Old

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader’s eldest offspring, Villainette #1, has a milestone birthday today. She is 21.

Where do the years go?

Carry on.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader reminds you, in case you forgot to mark your calendars, that today all subjects of the Mike World Order will celebrate the anniversary of the birth of our lifelong and great friend, Kevin. You may read his regular musing over at his blog, Big Hominid. You should read his blog. Unlike your Maximum Leader, over on Kevin’s blog you get regularly updated content. Like almost every single day! Sometimes twice a day! What the deuce?

On this day my buddy has turned 49. He, like me, are closing in on the half century mark. And for those of you who keep up those who think about these things, actuarially speaking we have already passed the half-way point of our expected life span. So, we have that going for us.

My life has been enriched for knowing Kevin. His recent visit to the US, for he lives and works in South Korea, was a boon for me. I got time to spend with him, and he treated me to a wonderful seafood dinner on a dark and stormy night. I only wish I could have spent more time with him. I often wish I could spend more time with him. But geography gets in the way.

Happy Birthday, Kevin.

Carry on.

More Death

Greetings, loyal minions. Once again, your Maximum Leader is going to have to dump the 3rd person schtick for this post.

My last post was predominantly about death. The death of my friend Jennifer. Learning of Jennifer’s death filled me with melancholy. Her death was made more emotional for me given what I was going through at that moment. I mentioned at the end of that last post, back in June, that some family issues were going badly and that if you could spare a prayer for my mom and dad to do so. Well here’s that story.

To begin at the beginning, about 30 years ago my mother was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma cancer on her left hand. She had a series of surgeries to remove the cancer, and then many of the lymph nodes on her left side. The result of the surgeries was that they got the cancer, but mom suffered from many other problems as a result. These problems led to pain, infections, and a host of other circulatory issues.

Fast forward to 2016… Mom and I were on the phone just before Thanksgiving. She mentioned, offhandedly, that she felt a small lump in her left hand. She described it as smaller than a pea, but hard. I suggested that she see her doctor right away as that lump was bound to be bad. Mom agreed that it probably wasn’t good, and said she’d see a doctor. Without going into details, because they aren’t all that exciting and pertinent to this narrative, she didn’t see her doctor. She didn’t see her doctor about the lump for nearly a year. When she did see her doctor about the lumps, the doctor immediately recommended surgery and chemotherapy. Mom dragged her feet and didn’t get surgery until late March 2018. This is, as you can no doubt calculate on your own, over a year after she discovered the lump. When she finally had the surgery, two lumps were removed. One was slightly larger than a golf ball. The second a bit smaller than a ping-pong ball. Both tumors were malignant. Both had extensive blood supplies. Both were very brittle. After surgery, mom declined chemotherapy. Her stated reason was that it would negatively affect her quality of life. I told her that her quality of life hadn’t been great with all the suffering she’d had as a result of her delay in treatment. She didn’t have much to say about my comments.

As an aside here, if it seems like my role in this narrative is mostly observational, you’d be reasonably close on that. Over the past 30 years I’ve learned that my mom wouldn’t take advice on medical matters from anyone. It got to the point where I learned that it was better for both of us for me to not offer opinions more than once. She learned that if she wanted a sympathetic ear to listen to her complain about her health, when she’d chosen not to do anything about it, I was not the one to call. If she brought up a health issue our conversations would fall into a pattern. The pattern was: mom would bring up health issue, I would listen, I would ask if she wanted my opinion on the matter, if she did I’d give her my opinion, if she didn’t we’d move on. Then after an opinion or no opinion was given that would be the end of it. If either of us brought it up again the response from the other was “We’ve talked about this already. Has anything changed?” If nothing changed, there was nothing to talk about and we moved on.

After the surgery, mom got an infection in her hand. It was treated, and I thought it was under control. Little did I know.

A few days after Mother’s Day, I got a panicked call from my sister. Mom was in the hospital. She was unconscious, and no one was sure what was going on. To shorten this part of the story, it turned out mom’s infection was not under control and was widespread and caused swelling around her brain. She was in a medically induced coma for about 5 days while they treated her infection. Once it was under control they brought her out of the coma and started additional treatments to get her vitals back to the normal range.

After about 10 days in the hospital she was moved to a rehab facility to help her regain her mobility. This is where she was in early June when I last wrote. While she was at the rehab facility she had a visit from her regular doctor. We were told then that after studying the various imagery that was done during her hospital stay, her doctor had noticed that her lungs were filled with small spots of cancer. No doubt this cancer was started by bits that had broken off during the surgery on her hand in March and had now settled in and metastasized into lung cancer. After some discussion with her doctor, mom decided that she would begin a regimen of immuno-therapy drugs (which she described as not being chemo to me) to try and treat the cancer in her lungs.

But that day I knew that the end was coming soon. I knew in my heart and mind that the time for treatment was long past and that this was the confirmation of a death sentence that had been written out months before.

Mom stayed in the rehab facility until mid-June. She went home for a single night. The day after going home, she went into a hospice. She was conscious and alert for a time in hospice, but soon the opiates came into play and she faded into that drug-induced sleep that would lead to her death on July 4th*.

I suspect that I am writing this to do some mourning and some soul-cleansing. I am beginning to develop more of a detachment to the course of the end of my mom’s life that makes it possible to type this. As I think back over what happened over the course of these months I’ve come to conclude that when the cancer came back, in 2016, mom had just had enough and didn’t want to continue. There isn’t really another explanation. She knew, and frankly we all knew, that by not getting treatment at the onset of this that it would only end one way. Death. And it was only a question of how long it would take to reach the end. In mom’s case I would say that the real physical suffering was from January to her death. The cancer had grown so much and was so painful before the surgery that it was a burden. Then the infection, hospitalization, and then hospice. None of that was good. But it was inevitable based on her choices.

I am not bitter about her choices. Truly I am not. People have free will to exercise as they want. We can disagree with them. We can think they are making bad choices. But the choices are theirs to make. The only judgement that counts in this is Divine judgement.

(NB: Intellectually, I should ask my priest about this. Perhaps some of my more theologically trained readers – if I have readers still – could educate me on this point. Does refusal of treatment that had a reasonable chance of success constitute suicide of a type? I wonder.)

I am not divine in any sense, Christian, Buddhist, Pagan… So, my judgement, such as it is, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But I feel sad that, in my judgement, my mom decided that she didn’t have any reason to continue in life. Intellectually, I can see how she came to her conclusion. But it still saddens me. At some level one can’t help but personalize thoughts like this. If I had been less detached from her (as I described above) would she have made the same decisions? I’m really of two minds about it. If I had done more to engage her and try to convince her of a different path, perhaps she would have made different choices. But on the other hand, years of experience brought my mom and I to the point where we had a “system” for dealing with health concerns that satisfied both of us.

Who knows?

I have prayed for my mom and will continue to do so. Although she left the Catholic church decades ago (and Christianity and “organized religion” for that matter), I am having a Mass offered up for her at my church. (Sunday, December 2, 2018, 7 am, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Fredericksburg, VA if you are inclined.) To do so is definitely a comfort for me, and I hope a comfort for her soul as well.

By way of a postscript to this tale of dying, my father is living with me now (not quite full-time) at the Villainschloss. This is a problem mainly because he has mental illness issues that make life with him difficult. (And to be honest, I can’t help but think my father’s condition may have informed my mother’s choices…) Also, my mother, in a fit of pique years ago, set up her estate in a way that satisfied her wishes at the time, but have now placed significant burdens on my father and sister. So, there is that too…

And that, loyal minions, is how my summer has gone… Pretty crappy by the by.

I hope your summer has been better than mine. And I hope you have a good Labor Day weekend.

Carry on.

* – For what it is worth, the Fourth of July is, even in light of my loss, the greatest of all holidays in the US calendar. If I must enumerate the reasons behind my thinking again they are: 1) Good Weather, 2) Secular, 3) No gift giving, 4) Outdoor grilling, 5) Fireworks, 6) Girls in swimsuits.

Not Enough Time

Greetings, loyal minions. No third person schtick for me in this post…

This weekend was a difficult one and has left me feeling melancholy.

Saturday started out fine enough. I was doing “normal” stuff. I got a haircut. I did the grocery shopping. I paid some bills.

Then I needed to find some old paperwork. I went into the closet in my study and was looking through a box in which I keep some old paperwork. Next to the paperwork box happened to be a box of “college memories.” Photos, trinkets, old papers from my college years. Protruding out of the box were two photo collages made for me by friends. I took them out and looked at them. One was made by my old friend Beth. Beth now is married, a mom, and a teacher in Oregon. One of the photos was of Beth and Jennifer. The photo was taken in 1992. Beth was finishing her Masters degree and Jennifer was 17.

Jennifer was 17 and had been accepted to college and would be starting her Freshman year that fall. Perhaps the photo was just after the school year had begun, so Jennifer would have just turned 18 in June. Jennifer was bright. Very, very bright. She had finished high school early and was starting college. She was witty. She was fun. She was off-beat and charming. She was a wonderful addition to our little circle of friends. I was working at the time in the Admissions office. So I knew a little about her background. I also knew that some strings were pulled to admit her due to her age. I didn’t pull the strings, but I knew who did (and would have had it been up to me).

I left my Alma Mater (and my post graduation job in the Admission Office there) and moved on to other things. I would check in with friends and with Jennifer from time to time over the next four years. One time she told me a fantastic (and somewhat horrifying) story of a summer she spent in Madagascar. She was working in a village and was struck with some sickness that incapacitated her. She was in a fever state unaware of what was going on around her. When her fever broke she was in a small grass hut, with an old lady. The old lady explained to her that the rest of the villagers had fled guerrillas that were terrorizing the area. Since Jennifer couldn’t be moved, the old lady volunteered to stay with her. The old lady said that if the guerrillas came she would have tried to fight them off if they’d wanted to take Jennifer as a slave. The old lady said that the guerrillas did come to the abandoned village and saw the two of them. But decided to leave them both alone and move on. I wish I could do the story justice, but it is not my story to retell…

In 1996 she was about to graduate and I was about to get married. I heard through mutual friends that Jennifer had gotten accepted to graduate school and was going on to study Anthropology. It was at this point that we lost contact with each other. From time to time over the intervening 20-odd years, I caught myself looking at the photo and thinking that I ought to use the Facebook and catch up with Jennifer.

I’ve learned that in those intervening years she excelled at everything. She went to Yale and got her Master’s Degree and PhD. She taught at the University of Toronto. Then she moved to UCLA and was teaching there. She published many papers and a book. She was on the fast-track of life it appeared.

Until she died of cancer in 2015.

I didn’t learn of this until last night (Sunday - a day after I looked at her photo) when I saw a post on the Facebook from a mutual friend who was lamenting that Jennifer’s June birthday had just passed and what a shame it was that her life was cut so tragically short. I feel badly that I didn’t know. If someone told me it didn’t register. I felt pretty awful about it when I read over the obituary I found. I am still feeling badly about it now.

It was a sad way to cap a sad weekend. I’ve been dealing with some family issues, and those issues went badly on Sunday morning. I’ll not go into detail here, but if you are the praying type, please spare a prayer for my mom and dad. They are both going through some bad stuff right now and could use all the divine assistance they can get.

I hope this week will be better… I will pray for Jennifer as well, and again if you’re the praying type, please keep her in your prayers too.

Carry on.

100 Below - So Many Questions

Eli sat on the toilet as he always did approximately 90 minutes after eating a meal.

Breakfast at 7am, poop about 9:30am.

Lunch at 12:30pm, poop about 2pm.

Dinner at 7pm, poop about 9:30pm.

Today as he sat he wondered, did his body hold the poop in his body until it needed room for the meal he’d just eaten? If he skipped a meal, would the poop still come?

These were the cosmic questions his 12 year old brain contemplated.

100 Below - The Walk

Ron Baker and his dog Max lived in the deep woods. Ron moved there to live a solitary life and walk the back roads.

One gravel road lead into what appeared to be the darkest, deepest, woods.

One day, Ron started down the dark road. Max wouldn’t follow. Ron dropped the leash and walked on. Max whined and barked but didn’t follow.

Days later the Sheriff drove by. Max was still waiting. The Sheriff coaxed Max into the car. The Sheriff got into the car and drove on. He knew what lay at the end of the road was evil.

TWP - 5, Tea Dumping

Greetings, loyal minions. I don’t recall if I’ve ever mentioned it before, but I am a tea drinker. I come from a long line of tea drinkers. Considering my ethnic background, drinking tea is not a surprising character trait.

I am not, however, a coffee drinker. Others in my family are, but not me. Something about coffee gives me a headache. It isn’t the caffeine. I drink plenty of caffeine (in tea, soda, and other things). Something in coffee, that is not caffeine, gives me a headache. For what it is worth, I like the smell of coffee. When I do drink it (in small quantities and very infrequently), I like coffee (when enough milk and sugar is added) enough to say that if I could drink it I’d probably be a cafe au lait type of guy.

So I drink tea. Iced tea. Hot tea. Lukewarm tea. A bunch of tea.

When I make tea, I prefer to use leaf tea and a diffuser. I don’t use bags very often. Tea bags are for when I am rushed. I keep a number of types of loose leaf tea around to satisfy the usual tea cravings I have. The usual suspects in my cupboard are: (the almost cliched) Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Scottish Breakfast, and Russian Caravan. (NB: I do love Russian Caravan tea. It is a strong full-bodied black tea that goes through periods of popularity. I wish it was more widely available when I want to buy it.) From time to time I will end up with something very posh like some “Des Steppes” from Petrossian in New York City. Sometimes friends travelling through London will drop off some loose Darjeeling (or Earl Grey) from Harrods, or Fortum & Mason.

If you notice, all these teas have something in common. They are all regular black teas. They aren’t herbals, or weird infusion teas. Those aren’t my style or preference.

As I mentioned, I come from a family of tea drinkers. Both my side of the family and my wife’s family have numerous tea drinkers. As you might imagine, tea is often a gift to members of the family and among family members. When tea is gifted within the family, it is always something the receiver would like. But when the tea comes into the family from outside is where one can go a little off the rails.

I recognize that gift-giving, thoughtful gift-giving certainly, is a tough job. So I appreciate that someone takes time to go to a store, look at various teas, and picks something out that they think will be well received. But often the choice of tea as a gift isn’t what the receiver really wants. They get a flavor that doesn’t sound appetizing or a description that doesn’t appeal to them. When someone gets tea that they don’t really like, it often finds its way to me. I am a sort of tea dumping ground.

I’ve become the tea dumping ground for a number of reasons. Firstly, I don’t mind free stuff. I don’t question the motivation of the giver and I try to be cheerful and thankful when I receive a gift. Secondly, I almost always accept foodstuffs without exception. Some people can be a little particular about accepting foodstuffs. Not me. Bring them on. Thirdly, people know that when they give me foodstuffs, I always use them. Even when I’m not sure about the foodstuff, I still try to consume it. I just can’t throw it away and I am generally committed to breaking the cycle of re-gifting. (NB: Breaking the cycle of re-gifting could be another topic all to itself.) I chalk up my inability to no consume food I’m given to my Catholic upbringing and being told that to waste food is sinful. Thus, when I am given food, I always consume (at least part) of it. As tea is a frequent gift in the family, I find myself often getting tea that I would never buy in a million years…

At any given time, you will find at least two (sometimes as many a six) teas that if you know me you would say to yourself, “Self, why does he have this tea in here?” These are teas that have made their way to me through re-gifting. The vast majority of these teas are herbals. They contain all sorts of fruits (peach, apricot, passionfruit, and “citrus”) or herbs (cinnamon, peppermint, lavender, and ginger). (Here is a whole page of them from Teavana.) Some of these teas have some sort of black tea leaf as a base. But many just seem to be an infusion of stuff that discolors and flavors hot water into something that is “tea” in the loosest sense of the drink.

This year has been one where I’ve done my best to get rid of all of these teas that have, through one means or another, been dumped here. Unless the tea is completely vile and noxious, I will use it all. As I said, I just can’t stand to throw it away. That being said, I have little “tricks” to make the tea disappear faster than it should. I have tea infusers of different sizes. I find myself using the largest one possible, and packing it as tightly as possible to utilize as much tea as possible to make a pot of tea. With some I find myself drinking half a pot of this tea, letting it sit for a while, then making a whole fresh pot rather than re-heating the remainder. (NB: I know that this might fly in the face of “not wasting food.” But I do it just the same.)

I’ve been rather successful at consuming the “unconventional” tea flavors this year. So successful in fact that I am, right now, drinking the last of the tea that has found its way to me. I am drinking the last pot of that tea as I type these words. Not only that, but I am thankful that the last pot of this tea is only the second pot of this tea that I can possibly make with the amount of tea that has been given to me. This tea is an herbal/fruity blend. It contains bits of dates and dried peaches (or apricots - I’m not sure). It also has the brightly colored petals of some sorts of flowers. I don’t believe there are any leaves of the camellia sinensis in this blend at all. In a few more minutes, this tea will be gone and I’ll be left with only plain ole Earl Grey in the cabinet.

That being said, Christmas is coming… And stockings will be stuffed… With tea…

Carry on.

A Link for your Edification

Greetings, loyal minions. Back in the heady days of blogging, some 15 years ago now, it was common for bloggers to link to entries on other blogs. Sometimes these links with be with comment, sometimes without. Your Maximum Leader’s moribund blog hasn’t linked another blogger in some time. This is going to be rectified right now.

A little while back there circulated around the interwebs an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates on Vox.com. Your Maximum Leader listened to part of the podcast and read some of the piece. He can’t say that he fully digested either, because of the furor of the subject. Coates is a revolutionary waiting to happen. He is intellectually loaded and standing by. He awaits his moment to set the world straight through bloodshed. It makes your Maximum Leader shudder. There is danger in words and ideas on both ends of the political spectrum. One hopes that the dangers in both sides can be kept in check with clear thinking and civility.

Your Maximum Leader’s blogging friend FLG read the piece too. His reading of the piece caused him to remember some passages he’d read. They are worth your time. Take a moment and read FLG’s: Politics and the English Language. It is short and clear. Just as Orwell would have wanted it.

Carry on.

TWP - 4, Rights and Stuff

Greetings, loyal minions. I suppose it is time to put some thoughts down on the blog about guns, gun rights, individual rights, and political discourse…

Like any decent person, I was horrified at the mass shooting in Las Vegas. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone who wasn’t. Now, one week removed, we are into the cycle of argument and recrimination. Sadly, this cycle is just that, a cycle. It has phases that are more or less predictable and will eventually come to an end with all sides remaining angry at one another. There are so many reasons for this and to unpack them all is going to take more time than I am willing to spend writing, but I’ll take a shot at addressing some of the broader topics in the public square.

It should be no secret that I am a gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment. Further, I am a member of the NRA. If that causes you to stop at this point, fine, but I hope that you might proceed a bit further.

Because I am a gun owner and NRA member doesn’t mean that I am part of a monolithic block of Americans. I find that gun owners opinions on various aspects of gun rights will vary between them. In this we (I?) am no different that other Americans that may not agree when we discuss the nature and possible limitations to our rights in our Republic. In one important point of discussion we are unified, we believe that Americans have a right, enshrined in the Constitution, to keep and bear arms.

And we immediately hit the first sticking point in the broader discussion of guns, such as that discussion is able to be had. The Second Amendment does enshrine the right of Americans to keep and bear arms - that is to own guns. There are many people who will parse the wording of the Second Amendment to say that the right exists only as part of an organized militia. Those people, are now, wrong. This particular piece of debate was ended when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the right to keep and bear arms was an individual right. This ruling confirmed what I had always believed. And it is the law of the land now.

There are, as one might expect, those who believe Heller was wrongly decided and that they would like to see it overturned. I don’t believe it will be, at least not under the Supreme Court’s current make up. And if Heller is not overturned soon, it will not be overturned.

I am going to take a dangerous turn here to illustrate and illuminate my thinking on this point. My point is that Heller affirms an individual right to keep and bear arms. It is currently the law of the land. As such, it’s authority is shaping our view of the law across the nation. If it is not overturned or limited soon, the hold of that decision will become more a part of the fabric of our legal system and will become less and less able to be overturned. To illustrate this point I will direct you to Roe v. Wade. Roe was decided in 1973. It has been the law of the land forty-four years. During those 44 years attempts to overturn it have been unsuccessful. Many of the attempts to limit the potential scope of the decision have been made, to various degrees success. To be frank, most of those attempts have been unsuccessful. I will posit to you that it will never be overturned and limitations to abortion rights will be minimal.

I use this example to help to frame the way in which the issue of guns is discussed, or not discussed, in America. As a people, many Americans have strong opinions on abortion. These opinions are quite polarized and the two sides mostly talk past each other when they even try to talk. Those who are pro-abortion can always fall back on the legal fact that abortion is legal, and it is enshrined as a right by a decision of the Supreme Court. A right that was not specifically enumerated in text of the Constitution but has been determined to exist nonetheless. Those who are pro-life hope that they can limit this right through legal and judicial means, or have the Supreme Court change its mind. After years of observing, I don’t think the pro-life side will ever get Roe overturned. I also have my doubts that they will ever be successful at limiting the scope of legal abortion.

Now take the Second Amendment. Here is a right that is specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The actual right to keep and bear arms is right there in the text for anyone to read. The right to keep and bear arms doesn’t emanate from a penumbra of another enumerated right. To hear or read many of those who want to restrict the right to keep and bear arms, you wouldn’t know it. This is not to say that all rights are unlimited, there can and ought to be limits on our rights. The first that should jump to your mind is not being able to yell fire in a crowded theatre. But many gun control advocates do want to severely curtail or eliminate the right to own a gun.

If you have not, you probably ought to read a very good piece from Meredith Dake-O’Connor at The Federalist. I want to cite two of her “6 Reasons Your Right-Wing Friend Isn’t Coming To Your Side On Gun Control.” They are reasons 1 and 6. Here they are:

1. We Rarely Get to Come to the Conversation in Good Faith
The most destructive, divisive response when dealing with Second Amendment advocates is the notion that we aren’t on your side of the issue because we “don’t care” about the tragedy and loss of life. Two years ago at Christmas I had a family member, exasperated that I wasn’t agreeing about gun control, snarl, “It appears that if your [step] daughter was killed because of gun violence you wouldn’t even care!”

I’ve seen journalists, politicians, and friends in recent days say something to the effect of “If children dying (in Newtown) won’t change their minds, nothing will!” The obvious implication is that we are unmoved by the loss of life.

It is a true dehumanization of Second Amendment advocates to think that we didn’t see the events unfolding in Las Vegas and have the same ache deep in our souls. That we, too, haven’t read the memorials of those who gave their lives for others and silently cried over our computers or phones. We felt it, and we hurt, and some of us even died or were heroes and rescued others. As hard as it may be to imagine, a person can watch this, ache, hurt, and be profoundly affected by these events and not change his or her position on the Second Amendment.

You may be thinking that the right-wing kneejerk response to assume that progressives just want to confiscate guns is also a denial of coming to the table in good faith. You would be right. However, I suggest assuming progressives just want to ban guns, or some other policy, is not equivalent to thinking, “If you really cared that people died you would agree with me.”

6. We Really Do Consider Owning Firearms a Right
I view the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as declaring the intrinsic and inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I believe the framers knew that liberty is only achieved when the citizenry is known to keep tyrannical government, and those who would do me harm, at bay. My favorite explainer on citizens and their relation with tyrannical government is James Otis’ “Rights of the British Colonies” essay, but many like to use Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 29.

Beyond that, part of having liberty is personal safety from harm. Outside of the grace of God, I am the one primarily responsible for my safety, because I am able to be responsible for my safety. While I view the government’s primary responsibility the safety of its citizens, I am first responsible for my safety. Further, because I am able to be responsible for my safety, I have a duty as a good citizen to be prepared to protect others who cannot protect themselves. This is part of liberty. And the primary way I can ensure my liberty is by owning a firearm (and voting for those in favor of limited government—but that’s another debate).

Second Amendment advocates truly view owning a firearm as an intrinsic right and a must to preserve liberty. It has nothing to do with hunting. It has nothing to do with hobbies. That’s why when discussions of firearms that aren’t meant for hunting come into the debate you don’t see many advocates conceding they aren’t needed. Further, it’s the primary reason we seem unwilling to budge on this policy when tragedies occur. Evil acts don’t cancel out a law-abiding citizen’s rights.

So many gun control advocates are begging for a conversation on this issue, and it’s unfortunate they don’t see the Second Amendment advocates as willing to engage. I find it hard to have an honest and vulnerable conversation about a deeply held right when the starting point is often challenging my motives while coming from a place of ignorance on firearms. If you’re really looking to win over your gun-loving friend, try reading up on firearms, dumping anti-NRA talking points, and assume her or she is equally committed to preventing these evil acts.

I agree very strongly with Ms. Dake-O’Connor in this. It is hard, almost impossible in fact, to have a discussion about guns in America when one side denies that owning guns is a right, and furthermore starts the discussion from the position of “we must do something” and “something” is restricting your rights.

This is a good a time as any to address that favorite trope of “if there is a right to own a gun, it would be a flintlock or other gun available in 1787.” This particular point upsets me greatly. More than it should really. If you put forth this argument are you also willing to apply it to the First Amendment? Your free speech rights are perfectly secure, as long as they are only exercised in a way that they would have been in 1787… Published paper broadsheets? Protected speech! Talking to your neighbor face to face? Protected speech! Internet? Not protected speech. Talking on the telephone, radio, or TV? Not protected speech. Is that really the heart of the argument? It would seem you have to believe the people who wrote the Constitution didn’t know that flintlocks were improvements on hand-cannons, which were better than crossbows, which were better than a regular bow, which was an improvement over a thrown spear, which was better than a thrown rock. I really wish we could retire this whole line of “argument.” And by the way, I will direct you to my previous point on the dangerous issue of abortion. If your right to bear arms were to be restricted to an 18th century firearm, do you want your abortion to be an 18th century affair as well?

So if it is the right of Americans to own guns, what then do we do about gun violence? There again, we’ve hit a very sticky wicket. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had discussions that all boil down to me talking about reasonable restrictions on purchasing guns, and the person I’m talking to throwing up their hands in disgust because that will not prevent all gun violence. Should I just go full Sadiq Khan on guns and declare that mass shootings are “part and parcel” of living in America and we all have to learn to live with it? On the face of it that seems to be a pretty awful thing to say. But at some level it might be what we have to say.

I feel I have to state that we might have to deal with mass shootings in America, just as we are having to live with terror attacks around the world, because I am not willing to seriously curtail the rights of law abiding Americans. There is never going to be a foolproof system that will prevent a person wanting to do violence with a gun and who can legally acquire a gun from doing so. I am all for strict enforcement of the existing laws that can prevent those who should not be able to get guns from getting them. I also would be amenable to the restriction of transfers of guns between private citizens. (NB: I think there could be a system whereby a dealer who can run a background check for a nominal fee can be used to make sure transfers between non-related people don’t result in someone who shouldn’t have a gun getting one.) The fact remains that there has never been a foolproof system for preventing bad, even evil, things from happening. There will not be one on this issue either.

This is as good a place to address a proposal put forward by a great number of people. I’ve read about proposals to insure that anyone on a “terror watch list” to not be able to buy a gun. This seems like a reasonable proposal on its face, but it is rife with difficulties. It doesn’t actually take suspicion of terrorist ties to get on a terror watch list. Having a similar name to a terrorist could be enough. Posting something to Facebook or Twitter (or your blog) could get you on a watch list. A whole range of items can get you on a watch list. The big problem is discovering you’re on a watch list, and then getting off of it. I think it is bad policy to restrict a person’s Constitutional rights without a judicial hearing with due process to make it happen. Again, just like I have stated a number of times already in this missive, would you apply this standard to other Constitutional rights? Are you okay with having a person’s right against search and seizure to be restricted or eliminated because they were on a terror watch list? How about their right to free speech or religion? I am not. Neither am I okay with restricting access to a gun because someone is on a watch list.

So have I thrown up my hands and said that there is nothing we can do about gun violence? In some sense I have. Don’t think I don’t feel awful about it either. While we can’t stop every violent act committed with a gun, there are things we can do on the periphery to start to address some of the causes of gun violence. The recent and oft quoted op-ed piece by Leah Libresco entitled “I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise.” is a good starting point. Many gun control advocates point to Great Britain and Australia as places where gun control and confiscation was enacted to some success. However, if you’ve read some of the linked pieces I’ve provided here, they are not analogous situations at all. First off, neither of those countries has a written Bill of Rights that specifically and clearly states that there is a right to keep and bear arms. Rights in Britain and Australia are more able to be changed by a law passed by their Parliaments. They don’t have the same tradition, or Constitution, that we do. Believe it or not, that makes it a hugely different matter.

This post has been, at so many levels, a sad and unfulfilling exercise. I make no apology for my support of the Second Amendment, and for the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution more broadly. But, after an atrocity is committed it is hard to feel like a full-throated statement of support is the proper thing to do. But it IS the proper thing to do. It is when it is most difficult to support your rights as an American that those rights need the most support. I strongly support the First Amendment, and I believe it is being severely and sometimes violently curtailed on college campuses across the country. I believe that the power of the police and state is expanding and our rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are being diminished. It is in this time that we must stand up for our rights and fight that they not be reduced.

No matter what the costs may be.

Carry on.

TWP - 3, Political Brain Dump.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has, if you noticed, decided in the header line of these posts to abbreviate “The Writing Project” as “TWP.” No big deal really. At some point it will make sense to drop the “TWP” all together. But it will stay for now as a reminder that this is still a project. If the “project” takes and writing returns to being a habit, then the “TWP” will probably be dropped…

So what to write about…

This episode will be on politics.

On Friday night I had a long conversation with Villainette #2. My younger daughter is a freshman at Virginia Tech. She is also 18 and eligible to vote in November. As you may know, we here in Virginia have elections every year. We love democracy so much we have to keep practicing it every year. In odd numbered years we have state and local elections. On November 7, 2017, Virginians will elect a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and House of Delegates. We will also elect county Supervisors and School Board members.

Villainette #2 has a very logical and reasoned mind. She approaches things very analytically. She received her absentee ballot earlier in the week, and between the date she got the absentee ballot and last Friday she watched all the gubernatorial debates on YouTube and found all the websites of all of the candidates on her ballot. Then she called me for questions.

Without violating her confidence in any way, we had a very wide-ranging talk that took about two and a half hours. We concluded that either of the men running for Governor (Ralph Northam - D, or Ed Gillespie - R) would probably be pretty good. I find them both to be good and honorable men who would serve the Commonwealth well. I plan on voting Gillespie myself. I do think, from the polling I’ve seen and the people I’ve spoken to, that Northam has an edge. I don’t know if Virginia will lead the way in a much-desired-by-Democrats wave of anti-Trump sentiment. We very well could be the leading edge of such a wave. I am not sure we will be, but the race will get heated in these last four weeks.

We also concluded that the people running for Lt. Governor are spending a lot of time and energy talking about issues that they will not have ability to do anything about once elected. We also had a very tactile conversation about the Attorney General’s job and the two men running for the job.

I don’t feel it is my place to say much about our conversations, but let it suffice to say that I am very proud of my daughter and her diligence in finding out what the issues are and where candidates stand on various issues.

I’ll probably write a little more about state political races in the next few weeks…

Here is a thought for you to mull over…

What if the only skill a politician has is getting elected?

Think about that for a minute. Office holders are skilled at getting elected, but might be (perhap probably might be) inept or unlearned at other things. Say you have a Congressman that is good at getting elected, but not all that savvy in understanding the nuances of public policy. I will submit to you that at least a slight majority of office holders in this nation are good at getting elected, and mostly inept at the jobs to which they are elected. There are notable exceptions at all levels, but they tend to prove the rule of ineptitude…

Or perhaps I am being particularly cynical today.

One that thing, concerning Puerto Rico. I am, like I think the majority of Americans are, concerned about the speed at which recovery/rebuilding/relief activities are taking place in Puerto Rico. The citizens of Puerto Rico are Americans. They are our brethren. I want them to get the same treatment that any other place in the United States would get. That being said, I am well aware of logistical difficulties of getting supplies to an island that is pretty far from the mainland. All this being said, let me get to the heart of the matter. I am disappointed that I can’t get a straight answer about what is actually going on in Puerto Rico. Things are not good. That is clear. But the Mayor of San Juan is proclaiming that “We are dying.” The official death count has gone from 13 to 16 over the past few days. If they dying the Mayor is describing is metaphorical and not literal, she should ratchet down the hyperbole. I see reports of towns without supplies. I see images of acres of containers with supplies sitting at the docks. Depending on the source, either the roads are not not passable and there is no way to get supplies to where they are needed, OR the truckers are on strike and will not drive the supplies to where they are needed. Both of these situations are plausible. I have no idea the scope of either. This is a major problem with news coverage. It seems very slanted and trying to fit a narrative. I realize that this is nothing new, but it is also not helping.

This is just griping of course. I’m not empowered to take decisions that will change the situation quickly. I am just a guy typing away on a computer and pushing his ranting out into the ether.

I am, though, a voter and will be able to exercise what power I do have at some point. I also have a long memory.

Carry on.

The Writing Project - 2. Fare Thee Well, Hef.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has learned, Hugh Hefner has shuffled off his mortal coil and is now in that great Playboy Club Lounge in the great beyond.

Like boys (men now?) of a certain age, Hefner’s contribution to society, Playboy Magazine, had a part to play in your Maximum Leader’s formative years. He remembers the first Playboy he ever saw. It was the issue for May 1978. Here is a picture of the cover of the issue. He remembers finding it in the spare bedroom of a friends house. The friend’s uncle had been staying with them for a time, and had left the magazine out. My friend and yours truly took the magazine and spent an inordinate amount of time looking over it. Specifically looking at the three sections that contained the nudie pics. The Playmate of the Month was Kathryn Morrison. There was another photo group of some model. There was also a picture spread of a New York City swingers club and the orgies within. It was pretty exciting for excitable boys.

As it turns out, many decades later, your Maximum Leader was in a used bookstore and they had a room in towards the back of the store that was separated from the rest of the store by a black curtain above which was a handwritten sign reading “Over 21 only.” He entered the room expecting to see lots of smut and erotica. But instead the room was filled with neatly ordered rows of magazine racks holding pretty much every back issue of Playboy and Penthouse every published. Remembering the first Playboy he’d ever seen, your Maximum Leader went to find it. Sure enough it was there. He paid for it and the magazine now resides on a shelf in his gun safe.

(NB: It wasn’t until he’d purchased the magazine that he bothered to read the articles. One of which was the famous Anita Bryant interview.)

In later years, mostly in college and immediately thereafter, your Maximum Leader would pick up a Playboy when he’d heard there was an article that was worth reading. The titilation factor was also a consideration in buying the magazine, but he did read the articles.

As for Hefner himself, there isn’t much your Maximum Leader wants to say. He’ll let others speak to the nature of the man. Insofar as your Maximum Leader could tell, Hefner was a lifestyle unto himself. You can judge it as you like. Regardless of how you choose to judge him, Hefner did what he chose to as he chose to. Few people in this life do.

And now, since smut has been a theme of this post… One of your Maximum Leader’s favorite smutty songs…

Carry on.

The Writing Project - 1 (Introduction)

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader says that you all must be terribly loyal if your eyes gaze upon these words. I’ve not given you much (to wit: anything) to work with since February. I’ve had lots of ideas, but very little motivation to write. Then I read a piece by Bridget Phetasy. (You can find her, among other places, on the Twitter @bridgetphetasy, or as the Playboy Advisor, or on The Federalist.) She wrote recently that she had to organize her life around writing. This is a good thing, as she is a professional and makes money from writing. (NB: Her writing is compelling and worth a read, and if you like it, worth a buck or two at her Patreon page.) To paraphrase her, she needed to organize her life for writing. When I read that it caused me to think. Since I’ve let this blog sit idle for so long, has my life become disordered?

Well, my life is as disordered as the next person’s. Perhaps more than some, less than others. But I’ve come to realize that I think I need to organize my thoughts more and writing is a way of doing that.

I’ve decided to try to write on this blog again. Perhaps not a treatise or screed. Perhaps just a paragraph here and there. But at least writing something. Perhaps the routine of organizing my thoughts enough to type them into words will help me organize other parts of my life that I am letting become disordered.

That’s it. Just write.

I believe I’ll have to drop the 3rd person schtick that has been my bread-and-butter on this site for lo many years. (Or at least it will not be my only voice.)

Please come back from time to time. See if I have produced anything worthy of your time.

Carry on.

A Small Remembrance

I was thinking tonight about the past.

The day in real life had gone longer than expected and I was on my own for dinner. I decided to pick up a slice of pizza at a local place and call it a night. While I stood over the kitchen sink and ate my pizza I remembered a dinner from decades ago. I might have been in middle school, or maybe early in high school. I was very close to my paternal grandmother. I spent lots of time with her as she lived near and had been widowed since I was 10. One evening, while I was with her, she suggested we go out and get a pizza for dinner. She said we should go to this small neighborhood place that had been open for about 50 years by that point. She said they had good pizza. I’d never been there, but was always up for pizza. We went to the restaurant, walked in, and were seated. Then we got the menu.

No pizza.

My grandmother asked our server, where was the pizza. She was told that they no longer served pizza. The next generation had recently taken over full operation of the restaurant and they were looking to make it more “upscale.” Pizza didn’t figure into their plans. My grandmother stated matter-of-factly that the only reason we came was to get pizza. All she wanted to eat was pizza and have a small glass of beer. Since there wasn’t any pizza she didn’t see much reason to stay.

My memory has grown hazy. I don’t recall leaving and getting dinner somewhere else, but I don’t recall what we might have actually had. I do recall my grandmother complaining for the rest of the night that all she really wanted was pizza and a small beer.

For what it is worth, we never went out for pizza (and beer) again. I don’t know if that craving was satisfied at some other time, or if she just decided to put pizza and beer out of her mind forever.

Carry on.

100 Below - The Bartender

I regarded the bartender. He was young, perhaps 25, but there was a world-weariness in his countenance that spoke to a short lifetime of difficulties. Those difficulties were etched into his body. His tattooed arms and chest were a canvas of Celtic symbols, plants, and zombies. His earlobes had been cut and were distended, looking like three fleshy icicles.

Then there was the tremble. The boy’s hands shook, ever so slightly. But they constantly shook.

I wondered about his short past and his story, as I sipped the most delightful cocktail he concocted for me on the spot.

What to say

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t know what to say. After a few weeks of a Trump Presidency he isn’t sure what to think, say, or do. Here are some thoughts in random listicle form:

1) Your Maximum Leader feels that Trump’s cabinet is a mixed bag. Mattis & Chao are fine. Tillerson and Mnuchin are unknowns (frankly most are) and do not elicit much reaction now. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t approve of Sessions, Carson, or Perry. (NB: Though in all honesty, your Maximum Leader wouldn’t piss on Rick Perry if he was on fire.) Towards the rest of the picks he is largely ambivalent. We’ll see what happens with any, or all, of them. Though when you work for someone who has the attention span and impulsivity of a prepubescent ADHD boy hopped up on caffeine it is hard to do a good job…

2) Your Maximum Leader likes the pick of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. He is very pleased indeed. To be open, your Maximum Leader thought that Merrick Garland should have at least had a Senate Hearing. If you pressed your Maximum Leader, he’d even go so far as to say that the Senate should have confirmed Garland. Not because your Maximum Leader would have liked it. (He genuinely prefers Gorsuch.) But rather, the process is the process and delaying for nearly a year is too long. Delaying for six months seems too long, but probably isn’t. There is a fine line to it and your Maximum Leader doesn’t want to draw a hard line. Nearly a year until the election seems too long… And while speaking about the Gorsuch nod… Your Maximum Leader wonders if the Senate will be without a filibuster by the end of the year… He honestly thinks it could happen…

3) Your Maximum Leader has mixed, but mostly negative, feelings about the immigration ban. While he can support a temporary ban on immigration & refugees from a list of countries, the way Trump did this was awful. It speaks to amateurism, willfulness, impetuousness, and impulsiveness. None of which are good things. Just a few more days of consulting with the agencies tasked with implementing the ban would have done wonders on that issue.

4) Liberals/Progressives/Democrats… Dear God! All this rioting and protesting is getting tiresome. The rioting especially. It is disheartening for the future to think that there are many in our country who believe (and act on) the idea that the answer to bad speech (in the case of Berkeley today) or election results that don’t please you is to riot. Your Maximum Leader is getting tired of the term “violent protest.” A “violent protest” is a riot. Riots are lawless mobs bent on destroying property and injuring others. We can’t have riots… If the rioters think that more rioting is going to affect Trump in any way they really ought to think again. Trump is the type of person (if you haven’t figured it out now you probably are downright stupid) that when threatened will threaten back. If you take a swing at him, he’ll take a swing back. And if you take a swing at the Chief Executive of the United States, you are likely going to be hit with much more force than you bargain for…

5) Your Maximum Leader is dismayed by Trump’s calls for tariffs, roll-back of trade agreements, and pulling out of TPP. All these things are bad and will have bad outcomes…

But other than than that… How was the play Mrs. Lincoln?

Carry on.

    About Naked Villainy

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