walking thinking plotting shooting photos

I wanted to take a walk yesterday morning. However, according to my weather app, it was only 26F outside (23F with the light breeze, which really isn’t a great difference, but still). Here’s a true thing: I lack the moral fortitude required to force myself outside when it’s that cold. I’ll generally do it, but sometimes it takes a lot of persuasion to convince myself that it’s worthwhile. Sometimes I have to trick myself into it. Which is what I did yesterday.

You know how your ex will sometimes ask you if you want to ride along while she runs and errand? And sometimes you do, and sometimes you really don’t, and sometimes you say “How about if I ride along part of the way, and then you drop me off somewhere so I have to walk home?”. Which, again, is what I did yesterday morning. You may find this hard to credit, but my ex was surprisingly willing — I might even say eager — to drop me off somewhere along the way in the 26F cold so I’d have to walk home.

Which is why I found myself on foot on a bike path — one of those long, straight, unforgiving bike paths that used to be a railroad track — at nine-something in the morning. My weather app was correct; it totally felt like 23F.

I like to walk. Not as a form of exercise; I resent the entire notion of exercise. I like walking as a form of meditation (I totally suck at sitting meditation, but thanks to Thich Nhat Hanh walking meditation works for me). I also like walking as a vehicle for clear thinking. Yesterday morning I wanted to think about the ending to a story I’ve been working on. Like a lot of writers, I don’t even start to write a story until I have a general sort of ending in mind. Knowing the ending gives you a lot more control over every other aspect of the writing process.

That said, I rarely use the exact ending I envisioned when I began writing. The act of writing almost always opens up other potential endings. I’ve reached that point in the story where I need to solidify the ending. So that’s the primary reason I was out there, walking on a bike path in the cold. I was thinking and plotting.

I say I don’t walk for exercise, and although that’s true it’s also a little less than true. I have a knee injury that benefits from…well, exercise. I could do all that lifting weights and grunting business, which can be enjoyable. But all I need to do is keep the muscles attached to my knee in fairly decent shape. Walking is low impact, as they say. Which is ironic, since it was impact that caused the initial knee injury.

I used to be a counselor in the Psychiatric/Security unit of a prison for women. I had an inmate — a short, round woman about 5’5″ and probably 260 pounds that was mostly muscle — who suffered from a whole constellation of emotional and psychological issues, all of which were exacerbated by the fact that she also suffered from a form of temporal lobe epilepsy that’s associated with aggression and violence. She was in prison for basically destroying a house. Mostly with her bare hands.

When I accepted the job, she was being housed in an old-school St. Louis cell — one of those classic jail cells you see in the movies, with the iron bars and a metal bunk bolted to the floor — in a separate part of the prison. The first time I went to see her they handed me a raincoat, because she tended to hoard her urine in cups and throw it on the staff. Every couple of weeks they had to replace her mattress because she literally ripped them up. Again, with her bare hands. And then she’d urinate on the remains.

Eventually I was able to get her treated for the epilepsy and moved into the general population, but during the first few months on the job I insisted on being present and helping the security staff whenever they had to physically interact with this woman. On one of those early occasions I decided to help replace her mattress. They unlocked the cell, I rushed in, and made a lovely Errol Flynn leap onto the metal bunk. There wasn’t any mattress on it, since she’d ripped it up and peed on it. But the metal bunk was also soaked in urine. Urine, it turns out, makes a metal bunk slippery, so my Errol Flynn leap turned into a mad slide, which resulted in my leg getting semi-trapped between the bunk and the wall. By itself that probably would have been okay, but the inmate grabbed me by my hair (and yeah, I wore it long) and proceeded to yank my head down and bang it against the floor. That made my knee bend in an unfortunate and unnatural way. Which is one of the reasons I need to walk. You know, exercise.

It’s also why I tend to hobble a tad when I begin a walk and hobble a tad more at the very end of a walk. The middle bits, though, are usually pretty enjoyable. Yesterday’s walk home took me through a sort of semi-rural area, into a semi-industrial area, and eventually into a suburb with a wee little park. By the time I left the park — still maybe half a mile from home — my knee was moderately painful. But at least it didn’t seem so cold.

I’m still going to claim insist that exercise is a secondary reason for the walk. The primary reason was to work on the plot resolution. The story is about a pipefitter who supplements his income with the occasional spot of burglary. In one of said burglaries, the guy came into possession of an expensive camera — a Leica M Type 246, which is a purely monochrome digital camera. You might think expensive camera gear would be a dream come true for a part-time burglar. It’s not. That stuff is actually hard to move. Pawn shops won’t touch it without some proof of ownership, because folks who own a camera body worth around US$7000 tend to have insurance, which means the serial numbers have been registered, which further means burglary squads will be nosing around. Camera stores that stock used gear won’t touch it for much the same reason, not to mention they hate camera thieves. You might be able to sell a hot Leica for a few hundred bucks it to a buddy — if you happen to have a buddy who only shoots in black-and-white. Most part-time burglars don’t have that sort of buddy. So the character in the story decides to keep the camera and play around with it. He gets in trouble shooting photos in a park where there are kids playing.

There’s more to the story than that, of course, but that’s the McGuffin that sets the events of the story world in motion. I’m basing it in a very small way on a personal experience. I was never a pipefitter or an occasional burglar, but I did once get in trouble for shooting photos in a park where kids were playing. I hadn’t taken any photos of any kids, but one of the parents apparently thought I might have, so he decided to front me off, demanding I show him the photos on my camera.

Here’s another true thing: I’m a firm believer in civil rights, which includes the rights of photographers. On the other hand, I dislike fuss. So I tried to stand up for my rights without creating more fuss. I told the guy I’d let him see the photos IF he admitted he had no right to see them. He got angry, continued to demand to see the photos, and threatened to call the police. I told him I’d wait for the police, and said I’d only show the photos to the police under the same condition — an admission they no legal right to see the photos. Eventually the guy agreed he had no right to see the photos and I showed them to him. There were, of course, no photos of kids. He walked away without any sort of apology. It was an ugly situation that could have become even uglier. Which is always great fodder for a story.

That business about refusing to show the photos on my camera (or cellphone)? I’ve actually had to do that a few times. On rare occasions I’ve been stopped — usually by a suspicious civilian or occasionally it’s by a security guard — and questioned about why I’m shooting photographs. I was stopped once by a plainclothes Homeland Security agent because I was shooting photos along a railroad track that happened to be by a building used by Homeland Security. And almost exactly a year ago I was stopped by a local uniformed police officer. The Homeland Security guy was mostly concerned that I might have taken a photo that included the license tags of vehicles in the parking lot. The uniformed officer was responding to a complaint. Both of them were professional about it.

I don’t blame folks for wondering what the hell I’m up to when I’m shooting photos. But at the same time, I refuse to abandon my civil rights. Offering to show the photos in exchange for an admission that I’m not legally obligated to do so is my compromise. I suspect the only reason it works is because I’m a white guy. I may look like a thug, but at least I’m a white thug. That radically reduces the odds that I’ll get arrested. Or shot.

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S. I’m properly thankful that I can live a life that allows me to just take a walk on any day I feel like it, that I don’t have to worry about getting shot for exercising my civil rights, that Philippe Kahn invented the cellphone camera, and that despite years of neglect and abuse my knees still work.

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now it’s al franken

And now it’s Al Franken.

What we’re seeing here is a tsunami of collective frustration and righteous anger. It’s been a long time building and it’s massive and it doesn’t care who gets hurt. Which is exactly the way it should be. Only now it’s Al Franken.

Trump — we expected Trump, of course. Louis CK — well, there’d been talk about him for a long time, so he was no surprise. Weinstein — he was a given; it’s not surprising the tsunami took him first. Roy Moore — is anybody really surprised when a Christian conservative turns out to be morally bankrupt? But now it’s Al Franken.

Because of course it is. I mean, he moved in those circles. He was a semi-famous comedian before he became a politician. Fame and privilege go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Wait, let me amend that. Fame and privilege go together like blow flies and a decaying corpse. Popular culture history is jammed with stories of famous men abusing women. It’s so common, in fact, that I never even thought about it — not until around 1990, when a friend had me read Pearl Cleage’s essay Mad at Miles. I’ve been unable to enjoy Miles Davis ever since. Only now it’s Al Franken.

Al Franken is one of the good guys, right? Or he’s supposed to be one of the good guys. Somewhere on the internet yesterday I saw this comment: Now no man is safe. Which is true. Because, let’s face it, almost every man is complicit. I’m saying ‘almost’ because it’s theoretically possible there’s some guy out there who never laughed at a sexist joke, or who never looked at a woman in a purely sexual way, or who never discounted something a woman said simply because she’s a woman, or who never encouraged a woman to have another drink because he thought it would improve his chance of getting laid. Even those of us who like to think of ourselves as good guys, supportive guys, guys who ‘get it’ when it comes to women’s issues, almost all of us are guilty in some very real way. Now it’s Al Franken.

So now what do we do? What do we do now that it’s Al Franken, one of the good guys? Do we make excuses for him? “Well, at least she was an adult, unlike this Roy Moore business.” Yeah, no…that doesn’t work. Sexual harassment isn’t age-defined. “Well, at least he’s done good things for women since he became a politician.” Yeah, no…that doesn’t work either. Good behavior now may help atone for what he did back then, but it doesn’t excuse it. “Well, it’s only the one woman, unlike Trump.” Yeah, no…that really doesn’t work. If there’s one woman, then there’s bound to be another. A guy who acts like a sexist pig doesn’t only act like a sexist pig once. What Al Franken did was pretty classic sexist pig material, so even if no other woman steps forward and levels an accusation against him, I think we can be confident there are women who’d have every right to do that. So what do we do now that it’s Al Franken?

We do the same thing we do with all these other guys. We hold him accountable. At the very least, Al Franken deserves a public shaming. Hell, at the very least ALL men probably deserve a public shaming. Most of us will escape that since we’re not public figures. But public figures deserve public shaming. Even Al Franken.

That said, we can’t ignore that there’s a difference — and that difference also deserves discussion. We can’t hold ‘good’ guys to a lower standard, but we can and should tailor our response to these offenses. We can and should ask these questions: Will the person actually feel shame for their actions? I suspect Al Franken does. I don’t believe Trump and Moore do. Will the person work to change their behavior and atone for their past offenses? I suspect Al Franken will. I don’t believe Trump will.

A lot of women I know are torn up over this stuff. They’re glad to see women standing up for themselves, they’re glad to see attention brought to this too often ignored topic, but as one friend said, “I don’t want to demonize men and judge yesterday’s trespasses through the lens of today’s understanding.” As a man, I appreciate that thought. But I also think it’s wrong-headed. Pointing out bad behavior, even if it occurred some time ago, isn’t demonizing men; it’s demonizing a patriarchal system that deserves to be demonized.

It’s hard to cast off a few thousand years of patriarchal thought and behavior. It’s so deeply ingrained in us — both men and women — that much of the time we’re not even aware of it. We exist in patriarchy in the same way a fish exists in water. We generally move through it without noticing that it’s there. Not until somebody points out that the water is murky and filled with crap. Which is where we are today.

It’s critically important to support these women. It’s critically important to point out this bullshit when we see it, to drive a stake right through its fucking heart, and burn its corpse. Even when it’s done by Al Franken.

 

i got your parable right here

A number of folks, after the recent mass murder at a Baptist church in Texas (which took place during the service), questioned the efficacy of thoughts and prayers as a defense against multiple rounds of .223 caliber bullets. This, naturally, upset some Christian conservatives.

[S]ome prominent left-wing voices have taken the opportunity to politicize the incident. Some on the left have used the shooting to mock the concept of prayer and Christianity.

In an effort to be transparent, I should probably repeat the fact that I’m not a Christian and I don’t believe in a supreme being. I don’t object to the notion of prayer, and I’d never mock folks who resort to it. But I have to say I don’t think it’s a good substitute for action. I do, however, enjoy a good parable.

Here’s one you’ve almost certainly heard before. Devout Christian hears a weather forecast warning of heavy rains and flooding. He stays in his house by the river. The river rises, the man’s house begins to flood, he prays. Sheriff comes by, suggests he evacuate the area. Guy says God will protect him. Flooding continues, the guy climbs on his roof. Rescuer in a boat comes by, offers to take him to safety. Guy says God will protect him. Waters rise, guy is stranded. Helicopter arrives, offers to airlift the guy to safety. Guy says God will protect him. Guy drowns. Shows up at the gate to heaven, asks God why he didn’t answer his prayers. God says he did — sent a warning, sent a messenger, sent a boat, sent a helo — but the guy just didn’t listen.

What? Naw, this is fine.

The parable stops at that point, and most folks seems content with that. Me, I find myself wondering what else God told the guy. I mean, does God say “Dude, you are too stupid and stubborn to enter heaven”? Or “Dude, you ignored every sign I sent you, but hey I’m feeling generous, come on in anyway”? Or what?

Still, as parables go, that one is pretty sweet. Maybe religious folk should take it to heart. If there’s a God, maybe he/she/it is saying “Dude, seriously? I let them shoot up a McDonalds. I let them shoot up a college campus. I even let them shoot up a bunch of six-year-old kids. Then I let them shoot up a church. Why aren’t you paying attention?”

Maybe? Possibly? What do I know? I don’t understand this ‘moves in a mysterious way’ business. But IF there’s some supernatural agent at work here leaving a coded message to his followers, the code really doesn’t seem that difficult to break.

NOTE: That ‘mysterious way’ business? It ain’t from the Bible. It’s from a hymn written by William Cowper in the late 18th century. Not long after he wrote that hymn, Cowper attempted suicide. By drowning. Just saying.

what it’s come to

The deadliest mass shooting in a house of worship. That’s how the massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas was described last night on the evening news. We’ve reached the point at which we find it necessary to categorize our mass shootings.

The deadliest mass shooting at a college campus, the deadliest mass shooting at a shopping mall, the deadliest mass shooting at a festival, the deadliest mass shooting at a public school, the deadliest mass shooting at a place of employment.

We’ve had two of these deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history within the last 35 days. In the 309 days of 2017 we’ve had 307 mass shootings (remember, not all mass shootings are mass murders). We’ve made mass shooting ridiculously easy to commit. Semi-auto weapons are readily available, high-capacity magazines can be found without any fuss, bump-stocks that permit even more rapid firing have become somewhat scarce because people bought them up after the Las Vegas massacre, bulletproof tactical gear — vests, helmets, masks, gloves, trousers — can be purchased online or very likely at some local shop. If you have an active credit card, you too equip yourself in the latest mass murderer style.

Ruger AR-556

And we don’t much care who can buy all that gear. Devin Patrick Kelley had no trouble buying a complete mass murder outfit, even though he’d been court-martialed for assaulting his wife and child, did a year in military detention, and got his ass kicked out of the Air Force. He also apparently had a misdemeanor conviction for cruelty to animals. Didn’t slow him down at all when it came to buying a semi-auto rifle. We make it easy because, you know, a man has to be able to protect his family in case some nut decides to start shooting up a church.

And hey, it’s just as easy to mourn the dead. A few thoughts, a few prayers, that’s all it takes. Oh, and the promise to remember the dead. Comrade Trump his ownself said this about the victims:

“All of America is praying to God to help the wounded and the families — we will never ever leave their side.”

Except that, yeah, we’ll absolutely leave their side. Of course, we will — just as soon as the next ‘deadliest mass shooting at a location to be determined’ takes place. Trump is always saying pointless shit like that. We “will never ever forget the beautiful lives that have been taken from us.” That was the eight people killed a few days ago as they rode bicycles down a bike path in Manhattan. And this: “We will NEVER FORGET the victims who lost their lives one year ago today in the horrific #PulseNightClub shooting.” The hashtag, of course, because this was TwitterTrump. And again: “We mourn them, we honor them and we pledge to never, ever forget their names.” The victims and first responders who died on 9/11. And this: “So wonderful to be in Las Vegas yesterday and meet with people, from police to doctors to the victims themselves, who I will never forget.” Yeah, so fucking wonderful, I’m sure that’s what the victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting thought. And also this: “We will never forget the 241 American service members killed by Hizballah.” Sure, Donald.

First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas

Does anybody really believe Donald J. Trump remembers the names of any of the Pulse nightclub murders, or the names of the cyclists in Manhattan, or the names of any of the Marines who were killed in Beirut? Does anybody really think Trump was even aware of the Marines killed in Beirut in 1983 until a speechwriter coughed up that fact for a speech on terrorism?

We will always forget their names. Always. We will always leave their sides. Always. As a nation we will never remember for very long, because there’s always a brand new horror ready to crowd out the old one. The nine men and women slaughtered in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015? Now they’re just victims of the second deadliest mass shooting in a house of worship. Nobody remembers who came in second.

I am sincerely sorry for the victims of the Sutherland Springs massacre. I’m gutted with hopelessness over their tragic, pointless deaths — just as I’ve been for so many other victims of so many other mass murders. I’m genuinely sorry, but I’m also disgusted. I suspect many (or most) of that Texas congregation voted for politicians who believe that this sort of routine shedding of innocent blood is the price we have to pay for our national firearm fetish. And you know what it says in the Bible. ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’

That’s a pretty grim, tough approach. The apostle Paul wasn’t a very forgiving guy. You broke it, you bought it. Me, I’m more inclined to take the Socratic tack; I prefer the gospel according to e e cummings.

and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

dude is serious

Right, we’ve had a couple of days to give a measure of semi-sober thought to what happened on Monday. It seemed like a pretty big deal, didn’t it. I mean, we’re talking indictments, plea agreements, defendants turning themselves in to the FBI, millions of dollars in bail. On the surface, that’s some pretty dramatic shit.

That semi-sober thought business has clarified a few things. I think it’s safe to say on reflection that it’s an even bigger deal than we originally thought. It’s even safer to say this about Special Counsel Robert Mueller: dude is serious.

First, there’s this fact: Comrade Trump’s presidential campaign included three men (Manafort, Gates, and Papadopolous) who were actively working as unregistered agents of a hostile foreign government in an attempt to influence the presidential election. Three men. Actively working. As unregistered foreign agents. Of a hostile government. And one of those men was Trump’s campaign manager. If you wrote that in a novel or screenplay, you’d be accused of stretching the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.

Second, there’s the George Papadopolous guilty plea. In a lot of ways, that’s an even bigger deal than the indictments. It not only serves as a reminder that Robert Mueller doesn’t fuck around, it also informs us that he and his team are professionals. While everybody was waiting for the first indictments to be announced, Mueller had already arrested this guy, convinced a judge to break the attorney-client privilege, flipped him, and got him to plead guilty. That was fast. Dude IS serious.

That also tells us that while Comrade Trump’s White House is packed full of folks willing or eager to leak stories, Mueller’s team knows how to keep a secret. Anybody who is/was associated with the Trump campaign, the Trump transition team, or the current Trump administration, has to be worried — if not for their freedom, then at least for their future career. Because more indictments are coming. More guilty pleas are probably coming. And ain’t nobody can tell where the hammer will fall next.

Robert Mueller ain’t having any of that.

That sends a further message: anybody who hopes to make a deal with Mueller had better make that deal quickly. Or somebody else will make that deal. And you know there are Trumpistas who’ll sell out anybody to save themselves. Mueller knows that too, and that dude is SERIOUS.

Also, make note that the guilty plea and the indictments all include charges about lying to the government as a mode of obstructing the pursuit of justice. Mueller ain’t having no obstruction of justice. No, sir.

Mueller is like the shark in Jaws. He’s coming. He’s not going to stop. You try to distract him with a huge pot roast on a hook, he’ll take the roast, take the hook, and take the pier you’re standing on too. Dude is serious.