Reinvention of Self (blue pill version)

4 07 2016

matrixPillsBlueHere’s a funny thought: on a typical day in real life, I interact with a dozen people at most. On Facebook, I’m having conversations with several hundred people. So which identity has more legitimacy?

More to the point: let’s say I wanted to reinvent myself. (I could go into just what that means and why it’s attractive but I’ll skip that part for now.) In real life, I’d have to keep a constant vigilance over my own unconscious tendencies in order to change my behavior. With social media, I can take the time to edit my behavior before releasing it into the universe. It wold take some effort to craft and maintain my ideal identity online, but it seems a much easier prospect than wrangling my natural failings in realtime.

If you tell me that my real-life self is the inherent real me in a way that my online self can never be, I won’t argue. But as The Fixx said, It’s not what we are, it’s what we do. If I’m interacting with 20-30 times more people online, isn’t my online self the one with the greater impact? Isn’t it reasonable to measure ourselves by our affect on others, rather than some philosophical construct of self?

I suppose it’s likely that my little online missives have a very small impact on a lot of people, while my real life behavior has a larger impact on those close to me. But maybe, if I work long and hard to make my online self into my ideal, those habits and behaviors will spill over into my real life.

Seems like it’s worth a shot.

Arguing With Myself About Guns, Part CMXVII

29 06 2016

This post is for my peace of mind. I have no reason to believe it will change anyone’s thinking, or even be read by anyone who disagrees with me. But I need to get to a place where merely raising the issue of guns doesn’t make me crazy. So I want to address a couple of the more reasonable pro-gun arguments I’ve run across, and clarify my own thoughts about what should be done.

Style Matters

The AR-15 is hugely popular with gun owners, due to its flexibility and capacity for customization. Mechanically it is virtually identical to some hunting rifles. Gun owners have argued that the AR-15’s military styling is just a shell, with no real bearing on it’s lethality, and therefore a ban on the AR-15 makes no sense.

But why do people go on shooting rampages?  Going on a massacre is not logical. It is emotional. It is dramatic. Shooters are using the most shocking means available to address their personal pain. I submit to you that the military styling of the rifle adds to the power of the gesture in the shooter’s mind. If he only had access to a wooden stock hunting rifle, he might not bother.

I realize I’m dealing in fuzzy psychological hypotheticals. But given the stakes (mass murder, prevention of), is the role of symbols in an unstable mind less compelling than the right to pursue a hobby? Everybody likes the AR-15. Arguments against banning it are reasonable, but boil down to the defense of a sophisticated toy. Most gun enthusiasts won’t be pushed into irrational homicide by the gun’s action movie aesthetics… but a handful will. Which leads me to:

Numbers Matter, but Lives Matter More

It is undeniably true that the vast majority of gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens. This article from the Guardian (which I found very helpful in humanizing the other side) has the numbers:

Set 30,000 gun deaths, or even 500,000 gun victimizations, against 300 million. As incomplete and imprecise as much gun data is, the bigger picture is clear: most guns are not being used in crimes. Most gun owners are not committing crimes.

I can’t argue with that. But I do argue with the conclusion that onerous gun regulations would unfairly victimize all those responsible gun owners.

Our world is different than it used to be. A mass shooting of random people was unthinkable at one time. Now they happen several times a day in America. Relative to all the daily occurrences in the country they are still rare, but so what? Any workplace, any public place, any school is a potential target. We shouldn’t have to live like that. Not just so that hobbyists can bolster their collections.

I’m sorry for being derisive. There are legitimate reasons for owning guns. There is nothing wrong with enjoying guns. But guns are dangerous. That’s the whole point. It should be hard to acquire them. There should be requirements for keeping them. There should be limits on what is available. This Texas gun owner gets it, believe him if you don’t believe me.

Responsible gun owners get training, get training for their families, keep their weapons secure, and know their weapons well. Their efforts should be honored. No one who is willing to do less should be allowed to own, buy, or fire guns.

What To Do

Some things we can do relatively easily that will make a big difference:

  • Ban magazines bigger than 10 rounds.
  • Enact universal mandatory background checks for all gun sales. Yes, this means you can’t sell your old hunting rifle to your cousin, like you could a car. The model of cars, car insurance, and driver’s licenses is often cited as instructive for gun practices. It’s not a perfect analog, but it’s a good model. I think the prescription drug model is equally instructive. You can’t sell your cousin your leftover Vicodin either.
  • Ban online gun sales. Require presentation of ID in person to buy a gun. Yes, some criminal masterminds can work around this. The point is to make it harder. As I’ve said before, mass shooters are not criminal masterminds. Most of them rely on easily acquired weapons. We must take steps to erase the gray market.
  • Severely restrict open carrying. There is no reason to carry a rifle into Starbucks. Laws can be crafted to make threatening carriers subject to immediate arrest, while allowing hunters and target shooters to transport their guns as they will.

What we should not do, at least not right away, is tie gun ownership to terrorist watch lists. It sounds like a good idea, but currently our watch lists and no-fly lists are highly problematic. We need to refine our law enforcement and national security mechanisms beyond racial profiling. We would be better served by scrapping the next round of new fighter jets and putting the money into training and development of human beings to understand, locate, and assess other human beings.

That brings up big picture items. Guns are not the only piece of the problem, and we need to address deeper root causes if our lives are ever going to be secure. But that’s another post. This one has served it’s purpose. Thanks for reading.








16 06 2016

My last post went to an unproductive place. That was not my intention. I could edit or take it down, but I’m going to leave it alone. The point was; gun advocates, please measure your language and your tactics. Imagine you are talking to mourners at a funeral, because essentially, you are. History lessons and snark are just repulsive and crazy-making and push the discussion toward an actual fight to take away your guns. No one wants that fight. Help us avoid it. Just be mindful.

All that stuff seems totally pointless as I type it, but I’m leaving it there too. I’m going to repeat the following from another previous post, because it’s still the best I have to offer:

“The problem… isn’t that criminals don’t follow laws, but rather that criminals aren’t dissuaded by weak laws. And gun laws in all but a few states are decidedly weak.”

The full article from The Trace is here.

Don’t Be a Dick About Automatic vs Semi-Automatic

15 06 2016

My friend Troy recently wrote something that clarified for me why a ban on semi-automatic weapons is unreasonable. Here’s the highlight:

Semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons are different. For the few who haven’t checked wiki on this yet: a semi-automatic weapon loads the next round into the chamber, but it takes another trigger pull to fire it off. While semi-automatic does *not* mean three round bursts, it does mean one can fire off many rounds very, very quickly. If you had the horror of listening to the audio recorded on a victim’s cell phone like I did driving home (thank you NPR), then you’ll hear exactly how fast that is,

The reason gun nuts and respectable gun owners don’t want to ban semi-automatic weapons is because nearly *all* rifles are semi automatic these days. That .22 ruger that holds 10 rounds and is not powerful enough to kill a deer in one shot? It’s semi automatic.

An AR-15 to the best of my knowledge is ‘just’ a higher powered .22*. Mechanically identical. 

And no, I had not wikied it. Because unlike Troy’s very kind and informative post, most people arguing the difference between automatic and semi-automatic sound like snarky assholes, splitting hairs while people die. Those type of posts don’t make me want to understand anything.

Here’s the beginning of a more typical one currently making the rounds:

Ok. I’m going to have to fix a few people on here because emotions are high and stupid shit is being supported.
First off, most of you have no clue what an assault rifle is! It’s not your fault you don’t know, I will educate you. An assault rifle is a rifle with the ability to go fully automatic. That means if you hold the trigger down, it keeps going bang until you release the trigger or the weapon runs out of ammo. The first assault rifle came about during WWII with the German Stg44. It had the power of a rifle with nearly the rate of fire of a sub-machine gun (full auto). Inspired out of this WWII era gun came the most well knows assault rifles of all time, the AK-47 and the M-16…

I’ma stop you right there smarty pants. I don’t give a single fuck about the history of guns right now. I will take any definitive information you want to share, but guns to me are not fun or beautiful or even the least bit interesting.

I understand that some people like guns. That’s fine. I like a lot of weird shit that is completely pointless, I won’t fault anyone for liking guns. But when you’re talking to us regulators, you have to understand: we are exploding with rage and frustration. People are dying, for no reason, more and more and more, and we get nothing but a stone wall of resistance to any action whatsoever.

My hands are shaking as I type this. I know that compromise is the only workable path forward. I know that stricter laws and tighter regulations will go a long way to solving the problem. I know that a ban on all rifles is not warranted or possible. But if I’m honest, I absolutely agree with my friend Sarah:

Take away our guns. All of them. Defend yourself with fists for all I care. Purge this country of its metal plague. Melt them down into little cups to catch the tears of the NRA. Every last gun ripped from its owners’ hands. No more fucking around.

This is where we’re at. Congress won’t take a single step to solve a problem that other countries have shown how to solve. People are dying for no reason. Literally anyone could be next. So don’t talk to me about your hobby, or your wild west good guy scenario, or god forbid your rebel vs tyrant standoff fantasy–seriously, how does end in any way but you getting squashed under a tank?

It’s unfair for me to be snarky and tell the other side you can’t, I suppose. You know what else is unfair? Gun owners and gun buyers have access to all the guns. Dead people have nothing.

So fuck you guys. It’s on you to make this right. I don’t want to hear a single fucking word out of you that doesn’t move us toward a solution.



12 06 2016

I want all gay, queer, and trans people to know I am on your side.

I want all Muslims to know I don’t associate you with murderers who claim to share your religion.

Aside from that, I only have despair.

I can’t argue this anymore. The arguments are clear, the conclusions self-evident, the solutions obvious. Yet nothing will change until a critical mass lose loved ones to emotionally hobbled men with guns.

What a stupid waste of human life.

Franchise Fatigue (but maybe not)

30 04 2016

art by Alex Solis

In one or more of my numerous recent posts about media empires based on fictional universes, I cited this from Alan Moore: “… it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.” He’s talking about superheroes, but the same could apply to any of the legacy franchises that seem to dominate pop culture today: Star Wars, James Bond, The Muppets, etc. I keep going back to this quote from Moore, because I admire him a lot, and I’m perennially torn about enjoying superheroes. But I think maybe it’s all okay.

It’s pretty self-evident that the prevalence of franchises puts originality at a disadvantage. The big familiar blockbusters can stunt the experimentalism of young potential creators. They make audiences less receptive to new, challenging stories. They give publishers and studios an attractive alternative to risky new ventures. 

Even so, new and relevant works by emerging voices are everywhere. Look at novels; the vast majority have nothing to do with franchises. Look at television, awash in new, high quality dramas and comedies. Look at independent film. Even in the world of comic books we have such innovative gems as Saga, not to mention the huge range of alternative/independent comics. Unfortunately, most of the new and original material suffers a huge disadvantage in the marketplace…but have we ever lived in a world where that wasn’t true?

Some legacy stories and characters would be much better off without the endless revivals and renewals, and appreciated as the flawed jewels of a particular time and place.* James Bond, for a prime example: removed from the Cold War and scrubbed of misogyny for a slightly more enlightened age, he’s reduced to an action movie cipher, indistinguishable from every other half-developed secret agentish man. 

But some franchises have more to offer than just squashing the creative competition. I mentioned in my post about Star Wars: The Force Awakens that I felt some dismay at the long, enduring grasp of this franchise. Pretty much for the reasons suggested by Alan Moore above. Why can’t Star Wars stop drinking the life essence of all us Podlings and let a new player onto the stage?** Well, it’s important to remember that the first Star Wars had a colossal impact on cinema and pop culture. Is it fair to expect another entertainment-landscape-shattering spectacle to show up on a regular basis? Our whole media world now is so different from 1977, one might argue that such game-changing works are no longer possible.*** All this to say, it’s not just studio bankrolls and marketing machinery that keeps Star Wars rolling along. Longevity is to be expected from something so hugely influential.

Sometimes I wonder why the superhero genre is so exclusively about older characters. Newer superhero stories like Powers, Hellboy, and Planetary are some of the best, but can’t begin to compete with the household names like Spider-Man or Batman. But then, the actual cause-and-effect is probably the reverse. Superman, Spider-Man and Batman dominate because they’ve been around so long. Thousands of stories have been written over the decades of monthly comic book publishing, and Marvel Studios is doing an excellent job of mining the gold from all that pulp.

The danger, when adult fans stay attached to the beloved characters of their youth, is a lack of maturity. Many fans and creators basically mistake pornography for maturity. That’s no good. But as with Star Wars, the most enduring superhero characters endure because of their emotional impact. They speak to mythic truths we all recognize.

Where would we be today without franchise dominance? What if, for example, instead of continuously reinforcing the Star Wars aesthetic, we’d had other artists reinterpreting space fantasy with the support of major movie studios? We’d have a richer, more stimulating cinema, undoubtedly. But art and entertainment are not public policies we can work toward correcting; they reflect who we are, and help us understand ourselves. Even crummy art tells us something about where it came from. I want us to have more good art and less bad art. The best way for anyone to work toward that goal is to make art.

*Also true of the majority of newspaper comic strips, shambling along like zombies long after the original creator is retired or dead. But that’s maybe another post.

**Consider this a mashup, not a mixed metaphor.

***Or at least, not as simply a really cool movie. Some greater reinvention of medium would have to play a part.

Walking Dead, Ya Lost Me

6 04 2016

(Hordes and hordes of spoilers)

Okay, not lost. I will be tuning in for season 7. But I hated the finale of season 6.

I get it, The Walking Dead. You are a show about brutal circumstances, heartbreaking losses, intolerable pressures, and you have a high stakes, no-one-is-safe attitude. I like those things about you. What I like even more is when you depict the struggle to remain human and decent under such horrendous conditions. During season 6, you actually caused me to re-examine my own real life attitudes toward my political opposites (and there are some doozies out there right now, you know). But then you threw all that away in favor of nihilistic torture porn.

I get it, Negan is some ultra-villain from the comics, which I have not read. Having no previous investment in Negan, I was not impressed. He’s just another asshole sociopath, only more cartoonish than the Governor or the people of Terminus. I liked the misdirect better, when one of his people a couple episodes ago said “we’re all Negan.” A leaderless yet organized mob would have been an interesting twist.

I don’t object to landing in a desperate and despairing situation. I stuck with you through the death of Beth, and that was hard, but it had a kind of integrity. Not like the unearned menace in the season 6 finale; that felt like a D&D session where the DM has a specific, unpleasant outcome in mind, and no amount of inventive role playing or ingenious problem solving will sway him (we’ve all been there, right?). Suddenly Negan and his group can just do anything. Negan and his “awesome” baseball bat lording it over the characters we care about was excruciating and it went on way too long. I really wanted to shut it off, but I was hoping there would be some twist or glimmer of hope worth hanging in there for at the end. Instead there was just withholding of information. The event happened, but we don’t get to know who died. That is some arbitrary, American Idol-style dead air phony suspense bullshit.

Honestly though, I don’t even care about the cliffhanger. I felt like the episode left the realm of smart, powerful drama and just gloried in pain and misery, Saw style. I know you love your overblown head splatter sound effects, Walking Dead, and I generally find that little affectation amusing. But if you really wanted to be dramatic instead of gratuitously grotesque, you would have ended that final shot with one blow, maaaaybe two. Not half a dozen head splatter sounds playing over a black screen.

Come on.


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