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Liberty Enshrined

Everyone believes in something. Even agnostics and atheists believe in something. Some put blind faith in money, thinking it will make them happy. Some put blind faith in material possessions, because, well, *sparklies*. Some put blind faith in their political party or right-left-center talking points. Some put blind faith in celebrity, buying Bieber cologne or other ludicrous claptrap. Some put blind faith in themselves, being so arrogant as to think they are infallible and therefore beyond question. Some even put blind faith in science, as odd as that sounds, believing that any and all studies that cross their path must be true (this leads to a lot of fad diets as well as other errors).

Copyright America In Context

Liberty’s Shrine

In my own case, I tend to put blind faith in the American ideal. For folks like me, Independence Park in Philadelphia is the Temple Mount, the Ganges River, the Mecca of our own beliefs. It’s a place of extreme importance, a shrine commemorating the place where the founding principles of this country were put to paper and approved by an assemblage of great minds and strong characters. A place where heretofore un-codified principles were defined and written into law and principle, grandiose notions such as “[w]e hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”; “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it”; or “[t]he privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it”. Fabulous ideas, amazing ideas, ideas that would inspire nation after nation to rebel against tyrants and kings and establish democracy. It’s the Great American Way that Independence Park symbolizes, the Great American Way that I hold most dear.

Unfortunately.

Folks are going to worship me someday, aren't they? :sigh:

“Folks are going to worship me someday, aren’t they? :sigh:”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, ideals aren’t real. They don’t exist, and you can’t count on them. If you do, you will be betrayed. Every time. The American Ideal is the same: it’s full of betrayal. The original Constitution says that certain people are only worth 3/5ths of other people, and also said that those in bondage who escape to another state must be returned into bondage. Basically, it protected the vile institution of slavery for nearly 100 years. Even today, long after that particular abomination was wiped out by amendment, there is betrayal. These documents have been subverted, abused and weakened, leaving a system of government so devolved it barely represents the will of the people at all, and our nation is in a fine ruddy mess because of it.

Then again, it’s still important to hold onto ideals. It’s vital, actually. They are the goal, the dream, the vision, and without our goals, dreams and visions, we are a dead species. And to keep goals, dreams and visions alive, it is important that kids be indoctrinated (for lack of a better word) with ideals that are truly valuable, else they, too, will grow up to be tyrants and monsters; and you can’t do any worse than indoctrinating them into the important American ideals of equality, liberty, self-governance, and independence.

And naked statuary, of course

And naked statuary, of course

There is also no better element of that indoctrination than a trip to Independence Park in Philadelphia. I really like Philadelphia for one simple reason: the park is dedicated not to rebellion (like Boston, with it’s homage to the Boston Massacre, Faneuil Hall, and Paul Revere), nor to warfare (like Valley Forge or Yorktown), nor to marble monoliths (like Washington, DC) but to ideas, thought, consideration, and debate. It’s a site that contains meeting rooms, and convention halls, and judicial chambers;  not cannons, trenches, or cemeteries, but desks. It is a truly remarkable place in that aspect, it’s dedicated to ideas, and I find that refreshing.

But he's just sitting there! THINKING!

But he’s just sitting there! THINKING!

Liberty Imprisoned

I first visited Philadelphia in the 90’s. At that time, the Liberty Bell was in a non-descript glass enclosure inside Independence Hall. Anyone could see it. I never bought into Bell lore myself (like most American legends, it’s more tall tale than fact), but I kinda liked the presentation: subdued, no drama, viewable by everyone, kinda like I envision liberty itself. Freedom should not be a big deal, it should not be something we put on a pedestal. It should just “be”. You don’t pay attention to it when it’s there, you just live your life, yet everyone notices when it’s absent.

Then 9/11 happened, our liberties were sacrificed to the Lords of Fear, and The Liberty Bell became a symbol of our shift to madness.

In the grief-stricken days after 9/11, we were all expecting more terrorist attacks. We went bat-shit crazy protecting everything.  We improved airport security, then we “improved” airport security, then we began the systematic groin-groping known as the TSA. We started monitoring financial transactions, then started monitoring foreign communications, and now the NSA has a full-blown domestic spy program best suited for watching cheating spouses and stealing credit card numbers. We placed Jersey barriers in front of government buildings, we put metal detectors at the entry of every government building and landmark, and we built a prison for the Liberty Bell.

Liberty's Prison

Liberty’s Prison

On my second visit to Independence Park, I spotted the Liberty Bell Center, and it saddened me. The Liberty Bell is no longer just “there”, like our liberties should be. It is encased in a steel and glass structure, surrounded by guards and various security devices, reminiscent of a prison. It also, oddly, has the look of a high-end shopping mall, meaning not only is Liberty imprisoned but it’s also commercialized (they should call it Liberty Disney). I was so repulsed by the appearance of the Liberty Bell Center from afar, I didn’t have it in me to go there. Liberty was imprisoned and I didn’t want to be stuck on the outside, pressing my face against the glass in the hopes she’d remember me in her confinement.

I think the NPS has toned down the security in the intervening years, and I’ve heard from others that the Center is actually a pretty nice facility. But for me, the illusion has been shattered. The Liberty Bell, like the very civil liberties it represents, is not just cracked but contained, with an admission fee, groin groping, and gift shop.

[Photos on this blog entry are mine and thusly copyrighted.]

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Links:

Independence National Historical Park

Founding Fathers Fetish (slate.com)

3D Tour of the Liberty Bell

Google Map of Independence National Historical Park

Heavily recommend listening to Bill Moyer’s interview with poet & author Sherman Alexie. Alexie was born & raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and has written about his life as a man of two worlds (both racially and as a man who suffers from bipolar disorder).

I have a great deal of hollow empathy for the Native American. I want to call it real, I really want to know & understand tribal culture past & present, but honestly I can only I call it “hollow”, for I’m a white New England suburbanite whose only connection to Native Americans is through the co-opting of Indian stereotypes I enjoyed as a Boy Scout and a handful of books I’ve read. So other than growing up in an alcoholic household, I can only imagine the pain of growing up Native American in a country that tried to exterminate your forefathers.

Sherman Alexie certainly sounds like that gateway, that bridge between cultures. I found the interview compelling & powerful in its sadness & humor. I think I’ve figured out my next Kindle read ….

Tales of Infinite Sadness

I started my expedition through all the units of the National Park System to satisfy my fascination with all aspects of nature (flora, fauna, geology, aquatics, atmospherics). I did not expect to quickly fall in love with the other side of the parks: the historical side. As I began to tour each of those smaller sites, reading up on the history of each and their placement in the overall scheme of things, I also began to see the Great American Narrative forming, piece by piece, and was inspired to blog about it. It is only by seeing all these bits and pieces, filling in all the gaps created by our own, pufferied view of history, can one really see who we are and what we’re all about.

Yes, we are writing the Great American Narrative. And oh, what a narrative! We have heroes and villains, success and failure, trauma and reprieve, disaster and rebuilding, winning and losing. But through it all, there is something that is clear: we are making forward progress. Oh, sure, we’ve had setbacks. Right now, between lingering recession, erosion of certain civil liberties, the War on Terror and a culture that pits right against left in a Kobayashi Maru of political degradation, it feels like we’re going backwards. But really, we’d have a long way to go before we fall back to where we’ve been. Think about it: there’s no way any of our founding fathers would ever have imagined us having a half-black President. Like him or not, that’s a massive advancement from our formation over 225 years ago, when we held nearly 700,000 souls in lifelong bondage (a number that would swell to nearly 4 million by the time the War of Emancipation).

OK, so maybe progress is a little stalled …

That’s the interesting part of the Great American Narrative: we always seem to come out ahead, one way or another. The slaves were freed, but then they had to suffer through Jim Crow segregation, racial discrimination, institutional poverty, entrapping government subsidy programs, and bad educational systems, yet are finally coming out the other side. Sure, we’re not post-racial yet, but you can tell we’re really, really close (I’m guessing one more generation and we’re done with it — the recent Trayvon Martin murder debacle notwithstanding). Women also have made gains, from being the Great Unseen to becoming the major breadwinner in 40% of households and damn near winning the Presidency themselves. We’ve seen advances everywhere else, from sanitation & health to science & technology to occupational safety and even how we treat our children. Yep, we’re winning everywhere.

Well, we’re winning everywhere, unless you’re talking about the American Indian. When it comes to the Native American, there are no tales of victory. There is no Appomatox. There is no Seneca Falls or Nineteenth Amendment. There is no VE Day or the fall of a Berlin Wall. There is no eonomic security or energy independence. When it comes to the Native American, there is only one narrative, and that is a long tale of misery and betrayal and hardship and defeat and pain and infinite sadness.

The Parks reflect this in spades. Every park has some tiny, preamble segment of its visitor center museum dedicated to “early inhabitants”: always some native tribe who “lived off the land” only to, inevitably, be driven out of their homeland, be defeated in battle, be wiped out by some disease or pushed into starvation through overhunting or economic blockade. The lucky would be stuck on some downtrodden reservation, their pride replaced by the plagues of alcoholism, obesity and diabetes.

rez_house

North Dakota reservation house, circa 2009

Horseshoe Bend is just one of hundreds of chapters in this sad, sordid book of misery. In this case, it is a tale pitting one side (the Cherokee tribal nation) against the other (the Creek) for the benefit of the middle (white Southerners). This particular Creek tribe wanted to keep their lifestyle and land and resisted American assimilation. White European settlers wanted the land for their own expansion. The Cherokee were allies of the U.S. and joined up with the militias of several states (led by future New Orleans hero and President, Andrew Jackson) to take Creek land through “justifiable” retaliation for some Creek raids on farms and forts throughout Alabama. The Creek, despite fortifications that impressed even Old Hickory, were eventually surrounded and horribly defeated. Out of a thousand Creek warriors, only about 200 escaped to south Florida to join up with the Seminoles. They had to surrender 23 million acres of land to Alabama and Georgia (2 million of which would go to the same Cherokee who turned their back on their brethren). It would end up being a short-loved victory for the duplicitous Cherokee: within 25 years those same people were expelled from Georgia & Alabama and forced to march down the Trail of Tears to dusty, infertile Oklahoma, where they would lead a hardscrabble life for generations. In the end, the only victor would be the white Europeans who used trickery, deception and long-standing inter-tribal rivalries to defeat the natives and take their land.

1b-002-ss-07-egander_lg

Only those with the bleakest heart can travel through Horseshoe Bend and the rest of the 400+ units of the National Park Service, and not be touched by the Tales of Infinite Sadness of the Native American.

[Unfortunately, I did not own a digital camera when I visited Horseshoe Bend.]

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Links:

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park

Creek-Cherokee War

Scientific analysis of the demise of the Native American

Google map of Horseshoe Bend

Next week, President Obama will be giving the first State of the Union speech of his second term. I’ve listened to a lot of SotU speeches over the years, and after a time, they all sound the same. The same beats, the same phrases, the same patters and pauses and phony applauses. That’s why SotU Bingo is so popular, everyone knows it’s just a big bag of phony.

The sentence that always gets my dander up is “The state of our union is strong!” Obama said it, Bush said it, Clinton said it, even Roosevelt said it (with a slightly different phrasing). But when you look at it, right now, in the world in which we currently live, it actually isn’t. No politician will ever have the courage to say it, but in my opinion it needs to be said. Just as a man will never get out of the rut he is in as long as he is lying to himself, so too will a nation never get out of its rut unless it is honest with itself.

I would love for President Obama to give a State of the Union speech that brings out a level of harsh, basic, patent honesty that will truly shake up this country. Something, perhaps, like this:

—————-

“Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans: today I come to you, as President and in accordance with the traditions of the office and my duties as defined in Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, to address this body and this nation on the state of our union.

“For two hundred and twenty-three years, Presidents have delivered addresses, in writing or in person, to this assembled body. For two hundred and twenty-two years, Presidents have declared that “the state of our union is strong”. Through war, recession, and catastrophe, presidents have continued to maintain that the nation is strong and we can work through any peril that may face us. I, too, believe that this nation can strongly and bravely face any external peril, be it foreign aggression, economic tribulation, or the hazards of climate and nature. However, the one thing that can harm this country, and that harms this country today, comes from within. We can not be defeated, but we can defeat ourselves.

“The strength of this nation comes from the strength of our ideals and the strength of our citizens. That much is undoubtedly true, and based on those factors alone, I could easily stand here before you and say “our country is strong”. But this type of strength is not enough to make for a strong UNION. A strong nation not only requires a citizenry of high character and strength, but a government that can perform those functions necessary to bring stability, justice, safety, and peace. Unfortunately, we do not have such a government, and that is keeping this nation from truly being great in this 21st century.

“Our Founders had the wisdom and foresight to create a fabulous document, the first written democratic Constitution in the history of mankind, a document that specified an amazing notion: the idea of three branches of government and the separation of powers. Put in the context of the span of human civilization, this was a magnificent creation! A chief executive, a notion existing since the dawn of humanity, providing leadership, especially in times of crisis or war. An independent judiciary, answerable only to the law and the principles upon which the group was founded, ensuring justice is applied evenly and fairly. And a legislature, the representatives of the people, giving a voice to all the members of the group in the decisions that are made. These three branches form the strength of a triangle, and, like a three-legged stool, when one is weak, the whole thing topples.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this nation is a three-legged stool wobbling on the weakness of one. We have a situation where one branch is failing this nation, and their failure is putting the entirety at risk. This Congress, this assembled body, is in a state of disarray the like this nation has not seen since the day Charles Sumner was caned on the floor of the Senate in 1856. This chaos is keeping this country back. It is holding our economy hostage. It is preventing the honest exchange of ideas. It is interrupting the wheels of justice. It is not capable of providing the necessary oversight to prevent Executive Branch overreach. It is engaging in a level of hostility that is inspireing division amongst the people. It is acting in a way unbecoming to the intent and purpose of Article 1 of the Constitution, and is an embarrassment to the people of these United States and to the free nations of the world.

“We have a Congress that cannot perform its most basic of duties. We have a Congress that cannot propose, much less adopt, a budget. We have a Congress that cannot confirm federal judges, leaving an overwhelmed judiciary. We have a Congress that forces the Chief Executive to invent clever ways to circumvent it because they are incapable of action. We have a Congress that, on the one hand, decries something as evil and demands action, yet on the other neuters the very agency designed to do it. This is a Congress that does not even allow the free discussion of ideas within its own halls, a body whose very rules allow an anonymous few to squelch even discussion of a topic! Regardless of political philosophy, right or left, the suppression of debate is fundamentally, morally, ethically WRONG and the Senate ought to be ashamed of itself for even having those rules. And the House isn’t much better: the majority party will only discuss things THEY want to discuss, to the detriment of fair and open discussion.

“Ladies and gentlemen of this Congress: this country needs a working legislative branch. It cannot function without it. Without a functioning legislature, we have uncertainty. We have doubts about our future. Nothing cripples a society like an uncertain future. We also have injustice, the injustice resulting from the silencing of open debate. This Congress, those of you assembled here, have duties. You have responsibilities, and you took oaths of office, sworn upon Bibles and Torahs and the Bhagavad Gita. Your oath compels you to serve this nation and the Constitution of the United States, not your party, not your ideology, not your favorite radical talk-show host or blogger, and certainly not the lobbyist who frequents your office on a daily basis. You need to serve your country and the Constitution. But you are not doing so, and judging by polls taken across the country, the people know this and are judging you poorly for it. This body needs to get to work, doing the people’s business, not perpetuating your own petty feuds.

“This Congress has a job to do, and needs to begin immediately. Propose and pass a valid budget. Vote on the appointments before you, ESPECIALLY the judicial appointments. Begin open and honest debate on the issues before you, and allow them to come before a vote. Eliminate any and all rules that allow anonymous blocks of any debate or appointment. Tackle the gun issue head on, free up the CDC to study the issue with scientific methods and allow the ATF to enforce the laws that you’ve passed OR repeal those laws if they’re too invasive, just don’t let them remain in the worthless state they’re in. Tackle climate change head on with honest, scientific debate, free from those who would skew such debate with lies and deception. Tackle this economy head-on by passing tax and regulatory reforms you deem necessary, and make them long-lasting so our business community knows there will be stability in our economy. Stop the pointless bickering over the debt ceiling, that is a fabricated issue and you know it. And get the lobbyists out of your offices and into the gallery with the rest of the citizens of the country. They are no better than the average person simply because they have large purse strings. And if there are members of this institution who find themselves incapable of performing their duties and fulfilling their oaths, then at least have the decency to step aside, retire, and allow another to take your place.

“This nation cannot survive and thrive with a malfunctioning government. We need a competent and honest Congress. Please give us one. Thank you, good night, and God Bless America.

—————-

Yeah, won’t happen. We’ll have more platitudes and more “mystery guests” in the balcony and more standing ovations of the same applause lines we’ve heard time and time again. Entropy will continue, and things will get worse, until either the next great leader, or the next great crisis, comes along and gives us the impetus to change our ways.

[Editted to include an oversight on "executive branch oversight". Was intended to be part of this post but was missed.]

The Sane

When I was 14, my buddies and I took a gun safety course over a couple consecutive weekends. We were all excited: the goal was that coveted prize known as an FID (Firearms Identification) card. With one of those babies, we could get a gun permit that would allow us to carry shotguns for hunting. It was one of the early “road to adulthood” milestones: I still have my original one, laminated & locked away in the same strongbox as my high school & college diplomas.

I loved hunting back then. I liked the small-game hunting, that was the really fun stuff. We hunted with our purebred beagles, awesome dogs. Repeated Kennel Club champions, they’d chase those rabbits all through the fields, trying to run them in front of us. It was our job to pay attention to the howling and predict where the fluffy little bastard would appear and shoot it as cleanly as we could without endangering the dog. That was a sport, and I loved it.

Our Hero

Pheasant hunting was great, too. We still used the beagles, but the dogs didn’t really give a damn about the birds. We just hoped the dogs would stumble across one, while they were sniffing around the underbrush, and flush the bird into the air so we could take a shot. We also had some friends with real “birder” dogs, that added a neat dynamic to it.

I was never that big on deer hunting. First, in the era before global warming, it was always friggin’ cold! Second, it was far too serious. People would prepare for months to go deer hunting, gathering & maintaining their gear, plotting out their vacation days, stocking up on food & firewood, getting supplies. We also took a nowadays-unconventional approach: we’d actually walk the woods and track the deer, which would lead us miles and miles into the woods where, if we did get a good shot, meant we had miles out of the woods to drag the ruddy carcass back to the truck. It could be hard work, and had dangers of its own, but I consider that true hunting. I’m sorry, modern deer hunters, but riding out in your ATV to sit in a tree stand with heat packs up your ass and a high-powered rifle with scope watching a known deer trail is for pussies. Get your ass out of the tree & track a deer for 12 miles and then I’ll be impressed. ;-)

Source: www.bowhunting.com

Wuss

I stopped hunting in my early 20s, partly because I had a falling out with my dad and partly because I found I enjoyed the “walking in the woods” part far more than I enjoyed the “blowing the little bastard’s head off in a clean shot” part. It just wasn’t my thing. But I still have absolutely nothing against hunters, even the tree-stand pussies. Hunting is a sport, even though technology doesn’t make it that much of a challenge anymore. It also has real purposes. Deer really are vermin, even if they are adorable, and in the absence of predators they can get out of control and destroy forests & crops. Hunting also rewards one with food, and even though most of us “suburbanites” can head to our nearest Outback for sustenance, hunting is still an important source of food in our rural communities. I’ve been in some of these poor rural areas and listened to some of these folks, and they definitely hunt & fish to supplement a generally poor diet.

Hunting still has a real need, and although sometimes hunting may need to be restricted for biodiversity reasons, I’ll never support any gun control measures that curtail hunting. The same goes for other, legitimate gun sports like competitive shooting (skeet, etc.). Guns are needed in rural areas for protection from coyotes and what-not as well (asking an Alaskan to give up his rifle would be like asking him to jump off a tall building). So let’s leave these people be.

The Understandable

I can relate to hunters, but I do have trouble relating to the “personal protection” crowd. These are the people who buy handguns (and only handguns, see next section) for protection for themselves, their loved ones, and their homesteads. Unlike hunting, I don’t have a good frame of reference or any experience in the matter. I’ve never hung out with cops, or took self-defense firearms courses, and I don’t study up on the topic. But looking at it from a distance, as objectively as I can, I see many reasons why a personal handgun won’t really help you.

Most robberies occur when no one is home, and the thing that’s most likely to be stolen is your handgun. Most owners don’t seek the training they’d need to really use the weapon defensively (range target practice alone is NOT adequate for that). And the circumstances where a handgun really would help you seem to be narrow: you need to be awake, your gun needs to be handy, you need to have a shot, the criminal needs to be intimidated enough to run, etc. Plus you need to be cool and collected and professional (most people can’t even drive their cars professionally!).

Source: www.smosh.com

Yeah, that’ll work

I also see many more reasons where having a handgun in the house can be a really bad idea (when your depressed, drunken brother-in-law shows up out of nowhere and rummages through your stuff; or when your 5-year-old finds it where you left it when the dog distracted you by pissing on the carpet on gun-cleaning day); and only a few “perfect storm” moments where it will help you (you’re awake, the criminal sees you have one, and doesn’t have a death wish, etc.).

But, in the end, I may have an intellectual problem with the effectiveness, but I don’t have a philosophical problem with handguns-as-protection. It is entirely possible to own & use one appropriately and safely, and the risks posed by most varieties of handguns are at least counter-balanced by the risks they prevent. There are, undoubtedly, situations where a handgun can help you. There are anecdotes all over the place, and  some (often disputed but at least believable) statistics showing it to be the case. And heaven knows we live in a dangerous world full of rapists & murders. In the end, we do have a fundamental right to protect ourselves, and handguns can be one mechanism to do that.

The Bat-Shit Crazy

So I called this post “gun owners scare the crap outta me”, and so far have blabbed on at length about how gun owners don’t bother me. It’s because the first group are “hunters/sportsmen” and the second group is, hmmm, “cautious homesteaders”?? (gads, that’s awful.) The point is the prior two groups are not categorized by their gun ownership. It is not their identity. They are people who have other identities who happen to own guns for one reason or another.

“Gun Owners”, by contrast (and I’ll use the capital letters for clarity), are those whose very identity is tied up in their guns. These are the vocal, the loud, the proud, and (in my opinion) the friggin’ ridiculous. These are people so focused on their gun ownership to the point of obsession, fetishism, and being creepy as all get-out. It’s like the difference between a woman who keeps a few china dolls from her childhood, and a woman who has 8,000 of the freaky-assed things on every shelf, all of them staring at you while you’re trying to enjoy your corn flakes. One is kinda cute, the other is a get-me-the-hell-out-of-here, bat-shit crazy.

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Adorable

Source: http://www.urlesque.com

OMFG, What the Hell?!?

It is very easy to detect when someone has descended into madness, any kind of madness, either in whole or in part. All you have to do is listen to their logic and their justification for their position. You talk to the woman with 8 china dolls, and she’ll tell you where she got them, what favorite aunt bought her which one when she had her first Communion, and what not. You talk to the woman with 8,000 china dolls and she’ll tell you how they all talk to her when she’s sleeping. One is sane and one is crazy. Talk to a hoarder, and she’ll explain how she may someday need to save a drowning man with that bucket of gum wrappers and those Time magazines from 1987. Talk to an alcoholic and he’ll explain how “it really helps him relax and meet people” as he stares at you through yellow eyes, his rock-hard liver hanging out his own asshole, while his Impala is wrapped around a telephone pole. Extremists come up with the craziest of ideas, stuff they certainly believe to be true but under no circumstances passes any sort of test of fact or logic.

This is how I feel about Gun Owners. I listen to their conversations and arguments, and I can’t help but think something is horribly, horribly wrong with them. Let me go through a few of my favorites.

“I Own an Assault Weapon”

So let’s just start here, and let’s not quibble about the definition of “assault weapon”. One of the biggest bullshit misdirections of the whole debate is defining that term (although I guess if you’re going to legislate it then you need to define it, fair point). But Gun Owners know full well what the rest of us mean: it’s any gun that is designed for the sole purpose of killing a shitload of people. Large-capacity clips, rapid fire, high caliber, silencers, etc., etc., whatever. All items worthless for hunting and way beyond the notion of personal protection (more on that later). These weapons have no other purpose than killing a bunch of people (actually, there is one other, but I’ll come back to that, too). They certainly aren’t meant for keeping squirrels out of the bird feeder.

“Suck on this, you nut-gathering bastards!”

If you own an assault rifle, you bought it for one reason: so you can kill a shitload of people. Sure, in your head you may think up any reason you can, but the bottom line is you’ve bought a weapon designed to kill a shitload of people and deep-down that’s what you want to do with it. You’re just egging for a fight, an excuse, and you’ll take it. Here’s why: sane people don’t buy things to not use them. I recently bought a Sawz-All to renovate my kitchen. I bought it to cut up countertops and shit. I didn’t buy it for “practice” or “because it’s my right” or “it looked good on my shelf”. I bought it to cut up shit, and Gun Owners bought their assault weapons to kill people (in reality or “just in case”, it doesn’t matter). They shouldn’t insult our intelligence by making up any other reason.

“I Need It for Protection”

Another statement I can’t get my head around. When it comes to any form of protection, even things like sprinkler systems and door locks, you have to balance out protection vs. risk vs. cost vs. practicality. Home fire extinguishers are a great idea. Home sprinkler systems are available but also require maintenance and improperly done could flood your house. Wrapping the whole thing in asbestos is bat-shit crazy. Same applies to personal protection weapons.

You want to deter or prevent the bad guy. Understandable. A handgun is concealable, pretty accurate in trained hands, and easily controlled. You can keep it in the nightstand or in your purse or under the seat. You can access it pretty quickly. And if something goes horribly wrong the caliber and capacity is low enough that it will be bad for you but perhaps not catastrophic to society. And if it’s stolen, well, that’s bad too but at least it’s only a 10 or 12 shooter and has a limited caliber & feature set.

So what the hell do you do with an assault weapon? Can’t hide that in your purse! A good robber — one who waits until the house is empty — is gonna see that thing and steal it straight away. Unless you have it in a gun safe, but then it’s not much use as a personal protection device, eh? Oh, you’re going to be 100% careful to leave it available when you’re home and lock it when you’re out? And you’ve never locked your keys in your car either, eh? And let’s say you do encounter a burglar/rapist in your house. Are you really going to light up the joint with 30, 50, or 100 rounds in a rapid-fire mode? Seriously? Hope your wife & kids aren’t in the next room. And don’t say “I can shoot it accurately”. You can shoot it accurately at a range under controlled circumstances. Unless you’ve had years of urban warfare training, you ain’t gonna be able to shoot jack shit when you’re walking through your dark house in your boxer shorts as you step on your kids’ Legos. There’s gonna be bullets flying all over the friggin’ place.

Source: http://www.kevinmd.com

“I’ve always hated that avocado tile in the bathroom anyway”

I don’t see any realistic home-invasion scenario where an assault rifle is better than a personal handgun for protection, and see plenty where the overkill is far more dangerous than not even having anything. And let’s not even talk about the ramifications if one gets stolen by a criminal or discovered by your drunken, pissed-off brother-in-law.

“It’s Our Right and We Must Use It”

This one really pisses me off. It preys on our fundamental core values: our own liberties. It’s a cheap shot, actually.

First, let me point out the obvious. All our rights have limits. You can’t use your freedom of speech to slander another or cause a riot. You can’t use your freedom of press to libel another. You can’t use freedom of religion as an excuse to control, imprison, or defraud people. Liberty stops when exercise of that liberty harms another, even the Founding Fathers understood that.

But here’s the real deal. All rights should be exercised responsibly. Sure, you have the right to do stuff, but that doesn’t make it right. You have the freedom of speech, but sometimes you need to STFU (or at least stop talking to yourself). You have the freedom of the press, but printing out 20,000 copies of your Kaczynski-esque manifesto and spreading it around town is just a wee bit ridiculous. Your freedom of religion doesn’t mean you should sacrifice live goats in the public square and paint swastikas in blood on your foreheads. Those behaviors are crazy and ridiculous, so is the Gun Owner’s desire to have weapons whose only purpose is to kill a shitload of people. It’s ridiculous, and they damned well know it. This isn’t about “government squashing our rights”, this is about acting responsibly and keeping an entire class of weapons whose one and only purpose is killing a shitload of people out of circulation.

Not only that, but by Gun Owners not acting responsibly and keeping these wholly bullshit weapons off the market permanently means that other bat-shit crazy assclowns can also stockpile these things. So that means more and more, in a never-ending escalation, until everyone is at risk from everyone else!

Source: public domain (Operation Fast & Furious gun hoard)

Your Neighbor’s Living Room

Not acting responsibly is one symptom of mental illness. Just saying …

“We Have a Duty to Stand Up to Our Government”

That’s my reply when a Gun Owner says “we have a duty to stand up to our government” (or the U.N. or the CIA or whatever).

It leaves me absolutely speechless. This is an argument so patently ridiculous, so baseless, it cause a full-synapse reboot.

This is not Guatemala. This is not Venezuela. This is not the Congo or Afghanistan. For crying out loud, this is America! And hate it or not, there is no reasonable scenario where our Armed Forces or police forces are going to put us under martial law or anything. It’s tin-foil-hat wearing nonsense, utter and stupid.

And don’t go tossing out Ruby Ridge, Waco, or other, similar occurrences. These are people who instigated trouble and then fought it and they were slaughtered. The notion that you are going to fight a war with the police or the FBI or the National Guard and end up anything other than a puddle of moisture is ridiculous. I don’t care how many rifles you own. Also don’t toss out the “accidental arrest” situation, where the cops have the wrong address and break down your door. It happens and it sucks, but are you really going to start shooting at them? Have a nice trip to the afterlife.

Source: www.pestproducts.com

Even the crickets are speechless

Here’s the real deal: what is the greater likelihood, the real risk-benefit analysis? That the government is going to run roughshod over our rights in jackbooted fashion, and that you can fight back; or that the assclown next door with his cache of assault weapons — weapons that Gun Owners demanded remain on the market — is going to go nutso and shoot up the neighborhood because his girlfriend dumped him.

The latter is by far the likelier scenario.

What really pisses me off is these folks are running around saying “it’s our right!” Well, what about my rights! The right not to live in a culture of fear where at any moment some nutjob sonofabitch is gonna freak out because Hostess stops making Twinkies and decides to shoot up a 7-Eleven on a lark. It’s bad enough having to tolerate handguns, at least those have a purpose and have reasonable limitations. Having all these outrageous weapons is just begging for trouble. Why should I have to face that in my own  life simply because the Gun Owners only care about their rights? Screw them!

As a side note, I’ve found that the real Gun Owner, while defending his right to own whatever gun he wants, is also the guy who’ll tell you not to vote. Go figure.

“I Like My Guns”

Yes! Huzzah! Finally, if you get one to admit this is why they want a 100% free 2nd Amendment, you have an intellectually honest Gun Owner!

Of course people like their guns. They are exciting to shoot! It’s a rush, there is no denying. And, in the end, this is the only reason people own these assault weapons: they like the rush.

What else is a rush? Gambling. Methamphetamines. Auto-erotic asphyxiation.

This is another cause of chronic, illogical thinking: constant exposure to addictive substances or actions. It is my belief that some people are addicted to firing weapons, and continue to spout nonsense statements like these because of that addiction. They are hooked on the rush of firing these weapons. Call it what you want, it’s an addiction, and like all addictions, it’s harmful.

Source: www.guardian.co.uk

At least you’re only killing yourself

I grew up in an alcoholic family. I’ve heard so many addiction-inspired lies and nonsense from alcoholic parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles, I can spot them a mile away. It’s a lie so incredibly shallow and so blatantly obvious it’s insulting to your intelligence that someone would try to pull it on you, but it’s a lie so believable in their universe because of the physical or psychology effects of addiction. It the type of lie that sets me off, causes me to tense up with such rage because it is so directly insulting. This is exactly the type of feeling I get from Gun Owners when they spout off the NRA’s talking points.

This is also why the gun lobby makes such little sense to us, but such tremendous sense to the Gun Owner: their only answer to anything is “let’s have more guns”. They are the pushers of this addictive substance. They’re making a buttload of money from gun sales, and they know what sells guns: the rush of shooting them and the fear of other guns! Go ahead, Gun Owner. Ask yourself honestly “why did I buy this high-powered weapon”. It’s either a) you get a huge rush shooting the damned thing, or b) you are afraid that someone else has one and you wanted something that would kill them first. This is the real trap that the gun lobby has set, it’s insidious in its design: they sell the only product where selling more to person A guarantees more will be sold to persons B, C, and D. Normally drug dealers try to get you hooked to sell more to you, but the gun lobby tries to get you hooked so they can sell to someone else because that person is now afraid of you! This is a far more effective model than any drug or cult, with far greater marketing potential!

Don’t think for a moment the NRA and other groups are protecting the 2nd Amendment. They are funded by and working for the gun industry, whose only goal is to sell more weapons.

The Summary

And so now we come back to the title of this post: Gun Owners Scare the Crap Outta Me. It’s very simply summarized as follows:

We have an entire segment of the population who’s logic and sanity is in question because of an addiction-like fascination with very dangerous weapons.  And that scares the wholly hell out of me. Much more so than U.N. black helicopters.

How did we end up here??

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[This post will probably get me killed. Ah well, it's been a good life. My will is up to date, and for your information, none of you are in it. :-P]

[Edit 2: it has been pointed out to me all the inner-city violence is linked to handguns, not to assault rifles. This is very true, and has definitely added more to think about. However, inner-city violence is a different animal and requires completely different solutions than the  random mass-shooting incidents that inspired this point.]

Bubbles Through the Ice

The other day I attended a screening of “Chasing Ice“, a documentary covering National Geographic photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey project, chronicling the decline of the earth’s glaciers. This is a stunning film with some fantastic imagery (still, time-lapse, and video). It also makes you feel like you’re waiting bedside at a hospice, except in this case the terminally ill patient is the Earth itself, or at least the Earth as we know her.

Balog’s photography proves two indisputable facts: First, the earth is indeed warming; and second, this is causing change with unprecedented rapidity. His photography, as well as the research performed on archival photographs over the past century, proves that glaciers, thousands of years old and seemingly unchanging, are now disappearing at incredible rates. The glaciers he monitored receded more in the past 10 years than in the prior 100; and other studies show extensive swaths of glaciers are now gone entirely. There is no denying one’s eyes, physical observations on the ground, and the wealth of data by NASA and others proving temperatures across the planet are increasing. This is all very depressing, and by focusing on ice the film zooms right in on the crux of the problem and why this is such a catastrophe. It’s all about the water.

Water is the most fascinating substance in existence. It’s an amazing thing! At temperatures below 32F it’s a solid, still somewhat fluid but hard enough to crush in your skull. It expands when frozen, an action that can fracture mountains. And when enough of it piles up, it molds & scours the very surface of the earth. A few scant degrees later, it is a liquid, flowing wherever gravity takes it. In that state, it is capable of sustaining life, eroding valleys, washing away soil, and moving with enough force to wipe out everything along a coastline. Then it can evaporate, heading into the air as a vapor, depriving farmlands of its life-sustaining properties, where it affects air temperatures and wind currents until it again condenses and forms a gentle rain or a raging hurricane capable of wiping out a city.

But here’s the point people tend to miss: in all of recorded human history, water has been a relative constant. The quantity of water stored as glacial ice has only slowly reduced since the last Ice Age, the weather patterns have been generally the same (with occasional, yet still disastrous outliers), and the coastlines relatively stable, enabling the formation of great civilizations. We’ve evolved in the circumstances we exist in today, with a certain quantity of water in oceans, in the ice, and as fresh water. We’re used to our farmlands existing where they are, with predictable levels of rain, growing the crops they are capable of growing. We’re used to a certain type and quantity of life brewing in our oceans, lakes, rivers & streams, life capable of existing in certain levels of acidity, salinity, and oxygenation.  Yet this “stable state” of water is now changing drastically. That’s what scares me most: our very lifeblood, the very thing we all depend on to survive, is undergoing a state of change we are not used to seeing. How will we adjust?

There are a lot of uncertainties here. Will added freshwater in the oceans cause weather-impacting shifts in ocean currents? Will it upset the life balance of the oceans, harming the greater food chain? Will there be more rain? Less? More heavy storms? Less? Even the absence of storms can be problematic (midwest farms, for instance, rely on heavy snowpack in the Rockies for irrigation). Even with this uncertainty, it can be easily deduced that it can’t be good. We’ve grown & lived with a certain level and placement of water (and, therefore, weather) predictability for 10,000 years, shaking all that up is going to be disastrous! Sure, life can survive on a wetter world or a drier, hotter world, but can WE survive it? We are a pretty fragile species, and our societies are even more fragile.

:Sniff Sniff: Smells Like Oil

So the Earth is warming, of that there can be no doubt. But are we responsible? Is it due to a greenhouse effect caused by the massive release of CO2 brought on by 150 yrs of fossil fuel use? Or something else entirely?

After the film, the theater hosted a panel discussion with Dr. Laurence I. (“Larry”) Gould and Dr. Tad Pfeffer. Dr. Pfeffer works with the Extreme Ice Team, he’s very clear in his position that this global warming phenomenon is anthropogenic (human-caused). Dr. Gould is not necessarily a climate change denier, but he is skeptical and questions some of the popular conclusions on the causes of global warming. He makes some good points, but (like many anthropogenic climate deniers) he misses the biggest one: there is no other credible cause that can explain the Earth’s warming pattern.

Sure, there have been some questionable conclusions made by the human-cause crowd. Some of their models have been successfully challenged. There have been scandals regarding pre-drawn conclusions and data manipulation. Yet although these incidents have been isolated, the “alternative hypothesis” crowd does have cause to question. But, to date, nothing has been proposed that even comes close to explaining what is going on, including “the sun is doing it”. Here we have unprecedented, rapid warming happening now that hasn’t happened for at least 10,000 years. It would take something that hasn’t occurred in that length of time, it would take something that would be incredibly obvious and observable, not something subtle. If it’s not the sun (whose output we can, and do, easily measure), then what is it?

This is where “gullibility” comes in. The anti-warming, anti-human-cause crowd loudly proclaims how gullible us “environmentalist whackos” are for buying all this “global warming crap”, but then they toss out theories or outright denials that are just patently ridiculous! Isn’t buying theories like “there are more clouds trapping heat” or “there’s more soot in the air” or other illogical nonsense gullible in its own right? Whether or not all the details regarding fossil fuel use, increased CO2, and the resulting greenhouse effect are perfect and unchallengeable is besides the point: it is the only credible theorem out there. In the absence of other credible theories, it has to be, if not the right specific answer, then at least on the right track.

It even passes the “sniff test”, it’s a remarkably easy chain of logic to follow:

  • For three billion years, plants have absorbed CO2 through photosynthesis, releasing O2 and keeping the carbon.
  • For three billion years, some of this carbon was deposited at the bottom of swamps & shallow seas. This really accelerated during the Carboniferous Period, some 100-400 million years ago (when the bulk of our fossil fuel resources were initially deposited)
  • These carbon deposits were then concentrated and compressed through various geological processes. This resulted in  coal, oil and natural gas deposits.
  • Flash-forward to 300 years ago. Coal enters into widespread use. Flash forward another 150 years. Oil is discovered and enters widespread use. Now flash-forward to today. Can you even fathom how much oil & coal has been burned in these last couple of centuries? Even in the last 50 years? I don’t think any of us can.
  • So here’s the rub: it took nearly 3 billion years of plants removing carbon from the atmosphere to develop these vast stores of fossil fuels, and we’ve burnt how much in just 300 years?
  • What we are seeing is essentially an explosion — a very rapid release of stored energy — in the super-slow motion scale of geologic time.

Believing in anthropogenic global warming is not gullibility. Believing that our burning of fossil fuels would not have an adverse effect on our planet is the height of gullibility!

The Root of Gullibility

There’s only one root cause for gullibility, and (surprisingly) it’s not ignorance. Sure, ignorance is part of it, but gullibility, at its essence, is all about really, really wanting something to be true. You can think you can win the lottery or you can fall for a cash-for-gold scam not because you’re ignorant on how those things really work but because you really want to have a buttload of money. I know some highly educated people who fell for scams involving psychics and others who got ripped off by home remodeling contractors and others who bought obvious lemons and paid the price. The cause wasn’t ignorance, even though they should have known better. The cause was a strong desire to have that amazing car, or have that brand-new kitchen at 1/2 the price, or have full control over their future. If they didn’t really want it to the extreme of reason, they wouldn’t have fallen for it. And so it goes with the climate-change deniers.

These folks really, really want to keep their lifestyle exactly the way it is. They want to have the McMansion, they want to have the oversized Dodge Ram Penile-Compensation pickup truck, they want to go jetsetting around the world and eat their peaches in the middle of winter and keep their thermostats set at 78 degrees so they can sleep naked. They like those things, and they don’t want to change, either through force of legislation or (even worse) their own guilt. So instead of looking at the facts, making a reasonable conclusion, and adjusting their behavior accordingly, they deny deny deny and buy into bullshit like “we can burn as much fossil fuel as we want and it doesn’t matter”.

The other element of gullibility — besides desire (the cause) and ignorance — is irresponsibility. The guy who fell for the psychic wanted to avoid the responsibility for running his own life; the guy who fell for the bad contractor didn’t do his research; the guy who bought the lemon didn’t bother taking it to a mechanic. And so goes it with the climate deniers: they simply don’t want to take responsibility for their actions and how they impact others and the world. That’s the real gist here: they are just avoiding the fact that their actions have ramifications. Now I don’t want to cast moral aspersions on these people, because they may be great folks. But in this one area, they just don’t get the fact that we are all one people, living in one ecosystem, and we all impact each others’ existence.

Now I’m not one for advocating a lot of government regulation into our lives to handle climate change. We have far too much as it is, and government is far too prone to make regulations that actually make matters worse. But if we’d just take responsibility for our own lives and try to live in greener ways, we can solve this problem ourselves without bringing government into it. In order to do that, we’ve got to accept the basic truth that we just can’t keep on burning through the earth’s fossil fuel reserves, and instead try to live all our lives a little greener.

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Additional Links:

Skeptical Science — my favorite climate blog

NOAA PMEL Carbon Program — CO2’s effect on the oceans

EPA’s Global Emissions — analysis of types & sources of greenhouse gases

Union of Concerned Scientists 10 Personal Solutions — things you can do

A Few Favorite Things

The Best of 2012

I thought I’d wade back into the blogosphere by doing a bit of reflection. It’s the end of the year, dammit, and if everyone else gets to post their “best of” lists, then so do I! Well, maybe this isn’t a straight-up Best Of 2012 list, for (as you’ll see) there are things old & new on this list. It’s more of a list of things I experienced & liked, or as I like to call it, a List of a Few Favorite Things — 2012.

Music

I’m regressing in my musical tastes as of late: I’ve been connecting to older music from decades past. I’ve spent a lot of time filling up my iPod with classics from blues, rock, jazz and, yes, funk and soul (I love good funk/soul music, XM Radio’s Soul Town channel is on heavy airplay in the house). I had a great time re-discovering artists like Ike & Tina Turner, The Temptation, The Kinks, Otis Redding, Smoky Robinson, T Bone Walker, Big Joe turner, and many more. This is beyond hits, it’s been historical research. These cats have all done some very interesting work, stuff you don’t hear on the “classic” radio stations, it’s just fascinating to hear their evolutions from early “greenhorn” years, to chart-topping hitmakers, to uninspiring has-beens, back to Senior Statesmen of Music as their best works withstand the test of time.

By far, my favorite “old time” re-discovery this year has been blues artist Jimmy Reed. Holy cow, this cat is good! I’m a big lover of blues music, it easily takes up the bulk of my iPod storage. But I actually never heard of this guy before, just saw his name on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame listing. So I grabbed a couple of his CDs from my favorite used record store, and gave them a listen, and was blown away. His stuff is crisp, fun, rollicking, and so innovative for a guy from the 50’s-60’s. I put about 25 of his best songs on my iPod, more than all but a few of the artists on my (humbly) eclectic list.

Jimmy Reed

As far as new music goes, well, I’m not the best judge. Yes, I do listen to XM Radio’s Sirius XMU and Alt Nation channels, both of which play new music. But although I like those channels and the music they play very much, no artists have really connected with me from those channels this year. I think the modern age of music has issues, chief among those being the difficulty to make that explicit connection with an artist (unless you’re a teenage girl jonesing for One Direction or something). There’s just too many choices, too much backscatter, and too much focus on that iTune/YouTube hit.

Here is how I connect with music: live shows. I’ve always been a huge fan of live music, in my youth I went to dozens and dozens of shows including some of the larger festivals. Nowadays, I don’t do the Big Show thing anymore, but I love a little place called the Main Pub. The owner of this downtown corner bar does a tremendous job bringing in small, independent, eclectic acts and letting them do their “thang”. This ain’t your dad’s Lynyrd Skynnard cover band, this is ground-level innovation at it’s finest. This is how to see live music: intimate little clubs, favorite beverage in hand, chatting with friends & strangers, and letting the band just rock the joint. Occasionally it doesn’t work, but the Main Pub has a damned good track record. I can only recall two shows that didn’t have something to offer in all the years I’ve been going.

This year, my favorite Main Pub act has got to be Love in Stockholm. They played there earlier this year, and I grabbed a couple of their CDs at the show. It’s in heavy rotation in the car, in the house, and in the earbuds. This is a band that combines great songwriting, strong lead vocals, fun-loving instrumentals, all set to a post-modern funk beat complete with horn section. They even manage to craft a song with the word “Massachusetts” (“Alston“, one of my favorite LiS tracks, give it a listen).

Love in Stockholm

Movies

There were quite a few movies I liked this year. “Skyfall” was a rollicking adventure, riveting with actual character development quite surprising for a Bond movie. Barbara Broccoli, Daniel Craig, and a collage of talented screenwriters & directors have resurrected the franchise, tossing aside the goofy, formulaic bullshit of the Pierce Brosnan era and replacing it with something far more visceral and crafty. “Argo” was a surprisingly good historic drama piece concerning the Iranian hostage crisis era (an event that strongly affected me — I was 13 and very impressionable at the time). I’m not a big Ben Affleck fan, but I feel he’s come back around to his indie roots (and away from shit like “Armageddon” and “Daredevil”), and that suits him well. “Ted” was a funny-as-shit (literally, in one case) comedy by the creator of Family Guy. “The Avengers” was my chance to regress into my childhood: it was the comic book I read as a kid, and Joss Whedon positively nailed it. I am also compelled to give a special shout-out to “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” for being the movie to see when one has the absolute shittiest day at work and all you want to do is watch something goofy, campy, involving some dude swinging an axe & decapitating vampires. :-)

Sadly, I also found myself wasting valuable cinema time on crap. “The Master”, a tale of mockery loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard and the early years of his cult, was just a sloppy, pointless mess of a film. “Total Recall” was a remake not worth making. How could anyone top the high-body-count glory that is the original? “Prometheus” was a prequel that came across like a contract commitment rather than a labor of love like the original “Alien”. By far, the worst one of the year, however, was “The Hunger Games” or, as I like to call it “The Film of the Screenplay of the Teenage Wangsty Fanfiction for the Highly Derivative Novel by an Untalented Marketing Major”. God I hated that movie! It’s on my bottom 10 movies of all time now. I relate it to hitting a skunk with your car: no matter how much you wash, you just can’t get the stink out!

But here’s my favorite film of the year: “Lincoln“. I love historical dramas, and this one wasn’t as much of a “drama” as a “highly well-crafted recreation”. The script is terrific, the set pieces are fantastic, but the performances are absolutely outstanding. It’s not just Daniel Day Lewis, either, it’s the entire cast. This was absolutely my favorite film this year, I strongly advise seeing it before it leaves theaters.

Books

I didn’t meet my reading goals at all this year. I have got to step it up (more on that later). I did get through a couple of lackluster books on FDR and the French & Indian War. But I did read one incredibly gripping tale this year, one I reviewed here earlier: Midnight Rising. What a fantastic book: historical non-fiction told in a narrative, but genuine, style, that kept me reading and looking for more. This should be the next film project of The American Film Company (makers of the excellent “The Conspirator”). It has a great cast of characters, a good chunk of action, and great set pieces. It would make a great film.

Televison

This year, the best thing I did was disconnect cable TV. Went to a Hulu/Netflix/digital antenna model. Know what? I barely miss it. TV is just such crap nowadays. Before the Big Disconnect I tried (I really tried!) to get into current hits like The Walking Dead and Doctor Who, and found I just couldn’t get into them. Dead turned into Melrose Place with zombies, and (I’m sure I’ll get hate mail for this) Doctor Who is so jerky in plot, writing, filming, & acting I’m surprised it hasn’t been pulled from the airwaves for causing epileptic seizures. I’ve just lost interest in it after David Tenant’s fabulous turn as the Doctor.

I did get into a couple of things this year. I watched the entire re-imaging of Battlestar Galactica and enjoyed it immensely. I also heavily enjoyed Game of Thrones. What a fabulous series that is! Makes me almost want to start reading fantasy fiction again (I overdosed on it a couple of decades ago, wallowing in lousy Book of the Month club picks until my brain shouted at me to stop).

Current Events

I won’t go into Everything Politics, for I have a tendency to get on my soapbox straddling my high horse and no one wants that. But I have to shout out with glee that big money failed to elect their toadies. I consider it very heartwarming that personal fortunes and corporate funding resulting from the horrible Citizens United campaign finance decision failed to elect either Mitt Romney and Linda McMahon. Sure, you can hate Obama if you want (I’m not the biggest fan, believe me), but the day that big money can simply buy elections will be a horribly sad day for our country. Citizens United needs to be repealed. Only we the people should have the right to set our destiny, not the checkbooks of faceless conglomerates.

Personal Life

I managed to do a few cool things this year. I renovated my kitchen (laying tile is backbreaking work, I tell ya). I went to New York Comic-Con (a sloppy, overcrowded mess, but I did meet a lot of talented artists & bought way too much cool shit). I managed to eek out a trip to Cape Cod (where I badly sprained my ankle & used it as an excuse to get fat & lazy over the summer). I caught an interesting production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” at the Hartford Stage. I learned to appreciate sake. I hung out with my good friends and had far too many arguments about guns, religion, the Republicans, and Guns ‘n Roses. But by far the best thing I did this year was go through a career change. I won’t go through the details, but my last job literally sucked the joy out of my life. I held onto it for about four years, and it was the worst experience in my professional career. It was just something I was not psychologically qualified to do. The good part is I met some really cool people while doing it, people I hope to keep in my life for a very long time, but the work itself was just not compatible with my personality type. It turned me into a monster, and I’m glad to be done with it.

Hopefully next year will see me back on track. I hope to finish my home renovations and get back to traveling this nation’s national park sites. I hope to read more. I hope to blog more. I hope to live more, and I hope you do to. Get out there and do something you love, whatever it is, and have yourself a happy new year and a great 2013.

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