Friday, March 22, 2013

Happiness is a Warm Gun

What with the new restrictions on firearms in New York and Colorado, this might be of some interest to gun-grabbers and those well-intentioned but misinformed people who listen to the liberal nonsense being put forth these days:

Just for shits and grins, last month I dug out the venerable S&W Model 10 and three speed loaders, and went to the range. In the wake of New York passing a 7-round restriction on what an active weapon can carry, I wanted to conduct an experiment with my wheel gun.

For those liberals who are unfamiliar with firearms and their associated jargon, a Model 10 is a large-frame Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum, in this case one with a six-inch barrel. A "wheel gun" is a revolver, a.k.a. a six-shooter. A "speed loader" is a type of spring-loaded clip with a twist knob that holds six rounds that can be inserted into the cylinder of a revolver and released with a single motion.

For the purpose of the experiment, which was basically to re-create a scenario of a crazed gunman opening fire on a crowd of innocent bystanders, thus de-bunking the notion that a ban on hi-cap magazines will somehow affect the outcome, I hung the speed loaders off my waistband instead of placing them more accessibly on the range bench. Even though I fired from my chair, I wanted to reproduce the effect and motion of a normal, standing shooter.

Now, do the math, kids. Three speed loaders at six rounds per is 18 shots. Added to the six already in the gun, that's 24. With a fresh box of 50 wad cutters [target rounds] I was able to run the experiment twice, with Ms. Possum operating a stopwatch on the re-load cycle. (I also only had three speed loaders available. If I’d had more, I could have hung six on each side of my jeans, for a total of 78 available rounds, counting the six in the gun.)

Since I use the Hickock "one-shot, one-kill" method of firing deliberately, the sought-after result wasn't how quickly I could get rounds downrange, but how long it took to reload a wheel gun versus a magazine-fed semi-automatic pistol. Still, the average time to fire six well-placed shots was about three seconds; slightly less than the reload time. If you want to see something truly scary and impressive, attend an exhibition by a professional sharpshooter/quick-draw artist. These people—who spend hours on the range daily—can empty a revolver so quickly you can’t differentiate the shots being fired, and all six are on target. They also perform the mythological feats of marksmanship, like splitting playing cards lengthwise, or firing at axe heads so the bullet splits and hits targets on both sides.

For the experiment, Ms. Possum started the stopwatch after each sixth shot, and stopped it when the cylinder went back into the frame. We practiced the motions and timing a few times before I went hot with the weapon.

My best time on the reload cycle was 3.2 seconds. The motions involved were (1) thumbing the cylinder release button and pushing the cylinder out with my right index finger, (2) batting the shell ejection lever with my left hand as I reached for a speed loader, (3) inserting the fresh bullets and twisting the release knob, and (4) dropping the clip while batting the cylinder back into position with the heel of my left hand. My worst time for doing this was 4.6 seconds.

For comparison purposes, I also ran three magazines through my faithful Browning BHP .40, a semi-automatic pistol that will put 16 rounds onto a target without reload. Average time for a reload there was about two seconds. When the slide locks back—indicating the pistol is empty—you simply press a button with the right thumb while reaching for a new magazine. The expended magazine drops out of the grip, a new one is inserted, and the slide release is then thumbed to chamber a round. (I know I'm being pedantic about the mechanics of this, but I'm trying to explain stuff to liberals who want to "control" guns without having ever touched one in their lives.)

Overall result: a time differential of 1.2 seconds in reloading a six-shooter versus what some people would call an "assault weapon." Seconds count in a gunfight, but since the average madman is going to target a "gun-free zone" like a school, a movie theater, or a political rally where the victims are chaotically trying to run away or cowering in terror, I don't think those 1.2 seconds are going to matter much. What might matter is if one person in that crowd of potential victims drew their own sidearm, fired once with an accurate head shot, and saved 23 people from being shot in the back as they attempted to flee.

This article started life as a post in a political group on Facebook. One of the first comments I received was the standard liberal red herring: “Okay, that settles it. All guns should have 100-round magazines.” This was in keeping with an oft-repeated remark that gun-grabbers offer in place of logic; I’d heard Bob Beckel say it the day before on “The Five”, and it came around again the next day in a congressional hearing: “So, people ought to have a bazooka on their roof if they want one, eh?” This apparent fascination with anachronistic rocket launchers, combined with an imaginary equivalency with firearms, is apparently what passes for witty sarcasm on The Left.

No, there are already plenty of laws on the books regulating access to military-grade weapons like bazookas, RPGs, and LAWs rockets. If you don’t have a Class III federal firearms license, you’re also not permitted to own a fully-automatic firearm of any sort. These licenses are expensive and require rigorous, above-average background checks to obtain. Shotguns with a barrel length of less than 18 inches, and suppressors—commonly known as “silencers”—have been outlawed for civilian ownership since the 1930s.

One of the points I was trying to make was that I could show up in a “gun-free zone” with a six-shooter and three reloads, kill 24 people in less than a minute, and not violate the laws of the state of New York by having more than seven rounds at a time in my handgun. (There might be some legal consequences for those two dozen corpses in my wake, but if I’m a madman to begin with, I don’t think I’m going to be too concerned about that.)

Fortunately, most psychotics are disorganized, and there is always a flaw that will disrupt their plans for a massacre, no matter how well-organized their delusions inform them they are. Lanza at Sandy Hook, Klebold and Harris at Columbine, and Holmes in Aurora were balked by “stovepipes”—jams in their AR-15s resulting from cheap, reloaded ammunition they bought in bulk. They never considered anything so mundane, and the resulting suicidal panic caused Holmes to flee and Lanza, Harris and Klebold to do the world a favor and take their own lives.

Although I consider a suicidal terrorist to be clinically insane, Nidal Hasan is sort of the poster boy for an “organized” shooter. I don’t think he expected to leave Ft. Hood alive that afternoon, and his bitter disappointment at not becoming a martyr for Allah is the only bright spot in that incident. Still, this was a professionally-trained shooter, courtesy of the U.S. Army. He went into a “gun-free zone” and wreaked more havoc and death with two handguns than any punk with an “assault weapon.” And, to address the other “hot-button” issue of background checks on firearms purchasers, HE WAS A PSYCHIATRIST! While I agree in principle that guns should be kept out of the hands of crazy people, all this rhetoric about “universal background checks” drives me up the wall when I think of Hasan. Who doesn’t fit the profile of a potential mass killer more than a psychiatrist? These are the doctors we expect to sit in judgment of everyone else’s emotional stability regarding gun ownership. I’m slightly bothered by the notion that a psychiatrist who might be counseling me for my chronic depression can make a notation in my soon-to-be-“universal” medical record that, in his opinion, I probably shouldn’t be allowed access to a firearm; then he strolls into his waiting room and shoots everyone waiting for their Prozac refills.

One last point about background checks and the regard of psychotics for the already-extant gun laws:

A big story this week has been the murder of the Chief of Corrections of the Colorado prison system. A few nights ago, he answered a knock at his door and received an “IRA telegram”, i.e. someone shot and killed him when he opened the door. (This was a standard tactic during the “unrest” in Ireland some years ago.) The apparent shooter was a recently-paroled ex-con with a history of violence and an unresolved grudge toward the correctional system. This scumbag was later shot and killed in Texas while fleeing law enforcement. (He fought the law, and the law won.) Last I heard, this ex-con is also a suspect in the murder of a pizza delivery driver.

Okay, this is a guy who just got out of prison. He wasn’t going to pass a background check in a gun store or a pawn shop. I don’t think he was concerned with that. This is America; I can go to an ATM, withdraw $300, and have a pistol in my pocket an hour later. It isn’t just a uniquely American “problem”; I can go to the marketplace in Mogadishu, Somalia and buy a fully-automatic AK-47 for about $40. Every kid over the age of 12 in every Third World country has an AK or an M-16, and I’ll bet none of them have Class III licenses, or passed background checks.

It’s the intent and purpose of the person possessing a firearm that matters, not the nature of the weapon they’re wielding. Phillip K. Dick dealt with our ability to judge that purpose and intent in his beautifully paranoid Minority Report. It can’t be done. We can never judge, with certainty, the behavior of others until it manifests itself. We cannot reverse the principle of cause-and-effect, and blame the behavior of a human being on the tool that human uses to express that behavior. A concept, good or evil, is first born in the mind, then carried out by whatever means available. The best we can hope for is that a person behaving badly will be stopped by someone capable of responding with whatever level of force or lethality the deranged individual is displaying. Ostensibly, this is why we have police officers, but they are never called until a crime has been committed. Ideally, the cops show up while a crime is still in progress, but more often, they arrive to hand out Band-aids to victims of domestic abuse, take descriptions of robbers, or call the coroner’s office to pick up dead bodies. Just as seconds count in gunfights, the only sure way to prevent crime and horror is to be prepared to answer it in the first moments an event occurs. The behavior of criminals and psychotics can no more be regulated than the machinations of the human mind. Those starry-eyed, well-intentioned fools who think restricting the means is somehow going to affect the end are mistaken on two basic premises. What the mind of man can conceive, it can achieve. A potential killer denied a gun will use a knife, a stick, or a rock. As Robert Heinlein said, an armed society is a polite society.

Just some food for thought. Gun control is hitting what you aim at. Peace and love, y'all...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Losing my faith...

I lost my faith in love during the Bicentennial, when my first marriage evaporated in a mushroom cloud of adultery and betrayal.

I lost my faith in justice sometime during the 28 years I’ve waited for the police to make an arrest in the serial murders of my father and three other people.

I lost my faith in truth and integrity when the news media became nothing more than the arm of the Ministry of Propaganda, as dictated by the government du jour.

I lost my faith in America when it re-elected a grinning, dog-eating Kenyan Muslim socialist pimp, who continues to rape and rob the nation like it’s a 14-year-old runaway he picked up in the bus station.

I lost my faith in doctors when the surgeon who is supposed to be supplying the best form of treatment for my cancer instead tried to involve me in an insurance fraud, and now refuses treatment of any sort. (Not that I mind so much, on the basis that just as you don’t yell at the people who prepare your food in a restaurant, you don’t get crossways with someone who has access to your innards with a sharp instrument.)

I lost my faith in people in general when I realized Dr. Goebbels was right: almost anyone will believe The Big Lie if you repeat it loudly and often enough.

I lost my faith in myself when I realized that being a good writer, a competent musician, a well-spoken raconteur, and a generally decent, patient person was not enough to validate my ticket in the parking lot of life. Like Brando in “On the Waterfront”, I coulda been a contender, but I somehow defaulted and threw the fight.

I never had any faith in politicians or preachers, whom Ayn Rand rightly dubbed “thugs and witch doctors.” The thugs exercise power over others in the physical realm, from the making of laws to their enforcement at the point of a gun; the witch doctors exercise their power in the theater of the mind, preying upon the hopes and fears of the powerless, and urging them to submit to the will of the thugs. As church and state exist today, they are co-dependent entities, neither of which has any relevance to the spiritual relationship between the individual and the Deity.

I don’t know if I ever entirely lost my faith in God, but I had a fifteen year flirtation with agnosticism, which I now regard as an arrogant intellectual pretension. Once I realized that the world is what we make it, and a Higher Power gave us the freedom to do so, I got over it. Faith is, by definition, an indefinable belief in the unprovable.

I still have love in my life, though it is somewhat conditional. I try to comply with those conditions, because that love is precious beyond belief. When everything else falls into irrelevance, the fact that one other person on this planet believes in me and accepts me is enough to literally bring me back from the dead. Just ask Ms. Possum, whose real name was on my lips when a doctor revived me from a near-death trauma.

I still have my faith in God, which is linked to the premise of Blaise Paschal’s wager: if I am disappointed yet again when I solve the mystery of death, I have lost nothing by believing. If I’m wrong in my doubts, then a better form of existence basking in an unconditional love is waiting, and I pray daily that I’m somehow deserving of it. The tenets of the spirituality and religion I subscribe to tell me that faith, coupled with a willingness to do right things in spite of my human failings, is enough to bring me into this better realm that transcends the difficult, often miserable and sometimes marvelous thing that we now call “life.”

I’ve lost my faith in most things we consider important in this life, so I’m betting the farm on the spark that still flickers and bends in the direction of Whatever Comes Next.

As for the bastards, degenerates, wastes of protoplasm and epitomes of evil that share this mortal coil with me, I’ll fight them ‘til I die. That’s just how my DNA cooked out in the cosmic microwave.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Big Convention Wrap-up

I wish I could say I watched gavel-to-gavel coverage of the two conventions that have just concluded, but alas, I cannot. Anyone who says they did so is lying to win a bar bet or trying to impress a chick with how politically attuned and socially aware they are.

While I’m all too painfully aware that this is one of the most important elections of my lifetime, the mechanics of the process bore me. I long for the days of floor fights, roll call votes, and melodramatic bloviating from the leaders of the state delegations as they grandly cast three delegates’ votes for so-and-so, and the remainder for the other guy. One of my fond childhood memories is NBC’s John Chancellor—as a young reporter—being hauled off the floor and squalling that he didn’t understand what was happening. I don’t remember which party’s convention it was, or why he was being removed, but it was heady stuff for an 11-year-old watching the democratic process play out on TV in low-definition black-and-white. (I’m guessing it was 1964. All I remember of the 1960 election was being given a Nixon bumper sticker to play with, and later receiving a Post-Office-issue photo of President Kennedy from my dad. The disturbing memories of late November 1963 are quite vivid, but we won’t go there. Suffice it to say I was in Mrs. Todd’s geography class at Georgia Military Academy when JFK was shot, and my parents and I had just arrived home from church and turned on the tube when Jack Ruby took Lee Oswald off the table.)

The only real political drama was when L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa was tasked with the unenviable job of trying to walk his party back from being perceived as godless idiots. The Democrats have obviously given up on the swing/independent voters, and are trying desperately to cling to their base of radical, Red Diaper babies, but when they blatantly omitted any mention of God and Jerusalem from the established party platform, some cigar-chomping cynic in the smoky back room suddenly realized that they’d gone too far. “Better put that stuff back in,” he must’ve growled. “We’re alienating both the Jewish and the Christian voters, and the margin on the gays and wetbacks ain’t gonna make up for it.” Poor Mayor Villaraigosa, after making his comments that the Republicans “[couldn’t] just trot out people with brown skins and Hispanic names” made the perfect fall guy for this little piece of chicanery. Since roll-call votes at a convention take forever, and are anathema to the abbreviated attention spans of the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am audience tuned in to worship their little tin gods, Villaraigosa did a voice vote…three times. His deer-in-the-headlights look of panic as the amendment was shouted down was priceless. A reverse-angle photograph of the flat-screen teleprompter revealed that the words were already written for this done deal, so despite the evidence of millions of listening ears, he declared that a two-thirds majority had voted “yea” and the measure was passed.

It didn’t have nearly the drama of John Chancellor getting the bum’s rush in ’64, but it was as revelatory as Barry O.’s remark that “You didn’t build that!” Whatever the Republicans are lacking in a charismatic candidate this time around, the Democrats are surpassing with sheer incompetence and audacity.

So-called “secular progressives” who claim to be “voices of reason”—godless morons like Bill Maher, for instance—assure me that my faith, and religion in general, is a vestige of the days when us hairless apes danced naked around campfires and sacrificed babies to the gods of the eclipse when a rare cosmic phenomenon darkened the skies. I’m not the sharpest pencil in the jar, but it’s been my empirical experience that when you “BOO!” God or jump in His face with some arrogant challenge, things don’t turn out too well. A “reasonable atheist” might say I’m ascribing the failures and disappointments of my own life to some “imaginary friend” instead of “taking personal responsibility” for said failures, but to my superstitious way of thinking, nothing good is going to come from rejecting the notion of a Higher Power and openly challenging The Deity by booing, catcalling, and setting your tiny carbon-based life-form above a spiritual power that is, by its nature, unknowable except by faith. Let me know on 7 November how this worked out for you, Democrats.

Thanks to the marvelous technology of my new DVR toy, I was able to catch all the high and low points of the last two weeks. Clint, Barry O., Sloppy Joe, Michelle ‘Hobama, Liz Warren the pretend-Injun, “Dr. Goebbels” Ryan, “Shiny Thing” Wasserman-Schultz, Willie the Zipper, and the rest paraded across my screen. I actually paid more attention to the Democrats than I did the Republicans; partly because I’m an aficionado of sleaze, but mostly because I wanted to see what kind of lame excuses were going to replace the record that Obama can’t run on.

Since today’s conventions have pre-determined outcomes and are as carefully scripted as the MTV awards, “American Idol”, or a Kardashian wedding, I didn’t lend too much credence to any of the goings-on. The grand spectacles were a cross between a high-school pep rally and any given episode of the “Lizard Lick” tow-‘em-away “reality” show. (“Bobby! Bobby! We coulda gotten killed back there!”)

As I told someone today, if I’m going to write political commentary—no matter how mundane—then it’s sort of my duty to watch and listen to whatever tomfoolery is offered up by these aspirants to the most powerful office in the world. I only wish I got paid a fraction of what the talking heads receive, so I wouldn’t feel like a Medieval flagellant in a hair shirt, beating myself with a cat-‘o-nine, when I sit through a litany of lies, empty promises, demagoguery, and overall bullshit.

The one thing that made the conventions bearable and somewhat amusing was serendipity: I finally got my hot little hands on Ann Coulter’s latest book, Demonic. Citing what is generally recognized as the definitive profile of mob psychology and collective thinking—an 1896 work by French analyst Gustav Le Bon—she makes a strong assertion that the Democrat party is nothing more than a motley collection of unthinking drones, guided by emotion instead of reason, and immune to any logic or analysis of any given issue. Like any good amusement-park thrill-ride, reading her book and watching it come to life in the background on my TV screen was both hilarious and terrifying. Reading about how frenzied crowds can reconcile contradictions through the formation of images and simplistic slogans, and then looking up to see Democrats waving yard signs with bumper stickers plastered to them, provided me with endless belly laughs. Reading direct quotes from Le Bon about repetition being a key element in provoking mindless response, and then hearing everyone from Willie the Zipper to Lapdog Joe babbling about how Obama “saved the auto industry” was more fun than a hog killin’.

Seriously, reading Coulter’s book and watching the conventions simultaneously may have to go on my list of life’s defining moments. Not since reading Atlas Shrugged, taking some LSD, and promptly re-reading that book again, have I felt such a subtle shift in the geography of my thinking. When the space shuttle Columbia burned up on re-entry, I remarked that I will never be able to view a jet contrail high in the sky the same way again. So it is with Demonic and observing political events. My next step will be to obtain Le Bon’s original work and plow through its decidedly dry Victorian language. Like the Buffalo Springfield song: “There’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Somehow, what I saw happening at both conventions, but especially the Democrat weenie roast, was very clear. What I can’t understand is how anyone can fall for what they’re being handed.

When I was wrapping up my conversation today with the person to whom I remarked that it’s my “duty” to suffer through political conventions if I want to comment on them, he remarked: “I don’t like that Romney chap, either. Maybe it’s better to stay home this time and not vote for anyone.”

To which I replied: “There’s too much at stake. I’d rather vote for a bloodless capitalist predator than a dog-eating Kenyan Muslim Socialist any time.”

I’ll be saying this again and again before 6 November, but the presidential referendum isn’t the only game in town. The laws are made and re-made in Congress; the House and Senate. While all the focus this time is on the CEO, we need to pay attention to those who are going to sit on the board of directors.

Friday, July 27, 2012

"You didn't build it!"

In light of all that's been going on, I should perhaps be concentrating on other things, like the horror in Colorado.  I'm too deeply disturbed by that on so many levels that I need some more cogitation before addressing mental illness and firearms.  There are personal aspects to Aurora that won't be discussed here.

 Meanwhile, just because it's another pet peeve, I fired off a letter to Mr. Bill over at FOX, and decided to share this little issue with my readers.  When I heard Fearless Leader babble his insult to business owners the other day, I almost puked.  The situation described below has been going on for a while, and it's a microcosm of what's wrong with the American economy.

Dear Mr. O’Reilly—or Anonymous staff member:

Regardless of how you consider smoking, I want to tell you a little tale about the state of capitalism in America today.

Until recently, there was an upsurge in the proliferation of “Roll Your Own” [RYO] shops in America. These were small, entrepreneurial businesses where one could purchase tobacco, paper cigarette tubes with attached filters, and for a modest fee, feed these ingredients into a machine that would produce a finished product in a matter of minutes. A carton of these cigarettes cost $26 and change, as opposed to $40+ for a carton of, say, Dorals, or $50 for high-line Marlboros.

These machines—about the size of a soft-drink vending machine—cost $35,000 apiece. The entrepreneurs who invested in them were assured by market research that they would pay for themselves fairly quickly. It’s the supply-and-demand thing; there will always be smokers, which is why the federal and local governments love us: we’re cash cows and slaves to whatever “sin tax” they care to levy on our addiction. As Stossel points out to you frequently, it’s a matter of choice. The hypocrisy enters the equation when—for all their self-righteous lip service about “we’re only hiking prices on cigarettes to discourage people from smoking”—the fact is the government loves us, and the loss of tax revenue if everyone quit smoking tomorrow would be substantial.

When President Obama signed his ballyhooed Federal Transportation Funding Act a short time ago, he put God-knows how many small business owners out of business. In Section 100122 of the bill, there is an amendment to, of all things, Subsection (d) of section 5702 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, amending this obscure legislation to prohibit the use of these cigarette rolling machines “in commerce.” (See attachment to this e-mail.) When President Obama signed that bill, suddenly hundreds—perhaps thousands—of entrepreneurs were put of business.

I don’t blame the president for this particular outrage. I have a good idea where it came from: “Big Tobacco.” The lobbyists and lawyers from R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris did their butt-stroking in Congress, and this little goodie got tacked onto a completely irrelevant piece of legislation. It’s the perpetuation of a monopoly. In immediate proximity to my home, shops in Hiawassee, Georgia and Murphy, North Carolina have already shut down. I expect the shop in Blue Ridge, Georgia—where I have been a regular customer since they opened—to shut down before the end of the year. That particular shop has two of the fully automated production machines, for an initial investment of $70,000, plus the overhead of leasing retail space in a strip mall, employee salaries and other coverage, advertising, etc. You see where this is going. Without talking to the owner, I’m guessing he has $250,000 tied up in this business, and is now dead in the water.

To reiterate, this isn’t about smoking, pro or con. It’s about the death of small business in America, and the nefarious means employed to accomplish this end. The owner and founder of Tobacco Warehouse doesn’t even smoke; he was taking a swing at capitalism. They produced a competitive product at a substantially lower cost than a mega-corporation, and for his efforts he is now effectively bankrupted. At least three employees are now in danger of being out of work, and I have no idea about the financial devastation wreaked upon this gentleman.

Back in mid-March, as my wife and I were driving home from Atlanta, a “consumer advocate” named Clark Howell [WSB-Atlanta] came on the car radio. He started with a preamble about “I don’t condone smoking, but…” and then launched into a description of RYO shops and how you could save big bucks by patronizing RYO shops and doing-it-yourself on their machines. I looked at my wife in the moment and said “That’s it. That’s the death knell for those shops. RJR will shut ‘em down one way or another.” When I said it, I had no idea it would happen so swiftly. A little nibble out of the profits of these monopolistic corporations, and BANG! the little guys are out of business.

I’m a Libertarian coming up on 60, and I have always believed in and defended the ideals of America, but this is just so wrong in so many ways. I don’t condone smoking to anyone, and have already invested in a do-it-yourself rolling machine, because “Big Tobacco” will never get another penny from me, except what I’ll have to pay for the “makings.” For the third time, this isn’t about the politically correct regard for smoking; feel free to substitute any other good or service for the plight of these RYO shop owners. I’m trying to draw your attention to an aspect of the death of small business in America. In a time when the economy is going to hell, the machinations of anyone, foreign or domestic, to destroy the backbone of capitalism—small, individual business enterprises—should be challenged.

If you, Anonymous Staff Person, would like to raise this concern at a production meeting as a topic, I would be grateful. Mr. Bill constantly touts himself as “looking out for the folks.” Well, there are plenty of folks being devastated by this devious bit of legislation. I don’t know what you might do besides call it to the public’s attention, and I doubt that anyone at FOX will read this, because of its length. Still, I tried by writing this exposition. I feel better now for the effort. I think I’ll go have a cup of coffee and a cigarette.

Robert [my full name]
Somewhere on Gray Fox Trail

[hometown, etc. blah, blah]

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The "bucket list"

I abhor the term “bucket list.” It’s an overly cute term coined by some screenwriter so aging A-list movie stars could make yet another paycheck and provide for their grandkids’ future. (And given the debt that’s being piled up for them by the minute, those grandchildren’s great-grandchildren will be struggling to pay off the interest and penalties in the Brave New World where America is a relic of the coming Islamic Caliphate…but, never mind! That’s day after tomorrow, and at my age, I’m only concerned about tomorrow. As long as I continue to get my goodies from the government, and Ms. Possum can collect her Social Security as we grow older together, it’s not important that our hypothetical great-great-grandchildren may have to sell themselves into slavery to the non-productive cargo cults of the world.)

A “bucket list”, as I understand it, is a compendium of things I’d like to do before I “take the dirt nap”—another cutesy term I’d like to send down Orwell’s memory hole. Between grinding on Blaise Paschal’s essay “The Wager” about faith and the afterlife, and realizing that (a) I’m nearer the end than the beginning, and (b) we all have unfulfilled dreams and expectations, and the life that was not a dress rehearsal may not have turned out as expected, I’ve gotten all overwrought about mortality, and the direction my ship has sailed.

For no good reason, except it’s a hot afternoon the day after America’s birthday, and I’m alone with the dog and three-legged cat in the house, I gave some passing consideration to my “bucket list.” I know there are no “do-overs” in life, and the last time I tried to make amends to someone, I was rejected and told I’d be shot on sight if there was any further contact. That incident helped to me to give up the AA twelve-stepping, and accept those pesky personality defects for what they are: a part of whoever or whatever I am that I have to live with. As with the bottle of anti-depressant pills I flushed down the toilet in 1996, I decided that there are things I’ll have to live with or die with. As with the chronic depression and alcoholism, I’ve come to accept that my life is what it was, and the ripples have moved out from the source.

There are still a couple of things I’d like to do before I tell Ms. Possum “I’ll see you later” and take my last breath. One is revisiting a lifelong passion, and the other is the pursuit of something I flirted with, but never had the discipline to accomplish.

That’s right; only two things are on my bucket list. I have modest desires, and those are easily fulfilled. I’ve already had more fun than is legal today, and the most fun I can have with my clothes on. I’ve survived gunfights, driven cars and motorcycles at over 100 mph, played rock & roll for lots of people, been in the movies, and wrote a book that never got published. I’ve re-enacted the Civil War battles of my ancestors, rescued a couple of lost souls, mediated in domestic disputes, and avenged a couple of horrendous wrongs. I’ve fulfilled every carnal desire I could imagine, too; accounting for the most fun I could have with my clothes off.

I’ve also managed to alienate most of the people who ever knew me, caused my parents eternal sorrow and grief until the days they died, acted like an asshole in general, whined like a little girl when things didn’t go my way, and for every time I stepped up to the plate in life itself, there was a time when I turned into a sniveling bitch. A lie was the first thing out of my mouth, and if you didn’t guard your assets when I was in the neighborhood, I’d destroy them just to see the look on your face.

So, grinding on all this mixed media as I approach the Big 6-0, I feel like the proverbial waste of protoplasm I’ve ascribed to others. I always wanted to do good for others, and sometimes I deluded myself into thinking I was doing something towards that end while I was, in fact, doing the worst things in the world.

There are only a couple of things I still want to do before I shuffle off this mortal coil:

The first is the lifelong passion: I want to ride a horse again. I don’t mean some diluted form of hippotherapy where some highly-trained kid leads me around on a petting-zoo pony; I want to throw my 1849 McClellan saddle on a critter with spirit and take off down a dirt road. Catch up if you can, and Devil take the hindmost. I was riding horses before I was allowed to wear big-boy pants. I spent summers at my grandparent’s farm herding Black Angus cattle; the provenance of cowboys is not limited to what we think of as the traditional Wild West. Like Scarlett O’Hara’s daddy in “Gone With the Wind”, if I break my damn neck on a jump or a low-hanging branch, I won’t complain if that’s the last, great moment. The cars and motorcycles were great, but I’ll settle for a good hunter-jumper tear-assing through some foggy woods. I miss this so much I’m all teary-eyed just writing about it.

The other thing is a form of catch-up: I want a piano. Not a Steinway or one of those automated electronic keyboard things; just a nice old piano with 88 keys and a proper tuning. Pianos are percussion instruments. I tried playing trombone and cello as a kid, but when I got booted out of the 6th grade chorale for messing with a pair of tympani drums, I decided I’d learn to play the drums. The Beatles were doing okay, and the future looked limitless. The Doors and Cream were just around the corner. Everyone needed a drummer, and it promised to be a great way to impress girls and be a cool kid instead of a geek. My one musical talent turned out to be a sense of rhythm, and somewhere along the way I learned what the black and white keys on the piano mean, as well as the implications of tonality, harmony, and the circle of fifths—which is not a collection of whiskey bottles. I never had a formal lesson, but I got by with improvisation and knowing how to play a few chords. When my legs worked, I was quite adequate on a double-bass drum kit, and reached professional proficiency with some flourishes that are standard for today’s arena-rockers. Now, my feet move about enough for me to work the pedals on a piano, and I still know what the black and white keys will produce when I hit them with my fingers. I have no illusions about producing great symphonies; I just want to fool around. It’s got to be better than watching TV all day.

Other than that, the world can jump back and kiss my grits. I ain’t gonna be here forever, and there’s plenty that’ll be happy to see me go, but before I bring momentary joy to those I’ve offended so grievously, I want to have one more horseback ride and tickle a keyboard on a church house upright piano. After that, God can consign me to whatever I deserve.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

More Braggin' Rights

As a kind of warm-up to my last blog post, inspired by the encouragement of others who see something in my writing that eludes me, I fired off a letter to the editor of our local fish-wrapper, The North Georgia News. It’s a free weekly, full of junk flyers, bargain coupons, and advertising revenue. It’s also—as they proudly proclaim—“The Official Legal Organ of Union County”, and the most reliable form of news aside from the usual gossip, backbiting, and careless slander that is part of small-town life.

Well, imagine my surprise when this little rant got published. I just got a letter in the paper last fall. (See “Braggin’ Rights” from last November’s archive on this site.)

A bit of background: Some time back, a couple of Ku Klux Klowns from Fannin County applied to our state’s “Adopt-a-Mile” program. What it is, you ask permission, and the state grants you permission to pick up litter along a designated stretch of roadway. (The implications of the state granting permission to pick up trash may be addressed later…) When a family, group, or organization volunteers responsibility for the assigned sector, a small sign is posted for the quick-of-eye informing them that the next mile of right-of-way is relatively clean thanks to the efforts of [your name here]. In keeping with their long tradition of civic responsibility, the Klan decided to add picking up beer cans and burger wrappers to their heritage of murder, arson, and torture. These boys make me so proud!

The state denied the request, on several grounds. As it’s reported, the two individuals who filed the request are not residents of Union County, where they had asked for the first mile of state route 515 inside the county line. The stretch of highway they wanted to “protect” is a four-lane highway, where the speed limit is 55 or above, which the state cited as the official reason for denying the application. These people were extremely dubious about their mailing addresses, their reasons for requesting that particular stretch of roadway, and even their personal relationship. They gave an address in Union County that turned out to be a Post Office box registered to “the United Klans of America” or some such crap. The single word that sums it up is “bullshit”, and the two mooks were told to take a hike.

Then all this nonsense leaked out to the Atlanta Urinal-Constipation, and hit the Associated Press newswire. FOX News picked it up and ran it on their headline crawler, which was where it first crossed my radar. I had a good chuckle, and passed it along to Ms. Possum the next day, thinking it was some gnat-ridden county in flatland Georgia where this had occurred.

That was three weeks ago. Two weeks ago, the local rag ran a headline story that the Klan is going to hold a rally in our county seat in September. Below that was a detailed story about the “Adopt-a-Mile” flap. The editorial page was consumed with opinions, including the usual Q&A column allotted to our county commissioner. The chief-editor-and-bottle-washer, Mr. Duncan, weighed in with a column, hence my reference to him in what follows. He insulted the people of our adjacent county, and tried to link the name of their local high school football team to the machinations of the Klan. This whole mess took up most of the front page, the editorials, and the jump pages of the first section, which is the only part of the paper worth reading.

I keep telling myself “I have nothing to say,” but obviously my alligator mouth interferes with my hummingbird brain. I wrote the following letter. As of this writing, no one has burned a cross in my front yard. My lawyers, Browning, Colt, Smith & Wesson, are waiting to address anyone who wishes to express themselves in a rude or uncivilized manner.

I’m getting to the “I told ya so” moment, but it hasn’t quite arrived yet. For the time being, let’s just indulge a moment of vanity at being read by thousands of people, and have a chuckle at the foibles of local politics:

Dear Editor:

Why, in the second decade of the 21st century, are we still paying any attention to the Ku Klux Klan? What started as an angry reaction to the abuses of Reconstruction has evolved into a motley collection of cartoonish morons who are less deserving of passing notice than a dead possum on the side of the road. Whatever notions Nathan Bedford Forrest had in his head have long since evolved into a legacy of malicious hatred, ignorance, and murderous disgrace of the honor that Confederate general held at the end of The War of Northern Aggression. As a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans, I have joined many others in filing for restraining orders against the Klan for hijacking symbols of the Confederacy and defiling the heritage of the South, but to the credit of what’s left of our freedom in this country, those petitions have been denied. As it should be, idiots are allowed to speak their little minds, and those who bother to listen are permitted the discretion to agree or disagree.

Why, then, is Mr. Duncan trying to provoke a Hatfield-McCoy feud with Fannin County? The good people of Blue Ridge don’t wear their sheets, they sleep on them. There is nothing dishonorable about calling a high-school football team “Rebels” if one understands the origins of the Civil War and what it truly represented, which was not a “defense of slavery” or any other racial connotation one would care to imply. I’m catching a strong odor of brimstone and political correctness from Mr. Duncan’s editorial. I would stipulate that I despise the Klan, but it takes a lot of energy to actively hate anyone or anything, and they are not worth the emotional investment. One in four Klansmen is a federal informant, and the rest don’t have the sense God gave geese. I think the real reason the Department of Transportation denied their request to “Adopt-a-Mile” is that the state bureaucrats realized Klansmen are too stupid to stay out of traffic, no matter what the speed limit on the roadway.

This whole tempest-in-a-teapot controversy has been vastly amusing, but it’s time to get back to more important issues, like the validity of the insidious T-SPLOST tax about to be foisted upon us, or the Union County school board screeching for an additional $1.7 million dollars while they lay off teachers and retain space-occupying “administrators.” The Klan has had their little walk in the sun, and like “Deliverance” and the race-baiters of the Atlanta newspaper cartel, they have done more to set the image of north Georgia back than all the Hollywood hillbilly stereotypes combined. Paying any more attention to these clowns, or blaming their ignorance on something in the water in Fannin County, is like trying to teach a pig to sing: it wastes your time and annoys the pig.


(My full name, address, phone number and e-mail)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dealing with Writer's Block

A while back—I think it was in mid-April—I was confronted with a notion that stopped me dead in my tracks. It came from an unlikely source: Billy Bob Thornton, who was promoting his new book A Cave Full of Ghosts on Craig Ferguson’s “Late, Late Show.”

Billy Bob’s a lot smarter than people give him credit for; his acting in “Sling Blade” and other movies sort of stereotyped him as a drawling, drooling good ol’ boy, but I’d like to remind everyone: it’s acting! There’s a reason he won an Oscar™ for saying “Um, hmm” a lot in “Sling Blade.”

While everyone else is looking for the “dish” on Billy Bob’s marriage to Angelina Jolie, I’m fascinated with his take on contemporary culture. “Some guy who slides down a stairway on a skateboard and lands on a pile of cardboard boxes will have a reality TV show the following week.” Billy Bob’s contention that the culture is cheapened by the creation of “celebrities” as autonomous entities with no particular talent, intellect, or ability—i.e. “Snooki” and the Kardashian white trash—spun me.

The idea that really froze me, as a wannabe writer, was what followed. Back in Ye Olde Days, when education was a limited resource, the written word really meant something. “Education”, a.k.a. “book-learnin”, was restricted to a small number of people. Whatever criteria defined this elite class, when one of them wrote something, committing words to paper, the other people who read those thoughts took them quite seriously. Few people knew how to read or write, and relied on the oral tradition of storytelling in social settings for the promulgation of fact, fiction and myth. If somebody wrote something down, it was really important. It might be read by a relatively small number of people, but those people were the ones who would shape the culture and validate ideas that became the bedrock of today’s civilization.

Nowadays, just about everyone knows how to read and write to some degree. When I was about 10 years old, fed up with the frustration of perfecting my 75-words-per-minute two-finger typing technique on a battered Royal portable typewriter, I told my grandmother “some day we’ll have a device where people can speak into a machine, and it’ll write what they say.” I’ve seen two commercials for such a gizmo this very day; it sells for $74.99 and we call it “software.” I refuse to buy the thing, and change the channel when it’s advertised.

I dislike introspection, and don’t want to sound like an elitist. However, I invested a lot of time and intellectual energy into learning the discipline of typing, and the classically correct use of the English language. The fact that some mook in a basement can strap on a headset and babble 2000 words in less time than an FX commercial break is not only unsettling, it’s repulsive. The fact that you’re reading this says volumes about how far education has come; the fact that you’re reading it on a computer says even more. Still, with ten minutes of mindless babbling and three clicks of a mouse, I could have produced and published this same column, which by my rough estimation has taken over two hours so far.

Point is, when I was hit by this suggestion that the written word meant more in the past than it means now, it combined with a perfect storm of circumstances to give me a massive case of writer’s block. Some of the contributing factors included Ms. Possum’s two eye surgeries in March and April, her broken ankle occurring simultaneously, and a harrowing automotive incident where I had to see the scenic landscape of North Georgia spinning past the windshield at 80 miles per hour as we turned 180 degrees on a four-lane in the rain. (No, I wasn’t the madman at the wheel; the fact that Ms. Possum and I were nearly killed by a dumb bastard tuned up on drugs only added to the stress of the incident.)

Just prior to that, I had undergone an epiphany of sorts, short and sweet: “I have nothing to say.”

I am not the voice of my generation. I’m not even sure which generation I belong to. I’m too young to be a Baby Boomer, and too old to be a “Generation X” slacker. It doesn’t matter. My voice is my own; I grew up in the ‘50s, came of age in the ‘60s, and became a true adult in the ‘70s. I don’t know who I might speak for, or what I might say, if someone held a referendum tomorrow and suddenly decided I’m the epitome of the post-hippie polyester mentality. I’m not a politician, and none of my writing—on this blog or anywhere else—is done with the notion that I can promote myself as a celebrity, a force for good, or whatever else accrues from writing stuff down.

I do, however, have a great respect for the written word. Billy Bob is right; when you write something down, it matters more than if you just mumble it on a “reality” show. I learned this early on when one of my mentors—the late, great Celestine Sibley, an award-winning journalist—told me that I could gauge the effectiveness of my writing by the volume of hate mail I receive. (If someone takes the time to read what you’ve written, and then takes more time to sit down and write you back, no matter what they say, you’ve reached them on some deep level.) I learned how to deflect criticism, make people laugh, and cut them to the bone, thanks to the written word. Just as the twelve-year-old boy discovered that learning to play the drums was a great way to impress chicks and get laid, so the older Bob learned that writing well earns respect and recognition; if it’s employed properly. Many things in life—from parenthood to simply earning a living—require personal responsibility, but for the uninitiated, writing is a dark territory where the faint of heart should not venture. Like voodoo, witchcraft, and pop-culture devil-worship, there is something dark and ugly about writing. It’s hard-wired into our brains that the written word carries a unique power and meaning. This is why newspapers are still marginally relevant today, even if the “journalists” who write for them are partisan propagandists telling outrageous lies. “I read it in the paper; it has to be true.”

There were plenty of things that caught my attention and made me start composing blog posts in my head: the Social Studies teacher in North Carolina who never heard of The First Amendment and assured her students that “people were arrested for slandering George Bush”, the pandering of the gay and Latino votes by Osama Bamalama, the burning of assets like Dr. Afridi in Pakistan, who helped us track down and kill bin Laden, the “Fast and Furious” business-as-usual that is burning up today’s headlines, and even the tour-boat captain in Florida who got his hand bitten off and was then charged with feeding the alligator. Things blow past so swiftly these days that I can’t keep a contemporary track on them. I felt fleeting guilt at not passing along my favorite Father’s Day story: the guy in Texas who caught a 47-year-old pervert molesting his 4-year-old daughter, and beat the pervert to death with his bare hands.

In the last couple of blog posts—too long ago, by my standards—I was called out for expressing “liberal talking points.” I since resolved that personal dispute, but it was another consideration in the hiatus of introspection that’s consumed me for the last few months. I had another minor epiphany on that issue: like many liberals, I want what is best for the greatest number of people. Unlike most “progressives”, I realize that the achievement of that lofty goal is only possible by the application of conservative, pragmatic principles. Sorry, Hawkeye; that’s another tough dichotomy to live with.

The thing that broke me loose to at least take a swing at writing again was something sort of flattering someone said to me today: “Whether I agree with you or not, when you say something, you do it with a unique voice that’s informative and entertaining.” [I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it.]

I have a problem with that, too. If I wanted to be educational, I’d become a high-school teacher and tell impressionable kids to “ignore alien orders.” If I wanted to be entertaining, I’d take on stand-up comedy, channeling Will Rogers, talking like Larry the Cable Guy, and falling out of my wheelchair if the jokes bombed.

As it is, I’m consumed by [what I consider] righteous anger, distrust of any politician of any flavor, paranoia of any expressed institutional good intentions, and despair that anything I might say or do will ever make a difference in anyone’s life. My initial realization that “I have nothing to say” has devolved into a desire to not insult the intelligence of my Constant Readers by stating and re-stating the obvious, especially regarding politics. I don’t need to explain to anyone with three brain cells to rub together that the government has failed, there is no leadership extant, and we’re going to Hell in the proverbial hand basket. My personal views on morality and cultural mores matter even less; like Popeye, I am what I am, and no one else could care less. I’m not an example or role model, good or bad, although most people would regard my life as a cautionary tale. Don’t try this at home, kids; we’re professionals.

And, to add to all this existential angst, there’s the inescapable fact that I’m closing in on 60. I never thought I’d live this long, and it’s a minor miracle in itself, but the truly depressing part is that all six decades were spent hurting people and breaking things. The only positive things I ever did were playing rock & roll and making movies for a few years. Those avenues are now closed to me, thanks to my becoming a wheelie, so when I think of writing as becoming my last meaningful outlet, I get a massive case of writer’s block. I have nothing to say.