Quote of the day: I'll work on improving myself later edition

>> Tuesday, April 30, 2013

As I procrastinated, spending more time at dinner complaining about topology than in the library doing topology, I realized that procrastination isn’t just about laziness. It’s about anxiety. To work on something you don’t understand means facing your doubts and confusions head-on. Procrastination pushes back that painful confrontation.
Slate, April 29th, 2013.
Oh crap, it's that simple, inn'it?  Or, tragically, just that complicated.  Procrastination isn't about laziness (though I am, as The Stranger said of The Dude, a lazy man), it's about doubt.  It's about knowing that if you try to get to work on the project, you will have to face up to your own ignorance and incompetence.

Hence a big chunk of recent writer's block: whatever some of you (or anyone else) may say about the subject, the fact is that I know that I'm an idiot who doesn't know what he's writing about.  (To add a baffling layer to this self-doubt and put into context the value of my opinions on this, please bear in mind that I'm talking, here, about writing about things I make up, i.e. I don't know what I'm talking about re: things of my own invention.)

Does recognizing this help?  No idea.  Is this something I can face about myself, overcome, learn the self-confidence to boldly strive forward and do instead of thinking about doing (which is functionally the same as not doing)?



What I'm listening to

>> Monday, April 29, 2013

Today's trip to the record store (because I'm trying to patronize my local brick and mortar more often these days): Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito; Tame Impala, Lonerism; The Black Angels, Indigo Meadow.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Mosquito"
Tame Impala, "Elephant"
The Black Angels, "Don't Play With Guns"


The song remains the same

>> Sunday, April 28, 2013

Just for the fun of it...

Pete Townshend, "White City Fighting"
Roy Harper and Jimmy Page, "Hope"
No musician was harmed in the making of these songs, if you were wondering.


Tales from the spam folder: well I don't like them, but I hardly think it's that bad...

>> Friday, April 26, 2013

So this was in the junkmail folder, right?

Well good grief.  I never cared for them, but I hardly thought they were that bad....

(Ineffectual disclaimer of liability: please do not click the play icon,
and if you do anyway, which you shouldn't, the proprietor is not responsible
for whatever unspecified injuries you might thereby inflict upon yourself by 
watching the video with the sound up.)

The word I would use is "inoffensive".  Or "bland".  No, "bland" is definitely a better word.  I know everybody thinks Vince Clarke is an electropop genius, but they all say it like it's a good thing.  That's unfair.  I kind of like at least some electropop, can get down with a popping, farting groove, especially when I'm by myself in the car.  (Funny how we all seem to forget we're surrounded by enormous windows on all sides when we're in our cars, no?)  "Just Can't Get Enough", the biggest hit Clarke wrote for Depeche Mode during his short stint in the band, is impossible not to tap you toes to.  (My foot's tapping as I write this right now while the previous link plays, matter-of-fact.)

But, I dunno: it's just sort of self evident to me that Depeche Mode became a much more interesting band when Clarke wandered off to form Yazoo.  (Or Yaz, they were called here in the States; what, was there already a band with the name "Yazoo"?  This begs the question of why there were actually two bands wanting such a fucking stupid band name, or even one of them in the first place, or why "Yaz" seemed like an improvement?  Okay, that's a bunch of questions.)  I guess I'm not necessarily saying a "better" band, whatever that means, just that somehow doing a bunch of melodramatic downbeat songs about introducing jailbait to S&M for metaphorical reasons was a step up from songs that were undeniably hooky and well-crafted and yet nonetheless pretty banal beneath the slick, appealing sheen.  Even though I'm a long way from fifteen, I'd still rather listen to Dave Gahan tearing his shirt and baring his ever-wounded heart over how sad and ironic it is that God is a sick bastard a hundred times in a row than "I Just Can't Get Enough" twice in the same sitting because however overwrought and trite and unsophisticated songwriter Martin Gore's postpubescent theology might be, it's at least trying to get its thumbs into the rind and juicy flesh of something bigger than "I like you, baby, no, I mean I really like you.  Lots."

I feel a little terrible writing that.  I love listening to early Beatles songs that go, "I like you baby, lots", and there are some of them I admit I like more than some of their "we are now serious artists like Bob Dylan" songs.  Many of them, maybe; "Love Me Do" is kind of brilliant in its utter lack of pretense or sophistication, a trait it shares with the far inferior "Just Can't Get Enough" or anything I can think of by Yaz (I don't, if you haven't grokked this quite yet, like Yaz enough to recall much of their discography offhand, in fact if you asked me to name a Yaz song I'd probably have to say, "Um, that one that I change the station when it comes on SiriusXM First Wave," which would be all of them so that doesn't actually help you very much).

Still, I had absolutely no idea that Yaz, a band I really just thought was merely insipid, could lead to a class action lawsuit.  "Serious injuries"?  You don't say.  I might have facetiously thought "ear cancer", but we don't really think of cancer as being an "injury", more like an "illness" (maybe that's a distinction without difference, I dunno).

My assumption is that Yaz causes people to fall asleep while driving, or if you were out walking a Yaz song might cause you to zone out and fall through an open manhole or the yawning open foundation of a building under construction.  But these things seem like they would be your own fault for listening to Yaz or Yazoo in the first place.  I don't know what the law is in Britain, but in America this would be something that you'd call contributory negligence, which could easily bar you from collecting damages in some states and seriously limit your damages in others (maybe entirely limit them, as your injuries would be entirely your own fault).

Unless, I dunno, what if they're trying to allege that Vince Clarke's catchy-but-repetitive-and-vacuous love songs are an intentional tort?  It's been a long time since I was in a torts class, still, agreeing to listen to a Yaz song seems like it would constitute a waiver, sort of like agreeing to be in a sporting event is a waiver of many kinds of assault (e.g. you agree to play American football, you agree to be tackled because that's how the game is played, but you perhaps don't agree to have your face knocked in with a brick because that's against the rules of football--I think; actually I don't know a lot about sports).

I've been exposed to Yaz, anyway.  And now I've exposed you if you played the video for "Only You" I embedded above.  I'm very sorry about that.  Only now does it occur to me that I may have exposed you to whatever toxic effects Yaz has on unsuspecting victims, so I hope you won't sue me.  In my defense, let me point out that I don't actually have any money and suing me would be rather pointless unless you're just feeling vindictive that I put you through that.  There, I've gone back and added a disclaimer of liability.  That'll stop you.  I hope.

Don't bother me about it.  I don't even know what the harm could be.  If you're feeling irritable and bored by that song, or if you fell asleep midway through and gave yourself a concussion with the corner of the desk, contact the Yaz Injury Lawsuit Center.  Apparently they have specialists and legal experts who can help you.  I can't.  In fact, I tried to warn you.  Remember that when you're drafting your complaint.


"This is my rifle, this is my gun..."

>> Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I recently started following Popehat.  I am what you would call a "late adopter" in this regard; I started following Popehat because everybody I know online seemed to be already following Popehat, and periodically linking to articles on Popehat.  So it seemed like I should be following Popehat, also.

I am not proud of this imitative behavior, though perhaps I shouldn't be ashamed: if all my friends jumped off a bridge, I've been convinced I should follow them.

I recently started following Popehat, and this came up in my feed today: a story out of Texas about a poor Master Sergeant who was harassed and abused by the local po-po for exercising his basic Constitutional right to traipse about the countryside with an assault rifle.  The Popehat story features a link to Glenn Beck's website, The Blaze, which features a video, which I sat through and my only regret is that I had no popcorn--I had no popcorn, gahddammit--and couldn't properly appreciate the entertainment on hand.  I feel like I have to explain all of this in order to explain what I was doing visiting The Blaze.  Visiting The Blaze felt a lot like walking into a Christian bookstore ("They don't know I'm not one of them--shhhh!"), which feels a lot like walking into an adult bookstore ("Somehow everyone is going to know I'm looking at boobies-shhhh!"); this is completely irrational, mind you.  It isn't like anyone is going to know of my transgression unless I write a blog post about it (oops), and anyway it isn't actually transgressive (it isn't like I'm dressing in drag and videoing myself using a blackboard to explain how W. Cleon Skousen opened my eyes to the socialist Illuminati Mole Men conspiracy to fluoridate milk and thereby overthrow the Founders' attempt to establish a godly land where a man can marry as many horses as he wants to).

But yes, I visited The Blaze.  I'm not proud of it.  But hey--funny video of white guy being arrested for being a douchebag by cops who lose their patience and kind of turn into dicks.  I would not have seen this but for being led to The Blaze by the Popehat, it would not have even been on my radar or subspace scanners (obligatory Trek reference for the day, check).

I mention he's a white guy advisedly.  It's relevant to my enjoyment of the schadenfreude of the video, a fact that possibly should embarrass me more than visiting The Blaze.  But I might be getting ahead of myself.

On March 16, 2013, my son and I were hiking along country roads among pastures and fields with my 15-year old son to help him earn his hiking merit badge. I always enjoy these father/son hikes because it gives me time alone with my son. As I always do when we go on these hikes and walks, I took my trusty rifle with me as there are coyotes, wild hogs, and cougars in our area. In Texas, it is legal to openly carry a rifle or shotgun as long as you do so in a manner that isn't calculated to cause alarm. In other words, you can't walk around waving your rifle at people. I always carry my rifle slung across my chest dangling, not holding it in my hands.

At about the 5 mile mark of our hike, a voice behind us asked us to stop and the officer motioned for us to approach him. He got out of his car and met us a few feet later. He asked us what we were doing and I explained that we were hiking for my son's merit badge. He then asked me what I'm doing with the rifle, to which I responded in a calm manner, "Does it matter, officer? Am I breaking the law?"

At that point, the officer grabbed my rifle without warning or indication. He didn't ask for my rifle and he didn't suggest he would take it from me. He simply grabbed it. This startled me and I instantly pulled back - the rifle was attached to me - and I asked what he thought he was doing because he's not taking my rifle. He then pulled his service pistol on me and told me to take my hands off the weapon and move to his car, which I complied with. He then slammed me into the hood of his car and I remembered I had a camera on me (one of the requirements of the hiking merit badge is to document your hikes). This video is the rest of that encounter. Up to this point, I am not told why I am being stopped, why he tried to disarm me, or even that I'm under arrest.
There's a little more there if you want it: a claim that he wasn't trying to start a scene (which I find implausible based on another article in The Blaze (credit where credit's due: after a somewhat credulous early report of the incident, they did dig a little deeper into the suspect's history and motives)), the names of the officers involved (which is public record but seems kinda douchey under the circumstances), and a link to his legal fund (apparently this would be at least his second legal defense fund; wonder how I can get me some of that free money out there).

So, anyway, he's out on a hike with his son, and I guess he has his AR-15 assault rifle and concealed .45 (which he has a concealed carry permit for, so he's okay there) because, I guess, his son's answer to 1a was "coyotes, hogs and cougars; bring daddy with a firearm that's variously described as a civilian-market military weapon originally designed to disable enemy combatants, a varmint rifle, a target rifle, a weapon to kill intruders, or as whatever else it's convenient to describe it as when one of those gun control nuts my dad's always ranting about tries to take it away from him".  This is rural Texas and apparently wild hogs really are a problem, but it's nevertheless hard not to be a little snarky when assault rifles aficionados always seem to be moving the definition of what an AR-15 is actually good for, and one day it's this and another day it's that; but whatever, let's stipulate that this is a good rifle for killing highway pigs and highway pigs are mean and dangerous and can rend a Boy Scout from limb-to-limb if he's cursed with one of those pantywaist liberal daddies.

The real point is that this guy is walking along the roadside with a prominently displayed assault rifle--which, you know, I'm not saying he's waving it around or anything, but it's kinda hard to walk around with something like that without prominently displaying it, unless you're wearing a bigass trenchcoat and trying to do some kind of Neo-and-Trinity-rescuing-Morpheus thing, which would be a really dumb thing to try to do on a ten or twenty mile merit badge hike, right?  Anyway, prominently displayed assault rifle, and someone apparently got nervy about it and called the police, which is certainly their right.  And the police go out and investigate.

Now, I'm not a Texas lawyer.  Thank the gods--I'm sorry, but I just don't think I could handle that.  I'm sure things have progressed since the times of Judge Roy Bean (who, I'm surprised to learn from that link, apparently only sentenced two men to hang and one of them got away, and who unsurprisingly looked nothing the least bit like the late great Paul Newman).  But nevermind.  The point I was going to get around to eventually is that you don't have to be a Texas lawyer to figure out that Texas, matter of fact, does have a law against toting around a gun in public.  Mr. Hiker even obliquely refers to it in his explanation for his YouTube video and solicitation of funds: someone who "displays a firearm or other deadly weapon in a public place in a manner calculated to alarm" violates Texas Penal Code § 42.01 (8).  There are some other provisions related to firearms: you can't discharge a weapon on or across an open road (the fellow and his son were hiking along an open road, based on the video, but he doesn't seem to have fired the weapon) unless you have "a reasonable fear of bodily injury to the person or to another by a dangerous wild animal" as further defined by Texas statute (I'm going to be lazy and assume the relevant statute includes hogs, cougars and coyotes, because it probably does).  I also can't resist the urge to point out that the Texas Disorderly Conduct statute prohibits showing your ass in public, which seems apropos here.  But anyway.
Now, I can't find anything defining what, exactly, "calculated to alarm" means; I'm guessing, actually, that the legislature and courts have left that one as vague as they reasonably can, because while a criminal statute has to be constructed in a defendant's favor and an unreasonably vague statute can be voided outright, lawmakers are understandably reluctant to encourage all the adult citizens in the state with the mentality of three-year-olds to start pulling shit just to test boundaries and push buttons then petulantly insist they were never told they couldn't do something unreasonably stupid, so they must be able to, and "unreasonably stupid" was defined by the court in State v. Total Asshole explicitly and the explicit definition failed to include this version of stupidity, etc.  I mean, I think we trench lawyers would prefer at some level for lawmakers in the state houses and courthouses to say what they mean, because while vagueness does sometimes help us win cases, vagueness also makes it godawful hard to tell people how to avoid making jackasses of themselves.  Meanwhile, the lawmakers for their part try to come up with something encompassing and commonsensical  and hope they won't get called out for it by someone like me and one of my clients.  This just got more personal than I meant for it to, but I figured it might be helpful for you to see where I'm coming from on this corner of it.

So this guy is walking down the highway, swinging his dick (also prohibited by Texas Penal Code § 42.01), except in this case it's a metaphorical dick because the dick is actually just a weapon that may be a target-shooting rifle or a varmint gun depending on who's asking, and someone calls the cops and a cop comes out to ask the fellow about it.

Which the cop can do.  Understand, our Second Amendment-defending-hiker may in fact be breaking the law, seeing as how he's carrying a firearm or other deadly weapon in a way that might be calculated to alarm, depending on how you'd like to define "calculated to alarm", but a commonsense approach suggests that if a reasonable person would be alarmed by your walking down the highway with a firearm or other deadly weapon, you probably expected that unless you're just a total choad.  Ironically--well, not really ironically, that really just seemed to be the usual throat-clearing adverb for this sort of comment--the concealed weapon that he's carrying concealed and with his concealed carry permit, permitting him to carry the handgun in a non-public-alarming concealed fashion is perfectly alright up to this point.  But the cop has a perfect power under the circumstances so far to conduct what's called a Terry stop, which is a brief encounter in which a police officer who has a reasonable suspicion someone might be breaking a law stops that someone to ask what's up.  Actually, it bears mentioning that depending on how we define "calculated to alarm" (that cursed phrase), the officer might even have probable cause to arrest, or even the power to arrest someone who is committing a crime in his presence (which is often lumped in with probable cause, but I think it's fair to describe the commission of a crime in one's presence as a step up from merely thinking there's sufficient suspicion to convince a reasonably prudent person that a crime was probably committed by this person).

But we'll let that go: I think, I hope that reasonable minds ought to be able to agree the cop has grounds for a Terry stop; 2AD Hiker might not be alarming, or meaning to alarm, whatever; still, there's a chance he's being alarming, and it's not really an outrageous abuse of police power if the cop wants to suggest maybe walking by the road with your assault rifle swinging from the strap isn't the friendliest or most prudent way to take a walk, especially if you already have another gun you're legally carrying in a less alarming fashion.  Or, heck, at least make sure the guy's not up to no good and make sure he knows he can't shoot an animal across the road unless it's coming right for him.

Now, here (again) is what the suspect (yes, at this point he's a suspect--don't blame me, I didn't come up with the jargon or parlance of our times) says happened:

At about the 5 mile mark of our hike, a voice behind us asked us to stop and the officer motioned for us to approach him. He got out of his car and met us a few feet later. He asked us what we were doing and I explained that we were hiking for my son's merit badge. He then asked me what I'm doing with the rifle, to which I responded in a calm manner, "Does it matter, officer? Am I breaking the law?" 
Okay, okay, okay.  Hang on.  The officer is within his power to investigate a guy in a public place with a firearm or other deadly weapon who might be breaking the law.  In fact, what he's trying to determine is the answer to the very question our poor aggrieved hiker asked: "Am I breaking the law?"  Well, y'know, dude, you might be.  You might be violating Texas Penal Code § 42.01, which you apparently know about already.  You might be violating some other law.  At this point in the proceedings, you might be a crazy sumofabitch who's been listening to Bob Dylan's version of Isaac's binding too many times and soon as you find a highway with a "six" and a "one" in the sign you're going to shoot that boy you're with.  Cop doesn't know.  How hard is it, anyway, to say, "As I always do when we go on these hikes and walks, I took my trusty rifle with me as there are coyotes, wild hogs, and cougars in our area"?  (It was easy enough to type that into your YouTube posting, yes?)  And then I think it's pretty likely the cop would have had a nice little convo and, this being rural Texas, he probably would have admired your goddamn gun, wished you luck, told you to be safe, gone back to his car and radioed in it was all a bunch of nothing, some guy and his son on a nature walk and he didn't want a dingo to eat his babby or whatever.

But no.  This guy says, "Does it matter, officer?  Am I breaking the law?"  And if you watched his video, you probably don't think he said it all nice and polite, like.

At which point, you know, the cop probably wonders if he's about to become a highway memorial.

I'm not a big fan of cops.  Or police power.  Professionally, I spend much of my time in that weird and discomfiting Twilight Zone you end up in when you're trying to be friendish with people you're trying to undermine and subvert at the best opportunity: y'know, if you're nice to this guy, maybe he'll share his notes with you so you can publicly embarrass him later on the witness stand.  (To their credit, decent cops seem to understand this is how the game works, and will even be cool if you got them, at least if it's not that bad a charge to start out with.  At least that's been my experience.)  I'm not always sympathetic to police officers who get upset when they've been disrespected, and I don't even mean "got less respect than they think they deserved", I mean that if your feelings are hurt by some pathetic drunk calling you a fascist limp-dicked cocksucker and then spitting in your general direction, you probably shouldn't go into law enforcement.

But I also know it's a hard job.  And a dangerous job.  And cops get shot at by crazy people on the roadside, and sometimes crazy people will have a kid with them when they do something like that, and if you're one of those idjits who says something dumb like, "Why would someone shoot a cop with his son standing right there?", I don't know if you're a sunny-sided optimist who's never read a newspaper or just some clod who should keep your head down and mouth closed when it's raining.  Nasty shit just happens, and I wish it didn't, but it is what it is and I can see a cop getting a little tense when some guy with a big gun cops a 'tude.

Maybe it shouldn't be that way.  Didn't I already say it is what it is, though?

So things go downhill from there.  And this is being characterized in some quarters as a civil rights violation and police abuse, but this is where I go back to that long ago comment I made in this post that this is a white guy.  Because, y'know, I have to say that if this guy had been black I think a lot of cops (maybe not these cops--I'm not trying to cast gratuitous aspersions here) would have made a point of taking this guy to the ground and smearing him around the asphalt a bit.  Which would be appalling, obviously, and symptomatic of this country's ignoble history of racist violence.  It's just that I can't help thinking it's an example of white privilege that you stand there telling a cop you're going to sue him and thinking he's going to be scared of you, and then when he cuffs you and exercises a pretty minimal restraint until his backup arrives, you keep mouthing off about your impending lawsuit and asking the cop to take the cuffs off because, I dunno, you're going to be nice and you aren't going to take a swing at him or anything, now you've decided to obey his instructions, and did you neglect to mention he'll be hearing from your lawyer.  I just find it kind of amusing and absurd and schadenfreude-ey that because you're a white guy, you think you can act like a dick and this really modest exercise of force (leaving aside the question, for a moment, of whether any force at all was required) is an act of fascist brutality, when if your skin were darker, I'm sorry, but some cops (maybe not the one in the video) would have smashed your face into the hood of the car or maybe even have managed to drop you in the gravel and really scraped you up and dislocated your arm while jerking you back into a car-hood-face-smash position, reprise.  I find it fascinating that it doesn't even occur to this guy that maybe he ought to just shut his mouth already.

Which brings up another thing.  Don't do this: if you're ever arrested, don't tell the cop you're going to sue him.  Don't tell him you want his badge.  Don't tell him you're going to get him suspended, fired, that you're going to file a report with Internal Affairs and his Sergeant and his Chief and the Mayor and your friend Bribesy McBribesalot who owns the City Council.  Don't tell him your lawyer is Burns, Pillage and Robb and they just bankrupted the local Sheriff in a lawsuit for writing too many traffic tickets.  Don't tell him that body parts already or will shortly belong to you as a result of your impending crushing litigation.

Not because you're not going to do any or all of those things.  If you can, knock yourself out.  After you've posted bail.  Because here's the thing: assuming everything is far too gone for you to talk your way out of it (which, you know, is kinda likely when you've been handcuffed, let's admit), all you're going to do is piss him off and (more crucially) put the cop on the defensive.  He's just had his job threatened, what do you think he's going to do?  If you're lucky, he's going to laugh it off because he's heard this one before.  If you're not lucky, he's going to find something to charge you with, even if it's not what he started out with when he approached and asked you what you were doing, because he's going to cover his ass in any way possible, and CYA 101 in this situation is you make sure you can reasonably tell everyone on Earth and their mothers, "Dude's just pissed off he got arrested for _______."  And he's going to take copious notes so his conduct appears beyond reproach in any and all future hearings, and he's going to come to court, and he's not going to agree to drop or reduce any of the charges, and he's going to make sure in any testimony or statements to the court that he emphasizes what a total tool you were, and if he sees any moment to make sure the knife has been twisted in the wound a full three-sixty degrees, he is going to twist like Chubby Checker doin' it just like this.

Seriously.  Keep your goddamn mouth closed.  Even if you're right and he's wrong.  Until you're in a clear position where you're not going to shoot your own damn face off, pardon the metaphor.  You want to sue--just hire a lawyer to file the damn lawsuit, don't advertise it.  You want to file a complaint--just file it.  Telling the cops--threatening the cops--with civil action, complaints, whatever, you might as well be telling them to just stand in the street while you run over them with a car.  "Stand still while I do this."  I'm pretty sure they won't.

I don't want to be all gung-ho pro-police, because I have to confess I don't like being on their side a lot; it feels like visiting The Blaze, actually.  But supposing these Texas cops who arrested this guy could have handled it better--and there were certainly some things they said they shouldn't have, and maybe even done that they shouldn't have--I have to point out that they let this guy start up his video camera and then hand it off to his son and let his son record all fourteen, fifteen minutes of the arrest.  Which certainly suggests they weren't embarrassed by what was going on, they weren't telling anyone to shut that thing off or confiscating it.  What does that tell you about whether they think this guy has grounds to sue them?  Or about their quaking over the guy filing a complaint.

What I think it tells you is that they knew what this guy and his defenders are obliviously un-self-conscious of: they knew that this guy was acting like a dick, and if they sometimes lost their patience and snapped at him a little, in the all-powerful court of public opinion, anyone with any common sense was going to clearly see this guy's a dick.

I have to admit I agree.

I really think this guy wanted to start something.  And it seems, from reports, that the police didn't charge the guy with the firearms offense they were originally investigating.  Sounds like they went with a resisting arrest charge, which is the kind of thing cops tend to file when they've been threatened with a lawsuit and are practicing those Cover Your Ass 101: Introduction To Covering Your Ass protocols I mentioned earlier.  I think maybe, then, prosecutors might have actually mischarged the guy, because if you're walking down the roadside with a firearm or other deadly weapon hoping that some pansy will call the cops on you and you can lecture the fascist-state jackbooted thugs about the Second Amendment (or ask them stupid rhetorical questions like "Am I breaking the law?" that are designed to exasperate them into getting pissed off and losing their cool) and make a media scene about it, well maybe you could say that was you calculating to cause an alarm.  Sort of depends on how that phrase is defined, right?  But maybe the guy should have been charged with Disorderly Conduct.  Just because.

I want to say one more thing about this before I wrap up.  I don't think this guy is in the wrong because I don't like guns, I think he's in the wrong because he acted like a stupid whiny asshole in the video he and his son made themselves and posted and appears to be a media-whoring dick in general if the reports from a website that generally supports him are any evidence.  And I want to point out something I've only mentioned once or twice and haven't discussed much at all: I didn't talk a lot about his handgun.  Not because I like people toting handguns and have an especial and prejudiced thing about assault rifles; I kind of think carrying both is kinda stupid and dangerous, though I'm willing to make allowances for cougar country.  I didn't talk much about the handgun because regardless of whether I think it's a good idea, it appears (as far as I can tell) to have been toted legally, and if he'd somehow been harassed for having a legally concealed weapon that might be a whole 'nother thing.  I might roll my eyes over a legally carried firearm and being in public and kids being around and all those et ceteras, but if you're packing legally and aren't causing a fuss, I guess that's what "it's a free country" means in your neck of the woods.  What I have a problem with is someone other than myself being a dick (I jest--I hate it when I'm a dick, but at least I can say I'm rarely a dick on purpose, or so I hope).  I guess it figures that The Blaze might make a big stink about this, though I wonder if they'd make as big a stink about a black teenager indulging his Second Amendment rights at night in an urban setting in a state with more permissive gun laws than what Texas (even!) seems to have on the books.  Maybe they would.  I suspect they'd accuse him of mouthing off and getting something that was coming to him, kind of like this white dude in the country who wants us to pay for his legal defense did and is.




Dungeons and drags

>> Tuesday, April 23, 2013

He's right, at least about D&D destroying lives.  I was allowed to play it as a kid and it completely ruined me.

For the uninitiated, Dungeons & Dragons is a complex set of rules collected into a series of thick tomes; these rules are used to resolve disputes over what has happened or should happen as a result of a series of complicated, fantastic, often implausible events that frequently bear only the vaguest resemblance to the common everyday experiences most people have.

When I used to play the game--and often when I still do, though my friends and I rarely have time anymore and I don't think we've played D&D in several years now--I typically took on the role of the Dungeon Master.  The Dungeon Master is a person in a D&D game who is expected to know the ins and outs of most of the rules, applying and bending and flexing those rules to present a constantly changing series of possible hypothetical scenarios with which to challenge, thwart, frustrate and entertain the players.

I suppose I've already misled you in a way, with that last paragraph.  Sorry.  I think it's just another sign of how D&D took an honest poor boy from North Carolina and turned him into a parody of a civilized human being.  When I wrote that I don't have time to sit around memorizing and trying to understand various arcane rules in a big book and presenting scenarios to other participants in an elaborate and absurd fantasy game, I merely meant that I no longer play Dungeons & Dragons specifically.  I do, however, participate in a farcical campaign referred to merely as "The Law", which is almost indistinguishable but for the fact that The Law doesn't openly use dice to resolve disputes between players, making it, regrettably (technically) a LARP.

Dungeons & Dragons, you see, was one of those "gateway drugs" you're always hearing about.  No, not those, one of these.  It surely can't be mere coincidence that I wasted countless hours and hours of my youth participating in an activity where I had to memorize and apply rules and take copious notes and argue with people, and then went on to waste countless hours and hours of my middle age participating in an activity where I had to memorize and apply rules and take copious notes and argue with people.  True, there are superficial differences between now and then: as a lawyer, I get paid to pursue these activities, whereas I was previously an amateur who paid to engage these activities.  It's sort of like I went from being merely a user to being a dealer who dips into his supply.  Also, these pursuits used to be fun and less soul-corroding, alleviated depression instead of causing it, and the dragons used to be more important than the dungeons (alas and alack, I still have to deal with dungeons, but the dragons are more-or-less gone unless you count a few judges I've appeared in front of).

This is the main thing, that Dungeon Mastering as a promising youth no doubt led to the depraved and degraded state I find myself in today as an attorney.  Damn you, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, I'll see you both in one of the Nine Hells that occupy a symbolic dimensional purely Lawful-and-nought-but-Lawful Evil pie slice on the Lawful Evil axis between the planes of Gehenna (Neutral Lawful Evil) and Archeron (Lawful Neutral Evil).  (Mmmm--evil pie.  Nomnomnom.)

If only it ended there, though.  I hold myself blameless for what happened when I was but a naïve child and found myself wondering, as I read various roleplaying guides, about the mythical historical eras represented by these games.  It's almost inevitable that someone designing a fantasy adventure set in some kind of medieval setting turns to real actual history books in an attempt to add verisimilitude to his fantasy creation.  And once you start reading about one historical era, you just can't stop--I mean, do you realize they're all linked together?  It's like, every year ends with a cliffhanger or something; there you are, absolutely certain you're Just Going To Stop when you get to the end of 1299 CE, only you start thinking as you get towards the end that there's no way everything is going to be wound up nice and tightly by December 31st--and lo and behold, it isn't.  Turns out there's a bastard 1300 that comes right after, and is followed by the year 1301, until next thing you know your reading up on, say, Fourteenth Century armoring techniques (for the Dwarven smith non-player-character who buys and sells things to the player characters when they come back to the village of Greenhaven, natch) has led you right into a bunch of further reading on whether the Spanish conquistadors' breastplates were worth anything against Aztec weapons and at that point you've kind of been sucked into this whole business of whether that prick Cortez is going to conquer Mexico or not (spoiler alert: he does, but I think it's pretty implausible and if they ever do a movie adaptation they probably ought to rethink that ending).

Heaven help you, next thing you know, Hitler's invading Poland.

The important thing here is that History has made me very unhappy.  I'm sure of it.  I look around and I see plenty of Americans who don't know the first damn thing about American History, let alone the history of Mexico or of the Spanish conquest or Fourteenth Century armoring, and they seem to be very, very happy.  First of all--and this may surprise you--it turns out that you don't actually have to know any history to talk about it at great length and offer up all sorts of completely misguided opinions.  Second of all, this creates a huge problem for anyone who does know any history, because it turns out that you've wasted all sorts of time learning actual facts nobody else cares about, and that will never change the opinions of any of these other people who like to talk about history.

Or who present history any other way; third thing is that you will not believe how much knowing history ruins watching history movies.  Everyone else is all enraptured by the silver magic of Stephen Spielberg's latest opus--and I'm not picking on Spielberg here, he's one of my favorite directors and I love so many of his movies--but there you are, thinking things like "Hey, that's not who said that, and so-and-so is a composite character, and the African-American cultural experience / the Japanese occupation of China / the Amistad trial / Oskar Schindler's use of Jewish slave labor / the Normandy invasion / the Israeli response to the 1972 Summer Olympics terrorist attack / extraterrestrial-human relations in Mesoamerica / the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment was a much more complicated and ambiguous thing than this movie makes it out to be."  On top of that, if you're the kind of jerk who says something like, "You know, that scene in the office wasn't wholly accurate," you're just some kind of pedantic jerk who can't enjoy a freaking movie like everybody else for God's sake why don't you ever shut up?  And everybody hates you, because nobody likes a pedantic jerk who can't enjoy a freaking movie, jerk.  You probably don't even like yourself.  What are you going to do now, cry?  Cry, you pedantic movie-hating jerk?  Go bury your face in a pillow and cry about it, why don't you, nerd.


Also, on a personal note, let me add that I actually majored in History, instead of majoring in something useful like accounting or finance or one of these other careers that would allow me to make millions of dollars in not-income so you can't tax it for some reason, you greedy bastards.  Speaking of which, fifth thing (the impoverishing wasted college education in nothing useful is number four, obviously), I'm also an unhappy liberal thanks in large part to the history thing, I suspect.  My parents are also a bit left, so it's partly their fault, but I do need to spread blame where it needs to be spread and point out that those wasted years left me with a sense that events are often contingent and unpredictable, that no man can tell what the future can hold so he'd best hope he lives in a society that won't let him fall too far, that civilizations that failed to treat their poor and disenfranchised well typically end rather badly with the poor and disenfranchised hanging or shooting everyone above them and people who wear glasses (such as meself), etc.  It should be obvious that being a liberal ruins my life: first, because there aren't very many of us ever since Ronald Reagan convinced Americans that we were beneath contempt, and second because as a straight white male with a professional degree offering me a potentially lucrative career as a social parasite, I ought to be able to enjoy it more instead of feeling guilty and feeling obligated as an actor embedded in the historical past, present and future to "give back" and "pay it forward" and all those similarly ludicrous socialist notions.  I ought to be driving a BMW and running over the peasants and calling them "fags" and whatnot, before going home and demanding my woman make me a drink while I prop my feet up on an illegal Mexican and read my Wall Street Journal.

History, I hope to see you burning in one of the Hells next to Gygax and Arneson.

If you think it's just Law and History, you'd be dead wrong.  Dungeons & Dragons players like doing things like asking if their characters can make a trebuchet from a pig, fifteen feet of kudzu, a picnic basket, and the fattest character in the group (not necessarily the fattest player, note).  (Whether I'll allow this may depend on whether they want to fire the pig or the character.)  Or they'll want to know whether a character can escape the ghosts of twenty-five hungry, bored and long-dead banquet guests by surviving a fifty foot fall into boiling lava if they cast an ice spell on their way down and the character covers his face with a piece of cheesecloth they found in the centuries-old shambles of a castle kitchen.  These kinds of questions involve things like physics, biology and math, even if you might have thought that "magic" would render such things beside the point.  (Instead, players will happy argue for six hours about exactly how cold a spell gets and whether Wall Of Ice would be more effectual than Ray Of Frost for diving into boiling lava, until the Dungeon Master finds something in one of the statute--er, rule books.)  Or you find yourself reading up on ecosystems because you have this horrible compulsion to figure out what kind of environment would justify encounters with bronze dragons and beholders, and what does a giant eyeball covered in tentacles that are covered in eyeballs eat, anyway?

Science won't make you any happier than History.  The only thing Creationists are unhappy about is Evolutionists, whereas Evolutionists are unhappy about lots of things, like science funding and textbook purchases and whether the special effects in Jurassic Park should be re-done so that T. Rex has feathers like we now know he's supposed to.  (Y'know what?  Spielberg, you're getting in the Hell line behind History, Arneson and Gygax.  Go on.  Queue up and stop yer' whinin'.)  Nobody worried about global warming until scientists came along.  And it isn't like you can single out some scientists: you might think global warming would be a non-issue if we just got rid of all the climatologists, but stupid astronomers noticed there was a runaway greenhouse effect on Venus, too, some time around the invention of radio telescopy; in fact, they're the ones who got other kinds of scientists to start asking innocent-sounding questions like, "Huh, if CO2 does that to temperatures on Venus, wonder what it does on Earth?"  And are they happier for knowing?  Hell no.  Now they all feel bad about running their air conditioners.  You know who's happy?  Morons, that's who.  Ignoramuses.  Lucky bastards.

And don't get me started on comparative religion.  Start reading up on assorted mythologies so your fantasy country can have some of that awful verisimilitude, like your armor stores and your eyeball-infested ecologies, and it's only a matter of time before you're asking a dangerously infectious question like, "Hey, can you believe people actually used to believe this crap?"  Pull that one card from the base of the house, gravity does the damage.

All this knowledge I acquired as a result of playing a stupid little "game".  All the bad habits it instilled, like thinking about problems and looking up answers and engaging in educated debate.  Man.  It has brought me nothing but grief and sorrows uncounted.  And it has not brought me a mansion on the hill and an obnoxiously large, gas-guzzling, manhood-compensating, tanklike SUV that gets three miles a gallon and strikes fear into the hearts of the Prius drivers I mow down driving eighty miles an hour in the slow lane.  I live a ruined life, worrying about law and politics and science and feeling like things ought to be, you know, fair and stupid stuff like that.  Like, for instance, if you run over a peasant you ought to be treated the same whether you're a poor guy or a millionaire like I should've been if I'd studied something useful in school, just like if two guys fall off the same cliff they both suffer one six-sided die's worth of damage for every ten feet fallen to a maximum of ten dice of damage (unless one or both of them are Monks and can use their special Monk abilities to fall any distance without hurting themselves).  There are rules, which apply to everybody, and there's chance which giveth and taketh away (so one guy rolls ten ones and only suffers ten points of damage, and the other guy rolls ten sixes and suffers sixty, and we take cognizance of life's unfairness but try to ameliorate it with compassion and attempted consistency--if we're suckers, that is; real men laugh at the guy whose character got splatted).

I concur with Pat Robertson.  Dungeons & Dragons wrecks lives.  Consider me, a poor sinner and cautionary tale.  I could've been a rich investment banker who got halfway through Tuesdays With Morrie and gave up when the plot began to get complicated, and instead I had to go and become some kind of bleeding heart lawyer who knows stuff.  Woe is me, and all the other nerds I gamed with.  They didn't all become lawyers, of course: some of them do things with computers and stuff like that.  Just terrible.  Don't do it, kids.  It's too late for me: I've become educated and cynical and worldly.  Listen to Reverend Pat.

Don't touch the magic.  It's imaginary, but it will still eat you alive.


"What reasons do you need to be shown?"

>> Monday, April 22, 2013

And they can see no reasons
'Coz there are no reasons
What reasons do you need to be shown?
-Bob Geldof, "I Don't Like Mondays" (1979)

I don't want to get too far off-topic, but I suppose that particular elephant in the corner needs to be examined and discussed, though I'm only going to do this briefly.  The short version of Miranda is that statements made by a criminal defendant in response to questions asked of him while he was in custody are not admissible against him unless he was advised of certain Constitutional rights, most famously the right to remain silent and the right to be represented by counsel.  So there are three things there, and if one of them is missing, there's typically not a Miranda issue: (1) an attempt to introduce the defendant's prior statements during his trial; (2) the defendant was being interrogated when he made the statement; (3) the defendant was in custody.  If the defendant wasn't in custody, the usual rules about out-of-court statements--i.e. the evidence rules regarding hearsay--apply, not Miranda.  If the defendant wasn't being questioned--e.g. if he just blurted out a confession to fill the deafening silence in the back of the police car (this happens, yes)--no Miranda issue.  If the defendant was sitting on the stoop and the cop just happened to stop by to make some small talk, and happened to ask the defendant, "Oh, by the way, you know anything about Slim getting shot last night?" and the defendant says something incriminating, no Miranda.
And at the bottom of all this: introducing the defendant's statements at trial.  The example I always give: let's say you shoot up a McDonald's, and the police arrest you and question you and you go into a whole long sermon about how you got the guns and hate McDonald's and hate the people who go to McDonald's and how you planned this thing for years, etc., etc., etc.--and they forgot, somehow, to Mirandize you and now the cop can't read your sermon to the jury--well, this doesn't mean they can't prosecute you, it just means the cop can't read your statement to the jury.  The security video, the eyewitness testimony of the survivors, the Medical Examiner reports, the gunshot residue tests that were performed on your hands and face and clothes, any and all evidence (aside, perhaps, from something they picked up solely as a result of your illegally-obtained confessions)--all of that still comes in just like it normally would.  The only reason a failure to Mirandize leads to an outright dismissal is a situation where your confession is all they have.

One more thing--and now I'm way off topic, but I might as well finish this--Miranda is about the police officer sitting up on the witness stand and testifying that yes, he spoke to the defendant on such-and-such a date, and on that date he asked the defendant certain questions and the defendant said this-and-that.  And then this-and-that, the defendant's statement, is being used to help pin the crime on him.  But it isn't about whether a defendant's statement can be brought to the jury's attention in other contexts; specifically, if the defendant testifies, Miranda doesn't keep the prosecutor from using a suppressed statement for the purposes of impeaching the defendant on the stand, that is, from asking the defendant if he's now saying he didn't even know the victim, why did he tell Detective Schnitzel he shot the victim eleven times, stabbed him and set him on fire for looking at him funny?  Technically, this use of the statement isn't being offered to prove the defendant shot, stabbed, and burned the deceased, only to demonstrate to the jury that Mr. Defendant is not a reliable witness as he keeps changing his story around, etc., but, you know: we all know the jury is unlikely to consider the defendant's prior statements solely for the purposes of impeachment and disregard them for the purposes of determining the truth of the matter asserted.

None of this was what I wanted to write about, or why I started this post with a line from a Boomtown Rats song.  I should start over--
And they can see no reasons
'Coz there are no reasons
What reasons do you need to be shown?
-Bob Geldof, "I Don't Like Mondays" (1979)

I've seen a sentiment going around, on Facebook, on at least one friend's blog, here and there that they don't really want to know why the bombers did what they did.  Which I understand, because, as they say, there's no justification for what they did.  And I also understand it because I suspect--this is only a gut feeling that might be proven thoroughly and completely wrong--I suspect that the Marathon bombers have more in common with Brenda Ann Spencer or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold than with any bona fide al-Qaeda veteran; I suspect that the reason, the real reason, they did what they did had to do with some loose wire in their brain finally shorting out, that even if they gussied up their murder plan with a facade of poorly-thought out ideology what really mattered more than anything else was just killing and wounding a lot of people just because they were there.

But all of this is why I want to know why they did what they did.  Or why they say they did it, which may be something completely different yet nevertheless illuminating.

For one thing, I could be wrong.  Maybe these guys really were hardcore ideologues fighting an unconventional war without really telling anyone.  Which, by the way, would make them criminals.  Which brings up another thing, and that is that why they did it--or why they think they did it or why they say they did it--might be crucial in knowing what to do with them.  I keep saying "they" when there's only one known suspect alive and in custody: for the purposes of this discussion, I'm assuming the suspect is probably guilty and I'm considering that there might be uncaught co-conspirators, and I'm also too lazy to go back and forth between "they" when two suspects were alive and "he" when only one might go to trial.  If he goes to trial, which is back to the point: you realize, of course, that if the surviving suspect is incapable of proceeding to trial, he won't be tried until he is deemed competent (if ever); if he offers up a singularly irrational reason for whatever he did, it won't be evidence by itself that he's incapable of understanding the proceedings or assisting counsel, but it might point in those directions (e.g. he insists he only planted bombs to strike against the Mole Men, thus he cannot stand trial because the Mole Men control America's courtrooms, nor will he collaborate with the Mole Man appointed to "assist" him in his own crucifixion).

And whether these guys were medically or legally sane or either or neither, I see value in data.  Yeah, I want to know why they say they did it, not because it would justify the murders of Krystle Campbell, Lü Lingzi, Martin Richard and Sean Collier, or the maiming of at least fourteen people and injuring of nearly two hundred, or the casting of a pall of sorrow and fear over the land.  I want to know because at best knowing might give us a piece of evidence towards preventing these horrors and at worst is merely harmless.  Maybe they can't be prevented, I don't know; but that's the point, isn't it?  That I don't know.  That we don't.

What reason do you need to be shown, Bob?  Gods.  You're right: there are no reasons, because some things are just inexplicable.  But that doesn't mean we don't try to explain, that we don't try to construct our own narratives out of the inexplicable.
True narratives, hopefully: we try to construct narratives from the misinformation and chaos following the death of John Kennedy, for instance, and we end up with garbage in and garbage out and millions of Americans apparently believing Dallas, November 1963 was a grand convocation of every intelligence agency and criminal conspiracy and banana republic in the world and nobody noticed all the Mafiosos and Cubans and KGB and CIA agents bumping shoulders until they started opening fire from every rooftop, open sewer, fence and bump in the grass with line of sight to the motorcade; maybe if that little egomaniac Ruby hadn't decided to be some kind of vigilante "hero" we'd have been able to hear enough of Lee Oswald's self-aggrandizing narcissistic horseshit from his own mouth to realize no secret cabal on Earth would trust the guy with a water pistol, but instead we've had fifty years of stories about false autopsies, impossible bullets, and guys who couldn't successfully break into an office building on their third try without being caught by the rent-a-cop getting credit for the crime of the century.

So we try to learn and understand.  And if we're lucky, we get enough facts--including the fact of why someone thought he did what he did--and maybe that narrative educates us in a way that allows us to do something about the next lunatic before he hurts someone.  And if we're not lucky... well, we still can settle for the truth, or whatever passes for it in an unstable and uncertain universe.  We can ask each other how messed up can things be and attempt to spin sense from nonsense, signal from noise.


I've seen the enemy, and he is us

>> Sunday, April 21, 2013

Not a deep post, but mostly so I can link to amplify this because I think it's important: Brother Seth has a beautiful rundown on why Senator Lindsey Graham's call to treat the suspected Boston Bomber as an "enemy combatant" is stupid and illegal.  You should read it.  Twice, if you need to.

One thing I'd personally highlight is Seth's comment:
If the threshold for being an enemy combatant is a desire to "injure, maim, and kill innocent Americans," then Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, OJ Simpson, and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were "enemy combatants."

Precisely.   Indeed, Senator Graham's statement that, "The suspect, based upon his actions, clearly is a good candidate for enemy combatant status," is at best, at the moment, unknown, and there's some probability it's simply flat-out wrong.  At the moment, the Boston bombing looks as much like Dylan Klebold's and Eric Harris' assault on their own high school in 1999 as it does anything else, and while it's certainly very possible that the Boston suspects were recruited by a terror cell or terror cell wannabe, the mere fact the suspect identified himself at one point as a Muslim on a social networking page is merely evidence that at one point the suspect identified himself as a Muslim on a social networking page.  And even if the suspects were recruited as terrorists, or jihadists, or whatever, even that wouldn't mean they were "enemy combatants" in any meaningful way.

Naturally, the Boston Police and/or the FBI may be privy to information we aren't--actually, it's reasonably certain they're privy to information we aren't.  And that information may have been made available to Senator Graham for some reason, and that information may tend to show that the Boston suspects were something more than Eurasian counterparts to a psychopathic spree killer like Harris and his depressive sidekick Klebold.  But Graham's "based on his actions" doesn't sound like "based on the network of possible connections to known foreign terrorists and/or hostile states revealed by executing a search warrant on the suspect's phone records"; it sounds like Graham wants to consider all bombers terrorists (wrong) and all terrorists enemy combatants (also wrong).

One final observation: Seth cites Graham's JAG experience and service on the Senate Judiciary Committee to suggest Graham is being cynical, not stupid.  Which may be the case, though I have known some extremely stupid lawyers, I'm afraid, and there are a number of politicians who I don't know personally but who have struck me, over the years, as being not-very-bright.  The latter to the point, I might add, that I have to wonder if the very old buildings in which legislators convene ought to have their pipes checked for lead or other contaminants, since quite a lot of these people seem to get stupider and crazier over time (it may just be subjective, familiarity breeding contempt and all that).  They aren't mutually exclusive possibilities, in any event: one may well be a cynical opportunist and dumb.  Whatever; I'm not necessarily disagreeing with Seth's assessment of Graham, I just had to be snarky and mean about it because I think it's completely appropriate under the circumstances.  At the very least, it's perfectly appropriate to suggest that the Senator, based upon his actions, is clearly a good candidate for ignorant douchebag status, and we do wish this Senator would shut up if he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.

Go read Seth's piece.  You've already wasted too much time here.


Me and Nick Cave at Stubb's, SXSW 2013

>> Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I confess, through the entirety of this video I was looking for my own damn head.  I like to pretend I'm not much of a narcissist, but here I am, practically like one of those schmucks that waves at the camera from the windows behind the hosts on a morning television show.  And the funny thing is I hate having my picture taken at all, so here I am looking for myself in a video clip and feeling both pleased and disappointed that I am behind other peoples' heads.

If I am onscreen at all, I am stage left--that is, left when you're standing on the stage, looking out at the crowd; I'm about five feet, maybe, from the cameraman who was stationed over there, maybe at a 45-degree angle from the balcony that's stage left at Stubb's, three or four rows back (except there aren't really actually rows).  I nevertheless had a clear view of the stage, right there in front of Warren Ellis (the bearded violinist and tenor guitar player, not the comic-book writer known for Planetary, et al.; the cult fame of two Warren Ellises throws me for some reason, always makes me want to think the Bad Seeds' Warren Ellis is somebody else, even though I'm far better acquainted with the works of the musical Ellis than the comic book Ellis, whose work I'm only passingly familiar with; perhaps when I'm writing something like this, I assume--without any evidence, actually--that readers, mostly friends, read comics more than they listen to The Bad Seeds; anyway).

There was a moment early on when I spotted a roundish face with beard and glasses, but after several pauses and scrollbacks and restarts, I decided it wasn't me at all, that the person I was looking at, although he was round as am I, had glasses as do I, is bearded as am I, bobs his head and shifts foot-to-foot as I tend to do standing at a concert, was too close to the stage to be I.  He must be another fat bearded blind white man who doesn't dance much or well at a live show.  "Two of us in the world, and at a Nick Cave show, who would have thought?  What are the chances?" he asked sarcastically and rhetorically; I am conspicuously generic in so many ways, which possibly has something to do with looking for myself in a filmed crowd--it would be nice not to be filmed, and somehow nicer to stand out in some inoffensive way if I am (we should be specific: being noticeable in a crowd because you're the only person in view scratching your genitals and then picking your nose is probably undesirable unless your bucket list includes becoming a vulgar animated GIF someday).

Some may wonder if the ScatterKat is in the video.  There was a drawing to allow people with passes in, because there were too many people to let everyone in, and I won a spot and the ScatterKat didn't; and being a ScatterKat of enormous generosity, she didn't begrudge me my one best chance to see Mr. Nick Cave strut the stage.  I am a lucky, lucky man for this and other reasons, and might as well take the moment to express my gratitude to whatever blinds the SK to the reality that she can probably do better.

I have not written about the music.  The music was exceptional and Cave was in fine fettle, though impatient and obviously irritated with the cameras (including NPR's--the moment in the above clip where he waves an arm at the camera I was standing near was less a gesticulation and more a pushing away if you saw it from the side and only a few away).

He works himself up into a character or maybe even a caricature, and it was obviously distracting to him (I thought) to be balling himself up into this intense decadent manic depressive priest of some dark faith only to look down at these fishy glass eyes rising from the crowd's depths.  He was similarly irritable earlier in the day, when the ScatterKat and I saw him interviewed in a room at the Convention Center, and for several minutes after he came onto the dais photojournalists with Serious Cameras and fans with cellphones came up and clicked at him until he tersely asked if they were done yet, handling the tide more effectively than old Canute.

But you can see the performance in the video I may not be in, and you can hear the entirety of the set here.  I could dance about architecture all day, but you either clicked on the video above and watched as much as you could stand before deciding you don't get the fuss or you watched the whole thing and were perhaps a little jealous you weren't there yourself.  I thought it was a pretty fine set and Cave a helluva showman; I might have thought his voice sometimes was a little strained (but I think you can hear that yourself, too, in "From Her To Eternity") and the Seeds were just brilliant and fine (though one has to reluctantly admit that the current Seeds, while phenomenal and one doesn't intend to criticize by being honest, aren't quite at the heights they reached in previous eras with alumni Bargeld, Harvey and Powers; what a crappy and demeaning thing to have to say, but then you don't want to lie, either, especially when you're slicing hairs between great and as great as).

I have to admit that while I enjoyed liveblogging  and reviewing SXSW in 2011, I couldn't quite come up with writing mojo in Austin this year.  The ScatterKat and I had a great time.  And it would have been nice if I had the spark to share some of the insights I gleaned from the Beatles panel featuring Robyn Hitchcock and Rodney Crowell; or the joy of seeing George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell on a dais together to discuss the ancient mysteries of P-Funk; or Richard Fucking Thompson making me almost cry twice on the same day with two separate performances of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" (in the morning at a songwriters interview at the Convention Center, in the evening onstage at a showcase); or any of the music, music, music.  I would love to say that this was wholly because I was distracted by the ScatterKat's charms and sharing the pleasures of a really cool city and legendary music conference and festival with her; the truth is I am in the midst of an existential writing crisis in which I am not writing much on the rare occasions I'm writing at all.  It is at the point where I might be happy to consider myself a bad writer just because being a bad writer would necessarily imply I am a writer (bad writer naturally being a subcategory, etc.); I am, instead, currently, someone who sits around thinking I ought to be writing only to realize I have nothing but spare parts lying around my brain and no idea how any of them ought to attach to anything; I rationalize this by claiming I'm "thinking" about "stories", but the grim truth is something else at the moment.


"What have we done, oh Maggie what have we done?"

>> Monday, April 08, 2013

EDITED TO ADD:  Oh, you know what?  I should have included this one, too:

The nicest thing I can thing I can think of to say about Thatcher is it's been a damn long time since she held office.  Long enough for some people to think she was just a little old lady, and not someone who invaded the Falklands and gutted the British economy.  Anyway.


When we were young and went to school...

>> Thursday, April 04, 2013

So I skimmed the NRA's Report Of The National School Shield Task Force (PDF link).  This is the report, released this week, from the NRA's committee chaired by former Congressman Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, empaneled to review and discuss all the things we can do to make our nation's schools safer from armed assailants besides disarming them, which is off the table because it's unconstitutional.

Most of the talk in the news seems to be about how the NRA is calling for arming teachers.  This is one of the things they recommend, but only one of the things, and yes, it's absurd, but it is only one of the things the report talks about.  They also write about putting unarmed guards into schools, and armed volunteers, and increasing the number of law enforcement officers assigned to schools as School Resource Officers (SROs, in the parlance); in fact, the proposal to arm teachers and the model law they've drafted to enable armed teachers is really kind of incidental and, as absurd as it is, not wholly unreasonable from a certain point of view (yes, this is a paradox); the proposal to arm teachers is really almost a kind of afterthought proffered for schools that need to improve security on the cheap because they can't get the funding for SROs, armed private security, and don't want to deal with the hassles involved with allowing volunteers with guns to roam their campuses.

Indeed, in point of fact, one might even consider that arming the nation's teachers might even be a tad more responsible than the Shield Task Force's volunteers idea (oh, by the way, that would be pp. 96-97, if you're following along at home).  The Shield Task Force--I'm going to start calling them the STF, because I'm lazy--suggests schools might employ "armed citizen volunteers, such as retired or off duty police officers or military veterans, to provide an additional layer of deterrence and security," conjures unfortunate mental images of rheumy-eyed, balding, grizzled, hunchbacked old men with guns almost as big as their shrunken frames wandering the hallways like Silver Alert refugees from a local retirement home, suspiciously eying their juvenile charges with their hoppity-hip music and sagging pants, wishing that North Korea would go on and end the armistice already so these twelve-year-old punks can be drafted and turned into men.  I wouldn't be the first person to observe there's some irony to be found in the coalition with a history of not trusting our nation's educators to educate anyone trusting them with concealed weapons, but then it's possible that these folks have almost as many reservations (in their hearts-of-hearts) about unleashing Old Man Crumpet upon our nation's children to brandish his vintage rifle at them while saying "GAH!" a lot and complaining about their loud clothes, lack of manners, and preferences for basketball and football over real sports like baseball and bowling.  Furies have mercy, Crumpet might shoot a kid in the leg just to be ornery, maybe we should arm the gym teacher.

But the bulk of the STF report is really rather depressing.  Here I have to seemingly digress and tell you that I just absolutely loathed school from probably junior high school on to graduation from high school, and that one of the things I loathed was the (in retrospect fairly banal and nearly universally shared) feeling that I was in some kind of prison.  Alas (and funny to write "alas" about this), these were metaphorical feelings, as high school felt like a prison, but with so many kids leaving campus during lunchtime (in violation of school rules, but still), those staying on campus having lunch just about wherever they wanted, all the milling about between classes, the open (almost collegiate, really) construction of the high school I attended, etc., etc., the place bore little-to-no real resemblance to an actual, bona fide prison like the ones they send actual, bona fide menaces to society to after convicting them of such horrifying breaches of the social contract like murder and finally agreeing to sell weed to an undercover officer after being asked for, like, the fiftieth time already and would you just shut up about wanting to buy some dope if I can find some?

Yes, though school felt like a soul-crushing locked-down penitentiary where I was held captive for wasted hours-on-end, it wasn't actually all that locked-down or much of a pen (it was mostly soul-crushing, though).  Happily(?), the STF has come along to bridge the vast chasm between my youthful narcissistic, melodramatic, martyred visions of life as an existential hell in which I was some kind of pimply cross between Josef K. and Number 6, and the much less-existentially-hellish, dull reality.

Windows, for instance.  Are bad (p. 48).  Fences are good.  Especially ones that "den[y] climbing holds as well as opportunities to bypass underneath" (pp. 26-28).  Schools should "Avoid dense vegetation close to buildings, as it may screen various forms of illicit activity" and "Use landscape elements to protect sensitive operations, gathering areas, and other activities from surveillance without creating concealment for covert activity" (p. 29).  (This may be the first gun control-related document in history to include advice about preferred shrubbery--"Use thorn-bearing and sharp-leaved plant species to create natural physical barriers to deter aggressors, keeping in mind they may also impede emergency egress"; not only does the STF report predictably include recommendations that would subsidize the arms industry, like encouraging gun sales to school faculty, but it also throws a bone to Home Depot and Lowe's.)  Cameras, the STF report is big on cameras inside and outside the building and make sure they're unobstructed, waterproof and well-kept (I'm skipping a page reference here because you could practically open the report at random and have good odds of hitting a video surveillance paragraph or illustration).  Panic buttons, ballistic steel plating and creation of "entrapment areas" at the front entrance of the building are all Very Good Things (pp. 36-37).

Doors.  Doors are a big deal.  Locking the doors, inside and out, and make sure they're not some kind of bullshit doors you can open by sliding a credit card between the flange and frame or shoot through and kick in or anything.  Steel doors are good, or at least reinforced wooden doors.  The STF makes a big deal about locking interior doors--possibly at all times, if practicable--and notes (accurately) that the Columbine shooters (Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold) didn't go into any classrooms with locked doors (having recently finished Dave Cullen's Columbine, however, I'm prepared to write that the STF overlooks the facts that Harris was probably a psychopath--and bored easily (psychopaths have a tendency to need constant new stimuli; indeed, Harris seems to have started losing interest in his own plan to destroy the school once his bombs failed to go off and after he'd shot several people, which really is as ironic and fucked-up as it sounds)--and Klebold was probably bipolar--and relatively unmotivated beyond Harris' likely goadings).  If you really must have some kind of window in or next to a classroom door, best make it something that an assailant can't peer through or break in to gain entry.  Interestingly, the STF also advises against that glass with wire in it because it can produce shrapnel.

Et cetera.

It's baleful.  I mean, I thought high school was terrible and prisonlike, but that was definitely an era long before national lobbying organizations and their affiliated task forces of former politicians and ex-military and retired law enforcement consultants were seriously pushing the notion of actually making schools really and truly prisonlike for the national good.  Somehow we've managed to reach a point where the "Another Brick In The Wall (part 2)" sequence from Pink Floyd's The Wall seems more documentary than sardonic commentary: I could not find a reference to meat grinders in the STF report, but can't help thinking Mr. Hutchinson would have cheerfully endorsed them as part of a safety plan if it were a choice between turning children to sausage and making it harder for the local neighborhood maniac to get off another ten rounds before having to swap out magazines.

Exaggeration.  And maybe a bit harsh.  But then it might not quite be as harsh to mention that with all the STF report's focus on vulnerabilities loading and unloading buses (pp. 57-61), it's almost surprising they didn't take it to the next modestly-proposed step and missed the opportunity to point out how much safer the kiddies would be if they didn't have to file into the buses out in the open like that, and if they could just stay inside the schools all the time.  Behind the carefully-planned shrubbery, unscalable  fences, steel doors, exclusionary zones, ballistic glass, etc.  I mean, why not lock them up from ages six to eighteen where no one can shoot them except their teachers, right?

The saddest funny thing about that, though, is that gun control legislation is deader than a Norwegian Blue pining for the fjords, such that it would be a damn sight easier passing legislation incarcerating first graders for their safety than it would be to pass a law limiting the sale of high-capacity magazines or one requiring background checks of gun buyers at gun shows--or any other piece of gun control legislation.  Lately I've been reading and hearing a number of liberal pundits who are shocked this should be the case, though I think I could have told them back in December this was how things would work out.  For all sorts of reasons, there's no way anyone is going to attempt to reduce school shootings--or shootings in general--by making it harder for anybody to, you know, actually shoot anybody else.  Never mind whether this result is Constitutionally mandated or merely some kind of uniquely American pathology; it goes beyond the inevitable fact that of course the NRA's special team of experts is going to recommend turning American schools into fenced-in fortresses before breathing a word about restricting access to firearms, however modest, beyond to the fact that in our contemporary political climate and culture it would in fact be easier to secure Federal educational funding for fortified boarding schools where outsiders only see their children via Skype and carefully-screened faculty guards with electronic security badges teach math between patrols.  Not, mind you, that this dystopian YA-novel-begging-to-be-written will come to pass, either, just that right now it could get more votes than a waiting period on ammunition purchases could, say.  But I'm not predicting it will come to that, the only thing I'll bet on with any certainty is that some more people will be shot and nothing more will be done about it than the usual finger-wagging and/or hand-wringing.  Some of my fellow liberals keep saying they're bewildered that Newtown wasn't the moment-of-truth lots of jaw-waggers said it was; well for fuck's sake, the NRA Shield Task Force says the first American school shooting on record was in 1764 (p. 6)--why on Earth would Newtown have been different from any other tragedy we've had in the past two-and-a-half centuries?  It's perfectly fair to say that the problem isn't that we haven't learned anything as a society; we have and, as a collective people, we just don't actually care very much.  What we've learned is: schoolroom windows are an invitation to the inevitable and eventual assassin, and the shrubbery should be tall enough to inconvenience him when he arrives and low enough we can see him when (not if) he comes.


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