Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Stand Back. I Have Arms.

You guys, I know I just did a blog post, but I'm gonna have to do another one because I'm getting very concerned about all the stuff I'm reading about that guy in Santa Barbara who shot a bunch of people on Friday.  (It is a Buddhist In The Bible Belt policy not to publicly identify criminals who evidently want publicity.  This here's a religious blog, not a public-relations firm.)  Mainly I'm concerned about comments like this one from blogger Bernie O'Hare: "Guns may not kill people, but cRaZy people with guns do. Before anyone is permitted to own a gun, he should be forced to undergo a mental health evaluation."  Or this one from John Boehner, senator from Ohio and that guy who tans himself orange all the time: “There’s no question that those with mental health issues should be prevented from owning weapons or being able to purchase weapons." Or constitutional law professor and Second Amendment expert Adam Winkler on CBS News:  "We are making it too easy for people who are mentally ill to get access to guns."  Or this gem from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "If the nation can’t come together on the simple proposition that it should do everything possible to keep mentally ill people from acquiring or possessing weapons, then sanity has fled us all."

Just out of curiosity, are you guys talking about me, here?  Well, yes, you are.  Of course you are.

I'm a pretty ordinary person.  I own a house, have a wife, cats, car.  I hold down a regular job.  I love kittens, apple pie, baseball and Mom.  Oh, and I'm mentally ill.  Yeah, I forget about that once in a while, but it's definitely been on my mind for the last couple days. There's something deeply disturbing about watching a nation of people debating whether or not you, too should be allowed civil rights.  And here I was thinking all I had to worry about was whether or not Texas would legally recognize my marriage (and the answer, as it so often is, is maybe).  

Oh, and please don't start telling me I'm not one of "those" mentally ill people or that you meant those "other" mentally ill people.  There are no "others."  We all fit under the same definition.  No one has ever suggested I'm about to grab an AK-47 and go out on a rampage, but if you believe that "mentally ill people shouldn't be allowed to buy weapons," then you're throwing me into the pile.  And frankly, I'd rather be a part of that pile than have you single me out and explain to me why I'm somehow special or different.

The idea that mentally ill people shouldn't be allowed to buy guns is based on two errors in logic.  The first is that only mentally ill people go on shooting rampages.  That's a false correlation.  I'm sure people want to believe that only mentally ill people would want to kill a whole bunch of people in a Columbine or Sandy Hill-like attack, but the truth is that in a lot of shootings, the shooter was never diagnosed or even suspected of being mentally ill.  The shooting in Santa Barbara actively targeted women, specifically beautiful blonde women, because the terrorist in question believed that such women had rejected him.  Since it targeted a specific group and was underlined by specific beliefs, Santa Barbara was an act of terror, not an expression of mental illness.

The second error is that if a mentally ill person wants a firearm, he or she must be about to go on a shooting rampage.  Well, if you believe that, you may be interested to know that over 19,000 of the United States's 31,000-a-year gun deaths are suicides. (WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports, 1999-2010.) In fact,  the overall suicide rate is rising so rapidly that it now outnumbers deaths from car crashes. Over 80% of those suicide deaths were white males under the age of 40 (WIAQARS, supra.) You know, the same people who go on these rampages.  The statistics are clear: Putting a gun into the hand of a mentally ill person is a lot more likely to result in a suicide than a homicide.  And while nobody's suggesting suicide is a good thing, neither is being murdered, and the mentally ill have a much higher chance of becoming a homicide victim than they ever do of killing anybody.

I do not own a gun.  I have, in fact, never owned a gun.  Joan used to own a gun, and I shot it once in a while, but it wasn't my gun and I rarely even thought about its presence in our house except when my idiot neighbor began harassing us back a couple of years ago about a fence we didn't want to build or pay for.  During that particular saga, I was pretty damn glad we had a gun.  Now that we don't anymore, I don't particularly miss it, but if Fencegate were to rear its ugly head again, I'd feel better having a weapon in the house.  Especially if you're female, firearms are the great equalizer.  A woman may not be able to fend off a physical attack as well as a man, but hand her a gun and the discrepancy disappears.  Anybody can become a good shot.  It takes practice and patience, but it can be done, and there's no gender difference in knowing how to aim and learning how to take a kick.  

(I can imagine your surprise.  A Buddhist with a firearm!  Well, I also took karate classes for quite a long time.  I don't think there's anything involved with either owning a gun or knowing karate that automatically makes me a bad Buddhist.  I might, in fact, point out that the first defense in karate is ALWAYS to run away if you can.) 

Senator Mark Pryor said that Second Amendment rights should be returned to individuals "after they’ve recovered from their mental illness." Oh, well, that's great.  First of all, you don't "recover" from a mental illness.  If you have one, you've got it for life, and while your symptoms may come and go, and your medications may change, the illness itself isn't going anywhere.  For another thing, if they're constitutional rights, you don't take them and return them.  They are yours from birth, or from the moment you set foot in this country.  Yes, I know criminals lose the right to vote and certain other rights as a result of a conviction, but simply being sick is not the same thing as being convicted of anything. In short (let's put this in bold caps) BEING MENTALLY ILL DOES NOT MEAN THERE IS ANYTHING INHERENTLY WRONG WITH YOU.  It just means that you have a condition, like lots of other conditions, and you deal with it, just like lots of other people deal with theirs.  

I, for example, choke down a handful of pills every morning (six, if you want to know, and three more at night), see my doctor every month and check in with another doctor, again every month, to make sure things are going all right.  I don't have any wild mood swings, I'm not deeply depressed and I'm not running around like a headless chicken trying to do forty things at once.  In short, I'm acting like a normal person, which is to say that things are balanced.  Do I wish things were better or different?  Yes, sometimes, but that's not something a pill is going to fix or not fix.  Certain things are, after all, up to me to change or to leave the same.  

Now let's look at Joan for a second. Joan is diabetic.  Every morning she checks her blood sugar to make sure it's in the normal range.  She also takes a number of pills (I've actually forgotten how many) and a bunch of supplements to control her blood sugar and to keep her blood pressure from getting too high.  She also sees a doctor once in a while; not as often as I do, but then I have better health insurance (for which I pay through the nose).  No one has ever suggested that Joan should be banned from owning firearms. Her condition would have kept her out of the military, but then, so would mine, and despite many misreadings of the Second Amendment, it's not true that only "the militia" is allowed to keep and bear arms. 

What if her blood sugar goes too high or drops too low, and she goes on a shooting rampage? Well, I can't imagine Joan going on a shooting rampage, but if she did, I doubt her blood sugar would be to blame.  For the same reason, a mentally ill person going on a shooting rampage is not necessarily going on a shooting rampage because he or she is mentally ill.  He or she may just be a terrorist, and you don't have to be mentally ill to be a terrorist.  Take, for example, the pro-lifers who attack abortion clinics and/or doctors.  Nobody's suggesting they're mentally ill.  A little out of balance with their own statements of principle, maybe, but at the end of the day they're just boring old mundane terrorists.  Like Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. 

I know it'd be comforting to believe that anybody who would shoot a bunch of people has to be crazy.  Having that belief allows you to divide up society into "us," the ones that would never do such a thing, and "them," the crazy people who would do such a thing.  But that's just not and never will be the case.  The truth is that anybody can be provoked to violence. Get into an argument where you feel that you have a personal stake in being right and let somebody push the right buttons and you might very well snap, haul off and slug somebody.  Which is why Buddhism preaches nonattachment to views and nonattachment to the whole notion of needing to be right.  If you're not attached to those things, you're less likely to be provoked to violence in defense of them.   

Hm. I've noticed that most of the people who go on these shooting rampages are white male Christians.  Maybe we should base the right to own firearms on religion.  Unconstitutional?  Yeah, probably.  Just like the idea that mentally ill people shouldn't be able to own firearms.  That pesky Second Amendment just keeps getting in the way.  And, people, that's what a Constitutional right is supposed to do.  If you don't have the right to do something, or not do something, regardless of popular opinion, then it's not a right.  It's just a suggestion.  And they didn't write a document called the "Bill of Suggestions" two hundred and forty-odd years ago.  Our system of government may be messy, but I wouldn't trade it for anybody else's.  

Would you? 

Monday, May 26, 2014


Every now and then I feel this mad urge to start another blog--call it the Secret Blog, maybe--and blog about all the stuff I don't blog about because people who actually know me read this blog.  You know, things people do that aggravate me, my latest struggle with something or other that we can't talk about on this blog because--yeah, and things that just happened where if I post them, everybody will know it's me because they were all there when it happened (or, worse, they were all there when it happened and Hey Jen, it didn't happen like that, it happened like this.)  Trouble is, if I started a secret blog I wouldn't be able to tell anyone where it is because--all together now--then it wouldn't be a secret.  And if it was a secret, nobody would read it unless I also had a secret Twitter account that I could Twitter from and tell people where it is, and that's getting pretty far into the realm of too many things to remember.  I know some people invent whole new identities on the Internet and call themselves clever names like Elvis Hitler that no one will ever guess are fake, but I'm not among them because I'd forget if my password was like EHitler88 or 88EHitler or some combination of the two and then my blog would never get updated.  It's hard enough to keep updating this one on something remotely resembling a regular schedule.

So for the record, here's something that irritates me that is innocuous to include on this blog.  People and elevators.  I may have mentioned this before, but why does every person who ever steps into any elevator just automatically assume that A. they know where that elevator is going and B. that elevator is going the direction they want to go?  This is particularly annoying at the Tom Landry center where I swim (Tom Landry also has a freeway named after him, in case a sports center isn't enough).  The elevator chimes once for up and twice for down, just like most other elevators on the planet.  What's more, there's a big ol' light outside the door that points up or down, and if that's not enough, a pleasant female voice comes on when you enter the elevator and says something cheerfully informational like, "First floor.  Going down."  So that's three (count them) 3 different clues which direction you're going before your elevator doors even close and still!  STILL people get on the elevator and look at you in astonishment when the elevator starts going down (or up) and say, "Oh, I thought it was going up (or down)."  Fer cryin' out loud, you normal human beings can pay attention to things like that without a half hour a day on the meditation cushion and certain pharmaceuticals, unlike Space Cadet Yours Truly who might have a bad day and end up on an airplane going the wrong direction and say "Oh, I thought we were going to Shanghai."  Why don't you do it? Really, is it that big a deal?  Please think about it.  Thank you. Pant. Pant. (wiping foam off face)

So it's Memorial Day weekend.  Every year we try to get out to see a couple of baseball games.  For the most part we don't go to Rangers games, though--too far and too expensive and the seats we can afford are worse than airplane seats (no, really).  We go to see the Frisco Roughriders
Alec Asher of the Frisco Roughriders
instead, the minor league team that the Rangers stripmine when they need a new player at basically no notice.  Minor league baseball is a whole nother thing entirely from the major leagues.  For one thing, you never know what's going to happen.  Sure, baseball is baseball and there are bound to be surprises, but minor league play has a lot more of them.  Minor league players are still learning, you see, and they'll do things like accidentally run into each other or both make a grab at the same ball or--well, stuff you don't often see in major league games.  Which sometimes turns the whole tide of the game in a direction you never expected.

(I'm guilty of my not-exactly-major-league sports fandom for a long while now.  When we lived in San Diego, we often went to see the San Diego Gulls for the same reason.  Minor league hockey is exactly like minor league baseball, except it's played on skates and you don't get called out for a bad swing.  Oh, and the zamboni is often the best player of the night.  You can always count on the zamboni.)

So yesterday we packed up and headed out to a Roughriders game.  The Roughriders play at Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, which is right across the street from IKEA.  In fact, if you leave early, you can stop at IKEA, buy a Stockholm sofa, put it together in the parking lot and watch the game in relative comfort from section 107.  Okay, I exaggerate a little, but the seats really are pretty nice compared to Rangers Stadium.  It's a low-rise stadium, which means you feel like you're practically on the field, and it's very family-oriented (you can be thrown out for excessive swearing, among other things).  There's between-inning entertainment, which gets silly because the mascots are these giant orange fuzzy things I've never figured out.  think Joan said they were prairie dogs, but if they are, they're mutant prairie dogs from the nuclear testing of the 1950s. I'm serious.
Have you ever seen a prairie dog that looks even remotely like this one?  No, the guy in the middle.  Honestly, don't make me smack you.

Things started going wrong at 2:05 P.M. with the first pitch.  I had completely forgotten that for a day game start time, there's no such thing as a "shady side of the park."  Usually the third-base side eclipses the sun early in the game, and if you're on that side, you don't have to worry about getting hot or how much sunscreen you put on.  Not so this particular day, in which we're out there at peak sun time and the sun shows no sign of going to hide behind the third base wall any time soon.  I started to get concerned about sunburn, coming as I do from a family of anti-sun fanatics, and finally I got up to walk all the way back to the stupid car to get the stupid sunscreen that I'd stupidly left there.  Which, for the record, was stupid.  I got out of the ballpark and into the parking lot and quickly became aware that sunburn was going to be the least of my problems.  Barrelling toward us from somewhere near Irving was a thunderhead the size of--well, it was big, anyway.

So I went back to the stands (with the sunscreen) to tell Joan that the rain cloud was on the way.  She said she didn't care; if it rained we'd be cooler.  She had a point there.  But when the rain cloud showed up ten minutes later, it let loose with apocalyptic sheets of rain, thunder and lightning that sent all the players scrambling for cover.  Well hey, it is Texas, you know.
Yep. Can't hardly see across the field.

As for us fans, we huddled in the back of the ballpark under awnings, concession stand panels and anything else that might make us less wet.  Too late to be dry.  I mean we were pretty soaked.  The field staff, good kids all, ran through the crowd wearing swim fins and snorkels, but for the most part the crowd started to evaporate after about 45 minutes.  Even Joan and I limped back to the car (Joan's having all kinds of trouble with her knee) and drove home, wringing out hair and clothing and we just happened to have a towel in the car, thanks to yours truly and her swimming habit.  Never know when you're going to need a towel.

And the Roughriders?  Well, two hours and thirty minutes later they came back and won the game, 3-2.  Still, I'm not sorry we left.  2 1/2 hours is a long time to sit around in wet clothes, even for baseball.  To say nothing of being menaced by mutant prairie dogs.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

State of the Onion and Book O'the Decade

Okay, already.  I know it's been ages since my last post.  Can I help it if I've hardly had time to breathe between rounds of dodging assassins, chasing bad guys, treasure hunting, romancing beautiful girls (okay, girl--just one girl--like I have time for more than one?) and exposing sinister government conspiracies? Honestly, my days are just packed.  Plus, the novel I'm writing (okay, I'm writing a novel.  That's sort of exciting) is being composed longhand in a spiral-bound notebook, like I used to do when I was a kid.  So I'm not hauling the laptop, or the tablet, all over town to write in various Starbucks locations.   Which makes it less likely I can kick out a blog post on top of everything else.  Well, you know.  Lack of equipment.  It's hard to type on a cell phone.

Besides, since our momentous trip to Austin, not a lot has happened.  Joan's leg is still bothering her and she's in physical therapy.  I had another squamous cell carcinoma lopped off my nose.  Many things legal got typed, filed, revised, proofed, filed, served and otherwise dealt with.  They were all very interesting. This month I'm trying to clock 1500 meters in 45 minutes every time I go to the pool, and I've done pretty well so far. (Thus to build up to the Big Swim in July.  I believe in starting early.)  One of my scrips is $100 a month with insurance, which is only slightly ameliorated by the fact that two of them are absolutely free.  I keep not reading my email.  But I am reading a spiffy book, The Martian by Andy Weir.  Meet my new Book O'the Decade.

Due to a big misunderstanding, astronaut and botanist Mark Watney is marooned on Mars when his team evacuates during a sandstorm.  What do you do, if you're stranded on a hostile planet that sort of fails to offer breathable air, water, food and, you know, other things you've sort of counted on since you first crawled out of the womb?  You invent things that will help you survive and find a way home.  With a wry sense of humor and plenty of old-fashioned determination, Watney narrates his ramble across the Red Planet,  intercut with news of home (on Earth, and at NASA) as his fellow scientists scramble to rescue him.  The Martian is compulsively readable.  Do not pick it up at 10 o'clock at night unless you want to be up until three or four in the morning.  I gotta knock the rest of it off this weekend because I was No. 6 on the waiting list of 29 or so people who wanted to borrow it from the library, and the sooner I get it into the hands of No. 7, the happier everyone will be.

The thing about this book is, it's hard to know what to call it.  Is it sci-fi?  Well, in a sense; a lot of the technology that shows up doesn't exist yet, though it's all perfectly plausible and, in all likelihood, not that far off.  But it all sounds perfectly factual, like the best narrative nonfiction.  Besides, it could happen.  Just like Gravity, sooner or later we're going to have a big snafu in space and people's lives are going to be at risk.  How are we, the rest of us that is, going to handle that?

Consider for a second that Mars is 34 million miles away from Earth at its closest point.  That's a long journey for a rescue helicopter, or even a space ship. How do we decide if that's important enough to put all the time and money behind going there?  We went to the moon because it was hard, as JFK famously said, but then we just sort of puttered around for a while before losing interest.  We humans also spent months and millions of dollars looking for a missing airliner that is, in all likelihood, lost with all hands, yet we can't seem to get our collective asses together to find 237 kidnapped Nigerian girls that are probably still alive.  (We also spent over $2 million to lock up Justina Pelletier for the past 15 months, and the girl didn't even do anything wrong.  I'm just saying.)  So would there be a big rally to rescue the man on Mars?  Or would he be written off as a tragic example of sometimes shit happens?  Anyway, you need to read the book, but it does inspire some serious thinking.

Other than that, there really isn't a lot going on.  The spring's been mild, with fairly cool temperatures and a lot more rain than usual even though (all together now) It Doesn't Make A Dent In Our Current Drought. I've become a compulsive walker at noontime; give me my twenty-minute ramble through Lee Park or face the consequences.  My gang of Buddhists is still meeting every Wednesday night to meditate, mutter, melodize and mope about misanthropic mendacities (to say nothing of aggrandizing alliterating assholes).  Tonight I'm going out with the girls to a burlesque, which I guess is the 1890s version of a strip show except nobody actually gets naked (I hope).  If so, I'll be the fat chick blushing in the back row. I am such a prude.