1. Root causes. What the actual fuck is wrong with people? Twenty-six years ago, when most of my cronies and I were about 18, we had ready access to both rifles and handguns. We weren’t particularly well supervised back then and yet we somehow managed not to seed our world with chaos and mass murder. Back there and back then, it was the sort of event that was a true rarity. It’s why I struggle with the idea of blaming the tools people use when it happens now. The first semi-automatic rifle made its appearance in 1779. They became widely available on the consumer market in the closing years of the 19th century. It wasn’t until well into the back half of the 20th century where the commonly described “mass shooting” starts to become a thing that happens. That history is also why I struggle with laying the blame for these events at the foot of the gun. The technology hasn’t changed. It was as readily available in 1930 or 1960 as it is this afternoon. A basic semi-auto was more easily available then given the lack of background checks, permitting, and laws governing who can and can’t possess a firearm that came into vogue in the 80s and 90s. If we assume it’s not access that’s changed, we’re left to consider what factors have changed that lead to these events taking place now more than ever before. That’s a conversation that requires nuance – and since that’s not something that comes in a form of a good soundbite, we’re not likely to see from the political class, the media, the pros, or the antis.
2. Age of adulthood. One of the first things I read on Twitter this morning was a call to raise the age at which one can purchase a long gun. I saw multiple tweets calling for the age to increase from 18 to something else. Suggestions were 21, 25, 26. Fine. We already declare other “adult” decisions out of bounds for 18-year-olds. If we’re going to be intellectually consistent, though, we need to go further. Eighteen should no longer be considered the age of majority across the board. Raise the age to buy a car, rent an apartment, or sign any kind of contract. Raise the age for enlisting for military service. Raise the age to sign up for credit or a loan. Raise the age of sexual consent. And for God’s sake, raise the voting age. If those between the ages of 18 and twenty-whatever are too chowderheaded to make responsible adult decisions then just go ahead and delay all the rights, privileges, and opportunities of the adult citizen. Let adulthood start at 45 or whatever other arbitrary age we collectively decide is the right one. We seem to already have a generation that can’t manage to “adult” until they’re in their 30s, so just codify it already.
3. First reports. There’s an old saying about first reports always being wrong. When complex, fast moving events are happening I just assume that all of the details are bogus beyond the basics of where and what. Expecting a second-to-second timeline as events are unfolding is a fool’s errand. I’ve got at least one news feed running in the house pretty much from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed and how often the first details are wrong is pretty much an article of faith here. I’ll cheerfully call out Texas public safety officials if it proves out that they failed to follow local policy or in some way failed to respond appropriately, but I won’t sit at the keyboard and condemn them based on early reports and what people think they know. I’ll be swapping over to financial news until the story – and the reporters – get past the breathless, “breaking news” phase.
It’s the first of February. That means I haven’t set foot in a Walmart in a little over two years now. So much for the idea that you can’t get by in rural America without the overawing presence of that particular big box establishment. In the age of online retail, the idea that any one business is indispensable is illusory, at best.
I made my last trip to Walmart on the last Saturday in January 2020 – just as reports of a strange new virus circulating through the United States were beginning to heat up. It was a “stocking up“ trip. If I remember correctly, I ended up topping off the larder to the tune of about $300 of non-perishables and shelf stable products, laid in just in case things got weird.
I’ll never be a doomsday prepper. Once supplies of certain medications are depleted, my days are most likely numbered, so that relieves me of needing to plan for anything more than about six months of surviving in any post-apocalyptic hellscape.
I know there are plenty of people out here on the internet who are more than happy to tell you that you need a to have a basement filled with years’ worth of dry beans and rice and thousands of gallons of potable water. For 99.99% of any scenario most of us are likely to face, that’s probably multiple levels of planning past the point of overkill.
Being ready to ride out something less than the complete collapse of civilization, though, just makes good sense. I mean why set yourself up to be caught out by a freak weather event, a temporary supply chain disruption, or the general uncertainty that seems to be the hallmark of life in and around the Great Plague era?
At 5:00 this past Sunday morning, Cpl. Keith Heacook of the Delmar Police Department responded to a call for an assault in progress. An elderly couple was being beaten and this officer put himself between them and their attacker. According to reports, Cpl. Heacook was then violently attacked, overpowered, and kicked in the head repeatedly until he fell unconscious.
A quick search shows that the “person” arrested in connection to this murder has a criminal record dating back to 2010, when he was 19 years old. Thirty-six items returned in a search of his involvement with criminal court cases paint quite a picture… although I’m sure great effort will be expended to portray him as victim of the system, result of a bad childhood, a young man who just needed a hug, or whatever touchy feely excuse for people who choose a life outside the law is in vogue today.
You won’t hear hours of reporting every day dedicated to the murder of Keith Heacook. You won’t see protests in the street or riots and looting of local downtown business districts. His death at the hands of a known criminal doesn’t match the popular narrative of violent police officers. It will be downplayed and ignored in favor of those reports that highlight only the story of race and policing the media is determined to sell.
We’ll know the truth, though. Keith Heacook, a badged and sworn police officer, laid down his life in service to his community and in an attempt to protect the vulnerable. There’s no truer definition of hero.
China is rolling out a system that assigns a “social credit score” to its citizens based on a wide number of factors, most of which are explicitly designed to influence citizen behavior. That is to say that the Chinese Communist Party wants to incentivize “proper” behavior and disincentivize whatever they decide is anti-social and intends to back it all up with the surveillance authority of the state. Their stated intend is to roll out a system “making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”
It’s an interesting goal, to be sure. I mean who doesn’t want to live in a world where everyone is trustworthy and acts in a reasonable, controlled way? Even if the ends are somehow noble, the means should send a chill down all our backs – not just those of use who may for whatever reason find themselves traveling or doing business with China. Most of the major news sources I’ve seen are rightly calling the project Orwellian.
We’ve got plenty of surveillance going on right here at home of course. Most of us are willing participants in building out an extensive surveillance network of our very own. We all carry around a tracking device in our pockets, roll up and down the interstate with toll-paying transponders, and even stock our homes with security cameras. It’s not particularly hard or far fetched to imagine a day when we too are assessed a social credit score based on our level of compliance with the expectations of whatever powers may be at any given time.
I don’t think the future is necessarily some kind of dystopian hellscape where everyone we pass on the street can “down vote” us a la Black Mirror – although following the China model, such a world wouldn’t necessarily be difficult to achieve… and does give me at least a moment’s pause to wonder who’s watching me watch my cameras.
However, if this is the way we’re going, go ahead and put me down for a score of zero point zero because I absolutely do not have the time or patience for that level of douchebaggery.
1. Canned goods. The media is currently filled with pictures from Texas of shoppers with carts piled high with canned goods, cases of water, and the usual list of hurricane supplies. I’m always struck when I see these pictures that so many people who live in an area historically frequented by natural disasters don’t have a week’s supply of food and water already laid on. Keeping a few extra cans of beans around for just such an occasion feels like something you should just do automatically even if you’re not in an area prone to high winds and water. Keeping yourself and your household alive in the immediate aftermath of whatever very bad thing hits your community feels a lot like something that you should take on as a personal responsibility instead of waiting for the Weather Channel to tell you you’re going to need water… and then bitching about the government not getting to you fast enough after the storm passes.
2. Powerball. Some woman in Massachusetts won my $758.7 million jackpot.
3. Suffering fools. We live in a polite society where it’s considered inappropriate to look someone in the eyes and ask them directly if they’ve always been stupid or if they have just been struck in the head by a blunt object. The result is no matter how stupid someone is, we’re not supposed to call them out on it. Look, I’m not expecting everyone to be a rising Einstein, I’m more than aware of the moments when my brain has locked up when trying to do or comprehend things that should be simple… but honest to God when the sum total of human knowledge is available to everyone on the device they spend most of their day staring at, there’s just no excuse for so many people to be so incredibly dumb.
I think I’m beginning now to understand why old people always seem vaguely angry. The world I knew, the one of my youth, the one I was infinitely comfortable with, isn’t the world. The leaders have all gone. The stars are going. Even the countries aren’t the same and the maps have been remade. It’s disconcerting to realize that nation-states and their seeming permeance are anything but.
Society is far more open and tolerant than it was “where I come from.” I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In most things social, I’m mostly happy enough to let peopled do their own thing so long as they aren’t troubling anyone else. Activities and lifestyles that weren’t even mentioned, or only mentioned in whispers in early 80s are not just tolerated now but celebrated. In half a human lifetime I already find myself looking agog at the way the world has changed.
I’m enough of a student of history to know that the change is inevitable. People and institutions adapt… and those who refuse to adapt are swallowed up by the vast sweep of time. As those dark scientists in economic say, “in the long run we’re all dead.”
If you stick around long enough maybe you get to see everything you knew as true eventually turn out to be something else entirely. That would probably be the real curse of eternal life. The time and place I’m from didn’t get it all right, but it wasn’t all wrong either. New and different doesn’t necessarily mean better, but neither does old and tested. There’s a balance to be struck, but if I’m any judge of human behavior we’ll inevitable swing the pendulum too far in both directions simultaneously.
1. Things I already did. If it’s three weeks after you asked me to do something and you’re feeling the temptation to ask where it is and why it’s late, that’s probably a good place to slow down and check yourself. Sort your inbox by name. Find mine. Then look very closely through the ones that are unread. Based on my observation, that will constitute most of them. Somewhere in that stack of unread messages, perhaps time stamped 37 minutes after your original request to me, you will find the information you seek. The lesson here is you’ve asked me for something, told me when you need it, and I’m not suffering from a debilitating illness of some sort, you’ll have it on time and to standard. The fact that you just can’t find it feels like less of my problem.
2. Surprise. The fact that any of the gods on Olympus are surprised that they can’t seem to find anyone interested in started their day at 10am and sticking around the office until 6PM or later is just staggering. There’s just no amount of cajoling that will ever make me think that’s a cherry schedule. Most of the rest of us just want to get the day started and ended as quickly as possible. I know for those who have climbed the heights there’s no greater calling than whatever petty bullshit is going on inside the office walls at 6:30 at night, but for the rest of us that’s the part of the day where actual life happens.
3. Safe spaces. As best I can tell, we’re really only entitled to one “safe space.” That space would be our own home. See, once I’m outside the kingdom that I am able to rule with an iron fist, I’m stuck with observing most of the social niceties, not telling people what idiots they are, and more or less accepting that there are ideas other than my own which may be valid. Home, my safe space, however, is where I keep my books and my writing and my fuzzy (and scaled) critters. It’s a space protected by lights and alarms and powder and lead. It’s where I can emote to my heart’s content without expecting my employer, school, or local businesses to accommodate my “need” to sit down and have a good cry.
The internet (or at least Twitter) lit up briefly this morning when Starbucks announced that they are going to change the way customers earn loyalty program points. Customers were outraged that the company was changing how various “elite” status levels are reached and how much money they would have to spend before they qualified to “get something free.”
Since I moved to the sticks and don’t drive past half a dozen Starbucks locations on my daily commute maybe I feel this change a little less acutely than the average overpriced coffee drinker. Or maybe it’s just a beautifully wrapped case-in-point of everything that is wrong with America today… because customers, presumably regular customers who enjoy Starbucks products and services, are now up in arms because the company is making it just a little bit harder to get free shit.
Let that idea sit with you for a while. Starbucks, a business that exists for the purpose of making money through the sale of coffee and related ephemera, actually wants its customers to spend a little more money before getting something for nothing. I’ll even take it a step further and directly question when we as a society decided that it was our God given right to expect people and business to give their products away. Somehow we’ve managed to take a gesture of goodwill and thanks – a free cup of coffee – and twist it into some kind of entitlement.
I learned from a young age that sometimes life is tough. The world doesn’t owe you a damned thing besides the chance to work hard, scrape, and make something for and of yourself. Past that, you’re not entitled to a thin dime – or a $5 cup of coffee – from anyone else. So when you do get something for nothing, be appreciative instead of immediately taking to the internet to cry that it’s just not enough.
If you think you’re getting a raw deal from Starbucks take your business elsewhere. There are hundreds of businesses that would be happy enough to take your money. Better yet, go get yourself a nice Italian coffee machine so you can cut out the middle man and *gasp* learn to brew your very own java. You’ll save a lot more money doing that than you’ll earn back through any customer loyalty program.
It’s been about 30 hours since I’ve had any direct, face-to-face contact with anyone. Some people might find that unnerving, but It’s been pretty much dreamy. Sure, I’ve been pretty much in regular contact with the world through email, text, Facebook, Twitter, and Insta, but if you can avoid all of the awkward, annoying, and generally tiresome interacting with the general public, why wouldn’t you?
I have no idea of the furthest extent of my capability for hermiting. I think the longest stretch I can remember was four days. Generally I’m forced out of the house in search of fresh tortoise food or the need to work for a living long before the desire to actually leave ever crops up. If sustenance for the critters living under this roof weren’t a factor, I dare say I could hole up for months without incurring any significant trauma or anguish.
Alas, all good things must come to an end so if anyone needs me I’ll be over here getting myself into a mental space where I can pretend to be an engaged and productive member of society. Wish me luck.
Half my friends and family are probably appalled that the olympian formerly known as Bruce Jenner is now called Caitlyn. Abomination in the eyes of God, blah, blah, blah. The other half of my friends are celebrating Caitlyn as a hero for the 21st century. Such bravery in the face of certain criticism and hate, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Color me ambivalent. Disinterested. Nonplussed. If Bruce wants to be Caitlyn, as in all things that don’t infringe on the free exercise of my liberty, I say God bless and have a good life. It’s a short one – far too short to go about wringing your hands and gnashing your teeth because someone somewhere doesn’t live their lives the way you think they should.
Don’t like pornography? Don’t look at it. Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t have one. Don’t like booze? Don’t drink. Don’t like the way someone is talking to God? Don’t listen. Don’t like that Caitlyn Jenner is on the cover of a magazine? Don’t look. No one is forcing a damned thing down your throat. You’re free to take it or leave it – but when you fixate on it, when it becomes an all consuming irritant in your life, when you want to cram everyone else on the planet into your narrow minded mold, don’t be surprised when I think you’re a crate of AK-47s away from being the damned Taliban.
Go live your life. Let other people live theirs. Put on a dress. Put on a track suit. Get out there and allow your friends and neighbors to enjoy the same freedom of conscience you expect them to give you. You’ll save yourself a lot of angst and anguish that way.