I Don’t Want To Be An Angel

I was smoking my pipe at the edge of a park that had been infested with Word of Life preachers, when young girl approached me. She was about sixteen, short and cute and lightly pimpled. Full of confidence, she smiled, looked me in the eye and asked, “Are you sure you’re going to heaven?”

I took a pull on my pipe – pipes are great for dramatic pauses – and said, “I sure hope not. All the good musicians are in hell. I like Handel’s Messiah and I’m sure the angels do a kick-ass version, but it would get tiresome after a few days. I want to hear Hendrix and Jerry Garcia and Stevie Ray Vaughn and Janis Joplin and Keith Moon and The Ramones, and I’m sure none of them are in heaven.”

She froze. She had never heard that answer, and probably never heard of any of those musicians. There was fifteen or twenty seconds of dead silence between us. She was uncomfortable. I was amused. Then she took a breath, regained her composure and launched into her well-rehearsed script.

Most religions promise a joyful afterlife as a disembodied spirit. Few believers really think about how unsatisfying that would be. Me, I never want to be an angel.

boredWe assume angels can hear and see, but they can’t bite into a freshly picked corn cob, roasted to perfection, slathered with real butter and topped off with a sprinkle of salt. They can’t savor a fine cigar, or sip some good whiskey, or gulp a cold beer. They’ll never again experience the exhilaration and exhaustion of hot, messy sex. Something as simple as the touch of a lover will be nothing more than a memory. They may be able to listen to music, but they’ll never stand on a stage in front of people who have paid to be entertained, banging on a cheap guitar and pouring their heart into a performance.

Eating junk food? Nope. Biting into a perfectly cooked steak? Never again. Experimenting in the kitchen, usually making something awesome but occasionally creating something horrible? They don’t get to do that.

They can’t take a long walk through a pleasant path, accompanied by a frisky dog. They can’t stand in a crowd watching fireworks and smile at the conversations around them. That street magician, who is wowing the crowd, doesn’t surprise or amaze them. A “Coming Soon” sign, announcing an interesting restaurant, won’t give them a pleasurable little ping of anticipation. There will be no guy with a purple Mohawk walking by.

They’ll never stand back and admire the house they just painted and say, “Damn, that looks good.” They won’t experience the heart palpations of narrowly avoiding a car accident with some skillful driving. They can’t calm down that angry customer, or close that difficult sale. The exhilaration of solving a difficult problem is foreign to them.

Whacking that ball and watching it sail into the sky. Changing a muddy tire without messing up your good clothes and still making it to the job interview on time. Working out a deal that satisfies everyone. Brownies, warm from the oven, washed down with a glass of cold milk. Mulling over a big mistake and figuring out what you did wrong, and not doing it again. Learning the secret to getting along with people you don’t like. Opening a package containing something really cool that you’ve been wanting for a long time. Finding a hidden treasure at a yard sale. Going into the attic and discovering something you like and forgot about. Sitting around a fire pit with friends and beers on a chilly night. Swimming in a brisk lake. Racing down the road with the wind in your face. None of it, ever again. Not for them.

No thanks.

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Class

The world loves David Bowie.

It seems like every fourth of fifth Facebook post in my feed is about him. Some folks might be tired of so many blasts of information, but they all make me appreciate him even more.

And through all of them, from when he was a teenager campaigning for the freedom for boys to wear long hair, to reports of his final days, one thing stands out.

Class.

David Bowie wasn’t a class act; he was class personified.

Even in his most bizarre persona, even at his most outrageous, he was classy. I’ve yet to see an instance of him putting someone down. He didn’t get angry in public, but annoyed in classy ways.

He lavished praise on artists he liked, while never speaking ill of those he didn’t. Try searching the phrase “David Bowie complains” or “David Bowie insults.” You won’t find anything.

He never took himself too seriously. When interviewers questioned him about his importance and influence, he always shrugged it off with a modest smile and said, “It’s only rock and roll.”

Rock and roll is not supposed to be classy. It is supposed to be outrageous and loud and nasty and crass. Much of Blondie’s appeal was Deborah Harry’s sluttyness. Zappa sang about enemas. Joan Jet is a genuine badass. I love ‘em all. In rock, crass is the rule. Class is the very rare exception.

His death was as classy as his life. He could have garnered a lot of attention with essays about life and advice to his fans and thanks to his friends. Instead he kept his illness a secret, and made an album and created a play that said goodbye. Very classy.

When I read of his death, my first thought was “the world is now a poorer place without him.” Then I realized we will never be without him. His music is still part of our lives, and will continue to be. New musicians will be inspired by him, directly and indirectly, for at least the next century or two. The world is currently filled with abundant tributes and praise for him, but that will fade in time. But it will never fade out completely. A few hundred years from now, when we have long been forgotten, people will still be listening to his music and reading about his life. And some of them will notice that he was always really, really classy.

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Congratulations, Officers

“You know the score, pal! {If} you’re not cop, you’re little people.”
– Bryant, in Blade Runner.

Congratulations, Officers. You’ve set a new record. In 2015 you killed 1202 people – slightly more than 100 per month.

When I checked the numbers at Killed By Police on December 28, you were at 1196. I was worried you wouldn’t make it to 1200. But you did. Good job! Two other reports came in since then, making it 1202. Thanks for giving us those nice little bonus killings.

And that’s not even counting all the prison suicides you’ve faked.

Any Little People who are not impressed should compare our officer’s performance to that of cops in other countries. In 2014, China reported their cops had killed a mere twelve people, and they have four times our population. A few of our killer cops should go over there and teach them how to do it right. Hell, let’s send them all over.

Officers of Vermont, you should be ashamed. You didn’t kill anyone. I know your state’s population consists entirely of aging hippies who sell maple syrup out of rusty pickup trucks before having a dinner of road-kill raccoon, but you should have put forth a little effort. Not a single one of us Little People were terminated by cops in The Green Mountain State. Come on, guys, get with the program.

Special congratulations go out to Lisa Mearkle. You chased down 59-year-old David Kassick and tazed him over and over as he lay face down in the snow. Then you fired two shots into his back, killing him on the spot. Your tazer camera showed very clear video of the event. No reasonable person, watching that video, would see anything other than a cruel, cold-blooded murder by a woman who was completely out of control. Yet, you convinced a jury to gift you with a not guilty verdict. Thank you for proving the system works as designed.

walterA finger wag of disappointment, though, for Officer Cairo Palacios, who shot Walter DeLeon in the head. Walter was approaching your car carrying an obviously deadly towel and water bottle, so you blew off half his head. That’s fine – standard protocol – but because of your poor marksmanship, Walter survived. 25% of his skull has been removed, he’s nearly blind, can’t walk, and is severely crippled for life, but now he’s out there saying bad things about the police. Shame on you for doing your job so poorly that he survived. You should be ashamed.

I know some officers are concerned about the increase in charges and indictments against them in 2015. Relax. It’s all theater for us Little People. Officer Mearkle proved you have nothing to worry about. You just keep doing your job, letting Little People know who’s boss, and The State will do their job of making sure you get away with it.

Know that no matter what you do, no matter how brutal and horrible and unjustifiable your crimes, you’ll always have millions of Little People singing your praises. (Anyone doubting this should check out the YouTube comments on the Mearkle video.) So don’t let up even a little. Keep us safe by killing us.

We love you.

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E-Cigs and Junk Science

Anti-smokers have spent decades vilifying smokers over second-hand smoke. They claim that the near-homeopathic levels of chemicals in SHS cause not just lung cancer and heart disease, but SIDS, strokes, ear infections, low birth-weight babies, cervical cancer, behavioral problems in children (including ADHD), miscarriages and difficulty conceiving, breast cancer, brain cancer and stroke, to name a few.

They’ve been wildly successful. The general population has swallowed their propaganda, believing that the merest whiff of passing tobacco smoke will shorten their life. Nicotine nannies have achieved their goal of turning smokers into hated pariahs, unwelcome in any venue or situation. Only a small percentage of the public is aware that every one of the nannies’ claims are based on the junkiest of junk science: studies that have been concocted at their behest. Few people have the expertise necessary to examine and discredit such studies. Fewer still are interested enough to take the time to dissect the multitude of studies nanny gangs churn out on a regular basis. So the general public assumes they’re true, swallows the lie that SHS is deadly, and treats smokers like rats carrying a plague.

Electronic cigarettes don’t emit any SHS. Tobacco doesn’t burn from the end of them, and users don’t exhale tobacco smoke. They exhale vapor which consists of a fine mist of water and a tiny bit of nicotine and flavoring. It dissipates in seconds.

If nannies were really interested in health, they’d be celebrating e-cigs as a way to mitigate the harm of tobacco smoking. Instead, they’re horrified, seeing decades of work vilifying smokers going up in smoke vapor. So they’re attacking e-cigs the same way they’ve attacked SHS – with studies that are garbage and claims that are outright lies.

I’ve spent considerable time debunking SHS, but not much on e-cigs. The junk science is easily recognizable, but it can take quite a bit of time to research and debunk (or confirm) any specific study, and I’d rather do other things.

This whole article is a long-winded intro to send you elsewhere. Lee Johnson has taken the time to research eighteen different, often cited e-cig studies. He carefully explains their findings, then rips them to shreds, sets them on fire, and stomps out the cinders. If you have any interest in the subject, or just want to see how junk science works, check it out.

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Incentivizing Outrage

One of the primary laws of human nature is that people respond to incentives. Changing incentives changes people’s behavior, often dramatically.

Ten years ago, if a college student suffered some mild offence, they’d learn that complaining about it would get them labeled a whiner. They had an incentive to shrug it off and move on.

If the same student suffered the same minor offense today, our new incentives reward an entirely different response. If they shrug it off, nothing happens. No one cheers for them or celebrates them or calls them brave. But if they get outraged, and make a huge hairy deal of it, they can be all over YouTube, become a meme, and get their fifteen minutes of fame with very little effort.

Even better, they can get people fired. They can destroy the lives of people they’re mad at. That’s some serious power. It must make them feel really righteous.

(Imagine if you had the power to get someone you disliked fired, simply by acting like a toddler. You might pass on the opportunity the first time, maybe the second, but sooner or later, the temptation, the incentive, might make it irresistible.)

When Timothy Wolf ran away, he reinforced powerful incentives for students everywhere. They’ve learned all they have to do, to get whatever they want, is skip a few meals or go on strike or hold a rally, and do it all very loudly.

This could have been an amazing teaching opportunity, a chance to experiment with different approaches to the problem. For instance, the students could have been encouraged to deal with racism and perceived racism head on, one-on-one, with the people who have offended them. The students who really were being offensive would learn to behave or get out. The ones who weren’t might even be able to help the easily offended wise up.

It might not have worked. Other approaches might be better. But whatever the approaches, and whatever their results, they would have been better than teaching students that the most rewarding way to deal with any offense is to have a full blown tantrum and crank it up to eleven.

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Timothy Wolfe – The Wimpiest Man In The World

The left loves destroying  the careers of anyone who dares to disagree with them. At first they destroyed people who actually said offensive things. From there they moved on to destroying people who said things that could be taken more than one way. And now they’ve destroyed the career of someone for not doing . . .something. His accusers never really said what they wanted him to do, but he didn’t do it, so they destroyed him. But in this case, a great deal of fault lies with the victim. He could have taken a stand, been bold, and taken the first step to reverse the tide of this kind of nonsense. Instead, he quit.

Timothy M. Wolfe was the president of The University of Missouri. He had been brought in to put their financial house in order, which is never a prescription for popularity.

This year, there were unproven allegations that two of the 35,000 students at the school heard slurs hurled in their direction, and recently someone used feces to smear a swastika on a wall. This, according to the PC crowd that infests the campus, was somehow Tim’s fault. Although a student believed responsible for one of these offenses was removed from the campus, that wasn’t good enough for the mob. They wanted to see Wolfe destroyed.

Jonathan Butler, a graduate student, went on a hunger strike, the adult equivalent of a toddler holding his breath until he turns blue. In his hyperbolic announcement he said, “During this hunger strike, I will not consume any food or nutritional sustenance at the expense of my health until either Tim Wolfe is removed from office or my internal organs fail and my life is lost.”

The football team had a big game coming up on Saturday. They announced they were on strike, knowing that a forfeited game would cost the school a one million dollar fine.

And so Mr. Wolfe bravely ran away. Turned and ran away, away. He gave into Buttler’s tantrum and the athlete’s threats, teaching all the students a valuable lesson: you can achieve unjust goals by acting like children.

What he should have done was hold a press conference and made the following speech:

I have come here to apologize for many things.  

I am very sorry that somewhere on this campus there is a vile creature who drew that swastika. We’re working on finding out who it is, and when we do, we will boot them from the school immediately. We may even use an actual boot. 

I am also very sorry to discover so many of our students are delicate snowflakes who freak out at every insult or offense, most of them imaginary. If you don’t like it here, please leave. We’ll even call Uber for you. Just get out. No one will miss you. 

Mr. Butler, I’m sorry that you think your tantrum will change my mind. By all means, starve yourself to death. Please send me the address of your funeral home, and I’ll send a bouquet. A very, very small bouquet of the cheapest flowers I can find at WalMart. Or, you can grow up. Your choice. 

And finally, I am extremely sorry that we’ve given athletic scholarships to football players who are idiots and pussies. I don’t expect athletes to be smart, but I do expect them to be tough.

There is a game on Saturday. Anyone with an athletic scholarship had better be there, suited up and ready to play. If you’re not, have your stuff packed and be off campus by midnight. If you’re still here on Sunday, you will be arrested for trespassing.

I’ve had enough of this crap from all of you. You’re supposed to be young adults, not petulant toddlers. If any part of reality is too unpleasant for you to handle, get your tender butt-hurt butts off my campus and make room for grown-ups who want an education.”

He would have won the respect and admiration of thinking people worldwide. He would have become part of history, remembered as the man who finally pushed back against our moronic tide of political correctness. His name would have become a verb; stomping down a PC foe would have been known as “going Tim Wolfe on him.”

Instead, he chose to be The Wimpiest Man In The World.

He won’t go down in history as the Wimpiest Man, because nobody goes down in history for being a wimp. History forgets wimps. Eventually, inevitably, some university president will stand up and push-back against this nonsense. Mr. Wolfe, however, will be forgotten, as he should be.

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Jury Duty

I’ve been tagged for jury duty, and several scenarios are playing out in my imagination.

My first reaction was “Maybe I’ll get a chance to practice Jury Nullification.” If it’s a case involving drug possession, prostitution, ticket scalping, doing something harmless without a license, etc., I’ll be able to keep the defendant out of jail.

It will be tricky, though. Prosecutors hate nullification, and routinely dismiss any juror who even hints they know about it. If I get past that, and get picked, playing it out during deliberations will be a balancing act. If I bring it up immediately, the foreman may call for an alternate before deliberations get going, so I’ll have to wait. If the jury is headed toward Not Guilty based on the evidence, I won’t need to even mention it. But if they’re heading towards a guilty verdict, can I change enough minds to get a unanimous Not Guilty? I can always hang the jury, but that means the defendant may have to go on trial again; an acquittal would be a much better outcome.

But what if the case involves a real crime? If someone is really guilty of murder, rape, robbery, assault, fraud, animal abuse – anything where there is an actual victim – I want to see them punished, but that brings in a whole different slew of doubts and problems.

My first problem is knowing that cops lie. A lot. They’re trained to lie during interrogations, and all that practice lets them lie on the stand, under oath, naturally and perfectly. There will be no way to tell if the cops testimony is factual, pure perjury, or some combination of the two. I’ll have to dismiss any police testimony. 

Physical evidence presents another problem. I’ve seen dozens of videos of cops clearly planting evidence, and read many articles by former cops detailing how it was done. In some precincts it’s a very common practice. So how can I tell if a piece of evidence is real, or was dropped on the scene by Officer Friendly?

If it is an honest piece of evidence, how do I know the lab processed it correctly? There have been many many cases of labs screwing things up, cross contaminating samples, analyzing samples incorrectly, and quite a few instances, intentionally lying about the evidence. How can I trust any laboratory findings?

But at least there’s eyewitness testimony, right? Nope. Test after test confirms that eyewitness testimony, especially of unusual events, is often very wrong.

Have you ever told a story about something that happened to you, something you remember in detail, and discovered that you got it all wrong? Me too. Every time you remember something, the tale changes a bit in your head. Your brain plays telephone with itself, and much of what you recall, very clearly, never really happened the way you remember it.

So eyewitness testimony has to be heavily discounted, and maybe even ignored.

The only way I can make a confident decision is if there’s a clear video of the event, something I can see for myself. But that’s pretty rare. Since everything else is suspect, how can I be sure enough of the facts to put someone in a cage? On the other hand, I don’t want to free a dangerous individual who belongs in jail. This is going to be a very difficult decision.

Life would be easier I were more unaware.

***

I was filling out the jury questionnaire, preparing to mail it, but wasn’t sure where the courthouse was. I called the number, and talked to the woman in charge of all the jurors.

She asked me for the date and my juror number. “Oh, you’re all set,” she said. “That case was settled,  so you don’t need to send that in. You won’t be called again for at least six years.” I asked her what the case was. “It was a civil suit. A slip and fall.”

Damn.

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