This Morning

This morning I’m thinking about the Constitution. About the Second Amendment.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I have thought about this particular sentence quite a lot over the years. I’ve shifted my position on this several times, generally in the same direction; not because the side I’ve shifted towards is entirely right (Though it is the right-wing position, the conservative position, that doesn’t make it the right-minded position), but because I came into this debate with a pretty extreme view.

See, I was raised to hate firearms. Violence of all types, certainly, but firearms in particular. My mother, a nurse and a pacifist and the kindest person I have ever known, never even let me have a BB gun, no matter how many times I watched “A Christmas Story.” There was one occasion when I was about 8 or so when our family went over to visit friends for dinner; my mom and dad liked this couple quite a lot: he was a computer guy who worked with my dad, and she was a ceramic artist. They all got along great — until Ben, the husband, showed my brother Marvin and I his pistol. I have a clear recollection of the gun — a revolver — being entirely unloaded, the cylinder open with no shells in it; I remember him letting us hold it. And I remember my mother coming in the room and finding us there holding a gun.

We never saw them again. Not only didn’t go over to their house, but we never saw the Kirchners again. I think my mom saw Mrs. Kirchner at some point, because we had a number of mugs that she made; but we never saw Ben after that.

So I’ve never been in a fight, and I’ve never gone hunting, and I’ve never killed an animal larger than a mouse, and I’ve never fired nor even held a gun past that one time when I was eight. I remember being in an online debate when I started taking this topic on, and my opponent accused me (as online debaters — read “assholes,” including myself when I debated online — are wont to do) of being a hoplophobe, someone who is irrationally afraid of firearms (Please note that this is just a politically charged insult recently coined, like “snowflake” or “soyboy” or that kind of bullshit.). And my response, which stunned the asshole who threw the word at me, was, “Yes. Yes, I am.” I did add the clarifications that I was afraid of people wielding firearms, not of the weapons themselves, and that this fear was not in fact irrational.

The response was basically that I should get a gun and learn to defend myself like a man.

This is a bullshit argument.

But it’s not actually the argument behind the Second Amendment.

Let’s be clear: the Second Amendment has been misinterpreted (in my opinion) by the courts, and even more by the general populace. It does not define the right to self-defense: there is no need to define and protect the natural right to self-defense, because self-defense is never a crime. But I don’t believe there is a guarantee in the Second Amendment that an individual has a right to, needs to, or even should, have a gun for self-defense.

The Second Amendment is also not in any way a defense of hunting or target shooting or collecting firearms to display in your home. None of those are rights. They’re amusements, hobbies; you have no right to a hobby. “But Dusty, what about people who hunt for food?” Well actually, you don’t have a right to food, either. People should have food, and it makes sense for us as a country to ensure that people have food and the ability to get food; but we do it because it makes sense, not because it’s a right. If it stops being sensible to provide food — let’s say we all voluntarily go into the Matrix, and survive on pink goo pumped directly into our gastrointestinal systems — then the provision of food will stop, without any violation of rights.

Let me explain a bit before I go too far into the weeds. The Second Amendment states that the people — not a person — have the right to keep and bear arms, in order to defend the security of a free State. The implication is that the main threats to a free State are external: I think that’s the “security” line. If it was primarily about the defense of a free people from the state, then it would say something more like “to ensure the integrity and continuation of a free State.” But I don’t mean to be one of those people who parse every word of the law in order to determine what the point is: I don’t actually idolize the Founding Fathers, and don’t think that their intentions should be the deciding consideration when trying to interpret the Constitution. I think we should look at what the document is really supposed to do, not necessarily what the men who wrote it wanted it to do.

The Constitution is intended to create and preserve a nation based on the rule of law, and not the whims of men. Laws need to be interpreted and executed by people, so our opinions have some importance; but the defining, essential purpose of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers was to escape and prevent the tyranny of powerful men.

You know how you escape the tyranny of powerful men? You spread power out as much as humanly possible. You create separate but equal branches of government, with checks and balances. You ensure that, as much as possible, the people who run that government are beholden to the masses, through the power of the ballot. (It’s probably a good idea to ensure that the people who are in charge of the actual laws are not quite so beholden to the people, but rather to the law itself — but that’s a different topic.) And because physical force is a source of power, you spread out the physical force as widely as possible: you don’t allow it to concentrate in the hand of a few, or even, if you can manage it, in the hands of many: you put it in the hands of all. That’s what the Second Amendment does, and what it does is right to do: the wider the dispersal of power, the less likely power is to be abused.

I do think the Second Amendment is intended partly to ensure that the people stay free and are able to defend that freedom against a rising tyranny in their own government. But it’s not that specific: it’s intended to create resistance to any gathering of power. The Ku Klux Klan have less power when the Black Panthers have rifles: it’s really as simple as that.

That means that we need to have the right to own firearms, as firearms are the most powerful individual force-multiplier we people can own. Tanks would be better, and an entire air force or navy owned by each individual WAY better; but that’s not feasible.  Anyone can own a gun, and a person with a gun is more deadly than one without. That’s why the Amendment defends the right to keep and bear arms. That does also imply that we should have the right to defend ourselves from personal harm using firearms. It makes sense: the point of maintaining a free State is so we free individuals can have a place to live; therefore the purpose of defending a free state also encompasses defending a free individual. Also, not to get too silly, but you can’t defend the state if you get killed by an intruder in your home.

But here’s the thing: there’s nothing in the Amendment, neither the wording nor the logic, that implies that we should not require background checks on every single purchase of a firearm. And a national gun registry of every owned or manufactured firearm. And red flag laws that allow the removal of firearms from dangerous individuals. And mandatory firearms training and testing, just like we have for motor vehicles. And limits on types of firearms (To some extent — there should be a limit on the limits so that the limits do not become a de facto ban), and on magazine capacity, and on everything else that we see fit to regulate. See, the goal here is to ensure that power is spread out: not that power has to be granted and defended for every halfwit who can pull a damn trigger. Not that the power has to allow one sovereign citizen to take on the military, or even the police, and win. The arguments against regulation are all predicated on the (rather paranoid) idea that the main purpose of the Amendment is to limit the ability of the federal government to control people, and that’s just not the case. Anyone who is a threat to us needs to be controlled, primarily by the limiting of power in the hands of those who are a threat. Note that: if we fear the rising power of the Federal government, then clearly the answer given by the Constitution is to limit that power, not to rise up against it. The worst case scenario is that the people will need to overthrow their own government, but the Amendment isn’t the plan for that; the Amendment is part of the plan for preventing that.

Our ability to own firearms is one thing that helps keep the government from the most simple and brutal sort of tyranny (And it really does do that, and I think I’ll have to talk about that at greater length on another day; the topic is too complex for a single post); but to keep us from turning our power on each other (And to keep the citizens from turning their power on the government for corrupt reasons, too; let’s not forget that. Let’s not imagine that most revolutions are idealistic and freedom-loving.), well — that’s why it says “Well-regulated.” Right there in the front of the Amendment. Even before the “keep and bear arms” part.

 

I think this will have to be continued.

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This Morning

This morning I am thinking about ending gun violence.

Really, the solution is quite simple: after the apocalypse, when we’ve all reverted back to Stone Age savagery (Well, mostly died; those few who remain will revert), guns will be nothing but strangely-shaped clubs that occasionally explode. But since I seek to save lives, the idea of letting things go their course until the majority of people have died (My same solution would work for climate change, too, I’ll note) is antithetical to the purpose. So let’s be serious.

For simplicity’s sake, because I want this to be a short blog, let us assume that the Second Amendment is worth preserving. I’ll come back to it tomorrow and discuss it at length  (Hopefully not too-long length) but for now, let’s just agree that it’s part of our Constitution, that it’s the accepted law of the land, and that fighting against it or arguing against it directly is going to be counterproductive. I hope we can also agree that there is value in it — I think there is — but we’ll save that for tomorrow.

Because the first thing I want to say about this cause, preventing gun violence, particularly trying to put an end to gun violence in schools (This post is a continuation of this one, if you haven’t been reading along.), is this: it doesn’t begin in our schools.

It begins with the military.

There are two reasons. Three, really, but one of them will wait for tomorrow. The first is that we live in a culture soaked in violence, steeped in blood; that culture influences us to see violence as an answer. The military is the first and most prominent source of this idea, that violence is a solution to problems; because not only does our diplomacy start and end with force, but we laud it, incessantly, as the best thing about us: we are the world’s superpower, we are the global police force, we are the shining light on the hill — which we think is the Bat signal. Anyone anywhere needs help, one of the first things we do is send the Marines. Hoo rah. All of our military veterans are heroes, everything good about this country — our freedoms, our values — are due to the military.

And what does the military do? The military kills people.

Of course that’s not all the military does; and the other tasks, I would gladly maintain. I would cherish a global rescue force that sent in manpower and superior engineering knowledge to help with natural disasters. I would absolutely adore a massive collection of dedicated, patriotic men and women who actually lived and worked among real people in terrible places, and helped them, and got to know them; I think those soldiers, the ones who win hearts and minds, are indeed heroes, and the best possible face that we could put on America to people around the world.

But only if those same soldiers don’t kill the people they have gotten to know.

That’s the second reason why the military has to be the first place we do something to end gun violence: because an Iraqi child’s life is not worth less than an American child’s life, and while we grieve sorely for the school children we have lost to gun violence, I don’t hear the same outpouring for the tens of thousands of children in Iraq and Afghanistan whom we killed.

I don’t blame soldiers for the violence they commit and represent; that is their job, and it is we, the people, who ask — who insist  — that they do it. So this is the first place to start, if we’re serious about ending gun violence. Anything else, any attempt to remove firearms from the hands of our civilian populace, while we pay a million men and women to circle the globe with their fingers on the trigger, is absurd. First we have to put down the nation’s gun.

In a practical sense, I’d suggest keeping a massive and essentially unbeatable National Guard, with as much of it as practicable as Reserves: let’s go back the Minutemen, one of the first and most important ideas of the founding fathers, and one of the first that they lost, because a standing army is just such a useful tool. You can use that hammer to smash anything. Or anyone. I’d also suggest that as many of our current assets as possible be transferred to the UN for their peacekeeping forces — or to another similar body if we’re not happy with the United Nations specifically. I do recognize that force is necessary at times, to stop atrocities around the globe; but I also recognize that we are too reluctant to commit our own troops to that cause. So we should participate in the cause, but not be in charge of it. Frankly, we could use the humility.

That’s first. The second step in ending gun violence for real is something that should happen in this country, and it is this: legalize all drugs.

I don’t know that drug users and drug dealers are the biggest source of illegal activity that includes gun violence, but I know they are one of the worst, and also one of the easiest to put a stop to. Legalize drugs, control them, build a market for them, and not only does the majority of crime in this country stop (or take on a different tenor, which is certainly likely; the other thing we need to do to stop crime is reduce income inequality — but that’s a different blog and also a societal issue that leads to property crime more than violent crime. Drugs tend more towards violence, especially between and among dealers.), but also the majority of violent crime and societal instability in Mexico.

Are you listening, Trump? You want to make Central and South America a better place, with fewer gangs and less violence, and therefore less reason for people to emigrate to the US? Here’s your chance. Legalize drugs. Problem — not solved, but certainly ameliorated.

But the legalization of drugs, while it would stop some of the worst gun violence we face, would actually contribute somewhat to what is possibly the saddest cause of gun violence, and the hardest to fix: domestic violence and abuse. This is the third step we have to take. Not only because the thousands of women who are killed by their partners every year are not worth less than the school children we grieve so sorely, but also because it has to be obvious by now that one of the potential causes of school shootings is a violent, unstable home life, generally one cause by abuse and neglect. (And inasmuch as drugs and alcohol contribute to abuse and neglect, my second solution makes this one harder; however, I would hope that legalized drugs would have less stigma attached to seeking help, and maybe that would make some difference, too. There would need to be stiff penalties for crimes committed while under the influence. That’s probably another blog.)

I don’t know how to stop this, to be honest. I can’t understand someone turning in anger and attacking their own loved ones — and I also can’t understand someone living with people they don’t love. Of course desperation is part of it, especially for people who stay with abusers; so maybe solving our income inequality and poverty problems are more imperative in this cause than I thought. I do feel like this one is the hardest and the longest-lasting problem, one that will take at least a generation of hard work to reduce if not eliminate; because the only way to solve this is to break the cycle of abuse. Abusers are broken people; and they break the people they abuse. (Not everyone. But it’s no shame to be broken by someone who seeks to do it, and it does happen, far too often.)

That is, when the abusers don’t simply murder them. Often with guns.

So these are the first three steps we must take. And I’m fully aware that just that first step is essentially impossible in this country in this day and age; everyone in politics is beholden to the military, forced to kowtow to them in a country where even the NFL, a bastion of American spirit if ever there was one, was humbled by the rumor of disloyalty to the military. And of course there is the very real possibility that the military would not allow itself to be dismantled: there are a number of very powerful people with a vested interest in maintaining our addiction foreign wars, and if we think a military junta couldn’t overthrow our government simply because this is America, then we haven’t been paying attention. There’s also the awesome might and influence of the military-industrial complex, and they have less than no morals. I kinda feel like, if this blog were to go viral, they would murder me just for suggesting this.

That’s all right, I’m not scared of them.

I’m scared of someone coming to my school with a gun to kill people. To kill my students, my friends. To kill me. But despite my fear, despite the immediacy of it, if we don’t start with these three steps, then anything we do claiming to reduce gun violence is just hollow.

Let’s do this right.

This Day

This day, I’m thinking about Kendrick Castillo. And about Riley Howell. And about gun violence.

Kendrick Castillo was the high school senior, three days from graduating, who lunged at a fellow student who came into his classroom with a gun in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, this past Wednesday. He was shot to death. Eight other students were wounded by the two gunmen, one of whom was detained by a school security guard. Two other seniors tackled Castillo’s killer, and the other people in the classroom credit Castillo with saving their lives.

Riley Howell and another young man tackled another gunman at UNC-Charlotte on April 30. Again, it’s believed that their actions stopped the shooter from murdering more people, potentially many more people. Howell was shot three times, and died of his wounds.

We call them heroes.

We call them martyrs.

We grieve for them, we remember them, we hold military funerals and vigils for them.

And then we make more of them.

I had a brief discussion — not a bad one, though I was a bit rude and I made the other person upset with me — on Facebook about Kendrick Castillo and whether or not he was a hero. I said he was a tragedy, and I was told that his situation was certainly a tragedy, but that calling him anything other than a hero dishonored him and his leadership and his legacy. And I struggled with how I wanted to respond to that. At first I said that I understood the other person’s point, and I agreed with it, for the most part. But really, I’m not sure that I do. I don’t mean to rehash the argument without giving the other person a chance to rebut my points, so I don’t want to get too far into this specific topic, but — I don’t think that my consent and participation are necessary for someone to be honored. I’ve disagreed often with those we choose to view as heroes, as leaders, as those worthy of honor; I don’t think my opinion has much of an impact on their status or their reputation or their legacy. Especially not something I say in a Facebook comment, or even on this blog. I will say that I would not state my opinion directly to the person or their loved ones, I wouldn’t go to John McCain’s funeral and call him an asshole even though I wrote a multi-page essay to that effect during the 2008 presidential race. But I do also think that if I lost someone I loved, if my wife sacrificed her life to save her students from a school shooter, it would not make me feel better if people told me she was a hero. So if I ever spoke to Kendrick Castillo’s family, I think the first and last thing I would say is, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

But none of that is the point I wanted to make here; just the impetus that has me writing about this terrible topic, again. During that same discussion, I wanted to say that I would rather use my grief for the loss of Kendrick Castillo, and for Riley Howell, to try to ensure that this never happened again, that nobody else would ever have to make the choice that they made.

But I couldn’t say that. First because I don’t know that I am grieving. I’ve grieved for deaths before, and this feels nothing like that. I will say that, inasmuch as you can grieve for someone you’ve never met, I do feel genuinely sad and sorry about these deaths, and I have been thinking about them all day; so if that’s grieving, then I am. If it’s not grieving, then I’m doing whatever this is, and maybe that honors their lives and their loss.

More to the point, though, I don’t think I’m going to do anything to prevent this from happening again. I want to, I genuinely do; but I’m not sure what. I can post on this blog, or elsewhere on the internet, and maybe my opinion can sway some others — but first I have to know how to sway them (you)  in order to make a difference, to move us closer to this goal we all share of never again having to hear of a school shooting. I usually think that’s the most powerful impact I can have on issues; because I have this small platform, and I can use it. Though as I said above, I’m not sure how much this blog, my words, these posts, really matter. Probably not much. I could run for office, but I wouldn’t win nor want the job; I could work for a campaign — and I might — but I’d have to be sure that the campaign I was working for was the right one, the one that would help make this happen. Of course I can vote, and will  — but again, I have to know that I’m voting for the right person. And when it comes right down to it, if the options are between someone who doesn’t share my opinions about preventing gun violence, and, say, Donald Trump — well, I’m not fucking voting for Trump.

I suppose I could also carry a gun, and stand guard at a school building. But I don’t think that is the right answer.

So the first thing that I need to do, to actually accomplish, is to decide what I think is the right thing to do. And then look for opportunities to pursue that right thing.

I’m saying this because I want to help move other people to do the same. My opinions may not sway anyone, but I do hope that when I say things that make sense, that aren’t simply my opinions, then people will listen: and this makes sense. We need to figure this out. We should all decide what we think is the best thing to do. We should also be open-minded and willing to listen, and honestly think, about what other people say is the best thing to do. We need to do this thinking because if nothing else, the 20 years between Columbine and Highlands Ranch, and the incessant stream of similar tragedies that have paraded by us over those two decades, should show us that we don’t know what to do. Because we’ve done nothing. Nothing other than drill students in how to deal with school shooters: and that has led directly to this point, these two dead men, these — heroes. We made them. We taught them what to do, we encouraged them, we failed to do anything else to prevent these situations where they chose to sacrifice themselves for others. If they are martyrs, then we are not the inheritors of their gift, the beneficiaries of their sacrifice: we’re the ones who killed them. We’re the Romans, with the cross and the nails. We’re the Inquisition, with the stake and the fire. We’re Jack and the hunters, chanting “KILL THE PIG! KILL THE PIG!” while Simon comes down from the cave.

At best we’re the ones watching it happen. At best.

 

I actually intended this post to be about what I think we should do to stop this. But it hasn’t gone that way, and I don’t want to get into it now. And tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and I don’t want to talk about ending gun violence on  Mother’s Day. So I think I will leave this here, for now, and come back to it next week — probably Monday.

I will end with this last remark. I do not think honoring dead men like Kendrick Castillo and Riley Howell as heroes does one single thing to reduce the tragedy of their loss. In a perverse way, if they are heroes, then that makes their loss worse, because heroes are valuable people, people who improve the lives of others, and they shouldn’t have to die to do that: they don’t have to die to do that. If they die doing it, then that is the end of their heroism, and it is a loss, it is a terrible loss in addition to the unforgivable loss of their lives. I think they probably were heroes, because I think that fighting to stop or prevent harm to others is a good thing, one of the best things, and so people who try to do it are good; if they try to stop harm this horrific, then they are great. I can call them heroes for that.

But still, the only thing I can say is: I am so sorry for your loss.

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Kendrick Castillo

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Riley Howell

 

This Morning

PART II: Time for the crazy shit.

ClearImage result for crazy pirate

(Have you all told everyone about me? Image taken from here, and it’s for sale.)

(Here’s Part I.)

So all right: we’ve got our floating garbage-land, called Spirit of Trump (Trumpia? Trump-As-Fuck-Land? We’ll discuss. There will be a meeting. One awesome thing about pirates is that they were members of an essentially egalitarian and democratic society.). Now it’s time to talk about our long-term goals. I mean, sure, we can just float around on our trash-berg, but how long will that satisfy us? For my own self, I feel I will need a purpose greater than snickering at Trump while living on a giant mound of waste.

So here’s the plan.

First of all, we’re going to become Lords of Plastic. I’m hopeful that we will have some science-minded people aboard, and they will be willing to experiment with the plastic that makes up our proud island; maybe they can find ways to manipulate it, better than we can now. Specifically I’d like to make plastic that is impervious to bullets and rockets and torpedoes and the like, as I plan to go to war and it would be swell if our plasticontinent didn’t get wiped out by the first salvo. Though really, the main protection from assault would be the sheer size of our rubbishy Nautilus: I want this thing to be so big that the U.S. Navy could blast away at the edges for days and do nothing more than break off a whole lot of plastic confetti. But I figure, once word gets out that we’re creating a free society, with Trump’s blessing and outside of his control, and also helping clean up the oceans? I mean, imagine the brain drain on the United States of Trump: imagine all the brilliant minds who can’t stand to turn on the news every day and see that straw-haired Nazi Cheeto in the White House. Think how many of them would rather live on a giant pile of floating trash rather than a country filled with MAGA hats. I mean, really, which honestly seems more like worthless garbage? So I’m pretty sure we’ll  have all of the greatest minds in America on our team.

Just imagine what they could do, what America’s best minds could do, given free rein and a cause to fight for.

To that end, in addition to plastic shielding, I’m looking for some intriguing plastic-based weapon systems: I want plastic netting that could tangle motors and machines, and maybe trap attacking ships; and I would love some plastic that could adhere to people and sort of cocoon them in a plastic shell. You know what else would be awesome? Sentient plastic. Ooo — and maybe Flubber!

Once we can turn the plastic into our weapons of war, then it’s time to become Lords of Plastic for real. We’re taking all the plastic. All the garbage. All the recycling, too, since 91% of plastic produced ends up in landfills, which means recycling is just another pile of bullshit. Like Trump and his goddamn slogans. I figure we can reach an agreement with the nations of the world — certainly with Trump and his ilk, the megalomaniacal idiots — to take all of their plastic garbage off their hands. They’ll pay us to do it, so long as the plastic doesn’t end up in their landfills, in their rivers and streams, making them look bad for their people; no, indeed, we don’t want that. So we’ll take it all, and we’ll earn some hefty fees, too — garbage is lucrative. Just ask the Sopranos. But what’s even better is that the more plastic we collect, the larger our island will be. Considering the sheer quantity of plastic we produce now, worldwide, I figure we’ll overtake Australia in no time.

But the goal is not to make the largest plastic island in the world. The goal is not even to escape Trump’s America. I want those things, I want fame and fortune, and freedom. But you know what I really want?

I want my fucking country back.

I don’t mind losing a political fight. I don’t mind being wrong; it intrigues me, actually, when I finally shed the blinders and actually understand an argument from the other side; and when I see, just for instance, the economy improving in a lot of ways, even in the last two years under Trump, I have to recognize that there’s something to the idea of lowering taxes and decreasing regulation in order to give businesses a boost. That makes sense, even though my liberal soul says that we need the money from taxes in order to help people who need it. But the truth is somewhere in the middle: taking too much from those who produce wealth really does make it harder to produce wealth, and there are problems with that, including that it makes it harder to collect money that we want to spend on good causes. Things like that make me recognize that Republicans have a point. They’re not inherently wrong. The pull from the right, to draw back the government and keep it small, and to ensure that it is not involved in every aspect of our lives, is a valuable influence on our society. We shouldn’t go all the way to that side, I don’t think, because frequently the government is the best way to ensure a level playing field, and to protect people from injustice. But government unchecked is not any better than capitalism unchecked. I know that. I know that because of conservatives who have won arguments, who have made good points, who have done things when in power that are actually good for all of us. Fiscal conservatives keep us from overspending. Small-government conservatives are a good check on large government, because large government institutions are inefficient and wasteful, and occasionally corrupt; just look at the Senate under Mitch McConnell, the evil fucker with his hand up the dummy-Trump’s backside. I don’t even see that son of a bitch as a Republican, not now after he’s repudiated everything the GOP is supposed to stand for in his naked grab for power. He’s a kleptocrat, just like Trump. Just like 90% of the current Republicans in power, who have given everything up in order to support Trump, just so they can maintain power.

I won’t leave my country in their hands. I won’t.

So once we have our floating continent of filth, we’re going to come back and fight for this giant pile of waste we call home.

What we do is, we go after the oil, first. I’d love to start subtly, by taking all the plastic we can steal: we pirate all the cargo ships carrying plastic goods, and steal them all; shred it and add it to our island, or maybe provide any useful material wealth to the “shithole” countries, and all the ones that Trump cut off aid to because they’re not white. The more plastic we can steal, the more oil they’ll have to produce in order to replace the stolen plastic. Then we go after the offshore oil rigs: it would be great if we could have two garbage islands, one in the Atlantic to go into the Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to hit the coast of California, and/or Alaska. I sorta think all we have to do is float into them, and let our island crush the oil rigs underneath our neverending plasticine bulk; but if not, we’ll use the plastic weapons, nets to foul the drills and to capture the tankers, plastic cocoons to freeze the workers and float them back to shore. Once we stop the oil production, and/or push up the price of crude so high that America’s overheated economy can’t afford to import it, then the economy will crash. (Obviously renewable energy would be the other option, but all of the best minds, and the most liberal ones, will be dancing on a giant ice-shelf of shredded water bottles and Chinese-made toys, flipping off everyone in a MAGA hat.) Once the economy crashes, Trump will not only lose his support, but his only reason for being President, which is his own enrichment and aggrandization; he’s not going to want to be the leader of a poor nation that got beaten by a floating pile of garbage.

A floating pile of garbage with an Ultimate Weapon.

My idea for the ultimate weapon is this: the island has a volcano cone, but obviously no volcano under it. I figure it would just be a hole down into the ocean below. So we make huge balls of plastic, big enough to fill the volcano completely, like ping-pong balls in a giant Nerf gun: then we push down on the whole island with enough force to make the water shoot up through the volcano and launch that plastic boulder for miles. I don’t know how we aim it; that’s why we have all the brilliant scientists. But I know this part: know how we push the island down? That’s easy: when we clear all the plastic out of the oceans, we’ll win the undying friendship of all the whales. So we get them to leap out of the water, and land on the island, all at once. It’ll shove the whole island down, fast and hard, and BOOM! Plastic volcano launches plastic boulder. The whales will be fine; the island’s just plastic, so it won’t hurt them, and we will quickly help them back into the water, so they can swim around and do it again, as soon as we can reload the volcano with another giant plastic pellet. It’s foolproof! And maybe we can make the plastic pellets hollow, and fill them with — I dunno, something good, something that will dissuade anyone from fighting us. Eight tons of butterscotch pudding or something. Radioactive waste (I bet we could get a good deal on that if we agreed to take it off America’s hands when we get all the plastic.). Maybe sewage? That’s be poetic, wouldn’t it? If we dropped a giant plastic ball filled with slimy, festering shit  right on top of Mar-a-Lago?

Anyway, between all of our piratey scalawags, our continent of plastic, the geniuses who were pushed out of Trump’s America, and the allegiance of all the whales, and probably all the dolphins and porpoises, and definitely the sea turtles once we clear out all those straws, I’m pretty sure we can win this fight. Really, I bet all we’d have to do is threaten to destroy every building and golf course named after Trump, and he’d resign in no time.

Really, I think this is the best plan. It certainly seems more realistic than trusting our democratic institutions and trying to heal all the damage that partisan fighting has done to this country.

So who’s with me?

This Morning

This morning I’m thinking, Well! That’s quite a line you’re following, there, Dusty! First you rail against science, and then you complain about the foundation of American exceptionalism, capitalism and the profit motive? Why don’t you go for the trifecta?

This morning, I say to my sardonic self (Who uses sarcasm to conceal the quiver in his lip): all righty then.

Capitalism and the profit motive have helped make this country the absolute powerhouse that it is militarily, culturally, and especially economically. The drive to succeed, to win, to gain the maximum benefit for one’s self from one’s labor, have been a powerful motivator for as long as this country has told us we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps; though profit and competition haven’t made that particular impossible feat possible, they have allowed us to turn a thousand other impossible things into realities: they helped us get to the moon (because we had to beat the Commies there) and they helped us invent the first atomic bomb (because we had to beat the Nazis) and they helped us lead the way in the information revolution of the 1980’s (because Apple had to beat Microsoft, and Microsoft had to beat Apple). Our continuous growth, our continuous progress, have been driven largely by exactly this: by money, by profit, by competition for limited resources, whether those resources are time or money or fame or love or just food.

I can’t argue with that. I hate competition, hate the very idea of fighting other people in order to gain greater profit; but I can’t deny the results. America is an exceptional place, and our incredible speed forward has been increased again, and again, and again, by this essential underlying system: the one in front, the one on top, gets what he wants, and other people have to make do with what’s left over, with what’s left behind. Our system of government, our great and wonderful freedoms —  and they are great, and they are wonderful — are predicated on that idea, with this addition: anyone, in theory, can be the one on top, the one who gets all the stuff first. In practice it can’t be anyone, and it’s almost  always been the same type of people — mostly white Christian men — but in theory, it could be anyone, and our ability to pretend that that is true, and our desire to push for greater rights for other people mainly because we think those opportunities will reflect some benefit back on us, are what has allowed us as a society to spread those freedoms to more people, in more situations.

Just as long as we can pretend the people gaining the freedoms are like us. When they’re not like us, when they live on the other side of the world and speak a different language and live a different way, well. Then it’s probably all right if they have less freedom. Particularly if we profit thereby, with, say, cheap consumer goods.

Am I being too cynical? Look: the slaves were freed because it served the purpose of the white men who freed them. Woodrow Wilson changed his stance on women’s suffrage from opposition to support because he needed women to continue supporting the American effort in World War I. At least part of Lyndon Johnson’s intention in signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was to ensure the Democratic party would not fracture along racial lines — and that all of them would support his bid for election in November. And so on, so on. I do agree with Dr. Martin Luther King that those in power do not give up their power voluntarily, only when there is sufficient pressure on them to do so; I know that some of the progress we have made towards greater freedom has been because of grass roots movements and political and social pressure. The will of the people does sometimes prevail. Maybe even often.

But far more often, money talks, and people bend and crawl. And that’s capitalism.

Technology, meanwhile, has often been touted as a means of making life easier for the common man; but all too often, it has in fact made life harder. We have more technology, and we work longer hours and suffer more stress. We have longer life spans, now, that much is certainly true; but more of our lives is spent in misery, and often in ill health. We’ve gotten more quantity of life, but not more quality. And even more true is this: when progress has been made, it pushes us forward  —  off of another cliff. The Green Revolution of the mid-20th century, led by Norman Borlaug, saved at least a billion people from starving to death in Asia. A magnificent success, and a great leap forward.

How many billions are going to die now because of climate change? How much of that climate change was driven by the increase in human population made possible by the Green Revolution?

I don’t mean to say it was a bad thing. Lives were saved, and I am in favor of humans, and of living humans over dead humans. The same thing is true of our longer life spans: what I said about quantity but not quality is true, but also, the rise of lingering and terrible diseases that afflict us as we age has come at least partly because we are now still alive to age. We die of cancer now because we don’t die of sepsis like we used to. We have Alzheimer’s now because we’re not all dead at 65-70 from heart disease. Do you realize how many of the world’s greatest authors, along with millions of others, literally drank themselves to death before they were 50? Do you realize how much of that is attributable to a lack of understanding of and treatment for alcoholism? How much was, quite simply, due to the inability of medical science to perform a liver transplant? Medical advancements just mean we die in different ways, and after longer lives — and as a person who would like to live a good, long time before he dies, I see that as entirely positive.

But the problem is, the problem with all of this is, that we think of our temporary fixes, our incremental advances  — our progress– as a solution to the problem. But it never is. All we’ve been doing since the Industrial Revolution if not before, is treating the symptoms and not the real underlying problem. We are better at waging war: but we haven’t figured out how to stop fighting. We live longer lives: but not better ones. We make more profits: but we don’t get greater rewards. We live in a magnificent country: but it survives by exploiting and destroying other countries, other people, and it always has.

Progress is not our salvation. Progress is our drug. We’re not making real progress in our real problems — not much, and not quickly, and too often the real progress is swallowed up by backsliding; we have actually gotten more empathetic and more aware, and the backlash from that is the alt-right and Donald Trump. Which is making us less empathetic and less aware, as we draw deeper into our shells to avoid looking at the shit that is piling up outside. And I am entirely guilty of this, don’t think I’m not: I have stopped listening to or reading the news because I feel powerless to do anything about it. I’m not: I have as much power as any person, and more than most because I am a white Christian man, to help make the world a better place, and instead, I’ve done — well, nothing useful. I’ve probably made some progress. But I haven’t solved anything.

 

I don’t think I’ve been clear enough in this blog. I’ve been having trouble lately making my point clear; and this one is a tough one to get across. Let me boil it down and then I will see if I can explain it at greater length in future posts.

What we call progress, in technology, in the growth of our economy, in the expansion of this nation’s military and political power, are rarely if ever actual progress towards a useful goal, a valuable purpose. Almost always the goal is — motion. Like football: you try to get the first down, you try to move the chains. You hunker down and focus on the immediate task, convincing yourself that that one task, that one all-consuming goal, is a good thing. And in the immediate sense, in a single, narrow context, it is good: football players are successful when they get first downs. Soldiers are successful when they carry out assigned missions. Workers are successful when they bring home a paycheck. Scientists are successful when they complete an experiment as it was intended  — say, by injecting human brain DNA into macaques. We see immediate success as progress, especially when it is followed by another success. We’ve taken another step along the path.

But we rarely, if ever, think about where the path is leading. And too often, the successes right now cause even greater problems down the line.

That doesn’t mean we should ignore the problems, nor that we should try not to solve them; winning World War II was the right thing to do, even if it did start the Cold War and the nuclear arms race and so on. Norman Borlaug absolutely should have saved billions from starving, and Alexander Fleming absolutely should have deciphered penicillin, and Dr. King absolutely should have fought for civil rights.

But we need to stop thinking that progress, movement forward, is the answer, is the solution, is the goal. Movement for the sake of movement will not ever get you to where you need to go, to where you should be. Only purposeful, intentional movement can do that. A plan. Understanding.

So maybe, instead of bulling ahead ever farther, ever faster, ever harder, we should– slow down. And think. Even if it means we don’t solve the problems we’re dealing with right now. Maybe it will help us find a real solution, instead of a solution right now that leads to another problem tomorrow.

This Morning

This morning I am thinking about rules. And breaking them.

I don’t have any particular plans to break rules today, apart from  the ones I always break (I am insufficiently formal with my students! I don’t take their cellphones away! I DON’T ENFORCE THE DRESS CODE!!!); since I have become a teacher, I am generally on the side of rules enforcement (Not the dress code. Dress codes are a poor system. I’ll write about that some other morning.), because I recognize that most rules are intended to uphold the One Rule: Primum non nocere. First, do no harm. In my classroom that is the first rule and the only rule that gets regularly and consistently enforced. But other corollary rules are reasonable when they help maintain that one rule: the tardy policy is acceptable because students who come in late miss class, which is harmful to their education; they disrupt the classroom, which is harmful to everyone else’s. It is a minor harm in both cases, and so the punishment for tardiness should be a stern look, maybe a talking to (Especially in the case of schoolchildren, who are rarely tardy on their own behalf; I was late to homeroom for essentially my entire freshman year because my older brother drove me to school, and he didn’t have to be in homeroom, ergo late.), but there is harm, and the rule makes sense.

The more interesting situation is when someone — like me — decides that some rules should be enforced and not others. Because then it becomes a matter of reason and authority; argument, in other words. I have decided that the no-cellphones policy at the school where I teach will not be enforced in my classroom with the sole exception of tests. I confiscate their phones during tests; otherwise I let the students use them during class. Conversely, I insist that essays and projects be on school appropriate subjects. I can justify the enforcement of one rule and not the other, but am I the one who gets to decide that? My supervisors would say No. My students, who like my laxity, say Yes. I do what I want, ‘cause a pirate is free, and I am a pirate.

But then there are the rules, and particularly the uneven enforcement of rules, that I believe are problematic. My administration insists that the students do not talk during fire drills, that the entire school remain in absolute silence. They instruct the teachers, during every drill, to send the students who talk to the administration to be disciplined. They do not have a reasonable argument for this. The district insists, as a precaution against school shootings, that all classroom doors be closed and locked during the entire school day, with the sole exception (Other than when people are coming in and out of the doors, of course — though I have been frequently tempted to slam the door closed and yell, “IT’S A SAFETY PRECAUTION!” when people are trying to come into my classroom. Particularly when it’s administrators.) being when there is a teacher alone in the room with a single student; then the potential lawsuits override the risk of being shot, and so the classroom door must remain blocked open. They do not have a reasonable argument for this. My administration is constantly walking by my classroom and closing my door, which I habitually leave open because I have an open-door bathroom policy, and also because it helps keep the room a comfortable temperature.

Those rules, despite being irrational, are enforced consistently and vigorously. But other rules, such as suspension and expulsion for serious offenses — rules which do have a rational basis — are consistently bent or broken, generally for the same fear of lawsuits that governs our door closings. There are students at the school who should probably not be at the school, because their actions pose a genuine threat to themselves and the other students. But those students are generally allowed to remain, and even allowed to make up work missed during suspensions. I am not one to insist on expulsion; other solutions to the issue could certainly be tried — but those things don’t happen, either.

Let’s imagine, as an example, that a student was running around whipping people with goat skin in order to increase their fertility. (What? That’s where Valentine’s Day comes from.) A student who did that should be suspended, and certainly, if the student was naked as the Romans were when they did that, that student should be expelled and probably arrested. I could understand if, instead, the student was required to attend counseling, GoatWhippers Anonymous and the like; but my school, and the school where I taught before this, frequently did nothing post-suspension. The goat-whipper comes right back, sits in class, makes up work and gets their credits. And frequently, re-offends. With the same result.

I broke the rules almost ten years ago. I wrote angry blogs about my students, while I was in class, using a school computer; I also named former students and insulted them. I’m honestly not sure that my particular actions caused direct harm (largely because none of the students I talked about knew about or read the blog), but certainly the rules that I violated are intended to prevent harm: teachers should not insult their students, we should not post on social media or the internet during class; we should not name our students and violate their privacy. I should not have broken those rules. I was punished for them, and I still pay for it; and that’s as it should be. Especially because I still write this blog, I have to remain aware of where the line is, and not cross it. I suppose you could argue that I do cross it, that I shouldn’t write, that I shouldn’t write about my school or the administration or similar topics; but rules that prevent harm should not cause harm. And censorship is harm. My punishment taught me to be more responsible, and therefore I, who am closest to the potential damage, have become a means of preventing further harm. This is exactly what rules and punishments are supposed to accomplish: reform and prevention. For the offender far more than others who observe, but the idea of a deterrent is not absurd.

There are other instances where, rather than a poor policy or an unfairly enforced rule, specific individuals are allowed to skirt the rules — or simply to break them with impunity. Where, say, family members are allowed to have freedoms and privileges that they should not have, in violation of rules. This is, quite simply, corruption; not only does it allow harm to happen to all involved, but it creates harm directly. It allows others to be corrupt themselves, and therefore the harm spreads. And it begins at the top.

Looking at you, Mr. Trump. And your children.

When  the people who are given the authority to make the rules and enforce the rules do a poor job of choosing which rules are vigorously enforced — generally, rules that allow them to maintain and increase power and control over subordinates, but which do not tangibly prevent harm — and which are laxly enforced or not enforced at all, then the system is broken; then, unfortunately, it falls to those not in the position of authority to make decisions regarding which rules to enforce and which not. That’s where I come into this. If my students were not consistently and adamantly protected, by their parents and de facto by the school in that they do not enforce a schoolwide ban, in their right to have a cellphone with maximal functionality, I would enforce a ban in my classroom. If my administration acted in all ways with the safety and benefit of the students foremost in mind, then I would enforce their reasonable rules vigorously. As none of those things are true, I am forced to pick and choose.

I hope I choose well. I will take responsibility for the choices I make.

I learned that from my punishments.

This Morning

(Twenty mornings! Score!)

This morning I am thinking about yesterday afternoon.

Yesterday afternoon, following a full day of teaching, and right on the heels of a vapid and hollow staff meeting (“Let’s sing ‘Happy Birthday’ all at once to everyone who’s had a birthday in the last two and a half months! Then, as a special gift, the birthday people can cut this crappy cake we got for them! Also, teachers with high test scores win all the prizes! Yay math and English!” Except with less energy and verve.), we had an interesting and useful training. It was called Stop the Bleed, and it was about how to deal with critical bleeding, how to apply first aid, tourniquets and wound packing and pressure and the like. I was glad to get the training, because I learned things I hadn’t known before, things that could be useful in a crisis, and I learned them from actual medical professionals and first responders.

But there were a few things that bothered me. Apart from the graphic wound photos and the fake detached limbs with enormous puncture wounds for us to practice stuffing gauze into. Geesh.

The first was the audience participation; we were asked to identify some signs of critical blood loss, and also some consequences of it if left untreated; there’s nothing quite like hearing a bunch of teachers, who are all lovely people, and who also want to be the one to give the teacher the right answer, shouting out, “Spurting blood!” “Missing part of a limb!” “DEATH!” The flip side of this was the trainer’s comment that our practice hemostatic gauze lacked the chemical additive that is in actual hemostatic gauze, which helps cause blood clotting, because our gauze was “educational.” I love the idea that the crappy knock-off version, the one that doesn’t do the critical thing that the actual product does, is the educational version. It’s like school Chromebooks.

Then there were the trainers’ unintentionally strange comments. (At least I hope they were unintentional…) “We are fortunate to have the experience of the military, so we’ve seen tourniquets applied for up to two hours without loss of limb.” “They have tourniquets for the torso now so you can apply them to the lower abdomen, but unfortunately they’re only for the military at the moment.” (I think they had a different understanding of “fortunate” than I do. Is the military really fortunate to have the opportunity to field-test tourniquets for hours at a time without losing limbs? To have access to abdominal tourniquets? I mean, I’m all in favor of saving lives — but “fortunate?”) The better one was the trainer’s attempt at humor: when explaining that wounds to the “torso junctions,” where the limbs meet the trunk, at the shoulders, neck, and groin, the trainer said, “Now, you can’t apply a tourniquet at these places  — although I’m sure many of you would like to…” which is either, if she was talking about the groin, the weirdest and most inappropriate dick joke I’ve ever heard, or else she was joking about us strangling our students to death, ha, ha, ha. It’s especially disturbing that the murder joke is by far the more likely.

That’s especially disturbing because the impetus for this training? Sandy Hook. The program was put in place after the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, because at that horrible scene, the paramedics could not reach the victims in time to stop their critical bleeding because the police had to secure the scene before the medical personnel could be allowed in to help. So that means two things: one, this training is being given to me because, if the worst happens, I’ll already be in the unsecured scene, and so will have nothing to lose  by applying first aid to people who are bleeding to death, because I will already be in mortal danger myself. And two, that means we were sitting in the library of my school, at the end of a day working with students, talking about when a psychopath brought an assault weapon to an elementary school and murdered more than twenty people, most of them under the age of seven: and at least some of those people died by bleeding to death because the paramedics couldn’t be permitted in to reach them.

And this, this, is how my nation and my school respond to those facts, those unspeakable horrors. Not with gun control, not, in the case of my school, with hiring a full-time security guard and nurse: no, no. With training for the teachers in how to apply a combat-tested tourniquet, and how to pack gauze into a wound — gauze that, I learned, comes with an x-ray opaque strip so that once multiple yards of it are shoved into the wound, the gauze can still be found and removed in the hospital. Where the firefighter teaching us pointed out that we had to be careful putting our fingers into the wound because there might be sharp shards of bone inside, or even a bullet — which, he said, would still be sizzling hot.

All I can say is, God bless America.