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.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Night Of The Libertarian Werewolves

I really can't stay… 
Baby, it's cold outside. 
I've got to go away… 
Baby, it's cold outside. 

Dean Martin was crooning through the minivan's speakers, and it made it hard to hear what was outside. But Rat Pack Christmas was the only thing that calmed Douglas down. Donald was sitting next to him in his car seat, wailing and screaming for me.

"Help me, daddy," he said. "Help me!" But Donald was the baby, and he was more dramatic. He laughed and cried easily. Nothing seemed to really get to him. I never worried as much about Donald. Douglas, almost four then, was serious and quiet and thoughtful. The whole world seemed too much for him sometimes. Anything could break his heart. He was absolutely silent and wide-eyed in the back, and he understood enough to know he should be scared.

"Are you okay honey?" I asked, looking at him in the mirror between glances at the row of white front yards and black-windowed houses. He nodded and didn't mean it. I went back to my business, searching in the sweep of the headlights as the van turned. I held tight to the wheel, and we skidded on the ice. The trucks hadn't sanded the back roads and subdivisions out here in the county, and the snow had been falling heavily since early that morning. As the van slipped I heard the hiss of glass chips sliding across the back seat. The rear window was completely smashed. Through it, a draft of wind slipped in and made the minivan's cabin numbing in spite of the heater. I had enough time to grab blankets to wrap Donald and Douglas. But I didn't have time to dress. I was in my boxers, a T-shirt, and shoes without socks. I'd gotten gloves, but discarded them. They made it hard to work the Mossberg, thumping around down on the floor of the passenger's side.

I kept one foot touching it to know its location in case I had to get it quickly. But on the passenger's seat was the revolver, and that seemed a quicker reach.

This evening has been… 
So very nice. 
I'll hold your hands; they're just like ice. 

My nose was still bleeding. Every time I snorted I could taste rust. When I coughed or breathed too deeply, a rib let me know it might be cracked. Bruises covered my body. And none of that was as bad as the nub of the hunting arrow sticking out from my shoulder. I'd broken off as much of the shaft as I could. The head had hooks though, and I wouldn't be able to get them without pliers and time. I had neither - not then. So I hunched to keep that part of my back from touching the seat, but now and again I would brush it and the shiver of pain was exquisite. I discovered so many things, things I never suspected, but I never found out quite who the fuck shot me with the arrow.

"Daddy, help."
"I can't help you now, Donald," I said as evenly as I could. "But I bet we can sing a song together…"

The kid shook his head and his face crinkled up. I sang along with the radio to get him interested, even though I could tell it wouldn't work.

I wish I knew how… To break this spell. 

"I'll take your hat; your hair looks swell," Dean and I answered.

"No sing!" Donald said, "No, no, no!"
"Donald, please. We'll drive out of here, and then I promise you…"
"No!"
"Donald, why don't we…"
"NO SING!"
"Donald!" I shouted, but I never finished. Because then something bumped up against the window right next to his tiny head, and I saw it in the mirror. I didn't see it long, but it had eyes and teeth and it looked right at my son, and then it was gone. Startled by the sound, Donald stopped crying. And then he broke out laughing and laughing like it was one of our games, and I'd just surprised him.

Douglas didn't even change expression. Just stiffened a little, and soon I smelled he'd pissed himself. But I wasn't looking directly at them. I turned around in my seat, straining to see it, but the thing was somewhere beside the vehicle, just out of sight, and moving toward the open window in back. I hit the accelerator and the van jerked forward. I made it to the end of the street and spun around, almost toppling the vehicle. Whatever was out there could outrun us. I knew that. There was only one thing to do. I clicked on the high beams and sped back, aiming for a trash bin and a clump of cardboard boxes with a shadow behind them. I barreled into that mess, taking most of my neighbor's trash halfway down the block. For a second I thought I missed it, but then there was a thump from the grill and right tire, and it felt right. I pounded the brake and fishtailed to a stop. Then I backed up about fifteen feet and hit it again, trying to put my wheel right onto its head.

Silence and stillness. Nothing but the curtains of headlight and street lamp spotted with snow. The cell phone buzzed in the side pocket, jolting me. I picked it up with my left hand. I kept my feet on the brake and my right hand free to reach the gun. I was ready to see something terrible rise up, and I knew I'd have to shoot it without hesitating.

"Is everything okay?" Ellen wanted to know, "I called the landline." She'd been away for awhile, and she worried on nights like this.
"Oh yeah, honey," I said. "I had them in the bath."
"It's really late for that."
"I know, I know. They wanted to watch Airplane, Airplane. And then they wanted to watch it again, and I just, I just couldn't say no…" I chuckled unconvincingly.
"You sound strange."
"Just a lot of… stress. It's nothing."

She murmured sympathetically. It had been a strange day. But it was difficult to be a stay-at-home dad. It was always worth it, and I loved my family, and every day was an adventure of course. Still, some days were harder than others.

"Don't worry," Ellen told me. "You've got all the important stuff." It's something we reminded each other when we ran low on money or our work got hard. Because if your kids were okay, and you were in love with your wife, then you really couldn't worry about anything.

"I know you're right, honey," I told her. "Now, I gotta…"
"You have to put them to bed."
"Yes."
"Love you."
"You too." She hung up. I dropped the phone. Even Donald was quiet then. Whatever was down there in front of us hadn't moved. It was time to kill it if I could. I almost reached for the Mossberg, but changed my mind. The revolver. Because it had silver bullets…

The hidden full moon glowed softly from somewhere behind the clouds. The interior lamp chased it away as I popped open the door. The trash was everywhere - old plastic bags, an empty can of corn, unopened junk mail envelopes splotched with dark liquid. And beneath them, a torn sign:

Rand Paul 2016

I'd been seeing them all around now. Everywhere. It made a crazy kind of sense. The gatherings of college-aged white men in identical sport coats in hotel conference rooms. Arguing with each other. Spreading out over the country to give you pamphlets and tell you this theory to explain everything. And you knew they weren't actually going to put anyone in office. So what were they really up to? What else could it be?

"Daddy's got to do something, kids, and then we'll go have ice cream, okay?" Donald smiled weakly. Douglas nodded a little. I punched the emergency brake and stepped out to finish it off.

Note 1: More to come.

Note 2: 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. And it is FREE today. GET IT HERE.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My Bible-based Horror Story Is Free Today And Tomorrow

The dead you love are in a kind of Schrodinger's experiment spun out of control, the box closed forever and the ones inside neither really here nor ever gone.

 "She's watching over us."
"He's so proud."
"They'll always be with you. I can feel it. I can tell."

 Keep it shut long enough, and they'll follow you down every street. Keep it shut long enough, and they'll never be far away. This is what it means to live in two worlds. To pray. To hope for something better.

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.

It's free on Amazon today and tomorrow. Read what people are saying in the right column of this blog, and get yourself a copy here.
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