On jokes, and how to take them

You probably already know more about the Charlie Hebdo massacre than I do. This isn’t about that. The shooting spree is certainly the spark for what I have to say here but, aside from sharing in the grief of this senseless loss of life, it’s not exactly the point.

This is more directly a response to those people who say, “Yeah, ‘Je Suis Charlie’ is a great catch phrase but you, you left-leaning wise-asses, are in no position to state it. You’re not Charlie because, if you were, you’d have been speaking out against self-censorship for years. If it wasn’t a government or a religious order you feared, then you were tiptoeing through the minefield of political rectitude your own allies laid around you. Maybe you could cough up the courage to hurl your bile at “Repugnicans” or “Teabaggers,” but when it came time to call out overreaching leaders of feminist, gay rights, illegal alien, or umbrage-taking minority grievance merchants, you’re missing in action. You never had the balls to be Charlie, and now you must’ve rented them from somewhere to say you are.”

What can I say? Those voices are, like the allegorical broken clock, right at this particular second.

I’ll start with chastising myself. In 2005, I started work on what would be my first novel, Land That I Love, which was a thinly veiled critique of the hubris that led to the Iraq War. George W. Bush had just won a second term in the White House. (I hesitate to use the term “re-elected” which implies he was elected the first time.) It’s hard to believe now, but at that time, political humor at Bush’s expense was completely lacking in major media. You could chide him on his doofus image, but you couldn’t say anything against his policies because if you did you “were with the terrorists” or “hated our freedoms” or “didn’t support the troops”. It was all bullshit, but nobody wanted to be the first to call it. It took me a year to write LTIL, during which the Katrina response fuck-up and the now half-remembered Social Security reform gamble began the thaw. Even so, nobody would publish the book until W was out of office. I still have rejection letters from the Bush years telling me how little appetite agents and publishers had for political satire.

You’d have thought I’d learned my lesson about being more aggressive with the targets of my humor after that, but no. Whether I’m too nice a guy for this line of work or I’m just a pussy is a matter of interpretation, but I’ve demonstrated the point again as recently as last year.

There’s a speculative fiction author of great renown whom I have long respected professionally and who has on occasion provided me with valuable mentoring. Then he wrote a book which I thought really, really sucked. Now, it got great reviews and some real bigfoot novelists stood in line to blurb it. But I maintain to this day its literary quality is a mass delusion, an emperor’s-new-clothes beauty contest to see who can put the best shade of lipstick on this pig. Not to say this guy hasn’t written great stuff before and will again, but this was Book One of the What The Fuck Trilogy.

So I ping this guy offline and say that I wanted to lampoon it, a la what the Harvard Lampoon did to Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. He said yes. I offered to let him see it before anyone else. He declined, stating that it wouldn’t be in the spirit of the exercise if he held any sway over the process. Then in a post to this blog, I mentioned the project, including this author’s name.

Within 20 minutes, he’s IM-ing me to take down the post, excoriating me for making public what he considered a private conversation (which was true, but there’s a difference between private and privileged, and at no point did he tell me the conversation was not to be shared), and demanding that I immediately stop work on the parody. Bear in mind, I don’t think I got more than one or two hits on this site by the time he ordered me to take the post down. I don’t know if he was using some kind of sophisticated sniffer software or if he’s really that troll-y about his name on the web. Doesn’t really matter.

So I ceased and desisted. I like to think it’s because I felt a little guilty about blindsiding him with the announcement, and I (still) consider him a friend and didn’t want to foment any further ill will. But at some point I have to ask, was it worth stopping a creative project? And the answer is no. I didn’t want to offend a friend, but maybe I was more concerned with pissing off someone who’s in a position to do my own career a serious setback or a serious boost. And that is the absolute wrong reason to put the brakes on. I’ll say this now: I don’t know if I’m going to go back to work on that project. I don’t want to do it out of spite any more than I want to not do it out of candy-assedness. It’s a matter of whether or not it’s worth the time and effort. The author of the work to be lambasted doesn’t get a vote. You do. If you want to know more about this project or you want to encourage me to go forward, you know how to get a hold of me. (And if you don’t know how, just leave a comment here.)

But these aren’t the only example’s of the speculative fiction community’s lack of humor. You might’ve seen the internet meme about honest state mottos. A well-regarded feminist author posted it to her Facebook page (the day after I posted it to mine). It includes such bon mots as “Idaho: We’re More Than Just Potatoes. OK, Maybe Not But the Potatoes Are Real Good.” And “Illinois: Where A Politician’s Term in Office and Prison Sentence Are Roughly the Same.” But one gentle soul chided our feminist scribe because, buried somewhere in those 50 jokes, was “Hawaii: Haka Tiki Mou Sha’ami Liki Toru (Death to Mainland Scum, But Leave Your Money).” This, it was purported, cast Pacific Islanders in an unfavorable light. And to this, the author apologized profusely.

Really? “Florida: A Wonderful Place to Enjoy Pain Pills and Die of Old Age. And Vice Versa” doesn’t have a taint of agism to it? “Arkansas: Literassy Ain’t Everything” doesn’t sound like privileged elitists pissing on those with lesser formal education? “Utah: Monogamy and Cheap Drinks … Who Needs ’em?!” doesn’t perpetuate an outdated stereotype of Mormons? And then there’s my favorite: “Kentucky: Five Million People; Fifteen Last Names” which is certainly less than accurate. But these stereotypes attack white, Christian people who are, apparently, free targets while the honor of Polynesians must be defended. Or something. Maybe somebody can volunteer a clearer explanation.

Which brings me to the whole topic of ethnic humor.

I’m all in favor of it.

There is a line, of course. But it’s not a matter of good taste. There’s no reliable arbiter of that. A humorist just has to play it how he or she feels. The distinction is this: intent.

There’s nothing funny about hate. Just the other day, I reposted a photo illustrating an act of vandalism that, in itself, was harmless, but was nonetheless an apparent hate crime. I have absolutely no tolerance for that kind of intentional malice. But a day later, I reposted a link to a news story headlined “Why Women Shaving Their Faces Is Now a Thing” and added this comment: “Not judging. Know too many Italians.”

As any other New Yorker — especially those of Italian heritage — will tell you, that’s just busting balls. It’s what Italians, Irish, and Jews have been doing for a hundred years around here. We know each other well enough and long enough that nobody takes offense because nobody takes it seriously. We still eat in each others’ restaurants, drink in each others’ bars, and march in each others’ parades. We laugh at each other because we don’t mind laughing at ourselves. The Puerto Ricans have recently caught up to this too. Humor can build bridges as well as minefields.

Well, this turned into a rant, but not a pointless one, I hope. We need more humor, not less. And it needs to be a little bit dangerous.

Think of it as analogous to sports. They’re both all about aggression. Humor can be a way to get it out of our systems without devolving into full-scale conflict. But it only works if we accept the inherent risk. In sports, people get hurt physically. In humor, you could get your feelings hurt. So wear a fucking cup and take a joke.

Of triumphs and trolls

First the triumphs.

I’ve been invited to participate on panels at both Lunacon and the inaugural LI-Con (which, I hope, will rebound again as the I-Con we all knew and loved). I’ll post my schedules as they come into focus. Let it also be said that I am a vocal and money-where-my-mouth-is supporter of my adoptive home town’s bid for the 75th WorldCon: DC in 2017!

I also had a blast at Arisia this past weekend. I posted a few vlog entries on my YouTube channel, which involved figuring out how to post directly from iPhone to YouTube (after I got it all synched up, it wasn’t hard at all). Since posting my last vid, two very surprising things happened there with regards to my work-in-progress, Pitch Ribbons: A Cantata for Four Voices. First, I gave the first public reading of excerpts from the first three chapters, and it seemed to me that people were keeping their keypads in their pockets and listening. Second, I participated in a how-to-pitch-your-novel workshop facilitated by a triumvirate of well-known agents and small-press publishers. They told me I had a strong message and that I should pitch them for-reals once I’ve heard back from my betas and completed the third draft. (Very proud of and humbled by my beta panel — anyone would be: Helen Marshall, Simon Logan, and Vince Liaguno).

So with Mighty Mighty advanced reader copies out to reviewers and a plan to soft-launch it at Lunacon and LI-Con before putting it up on Amazon, it would seem things are looking up for my too-long delayed major foray into the world of speculative fiction authorship. I truly believe they are.

So I can be philosophical about (gasp!) my reputation being impugned on the Web. Still, it’s grating.

Let’s rewind a second. Like I said, I just got back from Arisia. If anyone there thought for a second that I was racist, sexist, or homophobic, I’d have been kicked out of the Westin, if not dropped to the bottom of the Charles River. I don’t think anyone would hurl those accusations at me in public, where people could hear them and friends who actually know me could rise to my defense.

So a day and a half ago I posted a new blog entry in this space: “Seeking a radical, black feminist review of Mighty Mighty”. The headline sounds like a provocation but, if you read the article (after being provoked by the headline), you find out I’m sincere. I think I’ve got some well-drawn characters of both sexes, a spectrum of proclivities, various ethnicities, and of distinct class origins. I don’t believe any of them lapse into stereotype, or at least not for long. They all have arcs. They all change. Just like people.

But I don’t want you to take my word alone for that. I want reviews. And I don’t just want reviews from friendly quarters — that is, other white, het, cis, middle-aged men, particularly ones who also write humorous SF and who are also going to want a blurb from me one of these days. I want to hear from people who don’t know William Freedman from William Shatner and who’d be offended if I didn’t handle the characters with the care that is their due. I want to know what people who don’t have a relationship with me to lose think about my work. And if they say it sucks, that’s fine. I take feedback as a gift. If they really rip Mighty Mighty into shreds, that’s fine with me. It means my next book will be that much better.

Even so, I wouldn’t be making the invitation if I didn’t think this novel held up. I mean, what would be the point?

Funny thing happened with that blog post. This Auctor Lanx Satura blog got more views in the one hour after that post went live than it’s gotten in most months. Even funnier thing: absolutely no comments.

So hundreds of people saw that post, and nobody had anything to say about it.

Right.

Now, the reason I know how many people saw it and how many people clicked through to multiple pages is that I monitor the Stats application on my dashboard — like most WordPress bloggers do, I’m sure. That application also tells where these hits are coming from. Some of them were coming from my Facebook personal and author pages, as well as from groups where I announced the new post. And some were coming from Tumblr, one of a number of social media sites I intended to establish an account at in order to promote Mighty Mighty and subsequent works. But a bunch came from something called Plurk, which is apparently a microblogging site used mainly by people living in Taiwan and by trolls around the world who want to talk about you behind your back.

So I established both Tumblr and Plurk accounts, and started clicking on the links that had appeared under the “Referrers” heading of my Stats page. And here’s what I found (I won’t embarrass the individual involved, who obviously prizes her anonymity, by linking to her or referring to her by nom de Web):

ALERT ALERT straight white guy wants a black radical feminist to review his bullshit novel favorably because “it passes the bechdel test” and “women talk about math in it,” explains that he is not misogynistic or racist and that there is “satire” and that he totally has black and woman and gay friends and one time a famous lady novelist yelled at him on the internet and it made him a better person.fascinating, right? you should definitely give this book free publicity for being so not sexist and not racist and having ladies who don’t talk about boys in it.

If you read my original post, maybe you share my sense that she only saw the words she selectively wanted to see. So I called her out, sending her the following note via Plurk:

First of all, thank you, [name]. You’ve driven more traffic to my site in an hour than I’ve gotten in certain whole months. To clarify, I’m not asking for a favorable review, which would be presumptuous to say the least. I’m looking for an *honest* review and, based on your opinion of me at the moment, I’m sure I can count on you for that. So are you up for the challenge?

She responded in the negative, as you could predict, but then she went on to tell her friends:

oh my god so i linked the page about the black radical feminist seeking author on an entirely different (privated!!) social networking site so i could laugh about it with my friends and HE CREATED AN ACCOUNT AND TRIED TO ADD EVERY PERSON ON MY FRIENDSLIST. so fair warning to anyone who wants to link this guy’s blog, he can track links and he’s REALLY FUCKING CREEPY ABOUT IT.

But he wrote a novel that passed the Bechdel Test he can’t be creepy :((((((((

“Really fucking creepy”?

I didn’t try to add every person on her friends list. I didn’t even know they were on her friends list. They were just the ones who visited my site and whom I could identify via my (standard, free, nothing-special) Stats app. Since they read my blog, I think I’m entitled to assume they might want to (at their own discretion) be included in future signals I send out publicly via the internet. But if they really were “EVERY PERSON ON MY FRIENDSLIST” then I feel badly for her: She has only 14 friends.

“Really fucking creepy”?

Maybe I am, but if you’re anonymous, and you take your passive-aggressive acting-out all the way to Taiwan to keep it that way rather than have the guts to post comments on this blog, and you have only 14 friends, you don’t get to be the one to call me that.

For good or ill, I live out loud. I write finance and technology articles as well as genre fiction. I also contract out as an IT management consultant and financial analyst. And I’m a suburban husband, father, and assistant scoutmaster. I try to keep these spheres compartmentalized for  purposes of marketing as well as my own sanity, but I use the same name — the one I was born with — for all of them. I have a listed land-line number. Two, in fact. I have over 600 connections on both Facebook and LinkedIn. Some of these are people I’ve added as recently as today, and others I went to kindergarten with. I’m not hiding from anyone, and I have damn little to hide.

But enough about the Troll from Taipei. Fortunately, her opinion doesn’t matter to me. I figure it matters to, at most, 14 others.

Now, as for the people I know in real life from participating in convention programming, their opinion — at least in the aggregate — does matter to me. I shared a link to the controversial blog post in a number of Facebook groups, one of which was for Lunacon. That’s where somebody reported me to Principal Zuckerberg. Credit where it’s due: The group’s moderator (whom I won’t name here because I’m sure she’s catching enough flak) clicked through, looked at the blog post, found nothing wrong with it and replied publicly with the comment:

Not sure why this post was reported, but it *is* genre relevant. And while the headline may not seem appropriate, it is actually an ongoing discussion and issue within SF/F conventions and fandom.

That’s all I’m saying. Let’s talk about it. Out loud. With each other.

I’m not going to go digging too deep around my Stat app anymore. Guess I found out more than I wanted to know. And I don’t want to become a creep.

Admittedly, I’m new to Tumblr and Plurk, but I do have a Reddit account. It’s been dormant, as I haven’t really had a use for it until now. But maybe it’s about time I got it up and running.

So you can Ask Me Anything.

Seeking a radical, black, feminist review of ‘Mighty Mighty’

Yes, you read that headline right. And for most of us white, male, het, cis, privileged types, it sounds like, “Seeking a dental surgeon with the delirium tremens,” or “Nice shot, Haji, but I’m about two more yards to your right and you gotta remember to adjust for the wind.” (Apologies for the ethnic insensitivity in the preceding sentence; I should’ve expressed the distance in meters.)

So why am I, so much a part of an effete coterie of decreasing relevance in genre circles, asking to have his work excoriated by the New Guard? Let me take another shot of single-malt Scotch and I shall tell you.

(Drat! I dribbled a smidgeon on my Brooks Brothers argyle sweater-vest!)

First, I want the exposure. I don’t care if have a penis, wished you did, wished you didn’t, wished nobody did, or are quite happy without one thank you. I just want you to buy my book. Or at least talk about it. I don’t care what you say about it, as long as you say something. Then somebody else will buy it.

Second, I really think that Mighty Mighty passes some key shibboleths when it comes to appealing to the Millennium’s sensitivities. It certainly passes the Bechdel test. Don’t believe me? Here’s a conversation between two female characters:

“… So I guess that’s where the bad habits came from,” Tara confessed, lying down flat on the Audi’s back bench. “I never thought anyone recognized anything I did, so I stopped trying.”

“But as my powers faded away to nothing, yours just got stronger,” Flare Star observed. “And it’s a good thing they did.”

“Yeah,” Tara conceded. “Maybe when all this is over, I’ll give the hero thing another try.”

“You already have,” Flare Star replied. “But explain this to me: I get why you left The Crusaders. I can figure out why you went back for your Ph.D. But how did you end up working for UPS?”

“That’s the easy part,” Tara explained. “What else are you going to do with a doctorate in formal axiology?”

“I don’t know. What is formal axiology?”

“It’s the study of value. What – mathematically – makes something good.”

“As opposed to evil?” Flare Star asked.

“You make it sound like those are the only two choices.”

“They aren’t?”

“Not by a long shot,” Tara said with a smirk. “Kevin and Elias got into this predicament while they were off hunting something chaotic, which doesn’t rise to the level of either good or evil.”

“So there are at least three choices.”

“More than that,” Tara explained. “You know what’s worse than evil?”

“Worse than evil? No. What?”

“Nihilism. The idea that nothing matters and all humanity’s efforts are wasted and worthless,” Tara summarized. “At least evil has a purpose. And at least chaos can give birth to order and, maybe, to good.”

“So given the choice …”

“Between evil and nothingness? Pick evil every time.”

That’s right. In my novel, I have two women discussing the mathematical underpinnings of the entire concept of ethics. Do you have that in yours? Purists will note that other characters, who happen to be male, are mentioned briefly in that exchange, but the discourse was clearly not about those male characters.

Nor is this the only example. Two of the villains are female, and I don’t think they discuss boys even once through the whole book — despite having started out as college roommates:

“So have you made up our mind yet, Equality?” Brigitte asked as she came in one afternoon with a reusable shopping bag filled with the makings of a salad-for-two. They often ate light dinners together in their room in the former Radcliffe dorms.

Equality was sitting on her yoga mat – which she also insisted on using as a bed – wearing a Guatemalan hemp hoodie and a pair of loose-fitting Capri pants she’d sewn together from home- spun and tie-dyed herself.

“Haven’t really thought about it,” Equality replied, then belched out a cloud of white smoke. “Where’s Phish playing this weekend?”

Brigitte consulted the concert schedule stapled – they couldn’t find magnets or scotch tape – to the refrigerator door.

“New York. The Garden.”

“Oh. I’ll drop by the drycleaner tomorrow, schedule a couple interviews in Manhattan and leave a day early,” Equality said as she began going through her warm-up stretches. “I guess I’ll just go and be an investment banker on Wall Street.”

“Don’t you love going to Harvard?” 

I think that, if you read Mighty Mighty without preconceptions, you’ll find that it has a diversity of characters who are informed by, but not defined by, their sexuality, ethnicity, and class. Oh, and the action takes place over the course of 35 years and 120,000 words. Characters change, grow, learn more about each other and themselves. You might bristle when you’re first introduced to Myron Masters who, in the Mighty Mighty world, was the first African-American superhero. When he took up the mantle, he adopted the simplest, least confusing nom de guerre: Black Man. Yes, you’re supposed to squirm at that. It’s squirm humor (and if you realize he’s a send-up of Marvel’s Power Man, you’ll get the joke immediately). As the world becomes more inclusive and Myron ages out of the fight, we all discover what other abilities he has besides Being Black.

My last reason is this: personal growth. I’m from a small town that was sharply divided into white neighborhoods and a black ghetto. Then I went to college on Long Island, which back then could be as racist as anywhere in the South. The day of a young woman going to college strictly to “get her MRS” was on the wane, but far from over. And this was during the early days of AIDS — I had about a dozen LGBT friends back then, only one of whom dared be out. I didn’t have to deal diversity until I was in my late 20s and in an international program in grad school.

About ten years later, when I was first acting on my longstanding aspiration to be a science fiction novelist, I joined the Online Writers Workshop and posted in a chat  my opinion at the time on the prevalence of gay characters in the magazines. I said something to the effect that, in a short story, if it doesn’t matter to the plot what a character’s orientation is, maybe you don’t need the gay sex scene, and maybe you don’t even have to identify the character as gay or straight or anything. That was followed by about twenty minutes of radio silence on the thread, then An Author Whose Works You’ve Read tore me a new orifice, and all her friends and fans piled on. (Years later I met her at a reading. She greeted me graciously with a hug and a peck on the cheek. I’m not sure if she even connected my name with my face, or had any recollection of the exchange. Anyway, there’s no lingering hard feelings on either side.) I had a lot to learn then. I’m sure I still do now. That’s why I want some honest opinions from sources I know won’t be saying nice things to me just to make me feel comfortable.

Here’s the pitch: If you have a review blog and a radical, black, feminist perspective, I would like to send you a free advanced reader’s copy of Mighty Mighty in PDF. Just send me a note at william_freedman [at] verizon [dot] net or a PM via Facebook. I will read your review and your readers’ comments with great interest. I promise not to be among those commenters. There will be no flame war — I surrender before the first shot. If I think you’re way off base, I’ll tell you so privately. Otherwise, I’ll keep my mouth shut and my finger off the SEND key.

One other stipulation: Try reading it for the entertainment value as well as the social commentary. It’s a satire. It’s supposed to be funny. I’m trusting in the radical, black, feminist sense of humor embodied by such comic geniuses as Wanda Sykes and … uh … um … all the rest.

Where’s the death certificate?

If I were a conspiracy theorist … and I’m not, but if I were …

I’d be thinking that Osama bin Laden actually died somewhere around the Tora Bora caves in 2002. And when U.S. Special Forces killed him, or maybe he died from his famously diseased kidneys failing without dialysis available, they found a trove of videos that were recorded shortly after 9/11 that bin Laden intended to release intermittently. They would be vague enough to always sound like they were describing current events, but really they were just reflecting whatever contingencies the top Qaeda leaders considered likely. After all, their need for publicity might be occasionally at odds with their ability to distribute their message.

The U.S., of course, knows a thing or two about the value of propaganda. These videos could serve America’s cause as well as they could serve Al Qaeda’s. There’s nothing quite as unifying as having a hissable villain to close ranks against, a la Goldstein in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. So the American military kept bin Ladin “alive” and arranged to have his tapes released via Al Jazeera. Far fetched? Sure. But that would explain why we’ve never been able to simply trace the chain of evidence back from the Arabic news network. I mean, somebody at Al Jazeera had to have a connection to whomever was sending those videos, right? And the sender had to have a link to whomever recorded them, who had to have a link to bin Laden himself. And yet, after almost ten years of surveillance, we couldn’t connect these dots?

Anyway, the videos did their job. George W. Bush won the 2004 election. (I prefer that construct to “George W. Bush won re-election,” which presupposes he was elected in 2000, but that’s an entirely different paranoid fantasy.) Unfortunately for the Republican Party, the videos lost their shelf life after that. The American public wearied of war as they realized that we’d spent less time in World War I and World War II combined than we’d spent in the Global War on Terror — and actually won both of the first two! And no amount of impotent rage was going to mask the fact that millions of people had lost their jobs practically overnight, the entire nation’s investment portfolio was in the toilet and, by the way, your house is now worthless.

So the Republicans lost the White House and, thus, control of the videos.

But that’s OK because they were losing their luster anyhow. Maybe there weren’t any prerecorded bin Laden rants left. And even if they were, the newly installed Nobel Peace Prize laureate and newly elected President Barack Obama had little appetite for continuing the GWOT. I leave it to your own political leanings to inform you whether this is due to his being a Muslim, having sympathy for the Islamist cause, he’s just plain evil and can’t be trusted or (my personal favorite as outlandish as it sounds) he realized that the most effective way to deal with the budget deficit is to end the war.

Now here’s where the planning goes out the window and the White House starts improvising. (Nothing goes according to plan for this long.)

Donald Trump revives the birther canard. There’s really no point arguing with him. No amount of evidence is going to stop people who want to think the worst about someone from thinking the worst. And the evidence that Obama had filed with the Federal Election Commission in 2008, the so-called short form, was all that was required by the government to stand for high office or, for that matter, to get a passport or driver’s license.

But then Obama gets the word that the CIA has located a high-value target outside Islamabad, Pakistan.

It’s obviously not bin Laden. He’s a long time dead from gunshot wounds or from fatal quantities of potassium and calcium in his blood, and it’s in a suburban setting, which is clearly not bin Laden’s style. Still, it’s somebody else we want dead. But we don’t want the whole neighborhood dead, so we have to send in the Navy SEALs rather than another drone.

Suddenly Obama’s long-form birth certificate finally materializes.

The SEALs do their job. They kill the bad guy. Then they put out the word it’s bin Laden.

The proof? Their word for it. The word of the CIA and of a covert operations team. I don’t want to disparage either of them. They’re both highly professional, highly effective organizations doing difficult jobs in the interest of defending their nation. But one of the pillars of that nation is freedom of expression, so I find no sedition in asking: What is it they say is the “first casualty of war” again?

Where’s the body, one might ask. At the bottom of the ocean. Which ocean? We can’t say. Do you have a picture of the bullet-ridden corpse? Maybe. If so, we’ll release it later. (What? Did their PhotoShop license expire?) How come he was able to survive with kidney failure all this time? Oh, he never had kidney failure! You didn’t hear us right — we said he had kidney stones. Can’t you provide any other proof that bin Laden died according to your account, Mister President? Hey, I just showed you my birth certificate — you people are never satisfied!

So now Obama is a shoe-in for reelection. Bush kept “chasing” bin Laden for more than seven years because it served his purposes. Obama “killed” him in less than two-and-a-half because that served his purposes.

The only part I don’t get is the media’s acquiescence to the narrative over the past 12 hours. I know we all want to believe this. But it’s somebody’s job — and I don’t know if it’s the legitimate press’s or Fox News’s — to start asking follow-up questions. Really, why is everyone reporting bin Laden’s assassination as a fact? It might very well be, but why isn’t anyone adding phrases like, “according to the Pentagon” or “according to the Obama Administration”? I’m not asking for cynicism here, just some healthy skepticism.

Because I’m someone who believes in freedom of the press, but who also believes that responsibility comes with that freedom.

Like I said, I’m not a conspiracy theorist.

Guns? Some of these guys I don’t trust with safety scissors

You may have heard of Carolyn McCarthy. She’s the Democratic congresswoman leading the charge to outlaw the high-capacity magazines used by the gunman who fatally fired into a crowd that had turned out to see her colleague, Gabrielle Giffords. (Giffords herself is a reliable pro-gun vote in the House. Her doctors probably haven’t told her about McCarthy’s efforts yet. They may be saving that until it’s time to see if Gabby can extend her middle finger.)

McCarthy also has the dubious distinction of being my own community’s representative to Congress. I live in one of those suburbs of a large city where people identify strongly with the Republican party even though, if you ask them about their beliefs issue-by-issue, they actually support Democratic platform planks. (Such doublethink is endemic in America, as you can tell from the healthcare debate redux.) It might not surprise you to learn that our Dem congresswoman registered with the GOP  once she was old enough to vote. McCarthy remained a registered Republican even after she was elected to the House as a Democrat, and re-elected, and re-elected again. (She finally had the operation done in 2003.)

What’s unique about McCarthy is the reason why she ran for office on the ticket of a party with which she had never identified before. It’s because of her stance on gun control. When her husband was killed and son wounded by a crazed mass murderer on a commuter train in 1993, she took on the cause with, literally I suppose, a vengeance.

So, knowing full well that she’d be painted as a politician who won’t let a good tragedy go to waste, she launched her current campaign to ban the high-cap mags that had been illegal for 10 years under the assault weapons ban.

As a good constituent, I “liked” my representative on Facebook a few months ago. As you can imagine, her page has become a bulletin board for her gun control positions over the past few weeks. It has also become a magnet for Second Amendment proponents to contradict her positions. Some of them are quite eloquent and many of their arguments are well-constructed and worthy of inclusion in any synthesis of ideas.

But some are just, plain, loony. (Same could be said for both sides, in all candor.)

Like this gem from yesterday, posted by somebody who identifies himself as Patrick Onesty, whose Facebook page indicates he lives New York’s Hudson Valley, not far from where my cousins grew up outside New Paltz. For those of you who don’t know the area, making customized Hacky Sacks to be sold in parking lots of Phish concert venues is a major local industry.

Anyway, here’s what Onesty (a Switchboard.com lookup suggests this is his real name, though I bet he gets a lot of skepticism) had to say in response to McCarthy’s posting of a Washington Post editorial supporting her proposed ban:

Imagine a lone survivor in a fire fight trying to defend himself and his wounded comrades with a 6 shooter. Get real Carolyn, don’t be an ass!

And here’s what I had to say to him:

“Lone survivor in a fire fight”? Patrick, your FB page says you’re in Pine Bush, N.Y. I got family from around there. Who would you be shooting at, dude? Hippies? Before you waste your ammo, the term “shotgun” means something different to them.

 

A few days earlier, we heard from a frequent troll on McCarthy’s page who identifies himself as Kevin Morris. According to his Facebook page, he recently attended community college in southern Arizona. So I figure he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to his right to be armed to the teeth. Morris’s main complaint is that McCarthy keeps posting policy-level support for her positions without offering data from studies that indicate gun control saves lives. And that’s a fair criticism, but I don’t recall Morris ever posting any evidence in support of his position, either. (Others have.)

Here’s where he inadvertently baited me into the debate:

Is it logical to support a bill that will have no impact on crime or homicides? How about we step up and ban fast cars? Alcohol? Kitchen knives?

Thank you. My response:

Glad you brought up cars.

Yes, we ban fast cars.

If a car’s sole purpose is to race, it is generally not permitted on public roads except as towage.

But for the vast majority of cars that are permitted, there are maximum and minimum speed limits, safety requirements mandated at point-of-sale and safe operation laws that must be obeyed.

I believe (although there may be an exception or two) that every state in the Union requires a a title transfer upon transaction. And that only permits you to have the car towed onto your property, where you are free to drive it around your back yard as much as you want.

But if you want to park it on a public thoroughfare, it must be registered and inspected. If you pull away from the curb, you must be licensed, requiring you to prove knowledge of road rules, manual dexterity adequate to operate the vehicle, and visual acuity adequate to ensure that you can read the signage and be aware of objects and people in the road. You must also carry proof of insurance.

Inspection standards, drivers’ test emphases and insurance requirements do vary state-by-state, as it should be.

If your point is that gun ownership is akin to owning that other deadly weapon that is so ingrained in American culture — the automobile — and ought to be similarly regulated, then I agree, but I don’t suppose that is your point.

One more thing about the car analogy: It’s often a bad idea to own one if you live in the city.

Morris had one other parting shot in his posting:

I suppose some of you people also thought the Titanic wasn…’t going to sink? And that men read Playbo[y] for the articles?

This guy is just the gift that keeps giving. Please, Arizona GOP, run Kevin Morris for Senate.

Oh, and Kevin, since the advent of the Internet, the articles really are the only reason to buy Playboy. ;-}

 

I agree, Sheriff. Now please STFU.

It’s abundantly clear that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was the intended target of unhinged, unskilled gunman Jared Lee Loughner. What’s not clear is motive.

Maybe it wasn’t politics. Let’s be honest, whatever Loughner’s shortcomings, he had excellent taste in obsessions. Nobody else wants to say it, fine. I’ll say it: Gabby Giffords is a hottie. Well, maybe not at this moment with half her skull in a freezer bag, but three days ago (and hopefully again, soon) she might as well have walked around in stiletto heels and a sash that read “Miss Capitol Hill”. I could be wrong, but maybe Sarah Palin’s whole issue with Giffords boils down to who’s prettier. It’s absolutely no contest. Giffords is better looking than Palin, Michele Bachmann and Christine O’Donnell put together. I know how wrong it is to come right out and say it but, damn, Gabby is one sexy lady. (At least by popular standards. My personal tastes run more toward Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who looks good without giving the impression that she’s working that hard for it.)

My point is, maybe the Giffords shooting had less to do with Bobby Kennedy’s and more to do with Selena’s.

Not that I believe it for a second.

Before we get into motives, though, let’s be clear about this Loughner character. He is beyond stupid, beyond incompetent. He makes the Times Square bomber and the Underwear bomber look like a couple of Caltech department chairs. I mean, how dense is this guy? He sets out to shoot a Democratic congresswoman but ends up killing a Republican judge. And not just any Republican judge: the highest-ranking federal judge in Arizona, a guy who stood as much a chance as anyone of being named to the Supreme Court if fellow Arizonan John McCain would’ve won the 2008 presidential sweepstakes. Not only that, Loughner also kills a precious, adorable nine-year-old girl. And, again, not just any precious, adorable nine-year-old girl. She’s the granddaughter of a World Series champion, born on 9/11.

He does end up shooting the congresswoman, point-blank in the head, and fails to kill her. For all we know and as we all hope, she’ll make an astonishing recovery for someone who sustained a 95%-fatal wound and whom NPR reported uncontested for 20 minutes as having died.

I’m certain this isn’t the last evidence of Loughner’s incredible idiocy, but it’s the last one I can think of right now: If it takes you more than two bullets to kill somebody, find another hobby. This community college washout takes 62 rounds on the errand. Excuse me, but if you’re bringing that many bullets on a mission like this, I have to assume that the last one has your own initials carved in the casing. This was a suicide mission. This dim bulb even failed at that. A bunch of old codgers who hang around an Arizona Safeway early on a Saturday morning sat on you until the cops came. Great job, shit-for-brains. You’re thicker than a ten-dollar milkshake.

You wanted attention? You got it. The President of the United States called the Director of the FBI and ordered him to personally fly out to your dry, dusty hometown and take personal charge of the federal, high-crime investigation of your sorry, self-medicating, stoner ass. Your teabagger buddies like to complain about wastes of taxpayer money? I’m with them on this one.

And that’s where motive comes in.

It’s OK for knuckleheads like me to jump to the conclusion that gunsight imagery, senatorial candidates who invoke “Second Amendment remedies” if people who think like her lose at the polls (like Sharron Angle herself did) and other violent imagery that moved from the Wingnut Right to the Just Plain Folks Right over the past couple years fueled Loughner’s preexisting paranoia. It’s not a far stretch. I entirely believe it to be true. But I can’t prove it.

But I don’t have to. I’m just another guy with a two-bit opinion.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik is in the business of gathering facts he can prove in court. He has no business spouting off about “vitriol” and “bigotry” in the media in the current context. If, once this case is over, he wants to make civility on radio and TV his mission and go on a lecture tour about it, I’ll buy a ticket. Ditto if he wants to rail against Arizona’s practically non-existent gun laws. (It’s still legal for a school to ban firearms on campus but, outside of that, anything goes in the Grand Canyon State.) I really do appreciate that a born-and-bred Southwesterner with a half-century law enforcement career who came of age before the Civil Rights struggle should be so progressive on issues like these.  But, respectfully, the sheriff shouldn’t be opening his cakehole about any of this. To start with, he runs as a Democrat and this leaves him open to charges of partisanship if he’s speaking out against the Rush Limbaugh wannabes of the world. More importantly, he blurs the line between fact and opinion in what are the most eagerly attended press conferences in a long while.

In that first presser, he brought up the state of the national discourse by himself, not even in response to a question. I figured he knew something I don’t about Loughner’s specific motives. Maybe Loughner had a suicide note on his person. Maybe they impounded his computer and found a string of militia movement web sites in his favorites list. Maybe he had every Glenn Beck episode ever broadcast DRVed. Maybe they turned on his car radio and Savage Nation came blaring out.

Any and all of that might be true, but Dupnik isn’t saying. I give him credit for going on Fox News to clarify his position but, if all he has to say to Megyn Kelly is, “That’s my opinion, period,” he shoud keep that opinion to himself until the investigation is complete.

Just another reason I’m just as likely to vote for a conservative as for a liberal for local office.

Dubnik should leave the opinions to those in a position to present opinion as just opinion. Which isn’t to say he’s wrong, just inappropriate (much like this entire posting).

What’s also wrong is the conservative media’s assertion that there is no link between rhetoric and action. If evidence of a direct link is eventually established in this case  then, much like climate change and evolution, it will still be “debunked”. Those with long memories  recall how we had exactly this same dance in 1994 after G. Gordon Liddy refused to walk back his “head shots” comments in the wake of the Oklahoma City attack.

And let’s not forget that, although the preponderance of violent imagery comes from the right these days, the left isn’t blameless either. Keith Olbermann, if you ever again ask your audience to “get out your pitchforks and torches,” then you, sir, are full of shit.

 

Blog tour begins

The first step on my blog tour is the WordPress site of horror writer Joan de la Haye. Over the weekend, she announced that she has stepped down as co-proprietor of Rebel ePublishers. Although Joan is no longer my publisher, she will always be the first one to tell me she wanted to distribute my debut novel. I will always be in Joan’s debt.

Here’s the link: http://joandelahaye.wordpress.com/

In this post, I present a tongue-in-cheek midrash on the first day of creation, and how it applies to tomorrow’s U.S. midterm elections. Hope you enjoy this piece of flash, and stay tuned for more blog tour announcements!