memory will rust and erode into lists of all that you gave me:
this pain in my chest,
the best parts of lonely,
duct tape and soldered wires,
new words for old desires,
and every birthday card I threw away.
Before we go there, let me say this. I'm not a constitutional scholar. I have no informed opionion as to what the correct, founding-father-approved interpretation of the 2nd amendment might be. Some people focus on the bit about "a well regulated militia"; others focus on the "right to keep and bear arms" part. The world was a very different place in the 18th century. The citizenry was different, the threats were different, guns themselves were different. We no longer have or even need militias (unless you live in the paranoid backwater of Texas), our government and culture are generally stable, and most of us no longer need to hunt for our food or defend our property from the natives or the British. Violent crime and property crime are both trending seriously downward and we are probably the safest that people have ever been in the entire history of civilization. The perception that we are under seige comes from the media (on both sides) who go absolutely orgasmic whenever some rancher decides that the rules don't apply to him or some troubled person opens up in a school/theater/recruiting station/workplace. This shit is their bread and butter and it does not profit them to explore the nuances of any of these situations too carefully. The internet, in its vast wisdom, plays along and throws oil on the fire. Camps are formed. One side believes that all guns are absolutely evil and the other believes that the solution to all problems is a warm gun. Or so it seems. This is one of the reasons that I no longer follow the news and rarely read comments on any articles. I guess if I were to articulate clearly (fat chance) a position on this it would probably be: own a gun if you must, learn how to use it, be safe with it, keep it away from children, don't wear it openly in public (because why do you need to? this isn't the fucking wild west), and for god's sake leave law enforcement and soldiery to the trained professionals.
My history with guns is sort of odd. We never had guns in the house when I was growing up so I am not completely at ease around them but I have shot a couple of times (handguns) and even owned one for a period of time (long story). That said, I don't have any objection to guns in general. If mature, rational persons (of whatever age) want to possess and use firearms, for hunting, for personal defense, for the big dick factor, whatever, that is their business. I've known quite a lot of people that own guns and they run the gamut from ardent advocates of 2nd amendment rights (however they choose to define them), to people that like to hunt now and then, to people who collect antiques, to people who just like to have them for security. Some of them are current or former military men and women. One used to own a hunting goods store. One was the victim of a violent crime when she was younger. Some of them grew up hunting and now take their own kids out after deer once a season. One (the scariest of the lot; see below) was a collector. These are all basically people that I like and respect and I don't think gun ownership is a black mark on their character. But you know and I know that having "open carry advocates" strap on their ludicrous semi-autos and head on over to the latest scene of unrest in order to "keep the peace" does not help matters. We also know that having armed teachers, armed shopkeepers, armed everyone also doesn't help and most likely will only result in disaster somewhere along the line (like, say, the first time a teacher shoots a kid that was acting out in class). The fantasies of justice, revenge, and good citizenship through guns that many people play in their heads after another gun-related tragedy are just that: fantasies. The reality tends to be a lot more messy.
My first real exposure to guns, lots and lots of guns, came shortly after I left grad school and came north for a job. I rented a room from a guy who seemed pretty nice. He was about my age, maybe a little older, and a carpenter of great skill. He lived in the basement and kept all his tools and such down there and the upper part of the house was mostly mine. The other housemate was a older man and a former Colonel for the South Vietnamese Army and he rarely left his room. They didn't mind my dog and two cats. The house was a couple of blocks from work in a very nice older neighborhood with lots of trees. I felt pretty lucky to find it. For a few months everything was peachy. I learned a bit about the carpenter, who turned out to be sort of quirky. He was a strict vegetarian, avidly followed TM, didn't trust banks or credit cards, and owned tens of thousands of dollars worth of high end stereo equipment, most of which ran on vacuum tubes (it looked and sounded really cool). His favorite music was country and he played it at maximum volume on a turntable with a diamond needle. We had a lamp in the living room that was made from a hollowed out bomb and it was a great conversation piece. He had all sorts of plans for making money: raising border collies, importing handmade silk from Asia, etc. All this stuff was harmless, mostly. One day I came home from work, stepped in through the front door, and saw every flat surface in the living room, dining room, and kitchen covered with guns of all shapes and sizes. There must have been a hundred or more, probably more. Turned out it was "gun cleaning day"; every six months the carpenter took all his guns out, cleaned them, and then packed them back into the giant gun safes that I had never noticed in the basement. He had never, not once, even alluded to this hobby of his and I'd never seen any evidence of it. It was a pretty damned impressive display.
I didn't freak out, at least not openly, and this seemed to warm him up. From that day forward the guns were out often. Not the whole set, of course, but I'd often come home to find him tinkering with one of the antique six-shooters, or cleaning one of the handguns, or setting up one of the big guns that needed a tripod (for interior display). We chatted a lot more about guns and I learned that all of them were legally acquired and registered and he was absolutely scrupulous about that. He had a license to deal guns and we'd occasionally have some questionable person show up at the house wanting to sell him something or buy something from him "quietly" and he'd just send them away. Several of his friends, nice guys all, were also "collectors" and they'd come over frequently with a new acquisition to show off and they'd all head down to the basement to play with their toys. The whole thing started to become rather unsettling however. The carpenter was more than a little paranoid, had dangerously low levels of self-esteem (I met his family once and I totally understood why), and had something of a persecution complex. He was afraid of banks and kept all his money in the house, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars at a time. He kept it all in the guns safes. (This made me paranoid, because we all know what guns and lots of money means to the police, don't we kids?) He took no drugs at all, even medical ones, believing they were all poisons and probably a government plot. He would drink an occasional beer but felt it polluted his body. He had explosives in the house, all of which he possessed legally as part of his construction business. He once put a block of some kind of explosive in my hand (C4 maybe?) and assured me it was perfectly safe because the blasting caps were in a separate box under his bed next to the box he kept the explosive in. For my birthday that summer he set off a stick of dynamite (or maybe a half stick) in an empty lot a few blocks away. He turned all the lights in the house off, told me to wait inside, ran off in the dark, came hauling ass back in a few minutes, and we crouched in the dark house until.....HOLY JESUS KABOOM! Car alarms went off all over, lights came on, sirens started up, things were shaking... it was...unusual, to say the least. He had a fixation on I.G. Farben and believed in all sorts of secret societies that clandestinely run the world. Our late night conversations were interesting, to say the least.
One night I came home from a date and found him sitting in the living room, alone in the dark. I snapped on the lights and saw him on the couch, gun in hand and three more on the couch beside him. He told me to turn off the lights. I asked him what was up and he told me that earlier that day, in the city, some kids had broken into his truck and taken some of his very expensive tools. He was waiting for them to come back. He'd even baited his truck with more tools and left the doors unlocked. I made the mistake of trying to reason with him. The theft happened miles and miles away; there was no way the same kids would know where he lived or dare coming back for more. He was convinced they did know and would come to our house. I asked him if the guns were loaded and discovered that, in fact, ALL his guns were loaded ALL the time. (His idea of an unloaded gun was one with a full clip but no bullet in the chamber. My idea of an unloaded gun is one in which the bullets are in another state.) Remember that I, an untrained and unknowledgeable person, had regularly been handling some of these guns and he never told me they were loaded. And finally I asked him if he would really kill a 16 year old kid over some tools that were fully insured and when his own life was in no danger. He said yes and went off into a paranoid rant about how "everyone" was after him and trying to steal from him and these kids were just their agents. That's about the time I realized that maybe there really wasn't something right about him. I began to understand just how little it would surprise me if someday I read his name in the paper associated with some mass shooting in a public place.
I moved out the day after he pointed a gun at me. He was downstairs listening to his country music and the phone rang. It was for him and I knew he was waiting for the call. When he didn't answer my yelling for him I went down to the basement. I got to the bottom of the stairs and saw him sitting inches from his stereo, hunched over with something in his hands. He came out of the chair in one swift move, gun raised in both hands, and we stood there for a second or two, and then he lowered the gun. I waved the phone at him, set it down on the stairs, went back upstairs and hyperventilated for 20 minutes. When I could talk coherently I called a friend who let me stay with them for a couple of days while I found a new place. The carpenter tried to apologize, had all sorts of reasons for what happened (he didn't know it was me being the primary one), but eventually I got him to understand that I just couldn't be in that place anymore, I no longer felt safe. I didn't want to piss him off or let him think in any way that I was part of the conspiracy so we actually stayed friends for several years until we eventually lost touch. At some point I visited him in his new house, where he had an upstairs apartment, again in a nice, older neighborhood. He had a giant Nazi submachine gun (what it looked like to me) set up in his room pointing at a neighbor's house across the street. Figuring it was for display, I made some joke about it and he told me the neighbors were foreigners and he was pretty sure they were spying on him. That was the last time I saw him.
That's my history with guns, more or less. So now, at last, we come to the proximal reason for this long-winded post. A couple of days ago a video came across my FB feed (ah FB what would I do without you?) from a disturbing event that happened over 30 years ago. A man's son was kidnapped and taken out of state by his martial arts instructor. The boy was allegedly sexually molested both before and during the kidnapping. I say "allegedly" because the family of the instructor claimed the instructor was trying to rescue the child from his abusive father. When he was apprehended and returned for trial the father waited in the airport and shot the suspect in the head, fatally wounding him. The media were there and the entire thing was caught on film. The suspect died the next day and the father served no jail time. The video of this is pretty famous and has appeared in a number of films, including Bowling for Columbine and some of those cheesy "Faces of Death"-style movies. I'd link it here but frankly, no. It pops up now and then and if you really want to see it I am sure you can find it.
It's one of those films that polarize people, obviously. It is a perfect example of the sort of justice that many people seem to feel needs to meted out by your average person on the street because the justice system can't or won't protect citizens. Certainly I am in no position to judge the actions of a distraught father. He did what he felt he had to do to avenge the wrong done to his son and he's a hero for that to many people. But what I see in that video is something different and very scary. This was an entirely premeditated murder. Someone (the media for sure and possibly also his friends on the police force) helped that man to gun down a suspect prior to trial. They gave him the arrival info and knew he would be there. He took a loaded gun into a public space. He dressed in a disguise so no one would recognize him. He waited until his victim was close and shot him at point-blank range. He was arrested without incident and received only probation and community service for killing an unarmed man in cold blood. What I find (sort of) amusing in this is that the father basically copped a diminished capacity plea in order to escape prison. This is the same sort of defense that my conservative friends point to as evidence of the courts letting criminals walk free and why they need their guns. Irony is a beautiful thing sometimes.
So, let's think about what really happened here. A man who was not law enforcement pulled out a gun in a large and busy airport and shot someone. Suppose he had missed? Suppose a police officer had managed to knock his arm away and the bullet went wild? Suppose he shot an officer or a TV cameraman or some random person walking by? Suppose the man he killed was innocent of the crime? After all, the father could have been removing, not a man who molested his son, but a man who would testify to the father's crimes under oath. We will never know because there was no trial. This man should never have been a hero and his actions should never be looked up to as a proper response to ANYTHING. He was nothing but a vigilante with a willful disregard for the safety of those around him and he committed murder. Civilization does not benefit from this crap, even if a predator was removed from society. Is this really the sort of world my 2nd amendment activist friends want? Is this how they envision citizens taking control of their lives and returning the country to some sort of imagined state of grace and safety? Has this ever worked???
The comments on any article that includes this video or mentions of this event or really any article that discusses gun rights are something to behold. Quite a lot of them involve people threatening to shoot other people over disagreements of opinion. The wording becomes quite...extreme...and occasionally extends to the poster's family and friends. So I suppose my pet peeve isn't really the guns themselves. It's the people that defend them so passionately that I am surprised they don't pop an aneurysm. I know that my carpenter friend is not representative of all gun owners, just like my soldier friends, and my crime victim friend, and any other individual are not representative of such a large and varied group of people. And yet many of them will forward without comment or apparent concern the most violent vitriol against the loyal opposition, posts that advocate outright murder. A number of them, who I know to be generally rational people, seem to believe without question all this weird blather about government plots to take over state governments and confiscate guns. They make common cause with people who inhabit an "us against them" world with no middle ground and where the enemy soldiers are often children, young men wearing hoodies and carrying Skittles, teenagers at a pool party, and overweight men selling cigarettes on street corners. Hyberbole, straw men, and false equivalences abound. Seattle passes a trifling tax law and you'd think the Cossacks were at the door. Christ, governments tax everything else, why not bullets and guns? It's not all that different from taxing gasoline to pay for road repairs, with the off chance that higher prices will encourage people to find another, less environmentally painful way to commute. But no, Armageddon is nigh and the gubmint wants to take away our guns. (BTW, if you read the comments to that Forbes article (pretty tame as these things go) you can watch information go from accurate to wildly, gleefully, devil-may-care wrong in the space of a few lines as a 25 dollar per gun tax turns into a 25 percent tax on guns and ammo, which is then repeated down through the remainder of the comments. It is breathtaking.)
Just, I dunno, try to be rational for five minutes. If the grimy hordes of criminals and illegal aliens and teenagers with attitudes were truly overwhelming civilization, you'd have more things to worry about than a bullet tax. Your children are safe in their school, your family is safe at their place of worship, and you are safe at your job. The streets are not under seige from drug addicts and carjackers. You will never need to defend yourself against Sharia law because it will never be implemented in this country and you are an idiot through and through if you believe that it will. Breaking the law because you feel like it is not patriotic. The government isn't coming for you. Believe me, if the government wanted your guns they would just simply take them. They have an entire military at their back and you have people who lack basic reading comprehension and math skills. You are privileged to live in one of the richest, cleanest, and safest places the world has ever known and you are only making it worse. You aren't protecting your way of life from whatever monsters hide under your bed but you are most certainly contributing to the very downfall you claim to be fighting. You aren't a cowboy and it isn't high noon and that snarky teenager isn't a cattle rustler. We tried the Wild West thing once and people got very tired of having to mop blood off the sidewalks. We (well, most of us) outgrew that phase of our national life. Stop hungering for an excuse to use your toys, come out of the bunker, and work to make a world that doesn't need them anymore. And for the sake of all that is holy, please check your goddamn data before you post your clever little soundbites. Because you really don't want me to write a post about bad numbers, do you?
Sorry for the length. I felt the urge to write. Maybe soon I will write about stupid things on the internet and the people who believe them. That post will be funny, I promise.
[Note: Comments to this article will be screened. I will post anything that is respectful and polite, regardless of position on the issue. Stupidity will be deleted and threats will be reported. Have a nice day.]
This could be because life is boring. Or it could be because life is so exciting I have no time to write!
Or it could be because one videogame after another has sucked me into its maw and I've only just managed to stealth out of a vault or away from a gwent game for just a few seconds to remind the vast soulless reaches of the internet that I'm not dead yet. Or at least I'm only mostly dead (quaffs potion...)
Anyways, spring has done that springing thing. I can't sleep in because of happy birds outside my window. I'm happier now that winter has gone, although my yard is growing out faster than I can keep up with it. I've been some places, done some things. About to go more places and do more things. Bought a new lens for the camera and hope to fill it with beautiful things. Sometime maybe I should write about photography. I've been scanning some of my thousands of old prints and I'm glad to see some photos I'm actually proud of even back in the day.
The summer is shaping up to be hectic. Lots of travel, Otakon, visits from friends. I will probably lose Maggie soon. I try not to think about it, but she's old and arthritic and probably has cancer she is too old to treat. She loves being out in the yard now that the weather is nice and her appetite is impressive so for now we just spend as time with her as we can. It's a beautiful season so far.
Otherwise, nothing to see here.
Out for now!
(PS: If you aren't playing Witcher 3 you are very sad)
The winter this year was pretty mild until a few weeks ago. It wasn't terribly cold or wet and there wasn't a lot of snow or ice. It is sort of generically not pretty here in the winter. Once the trees drop their leaves and the lawns go dormant the predominant shades of color are grey and brown. If it's cold or wet it becomes dreary instantly and even the dogs, who are usually enthusiastic about everything, would just rather stay inside and sleep. I think about hibernating a lot and wonder why we never evolved to do that. It seems so smart.
Anyways, February got nasty here all of a sudden. Viscious cold, lots of ice, and way too much goddamn snow. I would not describe my feelings about snow as a love-hate relationship. We sort of mutually dislike each other. I managed to miss much of the worst of it because I was off traveling in warmer climes, first down to South Carolina and then to California, which as far as I am concerned is Paradise on earth. Thus it was that a week ago I was here:
A couple of days after I got home we had "wintry mix" which, for those of you who are sensible and don't live in places where that happens, means snow, ice, and rain all mixed together for some length of time, usually at the exact time of day that will fuck up your commute or whatever plans you may have had. For me it meant I had to go chip ice off the sidewalk so that I could get to my car and go to work without falling on my ass. Yesterday it started snowing at, oh, 8 am and didn't stop for 12 hours. We ended up getting 7 inches of snow. I got motivated and went out and shoveled my walk and dug out my car and felt damn proud of myself but it didn't do much to mitigate the overall gloom of this stupid fucking winter. It is March for chrissake! I should be cooing at daffodils now, not shaking snow out of my boots.
So today dawns and as I'm watching outside my upstairs window the sun hits the pine trees in my neighbor's yard, the suddenly extremely picturesque, snow covered pine trees just edged with first light of a vaguely pinkish dawn, like something off a postcard. I was smitten. I spent half the morning watching the sun light up the fresh pure white snow in my yard. It's one of those things that happens here after storms. The day after is almost always painfully beautiful. I forget about it because it is so rare. When I couldn't take it anymore I grabbed the camera and one of the dogs and headed out to see the neighborhood. We were lucky. The city had already plowed the paths in the park, so other than a few icy patches our walk was not too treacherous.
Have I mentioned that winter here is generally butt ugly? Today was not one of those days. Today was one of those days when everything is startling in its clarity. The snow was bright white. The sky was deep blue. The roads and trees were black. Other colors, my neighbor's mailbox, a red car, were vibrant against the stark background. The air was crisp and dry and tasted fresh and clean. It was well below freezing but I took off my gloves and unbuttoned my coat because it didn't really feel cold.
And so Darwin and I walked through the transformed park. He wanted to sniff everything, dig in everything, run in the snow. I just wanted to take photos and not fall down. Everything looks so different when it is covered with snow. The hill that is usually just a tangle of broken trees and vines looks like some sort of fairy palace. The boring old creek bed down by the culvert now looks like the most dramatic country river, with black water and white banks and all the trees arched over it lacy with snow. We were alone in the park and my feet crunched in the packed snow on the path. It was a good walk.
So, when the inevitable happens and I leave here to go back someplace where this never happens, will I miss it? Not at all. But I will remember those days when it didn't suck, when pulling cold, fresh air into your lungs and throwing snow balls at your dog was glorious, when the world transformed seemed like a world reborn. I might be a little nostalgic. Just a little.
And then I met Lin. I don't even remember how or where, but it was probably at school in one of my classes. We were a lot alike and we became best friends. She wasn't shy like me though and handled social things much better than I did. She was my buffer against all those strangers, all that raw newness. She was only a couple of months younger than me and we bonded immediately. She had a great sense of humor and we spent a lot of time mocking our teachers. There was one in particular (he shall remain nameless) who had the dual misfortune of having to teach sex ed to a bunch of irreverent 13-year olds and of possessing a really inappropriate sense of humor. Without her, I'd have never had made it through that class; I'd have died of embarrassment after the first condom joke. Instead we spent our time mercilessly mocking him. Like me, she had three sisters, although unlike me, she was a middle child. Her mom was one of those moms who like hanging with her kids and she welcomed me into the family with open arms. I spent a lot of time at their house, doing whatever it is that teen girls did back then. She taught me so much about how to just be a normal kid, instead of the freak I always suspected that I was. Of those years, she is the person I remember the best and miss the most.
A couple of years later I moved away but we kept in touch. I'd write her funny letters about things I was doing and my observations of the world and she'd write back and tell me about her mom and sisters, the guys she was dating, and stuff like that. By my last year of high school, I was back in the Bay Area, although up north this time, and we were able to hang out now and then when one or the other of us could get someone to drive us. She got a job in the city and sometimes I'd drive in to see her at lunch. When I moved to San Diego for college she came for some epic visits (the photos don't lie) and we went to the beach, Mexico, and Disneyland. We hung out in swimming pools with our boyfriends and drank margaritas at El Torrito's. We had fun.
It was inevitable I suppose that we'd eventually fall out of touch. I went off to grad school in Georgia. She got married. Letters became sporadic. I don't remember anymore how long it was before I sent a birthday card or something and it came back "not at this address". For years I heard nothing of her or from her. A few years ago I googled her and found an article that turned out to be her mom's obituary (so sad). It gave her maiden name so I assumed from that that her marriage didn't last. It also gave some information about her older sister that led me to her web page. I wrote her and asked if she'd pass my contact information on to Lin but I never heard anything back from either of them. A year or so ago I looked for her on Facebook and there she was, with the same smile she's always had. I sent her a friend invite immediately and she accepted. I sent her messages but she never responded. Her page wasn't very active and I assumed she didn't spend much time on FB and so I waited to hear from her. I was just happy to have found her again after so long. I figured the next time I went out to California I'd try to meet up with her, maybe go out for margaritas. We'd catch up, have fun, and time would fall away. Funny that.
Lin died on Saturday.
I am, as you know, not the happiest of people, and I often think that life is nothing but moving from one tragedy to the next. There's no point to anything and darkness is the only end to all our travels. But then I remember. Once upon a time there was a scared, lonely kid far from home, in a strange place among strange people. And then she made a friend and that friend made all the difference. It's not all dark out there. Sometimes there is light. And, um, sparkly head things.
RIP Lin. I couldn't have done it without you.
- Current Mood: sad
when I could see your breath lead where you were going to?
and maybe it will all come back to me
--the decemberists, "january hymn"
I really don't know what else to say about that but WTF?
Feminist cancels talk at USU after guns allowed despite shooting threat
The tl;dr version of this is basically that some loser threatened the "the deadliest school shooting in American history" if the Utah State University permitted Anita Sarkeesian to speak on its premises. She requested that attendees be patted down or wanded and the university isn't allowed to do that BECAUSE THE LAW IN UTAH PREVENTS THEM FROM DOING ANYTHING TO INHIBIT OR RESTRICT THE POSSESSION OR USE OF FIREARMS. (emphasis mine) Yes, you read that right. The University was prevented from protecting an invited guest, against whom a specific and very graphic threat was made, and any other guests on its premises because for some reason Utah thinks having a bunch of armed people shooting at each other on school property is an acceptable risk. They are permitted, however, to ban backpacks. For Christ's sake people, WTF?
The sad thing about this is that some anonymous coward was successful in preventing a woman from speaking on a college campus and there are plenty of people who think that's a damn fine outcome. There are also plenty of people who believe that their right to carry AND USE a deadly weapon wherever they damn well please is more important than free exchange in the marketplace of ideas. Second amendment, 1; free speech 0, I guess.
This is not the way to deal with things, people. This is not how you promote a free and open society or a nurturing civic community. This is not the way to air your grievances or to debate the merits of your position. This is not how you help a university broaden its students' minds and experiences. This is not how you convince anyone you are in the right. This, in fact, is what it looks like when the terrorists win. Are you happy now?
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This isn't a joke
These people must be high. WTF?