I'm 41 years old. I can see 50 pretty clearly. I know lots of people who are older than 50. You probably do, too. I'm not sure exactly what put 50 in my head a couple weeks ago, but we're coming up on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so that's as good a place as anywhere to start, I guess.
My point in doing this thought experiment is for us to recognize three things:
(1) 50 years isn't very long in terms of human consciousness. Our brains and bodies take centuries — maybe millennia — to adapt biologically.
(2) So much happens in 50 years that it's amazing people who live 50 years don't short-circuit.
(3) Because of 1 and 2, have some patience with people who need a minute to wrap their heads around something newish.
Since someone might read this in the future, let's take a look at where we are in 2018. The most recent estimated US census was 2016; the population is 323 million. The population of the world is estimated at 7.63 billion people. The market cap of the Disney Corp. is somewhere around $157 billion and its stock price is over $105; Amazon's market cap is around $750 billion and Apple is fast-approaching $1 trillion.
SpaceX recently launched a rocket into space then released a car on a trajectory toward Mars, just to see if they could do it. The launchers and the rocket both returned to Earth, landing on pads.
Most of the US has hand-sized computers/telephones/cameras/video cameras/music players/video machines in our pockets. About half the world has access to high-speed Internet.
A black man served as president of the United States for two full terms, with no known assassination attempts made public. Gay people can get married. Our current president is in talks to meet with the dictator of North Korea.
Now, let's roll back one set of fifty years. The US population was just under 201 million (less than 2/3 of what it is today). The population of the world was 3.53 billion (less than half what it is today). Disney stock was at 44 cents; adjusted for inflation, it was 30 cents a share. The guy who started Amazon, Jeff Bezos, was 4 years old. Apple wouldn't be launched for another eight years.
We hadn't yet gone to the moon.
Telephones were, by-and-large, on the wall. Some people did have mobile phones in their cars, but the handheld mobile phone wouldn't be introduced for five more years. Personal computers were still seven years off.
The Civil Rights movement was in transition from . Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were shot. Richard Nixon was elected president. "2001: A Space Odyssey" was the top grossing film. Arthur Hailey's Airport spent 30 weeks on top of the New York Times Bestseller list. There had been no openly gay people elected to any public office in the US.
The US population was 103 million, less than a third of what it is today. The population of the world was 1.8 billion, a billion of whom were incapacitated thanks to a flu epidemic that killed 20 million people.
The top five US companies the prior year were US Steel, American Telephone & Telegraph, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Bethlehem Steel and Armour & Co. US Steel is now #279 on the Fortune 500 list. American Telephone & Telegraph was broken up into the regional Bell Companies, and has since reformed as a more diverse communications company (AT&T). Standard Oil was broken up, also; the biggest remaining company is ExxonMobil. Bethlehem Steel stopped operating in 2003; Armour, a former meatpacking giant has been bought and sold a few times and is now a frozen foods brand.
World War I ended late in the year. The first scheduled passenger flight had only been four years prior, and the Post Office launched the first airmail service. Federal offices were racially segregated (and so were many businesses) and interracial marriage was illegal in many places. There were race riots. In 1916, the US Military introduced "blue discharges," which were neither honorable nor dishonorable and were often used to discharge homosexuals from the military.
We're only three sets of fifty years back now, and we're largely in the dark.
The 1870 Census put the US population at about 38 million people, only a little over a third of what it would be 50 years later. Estimates put the world population around 1.2 billion.
Tabasco first hit the market; MetLife and Pacific Life were both founded.
We didn't yet have a telephone or a light bulb.
Andrew Johnson became the first president to be impeached (like Bill Clinton, the only other president to be impeached to date, the Senate would acquit Johnson). We were very much rebuilding from the Civil War.
The US population, according to the 1820 Census, was a little over 9 million people. That's roughly the population of New York City today. The world population is estimated to have been between 950 million and a billion — less than the population of India or China today.
There were 20 US states, and the current design of the US Flag (though with 20 stars) was made the official flag of the nation. The steam engine hadn't quite made its way to the US from Britain.
We were still 11 years away from the first indoor plumbing.
The First Seminole War ended. Brooks Brothers, the men's clothier, opened its first store. Frankenstein was published.
Here we are, just five 50-year segments ago, we weren't the US yet. Estimates of the world population are around 800 million. The first modern circus is held in London. The Royal Academy is founded.
Just 10 50-year jumps ago, you might not recognize the world, which only had about 500 million people in it. Leonardo da Vinci was far and away the brightest technological mind, living in the Vatican during his waning years (he died the following year). Magellan went off to the Spice Islands. Thomas More's "Epigrammata" was published. Shakespeare wasn't yet born. There was actually a dancing plague — in Strasbourg, people just felt the urge to boogie, and many of them died of stroke, heart attack or exhaustion.
If you know someone who is 50 years old, and when they were a kid they knew someone 50 years old, you only have to go back 20 of those people to a world with fewer people than are in the US today. It would be another 48 years before the Normans would invade England, so the English language sounded very much like German.
There was no printing press. There was no Genghis Khan. We have a few written records about battles no one remembers.
50x50: 482 BCE
Socrates would be born in a dozen years. The earliest Kabbalists are starting to chase Ezekiel's vision of God on the chariot. The Buddha died the year before.
100x50: 2982 BCE
OK, here's the big one. Only 100 groups of 50 years, and we're basically on a different planet. The earth's population was nearing 100 million people. The Egyptian Empire is 100 years old and hasn't started building pyramids yet. The oldest city we've found in the Americas, Caral, isn't settled for another 300 years.
It's amazing how much happens in just 50 years. I don't even want to predict what our world is going to look like in 50 years, but hopefully I'm here to see it!
Note: We're going to talk about guns, gun rights and gun control; mental health, health care and privacy; and political movements and political parties. Before you get outraged, fucking read it. This is researched, thought-out and edited. I'm happy to listen to differing opinions based in fact — I might even change my mind (I've certainly evolved on some of the issues here) — but this is not a platform for your instant outrage. This is my website. I spew my own damn bullshit. If you want to spew yours, get your own damn website. If you need help doing so, get in touch and we'll talk.
In brief, what happened
Here is full coverage from the local paper, but in case you missed it, on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz (allegedly) walked into Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, from which he had been previously expelled, pulled a fire alarm and fatally shot 17 people and injured a dozen others with an AR-15.
There were warnings, then, despite the fact that the couple he was living with following his mother's death said there were no warning signs he might do something like that. But we'll talk about privacy and such.
Some gun and gun law basics, and what we need to do
Let's start off with some definitions, particularly of the type of weapon used. We in the media have been terrible about this, so a brief explainer is definitely necessary for many of us. I'm gathering most of this information from this more in-depth summary and this look at automatic weapons laws.
If you're yelling about gun control — particularly if you're talking about banning certain weapons — you should also learn the difference between automatic and semiautomatic weapons. Very few people are licensed to own (never mind carry) automatic weapons. Lots of people are licensed to own and carry semiautomatic weapons.
An automatic weapon discharges multiple rounds (bullets) with a single trigger pull (so, you pull the trigger, the weapon starts to fire, and it stops when you release the trigger).
A semiautomatic weapon discharges one round with a single trigger pull, and then, assuming there is more ammunition available, chambers the next round. This covers most weapons on the market, from the AR-15 (allegedly) used by Cruz to an everyday pistol, the kind most of us not-gun-types typically see used on television.
Then there are manual weapons, which you have to either reload after each shot (think old-style rifles you see in Civil War movies), or you have to manually chamber the next round (think six-shooters you see in old Westerns).
There is hardware available to make some semiautomatic weapons behave like automatic weapons. It's either illegal or on its way there in most states. Stephen Paddock used what's commonly called a "bump stock" to do this when he managed to discharge over 1,100 rounds from his hotel room in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounding some 850 others.
Most states have separate rules for purchasing guns and carrying guns, and also have separate rules for long guns (like a hunting rifle) and handguns. You might not need a license to buy a weapon (though you might need to submit to a criminal background check and a waiting period), but you probably need a license to carry a weapon with you in public, and of course states differ widely on whether you need to demonstrate proficiency, take a safety course or register your individual weapons.
Some states also have "red flag laws," which allow some people — teachers or family members, for example — to report to authorities that maybe you're dangerous and you shouldn't be allowed to buy a weapon.
Florida does not have a red flag law, though one is currently hung up in the legislature.
What qualifies as a mass shooting varies by definition and can be really confusing if we don't pick a definition to agree upon.
If you saw the piece about a school shooting every 2.5 days this year, you were probably shocked. That's because it takes a very wide definition of school shootings, some which even the most slanted among us must admit are not school shootings — things like accidental discharge of a firearm in the parking lot of a school that had been closed for seven months.
Let's go forth with this explanation from Politifact, shall we? The current federal definition of a mass shooting is three or more shooting victims (excluding the shooter) in one or more locations in a single event. And can we agree that a school shooting is a shooting that takes place on or about school grounds when students and/or teachers are present? ["On or about" because if someone trying to escape crosses the property line and is then shot, it's still a school shooting.]
Now that we have some facts behind us, here's what I think.
First, stop whining. I don't want all your guns. By all means, if you are a demonstrably safe gun owner — i.e., you have no violent crime in your past, you take a safety course, you show some proficiency, you don't carry while intoxicated and you get your vision checked every time your carry permit renews (like a drivers license) — own weapons for protection and hunting.
If you have kids, I want you to be willing to submit to random home visits from Children & Family Services to make sure you're storing the weapons safely; we have way too many accidental shootings involving toddlers finding weapons.
You should also receive, during the permitting process, a psychological evaluation. It doesn't have to be invasive. If you're on medication (that you could go off of whenever you felt like it — or stopped being able to afford it) that's probably stopping you from killing yourself or someone else, sorry, you probably shouldn't have access to a firearm. It's not that you're definitely going to kill someone eventually, it's just that the probability is too high to risk.
The AR-15 is modeled on military weapons that are designed to kill people. They have no other purpose. It's the weapon that legally obtained and used in Parkland and in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary and in Las Vegas (though the shooter modified his to fully automatic using a "bump stock" there).
If you are of the opinion that we need AR-15s and similar weapons for protection in case the government ever turns the US military loose on its people, we can keep them locked up in a civilian armory — hey, how about at private gun ranges? But let me point out that you can't go out and buy a working tank or a lot of other items the military has. Civilians are not equipped to fight against the US military. We never will be. And we never should be.
Some thoughts on school safety
People have offered up some ideas for keeping schools more secure; I have yet to hear one that won't detract further from education (and we could go on for long time how public education has been suffering from high-pressure standardized tests and fewer resources over the past couple of decades, but we won't).
More armed officers in schools. Parkland had an armed officer, but of course most schools have large enough campuses that if an officer is in one place and an active shooter is in another, it could be four or five minutes before an the officer can reach the same area. An AR-15 is limited in the number of rounds it can discharge by two factors: the number of rounds available and the ability of the shooter to pull the trigger. If you've ever performed a repetitive motion for several minutes, you know fatigue can set in, but let's assume a 19-year-old male with lots of adrenaline flowing can average somewhere around a shot per second for five minutes; that's around 300 shots fired if it takes an officer five minutes to get across campus.
So, what if there were more officers in the school? Well, now we're running into a resource problem, right? Teachers are already buying materials for their classes (and they're not paid for the time they put in outside of school hours, creating lesson plans, correcting papers, submitting grades, etc.), textbooks are outdated, some classrooms have upwards of 30 or more students, and budgets are dropping. Adding two more officers might mean cutting three or four more teachers. And how many officers can you station in a school before students feel like they're in a prison?
Arm teachers. It's hard enough to find good teachers. Are we going to make it a job requirement that teachers be proficient enough with a weapon to fire it accurately in a small room full of students with an active shooter? Or are we just going to give teachers basic firearms training and then ask them to act in a high-pressure situation with a high likelihood of accidentally shooting students who are not the shooter?
Neither of those sounds like a good idea to me. I don't have a great solution, but it seems taking care of this on the weapons side (see above) is the best way to go.
What we need to do on the health care and privacy side
Two personal stories about health care, to start. Congress and the president touted its tax reform as a big give-back to the middle class, and gutted funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, also known as Romneycare (oh, you mean you forgot this is the same plan that Massachusetts' Republican governor instituted?). It's also the plan that Congress and the president have. When they largely gutted the program, they wrote themselves an exception. That tells you that Romneycare/Obamacare/ACA is so good the people who don't want to pay for it for us commoners want it for themselves.
I have insurance through my company; it covers my wife and I, and my employer pays most of it. I made a $14/month change to health care options this year, but my biweekly paycheck is down $74, which means almost $2,000 out of my pocket this year. If you're doing the math on my health care change, I paid $1,924 for $168 of increased benefits.
My sister is not so lucky. When she moved, she had to work a part-time job before finding a temp-to-hire job that. The company decided to buy her out early, which means she's a full-time employee after 2 months of temping instead of 3 months, but they still have a 90-day probationary period before they have to offer her health care. She has a two-year-old daughter, who, oddly enough, is not working full time.
In order to get her daughter health care, my sister joined the ACA exchange, which is partially funded by Medicaid. Funding for the exchanges has been gutted by the administration, and no one's required to take it.
So it seems very few do.
One day recently, my sister called me to say her daughter had a tick on her head and she needed to be picked up from preschool. I went to pick up my niece while my sister called the exchange to find out which urgent care facilities near me would take the insurance. She found one, and after I arrived and filled out paperwork, when the insurance card arrived via email, they said, "oh, we don't take the Medicaid version of this."
They referred us to another urgent care center 20 minutes away.
I'm no fool, so I called ahead. No, they didn't take it, but another center 30 minutes away did. I called them, and they also didn't take the Medicaid version of the exchange.
We're lucky enough that we could just come out of pocket for both insurance (which apparently doesn't cover much) and getting a tick removed from my niece's head. We're also lucky that we don't have a lot of Lyme disease here, so that's the end of it.
And yes, you can remove a tick at home by yourself. But good luck if your kid gets an infection on her scalp. At best you're talking about staying home for work for a while until they let her back at school. At worst you're talking about brain damage or death.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: health care may not be a right, but we're certainly better when as many people as possible can get help.
What does this have to do with what's going on?
The same way it's very difficult to find someone to take a tick out of my niece's head and check her out to see if she might need some antibiotics, even if she's covered by insurance, it's very difficult to find mental health care, affordable or not.
It's also hard for some who needs mental health care to recognize that they need mental health care, and it's even harder to compel them to get it — they have to be a proven risk to themselves or others. Even then, someone has to care enough to get them to help and check them in.
Nikolas Cruz had some mental health treatment a while back. He checked himself out, because he's allowed to.
Health care providers are not allowed to talk to anyone without a patient's permission. I have to sign forms if I want my doctor to be able to talk to my wife.
So when Cruz was investigated briefly after cutting himself and talking about guns on Snapchat, no one was allowed to tell law enforcement that he had undergone mental health treatment, so he wasn't on a list of people who couldn't have guns for mental health reasons.
That's why I want a basic mental health evaluation when you register for your permit. And your mental health history is absolutely relevant when purchasing a firearm.
Voices of Parkland
This is what students and faculty from the school are staying. Again, a plea against your outrage: Many of these voices are those of minors who have just lost 17 of their friends way before their time. If you're reading this, statistically speaking you're probably an adult who wasn't directly affected by the event. It's up to you, but if you're going on the attack, you're attacking teenagers. Pick your lane.
Oh my god. 17 OF MY CLASSMATES AND FRIENDS ARE GONE AND YOU HAVE THE AUDACITY TO MAKE THIS ABOUT RUSSIA???!! HAVE A DAMN HEART. You can keep all of your fake and meaningless “thoughts and prayers”. https://t.co/al9DWBM2AW
It’s very sad that thousands of voices won’t be heard bc this egocentric maniac is too caught up on himself instead of the change for the people. What’s not acceptable is you continuously trying to put the blame on someone else other than you. We want action not your words. https://t.co/GgSinporaI
helena, you have been both my first friend and my best friend ever since i moved here 15 years ago. you were the most thoughtful, kind, and beautiful person i’ve ever met, and i’m not really sure what to do without you now but i’ll always love you, heli #NeverAgain#douglasstrongpic.twitter.com/8DjOfF9Yx3
My beautiful neighbor, Cara Loughran, was murdered by Nikolas Cruz in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. She was only 14 years old. Children are dying, families are being torn apart, and communities are suffering. SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE. #NeverAgain#DouglasStrongpic.twitter.com/49DYdoHh0T
You know what isn't acceptable? Blaming everyone but the shooter and the lack of gun control in our country. You even blamed the students. We did report him, we tried. But how were we supposed to know what would happen? Your lack of sympathy proves how pitiful of a person you are https://t.co/32L1z0hhZJ
I will cry.I will cry because 17 people in my school were shot and killed with an AR-15.Trump may be your president but he is a lousy one.The NRA, GOP and even the president value the right to own a semi automatic weapon more than children’s lives, and to think they are “prolife” https://t.co/S2ZX10hwGq
DONT YOU DARE use her name to promote your bullshit. Emma is a warrior, a person I’m proud to call a friend. We will make change, you’re just scared that students are using their voices. https://t.co/fFLttB5BPA
Over the past several years, we've started to see more of what we'd call movements in the US.
The Civil Rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s were really the last time we had mass movements in this country. Growing up in the 1980s and '90s I saw the Million Man March, AIDS awareness, and the revival of the yellow ribbon campaign during the first Iraq War, but these were small in comparison.
Now we have Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, the Women's March, and now, as you'll see in the Twitter names of some of the students quoted above, we have #NeverAgain.
There is plenty of splintering within some of these movements. There is no overall organization, though some pockets are organizing and we may see national NGOs start to pop up.
Movements are not parties, but sometimes they become parties.
We have two main political parties in the US: Republicans and Democrats. Right now, they wear their respective jerseys and, by and large, follow other people with the same jersey. I'm not convinced the majority of jersey-wearers elected to national office are concerned with thinking for themselves. Each party agrees among its members upon some talking points, and members who don't stick to the party line are set aside as pariahs, unworthy of funding.
Every time we try to take money out of national politics, we write in loopholes, which are easily exploited because the people who need them wrote them in.
We're basically living in a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Or maybe Vonnegut wrote how he wrote because he had two eyes and a brain.
Ho hum, as it were.
Presidents have term limits, but senators and congressmen do not. It's time to set those. Five or six terms for members of Congress and two terms for senators — that will guarantee that anyone serving out the maximum number of terms works alongside at least two presidents.
Here's where I hit you with a shocker: we wait six months, and we do this all again. Because our system doesn't want change; only those of us governed by the system do, and believe it or not, we don't have that kind of power.
Sometimes I think I should run for office, or volunteer for someone I agree with. Most of the time, though, I'm too cynical to think it matters.
"We're born with them," I said, "and we have to learn how to un-forget them."
As we get older, we start to gain more of a sense of shame. And by "get older," I mean as we age out of toddlerhood. Because really, we start getting ridiculed for nonconformity pretty early in our school careers.
By the time we're teenagers, many people are afraid to stand out, and when they do something to "stand out," usually they do it in groups. The success of Hot Topic points to this. It's a place where nonconformists can go to conform to each other.
There are, of course, social benefits of conformity. We gain a sense of community. We feel accepted, perhaps even loved. If we conform really well, we get to be very popular. You can sell stuff. If you're a true nonconformist, your creative output is too, well, weird for everyone else.
You can be different and pretty far out there — Kevin Kelley asserts that if you have 1,000 true fans who will buy whatever you do, you're free to explore various avenues that will appeal to vastly different groups — but you still have to really resonate for 1,000 people.
I'll bet if I handed you a pad of paper and a pen (and took your phone away), it would take you at least an hour to write down the names of 1,000 people you either know or have heard of (you're unlikely to actually know 1,000 people, even if you can count that many people in your network).
Back to shame, and my wedding conversation.
"You look like you've got some moves," he said.
"Nah," I countered. "I just don't care if anybody thinks I look silly." Like this lady.
It's true. I'm a goofball.
It's not that I don't care at all, just that I pick a few things about which I deeply care when it comes to people's perceptions of me, and the rest of the time, I just want to have some fun. It's the kind of thing that allows me to come up with creative solutions to some problems but not be able to see outside the box for others.
Brene Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher. She finds that people who are willing to show vulnerability have empathy and form deeper connections with others.
That's an oversimplification of her work, but if you want the 20-minute version, she does it much better than I do, so just watch her TED talk:
In one of his shows last week (watch/listen above), level-headed conservative commentator Ben Shapiro took on President Trump for retweeting a gif of himself hitting a golf ball that ultimately hits and knocks over Hillary Clinton.
I'm not going to dignify the tweet with a link or an embed; you know where the president's account is.
Anyway, Shapiro pointed out that the tweet's fine if you're a fan wearing a Republican jersey. But when you're the President of the United States, you need to have a higher standard for yourself.
A week later, the president was battling NBA and NFL players. On Twitter. Because he's got that kind of time and energy, but not the sort required to help write legislation.
Whichever side you're on in President vs. Professional Athletes, you're still just watching very rich people argue in public.
It's the same medium he used to hand the North Korean dictator a schoolyard nickname. A Korean diplomat says there's no way Kim Jong Un laughs it off. He's going to attack the US because the president can't shut his twap (see what I did there?).
To be totally honest, I had this post written it what I thought was its entirety and scheduled and then the weekend in Trump vs. NFL happened.
It's really a continuation of the rest of the post. Is it an interesting cultural phenomenon? Perhaps. If NFL owners fired everyone who knelt or sat and went to find replacements, maybe some people would be happy, but to be frank, the quality of play would drop drastically.
If you're Walmart and you need 200 new greeters, it won't be hard to find. Finding 200 NFL-quality players who aren't already in the League (and you have to leave out the ones who would kneel or sit, I suppose), the product becomes more like a second-tier league.
If you're an NFL fan who doesn't watch the CFL or AFL, you're not going to watch an NFL full of players who didn't make the cut the first time (or second or third time) out. You certainly won't pay current ticket prices or buy subscription packages.
The league would lose more money in diminished quality than it is from people who are willing to vote with their dollars. We're too lazy as a nation to do much more than complain. When it comes to actual action, we're pretty lax. If your habit has been pizza, beer and buds on Sunday, you're not getting together to watch Netflix and chill.
Apart from that, it's simply not something that should be on the president's radar, never mind the focus of his ire. Puerto Rico is in huge trouble. Southern states are still recovering from Harvey and Irma, requiring federal intervention (I just got an email from my Congressman this evening about people available to help apply for assistance). He could be working on health care or tax reform or figuring out how to handle North Korea diplomatically instead of having a slap-your-dick-on-the-table contest with Kim Jong Un.
Donald Trump is a cultural icon, no doubt, but he's not a leader. If your boss said to you a lot of the stuff the president says to everyone, you'd be filing complaints with HR and probably taking your company to court.
Disagreement is one thing, belittling is another.
We need leaders who can lead, not who can yell. Being louder doesn't make you correct, it just makes you louder.
When Hurricane Irma was coming toward us in September, we were scheduled for a trip to Central New York for a family wedding.
We were at the car rental counter when we landed, and inquired about adding days onto our rental if that became necessary — the day we were scheduled to return to Savannah was the day Irma was expected to hit the area, making our return on that day unlikely and our ultimate return day uncertain.
The clerk at the counter wasn't confident that we'd be able to extend our reservation, especially with the same car, but she suggested that we call the agency we booked the car through to check.
"Hypothetically speaking," I asked her, "what if our flight were to get moved to, say, Wednesday, and we just didn't bring your car back until then?"
She explained that if we were able to extend the reservation, it wouldn't be a problem, but otherwise, they'd give the car to someone else.
It took several go-arounds for me to make my point. We were scheduled to bring the car back Monday, and they could therefore rent the car to someone else on Monday.
In order for her to hand someone else the keys to the car, though, we would have to bring the car back. What if we didn't?
She simply couldn't conceive of someone not following the rules.
In a coloring book, the lines constrain an image, but not a palette. An object is offered, but the scene is not. Take this gorilla with a bow tie, for instance:
The gorilla has a proud expression on its face, but outside of the animal straightening a bow tie, we have no context. Coloring inside the lines augments the subject, but still doesn't give us any context. Did the gorilla steal the bow tie from a zoo visitor? Is there a formal dance at the panda display? Is the gorilla crashing the Academy Awards?
If you want to tell a story, it's the part outside the lines that is most important.
The law of the instrument says, in its most famous iteration, if you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
Give a boy a hammer and chisel; show him how to use them; at once he begins to hack the doorposts, to take off the corners of shutter and window frames, until you teach him a better use for them, and how to keep his activity within bounds.
Within bounds? That will sound familiar to my Masonic brethren.
In Freemasonry, when we speak of bounds, we're talking generally about "keeping our passions within due bounds," that is to say, even in the face of anger or frustration, we are to keep a level head and treat people politely.
What it doesn't mean, though, is to treat every situation in the same way.
We have leeway to come up with reasonable solutions. So too, the child with the hammer and chisel. There are times when it is perfectly reasonable to use a hammer and chisel.
You could use the face of a hammer to break the safety glass and the claw to pull a fire alarm. You could play pool with the grip as a cue.
You could use a hammer to open a bottle or can, set a broken nose or make mashed potatoes.
You could carry a thin sheet of hot metal.
Each case would certainly be within due bounds, if unorthodox. Except the setting a broken nose bit. I'm pretty sure that's exactly how they do it. If you've ever seen my nose and noticed sort of a re-curve in the bridge, that's an over-corrected broken nose, and it looks exactly like someone took a hammer to it.
Duncker's candle problem is a cognitive exercise in which a subject is placed at a table next to a wall. On the table are a candle, a book of matches or a lighter, and a cardboard box of thumbtacks.
The charge is to light the candle and walk away, but ensure that no wax drips on the table.
The solution is to empty the box of tacks, tack the box to the wall, and place the candle in the box.
The success rate when Duncker first proposed the exercise was fairly low.
If the same items are presented but with the tacks piled on the table next to the box, the success rate is almost 100 percent.
I don't know this for sure, but I'm guessing the linear, inside-the-lines thinking that gives people trouble creating scenes around a coloring-book gorilla, makes Duncker's exercise difficult and makes it hard to understand that someone might not follow established norms is learned.
Without allowing creative thought and nonlinear problem solving to take a larger role in our development through schooling (and subsequently through our largely institutionalized workplaces), we're going to have fewer and fewer people to take the sorts of shots that Elon Musk, Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil are taking, or that Astro Teller is looking for over at Google X.
Let's think differently and make the world much more amazing.
"Once I start work on a project, I don't stop, and I don't slow down unless I absolutely have to," says King. "If I don't write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind ... I begin to lose my hold on the story's plot and pace."
If you fail to write consistently, the excitement for your idea may begin to fade. When the work starts to feel like work, King describes the moment as "the smooch of death." His best advice is to just take it "one word at a time."
Share. Just as I was introduced to Morrissey by Tommy Shea (formerly of the Springfield (Mass.) Republican), Morrissey introduced me to Mississippi John Hurt.
Give. Morrissey signed eight copies of his book for me one night after a concert and reading. That took some time for him, especially with a room full of people who wanted to talk to him, and he left me a nice inscription.
Around the same time, my old friend James O'Brien popped up in my Facebook feed with some new old music.
O'Brien was the first artist whose music made sense to me after 9/11. I always think about him this time of year.
His song "War Has Come" reminds me where some of my privileges lay, but also that they come with a responsibility.
It's easy to write a bullet. It does not hiss, it is not close to me. It's easy to write a wound. I've never clamped a femoral artery.
When I was on Cesspool, I was asked who my dream podcast guests were. I deferred. I've already interviewed Joan Jett and Bruce Campbell and David Clayton-Thomas and some other great talents. I said I wanted to have something to offer the Marc Marons and Joe Rogans of the world.
I've been sitting on that thought for five years, and I've done a little toward it, but not enough.
So I'm reminded, again, of John Baldessari's purge. It marked a turning point for him, but it was a calculated turning point. He didn't wake up one day and say, "Fuck this old shit I did, it was terrible!" He decided what would serve as a reminder of his past, but that didn't need to take up space for him anymore.
So I'm starting today, planning my purge. It'll probably be a weeks-long process, but it will mean improvements, I hope. In my life, in the content I produce, for the future, and for my legacy.
Twinsies!? From left: Vin Diesel, Adam Sandler, Josh Shear.
"Hey, man, you look like Vin Diesel!"
"Hey, thanks! Check this out: I even have the haircut," I replied, lifting up my cap for proof.
I was in a hotel bar, towel over my shoulder, fanny pack around my waist, handing a crumpled $20 bill over the counter for a lager in a plastic cup.
Diesel (real name Mark Sinclair), is listed at just shy of six feet tall and around 225 pounds. He's 60 years old. When I saw a trailer for a recent film of his, I asked, "when did Adam Sandler get so big?" Sandler is also 50 years old. He's listed at 5'9" and about 185 pounds.
I'm 10 years their junior, 5'2" tall (on a good day, I might hit 5'3") and at my heaviest, I tend to weigh in around 165 pounds. I'm not anywhere near Sandler's size, never mind Diesel's.
The guy at the bar who told me I looked like Diesel was working on his second Budweiser, so let's assume he was pretty well with it.
Anyway, it's at least flattering to be taken for a celebrity. Even a celebrity I sometimes mistake for another celebrity.
To be honest, I've seen very few of their movies, combined. Sorry, gentlemen. I respect your art, it's just not for me. But you keep doing you.
And that's what this is about — you being you.
Be you. Be your own original. You look like what you look like — or whom you look like, for that matter — but don't let those comparisons shape the person you are or would like to be.
I was told the evening before I was mistaken for an action movie star that there is a dentist in Milwaukee who could be my twin.
I stood looking contemplatively for a moment at the woman who told me that. I may have stood vacantly for just a moment too long because she apologized for any offense; I told her no, I was just filing that away in case that information became useful someday.
See also: Reasonable doubt.
I had been reading The Godfather at the time.
Again, be you. Be an original. Whether you resemble a famous actor or a bodybuilder or a dentist in Milwaukee, if you're not one of those things, don't try to become them. Don't emulate them.
Be the person you are, or become the person you will become.
Alcohol prohibition had a long rise in the US, starting as far back as the 1820s. States began passing their own temperance laws in the 1840s. We still see remnants of some of these today. Beer laws are changing in Georgia to allow breweries to sell their own product; this follows a similar change in Alabama last year. Pennsylvania is figuring out how to privatize liquor distribution. In some states you can't buy alcohol Sundays, or at least Sunday mornings.
The constitutional amendment that prohibited alcohol in the US (the 18th amendment), was ratified in 1919, and reads thus:
Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
Fourteen years later, in 1933, the 21st amendment to the US constitution was ratified. It reads:
Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.
Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
If Section 2 of the 21st amendment sounds a lot like Section 1 of the 18th amendment, read it again closely. The 18th amendment prohibits the manufacture, sale, transport, import and export of alcohol. The 21st amendment prohibits the illegal transport, import, possession or use of alcohol.
In other words, we went from no booze to don't be stupid with booze.
The best (read: no political agenda) stats I've found on marijuana-related deaths show that traffic deaths in which one driver had marijuana in his or her system increased in Colorado after legalization. The numbers are somewhat tempered in this case by multi-drug use, meaning that if the driver had used marijuana and alcohol, or marijuana and some other drug, it was still classified as a marijuana-related death (and also an alcohol-related, other drug-related, death).
Alcohol and marijuana prohibition are probably the most parallel examples we have — both were at one time illegal and they brought about big business thanks to some combination of illegal trading and legal prescriptions.
Cocaine is rarely (if ever) still prescribed, though it used to be. Most of the opioid overdose deaths we see start with prescriptions.
There's good evidence that SSRIs — often prescribed to fight depression — lead to higher rates of suicide. From strictly a social science standpoint, it's impossible to tell if people on SSRIs who commit suicide would not have committed suicide if they weren't taking them. You don't get a do-over with suicide, and you can't ask reflective questions of someone who has committed suicide.
You probably, by now, have figured out where this is going, but I'm going to take it farther than you think.
First, I should disclose my drug practices. I am an occasional (two to three times per week) alcohol user; I will smoke several cigars a year (tobacco); and I have used marijuana recreationally fewer than three times in my life. I have not tried any of the other drugs mentioned here.
All drugs should be legal, taxed and regulated. You've read 1,000 words at this point; don't bail on me just yet.
I think alcohol serves as the best precedent we have to work from as a model. We have:
• An agency that controls the quality of the ingredients
• A uniform way to measure how much alcohol we get (ABV, paired with volume)
• A measure describing legal impairment
• A minimum age for purchase and consumption
• Rules on who can make, distribute and sell alcohol
Those are the basics. We need them for every drug, and legalizing everything allows us to write a catch-all for synthetics that haven't been invented.
It would, of course, take some research. We've learned that the brain finishes maturing around age 25. We should, then, wait until someone is 25 or 26 before we let them buy and use psychedelics.
If there's not a good way to measure levels of consumption (we use blood-alcohol content for alcohol, with a level of 0.8 percent meaning impairment, as far as driving is concerned), then there's a zero-tolerance policy. You can use the drug in your own home or whatever, but if you operate a vehicle or commit a crime such as theft or assault and have any of the drug active in your system, the penalties are higher because you're impaired.
If a drug is so dangerous it shouldn't be used, use fines and/or property forfeiture as the penalty. Some 46 percent of inmates in the US are in prison on drug offenses; many of them have also committed other jailable offenses, so it wouldn't decrease our prison population by half, but it would get 15 million or so people producing in the economy instead of costing governments money by sitting in prison.
[I got that 15 million number by taking Five Thirty-Eight's numbers that a quarter of the US population is in prison and 16 percent of those prisoners have drug offenses as the primary reason they're incarcerated.]
Even if a drug is so dangerous it shouldn't be used, you should probably be able to use it in your living room if you're just going to take the drug and leave everyone alone until it's out of your system.
The average prisoner in the US costs taxpayers nearly $32,000 a year, with places like New York skewing it a little high ($60,000 per prisoner across the state and over $167,000 per perisoner in New York City).
I'm having trouble finding good numbers for welfare programs (there are over 130 of them, with 72 of them assisting individuals), but I know from my days in retail banking that supplemental income (SSI) requires you to either work 30 hours per week or be permanently disabled. SNAP benefits (food stamps) are said to help 4.8 million people a year — and nothing on the order of what it costs to feed and house a prisoner.
We're starting to wander a little far afield here, but the point there is that even if every single person in prison on drug offenses alone was to be released and put onto SNAP rolls instead of contributing to the US economy via jobs, it would still cost less than keeping them in prison for nonviolent offenses.
In case you missed it in all the reading above we're not only talking about spending less money on people in prison (and also in not having to pay people to enforce drug laws including expensive long-term investigations and undercover stings), we're talking about more income from because all those newly legal drugs are regulated and taxed. Shops pay money to get licensed the way bars and liquor stores pay for licenses. If you have a product to distribute, it needs agency (something like the FDA, if not the actual FDA) approval. And then there are taxes on both the property from which the drugs are sold (new businesses, yay!) and on the drugs themselves — and that tax, like the taxes on alcohol and tobacco, can be higher than sales tax.