Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Death for Fun and Profit

Ah, Twitter, the bottomless wellspring of magic unicorns.


A Trump supporter actually said, and I quote, "Cancer ... if you don't have insurance, they don't stop treating you!"

“… and if you don’t have insurance they don’t stop treating you!”

Say that out loud to yourself.

Mouth the words.

Say them as if you mean it, as if you believe it.

Pause in the middle, give the sentence a dramatic beat.

      If you don't have insurance...

              ...they don't stop treating you.

Feel the words in your mouth, the sweet, sweet taste of magic unicorn meat like cotton candy spun from the nicotine stained tears of Ayn Rand and red-boned Republican freedom.

If you don’t have insurance, they don’t stop treating you.

How many times have you heard this?

You can always go to the emergency room if you have cancer.

They have to treat you, even if you can’t pay. Nobody goes without healthcare in America.

How many times? How many times have you heard that in this debate, in this endless shitfight about healthcare in America?

Yeah, listen, if you could get treated without insurance in this country, well, then we wouldn't be having this conversation in the first place and, actually, they do stop treating you if you run out of money.

Yes, they do.

Some specialized gene-specific cancer drugs are $15,000 PER MONTH. Or more.

In cases of aggressive cancers where all other therapies have failed, these drugs are the only options.

These drugs, they're difficult to develop.

They’re difficult to make.

They're difficult to get.

And they cost.

A lot.

Now, we can argue about the ridiculous cost of drugs in this country (and I'm sure you all will in the comments), but that's not actually the point here.

The point is this: if you can't pay, you die.

Hell, you don't even have to get cancer. It doesn’t have to be $15,000. A couple of hundred bucks is the difference between life and death for many Americans.

If you're allergic to bees and you can't afford $300 for an Epipen, well, you'd better hope somebody comes along with a clean pocket knife and some idea of how to perform an emergency tracheotomy when your throat starts swelling closed.

If you can't pay, you die.

This idiotic idea, that everybody has access to healthcare, that you can just go to the emergency room for any kind of condition and be treated free of charge, is one of the most obviously wrong and most deliberately obtuse blind spots of modern conservatism – which not only rejects the idea of universal healthcare out of hand but also thinks your healthcare should involve their religion and your employer and that the insurance you've been paying for (if you're lucky enough to have insurance) should be able to drop coverage if you get sick.

Earlier this week, Kellyanne Conway, Evil Counselor, ur, I mean, Advisor to the President, said "Obamacare took Medicaid, which was designed to help the poor, the needy, the sick, disabled, also children and pregnant women, it took it and went way above the poverty line and opened it up to many able-bodied Americans. [Those able bodied people] should probably find other — at least see if there are other options for them. If they are able-bodied and they want to work, then they'll have employer-sponsored benefits like you and I do."

If they are able bodied and they want to work, they'll have employer-sponsored benefits like you and I do.

They'll have employer sponsored healthcare.

Employer sponsored healthcare.

Like you and I do.

You. And I.

This is the kind of idiotic blather you get when you elect privileged rich people who have never actually had to work for a living at the bottom end of society.

This is the kind of ridiculous cluelessness that can only be achieved by people who never have to decide between eating and paying for a prescription.

This is the kind of smug arrogance that you get when your politics and your religion come from the same ideology of “Fuck you, I got mine.”

Furthermore, these are the same people who also reject the idea of a living wage.

They have no idea. They literally have no idea.


I'm here in the impoverished South.

I'm surrounded by far too many people who have trouble putting food on the table and paying the rent.

They're good people, these poor Southerners. They work hard. They're mechanics who fix cars. They're yard care workers who mow lawns for rich people in the boiling heat. They run daycare out of their houses. They're students, trying to fit in classes at the junior college between shifts at the local burger joint.

Some of them, like my wife 30 years ago, might through grit and raw determination claw their way out.

But many, the majority, don’t.

I could go on and on. I could show you pictures. I could introduce you to them by name.

These people, some of them work 60, 70, 80 hours, six and seven days a week. And still – and still – they're trapped in an endless cycle of low wages and lack of opportunity, crushed by poverty and the inability to get ahead in any fashion. It’s just how it is. It’s always been like this here. It doesn’t matter if the economy is booming or has gone bust yet again.  These people, they don't own the crappy houses they live in, they rent. They don't have anything in the bank. Every couple of years a hurricane comes along and wipes out whatever it is they have managed to build up. Many of them don't even have teeth – and the cliché of the toothless Southerner is a whole lot less funny when you see an attractive young girl behind the counter at the local hardware store and her smile is full of rotten brown pegs because her parents couldn't afford even basic dental care for their children. And don't you think for one second that won't impact her future, her opportunity, her employment, her health. These people, they can't afford birth control, so they have kids they can barely feed, let alone send to the dentist, digging themselves in deeper and deeper. And the goddamned churches aren't any help, with the preachers and their useless messages of abstinence and damnation and guilt.

These people, they can't afford even random healthcare at some shitty neighborhood for-profit clinic staffed by a single physician's assistant in a dirty lab coat when their kid inevitably gets strep throat much less CANCER.

It’s not just the South, it’s the slowly decaying wreckage of Northern industrial cities, places like Flint and Detroit, Baltimore, Rome, Louisville, Milwaukee, places where manufacturing and industry and jobs long ago fled for more profitable fields. It’s New England where the fishing industry, never particularly profitable in the first place, has collapsed. It’s the Salton Sea. It’s the farms of the Midwest. It’s the coal mining towns of the Appalachians. 

It’s America, everywhere outside the gilded towers of the rich.

If you've got cancer, and you cut yourself, sure, you can go to the Emergency Room and get stitches even if you can't pay.

Of course you can.

But that is as far as it goes.

The ER doctor sure as hell isn't going to give you chemo treatments or $15,000 per dose miracle drugs based on an expensive DNA screening. You'll get a sympathetic referral to an oncologist who maybe does some pro-bono work if you're lucky, and shown the door if you're not.

Emergency rooms treat emergencies, not cancer.

If you can't pay, you die.

And there are far, far too many people at all income levels in this country who don't have access to even lousy healthcare.

There are far, far too many who don't have access to the drugs and the therapies and the doctors they need just to live.

There are far, far too many people who have to daily make a choice between eating and paying for healthcare – even when they've worked their whole lives.

And beyond that, somewhere above the poverty line, there are far, far too many people who did everything right, who got an education, who worked and did without and got insurance, who paid into Medicare for 40 years, who bought supplemental insurance, and then got sick and suddenly they got dropped, or faced lifetime caps, or just weren't covered for that illness because people who are already sick and out of resources can't fight the bottomless pockets of the insurance companies or their employer who suddenly decided covering cancer was against their religion.

This is what happens when healthcare isn't a right.

This is what happens when those in charge are insulated from those they govern, when they are safe in their districts and assured of their power and privilege.

This what happens when the morality of those in power is based on profit and greed and the arrogant certainty that they are better than those they govern.

This what happens when you elect a government that hires armed biker gangs to keep their own constituents away from town hall meetings – exactly as my own Representative did right here in Milton, Florida.

This is what happens when your healthcare is decided by thirteen privileged white men behind closed doors. No people of color. No women. Just thirteen rich white men.

This is what happens when religion and political ideology alike are based on the simple selfish principle of “Fuck you, I got mine.”

This is what happens when you elect billionaires to office and believe them when they try to sell you magic unicorns.

If you can't pay, you die.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Right Question

Wrong Question. Wrong questions get wrong answers.
-- Master Gregory, Seventh Son, 2014


Is healthcare a right?

You know, a right?

With all the many ideas we Americans consider rights, you’d think we would have an answer for this.

Obviously, here in America anyway, healthcare is not an enumerated right like Freedom of Speech or Freedom of the Press. But is it one of those other rights? The ones not specifically mentioned in the US Constitution but implied by the 9th Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

In December of 2012, the United States along with dozens of other nations signed United Nations agenda item 123: Global Health and Foreign Policy, which among other things encouraged all nations to adopt “sustainable health financing structures and universal coverage” for all people. The resolution also reaffirmed all member nations’ commitment to the idea of “the right of every human being to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, without distinction as to race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

Do we believe that? 

Is healthcare a right?

Well, is it?

That’s the question I asked this week on Twitter.

Twitter is a weird place, the howling wild frontier of social media. But it’s pretty good for this kind of thing, polling the public mind. I have a large audience there, large enough to get a good sample across the spectrum of opinion, and so I asked: Is healthcare a right?

Not just here in America, but everywhere. Do you believe healthcare is a basic human right?

Now that seems to me a straightforward question.

And it seems to me that it’s the critical question.

Everything in America’s ongoing debate over healthcare depends from the answer to that simple question. Everything. Until you answer that question, until we agree on the answer to that question, the rest of the argument is largely irrelevant – or at least putting the cart before the horse.

Is healthcare a right? Yes or no.

That’s the question we need to settle first.

But that question is the one never put to America. Never asked. Never answered.

In all the debates over healthcare in America, from debates surrounding Medicare in the 60’s and Medicaid in the 70’s and Hillary Clinton’s efforts as First Lady in the 90’s and right on up to the Affordable Healthcare Act and the American Health Care Act, that’s the question we keep avoiding. If you look back, if you wade through all the millions of comments made about healthcare in America, that’s the one question that is never asked. The one question never debated in congress. The one question never discussed by all the talking heads on all the TV shows. That’s the one question never settled.

That’s not a coincidence.

It’s by design.

Why? Because it’s not the question we can’t face, it’s the answer.

We’re all afraid of the answer.

The press is afraid of the answer.

The public is afraid of the answer.

The politicians are terrified of the answer.

The people who don’t believe healthcare to be a right are afraid of their answer.

And the people who do believe are afraid of their answer too – maybe them most of all, because they put the most conditions on it.

The answer to that question, yes or no, has consequences, big ones. If we don’t ask the question, then we don’t have to face the answer. Not as individuals, not as politicians, not as a nation. We can just keep arguing.

Nevertheless, that’s where it all begins, right there. With the answer to that question.

Is healthcare a right?

What if the answer is no?

Look at Scott Walker’s tweet up above.

Obamacare is collapsing. If nothing changes, 28 million Americans will lack insurance by 2026 under Obamacare (according to CBO)


Look at John Cornyn’s comment:

Obamacare has left about 30M uninsured and individual market is in a death spiral.

And it’s not just conservatives:


Those are three examples of literally thousands of similar remarks made by politicians on both sides of the debate.

Essentially: If X happens, y number of Americans will lose healthcare.  Swap in Obamacare or Trumpcare for x and 10, 20, 30, 50 million for y. The sides and the numbers and the plans don’t matter. If x happens, y number of Americans will lose healthcare.

That’s the drum both sides, left and right, Republican and Democrat, keep beating. Millions will lose healthcare.

Millions will lose healthcare.

Millions will lose healthcare.

Millions will lose healthcare.


So, they go without healthcare.

So maybe the quality of their lives is diminished.

So maybe they die as a result.



So? So what? I mean, so long as it isn’t me, why do I care? Why should I care?

As an American, why should I care?

If healthcare isn’t a right?

If healthcare isn’t a right then why should I care how many people don’t have it?

Why would any politician give a damn about how many people lose healthcare, if healthcare isn’t a right?

No, really.  If healthcare isn’t a right, isn’t a right of all citizens, then why does Scott Walker care? Why does Nancy Pelosi care? Why should Donald Trump care? Why should anybody care? If healthcare is just a privilege, something nice to have, but not a right of every American, then why should anybody care? The argument, Oh no! Millions will lose healthcare! just doesn’t hold water – unless you believe that every single person is entitled to healthcare as a right. Not deserves it. Not can afford it. Is entitled to it as a right, as an American, as a citizen, as a human being.

It is a simple black or white answer. Yes or no. Either healthcare is a right, or it’s not.

Everything else in this argument depends from that one fundamental ideal. Everything.

Either you believe people are entitled to healthcare as a right or you don’t. The rest is just details.

Now, before we go any further, let’s get something straight:  I don’t care if your answer is no.

I don’t. Really. I’m not going to condemn you for it. I spent most of my life in the military defending your right to see the world how you want. If you don’t believe that healthcare should be the right of every human being, well, I fully support your right to that viewpoint.

If you’re embarrassed or ashamed to admit your answer is no, that’s on you.

If you don’t believe that healthcare is a right, then at least have the goddamned courtesy to be honest about it.

Own it. Don’t pretend otherwise or try to make it sound like you do when you don’t. Don’t blow smoke up my ass. Don’t move the goalposts. Don’t dismiss the question. Don’t try to rationalize it.

Let me give you an example: a large number of people responded to my question by saying, well, I don’t believe that healthcare is a right per se, but I want you to know that I do believe we should have universal healthcare.



What? How’s that work?

If healthcare isn’t a right, then why do we have a duty to provide it?

If healthcare isn’t a right, then why would society and community have any obligation to provide it?

I mean, what’s the impetus for universal healthcare if it’s not a right?

If providing healthcare is the right thing to do, if it’s some kind of moral imperative, then why isn’t it a right?

Now don’t get me wrong here. Sure, a rational civilization should obligate itself to provide healthcare for all its citizens, because healthy people make for better citizens if for no other reason. Just as a rational civilization would obligate itself to provide quality education, adequate food, clean air, clean water, decent housing, energy, and so on.

We don’t live in that rational society.

And if healthcare isn’t a right, then what’s to keep your universal healthcare system from denying healthcare to certain people? For good reasons and for bad?

That seems an odd definition of universal, doesn’t it?

Yeah, said the responders, but, see, you set up your universal healthcare system so that it can’t deny healthcare to anybody…

Can’t deny healthcare to anybody? Well, haven’t you then made healthcare a de facto right?

Stop playing games. Stop acting like you’ve thought it through when you obviously haven’t.

Look here, if the answer is no, then own it.

Just own it. All the way. And stop pretending that you give a shit about how many people don’t have healthcare. If you don’t believe that healthcare is a right, then don’t use the fact that people don’t have healthcare as an argument. Because you’re insulting not only my intelligence, but yours too. And that kind of cowardice irritates me.

If your is answer is no, that’s fine.

But I want to hear you say it.

Is healthcare a right? Yes or no. Everything else is just details.

If we all agree that healthcare is not a basic right of human existence, then we must acknowledge that healthcare is a privilege.

And not everybody is privileged.

That’s the whole definition of privilege. Some people have it, some don’t.

If the answer is no, it’s not a right, then healthcare is a privilege and we are not obligated to guarantee every person will be able to get healthcare. The privileged get it. Those of lesser fortune don’t.  Simple as that. Oh sure, we might provide some charity, some help for the non-privileged, but we are by no means under any moral obligation to do so.  If we’ve got extra money, if we’re feeling generous, sure. What the hell. But otherwise, no.

If you can afford it, you get it.

If you can’t, you don’t.

And you should at least be honest enough to admit that’s what you’re up to. I want to hear every politician, every candidate for office, go on the record, yes or no. And if it’s no, if you believe healthcare is a privilege of those who can afford it, then have the guts to look into the camera and say so. And if you’re voted out of office as a result, or stripped of your privilege by the mob, well, that’s just too goddamned bad.

If healthcare isn’t a right, then it’s just another line item in the budget, next to bridges and warships and farm subsidies.

And the only argument is where we draw the line between the haves and have-nots – and the best part about capitalism is that we don’t have to draw the line ourselves, the free market will do it for us. Leaving our hands clean.

You just have to hope that you’re privileged enough to be on the right side of the line.

And that the line doesn’t move.

And you never lose your privilege.


What if the answer is yes?

Well, hang on. We can’t just say yes, can we?

Not without caveat. Not without conditions.

We need to know some things first. Before we say yes.

Because as it turns out, it’s really difficult for a lot of people to say yes.


What was it Anatole France said? The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

They want to.

They want to say yes, that healthcare is a right.

But they need to know things first. What kind of right? Like fundamental? Inalienable? Enumerated? Civil? Human? What kind of right, man?

What kind of right?

What are we talking about here? The kind of high ideal we give lip service to but don’t have to follow up on? Well, sure, Jim, I believe healthcare is an inalienable right, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Just like that. Nobody can keep you from pursing healthcare if you want it. Go ahead. Sure. No problem. No action required on my part, on society’s part. You have at it. Pursue away. The government can’t stop you. Pursue that healthcare. It’s a “right.” Wink. Wink. 

Like that?

As soon as you define the kind of right, you can start finding ways to weasel out of it, to find ways to deny that right to others.


Some people seem to think rights only exist if they’re specifically enumerated in the Constitution. I don’t know if they think other countries don’t have rights, or if they even bothered to think it thought that far. And I wasn’t inclined to ask. They are also apparently unfamiliar with the 9th Amendment.

For them, the paperwork comes first, rights second.

I’m not sure how they think the Constitution was written in the first place, i.e. your basic chicken and egg problem, and more on that in just a minute.

A lot of folks were reluctant to answer the question without the exact parameters of the right defined.


Define “Freedom of speech.”

Define “Freedom of religion.”

Define “Right to peacefully assemble.”

Define “Right to keep and bear arms.”

Those rights were enumerated without definitions by the Framers and put into the Bill of Rights.

In other words, the rights came first. And we’ve spent two hundred and forty years since figuring out the details.

And we’re going to have to keep figuring out the details and how they apply to our time.

Why? Because the details are dynamic. How we define those rights changes over time.

The limits of the rights change depending on evolving context. Society, civilization, community, are a living things and so are rights. For example: The Framers never envisioned how Freedom of Speech would apply to social media, because social media didn’t exist when they enumerated the right and they couldn’t peer across time into the future. It’s up to us, in the moment, to figure that part out.

This is the mistake gun rights advocates keep making. Rights are not absolutes.


Of course, this being America, rights always seem to come down to … money.


Predictably, I got hundreds of responses like this one.

If healthcare is a right, how do you pay for it – OR – essentially, we can’t afford it.

It amuses me when people explain how rights are “God given” or “natural” or some other lofty idea – then they want to hang a price tag on it.

Funny thing, these same people never say, whoa, hang on. This right to keep and bear arms, how much is that going to cost us?


When it comes to healthcare, they always bring up money. How much is it going to cost? Then they bring up the freeloaders and start quoting Heinlein, TANSTAAFL.

They want everybody to pay for their own healthcare, which is fair enough I suppose, but like the woman in this example, they don’t want to pay people enough to afford to buy their own healthcare. Again, making healthcare a privilege of the affluent.



It is a matter of priorities. And if you don’t believe healthcare is a right, then there’s no reason to make it a very high priority, is there?

But at least she was honest. 

Horrifyingly so.

For her, rights are about money.  For her, healthcare isn’t a right. It’s a privilege for those who can pay for it. And if you can’t pay, then you’re a cockroach.

She’s not the only one. This is by far and away the most common response I got, how are we going to pay for it? How?

As if rights were some commodity, like gold or corn or nuclear aircraft carriers.

This is the kind of thing that once led ultimately to civil war in America. Because when you believe rights are dependent on money, those that have no money have no rights. Q.E.D

And from there, it’s a damned short hop to the idea that people are property.

We went to war here in America once upon a time because the South didn’t believe it could afford to free the slaves. Because the South’s entire economy was based on the idea that rights belonged to those who could afford them, otherwise, you were property. If black people gained rights same as everybody else, the Antebellum South would be out of business. And they spent millions upon millions of dollars, and thousands upon thousands of lives, trying to maintain that economic model.

When rights depend on money, those who can’t afford rights, well, they’re just cattle. Or cockroaches – the same term the Nazis used to describe Polish Jews.

But then there’s this:


No one says food is a right.

Well, actually, a lot of people do think food should be a right. But even if it was, shoplifting would still be a crime.

Americans have the right to keep and bear arms. That doesn’t mean you can just take any gun you happen to come across. Stealing a gun is still a crime. You still must pay for a gun and for the bullets. There’s still freedom of choice, you can choose not to have a gun, you can choose what kind of gun you want.

This argument is stupid.

But (and there’s always a but, isn’t there?), for a truly ridiculous argument you have to go full Ayn Rand:


I got hundreds of responses like this one.

Most from self-proclaimed libertarians.

The logic goes that if healthcare is a right, then healthcare providers become slaves.

If healthcare is a right, they say, then I (for example) am entitled to the labor of doctors and nurses and they cannot refuse me. If healthcare is a right, according to these Randian libertarians, then any doctor, any nurse, any healthcare provider must provide me with their services free of charge at any time. Because it’s my right, you see?

Which is a damned good example of why Atlas Shrugged should be regarded as a tediously mediocre science fiction novel and not a blueprint for civilization.

In America, guns are a right. The right, in a lot of ways. But you can’t just walk into a gun store and demand a gun as your due free of charge – not without getting shot, probably. The government isn’t obligated to provide you with a gun. Hell, we don’t even have subsidies for poor people who want a gun and can’t  afford one. And instead of turning gun manufacturers into slaves, it made them fabulously wealthy.

Look here: in America, you have the right to legal representation. If you’re accused of a crime and you cannot afford a lawyer, then one will be appointed to you by the court. Does that make you entitled to another’s labor? Yes. Yes it does. That’s what Public Defenders do. They’re not slaves, they chose to do that job and they’re paid for it. And just because you’re entitled to legal representation doesn’t rob lawyers of their rights.

This argument is idiotic to a degree that boggles the rational mind.

I received thousands of responses to my question. The responses are still coming in a week later.

And despite all of the above, the resounding, overwhelming answer was YES.

Yes. Healthcare is a right.

Now, I don’t pretend that my survey was scientific. And I don’t pretend that my twitter feed is a non-biased representative sample of America or the world, but I’m looking at thousands of people who believe that healthcare is a basic human right. A basic human right. Without caveat, without condition, without question. Yes.

And I agree, without reservation.

How will we pay for it? I don’t know. How do we pay for every other right? For guns. For the free press? For freedom of Religion? We’ll find a way. How do we keep this right from becoming oppression? I don’t know. How do we keep guns and freedom of speech and freedom of religion from becoming oppression?

Those are just details. Big ones, sure. But just details nonetheless. Just like every other right.

If we agree that healthcare is a right, a basic human right of not just all Americans but of all people, then we’ll find a way. We’ll figure it out. We’ll keep figuring it out, just like every other right.

And it matters.

It does.

Because right now, right this very minute, as I write this, as you read it, as the world wonders at Donald Trump’s next Tweet, and Congress chases after threats to the Republic, and the crises of the day fills the headlines, right now, a handful of powerful men are secreted away from the public eye, working in confidence, working in collusion with those who profit from misery, deciding the fate of healthcare in America. 

I don’t know for certain what their priorities are, because healthcare is not a right and as such their motivations are secret and I as a citizen am not entitled to know. You are not entitled to know. They’ve locked the doors and they are deciding our fate. And from their track records I am forced to guess that the focus of this law is not my rights, not your rights, not the rights of humanity.

No, I am forced to suspect this committee’s priorities are money and privilege.

And I suspect that this law they are currently penning will reflect that when it finally emerges into the light of day.

And that is the point of this entire essay.

That, that right there, is the point of the question.

Because when healthcare is not a right, then it becomes a privilege doled out by a handful of powerful men hidden away from accountability and the consequences of their actions. You don’t even have the right to question them.

And you had better damned well hope that when it comes, you and those you love are privileged enough to be on the right side of the line.

And that those men don’t one day move the line.

And that you never lose your privilege.

Is healthcare a right? Yes or no. Everything is just details.

But some of those details will kill you.

Correction: Originally the article said Hillary Clinton was First Lady in the 1980s. That has been corrected to the 1990s.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Seven Stages of Gun Violence


Every few mass shootings, I update this and move it forward in the timelline.

It’s now been two three four five years since I first wrote this on the day after a madman stepped into a darkened movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and started killing people.  Since then more than ten twenty sixty ninety one hundred and fifty thousand Americans have died from gun violence, three seven ten twenty fifty times more than died on September 11th, 2001, more than twenty times all the military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, twice the number of Americans killed in Vietnam. There have been so many mass shootings between the day I wrote this and now that I’ve lost track, one killing blurs into another and the bloody rampages seem to be our new national pastime.

I got a lot of email regarding this post over the years.

And a lot of people told me I was wrong.

Those people are not only fools, they are damned fools.

I’ve updated the text and updated it and updated it again and again and again and have now updated it yet again and moved the essay forward in the Stonekettle Station timeline. 

I left the original comments intact, but because those comments primarily address the Aurora Massacre (e.g. the original impetus for this essay) I’ve added a demarking comment dated April 3, 2014, for the first update and another for June 19, 2015, another for July 24, 2015, another for October 1, 2015, and now, today.  New comments will appear after that. The line of demarcation should be obvious.

Anyway, before we get started, I just wanted to say: Way to go America. We can’t build spaceships any more, or ensure every American has access to healthcare and food and clean water and a warm place to sleep, but we’ve got the world beat in bloody murder.

Bang Bang Bang, fuck yeah, America!


It is easier for a crazy person to get an automatic weapon than healthcare in America.
                                            - Shannyn Moore, Moore Up North

So, America, déjà Vu.

Here we are yet again.

Another mass killing.

Another hellish scene of smoke and blood and murder.

Another day of death and pain, panic and terror.

Here’s a few highlights, America. Think of it as our country’s Greatest Hits. No no, don’t look away. Don’t roll your eyes. This is who you are, this right here, man up and face it: September 1999, Fort Worth, Texas, a gunman killed six people during a prayer service, then he committed suicide. October 2002, it was the Washington DC Sniper, ten dead. August 2003, Chicago, a gunman locked six of his former coworkers in a conference room and shot them dead, then he killed himself.  November 2004, Birchwood, Wisconsin, a hunter got into an argument with a group of sportsmen over a trespassing issue, the hunter ended the argument by killing six and wounding two. March 2005, Brookfield, Wisconsin, a man walked into a church and shot seven people dead, praise the Lord. October 2006, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, a disgruntled truck driver shot five Amish schoolgirls to death and wounded six others before taking his own life. April 2007, Virginia Tech, an angry former student set a record with the deadliest mass shooting in the US in recent years, he killed thirty-two people and wounded fifteen others. Go Team. August 2007, Delaware State University, three students were shot and killed execution style by a 28-year-old and two 15-year-old boys. A fourth student was shot and stabbed. And a month later, September 2007, on the same campus, a student shot and wounded two other students in a dining hall. December 2007, Omaha, Nebraska, a 20-year-old man killed nine people and wounded five others in a shopping mall.  A few days later,  on Christmas Eve, a woman and her boyfriend gunned down six members of her family in their house in Carnation, Washington. February 2008, Chicago, a gunman tied up and shot six women at a clothing store, five of them died. The gunman was never caught. February 2008, DeKalb, Illinois, a man opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University. He killed five students and wounded sixteen others. July 2008, Phoenix, Arizona, a former student shot three people in a computer lab at South Mountain Community College.  September 2008, Alger, Washington, a mentally ill man who was released from jail one month earlier shot eight people, six died. October 2008, University of Central Arkansas, gunmen shooting from a car in front of a student dormitory killed two students and wounded a third.  December 2008, Covina, California, a man dressed up like Santa Claus killed nine people at a family Christmas party, then he set the house on fire and shot himself. March 2009, Alabama, a 28-year-old drove through several towns randomly shooting people, he managed to kill ten. March 2009, North Carolina, a heavily-armed gunman stormed into a nursing home and killed eight elderly residents and wounded two more before police killed him. The object of his murderous rage, his estranged wife, was a nurse at the facility –  she escaped unharmed by hiding in the locked Alzheimer ward.  March 2009, Santa Clara, California, six people were shot dead in an apartment building. April 2009, Virginia, an 18-year-old former student followed a pizza deliveryman into his old dormitory, and shot the deliveryman, a dorm monitor, and then himself at Hampton University. April 2009, Binghamton, New York, a man shot thirteen people to death in a bloody rampage at the town civic center. July 2009, Houston, Texas, six people were shot in a drive-by shooting at a community rally on the campus of Texas Southern University. November 2009, Fort Hood, Texas, a U.S. army major opened  fire on his fellows in the middle of a crowded soldier processing center filled with troops preparing for deployment, he killed thirteen and wounded forty-two. February 2010, Alabama, a disgruntled professor opened fire during a staff meeting of the Biological Sciences Department faculty. She killed three and wounded three more. January 2011, Tucson, Arizona, a gunman opened fire at a public gathering outside a grocery store, he killed six people including a nine-year-old girl and wounded twelve more including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head.  July 2012, Aurora, Colorado, a masked gunman storms into a packed movie theater and starts shooting, he killed twelve and wounded fifty-eight more. August 2012, Oak Creek, Wisconsin again,  a gunman kills six people at Sikh temple before being shot dead by police. September 2012, Minneapolis, a gunman kills six including himself and wounds five more inside a small sign company. December 2012, Newtown, Connecticut,  a 20-year old gunman with mental problems killed his mother and then shot his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and started killing people. He killed twenty small children and six adults and then shot himself.  February 2013, a former Navy officer and Los Angeles policeman declared war on the LAPD, over a period of nine days he killed four people including three police officers and wounded three more before eventually committing suicide by cop.  March 2013, Herkimer, upstate New York, a 64-year old man lit his apartment on fire, then coolly walked into a local barber shop and started shooting. He killed two and wounded two more. Then he drove to another business and killed two more.  He killed a police dog and was subsequently gunned down by the canine’s human partners. June 2013, Santa Monica, California, a 23-year old man went on a killing spree that left six people dead and four wounded and ended when he was shot dead by police inside the Santa Monica College Library.  July 2013, Hialeah, Florida, a man living with his mother lit their apartment on fire and then went on a rampage throughout the living complex, he killed seven before police returned the favor.  Twelve more dead at the Washington Navy Yard.  Another murdered standing watching on a pier in Norfolk. Four more dead, including the shooter, again on Fort Hood, Texas. Charleston, South Carolina, a racist sat quietly for an hour among the congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, then without warning he  murdered nine people during prayer service and wounded a tenth – he was hoping to start a race war. Chattanooga, a self-declared Jihadist suffering from depression and drug use, mad at the US government, shot up a military recruiting center in a strip mall then drove to a local Navy operations support center and launched another attack, he killed four Marines and a Sailor and then died in a gunfight with law enforcement. Lafayette, Louisiana, a drifter with a gun fired thirteen rounds into a crowded movie theater. He killed two people, wounded nine, and then turned the gun on himself when police closed in. 

Last time I updated this it was fifty dead. Fifty. Fifty. Fifty dead, killed by a single shooter armed with a military grade assault rifle in a nightclub.

And today? Somebody took a shot at Congress.

Who knows? Maybe now they’ll finally do something about gun violence in America

But I wouldn’t count on it.

Here we are, America. Here we are yet again. Bang, Bang, Bang.

Another massacre – attempted massacre anyway.

Friends, bereft families grieving with concern, a nation left shaken with shock and outrage, left wondering why? How?

Another murderous lunatic with a gun in his hand and a score to settle.

Another excuse from the National Rifle Association. Another denial. Another bribe to their pets in Congress. Another unhinged rant from terrorist-enabling lunatics like Ted Nugent and Wayne Lapierre.

Another flurry of empty prayers and sound-bites from our bought and paid for legislature and a Twitter storm from the White House.

Another day of “expert” opinions from the media and Facebook.

This is the point where I used to type bloody horror.  And it is, a bloody horror, but it’s just another bloody horror.  Business as usual. So far, nobody but the gunman has died, so compared to, oh, say the Pulse Nightclub shooting, or Aurora, or Sandy Hook, it’s not all that big of deal, is it? Meh.

It is certainly no longer a surprise – and hasn’t been for a very long time.

It’s only news because this time the violence was aimed at Congress. Hey, that’s new!

But gun violence? Mass slaughter? That’s just who we are.

This, this right here, this is the country we live in.

Bang, bang, bang. Welcome to America.

How many mass shootings since I first wrote this? A dozen? Two dozen? A hundred? How many? You’ve lost track, haven’t you?

Me too.

This slaughter, it’s the set up for a truly American joke, isn’t it? So, a racist, a suicidal drifter, and terrorist walk into a public place and start murdering people, what do they all have in common?

The fabled gun battles of the American Old West have nothing on the modern slaughter. Gun fuelled mass murder isn’t the exception any longer, it’s as common and as American as, well, apple pie and happens on average about once twice three four times a month now.

What’s that, you say? Oh yes, another grinning nut with a stupid haircut and a personal arsenal shot up a baseball game? Tsk tsk terrible isn’t it? Did they catch him this time, did he kill himself, or did the police shoot him down like the dog he was? People say he was a nice guy, quiet, kept to himself, kind of odd but, man, didn’t see this coming, no Sir.  Here’s a picture of him smiling like a crazy guy, look at those eyes, they’re crazy eyes, anybody could tell he was going to snap. He probably tortured small animals and has his grandmother’s head in the freezer. It’s the parents’ fault you know, for not raising him right.  It’s the atheists’ fault for taking Jesus out of the schools. It’s the doctors, why don’t they get crazy people off the street? It’s the goddamned police, they’re never around when you need them. It’s the government. He’s probably a veteran, you know, those guys are all on the edge.  Guns don’t kill people, you know, no Sir, they don’t. In fact a good guy with a gun is the only … Oops, gotta go, Duck Dynasty is on.

And now? Well, now we Americans will go through the same old oh so utterly predictable dance: 

Stage One, Confusion:

Mass shootings are still news. I have no idea how much longer this will be so, Americans don’t have much of an attention span unless you up the wow factor. Some guy went bonkers and killed a bunch of people? Yawn, I’ve seen worse. What’s the body count this time? Fifty? Worst since 911? What? Just the shooter died? Well that ain’t even worth my … Ooooh, he was shooting a congress, well, I’ll tune for that! But, maybe next time we could get the guy to wear a Bruce Willis costume while shooting a chain-gun from the back of a crashing stealth fighter in the middle of Times Square? Because that would so cool, man.


Sure, I’m the one being ridiculous. Right.

Anyway, for now, mass murder is still a news show money maker.

Problem is, there’s just not enough actual information about the event to fill up the airwaves.

Nobody really knows anything. 

But Americans aren’t interested in facts and they’re for damned sure not interested in waiting.

Americans want their news the same way they want their food, they don’t care if it’s good for them or not so long as it’s quick and it comes in SuperSize.  

So, over the next few days, until America loses interest, the news outlets will each issue at least three versions of the story, all different, all mutually contradictory. Accuracy doesn’t matter, being first is what matters. Blame, that’s what matters, we need to assign blame to somebody, Muslims, liberals, gays, commies, survivalists, the mentally ill, somebody is at fault and the sooner we assign the blame the sooner we can get back to our freedom and liberty and civilization. 

And besides, it’s not like those first false reports and poor reporting will be wasted, the conspiracy nuts will print those out and tape them up on their bulletin boards right next to pictures of that grassy knoll and WTC #7. False Flag! False Flag! They’ll shout gleefully and manufacture their own false information fresh from their fevered imaginations and within days the airwaves and the internet will be filled with their wild speculation.

You’ll get interviews with at least four witnesses who didn’t actually see anything, including at least one middle-aged hypochondriac who wasn’t actually there on the day of the massacre but once, way back when, happened to be in the same neighborhood, and so had to be hospitalized because she was so traumatized by the close call.

You’ll get interviews with at last three professional victims who weren’t there but were near similar events and whose stories are now somehow relevant.

You’ll get earnest opinions from two experts in fields completely unrelated to anything that actually transpired, and CNN will interview at least one former non-combatant Air Force Major who was stationed in Nevada during the Iraq invasion and now teaches law at a small Women’s college on the East Coast.

Eventually, each news outlet will trot out their one remaining gray haired genuine distinguished Newsman, and in dour solemn tones he’ll ponderously opine on the miserable state of journalism in this modern age – then he’ll condemn all the other stations for getting it wrong.


Stage Two, Speculation:

Since there isn’t any real information and by the time there actually is America will have completely lost interest, the important thing is to fill up the media channels with something.

The talking heads and paid conspiracy mongers will wax fat and feculent, they’ll talk about false flag operations, hiding their sly grins behind their plastic outrage while the money rolls in.

News anchors, talk shows, bloggers, pundits, and the endless ill-informed mouth-breathing Yahoo commenter will each and all put forward their opinion:

- The shooter is a liberal. It’s all part of a plot by the America-hating tree-hugging, New World Order to make peaceful, patriotic gun owners look bad, then the government will send Interpol in their sissy blue UN uniforms to take away our guns. Oh noes! To the bunkers!

- The shooter is a Muslim. Of course he is. You just can’t trust those people. They hate America. He probably thinks he’ll get forty virgins in Paradise for every American he killed. We should kill all the Muslims.

- The shooter is a member of the NRA. He’s a gun nut. Those guys are all crazy with their gun shows and gun magazines and gun clubs and guns. We should outlaw the NRA.

- The shooter was just fed up. He was an Illegal alien. He was a member of Al Qaida. He was a Jew. He was abused as a child. Born again. Gay.

By the time the sad truth comes out, if it ever does, that he was just another hater eaten up with rage, listening to the voices only he could hear, nobody will care. The only thing Americans will remember is that he is yet another sterling example of whatever political point they’re trying to make at that particular moment.

Stage Three, Comparison:

The conservative channels will start running footage of Columbine, Fort Hood, and Waco. The liberal channels will start running footage of the Giffords shooting and Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook.  None of those incidents really has much to do with the current horror, but they are images of bodies and blood and bullets and that’s what counts when you’re explaining how this event is what happens when the End Times are nigh or civilization is on the brink of collapse.

It’s important to associate this mass murder with other horrible events in order to shape public perception in the proper manner regardless of the fact that there is little connection or comparison to be had.

All channels will talk about drugs and depression. There’s no indication as yet that the shooter was taking drugs, or was depressed, but then again there isn’t any indication that he wasn’t either.

And, of course, there’s the PTSD, every media outlet will explain in concerned tones. You know, we should expect more of this kind of thing as veterans start to come unscrewed. Especially if they were bullied as children. Or abused. Or into comic books, or video games, or porn. And, well, even if the guy had nothing to do with the military, it’s important to stress that returning veterans are murderously unstable and something should be done.

The simple truth of the matter is that you don’t walk into a crowd and start shooting people unless you’re, at least to some degree, insane.

But that’s just not enough for us, is it?

They can’t just be nuts, or rather they can be, nuts, but it has to mean something. Somehow. Even though the shooter might be completely insane, America will still demand a sane, rational, understandable reason for their behavior.

Which naturally will lead to endless arguments regarding the sorry state of mental health in this country.

Which, of course, will almost immediately devolve into a debate on healthcare.

Which, of course, will almost immediately turn into a shitfit between political ideologies.

But you see, the thing is these shootings? They all have nothing in common.

Nothing in common, except for one thing.

One thing.

They all have one thing and only one thing only in common.


Stage Four, Blame:

The shooters may all be crazy in some fashion or another, but the real insanity here is our continued inability to face reality.

We won’t face reality.

We won’t face the single common denominator.

Instead, let’s blame Hollywood. Violent movies and violent video games and rock and roll music. That’s what it is.

Let’s blame the families. It’s bad parenting, this guy’s folks should have their asses kicked for raising a psychopath.  But since we can’t do that, we'll punish the shooter’s family by having every single news agency in the world camp out on his mother’s front porch, and we’ll ask her important questions such as “what are you feeling right now?”

Let’s blame the Liberals with their liberalism, their political correctness, their communist Nazism, their coddling of criminals, their gun control and the gay agenda.

Let’s blame the Conservatives with their conservatism, their guns and their bibles and their callous disregard of the human condition. It’s their fault, of course it is.

Let’s blame it on the Me Generation, these selfish little bastards, always with their hands out, me me me. It’s social media, it’s Twitter and Facebook and those self centered bloggers looking for attention.

Let’s blame the Muslims and the godless goat humping atheists and Fast & Furious and bad teachers and Benghazi and the secret manipulations of the Illuminati.

The politicians and their supporters will all, each and every one, gleefully make hay. Oh they’ll all, each and every one, wax poetic over the victims (with the exception of certain predictable talk radio pundits who’ll insinuate that the wounded had it coming for being unprepared and unarmed and ungodly), and they’ll even wipe away sorrowful bitter tears and pause for a moment in patriotic remembrance with their hands over their flinty black hearts with the flags waving and crackling in the cold breeze at just the right camera angle, and they’ll condemn the other guy for politicizing the tragedy, and then they will make just as much political hay out of this as they can because somebody is damned well to blame for this mess.  And it sure isn’t going to be them, no sir, it’s the other guy and his un-American agenda, vote for me!

Somebody is responsible.

The thing is, all of these shootings, including the latest horror, have nothing in common.

Nothing in common, except for one thing.


Guns. Guns. Guns. Guns are the common denominator here. In every case, it’s guns.

You can’t have a mass shooting without guns.

It’s just that goddamned simple.

But we won’t face it.

We won’t do anything about it.

We’ll blame everything but the one single common denominator.

We just  keep on keeping on, expecting something different – and that right there is the very definition of insanity.

As a nation, we are insane.

Stage Five, Bang Bang Crazy:

And so, once again, inevitably, we circle around the wheel to the perennial American argument: 

Guns don’t kill people, crazy people with guns kill people who don’t have guns.

Therefore, we should ban all guns! No, wait, if we ban all guns then only people with guns will have guns so they’ll kill the people who don’t have the guns and then there will only be people with guns left and then they’ll kill each other because if you ban guns only people with guns will be criminals and when the government comes to get our guns only the criminals will be free because liberty equals guns! Also what about bears? OK, then we should give everybody guns! But if everybody has guns then even criminals will have guns and brown people and yellow people and illegal people and crazy people who don’t love Jesus will have guns and they will break into our houses to steal our guns and rape our women and eat our babies and take our liberty so then police and the military will need bigger guns to keep us safe from those people but then we’ll need even bigger guns because otherwise we won’t be safe from the cops who will use their guns to take our freedom! OK, well then how about a reasonable common sense compromise? We all agree that as Americans it’s our basic right to keep and own firearms. But also, some people really, really shouldn’t be allowed to own even a Nerf slingshot, let alone a machine that can punch a couple hundred fist sized holes in a room full of people in under a minute. How about we maybe talk about some kind of reasonable way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists, and crazy people? What! Communist! Nazi! How dare you? Second Amendment! Second Amendment! Every red-blooded true blue American has the God given right to own a fully automatic meat-grinding bone-shattering blood-spattering high capacity killing machine if they want to, the Founding Fathers said so! USA! USA! Dead kids? Mass murder? Blood in the streets? That’s the price you pay for freeeeeeeeedom! Besides if there had only been one, just one, god fearing patriot with his own concealed meat-grinding bone-shattering blood-spattering high-capacity peacemaker there at that massacre, why he’d have stood up in his genuine American made American Flag Shirt of Patriotic American By God Freedom and fired up his laser-sight and he would have put that animal down right goshdarned there! Remember, when seconds count the police are only minutes away and idiotic empty NRA platitudes have saved more lives than Charlton Heston did in all those bible movies. Booyah, Baby, give me a Glock Nine and an extended mag any day. Also, we need more Jesus.

‘Round and round in one long run-on paragraph of fury and hysteria and flag waving spittle flecked madness. America, Fuck ya!

Stage Six, Acceptance:

By the time it’s determined that the shooter’s bloody motivation was just plain incomprehensible to sane reasonable people, most Americans will have long since changed the channel and forgotten about it, lost in the bloody mayhem of the next gun fueled mass murder.

Meanwhile Congress, ever eager to do something, will yet again stage a mock vote to defund healthcare in America because they are completely unable to do anything that actually matters other than squabble amongst themselves like spoiled petulant children.

Nothing will be done about the real problem because nothing can be done.

That’s the price you pay for freeeeeeeeeeedom: murderous lunatics with guns.

Besides, it probably won’t happen again.

Stage Seven: Déjà Vu:

See Step One.


Ok, snark off.  Let me be serious.

Nothing, and I mean nothing not even religion or abortion, generates the hate mail that any article on guns does.

As I’ve said here many, many, many times, and will obviously have to say many, many, many more times: I’ve spent my entire life around weapons, all kinds of weapons – some of which you can’t even imagine.

I know something about guns.

I’ll tell you something: the ignorant, illiterate, and cognitively challenged NRA nuts who troll this site every time I post something about guns are the very last people I would allow on my range or allow to handle weapons anywhere near me or mine. If you’re taking orders from Ted Nugent and Tom Selleck you are fucking insane. These people are every bit as insane as the murderous lunatics described in the text above who thought that guns were a solution for their own personal inadequacies.

These people have taken the Second Amendment and perverted it all out of recognition.

However, for the record, the post above does not, repeat does not, advocate for or against any additional laws, regulations, bans, or any other form of gun control.

What I actually said was that all the arguments were oh so tediously predictable. 

What I said was the usual folks would call for gun control.

What I said was then in response the usual folks would scream about Nazis and fascism and explain why nothing ever can work and how dead kids are just the price you pay for freedom.

What I said was that nothing, absolutely nothing, will change. The slaughter will continue. The argument will continue. And nothing will change because we will not let it change, we would rather die than allow a reasoned conversation to take place, let alone any action of any kind.

What I said was that we can’t even have the conversation.

And that is exactly what is happening, because that’s what always happens. Every. Single. Time.

Both sides are perfectly convinced that they are right. That’s it and that’s all. Period. No compromise. No no no. End of discussion and fuck you, Liberals. No, fuck you, Conservatives. 

You cannot reason with unreasonable people and the people on both sides of this ongoing monkey shitfest are profoundly unreasonable people (and now people on both sides will write to argue why they’re right and the other side is wrong, predictably).

People called me a cynic.

They said I was wrong.

But it’s been more than two five years since I wrote the original version of this essay. How many mass murders have happened in that time? How many Americans have died in front of a gun muzzle? Hell, we’re up to three mass murders a month now.

And nothing, not one goddamned thing, has changed.

I think I’m entitled to say: I told you sons of bitches so.

// Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station


Addendum 1:  Every time I write one of these, I hope it's the last. But it never is, there's always another massacre. 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 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 graduated from nearly 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, even though I don’t live there anymore, 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.

A note about commenting:

Comments on this post are now in excess of 200.  When that happens you have to scroll to the bottom of the comment queue and hit “load more.” You may have to do this several times to see all the comments including the nested ones. This is a function of the Blogger platform, I have no control over it. // Jim Wright/Stonekettle Station.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Donation Drive

As previously noted, every once in a while I have to ask for money.

Having given up military consulting work and having shut down my woodworking business and art studio (hopefully temporarily) when I left Alaska, I subsist for the moment solely on income derived from my social media sites and this blog.

A few years back, I wouldn’t have believed this possible.

A few years back it wouldn’t have been possible.

But despite the sneering criticism of certain vocal critics, it is possible for a writer to make a reasonably decent living this way.

Yes, writer.

It used to be “writer” was defined as somebody who assembled words and ideas into books, short stories, articles, and perhaps screenplays, fact or fiction, and submitted those efforts via various means to editors at publishing houses or various presses or various media outlets, and then lived on cheese sandwiches hoping a check of some modest amount would come back. Traditionally the profession of “writer” meant you repeated this cycle without healthcare or adequate hygiene or presentable clothes until you died, or gave it up for a real job – both of which happened with distressing frequency.

That model, that definition of writer, still very much exists.

And a lot of writers make varying degrees of living from it.

As previously noted, if you’re a Stephen King or a John Scalzi, you might make millions and live in a golden mansion high on a landscaped hill in the middle of a private island waited on hand and foot by an army of nubile, scantily clad olive-pitters (this is totally true and I heard it directly from one of George R.R. Martin’s gardeners). But more likely you’re a stringer for the local paper, and you might make enough to buy a cheese sandwich or two providing you’re not particular about the definition of “cheese” or those weird green spots on the bread.

Various degrees of success exist between those poles.

And that’s where I exist. In that strange new middle ground. I wanted to be a writer since I was kid. It’s a sickness, writing. A weird mental disorder that makes you sit in front of a keyboard for hours, daydreaming and playing with ideas and wondering why anybody would read the blather on the screen. But my grandmother gave me a Hardy Boys book (#8; The Mystery of Cabin Island) for Christmas one year when I was about 8 or 9. I’d been an indifferent reader up to that point, but that book captivated me and my lifelong obsession with words began right there. Somewhere shortly thereafter, in a staggering moment of epiphany, I realized there were actually people out there who got paid to sit in front of a keyboard and daydream and those people didn’t have to put on pants every day. Hell they might not even own actual pants – unless you consider pajamas legitimate work apparel.

I knew then that’s what I wanted to do.

I’d always intended to go the traditional route, cheese sandwiches and all.

I’d never intended to write about politics. But evidence would suggest that’s where my talent lies – if you’re charitable and agree that it is indeed an actual talent and not just something you could train a chimpanzee to do (they taught ‘em to fly spaceships, so I imagine political pundit wouldn’t be that difficult).

But by the time I was free to write what I wanted (upon my retirement from the military) and I started writing in earnest with the idea that someday somebody would give me actual money for it, the world had changed. How we connect to it had changed and continues to evolve at a rapid pace and a new type of “writer” became possible – well maybe not new new, but perhaps a more modern version of the political broadsides and pamphlets penned by the likes of Thomas Paine.

It’s amazing to me how fast this has gone.

Ten years ago, hell five years ago, I would never have guessed that Facebook would become my primary platform for day to day short form.  Facebook is a horrible platform for the kinds of things I write. It’s a bastard cross between a blog and public forum and doesn’t do either very well. It’s subject to arbitrary and random censorship. There’s no protection for intellectual property at all. It lacks the most basic of editing tools and formatting functions, its search capability is ridiculous and all but useless. Facebook’s interface, timeline management, and display are one of the single most infuriatingly horrible experiences in an age of limitless customization – limitless to everybody but Facebook users that is. It’s impossible to get any kind of help from the operators and it’s subject to every kind of cyber-abuse from bullying to trolling to sexual assault.

And yet – and yet -- it does one thing very, very well.

It does one thing that other technology cannot do, that traditional publishing venues cannot do.

Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and other social media platforms connect writers to people in an organic, viral, geometrically expanding manner that is completely impossible anywhere else.

Now, interacting with readers on a real time basis for hours upon hours every single goddamned day isn’t for every writer. It takes a certain degree of masochism to do it. In point of fact, a lot of writers become writers because they are anti-social bastards who enjoy living on moldy fake-cheese sandwiches and sitting around all day in dirty pajama pants and who tend to break out in a cold sweat when they actually have to put on pants and go outside where all the other people are.

So real time interaction with their audience isn’t something they consider a feature.

And that’s okay. “Writer” is a loose enough definition that it accommodates the gregarious right alongside the smelly hermit.

But, if you write well, if you write the things people are interested in, and if you’re willing to interact with your audience directly and in real time, then social media makes it possible for your work to spread far beyond the size of audiences normally available to traditional writers. For example: Two years ago, when I started doing this full time, Stonekettle Station averaged maybe 20,000 visitors per month – and that was after 8 years of writing every single day.  Maybe 3,000 people followed me on Facebook. Two years later, with some considerable effort, my daily Facebook audience exceeds 100,000 people and a single long form essay on Stonekettle Station can exceed 60,000 unique pageviews in a few hours.

Social media, for all its ills, has created new opportunity, an alternative to traditional writing models. Not a replacement, a supplement.

And that’s where I ended up. That’s where I exist.

I admit that in my case there is some degree of luck. I happened to be in the right place just as opportunity opened with the right experience and skillset and enough free time to take advantage of it.  It suits me. It’s not easy. Really it’s not. It sometimes (often) takes 14 to 18 hour days (I spent six hours last night just screening new applicants to the Stonekettle Facebook Group), research, writing, swearing at the screen, it can be incredibly frustrating at times for reasons you never imagine or anticipate. It requires constant attention, a constant presence, and everything becomes grist for the mill, making much of your life public – something that is often less than thrilling to your spouse.

It’s work.

Goddamn is it work.

I’ve been invited to a number of writer’s conventions to talk about this with other writers – or those who want to become writers under this new paradigm. That’s something I’m happy to do. I’ve been pretty lucky and I’m glad to pay that forward. The world is a big place, there’s plenty of room for many, many more writers in this new arena and I’m happy to help get them started.

If every one of those quarter million daily readers signed up for Patreon and donated a buck a month, well, I’d be writing this from the deck of my personal yacht and looking for property next to John Scalzi.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way and so every once in a while I need to ask for money.

I don’t like this.

But it’s necessary.

And it’s to your advantage.

Because this way I am independent. I don’t owe anybody, no business, no agenda, no political party or ideology, no boss, I don’t owe any of them a damned thing.  I write what I write, be it long form, short Facebook posts, or a simple Tweet, to the very best of my ability and as I see it – not as somebody else has directed me to see it. I maintain my social media sites, my Facebook page and the Stonekettle Facebook Group, my Twitter feed, as independent entities, managed by me and me alone to my standards and not some corporate agenda. 

That seems to be important to you, dear reader, and I take that responsibility seriously.

By remaining independent, I owe only you, the readers, the very best work I can put out and that’s it.

But it only works if you provide support.

I doubt I’ll ever get used it, asking for money, and I’m not sure I want to.  That aversion always, every time, makes me more determined to improve, to work harder, to produce a better product for you and to expand opportunities for YOU to have your say, to interact, in a safe and intelligent forum.

So, here it is: I’m asking you to donate.

Because my business model is evolving (IRS regulations, state and federal laws, etc, all of these things impact this process, I’m still learning the best way to go about it), I’m doing this a little different than the last few times.

The donation drive runs from June 1, 2017 to July 15, 2017.

I’ll be giving away a dozen Charter Member Stonekettle Station shirts (customized to the winner’s size and color preference. Also note: Charter Member shirts can only be gotten via this process, they are unique and are not available elsewhere. See the footnote below regarding shirts) and at least three signed copies of Alternate Truths – the best-selling political anthology which contains my short story: Gettysburg.

Any subscriber who donates any amount via the PayPal DONATION BUTTON between those dates will be put in the running for one of those prizes.

Winners will be announced July 20th, 2017.

To donate, click on the “Donation” button, either embedded in the text below or on the upper right side of this screen and follow the directions.

You may enter more than once. Each donation will be counted as a unique subscription.

If you’ve already donated to Stonekettle Station this month, you’re already on the subscription list.

Those of you who already donate via an automatic monthly payment, you’ll be entered automatically in the giveaway. (See the footnote below for additional information regarding automatic reoccurring donations)

Legal Disclaimer: To be clear, this is not a lottery or a raffle.  Donations are voluntary subscription fees specifically in support of this blog and the associated social media feeds and conducted in accordance with state and federal law.

That is:  you’re paying for content not a chance to win something.

I am not claiming any tax-exempt status or charity. Donations are considered business income and I pay all applicable state and federal taxes on that income and I have the records to prove it.

The items I give away are my intellectual property, created and paid for by me.  As such I chose to randomly gift them to supporters, just as I give away my custom made pens to my fellow writers.  The giveaway list is generated randomly from voluntary subscriptions, since I have no other way to determine who readers are.  You are not donating for a chance to win a prize, you’re paying for the content of this blog and my associated social media feeds and I’m using this opportunity to give something back other than just my usual blog essays, Facebook posts, and Tweets.

As always, thank you for your support.

1. Shirts: I recently acceded to reader requests and began selling Stonekettle Station T-Shirts. There were some production problems with a few shirts in the original run. This is to be expected of a new process from a small business. Especially in the volume we’re suddenly doing. Anyone who purchased a shirt and who experienced a problem needs only to contact the vender via her Etsy site and it will be fixed. That said, we’ve made a number of improvements to the process. All future shirts, including the Charter Member special additions, will be created using this new improved process. New shirts will be available for purchase later this month. I’ll put up posts here and on Facebook telling you how you can get one for yourself.

2. Reoccurring Payments: If you’ve set up a monthly donation via PayPal and you suddenly realize it’s been cancelled, that’s not me rejecting your money (because I would never do that. I need the money and I’m not too proud to say so). Likely it’s something to do with the PayPal process, usually your card has expired. I have no control over that.