Saturday, July 2, 2016

On Data and Science

The irrepressible Justicar recently exposed a fraudulent study published in the Journal of American Medical Associates linking Australia’s 1996 gun-restriction legislation to decreases in mass shootings, in which “mass shootings” are bizarrely and uniquely defined as having 5+ fatalities, rather than the usual 4+ used by the FBI and virtually every other serious organization studying the issue. This allows the study authors to tap in a triumphal “0” in the 1997-2013 mass shootings list, and lends credibility to the juxtaposed 1979-1996 firearm homicide mean (0.56/100,000) and 1996-2013 firearm homicide mean (0.2/100,000).
Off the bat, the minute scale of the increased safety achieved should be noted, even if the data istaken at face value. This is like banning vending machines in order to save the 13 people killed per year in the United States, on average. At some point, even convenience is worth a few lives on scale. How much more important than vending machines are firearms? They are not merely a hobby, a source of personal protection, and provider of food, but are enshrined in our Constitution because they are a doomsday provision against a tyrannical government. (No, superior military technology does not make defense against the government moot, or else we would not still be fighting illiterate shepherds with Kalashnikovs in the hills of Afghanistan).
But the data shouldn’t be taken at face value. Let’s break the firearm homicide rate down slightly more honestly:
1979-1981 – 0.65/100,000
1982-1984 – 0.68/100,000
1985-1987 – 0.68/100,000
1988-1990 – 0.46/100,000
1991-1993  – 0.47/100,000
1994-1996 – 0.44/100,000
1997-1999 – 0.32/100,000
2000-2002 – 0.27/100,000
2003-2005 – 0.14/100,000
2006-2008 – 0.16/100,000
2009-2011 – 0.16/100,000
2012-20013 – 0.17/100,000
Wouldn’t you know it, there was a downward trend prior to the enacted legislation.
It is tempting to see the 0.0001% increase in the rate of the preexisting decline, which does appear to be possibly attributable to firearm restrictions. This would, of course, involve trusting the data itself, provided by these dishonest scholars. I’m using it above for convenience and demonstration but otherwise wouldn’t bet my life on its veracity. But this itself excludes the very important issue of non-firearm related homicides. If you’re interested, feel free to study the data for yourself. Suffice to say, firearm restrictions did not meaningfully reduce homicide generally, certainly not beneath the downward trend it was already on. Those too eager to jump from data correlation to causation with the immediate decline might also find themselves in the awkward position of trying to explain a suicide spike in 1997-1998, immediately after the 1996 gun bill. I’m not saying this is in any way related to the gun restriction bill, of course (unless you believe that the gun bill reduced rates of violence, in which case, stop hating depressed people, you murderous psycho). I am simply saying that when culture, pathology, violence, politics, income, and happiness are influenced by more factors than we can possibly account for, and when large, preexisting historical trends are already at work, it is very easy to manipulate statistics and “science” to fit one’s own position.
This is not an argument against science or statistics, for the record. On the contrary, I am in fact making an argument for science, and, a bit more begrudgingly, statistics. What I am arguing against, however, is the tendency for people to allude to other people’s conclusions allegedly based upon science or “hard data” instead of actually making an argument (these people are, almost without exception, never scientists or statisticians themselves). The argument is the essence of science. The reason that scientists follow the “scientific method” is not because God came down from the mountain and told Moses “thou shalt divide thine research subjects into two categories, and thine shalt name the first ‘control’…” The scientific method has evolved into its current form because the results are (ideally) very high quality clay with which a scientist can form a robust argument. The possession of the clay, however, does not in any way relieve the scientist or the ideological champion from the responsibility of actually making the argument. And once the argument is made, it is always open to criticism and rebuttal. The strength of an argument is its ability to withstand this inevitable and never ending scrutiny, and the moment a conclusion is held to be above challenge, it is to that degree not a scientific conclusion any more, but an ideological one.
This means that appeals to science and data are, ironically, unscientific. When an actual scientist is asked a question challenging his own beliefs within his field, what you will almost always see is an argument. He will offer an explanation that utilizes the data and research, of course, but he doesn’t just say “here’s the data” or “I can read a graph.” Those who appeal to science without bothering to make the argument don’t understand the nature of science, let alone the science to which they are referring.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Summary of Nietzsche's "Antichrist"

Source: The Imaginative Conservative

Summarizer's note: the following is my interpretation, and is neither a complete nor a pure summary of Nietzsche's position alone. If that's what you are looking for, it's a short read, so read it. Full text, translated by H.L. Mencken.


Nietzsche begins, as all philosophers ought to, with definitions.

Good: "Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man."
Evil: "Whatever springs from weakness."
Happiness: "The feeling of power increasing, and the overcoming of resistance."

He later goes on to define Corruption in an animal, species, or individual as when it "loses its instincts, when it chooses, when it prefers, what is injurious to it."

To understand this odd definition of evil, we can look to previous works by Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil, Genealogy of Morals) wherein he differentiates "master moralities" from "slave moralities." Masters--those who rule themselves--have no need for the term "evil." They have only "good and bad." "Evil," as a word differentiated from "bad," only makes sense as a philosophical hammer used by the weak against the strong.

The history of this concept of "evil," as opposed to "bad," begins with the Jews. The Jews are arguably the most interesting race in human history. They have been persecuted, hunted, and oppressed for longer and more vigorously than any other peoples, and have emerged more resilient for it. But the resilience has taken a peculiar form... they are not the strongest, the most skilled warriors, nor the toughest, but have instead developed an unprecedented verbal intelligence.

Nietzsche notes that the Jews, facing this historically difficult question "to be or not to be," decided that their answer would be "to be at any price." And the price they paid was high indeed; their soul as a nation, one could say.

Prior to Christianity, religions were matters of tribal ownership. Clans and cities and nations did not believe "only our gods exist" per se, but "our gods are our gods; we serve them, and they serve us." The religion was fundamentally a national, and not an ideological matter.

The Jews sacrificed this and made Jehova a god for everyone. In the face of Roman persecution and oppression, out arose a universal God which put to use all of the verbal intelligence--manipulative intelligence--which turned "bad" into "evil." This faith was Christianity.

For slaves, what is "bad" is "the master," and so the ultimate theological weapon would be a system of morality that makes "evil" (bad to God? it will do) what is "good" for the master--increase in power.

Christianity is, at root, a religion of pity. It is by pity that God saves us (a condescending "love" expressed in pity), and it is pity that God expects of us towards others. Jesus upon the cross, even, is a sight of pity. The beatitudes are an exaltation of the "virtues" of all that is pitiable, and it is by accepting the pity of God and of others that we are made "holy." Weakness is strength, and strength is weakness in the eyes of the Lord.

"A man loses power when he pities," says Nietzsche. It is a vicarious, empathetic opening of oneself to the contagion of weakness, and an uplifting of what is weak while condemning what is strong, vital, admirable, and pro-life. Pity, in short, a denial and a corruption of human life. The theological justification of this is an inversion of values; that which is real does not matter; it is the hereafter that truly counts. The illusion, Heaven, is real, and the reality--this temporal world--is an illusion. The very nature of God as a spirit, rather than as a sort of man living in the world, confirms this.

But the reason that increase in power is good for the master is the same reason that it is good for humanity. Within it lies all the noble virtues--and the genetics for them--of life, that inspire strength, joy, fertility, and the continuation of life in human kind. When the will to power declines, there is a physiological decline which accompanies it. A condemnation of the will to power in man is a condemnation of mankind to corruption, the perversion of the instinct against the joy, strength, and continuation of life. This is not merely in the culture, but in the very coding of man. It's manifestation is most pure in the priestly class: decrepit, weak, prone to illness, monotony and decay.

This tendency of corruption from Christianity not only corrupts the individual, but the will of nations, and not merely in sense of the embodied collection of individuals. "A nation that still believes in itself holds fast to its own God." It may follow that for those who no longer believe in their nation, the time has come to seek out new gods

The God of all and none is as antithetical to the will to power of nations as it is to the individual, and for the same reason: the desire for self-annihilation in the greater whole. In other words, corruption.

Buddhism is nihilistic like Christianity, but is interesting because it has the merit of being true. Moreover, it does what it claims to do, which is to provide happiness and that sense of ignorant bliss to its' proponents. It is superficially similar to Christianity, but remains in the land of the real, for instance, replacing a "struggle with sin" with a "struggle against suffering." Like Christianity, Buddhism is corrupt in its pursuit of escape from suffering, from life, but it is at least honest, and this comes from the fact that it does not come from slaves, but from the bored.

The general pursuit of the teachings of Jesus by himself make far more sense when viewed in light of Buddhism, as a pursuit of happiness in the here and now. "Think not of the morrow" refers not to heaven, which the power-seeking manipulator Paul clumsily adds to the doctrines of Jesus for all the reasons described, but to now. Dying on the cross makes more sense as a demonstration, that the "kingdom of heaven"--Nirvana, happiness, disconnection from suffering--can be had anywhere, than it does as a sacrifice by God, of God, to God, on behalf of people made in the very image of... God.

The cumulative result of this theological, ideological weapon is a weakening of man. It instills an aversion to what is real in favor of preference for what is "to come"--what is unreal. An instinctual hatred of reality. Guilt, pity, gullibility, weakness, poverty, illness, dishonesty, resentment, and death are the virtues of Christianity.

One need not believe this was a Jewish conspiracy, but merely a convergence of interests. This pattern has continued since, wherein Jews have collectively and prominently advocated for an end to tribalism for all but themselves; open borders for all but themselves; multiculturalism for all but themselves; Communism, for all but themselves. A weakening of everyone... everyone but themselves. One cannot fault them for taking advantage of the gifts that history and biology have given them--the gift of gab greater than the Irish ever dreamed of. If anything, it is cause for both admiration and emulation. But it is also reason enough to be wary of them, especially of their ideas, philosophies, and theologies, especially the ones they themselves do not emulate. Notice that the God of Israel is not merely tribal, but geographic and ethnic.

In short, Christianity is the product of slave-morality re-sentiment--resentment. It is a Greek Gift of the servant to the master, a slow poison destroying the soul and the body of those who drink it... slow enough to take generations to feel its' full effect. In this way, the spread of Christianity marks not the success of man via Christianity, but the success of Christianity via man, which is to say, the success of a runaway attitude originating in the desperation of slaves backed up against the wall of extinction. Think of the races that have taken up Christianity; there was success--political and military, yes--for they ran under the alliance of a universal God. But what happened to the people as that God of all and none took it's toll? What of the heroes and conquests of the men of old? What of those once great and glorious countries now? Greece? Rome? The "Holy Roman Empire?" What of Germany, England, and Spain? What of France, the nation once known as the home of the greatest warriors in the world, now--having internalized the inverted values of Christianity--a military joke? America is going the way of it's Etruscan predecessor. Who are the new rising nations? Russia and China, who have lived in horrendous pain, but without Christianity for nearly 70 years. Eastern Europe, the same.

This runaway attitude has taken a life of its' own in faith, and the sophistry of the Jews, born of dire need and circumstance, has taken on flesh in the form of an idea beyond their control. This idea, Christianity, perverts the natural values into their opposites, and is anti-truth, anti-health, anti-strength, anti-nation, and ultimately anti-life. Because it cuts off what is good, and replicates all that is properly evil, it is a corruption of mankind, a weakening of the spirit and of the flesh.

Christianity is, in the purest sense, evil.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Revisiting the Endlessly Changing Horizon

Nevada is the Asiatic Steppe of the North American continent. Vast expanses of open space bring different arms of the Sierra Nevada and Rocky mountains together under one enormous sky. It's a barren place, and cows, horses, and crows seem to be more common than people (cars and trucks excepted) on the long ribbon of concrete stretching out across the valley floor: I-93. The land was shaped by meteors and mega-fauna, by volcanic heat and by colliding ocean plates, jutting limestone thousands of feet into the heavens. You could lose yourself in yourself, in a place like this.

As the long day came to a close--beginning at 4:30 in Lake Havasu, Arizona and cruising 487 miles north to Wells, a tiny town in the Silver State--my trainer and I found ourselves racing an ominous, snow-filled anvil cloud to our destination. It was cresting over a mountain, blowing directly across our path.

"Looks like we might be in for some weather," said my trainer.
"It's a race! Actually, I think we might win this one. We're only twenty miles out." We had been cruising at a steady 65 MPH since Los Vegas, and I was in a good mood.
He nodded, and smiled. The former green beret didn't usually smile. He must have been in a good mood too.

Two years ago, I wrote about the spiritual benefits of truck-driving, in the context of the sentiments of the late Christopher McCandles. Since then I have: fallen in love, worked in carpentry, climbed out of heartbreak, worked in marketing with Microsoft, re-immersed myself in socio-political debates, quit my job with Microsoft, and--finally--returned to the road. It's been an eventful and instructive two years, but now here I am, in the snow-crusted mountain-heart of the country. I love it. 

Out of this enjoyment, I want to return to the theme of my previous short essay, not to brag about how awesome my job is (I suspect most people would not enjoy it), nor to self-indulgently reflect for the sake of reflection. My choices were the results of ideas that others had written down as distillations of their own experiences. These ideas, and my subsequent choices, have not so much "enriched" or "improved" my life, so much as they have impelled me into a completely new dimension. By that, I mean living with a standard for prioritizing what comes first, and how low I may be willing to go in order to pursue a life in accordance with this radical re-orientation of where "true north" is. Few people desire such a radical re-arrangement of life, but for those who feel something vague telling them that something is wrong for them in their lives, but cannot put into words exactly what that is, I hope my thoughts may be helpful.

First off, why on earth would such a re-orientation be desirable? The answer is that our values are mostly inherited, as is our standard of what "normal" is. We did not choose them, and a few of us more arrogant types may look back in history, or even have the gall to study philosophy and look for themselves, and declare that the life they have inherited is not the best life they can live. Consider, as an example, the expectations and goals of the middle-class, white suburbanite. For me, this inherited end-state included the following: 
  • suburban house
  • two cars
  • dog and/or cat
  • white-collar, $85,000+/year job
  • wife, maybe kids
  • retirement
  • be liked
Overarching all of this was an aesthetic, one of non-threatening respectability and monetary success (defined among upper-middle-class suburban whites as monetary over-achievement). More than anything else, security and stability. This was the life laid out for me, by my parents, but not only my parents. My schools, my sports teams, my churches, my martial arts instructors, and nearly everyone else I came into contact with all modeled and advocated this culture of stability, suburban sophistication and domestication. Not only that, bu all other ways of living--including those who earned too much as well as earning too little--were criticized, dissociated from, and even mocked.

One of the things you see while driving across the country is the incredible number of people living in small towns, spattered across the landscape. These people, when you talk to them, do not seem any more depressed, anxious, or jaded in their manner than those living the authorized lifestyle. Some seem bored, certainly, but the majority seem more psychologically healthy than your average hipster or basic bitch. The important revelation here is not the virtues of small-town life, but the viability of lifestyles other than the one I was raised with.

What is so bad about the suburban, white-collar culture?

McCandles started the point adequately enough:
"[T]hey are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future."

Further elaboration is needed here. For starters, "the adventurous spirit" is imprecise, and as a result may sound untrue to the careless reader. But it is close enough to the truth to be worth taking seriously, and that truth is the search for purpose. The white-collar world of security, conformity, and conservation are all designed as efficient means to achieve some purpose (usually family), but have become so universalized for our global, consumer culture that two things have happened. First, it has become wrapped up in an ethic of consumption--TV, clothing fads, sports gear, computer games--that people often begin to feel like they're on a treadmill. There is no purpose in consumption, except as a means of sustenance to some other end. What do we do when consumption is the end? Consume more, to escape from the emptiness of purpose, mostly. Secondly, this suburban culture has become so global, so universal, and ubiquitous that some of us can derive no sense of accomplishment from achieving it, or even of purpose in striving for it. In other words, it can be a recipe for mediocrity, for banality, purposelessness, and lifelessness.

Our jobs are broken down into component parts that require little to no skill, and it is impossible for us to take them particularly seriously. Our friendships consist of a broad network of shallow connections, full of superficial smiles without the mutual trust necessary to really speak our minds about things that matter to us. How many friends do you have who you could, without external prompting, have a conversation with about the difficult parts of your childhood, parts that seem to still impact your thinking and behavior today? Our houses are gaudy, far larger than necessary, especially given the little time we spend there, and yet we buy them anyways, going into debt for decades... because it's respectable. We crave the respect of friends who don't care about us, sell our lives and our souls to buy that respect by showing how successful, how good, how not-a-fuck-up we are, and go to school to work a high-paying job to make that happen, both of which requires us to reshape our values and our morals to better fit in to this factory-warranty life.

Many people feel this but carry on. They know that other people live in all kinds of fantastic, exotic ways, but they never really contemplate themselves setting out for a new horizon, one with a brighter sunset and starry skies than their own. They've been conditioned all their lives to view their family's way, their school's way, their society's way, as the way. Nothing short of a nagging compulsion will pull them out, and compulsions, as we all know, are "dangerous," "irrational" things.

If the emptiness of suburbia, as I have portrayed it, speaks to you, and you feel the need for adventure in your life, but the compulsive, "irrational" nature of the thought makes you hesitate, I want to remind you that conservative patience is no inherent virtue. The whole of white suburbia, more or less, is waiting for Godot right now, waiting for that sense of purpose to waltz in and provide for them the accomplishment, the deep relationships, the purpose, that their current life has yet to provide. They aren't coming. Such things are bought with risk, with pain, with boredom, loneliness, and fear, and the culture we inherited is purpose-built to shield us from these things. It denies us the dangers, and by extension, denies us the character, the competence, confidence, and stories of adventure that come only from risk.

This is the danger of stagnation, and the reward of pursuing the endlessly changing horizon. If you feel the desire, buy a bus-ticket to a faraway place, pack your bags and go. Don't leave yourself an out. Don't explain yourself to friends and relatives, who will try every delaying and discouraging tactic they know to protect you from yourself. The day will come where you wake up in your mid-40's and you will be in one of two places. You will either be confident, possessed of your accomplishments and sense of who you are, surrounded by a small number of deeply trustworthy friends who you love. Or you will realize that you've "made it," and have a BMW in your garage, but live under the gnawing tyranny of insecurity, self-doubt, dangerous questions about what your life is about (which you've pushed to the side out of fear, and by extension, barred yourself from all interesting conversation about things that truly matter), and surrounded by an enormous circle of Christmas-card acquaintances. There, you may look back and realize that the opportunity to test yourself, to find out what you're truly made of, is mostly diminished, and that sports cars, cigarettes, and extramarital affairs are a poor way to make up for lost time.

Of course it is never too late to answer the call, at least until you die. But the sooner you do it, the longer you will live with the benefits of having gone out on your own. The longer you wait, the greater the chances are that you will never get these, or worse, construct a delusional facade, precariously covering over a well of regret and uncertainty.

Or perhaps adventure isn't even your thing, but something else is missing in your life. The true point is that those who have laid the path of life before you may well not know what they are doing, or else might know what they're doing and do it for their interests and not yours. It is better, and more beautiful, and more purposeful to live your life of your own accord, even if it is all a mistake, because then it will at least be truly your mistake. Nothing is worse than living on the advice and urgings of others, only to find out that your life has been nothing but someone else's mistake. The converse is true if you succeed (and you are more likely to, with the virtues and confidence of someone who has failed enough to make it on their own). Success built solely on the backs of others, with no thought, no risk, no great leap of your own, will always carry nagging self-doubt and latent uncertainty. Success from great risk is not accomplished alone either; on the contrary, it builds--demands--the deepest of relationships. It does give true confidence, a true sense of purpose, and is the road to improvement, ever nearer to (though never quite reaching) perfection.

So as you learn, and think about what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure, and what is true. If, in your thoughtful inquiries, you hear the call of the wild, go off on a vision quest. If you feel compelled to start a business, or become sculptor, or take up truck-driving, go do it. Let the impulse of great emotional purpose drive you. It's all that ever drove great people anyways.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Media HugBox: A Collegiate Demonstration

Several weeks ago, curiosity brought me to read the most recent weekly paper of my former employer, The Watchdog. Inside, I found an article by one Ghina Mubin which argued that while what the murderers of Charlie Hebdo did was deplorable, a portion of the blame lay squarely on the shoulders of the content creators of the French publication. The heart of the Op/Ed--if one could say it had a center somewhere in the meandering path of assertions--read as follows:

"What the Charlie Hebdo magazine did was extremely inappropriate. France should not have been OK with publishing the images. Muslims see the prophet as a living example of how they should live. Frankly, even drawing the prophet isn’t OK. By portraying him in a negative way people could get a different image of who the prophet is,  and be even more confused on what the religion contains, Islamophobia is prevalent in the modern day world. When the cartoon was published, Charlie Hebdo encouraged ignorance and bigotry towards Islam. Shooting people is completely wrong and the shooters should be apprehended, but we must fix the causes and address the motives of these criminals.  We should learn from tragedies like this.
It’s not a surprise that the cartoon was published in France. France has been popular in the media for their secular campaigns such as trying to ban women from wearing the veil. This totally violates the right to practice whatever beliefs they hold. Lately, people have been using this tragedy to justify this propagandic “freedom of speech.” This is the same propaganda the Nazis used during World War II to make the citizens believe they were doing right. Freedom of speech and hate are two different topics; mixing the two together creates tension. The gray area in between is where people start to argue. To me, this sounds more like “freedom to hate”  or “freedom to be prejudiced” which sounds like a trigger to more violence, hate crimes and conflict. If France doesn’t acknowledge the “right to practice your religion,” then how can they be responsible to determine “freedom of speech” versus hate."

Behold, your tax-dollars at work, incubating the future of our great nation.

Initially, I was actually less appalled by the author's conclusions than by the almost satirically poor structure of the argument (if only slightly), and the reflection of this on the paper as a whole. As a point of reference and comparison, I remember that the very first piece I wrote as a member of The Watchdog staff was heavily vetted and fact-checked before being published, and the Editor in Chief had strongly suggested that I changed a word so as to soften the impact on Bellevue College's "diverse student body." I forget which word was the offending one, but the paper went so far as to add a disclaimer to the bottom of my article when I declined to make the change, redundantly distancing itself from what were mostly just statements of fact. This is a step noticeably missing in Ms. Mubin's train of mostly fact-free opinions.  Her journalistic failings, however great or maybe because of their grandiosity, were shorter in stature than its' entertainment value was tall, and so I did the only ethical and moral thing: I shared it for the enjoyment of my friends and acquaintances.

Additional comments edited out (This was the complete and total extent of my communication with Tockey on the subject; my views are my own, and do not reflect his, so please don't fire him)
Among the entertained acquaintances was Brian Tockey, whose name is not redacted because he is a writer and editor for the star publication of this post. He is also among a small number of contributors for whom I have tremendous respect, both for his intelligence and his writing abilities. Although I am proudly no longer a student at Bellevue College, the suggestion stuck with me for a few days. Ultimately--motivated equally by boredom and by the sheer will to exercise my right to join the conversation in the paper that I was paying for with my taxes--I decided to write a response. The paper states in its' print version that it will publish all letters to the editor, and under such a promise of inclusion, how could I resist, especially after personal send-off letters like these?

So here is the Letter to the Editor, in full:

"Unlike the Fatwa against author Salmon Rushdie in 1989, or the murder of Theo van Gogh in the streets of Amsterdam in 2004, the attack on Charlie Hebdo has received an avalanche of publicity and outcry from the public at large. The majority of this outcry has been leveled at the violence carried out by Muslims against the secular publication, and a wonderfully large portion of that anger coming from the Islamic community itself. But there is another outcry aimed against the satirical editorial; the cartoons, this group says, incite the violence.
Among the latter group, I’m unsurprised to see The Watchdog staff in their editorial from January 27th. They are a professional group of media students, after all, and the media has placed itself mostly in the company of the censors, refusing—in this age of visual journalism—to show exactly which cartoons were causing this crises, all the while publically pondering if they had “gone too far this time.” Exactly like the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon riots and murders from a decade ago, and exactly like the Salmon Rushdie affair. 
I am pleasantly surprised to see that Ghina Mubin personally opposes shooting people (a view not shared by Mohammed, who himself had many poets like Abu Afak and others who mocked him killed). But the issue at hand is not the moral quandaries of murder, nor is this letter addressed to Ms. Mubin. It has rather to do with the subject of freedom of speech, which Ghina correctly points out sometimes includes “freedom to hate.” How else could a tolerant, liberal school like Bellevue College permit, let alone support, an ideology that preaches that homosexuals are transgressors and abominations? Or that unbelievers are to be fought until they willingly submit to a peaceful, second-class citizenship? I am no theologian, but I have read the Quran. For myself, the explicit calls to hatred, condemnation, and violence towards unbelievers should be a far greater outrage against our finely tuned moral sensitivities than any cartoon imaginable. 
The experience of being hated, for gays, Muslims, atheists like myself, or anyone else, is a subjective one. Two years ago, for example, BC’s own Yoshiko Harden talked to students about how calling a black person “articulate” was actually a racial micro-aggression, regardless of the intent of the speaker or the most obvious meaning of the sentence. In a world where a simple compliment can be racist, a cartoon can be “Islamophobic,” and—one can’t ignore the corollary—a religious text can be homophobic and sexist, freedom of speech and freedom of religion both necessarily imply a freedom to hate. And why shouldn’t it? I happen to hate rapists and murderers myself, and reserve the right to say so. 
As Ghina’s failure to research reminds us, Nazi-style censorship—not free speech—is the first step towards tyranny. To the Watchdog staff, I wish to remind you that freedom of speech and of the press is the platform on which you stand. Tread carefully when undermining yourself."
"Why," you may ask, "are you publishing this on your own blog? Why not wait for the paper to post it like a normal person? They do promise to publish all letters to the editor, after all." True, and if their promise (unfortunately only verifiable in person or print, not digitally) were kept, than this post would not exist, or at least not in this lengthened form. But--and I'm sure you will be shocked and surprised by this--they appear to be dragging their feet on actually following through. And to clarify what feet-dragging looks like here, I submitted the above on February 12. One cycle passing would be understandable enough. Space fills up in an Op/Ed section; I know, I used to organize and edit them. Two,  however, shows either incompetence or put-on forgetfulness, perhaps motivated by political disagreement, but more likely motivated by fear. Who knows for sure. But the most important character trait for a news story or an Op/Ed is timing. Writing a mediocre piece at the cusp of the subject's relevance is far better than writing a masterpiece well after it has died down. The Watchdog staff's failure to grasp this would be just as condemning as their understanding, so I won't bother speculating. I'm not waiting anymore in any case.

One final observation: in the extraordinary lag-time between my submission of the letter and its non-publication, another headline related to violence and Islam came, this time in the reverse form from the usual. Three Muslims were shot to death by an atheist man in Chapel Hill, NC. Here, if there ever was one, is the perfect "man-bites-dog" story the media so craves. How did The Watchdog choose to cover it? See if you can guess the direction they take before you read it. In case you need a hint, here's a star quote:

"Movies such as “American Sniper” are promoting this type of bigotry and hate towards Muslims."

Indeed. Anyone who watched the film knows it's basically pro-atheist propaganda too.


*Update: Within several hours of posting this, Aaron did get back to me with the intent to publish my letter. I informed him that I had already published it elsewhere (here), and would completely understand if The Watchdog chooses not to publish it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Diversity Delirium

"Ferguson Day 6" (Wikimedia)
Forbes began an article on the benefits of diversity in the workplace with a line from author Steven Covey: "Strength lies in differences, not in similarities." This is certainly true when differences function as compliments, like having a full array of skills on a football team rather than a whole line-up of quarterbacks. But is this true when differences exist for their own sake? Diversity is "critical" and "essential," says Ms. Walter of Forbes, because it breeds innovation. That it certainly does, but that's not all it breeds. Methinks in our exuberance we have forgotten why diversity is valuable.

1859 was a great year for diversity, being the year that John Stuart Mill published his famous essay On Liberty. His defense of free expression was, at its core, a defense of diversity. But it was full of rhetoric and metaphors about battlefields and war. His imagining of "diversity" was not a rainbow of opinions about government, wealth-distribution, and foreign policy all sitting around a campfire singing kum ba ya. Diversity meant bloody combat between ideas, often to the death. His philosophical purpose in opposing censorship within his polemic was simply to even the playing field so that the strongest argument would more consistently crush the weaker ones. This has been a wonderful innovation for humanity because before Mill's proposal to throw ideas into the meat-grinding melee of public debate, the ideas were attached to tribes of real human beings. Differences--"diversity"--meant war. Now the ideas could die instead of us, so long as we were willing to accept the winning idea. In other words, diversity is valuable in a Darwinian sense; it speeds up the process of evolution by turning up the speed of natural selection (not a pleasant process for the ill-adapted and the weak). But if ideas are tested instead of humans, and we allow our beliefs to go through the furnace of natural selection, it means that, other factors notwithstanding, we don't have to, and we get peace and better knowledge in exchange for our wisdom.

Unfortunately, our feel-good friends on the left have forgotten that diversity is a fundamentally bloody affair, and in their forgetfulness, have replaced ideas with people again in the glorious gladiatorial bloodbath that is evolution. Instead of diversity of thought, it is diversity of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and culture that they're striving for. This has happened because, in a truly acrobatic feat of logical inversion, diversity has become associated with peace.

The logic goes more or less like this: diversity is good (assumption), but more importantly, racism and cultural bigotry (like "Islamophobia") are bad, and diversity fights against bigotry by getting people used to being around other. This works because racism and bigotry, which are prevalent problems in our society (assumption), is caused by unfamiliarity and fear (assumption).

In this way, diversity becomes a path to happy and cooperative coexistence, a view that is held with religious zeal, and in the name of this view, heretics are publicly crucified. If only their assumptions were true...

Thinking that diversity itself is the goal, rather than a means to the goal, they make matters even worse and insist that people not change from their religion and culture of ethnic heritage. As I've written before, freezing people in their natural cultural state and proactively treating them differently is all that multiculturalism is. What would happen to their beloved diversity if we rejected "inferior" cultures and religions? Here begins the unraveling of Mill's vicarious conflict of ideas, and the return of conflict between actual people.

There is one way that this utopian rainbow-world can work, of course. We can refuse to take our own views seriously. You know, the ones that have been personally entwined with us through race, gender, religion, and whatever other identity-marker that can be concocted for the fetishization of diversity for diversity's sake. The conflicts between people then become mere "differences" of no significance or importance. So all cultures are equally valid; all religions are equally true, and atheism is just another religion. Morality, values, even truth are subjective. Nothing really matters, except for nothing mattering (for diversity). But even if this nihilism could be universally enforced--a prospect that I shall generously call "highly unlikely," particularly when certain religions are involved--then the value of diversity in the pursuit of higher experience and productivity becomes a moot point anyways. Why care about diversity if all values and cultures are equally valid?

What's wrong with war, for example? What's wrong with exclusion and hatred? Aren't those just a different but equal value? Or are we playing fast and loose with circular reasoning, and not thinking things through?

To be fair, there is a kind of enjoyment in the raw experience of variety. I suspect that this is what most college students are referring to when they talk about the "experience of diversity," particularly in their first few years or in their tax-funded party-trips abroad. Different food, different clothing, different languages, different customs, different architecture, different geography; all of these things are exhilarating because they are new. But in these moments of exhilaration, we aren't sitting down to haggle over how to deal with the Middle East, or tackle the root causes of poverty, or even make a business decision or finish a team project. More often than not, differences in values and culture create conflict in these circumstances, obstructing rather than assisting the creation of a better final product or decision. This is not to say that we cannot be inspired by other cultures; to the contrary, we should actively seek them out, and traveling has always been considered a vital part of the classical education for this reason. But inspiration from another culture is an acknowledgment of value that the culture contributes, not value for mere existence. This is, by definition, at the expense of some other culture, at the very least by exclusive act of discreet selection. Taking the best of all cultures and rejecting the worst is precisely the goal of Mill's combative vision, and the antithesis of universally respectful multiculturalism (you often see this laid bare in charges of "cultural appropriation" from the acrobatic abstracticians of academia). Acceptance of another culture's ideas is not so much "diversity" as a victory on the etherial battlefield of ideas. "Diversity" means there's still two or more conflicting values or beliefs, engaged with each other or staring each other down over the innumerable corpses of previous ideas that didn't quite make it.

In short, Diversity + Proximity = War. This we cannot change; what we can change is what kind of war we want it to be: one of ideas, or one of guns.

This thesis has matched my own observation at College, where the Associated Student Government was a balkanized archipelago of various identity interest-groups, often distrustful of each other, however held together in solidarity by the promise of school money and perks in return for playing nice with other children. It also matches recent research on the subject, and follows the observations not only journalists with the honesty of retirement, but of virtually every thinking statesman and intellectual prior to John Stuart Mill.

And here's the thing: war is okay, so long as the soldiers getting systematically dismembered and disassembled are the ethereal kind, rather than the corporal. It's even good; it makes us wiser, mentally agile and smarter, and does this very quickly, all with no cost to us but our emotional connection to bad ideas. But "diversity" is coming to be accepted as good for its own sake, in pursuit of a multicultural utopia of acceptance. Today's diversity-advocates tie people to what makes them different and locks them there, making conflicts between ideas necessarily into conflicts between people and arguments that were once causes for mere disagreement and debate into causes for violence. Resentment and distrust are building between religions, races, and cultures, and the priests of multiculturalism can't see it, partially because most Americans have been extraordinarily gracious in pretending not to really care about their own values in mixed company. But the predictable repetition of events like the Ferguson riots and the murders of the writers at Charlie Hebdo force ordinary citizens into an awkward position: the academia-media-government Leviathan is fanatically insisting that diversity is a great strength, while reality is saying the opposite with gunshots and fire. The double-think can only last so long.

The way I see it, we basically have four options:

1. We can reject "multiculturalism" and re-learn the functional kind of diversity under the lost guidance of JSM.
2. We can reject diversity and enforce a culture of nihilism.
3. We can reject proximity and join sides with the various racial and religious nationalists.
4. We can go to war.

I'd personally love to go with option one, but progressivism seems dead set on the path towards either nihilism or war in pursuit of a non-existent option five (universal peace, prosperity, fairness, wealth, and fulfillment to all people and otherkin). At this rate, they might manage both in our lifetimes, but you can be sure they'll be the last to know.

"Getting it Wrong" (Wikimedia)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Feminism and I

Courtesy of
What is it she needs?

The above photo is not a stand-alone picture of a girl who has come to believe all on her own that she's been shorted by our culture. In the bottom right hand, you can see the reference to a Facebook group called "Who Needs Feminism[?]," which is itself part of a much larger trend of people taking pictures of themselves holding descriptions of why they need Feminism.

Remember this phrase: "I need Feminism."

What is Feminism, exactly? The snarky answer proffered to us by many self-proclaimed feminists is that it is "the radical notion that women are people too." But "what is a person?" is a complex, abstract question, let alone the even more complex question of what person-hood means about how we ought to treat them. More to the point, you'd be hard-pressed to find this elusive foe who doesn't think that women are actually people, which is especially shocking when we're repeatedly told that we live in a society dominated by such people and attitudes. No, this won't do.

Google's default definition is that feminism is "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men." This one is not quite as blatantly unhelpful, as it gives something concrete. But concreteness means falsifiability, and women already have the same rights as men do in the United States, politically, socially, and economically. More, in fact, especially when it comes to family courts, the draft, and defining sexual assault. Google's definition won't help us out either.

Feminism is extremely difficult to pin down precisely, but we get the idea that it has something to do with equality and empowering women.

Meet the ultimate empowered woman: Ayn Rand.

Courtesy of Wikipedia
Whether you agree with her philosophy or not, Ayn Rand was a female force of nature. When readers rate the best novels of all time, Rand's works occupy four out of the top ten slots (including first and second place). The protagonist in her masterpiece Atlas Shrugged was as self-confident, successful, and inspirational as the author herself. Her message of self-reliance and the worship of competence and creativity is a message of equality and empowerment.

So why do feminists ignore and even criticize her?

"The question isn't who is going to let you; it's who is going to stop you." --Ayn Rand

Because Ayn Rand doesn't need Feminism. Ayn Rand is not dependent on Feminism (or anyone else, for that matter), which deprives Feminism of it's power.

"They're asking for government power and government handouts." Unlike our first two examined definitions, Feminism defined as a movement seeking power by appealing to the needs of women perfectly matches their actions and attitudes.

But I think the main reason why Ayn Rand annoys feminists so much isn't her disagreement with the doctrine itself, nor is it her independence. It is because she perfectly embodies everything that Feminism claims to be about but isn't, and exposes the deceit in their stated intentions by the black-and-white contrast between Rand's independence and dependence of Feminism.

Courtesy of Shrinks4men
Paul Elam, host of "A Voice for Men," describes the effects of such dependence and externalization of problems from his own past as a former feminist in the mental health and addiction treatment industry:
When I first saw it, I really thought that it was just the next logical step in a society that was looking for equity and looking for fairness and justice. But as time passed, even as I was involved with it myself, I noticed a lot of animosity, a lot of vitriol, a lot of the ideologues that were supposedly looking out for the interests of women actually expressing a message that was targeting men as their problem. I witnessed, in the mental health field, the idea that we were treating addictions, and maybe adding information about special populations in order to enhance our ability to help  people, [turn] to something entirely different. It became a blame-game. Women came into treatment and were basically told by a lot of people that all of their problems were rooted in men, which is of course the complete opposite; the idea of good chemical dependency treatment is that we treat people with accountability for their problems, that we acknowledge that they must take responsibility for their lives if they're going to address a problem that involves their own choices, which addictions certainly do. [Full interview with Janet Bloomfield]
The test of a good theory is its ability to explain reality. Why would Feminism want to go against standard industry knowledge about mental health and hurt women by convincing them to externalize their problems and blame men? This would make no sense if Feminism was a movement about helping and empowering women, but would make perfect sense if it was actually about using women's issues as a lever to gain power.

Simply defining Feminism as a gender-wedging grab for political power and resources would make it bad enough; it's nature is why I distance myself from it and oppose it in principle. But those aren't sufficient to justify my loathing for it and my opposition to it in practice. For me, it's more personal.

Baptisms that spark the intellect can happen in different waters. For some, it's politics; for others, economics. For me, it was religion, or, to be more precise, atheism. I read Dan Barker's book "Godless" and was hooked. I read Dawkins and Harris, and then I discovered Christopher Hitchens... It is said that ninety percent of people fall somewhere on the scale of bisexuality. I'm in the ten percent who don't--I'm completely and absolutely heterosexual--but I feel no shame or dishonesty in saying that Hitchens was, in a way, my first real love. While these encounters opened me up to the doors of politics, economics, philosophy, and literature, I always felt a special interest in studying religion and an attachment to the atheist community.

Then, in July of 2011, Feminism began taking over the Atheist community.

It began with the incident obnoxiously and misleadingly dubbed "Elevatorgate," in which Rebecca Watson, a speaker at the conference, was complimented by a man in an elevator at the hotel for her work and asked if she wanted to join him in his hotel room for coffee. In her vlog about the event, Watson said "guys, don't do that." Both the man's non-confrontational proposition and her unequivocal rejection were, by any reasonable standard, reasonable. The response, however, was not. A few men stated that it was unreasonable to tell people not to flirt at conferences, and they, in-turn, were told that the Atheist community needed to be a safe place for women. As rationalwiki describes, the incident became a "kerfuffle touching on feminism, privilege, conference creeps and the social makeup of the skepticsphere."

As the back-and-forth escalated, a schism formed within atheism, between those self-identifying as feminists, and those who did not. In December of 2012, it reached the point where atheist blogger PZ Myers said: "Right now, for instance, the internet community is racked with these paroxysms of argument over--of all things!--the status of women. We're trying to decide whether women are eye candy and fuck toys and eye candy for privileged white men, or whether we're colleagues together in this movement." People who did not join the Feminist side were ostracized and demonized: the blogger and creationism-debunker extraordinaire Thunderf00t was kicked out of Freethought Blogs. Notorious vlogger TJ Kirk, The Amazing Atheist, was shunned and attacked for his criticisms of Feminism. PJ Myers casually accused Michael Shermer--another non-feminist--of raping a woman at a conference (libel charges are still pending). Even Richard Dawkins has been variously accused of being a misogynist within the world of atheism for laughing at the pettiness of women's complaints in comparison to the harms women experience from religious abuse worldwide.

In the end, Feminism won. As of my writing this, Freethought Blogs writes as much if not slightly more about "Feminism, gender and sexuality," than it does about "Atheism and Skepticism." They froze the community, divided it, and conquered it. They appropriated much of the influence and community that decades of work from atheists and skeptics built to advance atheism and skepticism.

They did it in academia. They've managed it in the mainstream news (except for FOX). They pulled it off in my community, atheism. I'm sure they're doing it in plenty of Churches as well. Now they have their sights set on the gaming world.

This is the main reason why I hate Feminism. Sure, I hate it because it is dishonest. I hate it because it insults the individual capabilities of women and it insults the moral integrity of men. I hate it because it's so impossibly stupid, particularly when it comes to explaining gender differences. And while they do all of that, they'll tell everybody who isn't a transgender, asexual, gay black woman that they're privileged, that they're subconsciously perpetuating some systemic culture of bigotry or other, and we ought to feel ashamed about it. I feel no shame in saying I hate that part of it too, both for its hypocrisy and stupidity. But if that was it, and they left me alone, I wouldn't care that much.

But they won't leave us alone. Feminism is a leech. It wants to take the power and resources that other people have made as their own God-given right, and they have no qualms about destroying those creations in the process. This, I submit to you, is an unpardonable sin. I may not be able to do much, but I take great pleasure in what little vengeance I can visit back in return upon this poisonous ideology that is taking over the minds of my generation, by way of breaking people's illusions that they are morally better for calling themselves "feminists;" far from it.

This is why I call myself an egalitarian and an anti-feminist. I'm going to fight against Feminism to the extent that I can, and if you have any self-respect as a woman or any self-worth as a man, I encourage you to join me and do so as well. You don't need Feminism; it needs you.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Noblesville, Indiana

If you're reading this, thank you S.

It was a quiet Tuesday evening as Bill walked out of his aging, black car to the Denny's, the one near Our Lady of the Snow Church. The lights of the gas-station pierced through the darkness like those bright lone stars shining through on a cloudy night, and the faintest of winds pressed the cold through his clothes, his skin, and into his arthritic bones. The light dusting of snow had hardened the night before, and it crunched like gravel under his slow, uneven step as he walked up the gently winding path towards the golden, glass door.

Kurt and Frank were already inside, their wispy silver hair covered by the same hat Bill wore. He brushed his shoes off on the mat and walked over to sit down with the other two at a table for four. The waitress glanced at the trio, the corner of her lip rising slightly before she returned to wiping down a table on the other side of the brightly-lit room.

The empty chair sat heavily to Kurt's left.

Bill took a seat next to Frank, who was already in a deep discussion with Kurt about flying. All retired now, Kurt had been an investment banker, Frank was a cattle farmer, and Bill had done logistics for an oil company not far from Indianapolis. But here in the quiet evenings of their bright cafe, they were neither retired nor civilian workers, but the soldiers they'd been, together in Vietnam four decades ago.

Robert Frost suddenly came to mind in Bill's brain. It had been four decades since he'd heard it uttered aloud.

Nature's first green is gold
It's hardest hue to hold
It's early leaf's a flower
But only so an hour
Then leaf subside to leaf
So Eden sank to grief
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

Four decades. The voice had been Barry the poet's, whose ghost now sat with them in that orange and yellow diner, accented with green walls and brown shades. Barry had been the machine-gunner in Bill's team. For a machine-gunner, he had been an incongruously tall and lanky man with a narrow face and an appetite for literature, unbecoming for a marine in the group. He hadn't even done the platoon the courtesy of dying in combat so they could helplessly blame it on his intellectual preoccupations. It was a radar accident; he'd been fried when a radar technician accidentally turned on the system while Barry was cleaning of the crap and corpses of seagulls from the upper heights of their destroyer.

Kurt and Frank's conversation veered from flight to Barry. Kurt, the old Navy pilot, and Frank, the aviation technician, would talk radios and planes for hours, but Bill the Marine couldn't keep up with the more technical tone the conversation inevitably took when technology was involved.

"Well, Barry, it's good to see you again," said Kurt in a thick German accent. His eyes pointed to the empty chair, but his voice was aimed at his two living compatriots.

"To Barry! And to us, who carry his ghost along, at least for a little while longer."

"I'm not sure about you Kurt, my cogs and wheels aren't spinning like they used to," piped Frank in a chuckling Tennessee drawl.

Bill smiled and sipped his coffee with the rest of them. The light brown invigorated him, not in chemistry, but in experience. It flowed through his arms like heat, radiating from his chest. The supernova of a dying star. The other two men sipped their coffee too. Kurt coughed suddenly, with the ragged, guttural cough of the sick elderly. He smiled, then resumed sipping his coffee.

It's been a ride, thought Bill. He had no family; no children, no relatives. His wife had died two years ago. Now he was mourning his wife's death as well as Barry's death. But together, and with his aging, dying friends, it was his death they were mourning--no. Celebrating.

He smiled again, then chuckled aloud. The warm yellow lights glowed over them.

"I have Barry's poem. I know you old farts probably don't need to hear it again, but I'm going to say it anyways, because the odds of one of us chasing after Barry increase with every month."

The others nodded somberly, but smiled then smiled in anticipation of the old ritual. Frank leaned back in his chair a bit, as if relaxing while listening to music.

"Gold need not stay: A rebuttal," began Bill. "By Barry Swanson."

Though tarnish dims with grey
Gold's lustrous yellow ray,
And time will, from my mind
This beauteous image grind,
Still wondrous is it now
Before my vessel's prow,
This one-way trip to sea
Is gold enough for me.

"Crazy he wrote that at only 24 years old. Gets me every time," said Frank slowly, several moments after Bill finished. "And by that, I mean, he really gets me! Ha!" He slapped the table enthusiastically. "He writes like an old man looking back on the middle age he never knew."

The trio talked and joked into the night--only another forty minutes or so. The time together decreased every year, but felt long enough for them. Conversation shifted around, from Barry to planes, then to football, then to Frank's grandchildren, then to their respective vehicles and their problems, then finally back to Barry.

As Bill walked back out the golden door and into the cold night air, he glanced appreciatively back at the Denny's--it's young waitress, the bright lights, the comfortable tables and good food--as though for the last time, turned, and walked to his black Lincoln Town Car. It looked eminently hearse-like, but the semblance didn't bother him as it might have in his youth. The car itself was suffering the effects of age, and likely only had around ten thousand miles left before it'd need an engine rebuild.

Bill climbed in and took off his hat. He placed it ceremoniously on the passenger seat and turned the ignition key. The old Lincoln sputtered, coughed, and then came to life with a chuckle. "All right Lincoln. Let's go home," he said aloud. He backed up, turned, and, waving out the window to Kurt and Frank, drove off into the night.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Hunt

It was on the way down, moving down into that black gulch, that I saw the stag in the dappled light sifting through the aspen foliage. How the light faded! From the sunlit ridge, up, above the shadow of the surrounding hills, to the bone-white stripes of the gloomy wood, I was nearly surprised I could see anything at all. The scattered beams of sunlight penetrating the forest canopy had the effect of camouflaging everything beneath its gaze. And yet there it was. Standing, perfectly still, doomed as I did not then know, a ten-point buck.

Were my doctor more agreeable to my condition, and were my left arm not so numb (much to the good doctor's ignorance, thank god), I would have certainly brought my rifle along; a steady if brutish Marlin 30-30 with a kick almost as ferocious as that of its intended target. Unable to leave the house entirely unarmed, I brought a pair of binoculars and a pen and pad of paper. This close to the Dark Valley, that old aphorism about the pen and the sword really loses it's feeble obsolescence.

So too, as I walked down into the black gulch, did the sights around me seem more invigorating and enchanting than they used to be. In my mind their descriptors simply appeared in flowery language, and for that, dear reader, if you are indeed reading this, I sincerely apologize. I am no artist, or never have been before, that is, but I have always had an untapped gift with words. But I fear I would risk the dishonesty of downplaying the divine, were I to pretend the sights around me, and my own experience of them, here, on the cusp of light and darkness, were not so desperately fantastic. Desperate is not quite the right word, but no other adverb will do.

The stag was patient in its movement; I had the sense that it was quietly aware of me long before I noticed the handsome brown creature, so steady was his offset gaze. After a few moments of mutual awareness, he dropped his head back down to the small patch of grass in which the animal stood. Everything about it seemed graceful--believe me, reader, when I say that ordinarily such descriptions irritate me and strike me as spiritualist muck, grey in every way, but most especially in its put-on profundity. But here it seemed so true; the deer's muscles and shape, perfectly etched in tawny fur that looked, to the touch of my eyeballs, for all the world as the texture of silk feels under the fingertips.

Such was my bliss in that moment that everything was already over before my consciousness and credulity could catch up. A flash of movement in the brush behind the stag; the faint thud of impact as a mass of blonde fur collided with the deer; the ensuing entanglement; the kicking of the deer. I, as desperate for the deer's survival as the deer's flailing legs.

Somehow, the deer managed to right itself, but the mountain lion--as I now saw that flurry of death had been--still hung about its' neck. The mortally wounded creature, stepped, staggered, then spread its legs and stood, trying to remain upright. I could practically feel the life ebb out of the princely beast, from a hole somewhere in my chest. Its head hung down, and the mountain lion hung, quite still, about its' shoulders. It was nearly sunset, and the deer had mere minutes, perhaps seconds, before death would finally claw out its' throat in that black gulch.

In the most peculiar fashion, I found my sympathy (the source of which I still can't justify, except to say I felt a desperate necessity to sympathize with something), shift from the soon-to-be-deceased to its murderer. The great cat was, in fact, anything but great. It's sides were lean enough to see the individual ribs outlined beneath the blonde fur. There were the scars of healed gashes in it's tawny side. Perhaps the wounds of a lost fight, perhaps a brush with a bear, or perhaps the death throes of a recent victim. Or, more likely, the reminder of the successful defense of an elk or caribou, still roaming the forest somewhere.

Perhaps it too was near death, more knowingly, when it collided with that ill-fated dear in the black gulch, beneath the ridge-top I was now descending.

The various possibilities of the situation were unavoidable to me, and they charged into my head like a desperate blonde ball of death. Were the deer to have escaped, I noticed, the death of the feline would have been assured. Is that too murder? And starvation, what an atrocious, helpless death too! Were I armed, both the deer and the cougar, by indirect extension, would be doomed. Or perhaps the deer, by jaws, and then the mountain lion, by Marlin. And then I realized I had forgotten an important possibility: were the deer to have escaped, the desperate cat would have another last-resort option for survival, descending like a fated fool into that black gulch.

The source of my agony--watching death descend like a twilight shadow upon everything in the gulch--was not apparent to me in the moment, as the folly of my motives had not been apparent to me in all of my previous trips up to the ridge. There I came armed with death, and the life around me felt peripheral, uninteresting. It could wait, would wait for another day for my attention. And here I was, on that other day, looking with the insanity of a poet for life. And with the justice of a poet, nature has denied it to me.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Aaron Peleides, the Bully

I never thought I'd punch him.

I never thought I was even capable of punching anyone, in fact, let alone sending John Baker Jr., the tall kid with blonde hair and a vicious laugh, to the hospital with a broken jaw and a fractured cheek. I'm not really a violent person, though I do have my moments of quiet anger. I sort of thought we all do. But here I am, sitting at Camp Clarity for Social Rehabilitation in the wilderness of Montana, being told to journal about my feelings. Most people don't end up in Montana like this. Most people aren't bullies, and I'm a bully, so they say. I guess maybe I do experience it a bit more than most people.

When I'm angry, I can't think straight. All the ideas I'd have about what I was going to say if John teased me about some bruise on my arm, or about the comic book I was carrying, all those pre-planned, witty comments I had would simply vanish. I'd draw a blank if I tried to remember them, but usually I'd forget to try. And his comments always seemed controlled, calculated to maximize the humiliation, but to minimize the appearance of any effort on his part. They were so intentionally casual, so wickedly offhand, that any response I made felt--and would certainly appear--to be an emotional overreaction. Usually his comments, if written down and taken out of context, would even sound kind. But if I didn't respond, it would look like a tacit submission and acceptance of his dominance, of my submission.

Any parent or teacher would hardly recognize John's laughter as vicious, or even recognize his comments as the eroding droplets of water on the face of a chinese water-torture patient. There was no "hey faggot!," or "you smell like shit!," or anything so obvious. It was always something much more casual. "Hey, what'dya got for lunch for me today?" "Hey, you're not gonna come hang out with us?" No, of course I'm not going to come hang out with you, and you know I wouldn't want to, which means I know why you're asking. "Hey man, really, I got nothing against gays; I can help you find a good boyfriend if you want." Such an evil, sympathetic-sounding voice, Of course the girl I liked most would never spend time with a doormat like me, and John knew it too. He'd seen me watching her at lunch, and commented on it at the time.

But of course, no teacher would ever put the whole picture together; they simply weren't around enough to hear him contradict what he'd said to me a mere two days ago, and by itself, it all sounded inclusive. Kind. Sympathetic. John was a good person to them. Popular, good at sports, reasonable grades, and involved in community service projects (where he mainly just goofed off with his friends). If I ever did respond from my heart, I'm sure whatever might have passed my lips would have sounded as unjustified, vicious, and bullying as John's comments actually were.

That was the diabolical beauty of his bullying. He kept his head and his wit, while draining away mine. He was an absolute vampire.

I'd dream sometimes about beating the living shit out of him. In fact, I was almost ashamed, even as I was having them, of how brutal I could be in the world of sleep. I fantasized about punching him in the stomach until he doubled over, then punching him in the kidneys and face until he fell down. I imagined, with horrible glee, pulling out a knife and kneeling on his arms, pinning him face up under me. The knife moved towards his face and I would slowly, deliberately press the edge to his lips. Only in a dream-world could I cut off his lips while he thrashed and screamed. Without any emotion on my face, I cut out his tongue. And with a final feeling of triumph, I stuffed his tongue in his right ear, and his lips in the left. I felt like a cop handing out a speeding ticket, such was my feeling of the pettiness of the justice being dispensed. Such was my feeling of justice. Such was my ruinous rage.

I challenge you, Ms. Robinson, if they photocopy this and send it to you, to tell me you've never dreamed of something this brutal yourself. Tell it to my face, so I can see your eyes as you tell me I'm abnormal for thinking these thoughts. I'll bet you can't do it. You'll say "but I never punched someone," as if that answers the question. As if all of our shared dreams, our subconscious understanding of the injustice of everything, of how we protect the bullies and the sociopaths and then rain down condemnation, ridicule, and hatred on those of us who don't have the social savvy to twist your stupid rules back on themselves and make balloon figurines out of them.

That's what makes me the bully from all of this. Where John was wise in the ways of navigating the ins and outs of cliques, etiquette, etc, I had the social dexterity of a blind elephant. Where John could lie with the grace of an angel, I had no poker face. Nothing but the truth could sound plausible from my lips, and even that was sometimes tricky. I hated liars, and I was proud of my disability.

My advantage would have been in the realm of honor and virtue, since John had none to speak of, and it's far more difficult to fake. But honor has long since been replaced by rules, laws, and policies. That's what my dad used to say anyways, and I believe him. There was no rule that someone like John could not flip and use for his own purpose. No policy to oppose bullying that he could not use as a shield for his own behavior. His words flew in below the radar, below the threshold of what we defined as bullying. Redefine it, and he'd simply ratchet back a bit. They could have made all speech against the rules, but no law could stifle the evil in his heart and his ability to communicate it, someway or another.

That's why, Ms. Robinson, you'll never understand that when John asked how my day was going, and whether or not I planned on asking Rebecca out (right in front of her! he was saying this to me, before I was ready, humiliating me, right in front of her!), you may well never understand that you can't put a label on bullying, and that what John was doing was vicious, not kind. Evil, not friendly.

That's why you'll think I'm a psychopath, that I'm unbalanced, that I'm a loose cannon, who needs counseling and therapy to control my anger for turning around to walk away, then spinning back and throwing all of my weight down my arm, into my closed fist, and onto the side of John's sympathetic, smirking face. Maybe I need drugs to drain my passion, which could have fueled my progress on the clarinet or drawing, but turned to this instead. I never thought I'd punch him, never thought I could be driven to do that, and then driven all the way out to Camp Clarity for Social Rehabilitation in the wilderness of Montana, and being told to journal about my feelings. I never thought I, Aaron Peleides, would be a bully,

But here I am.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Wraith Watch (tentative Prologue & beginning of Chapter 1)


A laser of moonlight pierced the darkness in the old Scottish cave, coming to rest on the closed eyes of the man sleeping there. They opened.

The stone walls were musty, and they sweat droplets down their ancient faces, tears of condensation dripping down the fine masonry in the cool night air. Frost clung to the grass outside, had begun forming on the flat surfaces inside too, and as the man's exhalations increased, the puffs of vapor from his mouth lit up like billowing clouds in the ray of light illuminating the dark chamber.

The man rose up from where he had been laying. He knew what time it was, but he peered down at a primitive-looking pocket watch suspended from a leather necklace, just to be certain. The workings of his body were like those of his time-keeping devices, and they moved together. Even as he rose, the beam of moonlight vanished as the moon passed its mark in the sky. If his calculations were correct, the beam would return again in fifty years time.

The man wore nothing save the watch and a beard of fantastic proportions; although he would have only looked to be in his fifties clean-shaven, the long grey and white strands added a good twenty years to his appearance. After a few long moments of waking up, the smell of the matted hair seemed to disturb even its owner as his movement wafted the years of neglect in the stone dwelling up through his protesting nostrils. First order of business is shaving,he thought.

After food, of course.

The man set about waking up slowly, knowing that the muscular atrophy wouldn't permit prolonged activity as he used to do. He massaged and stretched his limbs as he started the fire. The familiar embers danced and crackled as the hearth was brought back to life from its owner's slumber. The copper rods running beneath the stone floor glowed where the ends protruded into the flames, emanating warmth up through the flagstone. It warmed the wiry sinews in his legs, the calloused bottoms of his feet.

The fifty years had been an approximate. There was no way to be sure if he was a year or two off, and in which direction, but he knew the time was close. The patterns sometimes rushed or delayed a bit, but they never failed. The old calendar room hadn't been calibrated for the time he needed when it was originally built three thousand years ago, of course, and he'd had to do a bit of architectural modification to get the alignment suited to his needs, but it still functioned essentially as it always had. About as effectively too. As far as the man could tell, the alignment had been about one and a half seconds early.

The man packed a leather rucksack as the water boiled: dry food, a blanket, a double-edged knife, and a small collection of gold ornaments and coins. It wasn't much, but it should be enough to purchase a boat-ticket across the Atlantic. The man pulled the knife back out of the rucksack and gripped the handle. The blade felt familiar to him as he drew it and examined the edge, touching it lightly with his finger. A drop of blood formed where the iron had touched. Excellent.

He took one more look at the carefully aligned hole in the wall, where the moonbeam had pierced his eyelids. The faint light of dawn was filtering in, pink and yellow against the black and grey walls, flecked with flickering orange light from the fire. The time had not yet come, but it was approaching.

Chapter 1 - Obituaries

Reading the obituaries in our local town newspaper had never particularly bothered me. At least not the way I felt that it should. It was always some old strangers passing along, some old stranger with breath that smelled of leather, incorrigible driving habits, a fine taste in literature, who spontaneously sang aloud. Some old stranger who would be greatly missed by their family, their church and (usually quite elderly) friends. The printed praising of the departed made sometimes made me wonder if bad people ever took their turn for a change and died of with the rest of us. Reading the obituaries, it didn't seem so. Reading the obituaries was a train of kind old grandmas with cancer kicking the bucket, making room for their grandchildren, who would deeply, deeply miss them. I know that last part is true because I read it in the obituaries.

But the Koschei family slaughter really was different. This was no story about a stroke finally taking down a beloved family patriarch with one leg already in the grave. Young couple, successful, beautiful, immigrants by the sound of it--Ukranian father and Scottish mother. Beautiful couple, gunned down by bank robbers. Their six-year-old son was in the hospital, a bullet lodged in his heart, but still alive somehow. Adam was his name.

It wasn't their death, I slowly came to realize, but their lack of life that bothered me. Sure, all the old strangers that ate candy and shopped at the farmer's market lacked life when they died, but they had followed their trail all the way. They'd had their allotted time, and were politely passing the baton on. I thought, these deaths shouldn't bother me. I thought: they just finished up their time a bit early. Some take the long road, some go home early. "Go away," I corrected myself. I tend to extend my metaphors a bit too far when I'm thinking.

But something about the theft of these two tugged at something between my shoulder blades and inflated my lungs with hot indignation. The news piece that correlated to the story did make me feel bit better, of course. I didn't need to read it, having written it yesterday myself. The details still came to mind at my command: "two gunmen chased by police... quarter block... gunned down by law enforcement agents, one in critical condition, charges pending..."

One of the clumsy duo had tripped and accidentally sprayed Mr. and Mrs. Koschei with his automatic weapon. Anatol, the tall Ukrainian professor, had been hit five times in the chest, once in the arm, once in his hand, and twice in the neck. He'd bled to death through his carotid artery. Evalyn, the brunette Scottish beauty and advertising guru, had been shot twice in the stomach, once through her left breast, and two more times through her face. The policeman I talked to said even with the bullet wounds in her forehead and cheek, she looked beautiful.

And poor Adam took one in the chest, straight to the heart. I couldn't stifle a black chuckle at the time when I was told the boy was in "critical condition." The phrased seemed so inadequate, describing the state of the boy that once had been Adam Koschei. God knows who he would become after all of this. But if the boy did die, I thought, at least the robbers had shown me that the scales were even with a broad enough picture frame through which to look at the world. The bad guys do die, occasionally. Inevitably. We all have to die. No one escapes.

With that, I finished my coffee got up to go shower.