation, tens of thousands more were homeless or squatted in Hoovervilles, the Dust Bowl smothered the Midwest under choking clouds, mobsters with gats and tommy-guns fought pitched battles in the streets, crime and violence were everywhere, disenfranchisement, lynchings and cross burnings were rampant (and not just in the South). Across the sea, old governments disintegrated or were overthrown or fell into ineffectual chaos – and fascism took root among the ruins and the dark clouds of war gathered on the horizon.

And in that moment, a sickly bespectacled man, paralyzed from the waist down by the ravages of polio, stood on the East Portico of the United States Capitol Building and raised his right hand before Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes and took the Oath of Office. 

And after he was sworn in, President Roosevelt turned to the gathered crowd, to the nation via radio, and spoke of fear. He called it out, that fear, as nameless, unreasoning, unjustified. After that first paragraph, FDR addressed the root cause of the nation’s misery and placed blame exactly where it belonged, on the unbridled avarice of Wall Street. Roosevelt went on to speak of unemployment and America’s role on the world stage and the hard work that lay ahead – but it was the line about fear that people remembered, and still remember to this day.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

That statement made an entire nation stop and take stock of itself.

What Roosevelt meant was that while the nation – and the world – faced significant problems, all of them were manageable. All of the problems could be solved, overcome, beaten. The nation, the government, the people, needed to work together, they needed to roll up their sleeves and get busy solving the issues, instead of cowering alone in fear and panic and depression.

There were those who took Roosevelt at his word, they found hope and courage and they put aside their fear and went out and started fixing problems as best they were able. They weren’t always successful, but when they failed, instead mewling in fear and complaining that nothing could be done, they looked at that crippled man in his wheelchair and they remembered his words and then they just kept trying something else until the problem was fixed. Then they went on to the next thing. 

These people heard the new President’s words and they faced their fears and they went out and with the help of each other and their government they rebuilt the nation. They built the very things that define America today, from social safety nets to the national parks to the great public projects we take for granted every single day and can’t imagine America without.

Predictably, of course, there were also those who quailed in fear at Roosevelt’s admonishment not to be afraid.  They fell to gibbering fearfully about the New Deal and the government and unions and Social Security and the new Securities and Exchange Commission among other things. When they didn’t have something concrete to fear, they made up terrors to be afraid of like children paralyzed by an imaginary bogeyman in the closet – and rather than get up and throw open the closet door and face their imaginary dread, they spent the night cowering under the covers like my stupid white cat peering fearfully out from under the couch.

These people heard the new President’s words and they embraced their fears and then they went out and did everything they could to delay, hamper, and obstruct the government and the recovery at every turn – all the while directly benefitting from the very projects and efforts they decried, projects and programs and efforts that their children and grand children still benefit from eighty years later.

 

The more things change, right?

 

The same exact political parties and ideologies who were afraid back then are the same exact people who are afraid of the same exact things today.

Eighty years later, almost to the day, and they’re still paralyzed by the same nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.

And their fears are almost exactly word for word the same as those of their grandparents.

And if they don’t have something to fear, they invent things to be afraid of.

Case in point: in a previous post (Various And Sundry April 2013) I mentioned Georgia GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart, who is afraid that straight people might enter into gay marriage in order to obtain health insurance.

"You may be as straight as an arrow, and you may have a friend that is as straight as an arrow. Say you had a great job with the government where you had this wonderful health plan. I mean, what would prohibit you from saying that you’re gay, and y’all get married and still live as separate, but you get all the benefits? I just see so much abuse in this it’s unreal. I believe a husband and a wife should be a man and a woman, the benefits should be for a man and a woman. There is no way that this is about equality. To me, it’s all about a free ride.”

Like this is a real thing.

Like this actually happens.

Like this is actually something we should be afraid of.

Like straight people actually get gay-married solely in order to obtain healthcare – and like it would actually matter if they did.

Like Georgians actually have this conversation: “Well, dang it all, Sue Bob, you know I love y’all and I’d marry you if’n I could and make an honest woman of you and your four kids by four other different men that you met at the bowling alley, but, see, my best friend Cooter needed that hernia surgery. And he didn’t have no insurance because that Obamer fella done ruint The Best Healthcare System In The World with that socialism stuff.  So me and Cooter, we got gay-married so my insurance would pay fer fix’n his balls. Bros before Ho’s, darlin’. Now me an’ Cooter was gonna get us an annulment right after the surgery, but the preacher wants us to try couples counseling first and see if’n we can maybe work it out…”

Yes, let’s all be afraid of that.

Because, yeah, that’s gonna happen.

Meanwhile there’s two married gay conservatives, Log Cabin Republicans I suppose, sitting around in their fabulous living room complaining about how straight people are totally ruining gay marriage: “Fine, fine. I don’t care what they don’t do in the privacy of their own separate and sexless bedrooms. Ok. That’s their right, if they don’t want to go to Hell, fine by me. Fine. But why can’t they just be happy with domestic partnerships? I don’t care what you say, if it’s two straight guys they can’t be gay-married. Gay-marriage is between one gay dude and another gay dude, damnit!”

Because, see, gay conservatives. Get it?

 

I digress.

 

Because with all the problems the world faces at the moment, being afraid that straight people might be getting gay-married for health insurance is right up there with, um, well, you know, being afraid that gay people getting married will somehow queer your straight relationship.

Straight people might get gay-married?

Honestly, what the fuck?

Talk about just making up idiotic nonsense to be afraid of. 

You’ve got to reach down a long, long way past a whole lot of actual problems before you get to “Oh Noes! Straight people might get gay-married in order to defraud the taxpayers!”

And Jesus Haploid Christ, if they’re afraid of that, well then what aren’t these people afraid of?

Seriously?

Because, just like my stupid white cat with his little peanut-sized brain, they seem to be afraid of just about everything.

They’re afraid of the government. They’re afraid of the president, they’re afraid of congress, they’re afraid of the judges. They’re afraid of socialism. They’re afraid of Nazis and communists. They’re afraid of liberals and progressives and RINOs and feminists and Prius-driving vegetarians. They’re afraid of their neighbors. They’re afraid of the North and afraid of the South and afraid of people from Chicago, and New York and Washington D.C. and California. They’re afraid of gangs and crime and terrorism.  They’re afraid of know-it-all college educated long hairs. They’re afraid of political correctness and affirmative action. They’re afraid of minorities and they’re afraid of immigrants and they’re afraid of uppity blacks and strong-willed women and smart Asians and dirty Latinos and murderous Muslims. They fear their own supposedly loving God and they’re afraid of everybody else’s deity too. They’re afraid of the Rapture and the Anti-Christ and the End Times. They’re afraid of Sharia Law and they’re afraid of the Pope and afraid of the Jews – and yet they’re afraid of atheists too. They’re afraid of immorality and pornography and the internet and cable TV and that Rock&Roll music. They’re afraid of social media, they’re afraid of Twitter and Facebook and the bloggers and the Goddamned lamestream media. They’re afraid the military might just take over and they’re afraid that the military isn’t powerful enough. They’re afraid of death and afraid of taxes. They’re afraid of science, of evolution and climate models and plate tectonics and carbon dating and sex education. They’re afraid of abortion and birth control and the morning after pill, but at the same time they’re also afraid people might be having sex and they’re afraid “those” people might be having a whole bunch of welfare babies that they’re afraid they’ll have to pay for. They’re afraid of North Korea and China and the long defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. They’re afraid that somebody might be coming to take all their guns and they’re afraid of all the crazy people with guns and they’re afraid that the government has too many guns.  They’re afraid of being poor but they’re afraid of the rich too. They’re afraid of the Bilderbergs and the Illuminati and the New World Order. They’re afraid of the the banksters and yet they’re deathly afraid of any laws that might restrict those self same power brokers. They’re afraid of losing their entitlements and they’re afraid the undeserving want entitlements too and more than anything they’re afraid that somebody somewhere might be getting something for nothing on the taxpayer dime, but they’re afraid of making those same “takers” pay for their own healthcare.  They’re afraid of chemicals in their food and genetically engineered crops, but they’re afraid of laws requiring that those same ingredients be fully disclosed by food producers because they’re afraid that might be bad for business. They’re afraid of obesity and heart disease and that our kids are a generation of blubbery little couch potatoes, but they’re afraid of Mayor Bloomberg and Michelle Obama.  They’re afraid of Hollywood violence and yet they’re also afraid that Sesame Street might be making their kids into prancing pacifist pisswillies. They’re afraid we’ll run out of oil or that some America hating dictator somewhere will cut the oil off – and yet at the same time they’re afraid of solar panels and wind towers and electric cars.

What it comes down to is this: they’re afraid of the past and they’re afraid of the present and they’re afraid for the future.

I could go on, but frankly this endless parade of depressing dread,  this nameless unreasoning unjustified terror, this fear of fear, is getting more than a little tedious.

For these people fear has become habit.

Their fearful grandparents were wrong eighty years ago and they’re still wrong today.

They’ve always been with us, the fearful.  They were here right at the beginning of the country, back then they were telling us how nothing could be done, that we’d better not make problems for Ol’ King George, that we should be afraid. And after it was over, after America had won her freedom, they were afraid to admit that they’d be afraid to join up in the first place.

They were here eighty years ago when FDR gave his speech, back then they were telling us to fear our neighbors and our government and the bogeyman in the closet, that the problems couldn’t solved, that the nation was done for.

And they’re here with us today. And it’s the same old fear. America should be taking the lead in climate change, in energy, in transportation technology, in solutions to violence and disenfranchisement and social justice, in health and medicine, in exploration of our world and others. Instead … we refuse to even discuss it. Our leaders will filibuster, gridlock, delay, rather than face the world’s problems.

 

You can’t fix the problem if you can’t talk about it.

 

Hell, you can’t even define what the problem is, if you can’t talk about it.

The fact of the matter is this: There is nothing to fear.

None of the problems we face require divine intervention.  We don’t need to do a rain dance or beseech God to deliver us or to smite our enemies. We’re fully capable of solving our problems on our own. Asking some deity to solve our problems, to just wave his big magic God stick and make it all better, is a childish cop out.  It’s an admission of cowardice and an inability to face the world and roll up your sleeves and take care of business and even the Christian God thinks so or he wouldn’t have told his followers that he only helps those who help themselves.

None of the problems we face requires us to secede or for us to dissolve the Union or declare an end to the grand experiment. 

That’s the coward’s way out. 

Democracy takes courage and will and effort. Quitting takes none of those things.

None of these problems we face require revolution or taking our guns to Washington or shooting down our neighbors.

Our ancestors rebelled against tyranny, and after they had won their freedom they designed for themselves a system of government that was born of and based on compromise, on flexibility, on courage and intellect and reason. They built us a system that could be changed without revolution, without war and bloodshed and killing our neighbors. That was the whole damned point.

Of the problems we face today, gun violence, North Korea, climate change, energy, the economy, jobs, all are solvable.  Every single one. Many of these problems have more than one solution. And if we don’t get it right the first time, we’ll keep at it until we do get it right – providing we face the problem instead of cowering under the couch like my stupid white cat.

Up above, I said that I didn’t bring the ShopKat into my house because I didn’t want her to be afraid, I didn’t want her to learn fear from the other cat.  I didn’t want her to pick up the indoor cat’s fear, his everyday terror at mundane things, the nameless shapeless dread that defines his very existence. 

In the end, due to circumstance, we have begun to introduce the two cats. How it will ultimately shake out, which will win out – fear or fearlessness – is yet to be determined. It’s entirely possible that Stupid will learn to draw courage from the little fearless ShopKat and stop jumping at his own tail.

I don’t know.

It’s hard to tell with cats. But, see, here’s the thing, we Americans, we are not cats.

Fear, like hatred, is learned. And, again like hatred, fear becomes habit.

Cats may be slaves to their nature, but we are not – at least we don’t have to be.

We can choose.

In the end, you can choose to be afraid.

Or you can choose to be fearless.

It’s entirely up to you.

 


You can find the entire text of FDR’s inaugural address here, along with an audio recording. I highly recommend that every American read the transcript. If you didn’t know better, the world, the fear, that Roosevelt describes could be right here, right now, today.

As I said, the more things change…