Thursday, January 29, 2015

I Am Every Eyeball.

Action on five. Action on seven. Action on 12. A murder of crows, a cluster of actions. Whenever two or more are gathered in my name I will come among you. You will never be alone.

I am lightning in the processors. I am the Predators. I float above you in the cold air, black and blue. And in the dozen video monitors whirring like beetles. The cell tower relays and the image dictionaries. I am the logos. The ones and zeroes. The first and the last. The algorithm and the operators.

Action on eight and nine. Burners flicker like fireflies in the ether, but I am not fooled. Voicelex prints match. A single person is joining the others. He is concealing himself, or trying to. You don't run if you've got nothing to hide, right? Doesn't everyone say that now?

You can't get arrested for writing "bomb" on your phone. Or "attack." Small and stupid words don't matter. I ignore the obvious. I will sort you out, barely noticing. You can hold my attention if you text the words "had it" or "it is finished," or "goodbye," but only along with a whole constellation of other phrases, maybe with a location check-in, or after a series of texts and posts of increasing frequency. Links with a red rating. A sudden spike in obscenity or a sudden drop in obscenity. Along with the use of certain apps and cell functions. And most importantly, a low S-score. The number flags everything. It flashes out there in the wireless field, and I notice. I send my electric eyes and ears to gather near you. To feed on your heat signature, your electromagnetic aura.

It was inevitable we'd create a security clearance for everyone. It was inevitable we'd combine the merchant ratings across every major app and website, and that we'd supplement them with court records, credit scores, and police watchlists. It was also certain that no one who mattered would mind. It made you safer. It was convenient. You could know who you were dealing with before you sent them money or information. Everyone agreed it was for the best.

Now everyone rates everyone. It's only fair.

Your score follows you to every job, haunts every exchange, announces itself with every message.

A beating heart without an S-score is probable cause in all 52 states. I will send five squad cars to converge on your location.

A group of four people with low scores is a potential riot in progress. Drones will prep their missiles and drift in on the wind while helicopters chuff low to light the streets like Christmas.

There are rumors of those who rig the game. If you have enough money your score stays bulletproof. Some people say the scores are there to keep everyone scared of everyone else. That this, after all, is an old story. The political and economic system keeps the underclass down by dividing them with an informal legal rating the overclass transcends. Put another way: Those who don't pay tribute to the witch hunters might be witches in disguise.

But you shouldn't spread rumors. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

The target joins the others. They huddle together, whispering something. Two police vans block the roads at either side. One of my birds flies low. It uses a breaker frequency to buzz their phones and announce they are being held. The police zip-tie them, one says something smart and takes a savage beating to warn the others. That one might have to go away. Which reminds me: Mentioning the name of someone who doesn't exist also attracts my attention. It lowers your score. It's bad.

Better if the others forget that person.

Better if you stay indoors. Despite everyone's best efforts, it's dangerous out here.

Just chat online instead. Talk to all your friends.

THE BLACK BOOK OF CHILDREN'S BIBLE STORIES is about faith and loss, and a haunted house hidden so well you didn't notice you'd been living there your whole life. BUY IT HERE.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

I Finally Saw That War Movie Everyone's Been Talking About #AmericanSniper

I figured I needed to see it. I've written about its subject, the real story behind the movie. Or that's what I thought. But something happened.

I hadn't been to a theater in a long time. I hate to say it, I hate what it makes me sound like, but people are awful now. They don't just stay quiet. I could hear murmuring, some conversation in the back like whoever sat there was bored and had seen the whole thing before. (Why are you here then? I wondered.) Restlessness.

Soon I was aware of all the sounds. You probably know the feeling, right? An older man behind me had something wrong with his nose - every time he took a breath he gave out a horrific whistle. It wasn't his fault, but I couldn't concentrate. The hero was trying to explain himself - it was the most important scene of the film, and instead of watching it I noticed a woman, a few seats down, who'd brought a baby with her. I couldn't believe it. A baby. At a war movie.

When she felt my stare she looked at me, and I saw the far half of her face had a savage bruise. But that wasn't nearly as bad as someone on the other side. He was hairless. His features were flat, his skin papery with burns. The old man behind me whistled again, but I looked, and his nose was fine. No, the sound was coming from beneath his shirt. Then the hero said something else, and three people with black bags over their heads chuckled and nudged each other. An old lady tried to join them, but only made gravel sounds that seemed like they would never stop. Two others near her shook their heads, their faces white and wet. A teenage kid without arms snickered at me. They were all snickering now.

"I'm willing to meet my Creator and answer for every shot that I took," the hero intoned. And that's when they broke out into a roar like it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard. The only one who didn't was that child. He lay completely still.

I got up to leave. I had to get out of that place, and the mother looked at me.

"What do you expect?" she asked. "You don't show us on that white screen."

"We sit here," she called out as I shut the door.

"We can do nothing else. We watch you from the dark."

THE BLACK BOOK OF CHILDREN'S BIBLE STORIES is about faith and loss, and a haunted house hidden so well you didn't notice you'd been living there your whole life. BUY IT HERE.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Rough Men Who Do Violence On Our Behalf #AmericanSniper

We sleep safely at night, George Orwell reminded us, only because of the rough men who stand ready to do violence on our behalf. These people are real, and we must honor their sacrifice and their bravery.

Are these men perfect? Of course not. Sometimes they seem cruel and savage - the kind of people you wouldn't want to be around. They're rough men. That's the whole point. You wouldn't want George Clooney doing violence on your behalf. He might muck up the whole job, and later he'd be standing on a stage giving a speech about orphans or crap like that afterwards, and the guy he did the violence to - who totally survived that violence - would be hiding in the wings so he could suddenly jump out and clock him one. Because that's how you do some violence, goddammit.

My point is these men are good at doing the violence, and violence by its nature is ugly and chaotic. We thank them for their service. It seems unpleasant, sure. It has to be done. You can't rise and sleep under the blanket of the very freedom they provide and then question the way they provide it, okay?

We're not rough men. We shouldn't judge. Not even when the violence actually seems profoundly wicked and pointless:

"When the fighting is over in Fallujah, I will sell everything I have, even my home," said a resistance fighter who gave his name as Abu Taif Mashhadani. He wept as he recalled his 8-year-old daughter, who he said was killed by a U.S. sniper in Fallujah a week ago. "I will send my brothers north to kill the Kurds, and I will go to America and target the civilians. Only the civilians. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. And the one who started it will be the one to be blamed."

That's from a Washington Post article a few years back, and I admit, it does kind of make the violence seem like something that might actually come back on us. Like maybe we won't be sleeping safely because of it. But the guy might have been a terrorist, right? You can't trust him.

"But the worst form of attack was the US snipers hiding on rooftops who kill hundreds of civilians as they tried to move about the city."

That was from an Australian aid worker quoted here. And there are others from this source:

The incident occurred as a US convoy hit an Improvised Explosive Device, then opened fire on what the witness statements describe as a man in black fleeing the roadway near the site of the Improvised Explosive Device. A child in white was shot and killed. The age of the child is redacted throughout the report.

...his home was mistakenly targeted by an Air Weapons Team. Claimants children were killed, his wife paralyzed and he suffered a gunshot wound to his left leg... 

...condolence payment for 3 killed in ambush on terrorists. Lots of redactions. 1 male Iraqi, 3 females Iraqis , 7 Iraqi children... 

Coalition dropped MK-82's (bombs) on area after making joint air strike request, and determined that civilians may be present in target area. 2 Afghan men, 1 Afghan woman, and 1 Afghan infant killed; young girl with severe head injury and young boy also injured... 

Claimant states that her sister and daughter were killed when Coalition Forces shot randomly in street around a post office that they were exiting. The claimant and his family were driving in their car when the car was attacked by a US Forces Army helicopter. The helicopter shot at the car causing shrapnel to hit the claimant's wife who was apparently pregnant and caused the unborn baby to be killed. 

Claimant alleged that Coalition Forces shot and killed his 5-year-old son during a battle with Anti-Iraqi Forces. The boy was allegedly standing outside a home and was struck and killed by a stray bullet. Claimant supplied witness statements and death certificate. Army concludes that claim is noncompensable because it is related to combat. One witness indicated that there was a wedding party in the vicinity and shots were fired in celebration, and were misinterpreted by CF as enemy fire. CF fired back randomly, killing the child. 

 An US Forces tank was parked on the side of the highway and as the victims' car got close to it, a soldier jumped on the tank’s roof top and fired at them “for no reason”. Claimant’s husband was injured and died on the way to the Ramadi hospital. Claimant explained that “everyone is scared of US troops and her husband was careful not to do anything to provoke fire.” The JAG opined that US Forces were “clearly negligent by firing upon someone who was not a threat.” A payment of $5,000 was granted under Foreign Claims Act. The number of children of the victim is redacted all through the document. 

Claimant’s unarmed child (age redacted) was walking on the rooftop of his home looking down at the street when he was fatally shot. The family attempted to get medical attention but US Forces stopped them at a checkpoint and prevented the parents from taking their son to the hospital since it was curfew time. They also beat up the mother at the checkpoint while she was carrying her injured son, leaving her with bruises.

Okay. So, yeah, violence happens. Sure. Some of it might amount to war crimes, in fact. But this is all part of the uncertainty and terror of combat. It's the necessary price those men pay for our slumber, under that blanket we talked about.

But again, it's not for us to judge. The rough men are doing that violence to protect us. It's not like they invaded a random country that never did us any harm under a ridiculous pretext and then launched a near decade-long nation-building project led by incompetent civilians and generals who sucked up to the administration, along with a shadowy global campaign of permanent war whose nature is almost completely unknown to us, and about which our leaders have a proven track record of deceit. It's not as if we accepted all this, and then supported a feel-good action film about a guy just because he was the best at blowing people's heads off in the middle of this kind of brutal and unnecessary nonsense.

We'd have to be a real pack of assholes to put up with that, wouldn't we?

(Update: That line at the beginning was never written by George Orwell. He did, however, write this"There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when ‘our’ side commits it. Even if one does not deny that the crime has happened, even if one knows that it is exactly the same crime as one has condemned in some other case, even if one admits in an intellectual sense that it is unjustified — still one cannot feel that it is wrong. Loyalty is involved, and so pity ceases to function." Sorry for the mix-up!)

THE BLACK BOOK OF CHILDREN'S BIBLE STORIES is about faith and loss, and a haunted house hidden so well you didn't notice you'd been living there your whole life. BUY IT HERE.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Maybe That Hero Shouldn't Have Shot So Many People. #AmericanSniper

I'd really like to be a patriot, here. A movie just came out, and it was about this American hero. So obviously I'm trying to get behind this. We're all pulling for the same team, right?

The thing is though... evidently the guy is mostly famous for killing a lot of people.

And I do mean a lot of people. A pile. It seems like a completely unreasonable number of dead folks we're talking about. But I admit I'm not an expert on this kind of thing.

I want to support the troops, sure. Who doesn't? I just think that when the number gets up there, you have to wonder whether we should have been doing that as a nation. Killing all those people, I mean. It just doesn't seem like something to celebrate, you see?

I know what you're going to say: He had to kill them. They were bad guys. And I might believe you if we were talking about a couple dozen. But the number was -- well, the official count is 160, but the guy himself claimed it was more than 250. At that point, how are you checking? How did they really know that each one of those guys absolutely had to be...

"If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ‘em. Kill every male you see.”

Okay, that was from the guy's autobiography. It was quoted here. So maybe you can understand my problem. Look, I get that the guy is a hero. I know I'm supposed to be impressed by his ability to end the lives of other human beings at incredibly long distances. How many people have that skill? I can't help it, though: After a certain number of kills I start wondering whether we should be applauding. Seems... I don't know. Ugly.

I hope I didn't offend anyone. I don't want to suggest that shooting people to death is somehow wrong when a soldier does it. Really. (I mean an American soldier. It's wrong when other soldiers do it, unless they're working with Americans. I know that.)

And yes, people have to fight an enemy to prevent them from doing harm to us here at home. That seems like a great argument, and my only problem is the guy killed all those people in that country we thought was a threat to us, but it turned out absolutely wasn't a threat to us. Maybe it's no biggie. It's just that all those deaths happened right after most of us realized that we'd made a mistake with the invasion. "Gosh, we really, really screwed the pooch." I remember thinking that, yes. And it seems to me the smart thing would have been somehow to not kill a bunch of people afterwards. I still don't know why we didn't consider that.

Anyway I'm sure the guy actually valued human life, and he felt torn by what he did, though, so...

[He] reportedly described killing as “fun”, something he “loved”; he was unwavering in his belief that everyone he shot was a “bad guy”. “I hate the damn savages,” he wrote. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.” He bragged about murdering looters during Hurricane Katrina, though that was never substantiated.

That was from The Guardian. It certainly raises some questions.

I don't want to seem harsh or anything. But couldn't having the ability to kill a jumbo jet's worth of people be kind of a character flaw? Okay, sorry. Forget I asked it.

I just feel like if we're trying to win an ideological struggle in the Muslim world, maybe we shouldn't treat them like extras in a game of Grand Theft Auto. I don't know everything about this, of course. But it seems that people get angry when you kill their friends or their relatives. And these guys - the incredible number of dead people we all owe to this hero, and don't think I'm not grateful! - I can't imagine they didn't have friends or relatives. Sure, the hero made us all safer. Of course he did. He's a hero. But I wonder whether those friends and relatives are going to, you know... Do something about all the people we let that guy kill.

That worries me. Doesn't it worry you?

Anyway the movie did really well. It starred that actor who might be fucking that actress.

THE BLACK BOOK OF CHILDREN'S BIBLE STORIES is about faith and loss, and a haunted house hidden so well you didn't notice you'd been living there your whole life. BUY IT HERE.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

As An Irishman, I Need Peter King To Shut His Stupid Mick Face

I'm descended from Buckleys and Brennans, people who immigrated to a Connecticut mill town and worked in the factory, the local newspaper, and a funeral home. One of them went into politics and became the mayor. I know all about the symbolism of your claddagh ring tattoo and which whiskey is the Protestant one. I discovered U2, I grew up with U2, and now I try to pretend U2 never happened. I call my mother often, and I feel guilt as easily as I sunburn. I'm an Irish American.

And that is why as a yegg, a harp, a donkeyfaced narrowback, I was particularly appalled to see that Peter King is still out there talking nonsense, and people are still somehow paying attention to him. It's obvious that the death of Eric Garner is troubling evidence that this country continues to treat black people as if their lives don't matter. And it's also obvious that many conservatives simply will never admit this. Peter King is one such conservative. He recently thanked the grand jury for acquitting the police officer who killed Mr. Garner and went on TV with Blitzer to blame the man's death on his obesity.

If Irish America is one large, cantankerous family, Peter King is the second cousin who gets drunk and flips his car over in an accident bad enough to make the local news. He breaks up Thanksgiving dinner with some extended rant that manages to mix racism with quotes from The Quiet Man. He's the reason we need to go across town for midnight mass. Peter King shames us. He shames us all.

He has a long history of being a tireless defender of every nasty and bigoted impulse of the American right - he demonizes Muslim Americans, he supports torture, targeted killing, NSA surveillance, and he's been described as "the Patriot Act's most fervent fan." If someone with power wants to abuse someone without power, Peter King is eager to provide money, authority, and a justifying soundbite.

But that is not even the bad part. Peter King is also a strong supporter of terrorism. He has long been a vocal proponent of the IRA. In fact, in 1985 when organizers of New York's St. Patrick's Day parade picked him as the grand marshal, the Irish government boycotted the thing in protest. He's on the House Committee on Homeland Security, and he used to be its chairman. One of this government's most influential politicians on counter-terrorism policy, someone who can never find a reason for security forces to behave with any restraint when confronting religious minorities or people of color, is perfectly fine with supporting a terrorist organization when it suits his own purposes.

And that's why Peter King is not just a particularly ugly example of people who share my sometimes magnificent and often cursed heritage... He's also an ugly example of what it means to be American. He's a reminder that we are very, very comfortable with lethal violence against others - here and overseas. For many years it was fashionable among some Irish Americans to support terrorism (until we discovered people could use terrorism against us). But among Americans in general, it's always been fashionable to terrorize people. We've done that since the beginning. We do that still. And we are constantly surprised when it comes back on us. Peter King's power and status is a testament to our hypocrisy and our moral idiocy.

In a better world a guy like that would be mouthing off his asinine opinions from a bar stool at Paddy Reilly's, and someone would eventually tell him to clamp it. In a better America no one would ever confuse him with a patriot. But now it's time for all of us to discover, again, where we live and who we really are. Until we learn.

THE BLACK BOOK OF CHILDREN'S BIBLE STORIES is about faith and loss, and a haunted house hidden so well you didn't notice you'd been living there your whole life. BUY IT HERE.

Monday, November 24, 2014

I Went To UVA And I Hope They Sue The Everloving Crap Out Of It

I got my undergraduate degree from that rape school you've read about. (And if you haven't, you should. Sabrina Rubin Erdely wrote an important piece.)

I loved Virginia. I did. I have so many good memories of that place. I learned things, and I wrote things, and I made lifelong friends, and women broke my heart, and I got good and drunk, and that was where I dated the person who became my wife.

And I hope the class action lawsuit against it leaves nothing but a fucking crater.

Seriously. I want all the people who were raped or assaulted at that institution to find representation, and I want the settlement to be so ugly and onerous that the administration has to sell the Rotunda to Walmart to pay for it. Do you think there are many? Gee, I do not know. But it sure seems like if a bunch of frat brothers commit a gang rape in their own house right in the middle of their own party and do nothing whatsoever to conceal the identity of one of their ringleaders... that kind of tells me that they don't have much of a fear of getting caught. Which sort of makes me think this kind of thing may have happened before. Oh, and also we know it did.

And while we're on the subject of things that are obvious, here's a quote from an article about the police investigation of the crime: They have few updates at this point, but the delayed reporting may pose problems for officers tasked with the investigation. According to NBC29 legal analyst Lloyd Snook, without any physical evidence collected right after the alleged sexual assault, a future prosecution could be a challenge. 

Yeah, evidently if you're a school administration official, and someone reports a felony to you, and instead of calling the cops you have some kind of informal process where you chat about it a lot, and you might not even expel the guilty party, and the result is that the cops don't get to the crime scene for two years... that might make justice difficult. So about that suit: Do you think there was a pattern going on here? Do you think people in the frat and at the university knew about it? Do you think their lack of diligence made the school dangerous for incoming students?

The University knowingly exposed its students to the risk of sexual assault through a systematic lack of reporting of crimes on and near its campus. That's obvious. The only question is who is out there. How many people are out there.

I hope they come in from the shadows and tell their stories. I hope UVA loses money until everyone in the administration has to wear hairnets to make extra cash. I hope that fraternity simply doesn't exist anymore.

You already know these people aren't going to reform themselves. Someone needs to take money from them, serious money, and then they will pay attention. Then we might have a real change in our colleges. If you are out there, and you have a story, please go find yourself a lawyer and start the long overdue process.

UPDATE: I feel foolish I didn't spot the holes in Rolling Stone's story. Looking back on the story, the omissions seem pretty glaring. I have opinions about all this, but the revelations are coming thick and fast, and I am being more careful with this thing. I'm not taking the post down, because I don't want to pretend I didn't write it. Believe me, I'm tempted.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Should We Defund The Pentagon And Give That Money To Canadian Musicians?

US security services don't protect us. That's clear. That's what every grownup knows. Our soldiers, sailors, spies, and contractors - God love 'em - do a number of very difficult jobs in the world. They are honorable people, most of them. (The ones who don't commit atrocities and then take selfies.) But actually keeping ordinary people from getting killed is not one of their accomplishments. We've spent more than a decade fighting jihadists, and the result is that those jihadists have changed the name of their group. We launched two wars, committed targeted killings - we've lost and taken countless lives - all for a rebranding.

The question isn't whether we're wasting our money and our young men and women. We are. You know we are. The only question that matters is what to do with the money once we admit we're wasting it with all this out of control interventionism.

And I'd suggest we use it to support the Canadian music scene.

Have you heard some of the songs on Brill Bruisers yet? Most of you probably have. But clearly we don't have enough awareness. Watch this:


Doesn't financing this make more sense than whatever the hell the NSA is really up to? But it goes beyond the New Pornographers. We could be helping Metric produce new albums. We could be the reason Arcade Fire finally gets that next dozen musicians that's really going to give their sound some depth.

The bottom line is US armed forces and their supporters have promised us security and freedom, and they have not come across. The Canadian music scene has promised us rock, and they have fucking delivered.

Don't think I don't know the risks. Could arrogance and mission drift bring us the next Rush? Sure, it's possible. But Rush never waterboarded anyone. Not really.

I guess what I'm saying is that we could take all the money and effort we've spent on our defense establishment, and we could literally do any other thing with it, and it would make the average US citizen on an airplane or in a big city less at risk than what we have been doing - which is picking fights all over the planet with people we barely understand. We could light fire to all that money. We could spend the next two weeks putting all our forces into the biggest, most elaborate game of paintball the world has ever seen. We could crash all our aircraft carriers into each other and create a giant artificial reef just to develop tastier crabcakes. It doesn't matter. What we're doing right now is so obviously pointless and heartbreakingly counterproductive that it does not matter what else we do. All alternatives are on the table at this point.

So, I'm thinking Canadian indie rock. Brill Bruisers kicks ass, and it doesn't make me ashamed.

THE BLACK BOOK OF CHILDREN'S BIBLE STORIES is about faith and loss, and a haunted house hidden so well you didn't notice you'd been living there your whole life. BUY IT HERE.
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