Understanding America, Gun Culture and The Need For Gun Control

No funny captions today; this is a serious discussion we need to have.
Source: NBC News

So, October is normally the time where I start rolling out the spooky stuff for Halloween. But unfortunately, we need to delay that to talk about a real-life horror story in America.

I really struggled with how to approach the topic of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. I wanted to talk about the gun control issue that crops up every time this happens – which seems to be like clockwork at this point. I wanted to mention how it has barely been a year since the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and we’ve already topped it as the most lethal modern mass shooting in U.S. history. I ached to put into words my frustration at how this will likely be ignored again and no new legislation will be made to help protect innocent lives.

But as I wrote this in my head, I realized I would essentially be paraphrasing Jimmy Kimmel’s heartbreaking words on the matter and I feel no need to repeat that.

So instead, I want to try to bridge the gap between the two sides. I want to understand how and why this country that I love so dearly has come to this point and spread that understanding to others in hopes of ending this lucid nightmare once and for all.

Firstly, know that I am not making excuses for people that are against gun control; I am very much FOR the regulation of firearms. And bear in mind that I say that as someone who has made frequent use of guns himself. The Second Amendment, like any piece of text from antiquity that governs the lives of others, is something that is in need of occasional revision.

Second, I’m not calling for a gun BAN. I feel that any rational American knows that a full ban on firearms is not only logistically impossible but also completely overboard. Any citizen of any country should have the right to defend themselves, their property, and their loved ones. The goal of gun control is (or at least should be) to make weapons designed for crowd suppression such as full auto rifles more difficult to obtain – thus reducing the sort of horrific numbers of casualties we see in these events.

That being said, I feel I do understand the logic of where most anti-gun control rhetoric comes from. Like most things that come from those that feel that old traditions are inalienable, the key to understanding their thinking and their concern lies in our shared history.

The United States was, in essence, built by the gun. It was an armed citizenry that took the place of a standing army in the days when we were just a British colony and it was that same armed citizenry that made the revolution a success. The gun was the only thing protecting people as they expanded into the lawless west. In many regards, the image of the American cowboy-style sheriff and his gun is as much of a romanticized part of our history as the English knight and his sword or the Japanese samurai and his katana; a symbol of one man’s power and duty to maintain order and protect innocent lives.

But, it’s plain to see that that isn’t the case anymore. Too many people that lack the empathy and logical reason to wield such a terribly destructive tool exist – not just in our country – but in the world writ large. We need some kind of improved system to keep the gun (or, failing that, the most destructive guns) out of their hands.

And yes, it does seem unfair that those of us who are good, caring, loving and law-abiding citizens have to sacrifice some of our power just because others can’t be trusted with it. But, I honestly believe that if we are half the heroes we romanticize ourselves to be, we would make that sacrifice for the sake of protecting our people from the cruelest among us.

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Why I’m Okay With The “Take A Knee” Protest

Yeah, I’m totally cool with this.
Source: Statesman

Anyone who knows me knows I couldn’t care less about sports. I’m not into competitive events (especially not ones that boil down to, “hit the other guy as hard as you can”). But when a sport starts stirring up political controversy and touches on issues of social justice by kneeling down during the national anthem, I can’t deny that it sits in several of my wheelhouses.

As you’ve almost certainly have gathered from the title, I have no problems with the ‘take a knee’ protests going around the NFL right now. I fact, as long they continue the protests peacefully and no one gets hurt, I wish them the best and hope people start to listen. After all, that’s the point of a controversial protest; to do something so shocking that people have no choice but to pay attention to you.

But, I also understand how a lot of people have misinterpreted this as an attack on the flag and the pledge. So, in an attempt to bridge the divide between us and promote empathy between divided factions, I’m going to attempt to debunk a few of the common complaints I’ve heard so far.

It was never about the flag

This the most common cry heard on the web right now, so I’ll keep it short. People joining the protest aren’t protesting against the flag; they’re using the flag as a vehicle to protest against police brutality.

It’s like I said at the start; the point of committing a controversial act in protest is to garner attention. If these players protested by doing something benign and mundane, you would be giving a thought about this right now. You have to do something shocking when you’re trying to rally awareness to a cause.

We ‘disrespect the flag’ LITERALLY every day (and the law doesn’t care)

This is probably the second thing people bring up when they hear the complaints of respecting the flag.

If you actually read Chapter 10, Subsection 176 of the U.S. Flag Code which details how to respect the flag, you’d find a shocking number of ways we screw it up every day. Such examples of douchebaggery towards our banner include flag-printed clothing, carrying the flag horizontally, flag-printed uniforms and costumes, and – probably the most damning of all – using the flag in advertising (actually, you can double down on that last one since you’re also not supposed to use the flag as a receptacle).

That said, almost nobody freaks out about these ‘disrespectful’ acts because the flag code makes it clear that it is merely a suggestion. It makes sure that every entry on respect is bookmarked with the word “should” – not must.

The great irony is that this protest would have probably been ignored entirely if most of us just realized what the flag code does…

The flag is not our nation

As I understand it, the reason people get up in arms about respecting the flag is that they conflate disrespecting the flag with disrespecting the nation. The fact of the matter is, however, that the flag isn’t the nation; That’s the role of the people. And this protest’s intent was trying to protect a group of people (a legitimate concern, considering how often we see side-by-side video footage of how long hostile white criminals are allowed to resist arrest compared to less threatening black perpetrators) and, by extension using my previous analogy, the nation.

When you get right down to it, the things we associate with our nation – the flag, our anthem, our pledge of allegiance and more – are just symbols our nation uses. If we started taking the advice of George Carlin and just, “leave symbols to the symbol-minded,” to focus on the REAL substance of our country – our people – we might find that we could improve this home of ours immeasurably.

The Agent on Charlottesville and The Rise of White Nationalism (Or “Why Hate Speech Is NOT Free Speech)

There are no jokes here. There is no laughter to be had. THIS. IS. DISGUSTING.
Source: WDKX.com

Well, this is definitely the most depressing and tragic thing I’ve ever had to talk about.

I’ve spent literally every day since August 11th, either on social media or in one-to-one talks, discussing the horrible events that occurred in Charlottesville and the aftermath in its wake. And I’ve been coming across the same exhausting argument every time since then – “I hate what the white nationalists have done and what they represent, but we can’t do anything because they’re exercising their freedom of speech.”

So then, field operatives, let’s discuss Incitement and Imminent Lawless Action and how those legal concepts apply to these bone-chilling events.

Incitement is defined in criminal law as any act meant, “to instigate, persuade, or move another to commit a crime.” This works in tandem with Imminent Lawless Action, the standard by which we use to judge whether a person’s speech falls under the protection of the First Amendment or if it’s an act of Incitement.

Imminent Lawless Action is judged based on two legal standards that the speech must pass if it is to be protected. The speech (and speaker, by extension) in question will lose its First Amendment rights if, “such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

So, let’s apply those standards to the nationalists, shall we?

Is their advocacy directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action? Well, when you fly the colors, wear the uniforms, chant the slogans, and preach the rhetoric of groups of people that are well-known and documented for violence against people based on race and religion, it’s kind of hard argue that aren’t with them. A lot of people have started claiming that they joined up as a joke or to troll people, but this isn’t the internet; doing stuff like that in real life isn’t as easy to write off as a joke. You MAY have started it as a joke and let it get way too far out of hand, but you still chanted slogans in public that promoted violence and murder and you need to take responsibility for that.

Was/is it likely to incite or produce lawless action? Well, I’d say running over a group of peaceful counter-protesters counts as pretty bloody likely to incite violence, don’t you?

Now, I’m not going to jump on this ‘Punch the Nazis’ meme that the internet is ballyhooing around because that’s just a stupid idea; It puts a lot of innocent people in harm’s way, makes white nationalists look right, and makes genuinely good people just as guilty as the forces they fight. That said, I do believe that the white nationalists and hate groups that took part in the protests should be held responsible; they should be charged with Incitement, punished to the fullest legal extent, and be sent a clear open letter to the world: responding to political discourse with a call for blood is not allowed in this country and those who do are not welcome here.

Responsibility to the responsible; kindness to the kind; tolerance for the tolerant. Those are my politics and I’ll stand by them to the end of time.

Debate Is Not Safe: The Agent on ‘Safe Spaces’

If the media doesn’t spread the word, how will anyone know to care about your cause?… dunce.
Source: Daily News

So, in last week’s fuming rant on how most anti-trans arguments are dead out of the gate, I may have let slip that I disapprove of the focus on and use of so-called ‘Safe Spaces’ on college campuses. So, I might as well elaborate on that now while the thought is still relatively fresh in my mind.

First things first, despite what the above statement may suggest, I’m not against the CONCEPT of a Safe Space. On the contrary; I think Safe Spaces are absolutely necessary for an increasingly politicized and divided society to function. No one can be expected to fight for their beliefs non-stop without rest- that’s how severe stress disorders develop. Every now and again, you need to have a place where you and like-minded people can go to just be themselves; a place to get away from the stress and judgment of politics, pull a Quasimoto and claim, “Sanctuary!”

That said, the way we use them now completely misses the point of a Safe Space. We’re often seeing videos of rallies and protests at these places that are mostly ineffective at best and toxic at worst because the very nature of a Safe Space doesn’t allow for a counterpoint to rally against and no constructive debate can be had. This leaves the people involved (who often have very good points to make, in reality) looking for all the world like angry, rabid animals rather than a victimized minority trying to fight back.

And yes, I know it sucks when a peaceful protest goes south and violence breaks out and perhaps preventing that was the intended goal. But, sad as it may be, that’s just one of the inherent risks that come with pushing back against the zeitgeist. Eventually, you have to step out of the Safe Space and have that confrontation if you want any change to be made. Every LGBT person attends a Pride Parade knowing that someone will likely try to break it up and may even become violent. Every Black-Lives-Matter protester acts with the knowledge that they will be LUCKY if all they get is a little pepper spray in the face.

The sad truth is that change – and political debate by extension – is chaotic, daunting and often breaks people. But I find that fact easier to swallow if you think of life like a body of water.

Peace is like a still pond; it may be easier to float in, but the scum, insects, and disease that breed and spread in the stagnant water make doing so a foolish venture.

Chaos is like a flowing river; the waves may try to jostle you under from time to time, but foul and sickly things cannot grow there and the currents will always push you forward.

It’s for this reason that I support anyone who advocates for open debate and criticism – even if I don’t personally agree with them. I do so because I know that every one of them is a chance for change. And change, however uncomfortable it may be, breeds life and renewed strength.

My One Sentence Counter To NEARLY ALL Anti-Transgender Arguments

Is that really so hard to give? It’s not exactly a finite resource, you know?
Source: ACLU

So… Trans rights and politics are back in the spotlight again…

It would have been bad enough that our resident Fuqboi-In-Chief (yes, I’m done being respectful towards Donald Trump) wants to bring back the military ban on transgender service men and women. But, on a personal level, it gets worse.

I’ve worked with trans people almost all of my adult life. They’ve been my friends throughout college. They’re fellow writers and thinkers. They’re both my co-workers and my customers at my current job.

So, when not one, but TWO of my co-workers start making snide comments about trans customers behind their backs as they leave – one of whom didn’t even have the basic human decency to avoid using the words ‘f*g’ and ‘tranny’ – on top of all of the political falderal we’re experiencing, you can expect me to start getting a little nettled.

To make matters worse, I couldn’t say anything to them. I can actually get fired for getting into politics and social issues with people on the job because it makes for a ‘hostile work environment.’ I mean, you think the abuse and misuse of ‘safe spaces’ on campus are bad (well, they are, but that’s a different rant for another day)? You’ve clearly never had to share a work space with a bunch of unquestioning, bigoted, cretins before.

So, all I could do at those times was give them the evil eye to tell them to stop (one of the advantages of being a six-foot-four, 250 pound, Scotish-American is that’s usually all it takes to shut someone up). But, intimidation doesn’t address the core issue; they were still thinking based on irrational fear, hate, superstition, or whatever justification caused them to think it was okay to blurt out cruel words.

But, one of the perks of being a blogger is that I can posit my counter-argument in a public forum and, as long as I don’t name exact people and places, there will be no negative repercussions from me exercising my right to free speech. In fact, I can counter just about everything they throw at me with one question: …

… “Why do you even care?”

This is a question I insist that everyone ask themselves before seriously attempting to defend their beliefs because if you don’t have a decent reason to fight in a debate, you’ve already lost.

And wouldn’t you know it, I haven’t heard a good answer to that question from anyone against transgender rights yet.

“But it’s unnatural.” Yeah? So’s 98 percent of everything you use, wear, and eat. Humans are MASTERS at altering the world and themselves to suit their individual needs. If transgender people are wrong because they’re ‘unnatural,’ then you need to give up the synthetic fabrics that make up most of your clothing, the processed food you eat, the products made from selectively bred plants and animals, the metal tools made from alloys that don’t occur in nature, literally EVERYTHING made from plastic, etc.

“Aren’t there health risks involved in the transition?” Yes, there are and I award you points for your genuine concern. But it seems hypocritical that you would be against one human activity with known risks that can be screened and treated when far more dangerous activities like smoking and drinking get a pass… Unless you’re one of those folks that want to ban alcohol and tobacco too which didn’t go well the first time we did it. My point is that people have the freedom to experiment with their own bodies for better or worse. As long as it’s not your body, it’s not your problem.

“But my religion says…” STOP. Your religion is likely TENS OF THOUSANDS of years old. It dates back to the days of a much more limited understanding of how the universe works and enforces archaic laws that just don’t work anymore. You wouldn’t want your child going to school with outdated text books. So why are you using one as the basis of your life?

“I have no problem with trans people. I just wish they weren’t so obvious about it.” Well, I wish that your noxious breath and toothless smile from years of smoking weren’t so obvious, but I still ignore it and treat you like a human being, don’t I (Seriously, both of these people were terrible tobacco abusers and obviously didn’t care for themselves)? Some people just look the way they do. They either don’t want to change or lack the time and resources to change themselves at the moment. The point is that they’re still human and, until and unless they treat you like crap, deserve your consideration.

You see, I have a very simple philosophy: if you aren’t bothering me or anyone I love, I won’t bother you. And on average, the trans-community either leaves me and my kin be or works well with us. What’s more, there’s nothing inherent about being transgender that harms us – meaning any issues I have with trans-people are on an individual, case-by-case basis and not endemic of the whole community.

In short, unless you have irrefutable evidence that the trans-community is planning a global uprising and we are all in grave danger, your argument against them is probably bulls*** and you should just relax; you can be safe in the knowledge that the world isn’t ending just because you have to share it with people that you don’t quite understand.

The Kathy Griffin Debacle: Yet Another ‘Everyone’s An A-Hole’ scenario

Do I look shocked? I’m trying to do my best ‘shocked’ face. No? Eh, whatever.
Source: TMZ

Well, I think I’ve let this issue smolder long enough where I can safely discuss it.

For those who somehow managed to escape the raging dumpster fire that is the current American political landscape (god, I envy you…), there was a big to-do amongst the bizarre political choices and ego-centric tweets when stand-up comedian, writer, and actress Kathy Griffin took her criticism to the extreme by posing for photos while standing with a blood-soaked head resembling that of Donald Trump.

Naturally, folks lost their minds. People immediately ran to verbally lambaste and defend Kathy in a flurry of unhelpful rage.

Let’s keep this short and sweet, shall we? I have absolutely NO LOVE for Trump as a light search on my Twitter feed will reveal. I think he’s immature, incompetent, self-serving, and rude. What’s more, he lacks the intelligence to run his own business effectively, let alone an entire country.

That said, what Kathy did was stooping down to his level in my mind. This was her equivalent of Trump’s “bomb the s*** out of them” line; an empty threat that she can’t possibly deliver on and served no purpose other than to get everyone pissed off because blind rage is more effective at getting a message out than gentle understanding.

Of course, there’s also the plaintiff cries of how, not long ago, we endured 8 years of similar threats to Barrack Obama and that those offended now are being hypocritical. Rest assured, those people do exist and are just throwing a temper tantrum about THEIR idol being mocked at best and genuinely horrible human beings at worst. But, just because “they” did it first doesn’t give “us” the right to be just as terrible. Don’t you hear how infantile that sounds when you describe it?

Besides, such thinking disregards those who refuse to condone such behavior and robs them of their voice in the matter. There are some people out there who would call Kathy AND the Anti-Obama folks out equally for being childish, barbaric or both… people like me, for instance.

I’m of the opinion that we should be living in a world where we are mature and intelligent enough to recognize such obvious hyper-inflated bombast through violence as the weak attempts at humor/social commentary that they are and not give such people the dignity of occupying valuable space in our brains. I, for one, put to much value on my thoughts to pay attention to idle threats and long to hear some actual, meaningful dialogue on the topic that can ACTUALLY fix the problem so that I and everyone else on this blue-green space rock that I love so dearly can go on living constructive and meaningful lives.

In conclusion, I offer this message to the world; put away your effigies and torches, calm your butt-hurt feelings down, and try to contribute to the discussion on how to fix what you – in all likelihood – helped to break for a change.

Why You Should Care About Journalism (And How To Not Get Bamboozled By Bad Stories)

It can all be a little overwhelming at times, can’t it.
Source: CaptureYourInfo.com

So, there’s been a lot of crappy news coming down the pipelines lately and 2017 looks set to go down in history books as, “The Age of Excrement: The Year Everything Went To S***.” It’s become so bad that I had to take last week off from writing to recover from sensory overload and was giving real consideration to giving up entirely.

That is to say, I was until I went to work that night and explained my plight to a co-worker. To wit, she responded with, “I don’t ever bother listening to news ever.”

It was then that I learned something about myself that I never knew about myself; I am legitimately disgusted when people say they don’t listen to the news.

I mean, REALLY? How do you function in society if you don’t have a clue what’s going on in the world? How do you contribute to improving your city, your state, your country, and your planet if you don’t know where and what the problems are?

Look, I get it; the constant stream of news media is overwhelming. You occasionally need to remove yourself from the chaos and politics so you can just be you and live your life. That’s LITERALLY the definition of a ‘Safe Space.’ But, if you actually want any of those problems to improve, you have to step out of the safe space and engage with news and politics to fight for a better world.

And if your issue is that, “so many media outlets lie, I can’t trust any of them,” then, sad to say, the problem isn’t just the media; it’s you.

The amount of information available to us in an Information Age society requires each of us to do a little legwork to filter out misinformation and fluff stories. And while I like to believe were getting better about it, the simple fact is that some of us could stand to be more critical of what we read, hear, and watch.

It’s actually surprisingly easy to fact check news stories; so much so that it’s kind of insulting when independent comedy news sources like Nash Bozard at Radio Dead Air are better at it than the big budget ones playing it straight. Here, I’ll speed through some of the easiest ways to smell bulls*** from a mile away.

Look at the URL: Most credible news sources have a .com or .org address to their names. Anyone else is likely not a professional news source and should be questioned. It’s also worth noting that us WordPress bloggers can be equally dubious. Hence why I make it clear that this is an Opinion/Editorial blog dedicated to my personal reflections on the world and not proper news.

Judge the Headline: How much do you learn from the headline alone? Is it more interested in trying to shock you than inform you? If so, best to overlook it. They just want your attention because it gives them money. Don’t even share it with your friends as that will just spread the plague.

Know your satire from your news: The Onion, Buzzfeed, Cracked and similar sources are good for laughs; that’s what they specialize in. But, They aren’t actual news. They can occasionally lead to better information, but should never be your primary source.

Follow their sources: News sites will often link to or cite other news sources for their information. If they trace back to a questionable source like shown above or all cite the exact same article, they may just be the victim of a viral meme that damages their credibility.

Compare and contrast multiple sources: Most sources have a political leaning that skews facts in their favor. By putting them up against each other, you can identify the ‘he said/she said’ garbage easier.

Do your own research: My parents freaked out then they saw a video of soda supposedly reacting to the same kind of hydrochloric acid found in our stomachs. That is until I pointed them in the right direction and explained that a reaction that generates enough heat to create smoke would kill you if the volatile nature of the acid didn’t off you from birth. It was obviously a classic Sulfuric Acid/Sugar reaction made goopy by the water in the Cola. The hell of it is that I found this out via a light Google search for ‘Cola Stomach Acid.’

Stop the spread of false information: In addition to not sharing bogus stories, some social media networks have the option to report fake claims trying to pass themselves off as legitimate news.

So I beseech you, don’t just switch off the news. Be more critical and call bulls*** on bad journalism while learning from the real reporters. That way, we can be properly informed enough to make this place a comfortable place to live.