Friday, February 16, 2018

(Yet Another) Cri de Coeur

Occam's Razor is usually stated as "when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Facts, as President Reagan once told us, are stubborn things. They don't go away when you stop believing in them, as I think Robert Heinlein wrote. Or maybe it was Arthur C Clarke. It couldn't matter less.

There has been another mass shooting in America (a phrase which is itself an obscenity) , and the nightly news and public conversation and social media has exploded with vitriol, and counter vitriol, and counter counter vitriol, and cruel jokes, and funny jokes, and memes, and misinterpreted or misappropriated quotations from this or that Founding Father, this or that public figure. (Just as an aside, our Founding Fathers were brilliant, far reaching thinkers, but they weren't demigods. They were creatures of their times and their upbringing, like all of us are. There were people born at the same time they were, raised the same way they were, who had no problem with the idea that slavery was a moral atrocity and that women were just as capable as men to do just about anything at all. The fact that most of them couldn't, or wouldn't, grasp this self evident truth puts a serious ding in my evaluation of their intelligence.)

Nobody needs yet another take on this issue, least of all the take of a fat guy who lives in the suburbs, hasn't touched a gun since Boy Scout camp, and has cats that may be smarter than he is. But I feel like my head is going to explode if I don't say this, so here goes. I plan to explore the arguments, as I understand them, to opposing stringent gun control, eliminating the flaws, and revealing, I hope, the truth. Feel free to disagree, or share, or do whatever it is you do. But I do ask one thing: if you think I'm full of it, and I have no doubt someone will, tell me why. Enlighten me. Tell me what fact I have misstated. Don't just namecall.

The arguments for gun control are, to me, self evident. If you wonder what they may be, let's just start with the stacks of dead children, and proceed from there.

The arguments against gun control seem to me to be the following, in no particular order.

1)"It's In The Constitution, You Stupid Libtard Moran!" Yes, indeed it is. The Second Amendment to the Constitution states, approximately, "a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." (I may not have that exactly right, but it's close enough, and I'm working from memory.) Gun people pay a lot of attention to the second half of that sentence, and it is, truly, a fairly black and white statement. "Shall not" is a phrase that doesn't allow for a lot of interpretation. But one of the big problems I have with literalists of any description is that, in my experience, they are literalists when it suits them, and they show a shocking willingness to allow for interpretation and nuance when it does not suit them. To be intellectually honest, in my opinion, you need to be a literalist all the time, or you need to allow for interpretation all the time. You can't do both.

So let's be literalist. The late Kurt Vonnegut memorably argued that a heavily armed man, woman, or child, given no aims, goals or instructions by any official, does not constitute a well regulated anything. I have since learned from people smarter than me that the Founders meant "regulated" to mean, roughly, "equipped". I don't know if I believe that, because regulated also meant, then and now, "subject to rule of law." But let's say these smart people are correct, and the Founders did mean that the selfsame militia should be well equipped. OK, what's a militia? Well, it's citizen soldiers, which is what we in America call the National Guard. I'd be much happier if, to own and operate a gun, a prospective owner had to join the National Guard.

But that seems like a lot to ask. So let's ask again, what was a militia at the founders' time? Well, it was, as I said, citizen soldiers. They weren't very good soldiers, but they lined up, and they had flags, and officers, and instructions from higher ups to take that hill or stand here and guard this gunpowder. They were a unit, subject to discipline and rules and instructions. To what extent is a citizen keeping a gun in his or her home a militia? I would also be much happier if, to own a gun, you needed to join the Frost Street Volunteer Militia, and one day a month, you had to come to the park and have your weapon checked and test fired and your general sanity looked over by other people.

So again, being literalist, the Second Amendment does not support an absolute right to own a gun, if you pay attention to every one of the pesky words, not just the ones you like. But let's go even further: what did "arms" mean to the Founders? Well, they meant muskets, didn't they? They certainly didn't have a vision of high schoolers carrying AR 15s. I'd be much happier if we took a literal view of this amendment in this way: let's be generous and say anything that a soldier in Napoleon's Grande Armee could carry on his person- those are "arms", and Congress cannot limit your right to own that. Anything more recent, or more lethal than that? You get regulation or a total ban. If you're going to be literal about the Constitution, I insist that you be literal all the way.

2) "If Guns Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns!" Yes, there will always be illegal guns. Criminals, by definition, are not law abiding. But we, as a society, take measures to improve things without eliminating them entirely. Vaccination reduces disease. Contraception reduces unintended pregnancy. Seat belts reduce traffic fatalities. We don't stop using any of those things because they aren't 100% effective. If we can reduce gun crime by 30%, at the cost of a little inconvenience, why on Earth wouldn't we? (A sub argument of this is "look at Chicago! A gun free zone, and it's as violent as Baghdad! See? Gun regulations don't work!" Chicago is indeed a violent place. But if you surround a gun free zone with zones that are quite gun filled, you may as well have no gun rules at all. Gun violence is a national problem, and it needs a national solution.)

3) "But I need it to protect my self/home/family/hoard of gold bullion!" The FBI estimates that there are about 300 justifiable homicides a year. The odds are overwhelming that the gun you have now will never do anything positive like protecting something you hold dear.  

4) "But I need it to protect my freedoms from a tyrannical government!" The government has cruise missiles. If the government decides to become tyrannical, there's no amount of firepower you have that will prevent that.

5) "What about knives and baseball bats and hatchets? Those can kill people too, you know! Are you going to ban them next?" Yes. Again, we aren't looking to eliminate all forms of violent death. (Or, more accurately, we'd love to, but it's not possible.) If guns were outlawed, there would still be stabbings and drownings and beatings and chokings. (And, still, some shootings.) The goal of gun control is to reduce the frequency of one particular, specific crime- the killing of large numbers of people in a relatively short time with relatively little effort. If we can ameliorate that, then maybe we can pursue those other problems.

6) "It isn't a gun problem, it's a hate problem." Yes, loneliness and alienation and isolation, if we could outlaw them, would certainly help. But we can't. There are lonely, alienated people in England and France and Denmark too. They generally don't shoot up bowling alleys, because they can't. (And maybe because there aren't many bowling alleys.)

7) "It isn't a gun problem, it's a mental illness/school security problem." Yes, comprehensive treatment for mental illness would certainly help. And putting armed people in schools might indeed help. But the same political party that resolutely opposes any and all gun control measures also just passed a 1.5 trillion dollar tax cut package. This same political party spent 8 years tearing its garments asunder at the previous president's "outrageous" spending. If they are suddenly in favor of spending our tax dollars on things like mental illness and school security, where, I ask, do they plan on getting the money? (And note carefully, please, that the school where the latest atrocity played out did have armed security personnel.)  

8) "But I'm one of the good ones. My gun has never, and will never, hurt anyone." Great. Good for you. I am not Emperor of the United States, nor am I likely to be. No one is coming for your gun. What gun control, real gun control, would mean is that your fellow citizens are going to be a little bit more up in your business, as the kids used to say, than they used to be. You will have to have a lock on whatever place you keep your gun. You will have to show a police officer how you secure your gun. You'll have to buy liability insurance for it. You'll be held legally and financially responsible if your gun is misused. You may have to undergo some mental health testing. You may have to pay to register it, and pay periodically to demonstrate you can use it safely. Your life may get less convenient than it used to be. Anyone who grew up with siblings know that life isn't fair, that sometimes you get blamed for stuff that you didn't do. That's showbiz. If these new rules are too much work for you? I'm sure your local police department will be happy to take your gun from you.

Those are all the arguments I can think of. If I missed one, please let me know in the comments.

In sum, we have had, and we continue to have, a massive problem with gun violence in this country. We refuse to deal with it, because of craven politicians, because of ignorance and folly, and the dead stack up, and we wring our hands and say "what can be done?," when we know full well what can and should be done, we simply lack the will to do it. The dead no longer care, but their living have to stumble through the rest of their lives with a hole torn in their heart, and we owe it to them to try and make it so that fewer and fewer have to go through the living hell that their existence has become.

If none of this moves you, if you don't care about my arguments, if you still think that they can have your gun when they pry it from your cold, dead fingers, if there is no amount of death and suffering that would make you think that maybe, just maybe, we should be a little more careful about to whom we give machines that spew hot metal, if you cover your vehicle in NRA stickers and celebrate your freedom to kill as more important than my freedom not to be killed, then you are part of the problem. The blood of the dead children is on your hands. I hope you are sleeping well, because I wouldn't be able to if I were you.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

100 Word Challenge: "Can't"

[The 100 Word Challenge is for the word "record", a word you can use in all sorts of ways. The way I chose to use it is in the following story, "Can't".]

Madeline is very tall, and she has a long neck that makes her look regal and elegant. I liked that. I knew what she was about to say, and I couldn't look into her kohl rimmed eyes any longer, so I watched the muscles in her neck move as she said it.

"You're just too sad for me. I can't deal with it any more."

It was a moment I already wanted to forget, but I knew my brain had pressed "record," and I would be hearing forever with perfect clarity the way her voice wavered when she said "can't".

Thursday, December 29, 2016

100 Word Challenge: "Use Other Side"

[After a prolonged post election slump/pout, I return to the 100 Word Challenge with this entry, "Use Other Side," for the word "Sorry".]

I almost drop the clipboard. "Sorry," I say instinctively. The waiting room is empty, like my heart.

"Sorry." It's a child's word. It can't support the weight of regret. "Sorry I spilled my milk. Sorry I broke your lamp."

"I'm sorry for your loss," is as empty to hear as it is to say.  

I look down and begin to fill in the spaces. There isn't enough room to list everything I'm sorry for, everyone I need to apologize to, everything I wish wasn't true.

"Use other side of page if necessary," the form says at the bottom.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Cri De Coeur

To quote Jerry Orbach's character in "Dirty Dancing", "when I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong."

I was wrong.

Tuesday's election has shocked me as much, I think, as any event in my life thus far. It really shouldn't have. Nate Silver, the best election forecaster there is, gave Trump a 30% chance to win the election. That's not great. You'd be a fool to want the 30% side of any bet. But it's certainly not zero. And 30% plays do sometimes come through. For example, in the American League Championship Series in 2004, the Boston Red Sox had about a 37% chance to win when Kevin Millar drew a walk to open the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Four, trailing 4-3. Not a great chance. Were I a Yankee fan, I wouldn't have been worried. But certainly not zero. And as history tells us, that particular 30% chance also cashed in.

I read my share of articles and analyses and blogs, and I listened to experts, and I read polls. I was pretty sure the election wasn't going to go this way. More to the point, I was pretty sure people were upset at the way things were, but they would go into the privacy of the voting booth and look at the choices and see one candidate who insults women, and handicapped people, and brown skinned people, a charlatan who lies, to quote Steve Harvey, when the truth will do, and say to themselves, "I love brown people and people with different abilities, people like that are in my family and my workplace and my church, and I'm not ready to have a president who thinks it's ok to be cruel to them, to make them feel less than because of something beyond their control." I really thought we were better than this. That we had grown. Matured. That we were far from perfect, but we were making progress.

Last night showed me how far we have yet to go.

Make no mistake, conservatives. This is your car to drive now. You control all of the branches of government. About a year from now, when people start announcing primary challenges and long term Congresspeople get serious opponents, you're going to realize that governing is really hard work, and you won't have anyone to blame but yourselves for wherever the country is at that point and whatever you have done or not done. If your past history holds, the economy will be in recession, the deficit will be exploding, and you'll be looking around for someone to blame your problems on. And Democrats will be holding up mirrors.

If you are a Trump supporter, I sincerely don't understand your vote. I've heard that he's a truth teller (he isn't), an outsider (he isn't), a successful businessman (he isn't), and a maverick (not even close.) What he is is a liar, a racist, a bully, and a lunatic. This man denies saying things that there is video tape of him saying. Grownup politicians don't do that. Four year olds do that. And don't give me that "he didn't mean it," or "he was just trying to be funny." 11 year olds use that excuse. Presidents don't.

I don't understand what you thought you were getting with your Trump vote, but I know what it says about you. It says you're petty, and mean, or at least you're ok with pettiness and meanness in your leader. It says you're ok with women being grabbed without their consent, or at least, you're ok with someone who does that. It says you put some dream of change (someone who's been in real estate in New York and New Jersey is going to root out corruption? Talk about foxes guarding henhouses!) ahead of the welfare of your fellow humans. Real people are going to get hurt over these next two years, and you caused it. I hope you are ok with that. I'll be sleeping like a baby, myself.

To paraphrase the old bumper sticker, "Don't Blame Me: I'm from New Jersey."

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Even More Updates

Pure Slush's Matt Potter has seen fit to publish a story of mine, "Temporary", as part of his "Cake" theme. The story can be found here.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016


To delve back into self promotion for just the briefest of moments, new books including stories by yours truly are available here, including the Pure Slush volumes "Five", "tall...ish", and "Summer".

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Center Cannot Hold: Thoughts On Orlando

So, another mass shooting.

It is an obscenity that I have to write that sentence. Mass shootings should be as rare as hen's teeth, as uncommon as Halley's Comet or a Bartolo Colon home run or a moon landing. But, in the country of my birth, they are not. So I have to write one of the most stunning sentences I can put together: there has been another mass shooting in America.

This is usually a writing blog, and it is certainly an infrequently used and poorly written one. (And, since I brought it up, there is a story collection called "Tall...ish" that is now available at Pure Slush featuring work by me along with other much more talented people.) But the events in Orlando need to have witness born, and I feel like I need to add my tiny voice to the chorus.

We will hear the usual claims and counterclaims, posts and counterposts. Friendships will end. Angry screeds will be added to comment sections. And then we will all move on. We always move on, and only the families of the dead are frozen in time, their lives forever split by the time before and the time after, and then it will happen again, and we will get outraged, and nothing will change. Again. I have to conclude that, as a people, we are okay with this, that 20000 precious human beings going into the ground before their time is a fine price to pay, because we need to slavishly obey to the letter what a bunch of dead freedom loving white slaveowners wrote down. This is not my belief, but it is the conclusion I am forced to come to because we keep burying our children, and we never do anything to change it. If you have a leaky faucet, and you won't fix it, you learn to live with the sound of dripping.

If you honestly believe, in your heart, that the right to bear arms is so sacred, is so precious, that spouses have to become widows, and brothers have to bury sisters, and parents have to bury children, by the tens of thousands every single year, all so we don't even begin to intrude upon the fringes of this most important of rights, you have the right to believe that way. It's a free country. I won't stand in your way. But I think you're wrong on the ethics, and wrong on the law (Kurt Vonnegut's question remains valid- how does a heavily armed man, woman, or child given no aims, goals, or training by any leader constitute a militia?) , and a moral midget who sees abstractions as much more important than people.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

100 Word Challenge: "Sunday Morning Coming Down"

[The 100 Word Challenge this week is a little more straightforward, this week's word being "Power". This is called "Sunday Morning Coming Down"]

"Balance of power?," she said. "Power doesn't ever balance. Someone always has more."

I was reading "The Oil Kings", a nerdy book about petroleum. She had a Bolano paperback on the table in front of her, but she was looking at me. We were drinking coffee, and Johnny Cash was playing, and we were trying to figure out how to spend another Sunday morning.

I felt like I should say something, but I didn't. She had left me twice before, once for a trust fund artist, once for a eager banker. I knew who had the power. It wasn't me.

Friday, April 01, 2016

100 Word Challenge: "Exit"

[This week's 100 Word Challenge is a little different. Instead of involving the inclusion of something, this week requires 100 words with the absence of something. Just for fun, I'm not going to tell you what is missing, except to add that the missing element is present both in this prologue, and in the name of this blog, but not in the story itself or its title. This story is called "Exit."]

"Sex, like most exploits, is pointless exercise. Rubbing, friction, moisture, effort, for one moment of pure joy? Not worth it. In this universe without end, nothing we do counts."

He wrote it, then stood. He looked. True? Yes. Nice? No. He wondered when he broke, when he fell, when the shroud covered his soul. Who listens to people in modern times? He looked down, then up to the writing.

"It's over," he whispered softly into nothingness. 

No one replied. Silence reigned. He left. It's finished. Finished? He felt finished. He shut the door. It closed firmly, like periods end sentences.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

100 Word Challenge: "Twilight"

[For this month's 100 Word Story Photo Challenge hosted at 100WordStory.Org, I wrote this, called "Twilight"]

The men walked up the hill away from the house. Their footsteps were silent in the snow, and their breath formed plumes in the air. It was a mile or so back to the dirt road where the car was. They didn't talk. They didn't have to. It was done. They were told to do it, and it was hard, but they did it. It took three weeks to track him to this tiny country town, but they found him, and when they came through the front door, he wasn't surprised.

"Be quick about it," he said flatly.

They were.  

100 Word Challenge: "2AM Sportscenter"

[The 100 Word Challenge brings us the word "dream". This is called "2AM Sportscenter"]

I couldn't really sleep, and I'm running.

I spend the night drifting slowly between the harsh light of yet another Sportscenter, bright smiling eyes delivering late baseball scores, and an unreal melange of past fears and regrets. The Royals rally in the 12th against the Mariners, and the Phillies beat the Dodgers, and I'm running. I'm late for something, and my mouth is dry and my muscles ache and I need to get away, and the Angels lost to the Yankees and they're getting closer, and I'm terrified, and the Padres lose at home to the Giants, and I'm running.

Friday, February 26, 2016

100 Word Challenge: "Up In Smoke"

[This week's 100 Word Challenge word is "Habit". This is called "Up In Smoke"]

It didn't solve anything. That wasn't the point. It was dumb, and it shortened your life, and it made everything smell bad. You couldn't do it anywhere anymore. It was incredibly expensive. Strangers always asked you to bum one. The craving was nearly constant, the need, the empty gnawing in your skull every time you let yourself go without one for a few hours. It wouldn't help, and it didn't fix it, but for a tiny, precise moment, the tension eased, you didn't want one for an hour or so, and you felt just a little bit like living again.

One A Day Until The Day I Die Podcast: "Leap"

["OneADayUntilIDie.Com" is the home of a 100 Word Story Podcast, believe it or not. This is my entry for the topic "Leap," called "Leap Year"]

The red leather toe of her shoe made tiny figures in the air between her and I.

"Want to know something?," she said. "I'm really only seven. I was born on Leap Year Day."

I looked at her black hair as she sipped. The evening felt inevitable, like a movie I've seen already.

"Is that so?," I said.

"Yes," she said, and her toe stopped. "Have you ever slept with a seven year old girl?"

It feels like that sometimes, I thought.

"Never," I said.

She stood up, her dress the shimmering blue promise of tomorrow's rain.

"Let's," she said.

100WordStory.Org Photo Prompt: "One Last Note"

[Over at 100 Word Story Dot Org, they post a photo prompt to induce acts of storytude. This is called "One Last Note"]

When she accused me of stealing, when she said she was out of milk when she wasn't, I didn't roll my eyes. I reminded myself, she was a lady, she had been young and beautiful once, she had raised children and screwed and fought and loved and lied here. She needed my help, but thought she didn't. She left notes everywhere, to help her memory, some of them useful. When I came as close as the firemen would let me, a yellow Post It fluttered to a stop at my feet. In her shaky hand, it said "Turn Off Oven."  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

100 WC: "Paper"

[The 100 Word Challenge continues with this week's entry, "Paper". This story is called "Roar"]

"Besides, it's only a piece of paper," he said, staring into the computer screen. She could hear the roar, tinny and detached, of a dragon.

She thought about her little sister's wedding, the stupidity of the blue dress and heels and hair and makeup. She thought about standing in the line, blinking in the sun, waiting for all the pictures to be taken, itchy and awkward. She thought about the sheer weight of the occasion, the way it seemed to make her sister into a real adult, the pride shining on their mother's face through her tears.

"Yeah," she said.