11/9

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Beer’s not gonna help but it can’t hurt.

My story from Noir at the Bar: Trump edition will be published at The Flash Fiction Offensive this week. It’s called “Life During Wartime” and is based on actual events reported in schools, amplified somewhat, now that the bully’s power is cemented. His VP believes in gay conversion therapy and put a woman in prison for a miscarriage, immigrants are already experiencing violence, citizens are attacked and vilified for being the “wrong” color or religion. The worst of our nature. I don’t think everyone who voted for Trump is a bigot who hates women, but that’s who will be running the country in 70 days.

 

Hope Through Stories. Freedom from Fear.

We can reenact the scene and argue what happened. Michael Brown was shot as he reached into the car, or he was 135 feet away. He grabbed the gun, or he had his hands up. Whichever you believe, the prosecutor’s choice not to request indictment of Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown, and to allow him to speak to the grand jury, and to show all evidence instead of those pointing to probable cause to indict, are all disturbing, if not infuriating. We have a court system to decide these things, and gaming it to get the result you want only confirms that the system only works for the powerful, affluent, and connected.

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A young man is dead, who didn’t have to be, for many reasons. He was “no angel” as the so-called liberal media decided to say in one of his obituaries, but neither was Officer Wilson–who was fired when the Jennings Missouri police department was *disbanded* for corruption and racial profiling, who had previous fired at an unarmed black woman and child who refused to pull over in a traffic stop–was hired again, and went on patrol alone, with no Taser, because “he did not feel comfortable” with one. When a white suburbanite sees a police officer, he sees safety, someone on his side. In neighborhoods like Ferguson, where arrests for misdemeanors and fines drive the local budget, you see the tax man with a gun coming to empty your pockets.

We’ve always been a violent country enamored of violent solutions, but in the last 20 years or so, the blinders feel like they’ve been belted on more tightly. He hit a cop; did he have to be shot, while fleeing? Does a car have to be chased until it kills a pedestrian? Crime rates are at a historical low, and fear is at a hysterical high. We are segregated, rich from poor, black from white, right from left, and have difficulty seeing why the other side is “crazy” because they don’t think the way we do. We’ve been carved into demographics and gerrymandered to death, to where there are more than “Two Americas” as one pol said, but more than we can count.

I don’t expect to solve our problems with a blog post. You don’t have to agree with me. My father was a cop, I’ve known good and bad. They have a tough job, even if it isn’t as dangerous as we like to think it is, thanks to television; it’s not even in the top 10 dangerous jobs. 100 officers died from work-related injury in 2013, out of 900,000 officers. So while it is a position I respect, when loggers and farmers die on the job more often than you do, the argument that you have to shoot unarmed suspects to be safe doesn’t hold a lot of water. Officers have batons, Tasers, pepper spray, at their disposal. More less-than-lethal tools than ever before. I want police and citizens to be safe. With all the money we dump into policing, you’d think we could protect our officers by having them patrol in pairs. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? And patrol on foot, hire more officers if need be. Know the people you’re protecting. Our town has a “Coffee with a Cop” session, where you can meet the officers, and they can meet you. There are neighborhood organizations, the police should have to go to them regularly, to know what the concerns are, and to be seen as a face, a person, not a threat.

Or maybe we can pass a law that every police chief has to watch THE WIRE, I dunno.

One thing we should all be able to agree on is that the kids affected by this deserve better. The schools in Ferguson are closed, but the library is open. Many kids are going there to read books and play. Joelle Charbonneau, author of The Testing Trilogy, has a page up to solicit donations of signed books from authors, called Hope Through Stories. You can start there. Ashley Cassandra Ford has a great idea too, she’s asking for cash donations to the Ferguson Public Library, which has a Paypal donation page. I sent them a few bucks, and a few books, too. Not a signed copy of my book, but three books by Octavia Butler, one of my favorite authors, who uses science fiction to depict the difficulty of different cultures living together. Something we can all benefit from reading.

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We’ll be seeing this image a lot in the coming months. Some will see it as affirmation that “those people” act like “they do,” forgetting that majority white cities have rioted over sports, pumpkins, or a coach who tolerated a child rapist in his midst getting fired recently. It’s easy to hate, they want us to hate. Angry and fearful, we are predictable and easy to control. Don’t let your fear rule you. You’re a whole different person when you’re scared, to quote Warren Zevon. And it’s not pretty. No, it ain’t that pretty at all.

But We’re the Greatest, Aren’t We?

Just read the following AP article which rightly points out that the U.S. healthcare system is “not prepared” for an Ebola outbreak, or a SARS outbreak, or really any outbreak in particular. But the news is of course riding the Ebola fear wagon, so the title is:

U.S. Health Care unprepared for Ebola

If you actually read the article, some of the concerns simply point out how terrible health care is for the average American:

The emergency care system is already overextended, without the extra stress of a new infectious disease. In its 2014 national report card, the American College of Emergency Physicians gives the country a D-plus grade in emergency care, asserting the system is in “near-crisis.”

Federal data shows patients spend an average of 4 1/2 hours in emergency rooms at U.S. hospitals before being admitted, and 2 percent of patients leave before being seen.

14 percent of isolation care doctors and nurses and one in four emergency and critical care staff said they’d call in sick if Ebola patients were admitted to their hospitals.

Since 2002, CDC has given states and territories more than $10 billion to help public health care systems ramp up when facing a disease outbreak. The program has been cut by 30 percent since fiscal year 2007, which led to thousands of layoffs by state and local health departments, according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

A recent survey of 2,500 members of the same association found that only one in three local health departments had participated in full-scale emergency preparedness drills.

The only person in America to die of Ebola and transmit it, Thomas Eric Duncan of Liberia, died after he went to the ER with fever symptoms, said he had traveled from Liberia, and was sent home with $40 worth of antibiotics, because he didn’t have health insurance. Our system of triage is broken, because it is two tiered. If you have insurance, you head into treatment. If you don’t, well, nice knowing you. We have to treat you, but don’t expect the same care the paying customer gets. I know people who’ve had to use charity care; a painful dental abscess that swells your face like a chipmunk who swallowed a grapefruit, an infection? Not life threatening, so go home with these pills. Painkillers cost extra. Painlessness is a privilege.

We’re the only so-called first world country that does this to its citizens. The Affordable Care Act was a compromise, when single payer was the inevitable way to save this. No, it is not perfect. You can find horror stories from Canada or the UK or anywhere; but their hospitals don’t kill 48,000 people a year with infections, or kill 98,000 through mistakes in care (a low estimate, some studies put it over 200,000). As someone who watched his grandmother die of post-operation infections, I am all for France’s system of moving you home for care where you can’t get or spread infections.

So while we’re all paranoid about a nurse in Maine who has no systems, whose blood tested negative for Ebola, and whether she should be jailed for not wanting to be homebound when she is safe unless she has a fever- and I trust her to know when she has a fever- maybe we should be more concerned about how terrible our healthcare infrastructure is. And another reason we might be afraid of Ebola spreading is because we all know people who go to work sick and spread their plague germs because we only get a few sick days (IF ANY!) and besides, showing up to work sick shows you really want this job! Your co-workers can suck it.

I say this as my whole office starts coughing, including me. So maybe we’ve all got Ebola. I’ll self-quarantine, and medicate with a bottle of Talisker’s.

The Fear Index

I’ve written before about how crime is down but reporting is at an all time high. The news media, primarily television, has taken “if it bleeds it leads” to a whole new level in the United States. There was a comparison about how Canadian news handled the Ottawa Parliament shooting vs. the sensationalistic so-called reporting we got here in the States. This picture sums it up:

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This constant baseline of fear is not good for us. The stress will certainly affect our health, but it clearly affects our judgment . Take for example this terrifying 40 truck convoy on the Virginia highway, and how it was immediately spun into a conspiracy involving FEMA camps, forced flu vaccines (the horror!) Ebola and martial law – (from Snopes):

I can tell you one thing. These trucks are transporting more than you think ? It’s all starting. Some will know what I’m talking about and other’s will just keep believing what FOX news tells them and vote for the candidate who lies the best ! We are SOOO screwed !

Well, we who are paying attention, know something big is going to happen for sure and really soon ! So many things and all of them are so close together…….. I see a dictatorship being announced, military hitting the streets, jets overhead, forced Ebola/flu immunizations (rather true or not) Martial Law, food/water shortages, etc……. We’ll see ?

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What was this obvious chicanery, this plot against our liberty, this sure sign of the coming Obamapocalypse?

A charity event for the Special Olympics.

From the World’s Largest Truck Convoy website:

The truck convoy is a unique one-day celebration where police escort a convoy of trucks through cities and towns in 38 states and Canada. The event helps raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics athletes. About 110 vehicles participated in the ride.

In 2013, over $20,000 was raised with 49 trucks participating in Virginia’s nearly 50-mile round-trip convoy along Interstate 95 from Caroline County to Henrico County, according to a press release sent by Virginia State police.

Now that’s pretty damn cool. Makes me wish I was a truck driver. I’ve volunteered with special young adults since high school, and I respect those who give their time to help them and their families. But it goes to show you that if you’re afraid all the time, everything you see is a potential threat. I am a firm believer in Situational Awareness, but that doesn’t mean being paranoid. It means being aware. Our response to threats is beyond all proportion. Look for example how we are responding to the Ebola crisis in Africa. By trying to close our borders and penalize anyone who is actually doing anything to stop it at its source.

Part of this is because our science education is lacking. Ebola is not a threat to a country with a strong healthcare infrastructure, who follow scientific protocols and do not fall victim to superstition. Well no wonder America is scared, we’ve strayed from those principles for a long time. We like calling our health care system the best, but th only Ebola patient who died in America was sent home with an antibiotic because he didn’t have health insurance. Yeah, really.

So maybe we should be scared, just a little. I wouldn’t want to go to a hospital where there was an Ebola patient, because 48,000 Americans die each year from infections contracted while in the hospital. Whether it’s pneumonia or Legionnaire’s Disease, we have a bad track record. Probably because for-profit hospitals don’t have to follow strict protocols or suffer consequences for not fixing endemic problems. I’m not a fan of having to pay $5,000 a year my health care and then pay co-pays and deductibles. Those “crazy” tax rates in countries with universal health care and college education start looking mighty sweet. But then we’d never get over having to pay for a fellow citizen’s health without judging them. Because we’ve never learned to judge not, lest we be judged. Our own mistakes are unavoidable, forgivable; the mishaps of others are moral failures that must be punished, with redemption denied for eternity.

Andrew Vachss’s latest work, a graphic novel adaptation of UNDERGROUND, with Chet Williamson, focuses on what happens when media becomes marketing mind-control:

“This myth-shattering graphic novel challenges readers to re-examine how the media “governs” their lives, whether in print, over the airwaves, or online. A chilling account of willingly-embraced oppression and abandonment of individual autonomy in exchange for the predictability and comfort of fascism, Underground is a new genre: the Graphic Novel presented as Visual Cinema. Adapted from the original screenplay of Andrew Vachss by Mike Richardson (47 Ronin, Crimson Empire, The Secret) and noted author Chet Williamson, with art by Dominic Reardon best known for his work on 2000 A.D.”

It is available in comic book shops now, but by purchasing or pre-ordering the book through the AMAZON SMILE program, a percentage of the sale will be donated to PROTECT, at no cost to you. You can sign up for Amazon Smile, and learn more about the program here:
http://protect.org/amazon-smile-program

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Deserve’s Got Nothing to Do With It

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” –William Munny, Unforgiven

There is a lot of rage over people getting what they don’t deserve, and others not getting what they feel they do. Some writers continually grouse about those undeserving bestsellers, or get huge advances, like there’s only so much success out there, and it must be hoarded, like pie (or they didn’t deserve a bad review, so they go stalk the reviewer and call her at work and ask her how her children are doing.) But it’s not just writers. There are haters everywhere.

A world where we get what we deserve would be terrifying. Who gets to decide what you deserve? Here’s a hint, it’s not you. And that lack of control galls us. It is frightening, and we hate being afraid, so it becomes hate, and we project it. Who is making us feel this way? (It’s ourselves, but we project it upon convenient targets). For a detailed example of how this turns into a campaign of threats and terroristic threats, you can read The Kool-Aid Point by Kathy Sierra, a techie driven off the internet by vile trolls who decided she was getting too much attention because she’s a woman and must’ve used her wiles to get it, and thus didn’t deserve it.

It’s a harrowing read. And it’s unsurprising that the guy behind it came out as a full-on white supremacist in prison, because hate groups are the ultimate outcome of an obsession with an other denying you your just desserts. The ultimate projection of your own failures onto a convenient target. Why are we afraid? Why aren’t we as rich as those people on TV? It must be those people over there who are different than us.

Now, every entitled angry twit isn’t going to become the next Hitler, but feeding on that anger, that you don’t have what you deserve, and all those people out there do, is certainly not healthy. Healthy people concentrate on what they can change. We can’t change what the masses will decide (or marketers decide) will be popular. We can only persevere and improve, and count our blessings. Anyone who has the time to write, for example, or spend all this time talking on the internet, is a lot better off than most. There will always be haters who become enraged at someone else’s success, and a smaller few who decide to take them down a peg. Sometimes, like in Tom Perrotta’s ELECTION, it can be somewhat funny. But in reality, it’s pretty sad. All that energy wasted, tearing someone else down instead of … well, anything else.

Goodbye, CatLoaf

Goodbye, CatLoaf

My not-so-little arm warmer succumbed to kidney disease yesterday. When we adopted him from an acquaintance, she said his name was Shadow. We called him CatLoaf. We quickly surmised that he was called ‘Shadow’  not for his dark fur but for his preferred loafing spot, behind you in direct opposition to the sun. When he wasn’t desperately attempting to sneak underfoot, he would sit on the couch behind your head and give you a scalp massage whether you wanted it or not, find devious ways to climb on the table and sit on your hand or stuff his entire head into a drinking glass like a feline Jerry Lewis, or knead the pillow by your head and purr in your ear.

CatLoaf needed to be within three feet of a human at all times, but not touched by one. He was a feline electron, negatively charged, in a rigid orbit around you. Petting was okay, sometimes. Holding was forbidden. He never achieved his dream of living inside our refrigerator, sleeping on Firecracker’s keyboard, or climbing on top of my head while I used the toilet, but he never quit trying. His last days were spent loafing, getting stroked, and eating treats and drinking tuna water when he could keep it down.

He was a friendly cat who would approach any stranger without an inkling of fear, only an expression of deep curiosity and comradeship. He would let you pet him, and when he had enough, he would tell you in his way, which was by nipping the tender skin between your fingers. The only things he ever ran from were his nemesis and nap buddy Charlie Crookedpaw, our rescued Siamese, and his own droppings, which when caught in the fur of his prodigious hindquarters must have felt like the very jaws of death snapping at his empty scrotum. I have wrestled 300lb athletes to submission, but was not able to hold CatLoaf still for more than a few moments during his prime. He would rather die than give you control. And he was of course, black as your soul.

He was a companion that grew on you, and stepped on you, sat on you, leaned on you, sneezed on you, and occasionally hawked hairballs on your shoes, bed, and clothing, but over the years he became a beloved part of our lives, and we will miss him terribly. But not his breath. No, not his breath, which fellow cat-lover H.P. Lovecraft would tenderly describe as more wretchedly unwholesome than the fetid emissions of Azathoth’s hindmost parts.

Goodbye, sweet CatLoaf. We made you happy for a time, and you returned the favor.