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(A Thousand or So Words) On Guns

America has a problem. It is caught in a feedback loop of fear. Guns beget shootings. Shooting beget more guns. More guns beget more shootings. This brand of mass violence is unique to the United States. I’ve been trying to reason out why.

First, let’s talk 2nd 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’m not going to get into the nuance of the well-regulated militia, as the courts have ruled that the grammar allows for two separate rights: one for militias, one for people who also have the individual right to bear arms. I find that to be a mistake, but regardless, why do we have this right? Transport yourself back to the late 18th century. A ragtag group of revolutionaries, using the weaponry available to both individuals and militaries alike, overthrew the yolk of a tyrant. What is the surest way to ensure that they would never again fall under tyranny? To make the government as scare of the people as the people were scared of the government. Our constitution provided not only for institutional checks and balances, but also societal ones – try to enslave free men (well, you know, the right kind of free men), and face armed rebellion. For a nascent state, this was a real threat.

Many in the pro-gun community espouse this concept as their justification for the right to bear the biggest and best arms. I find this to be absurd, as an AR-15 (or whatever), is no match to an Abrams tank or an A-10 or a Predator drone. I think that most can see, at least at a subconscious level, the ridiculousness of this argument. Strip that away, and in reality, the motivation for owning guns is two-fold:
1) People like guns and think they are cool, in much the same way they like horses or cars or scotch or baseball cards or Van Goghs.
2) People are afraid of the world in which they live and need some way to assert control over it.

I reject #1. Some people think kiddie porn or slavery are cool. We don’t let those people and their destructive habits pollute society. #2, then, is the only valid reason to own a gun. And…part of me wants one for this very same reason.

Long ago, humanity evolved beyond toughness, nerve, and grit. In the past, if you wanted to come for my daughters, you’d have to come through me – and I have more to lose than you have to gain. Human ferocity was a buffer against violence. Deadly action at a distance emasculated the act of violence. Any coward with a fire stick could extinguish any number of brave men with everything to lose. In fact, this is what happens several thousand times a year in our country. Cowards with firearms kill the innocent and guilty alike. How is one to protect his family, when no amount of animal strength or righteous rage is sufficient? By fighting firearms with firearms.

This has led to a literal arms race. Half of society has decided that the toothpaste is out of the tube. They only can think to fight violence with additional violence, a sort of microcosm of the mutually assured destruction of the Cold War. The only way to protect the good guys is to kill before you are killed, or at least provide enough deterrence to make violence less likely in the first place.

But, we’ve all paid the price for this Faustian bargain. Our toddlers are far more likely to shoot themselves in the face with our protection than they are to be shot by a home invader. We are more likely to throw gasoline on a minor conflict when firearms immediately raise the stakes to life or death. We are more likely, in a moment of blind passion, to become the very same threat to our own families that we assumed would come from without. And, we become the enablers of the insane with our lax laws and prevalent weaponry. Most of these shooters are using a legally purchased firearm.

But even if we realize this, we are still unwilling to do anything about it. We refuse to relinquish the perceived control, even if it’s for our own good. This all comes down to control, or the illusion of control, over one’s life.

What I don’t understand is the scale of guns. Guns won’t go away. I think that #2 is a strong enough motivation that we will never be a gun free society. But…it’s the influence of the “guns are cool” crowd that gets us into real trouble. Because guns are cool, we need military grade rifles, with attachments that maximize their deadliness. It’s because guns are cool that people decide to shoot 600 of their fellow men from hotel windows. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. If the crazy person didn’t have a gun, he’d use something else. No. If he didn’t have an AR-15, he’d kill less people. He’d kill the other guy’s daughter, but be stopped before he killed yours too. These aren’t statistics, these are dead people, and less dead people is better than more dead people.

Here’s what I think.

1) Improve background checks because why would you not do that? The only reason because you believe restricting any gun right is the opening salvo in an attempt to roll back additional rights. And so people continue to die because we let terrorists and the mentally ill buy and keep guns. Stop it. And who needs a gun an hour from now, unless they intend to use it to shoot someone an hour from now? A mandatory several day cool off period is only sensible.
2) Limit the use of high powered weaponry to “well-regulated militias.” These well-regulated militias can fulfill the role of Civil War re-enacters. A martial hobby, guys that don’t like the gym getting some testosterone flowing with less effort. Fine. Even let them have MORE weaponry, to fulfill the original intent of the 2nd amendment and serve as a check on power. But also make them financially liable for the actions of their members. If your militia’s grand wizard shoots up a church with your grenade launcher, you are liable. You lose your well-regulated militia license and are sued for millions of dollars. This pretty well takes care of #1.

Let’s be clear. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. But people cannot change. People are what they are, and short of Christ returning, we’re going to keep being evil to each other. No extra hugs are going to eliminate sin. People with knives wound people. People with bricks bruise people. People with guns kill people. And our own fear has made us deserve this fate.

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2052: Part of me likes the Balvenie Caribbean Cask, but part of me thinks it has a stomach bile taste early finish. It’s not the rum, I’ve had this with other Balvenie’s as well. Anyway. We don’t have cable, so if NBC is not broadcasting this after this Ellen DeGeneres flushes people down the toilet game show, this will be a very short live blog.
2055: Will and Grace is still on. I don’t watch TV.
2056: I just realized that I’m sitting on the couch cushion that my 2.5 year old peed on a few hours ago. I’m not going to mention it, less my wife take said cushion away.
2057: I’m not sure Ellen is going to be able to wrap this up on time. Wife asked if I’m live blogging the silent game show (which is on mute, because I don’t care what Ellen has to say really).
2058: Lost the cushion.
2059: Quit your yapping DeGeneres.
2100: It would appear that NBC is doing the SotU. By the way, most of the time I watch things like this on Fox, to see if it is possible to justify this moron. Spoiler alert, I loathe Trump. Other caveat. I won’t make it much past 10 PM.
2102: I forgot the punch line of the story – we do over-air TV and Fox doesn’t really come in.
2103: It’s funny that the Dow lost over 300 points today. Sad.
2103: Guy on NBC. I am the middle. I am also hate watching. Look it’s Megyn Kelly! She was like the 8th one to talk. She sounds more gravely than she used to. I think the Fox News made her perk it up, now she’s going for salty dog.
2105: Melania Trump is in attendance. I feel bad for her. Speaking of which, the Trump campaign (which is currently fund raising) has been reusing the term “complicit,” about 8 months after it was relevant, which gave all the home schools time to add it to their vocabulary list.
2108: I pray he doesn’t use a teleprompter. Is it typical to clap for oneself?
2109: Melania’s cold, dead eyes.
2110: WaPo reports that Melania rode to the speech by herself.
2111: He sounds hoarse, sort of like Megyn Kelly.
2112: I thought Las Vegas didn’t happen? He’s not really playing to his base.
2113: Is this going to be 100% stories of Trump supporters being good to people? It is possible.
2116: OK, we’re waiting for some content here.
2117: I miss watching Nancy Pelosi blink. Instead I can see her chew the inside of her face. By the way, I am the last person who should be standing placidly behind any president delivering a speech. Far too fidgety.
2118: Wife is sopping piss out of couch cushion as she watches. It’s the circle of life.
2119: Here’s where Trump takes credit for Obama’s economy, neglecting the fact that the economy of the socialist EU grow faster.
2121: Pooping Turtle Mitch McConnell.
2123: Our government is very creepy looking, all of them. Wife points out that Don keeps clapping in his own microphone.
2124: Trump just said that $4000 is a lot of money with a straight face. That would pay his Secret Service detail for about 14 seconds. Hey, Staub, bring a black guy with you, would you?
2127: If you believe in fairies, than clap your hands (into the microphone).
2128: Speaking of hands, Kevin Love just broke his.
2129: Ut oh – into the flag portion of the speech. This could be dicey.
2130: I thought that was Baron, but Preston. Clap clap clap clap clap.
2131: Melania really does have nice hair. Here we are in the anthem standing portion! Is Colin Kaepernik in the audience tonight?
2133: Neil Gorusch: Leave me out of this.
2135: Removing Federal Employees who “Undermine the public trust or fail the American people,” which sounds nice, except for who is defining the parameters. Good Lord, that’s scary.
2137: All those people with “Clean Coal Lung”.
2139: I’m want to put anyone who comments on Facebook in a ticker in the live blog. Except that that might be an indication of undermining the public trust or otherwise failing the American people.
2140: I agree with the idea of trying experimental trials. By the way, I was “cupped” at physical therapy today.
2141: Paul Ryan looks like a Vorta from the Dominion in Deep Space Nine. And to paraphrase some other person, Mike Pence looks like someone who does mean things to the X-Men.
2144: You know what would have been handy for updating the infrastructure? The trillion dollars that you just gave to the wealthy…
2146: I’m running out of steam. Go off script. Be a man. Tell us how you really feel!
2147: Bernie Sanders with the most pitiful clap of the night.
2148: Unrecognized by wife, by the way. “Older than I thought,” yes, they are all ancient. Sanders, Clinton, Biden, and Trump. Get rid of old people!
2148: Whatever, prison reform. Are you kidding me? Jeff Sessions wants everyone in jail.
2149: Guys, come in the audience, I’m going to talk about how your daughters were murdered. Seriously, this is in your best interest.
2153: Losing interest. Wife thought that he said cweed instead of creed. Americans are dreamers too – eff those immigrant kids!
2154: Trump located literally every minority Trump supporter and has them in the crowd tonight.
2157: Rubio did not clap about that. Wow. Little Marco Rubio.
2158: Awesome, the government will be evaluating “moral character”. I trust Donald with evaluating moral character.
2159: Ahem. I support letting in every single skilled person that wants to be an American. We should be pillaging the world of their best and brightest. I agree with that.
2200: Donald’s family came to America by Chain Migration.
2201: Running low on Scotch, but not buzzed enough to find this interesting anymore. I like the guy with the whooping cough in the background also. Vaccinate your children!
2203: Trump: good with numbers. That was some nice division there – he knew all the days in the year and the hours in the day. Amazing.
2204: Opiods…not obtained from pushers and drug dealers very often eh. Drug companies, can we call out drug companies? No? Are they on the Trump donation ticker, perhaps.
2205: Tell me she was breast feeding at the exact moment Trump called on them. I have to say, that is awesome!
2206: A young Woody Harrelson, that Ryan the police man. If Woody Harrelson were in American History X.
2208: It’s unfortunate, sadly.
2212: My arms are cold, I need a long sleeve shirt. When possible, we have no choice but to annihilate them!
2213: Got a jacket during the torture section.
2214: Interested in the second half of that sentence, the torture part. By the way, Obama, not very effective at closing Guantanamo Bay.
2216: The Democrats are a grim lot, aren’t they. Ivanka is excited about the Jerusalem thing. She’s got about 40 million reasons to be excited.
2218: How are those Russian sanctions going?
2221: Do people like the personal stories? I want him to cut to the chase. But I suppose this is what people want – reality TV.
2222: I am afraid he’s going to announce that bombers are en route.
2223: By the way, Jeff Session would throw that coal thief into jail.
2224: Are you saying that the Korean guy was a chain migrant or what?
2226: I’m going to pack this up soon. Hopefully Trump is also. It sounds like he’s wrapping it up. USA-USA-USA!
2230: Whoa, Alex Smith signed with the Redskins – I guess Kirk Cousins is out.
2230: He’s still talking, sorry, I faded out for a second. This is supposed to be the good part, written in Stephen Miller’s fever dream.
2231: I want to hear what Megyn Kelly has to say. Savannah Guthrie, never heard of her. He TRUMPeted the economy.
2232: Tillerson is still on the job, by the way. I’m ready to call all that strife fake news.
2233: Megyn Kelly is cynical. “I hate news, States of the Union are sucky, this is all stupid, life makes me empty.”
2235: OK, I’m done here. I can’t stand Trump. He’s signing hats now.

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Stephen Paddock did not “snap”. He meticulously planned to do evil. It is my suspicion that he did this to prove that he could do it – to prove that those idiot amateurs were incompetent and anyone with half a brain could do tremendously more damage. But that’s irrelevant. Stephen Paddock is depraved. So are we.

You see it all the time; someone else’s kid grows up to be a drug addict and you tut-tut-tut at their parents and you look at your angelic kids. I’m better than those parents, a silent, hidden commentary says. But then your kids do the same. The families of mass murderers are always mystified and stunned. Don’t think they are just naive. YOU are naive. That could be your brother or father or son. The drug addled woman that leaves her kids in a hot car at Wal-Mart could be your sister or daughter. The jilted lover that takes out revenge, the loving father with a penchant for prostitutes, the trusted accountant with the off shore shell corporation, the kind housewife with an urge to steal things she doesn’t even want, the police officer whose mind goes blank for just the minute around the time when he shoots an unarmed perpetrator, the guy in the pickup who rams the distracted teenager off the road, the mom who drives home after one too many drinks and kills a toddler. These people are not remarkable. They are not outliers. They are representatives of the human condition, guilty of the corruption that infects all of mankind.

You included. Me included.

Thinks you’re better because you don’t murder? Jesus has news for you. The same infection is in your soul. Think maybe this is for one class of people, but not your class of people? You go to church! You are a police man! You are in the military! You are kind to animals! You donate time and money! You help the helpless! No, you are a whitewashed tomb. And no, you’re not exempt. No one is righteous, not even one.

This condition is not new, it’s as old as there are people. It’s restrained by the rule of law and the societal norms of morality. Both of those are crumbling around us. During the Enlightenment, humankind felt that it was getting better, smarter, more compassionate, more illuminated. Then we killed 100 million of our fellow men and women in a decade’s worth of World Wars. We will not heal ourselves. We will not evolve out of this. Evil, as a general trend, increases proportionally to the population. Sure, for a decade or two things might look better. Sure, specific societal ills may decrease. But our true nature will break through in the end, and we will, sometimes, shoot 600 people. Stephen Paddock was not an Other. He was an archetype of the depravity of all of us. Don’t think yourself immune, lest you too lose focus and expose the evil of your soul.

For all that it has been abused over the centuries, this is one of the key draws of Christianity. Biblical Christianity does not make believe that we are perfect. It acknowledges our universal brokenness. It points to a second archetype, a new Adam, in the form of Jesus. It doesn’t make believe that we become Jesus, it surrenders to that fact that we can’t, and instead falls upon its knees to humbly beg Jesus to save us. From ourselves.

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House of Cards

Every few years, a deck of playing cards is generated immortalizing the “most wanted” within some band of miscreants. There was one for Iraq, one for Al Qaeda, one for ISIS, and more I’m sure. I don’t mind Trump’s choices for several roles. For instance, McMasters and Mattis seem to be perfectly acceptable picks. Others I really don’t know enough about to have an opinion. For the remainder, here’s my list of Trump Cabinet and Adviser playing cards. They are in order of Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, sorted by how much I’d like to see them removed from their position. I’ve left the originals and included their replacements if they are likewise deplorable (though such an organizational scheme is not really extensible).

Ace: Trump, Bannon, Pruitt, Kushner
King: Miller, Sessions, Pence, Ivanka Trump
Queen: Zinke, DeVos, Conway, Spicer
Jack: Priebus, Flynn, Price, Mnuchin
10: Tillerson, Huckabee Sanders, Scaramucci, Perry
9: Gorka, Ichan, McMahon, Pompeo

That’s about as deep as I can go. Now, if we were including Congresspeople, this would be a much harder list to make – lots of tough decisions near the top for the spineless collaborators.

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Automata

Some jobs don’t require humans. In the last 300 years, the number of humanless jobs have increased exponentially. This increase has led to an increase in the overall quality of life of mankind. Without first beasts, then machinery, humanity could not support the billions of people on the planet as we currently do – few would say that agricultural automation has been bad for mankind.

At the time, they did. At the time, machines that would spin cloth were thought to be disruptive to the economy. But we would not have drawers full of clothes without them. Automation has, without question, improved quality of life. More goods, and higher quality goods, at less cost.

But in every age, there is a subset of the population resistant to these enhancements. Don’t automate Wendy’s ordering, for instance, because that will put 18 year olds without a GED out of a job. They need some way to make money. Don’t automate manufacturing jobs, because where else will those people work? But time and again, more automation has led to cheaper, higher quality goods. Do we intentionally hamstring society to provide busywork for the uneducated?

But what about those people who lose their jobs to automation? In theory, we should start working less hours, while the machines generate the wealth (in the form of inexpensive cars or clothes or hamburgers) on our behalf. In theory, there should be less of us – birth rates always decline as a function of societal wealth. But in practice, there will be millions left in the lurch until society adjusts to the new norm. Millions that would prefer their well-being over the “greater good”. And rightfully so. Millions didn’t get an education for one reason or another (some would say it was their fault for not working hard – I wouldn’t always agree with him), 50 of whom can be replaced by a single machine. So do we “make work” to keep them busy? If we had a different sort of government, we might find ourselves with a new WPA, where the state flushes the economy with jobs for the greater good – while bankrupting itself. If we had a different sort of government, we might have a guaranteed minimum income; enough for those left in transition to survive, but still too little to disincentivize some from wanting to earn more through more education and hard work. But nanny states are expensive.

I don’t know the solution. But to me the solution is never willful ignorance. One way or another, time and technology marches on.

By the way, side note…the only way to curb inequality is through cataclysm. Perhaps we’re on the right track after all.

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Preaching to the Choir

I haven’t heard anything back from the Honorable Senator from Montana. Many representatives do not care at all what non-constituents think, even those representatives who sit on committees that impact the entire nation. No matter. I’ll write to our Maryland representatives, even though they already are opposed to our current executive and his feckless policies. Anyway, here’s what I just sent to my representative. It’s some words and then my feelings on gerrymandering. I don’t expect he would have read that far – tl/dr, but what’s the harm. I’m effectively sending blog posts to congressmen.

Representative Cummings,
I wish to offer you encouragement in this difficult time. Without a majority in either the House or Senate, and with a President seemingly unfettered by the bonds of civil decorum or basic human dignity, the majority of Americans can do nothing to affect policy. From the so called Muslim Ban to a multitude of measures meant to enrich his fellow billionaires, most disturbingly those at the expense of the natural beauty of this great nation, there is little to be encouraged about from this legislature and our executive branch.

But even in this time, the seeds of change have been sown. The people have embraced their civic duty and risen united against the perceived tyranny. Our President’s approval rating is at an historic low. At this stage, though you may have few political options, you do hold something more dear: the moral high ground. I encourage you and your fellow Democrats to shine a light of dignity and respect that stands in stark contrast to the darkness that otherwise surrounds us. Embrace your colleagues across the aisle who also operate with integrity in opposition to unamerican orders. Right now, the best thing that we can do is to show kindness and restraint in the face of bluster and blunder. The contrast will be clear come Fall of 2018, when the people will ensure that their voices are again heard in the voting booths.

I would like to take this moment to also encourage you to take a stand against what I believe is the central political evil that brought our country to this current situation: gerrymandering. I know that you did not draw our 7th Congressional District, but its tentacles and holes are illustrative of the problem.

When congressional candidates run for office in a “secure” district, they must embrace more polarized views in order to make it out of the primary. We are left with a legislature that does not represent our national centrist tendencies. Instead, we have a House full of extremists, who answer to the most vocal minorities on the far left and right at the peril of being flushed in the next primary. With no room to compromise with those in the middle, the legislative branch deadlocks. Presidents from both parties rule by fiat via executive orders to fill the void left by an ineffectual legislature.

Because of this, I believe that independent redistricting is the only way to elect candidates that properly represent the rank and file citizens of the Unites States. Please consider supporting all measures that would free our country from its comically intertwined districts and allow the majority of the people to have a say in our government.

Thank you for your time, I appreciate your service, and God Bless America,

Eric Furst

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Spacious Skies

My letter to Montana Senator Steve Daines, chairman of the subcommittee on National Parks:

Senator Daines,
Several years ago, my brother and I spent six nights in the backcountry of Glacier National Park. Though I’ve been on many trips before and since, my visit to your great state and its jewel of a park sticks with me. We saw more wildlife in that week than in any other trip before or since; moose by the dozen, grizzlies, black bears, bighorn sheep, foxes, trout (on my plate), and the biggest owl I’ve ever seen. We spent four nights on the same itinerary as an Army Ranger and his wife – his pack was more than 70 lbs, I swear they brought a cast iron skillet or something. We met a man who hikes hundreds of miles a summer in the park in Crocs and a Jansen book bag. We picked up tips on how to eat like normal humans on the trail, we swam next to a glacier in a mountain lake at Stoney Indian pass, and we celebrated our trip with a huge pizza and a couple of delicious beers.

Why am I telling you this? I don’t have a specific agenda. I want to offer you encouragement. There may come a time when someone who doesn’t know anything about the wild places of our national heritage wants to make decisions that imperil those places. Those of us who love the wild look to folks like you to protect it – fellow backpackers who understand that these places are national treasures. Please look out for our national parks and our state parks. In 20 years I want my daughters to see the same big skies, the same cascading waterfalls, the same stark rock faces, and the same grizzlies (whether the glaciers will be there is a different topic). I want them to toil for 20 miles under a heavy pack to earn vistas only seen by those who seek with determination and struggle.

While I have your ear, I encourage you to support our National Park Service workers. I’ve never met an NPS employee that I didn’t respect and admire. They share in our love for the outdoors. That they are also idealistic and politically active makes them true Americans, even if not everyone agrees with their opinions. I am proud to live in a country where we can safely voice our views, where we practice the refined art of checks and balances both via our governmental structure and directly through the voices of our people, and where the protectors of our sovereign lands would also stand up as protectors of our ideals. Please look past the political inconvenience of their acts to the heart behind them.

Thank you for your time, thank you for your great state, and thank you for your beautiful public lands. I hope to visit again soon.

Eric Furst

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