April 17, 2018

Clockwork Oranges

You may not like what you see, but you will SEE!
via Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange"
Have you ever read Anthony Burgess' novel, "A Clockwork Orange?" For me, it's right up there with George Orwell's "1984," H.G. Wells' "Island of Dr. Moreau," and Frank Herbert's "Dune" saga for the literary works that have most influenced me. The reason I bring it up is because in the book, while the anti-hero Alex is incarcerated, the prison chaplain poses the question to the prison warden that fixing the problem of crime by conditioning criminals into experiencing debilitating illness at the thought of violence is a sin. According to the prison chaplain, it would be better that all people had free will and chose to do evil, than to have no free will and be compelled to do only good. 

So when I find things on the Satanic interwebs like this essay published by the Church of Rational Satanism (CoRS), it's Burgess' novel that I remember. You can read a much longer dissection of the CoRS's essay at the Devil's Fane, but having read the CoRS's essay I hear Burgess' priest on my right shoulder: is it preferable to be unbound by mental chains and also free to err, or is it preferable to be obligated to dogma and captive to rules? Me being who I am, I'd rather have more freedom to decide my affairs even if it means the occasional gaffe...

... and this is one of the reasons why I chose to become a member of The Satanic Temple (TST.) To be honest, this wasn't a recent decision -- I joined some time ago but decided to keep my affiliation to myself until I felt like I had reason to discuss it. And, to be honest, this was a much different affair than joining the Church of Satan (CoS.) The reasons that I decided to leave the CoS are outside the scope of this essay, but I bring it up only to compare the application process between the CoS and TST.

To join the CoS, one must send an application along with a one-time payment for $225, but this in fact doesn't qualify you as a full member, but instead as what might be considered a patron or a supporter. The reason why is because the application form submitted with the payment is considered only a declaration that the applicant agrees with the positions set out by the CoS, and beyond that nothing more. It is a one-way declaration of support, and at least in the eyes of the CoS doesn't confer anything except a card declaring the applicant a "Citizen of the Infernal Empire." If the applicant wants to well and truly become a member of the CoS and be mutually recognized as a Satanist, then the applicant must submit a second application consisting of dozens of questions used to determine if the applicant is a right-thinking sort of person. Once the applicant has been vetted by the leadership, only then will he or she be mutually acknowledged by the CoS. This process of charging an entry fee and requiring double confirmation is both specifically and explicitly designed to keep out the undesirables and control who may call him or herself a Satanist.

Meanwhile, to join TST one need only enter his or her name and email address into a form. That's it. There are options for members to spend $25 for a decorative certificate and membership card, but it's not required and to the best of my knowledge there are no exclusive benefits for card-carrying members. Otherwise, there's no entry fee, no application, and no purity tests. There's really only one caveat for membership, and that's the standard organizational policy that membership can be revoked presumably for bad behavior (don't be a dick, amirite?), and there's really only one requirement: applicants should understand, agree with, and adhere to TST's guiding tenets.

I was rather excited after being approved as an active, registered member of the CoS -- at the time, that meant something to me -- so you can imagine my surprise when left-hand woman to the High Priest of the Church of Satan, Magistra Nadramia, told me that I had to delete the photographs I posted on social media of my welcome package because it's "confidential information" for "members only" that shouldn't be shared because "people will make counterfeits." So after I decided that I would join TST and the only thing I had to do was check my inbox to click the anti-spam confirmation link, I thought for sure I was missing something -- was joining TST really only a matter of sharing my name and email address? Evidently, TST isn't concerned with purity tests and quality control.

And I get it, I mean -- this feeds into the big criticisms levied against TST: "They'll take anybody. They're scraping the bottom of the barrel. They don't even care if you're a Satanist." After all, just look at how much work the CoS puts into quality control: a strict internal hierarchy with multiple gatekeepers and high fences to keep out the ignorant, and only those who've demonstrated a detailed comprehension of the religion and philosophy are acknowledged. Meanwhile, membership in TST is as easy as voluntarily subscribing to a mailing list.

So the argument goes, recognized members of the CoS are intelligent and discerning individuals because they've not only learned the 9 Satanic statements, 9 Satanic sins, 11 Rules of the Earth, and Pentagonal Revisionism, but have also internalized the Satanic Bible. It takes a lot of study and personal application to do all these things, so that's evidence of will-to-power, right? Maybe yes...

... and depending on your perspective, maybe no. Another large criticism made against TST (and one which I've made in the past) is that the organization doesn't really have any literature, and that it doesn't really believe anything because it only has seven guiding tenets (which are really more like what you would call guidelines than actual rules.) So the accusations go, "See how flimsy TST is? See how thin their claim to be a true religion really is?" Well, I don't agree with those accusations because unlike the CoS which has a high initial bar for entry and then vigorously tends ideological hedges by keeping tabs on members to ensure commitment to right-thinking and the narrowly defined boundaries of its canon literature, TST has a very low bar for entry and then advances those members by strength of deeds and the volume of acclamation. Religiously, philosophically, and organizationally, what I've observed is that TST wants its members to think for themselves about how to use the loose guidelines of the seven tenets as a flexible and expandable foundation for further growth. But then, their aversion to authoritarianism is institutional and is only naturally reflected in how members are encouraged to treat themselves -- whether external or internal, subjugation to jealous tyrants is not welcomed.

Now, let it be known that I'm so obviously not a spokesperson for TST, and I'm not privy to secret knowledge about the organization, so if there's an 18th level grand magus about who wants to correct me on any of this you're welcome to join the conversation. What I'm saying here is based on what I can see in the news, what I read on Reddit, the limited conversations I have with other TST members, and what I learn through TST-affiliated bloggers, podcasters, and YouTubers. I'm not trying to speak authoritatively about TST, but only from what I've observed and experienced.

And going by what I've observed and experienced, TST doesn't nurture clockwork oranges. What I've observed is that TST would rather have a membership composed of individuals working to interpret and apply the guiding tenets in a way that makes sense to them individually even if different members fall short of the mark. What I've observed is that TST prefers to create fertile ground to nurture stimulating and productive members even if a few weeds must be tolerated or occasionally pruned. What I've observed is that TST's guiding tenets are, in their way, more demanding and challenging than the defined canon literature of the CoS because there's nothing clockwork about them. Contrary to the accusations made by the CoRS, CoS, and other interested parties, I've found that TST's guiding tenets require a substantial investment of time and energy, as well as a large degree of self-awareness -- and so say I, that doesn't seem a step out of line for anybody who'd call him or herself a Satanist.

April 12, 2018

Did Todd Savvas predict Jenna Dewan and Channing Tatum would split?

So, have you seen the news that a card reader allegedly predicted the break-up between Jenna Dewan and Channing Tatum? Here are a couple spoilers for you: No, he didn't, and the video you see above is paid advertising. Do you get it? Jenna Dewan -- or more likely her manager -- made some money by getting a professional camera crew to watch reader Todd Savvas perform for a gushing Jenna Dewan. As usual, I find these kinds of performances entertaining but not for the reason that either Jenna or Todd probably intended.

You can watch the entirety of the performance in the video embedded above, and I encourage you to do so not only because it's quite short, but also because it shows how effortlessly multiple compliance tests and provers can be added to the performance. Let's take it from the top, shall we?

First, a unique tool. While there's nothing unique about shuffling cards to generate a fortune -- people have been using decks of cards as chaos-computers that shuffle a limited pool of variables to randomly generate interesting narratives for as long as cards have existed -- Mr. Savvas's deck looks to be about 400 cards deep and is of his own creation. And you know, speaking as somebody who's created not only his own deck but his own method of cartomancy, I think that's pretty cool and I credit him for his effort.

But so long as we're look at this video in terms of lesser magic, I think that his unique deck -- and the time that both Mr. Savvas and Ms. Dewan spend emphasizing its uniqueness -- is quite telling. The reason this matters to the performance is because by emphasizing the unique quality of the cards, both Mrs. Savvas and Ms. Dewan are enhancing the perceived power of the tool, and let's be honest with ourselves: the magic quality of the cards is a big part of any cartomantic performance. Doesn't it make the whole thing more fun? Doesn't it help the sitter to suspend disbelief and indulge in the power of fantasy by choosing to accept that the cards themselves have a particular power about them? It does for me, and if you'll be honest with yourself I think it does for you, too.

Second, a unique performer. Mr. Savvas seems pretty chill about claiming special abilities, but Ms. Dewan is either a true believer or she's competing for 2018's Golden Raspberry award in the category of worst actress. Ms. Dewan just can't stop falling over herself to praise Mr. Savvas and compliment his abilities, going so far as to call him Merlin and to say that he's sprinkled with magic. Whether Ms. Dewan is aware of the charade or not, she's directly contributing to the perceived power of the performer's innate abilities and sacred status that sets him apart.

Clearly, it's not enough for a normal person to shuffle paste-boards, and that's why -- despite Mr. Savvas's lack of elaborate attire -- Ms. Dewan has to go out of her way to command her audience to LOOK. After all, the trouble with psychic abilities is that they're not visible to the naked eye, and if Ms. Dewan doesn't tell her audience that Mr. Savvas is possessed of such skills, why -- they'll just never know. I have complete confidence that Ms. Dewan has never read a single word of Anton LaVey, yet even so she's doing a fine job of commanding her audience and turning their heads toward what she wants them to SEE.

Third, appeal to a higher power. They've already emphasized the unique qualities of the tool and the performer, but the gravity of the performance be enhanced further, and Ms. Dewan's allegedly genuine interest in the performance deepened, by including an element of mysticism. You see, Ms. Dewan isn't just working with the cards or with Mr. Savvas, but she's also working with the knowledge of the universe and uncovering what the universe wants her to know. Because, you know -- an omnipresent, disembodied, cosmically aware intelligence that cares about the personal well-being of a single talking monkey on a back-water planet at the ass-end of the Milky Way is so totally different from Christians who say that God is omnipresent and works through the disembodied, cosmically aware presence of the Holy Ghost and cares about the personal well-being of the members of His flock.

I mean, if you see it differently you're welcome to explain why in the comment section below, but to me this whole thing about the intelligence of the universe and what the universe wants for me personally is just a Mad Libs substitution for the mythological character called God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Ghost. To my ears, this way of petitioning the universe for knowledge is no different than praying to God, and I gave that up a long time ago.

But there are a lot of people who haven't, and even if it's unfashionable to invoke the name of God in a chic, stylish piece of advertising for the benefit of Mr. Savvas, Ms. Dewan can still find a way to sneak it into the performance with a wink-and-a-nod that's agreeable to the Christian-minded and invisible to the less discerning. I mean, Mr. Savvas even suggests to her that she call on angels while meditating on the cards. If it were any more overt than this, they'd be on their knees and reading out of a Bible. I think theism generally and Christianity specifically are unworthy of the human race, but what can I say? There are a lot of Christians, or at least Christian-minded people, who are willing to spend a lot of money on products and services that go along with their world view.  

Fourth, lend a helping hand. Now, it's entirely possible that Ms. Dewan really is head-over-heals for Mr. Savvas's performances, but speaking as a fortune-teller I'm skeptical not only that she didn't have a specific question, but also that she wasn't in on the performance. I mean to say, if she's not in on the performance, then why is she working so hard to fill in the gaps for Mr. Savvas?

In Ms. Dewan's defense, part of this is the doing of Mr. Savvas who offers several compliance tests as well as opportunities to participate right at the opening of the performance... which, if you have to know, I think is great. After all, why should Mr. Savvas have all the fun? It would be rude for him to not invite Ms. Dewan to literally lend a hand and take part in the performance. Ms. Dewan is instructed to close her eyes and to visualize or meditate, and these things are perfectly fine on their own, but in terms of lesser magic they're also compliance tests used to help the sitter get into a suggestive state and take full advantage of the temporary suspension of disbelief. 

After completing this meditation, Ms. Dewan is also invited to choose five cards from the deck entirely on her own. Mr. Savvas might as well be a stage magician asking Ms. Dewan to, "pick a card, any card." And why not? This deepens the performance and adds another layer to the fantasy's onion that the complexity, gravity, and randomness of the performance makes it all the more meaningful. 

Fifth, fill in the gaps. If you thought that the predictions offered by Mr. Savvas were going to be really amazing, spoiler alert: they're not really amazing, they're just really vague. And you know, I don't fault Mr. Savvas for being vague for a couple reasons. First, a performance isn't merely the recitation of the narrative formed by the cards, but the unison of that narrative with the intellectual awareness of the person for whom the narrative was performed. In this case, Mr. Savvas has the skill to interpret the narrative in the cards, but only Ms. Dewan has the knowledge and personal context to interpret and apply that performance. Second, being vague is a key component to any performance because it allows the sitter to become mentally invested through the consideration of the narrative.

But having said that, Mr. Savvas gives Ms. Dewan opportunity to fill in his blank spots and she absolutely delivers. He does his best to provide a generalization of the cards, but him not being personally familiar with the routines and professional realities of people in show-business he can only nod suggestively at Ms. Dewan and imply that it's time for her to join the conversation -- which she does happily to cover up his shortfalls. I said in the Satanic Tarot that being a fortune-teller is a lot easier than you think because it's the sitter who does all the heavy lifting, and I wasn't joking: Ms. Dewan is proof positive that the sitter is the real performer, and the fortune-teller is only the ring-master inviting her to stand on center-stage.

Sixth, this performance isn't about Mr. Savvas. People occasionally choose to not believe me when I tell the truth, and I wasn't fibbing when I said that Mr. Savvas is a performer marketing himself primarily to Christian and Christian-sympathizing audiences. As his performance continues, he lays heavily into what spirit wants for Ms. Dewan, and what spirit is communicating to Ms. Dewan. The reason for this is two-fold: First, this adds an additional layer of separation between Mr. Savvas and the performance, so if there are any weak points he can always say that it's not about what he wants or what he has to say, but instead is only a blameless medium who lives to convey messages from beyond the veil. Second, for the Christian-minded sitter who believes in this sort of thing -- which, going by all observations, is a lot of people -- insisting on the power of spirit is a way to appeal to the power of God who can never be wrong and should never be questioned. Isn't that a neat trick? Put those two things together, and Mr. Savvas can never be personally wrong and always personally respected. Isn't that a handy? It's like going to church, but without the guilt of knowing that your tithes are supporting pedophile priests.

Seventh, it's all good news. Mr. Savvas rather ironically warns Ms. Dewan against being "taken astray by people who would try to sell [her] on snake-oil," and I confess that I had a good laugh watching her listen seriously and not even enjoy the tiniest giggle of self-awareness. Other than that, Mr. Savvas kept things light and fluffy with lots of self-affirming advice for Ms. Dewan to re-contextualize herself, trust her intuition, do things differently, and enjoy all the money and fame that's coming for her in 2018.

Eighth, except for that bit about about Channing Tatum. Spoiler alert: Mr. Savvas did not predict Ms. Dewan's separation from Channing Tatum. Not one word about marriage or even relationships passed his lips, and Mr. Tatum may as well have not existed for the purposes of this performance. The supposed prediction in question came from a card called, "The Player," but even Mr. Savvas emphasizes that this isn't a damn thing to do with broken relationships, but instead a variety of people drawn to Ms. Dewan's rising star because they're jealous or envious and having nothing of their own...

... and considering Mr. Tatum's conspicuous absence from the narrative of this performance, the studio-quality production value of this promotional video, the click-bait title that has no bearing on the content of Mr. Savvas's performance, and my firm suspicion that Mr. Savvas paid a fee to put on this show with Ms. Dewan and that this article published by E Online is advertising hidden in plain sight for the personal gain of everybody involved, I think it becomes clear that this whole thing is an exercise in marketing. Which is all just a really long way of saying:

Mr. Savvas didn't predict the split between Ms. Dewan and Mr. Tatum...

... but so long as you're aware that you're doing so, it can still be fun to indulge in the fantasy that he did.

April 06, 2018

Stuff & Nonsense 4/6/2018

  1. How many Christians only attend church a few times per year? Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are the big three dates for church attendance partly because these are armband Christians who feel guilty for not going at least a few times per year, but also because these are atheists, agnostics, and generally not-religious people who are dragged along to church by their Christian family members who make worship into a family affair where everybody can catch up with old Mr. So-and-So, chat with Auntie What's-Her-Name, and gossip about how the community has changed. Church attendance is surely a religious concern for many people, but it's also a cultural concern for many more. That's all I've got to say about that.
  2. The so-called "affluenza teen" who once claimed his parents’ wealth prevented him from distinguishing between right and wrong was released from a Texas jail Monday after a two-year sentence related to a drunk-driving crash that killed four people. As a Satanist, I think criminals should be obligated to suffer the full weight of the law regardless of wealth or privilege, and if it were up to me this man-child who argued that he's not capable of knowing right from wrong wouldn't be allowed to walk free until he could prove otherwise. Read more here.
  3. What would you think about Christianity if you were only just hearing about it for the first time? Satanic thoughts on the cult-like worship of a cannibal-corpse. Read more here.
  4. Depression happens to everybody, and it doesn't matter how "strong" you think you are (however you try to define it). It doesn't make you less of a "man" (however you try to define it). It just means that you're human, and struggling with depression and related mental health issues is a challenge faced by all humans. Read more here.
  5. What happens when a Satanist goes to a conference for Atheists? Judging at least by this report, not nearly as much as you'd think, but it's still really interesting to see how a Satanist navigates the ups and downs of interacting with atheists. Read more here.
  6. There are Satanists in Los Angeles, and going at least by this interview they probably don't look or act how you think they do, or want you expect them to. Read more here.
  7. Want to learn how to lucid dream -- and by extension, control your dreams? Then you're in luck, because going by the scientific evidence it's not as hard as you think. Read more here.
  8. The Internet does weird things to religion. Is it satire? Is it serious? Is it both? I don't even know anymore. Read more here.
  9. What happens when Tarot meets Alice in Wonderland? Obviously, the Wonderland Tarot. Read more here.

April 05, 2018

The Psychic Power of a Magic Indian

Tarot card reader Vanessa Sanddal.
Picture by Thom Bridge, via Independent Record
Once in a while, people choose to not believe me when I tell the truth. Maybe they think I'm just biased in my opinions -- which I suppose is true in that I'm biased in favor of reality -- or maybe they think I'm just making things up? But as I've said before, everything I wrote in The Satanic Tarot is based on lived experience and long observation of fortune-tellers. So you can imagine how amused I was I found this article by Erin Loranger at The Independent Record where she's basically offering a puff piece of free advertising on a fortune-teller who just opened shop in town. Despite the fluffy content of the article, it's unintentionally revealing for the ways that it shows all the props this fortune-teller is using and her approach to lesser magic. Let's break it down piece by piece, shall we?

First, "What is the source of a fortune-teller's power?" In this essay, I discuss the different kinds of props that fortune-tellers use to enhance their sitters' experience and provide a more entertaining performance, and two props specifically: the Magic Indian and Imaginary Friends. Says the fortune-teller Ms. Sanddal, her intuition "comes partly from being Native American and and also having a healing heart, to further interpret the cards for each client," and that "animals are spirit guides who provide protection, guidance and healing."

Maybe she really is possessed of psychic abilities owing to her pedigree, and maybe she really is served by animals who offer wisdom subjectively interpreted in order to be applicable to humans? And then, maybe she's just perpetuating a racist stereotype that has traction among ignorant people who want to believe that Native Americans are born into an enchanted bloodline and that people like to believe in the fantasy of being served by talking animals.

Second, she's not a sainted prophet. Says the fortune-teller, "she’ll keep her office in Helena as long as she makes enough money to break even on the rent, but her ultimate goal is to make enough to donate 10 percent of her income to the Lewis and Clark Humane Society." It's cool that she wants to use her money to do something good for the animals she cares about, but the facts are the facts: she's an entertainer who's in business to make money. 

It also amuses me that she so clearly feels guilty about charging money for her services that she has to make a show about "just breaking even" so she can afford to do some good. And if I'm gonna be honest with you, it really amuses me that she can't find 10% to support her cause right now because I know for a fact from the days that I was a member of the LDS Church, as well as the days when I was in direct, person to person sales, that the only obstacle to setting aside 10% of your income is rarely a matter of hardship, but choice. I'm not a betting man, but if I were I'd wager any amount of money that she can afford to pay 10% of her income right now if she were willing to give up certain personal luxuries.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I totally support indulgent luxuries and treating oneself right -- but I also support not humiliating myself by telling infantile lies or pretending that I'm only trying to "break even" and that my generosity in support of something I care about is dependent on other people's money. If she cares enough, she'll do it now without trying to guilt people into doing business with her because 10% of it is for a good cause.

ThirdI don't think she's being honest with herself. Says the fortune-teller, "This is a good healing place," and "I just want people to feel better about the loss of their pet." As usual, I'm willing to see three sides to an issue so I can absolutely understand losing a much beloved pet can be really painful... and depending on the quality of the person in question, sometimes more painful than losing a family member.

But as usual, if I'm going to be honest with you, I'm curious to know: What qualifies this woman to be a grief counselor? What experience does she have that gives her the right to play-pretend she's a therapist? I think that if she were as concerned for the well-being of her sitters as she says, she'd respect her limitations and encourage her grieving sitters to seek professional help. I put it to you that she's not in fact interested in "healing" her sitters (whatever that's supposed to mean), but is actually interested in playing the role of the healer because it makes her feel powerful. Now, if she wants to play doctor and risk a civil suit because she enjoys swimming in her sitters' grief, that's her business, but you can count me out.

Fourthshe's using the principles of sentiment and wonder. Even if Ms. Sanddal has probably never read one word of Anton LaVey, she's executing a masterful performance of lesser magic in terms of how she presents herself and what she offers to her sitters. Says the fortune-teller,  her style is "a mix of Cat in the Hat, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz," and she likes to wear "striped tights with red shoes" and even a wig. Holy costuming, Batman! Ms. Sanddal has figured out how to channel emotional sentiment by being caring and attentive, and how to channel wonder by making people take notice of her strangeness. It's my personal opinion that she'd have more luck pairing sentiment with sex than wonder, but who am I to tell her how to do her job if she's already got sitters lining up to sit at her Tarot table?

If you're a sitter looking for a fortune-teller, then you should be aware that these elements (and more) are part of the performance that you're paying to receive. Does that cheapen your experience? It shouldn't, because just like a film connoisseur it should instead help you appreciate the fortune-teller's performance at multiple levels -- and perhaps instruct you how to use your fortune-teller's performance for constructive purposes that will last longer than the performance itself.

If you're a fortune-teller who performs for sitters, then you should already know that these elements are a part of your performance and understand how to maximally use them to create a more immersive ritual chamber and a more entertaining experience for your sitters. Don't deceive yourself into thinking that you're anything other than what you really are, because when you do so you're blinding yourself to the opportunities to become a more effective lesser magician and a more entertaining performer for an audience who will thank you time and again for the effort you invest into the temporary and consensual self-deceit of a Tarot card reading.

April 04, 2018

A Tarot Spread to Reveal Hypocrisy.

tarot cards cheating dishonesty

A big part of what I do as a Tarot reader, and incidentally a big part of what I've been writing about lately, is encouraging my sitters at best toward self-awareness, and at worst just looking beyond their immediate circumstances. Part of how I do that is by invoking the principle of the ritual chamber where disbelief is suspended and sitters' lives may be compared and contrasted to the fantasy conjured through the cards, but another part of it is simply searching for hypocrisy and attempting to find consonance between internal and external realities.

One of the ways that I look for these things is through the comparison of Needs, Habits, and Desires. This allows me to see the way of life to which a person is habituated, and to question if this person's motivating desires support, ignore, or antagonize his or her lingering needs. See how that works? I'm asking, "Who are you, what do you want, and does this resolve your needs?" In the immortal words of Mick Jagger, "You can't always get what you want, but -- if you try -- sometimes you get what you need."

This three-card arrangement is something that I've been using for years because it's just so damn good at providing perspective, but another three-card arrangement I've recently begun using is Thoughts, Words, and Actions, and I've found that it partners really nicely with Needs, Habits, and Desires in order to show consonance or dissonance of self. 

In this way, I'm able to question what the subject is thinking, whether the subject is sharing these thoughts, and whether the subject's actions agree with thoughts and words, as well as if the subject's actions move him or her closer to either the needs or the desires. See how that works? "What's on your mind, are you sharing it with others, and are you working to create material changes?" There's an allegedly Irish saying that nicely encapsulates this three-card arrangement: "Nodding your head doesn't row the boat."

What does this arrangement look like in action? Let's take it for a test-drive:

April 02, 2018

Thoughts on gun control & public safety

The government can't protect you, only you can protect you!

I agree, I just think that there are different ways of defending myself, and having served in the Marine Corps it's pretty difficult for me to look at people marching around with their AR-15's and claiming that those are for self-defense. Like, self-defense against what -- a dinosaur? You won't hear any complaints from me about non-semi-automatic and non-automatic handguns, shotguns, and hunting rifles: those are absolutely for self-defense and hunting, and have absolutely proven to not be the preferred tools of shooters who want to blast classrooms of little kids and teenagers into tiny pieces.

For all the risk factors involved in gun ownership, I'd rather defend myself from gun violence by petitioning my elected officials to look out for my self interests by ensuring that only responsible people are trusted with the responsibility of gun ownership, including a graduated license system, firearm education, mandatory testing and educational requirements, and depending on the class of weapon in question being restricted to military use only.

The government must be resisted, and guns are the first line of defense!

Who do you even think you're fooling? Have you even seen the kind of hardware that law enforcement is carrying these days? And if this is really a matter of resisting a tyrannical government, then what exactly is your plan for dealing with a Cobra gunship, a Bradley fighting vehicle, or even just a squad of US Army infantry? They'd steam-roll right over you and every fantasy you had about freedom-fighting for the American dream would amount to little more than a grease-stain on the pavement.

That's why we need a well-regulated militia!

Yes, now we're getting somewhere! As part of the regulations for this militia, we could crowd-fund the money to supply them with easily-identified uniforms, consistent armaments, and regularly convened training regimens to improve mental and physical strength. We could even build armories at well-appointed intervals to ensure strategic coverage, and just for good measure this militia could be placed under civilian control but only within the geographic confines of the community which it serves. Why, this well-regulated militia might even look like... 

... the National Guard, which is funded by tax-payer money, equipped with the same uniforms of the federal military, receives military-grade weapons, is sent for war-fighting drills at regular intervals, is stationed at armories throughout their home states, and falls under the civilian authority of the state's governor who can deploy guardsmen during emergencies that threaten the safety of the state's residents.

Yeah, but people still need guns for self-defense and hunting!

With perhaps the exception of ranchers and others fighting to control the population of wild boars wrecking their property, I struggle to imagine any hunter needing to send dozens of rounds down range to make sure Bambi is well and truly dead. You're welcome to try and convince me if you feel differently, but I'm not convinced that people need semi-automatic or automatic weapons for hunting, and if you're in a situation where you need a semi-automatic or automatic handgun or rifle for self-defense, then I'd sure love to hear about it.

You're so stupid -- why are you rushing to give away your freedoms?

As a parent, one of the reasons I don't keep a gun in the house is because I want to reduce completely to Zero the possibility that one of my children gets a loaded gun in her hands for any reason, or that a home invader could use my privately owned gun against me. Sure enough -- I could put a trigger lock on the gun and keep the ammunition locked in a separate room of the house -- but in the event of a home invader, what am I gonna do? Ask the invader to just wait a minute while I stumble around in the dark unlocking my gun and then going to the other room where I keep the ammunition? Somehow I don't think it's gonna work out well for me.

Fine! If you don't want to own a gun, then you don't have to own a gun, but don't go taking away other people's freedoms!

Every freedom citizens of the US enjoy is restrained in some way. You're free to express yourself, but you're not free to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater or libel somebody just because you don't like them. You're free to be religious, but you're not free to require other people to participate in your religion. You're free to swing your arms, but not beyond the tip of my nose. You're free to own a gun, but when there are on average four or more people killed every day in the USA by a single shooter during the same shooting, then you can damn well expect some limits on your freedom. If you disagree, I'd love to hear why, but I don't think that an acceptable risk of gun ownership is school shootings on what feels like a monthly basis.

That's why you've got to arm the teachers, or put armed guards in every school!

Are you for real right now? Our schools don't even have enough money to pay for school supplies without guilting parents into regular donations of paper and pencils or coercing children into selling magazine subscriptions. You're telling me that our state and national legislatures can miraculously find money to train and arm teachers, or to hire armed security guards, when we can't even get enough funding for basic educational activities? Or what happens when during a school shooting the teacher gets killed -- how do I know that the shooter isn't going to pick up the teacher's gun and use it on other students? And as usual, I'm willing to be proven wrong, but judging by the reports of teachers shooting their guns off in school, and armed security guards either threatening and beating students, or in the event of a school shooting just waiting outside the school and doing nothing, I'm not presently convinced that guns in schools is going to solve the problem of guns in schools.

Goddamnit, you're so stupid. If somebody wants to kill you, they'll do it with or without a gun.

So what, this means that just because people can be murderous assholes that no attempt should even be made to place limits on weapons capable of churning out 9 rounds per second? I'd like to see somebody try and commit a mass murder with a single-shot hunting rifle or a revolver. I bet they could succeed in killing a few people, but the dozens of dead and hundreds of wounded that we're seeing in some of these shootings isn't gonna happen with a hunting shotgun. 

And if somebody is so determined to kill me personally no matter what, then they're welcome to try, but the way I understand it, self-defense isn't about if I can out-draw and out-gun the other guy, but a pattern of decision-making that reduces my exposure to risk. I suppose I could always become the victim of an insane madman who decides that it's just my day to die, but self-defense isn't about push coming to shove, but making wise decisions that prevent or avoid dangerous interactions to begin with. I agree that guns are a part of the self-defense equation, but to my eyes they're only one variable among many, and I think that if I've reached the point where I'm looking at the variable of kill-or-be-killed, something has gone terribly wrong in the other segments of the self-defense equation.

Are you really that dumb that you think a law written on paper will protect you?

I agree with you that I'm responsible for my self-defense and that I can't depend on the police to protect me -- on a good day, the local cop shop's response time for a 911 call is 5-10 minutes, and that's basically forever while a home invader or street thug is 10 steps away from me -- but I also think that this isn't an either/or scenario, but a both/and scenario. This isn't about "Ban all guns!," or "Let's not even try!" This is about, "There are practical, common-sense ways I can protect myself," and "In the name of self-preservation I can petition my elected officials to improve the safety of the community in which I live by reducing other risk factors." 

Gun-proliferation advocates seem to enjoy invoking extremes in defense of their justification for private gun ownership, but I don't live in a prison, war-zone, or any of these other scenarios where civil unrest might break out at any moment. Gun-proliferation advocates like to say that I'm giving up my rights and am deluding myself into a false sense of security, but from where I'm standing the world they claim exists where people everywhere should be free to own weapons which exist for arguably no other purpose than to kill humans looks like a reactionary fever-swamp. 

If you really think that the need for semi- and fully-automatic weapons is so important, then you're welcome to convince me why that's so, but I'm just not seeing it.

April 01, 2018

April 2017: Today is not that day.

MTV's Daria was one of the best cartoons on TV during the 90's.
Welcome to April! As I'm sure at least a few of you are curious to hear about, let's talk about the results of my latest MRI. In the middle of March I consulted with my neurosurgeon and we reviewed the results of my scan which was done in response to what looked like a spinal cord tumor discovered during an MRI for an unrelated issue. The short answer is that there's absolutely no difference between the scan I received in February and the one performed in July. For all purposes, they're identical, and my neurosurgeon feels confident concluding that the intramedullary expanding cystic lesion inside my spinal cord isn't a cancerous tumor but almost certainly just a build-up of spinal-cord fluid and it's probably been there "forever."

We did discuss my concerns about weakness in my hands, a waxy feeling in my fingertips, and the aches and pains from my neck to my arms. He gave me a needle-prick test, which I passed without incident, but he also gave me a strength test in which he measured my ability to resist his attempt to pull open my clasped fingers or to push close my extended fingers. I didn't do as well on that test as the first time he performed it, so there has been some loss of strength. I asked him if this could the results of either carpal tunnel syndrome or run-of-the-mill generalized anxiety disorder, but his tapping assessment for carpal tunnel returned nothing and he wouldn't guess at anything beyond that. 

I guess all those conspiracies about neurologists pushing people into unnecessary neurological surgery, deliberately causing a major neural deficit to put the patient into a vegetative state, rushing to declare brain death, and quickly harvesting their patients' organs for sale on the black market to Satanists are bunk -- I mean, my neurosurgeon has done nothing but throw cold water on the whole process, so he's either not "in" on the conspiracy or he's just a responsible physician who's refusing to jump to conclusions. Incidentally, there are people who really believe that neurosurgeons are doing this, but at the risk of improving their Google search ranking I will not link to them from here.

At any rate, based on my reported symptoms and his diagnostic assessments, he wants to send me for electromyography (EMG) to see if there's a neurological reason for what's happening, and why not? That's a responsible thing to do that allows him to explore every avenue so he can say with full confidence that he exhausted his efforts to investigate and resolve my complaints. Great guy, I like this man...

... and that's why it kills me that I'm going to tell him that I don't want to go through with the EMG. Part of the reason for this is because I've got some serious anxiety about hospitals generally, but invasive tests specifically, so going to the hospital to be stuck with needles and given mild electric shocks for about 45 minutes is basically at the top of my list for things I don't want to endure. 

But the biggest reason I'm not going to receive an EMG is not because of the EMG itself, but because the larger ordeal itself is occupying every square inch of my mental real estate. Thinking about my health every moment of every day and planning ahead for appointments and diagnostic services, and budgeting for travel to a neighboring city for consultations, is feels like an imposing piece of Stalinist architecture squatting over the otherwise cozy neighborhood of my mind. I can't focus or accomplish anything with this happening, and I can hear your thoughts before you speak them: "Don't be crazy, listen to your doctor!"

And perhaps I should listen to my doctor, but at best what I'm experiencing is a psychosomatic response, a generalized anxiety disorder, or even just the result of not doing enough stretching -- things which I can fix on my own. At worst, I'm in the beginning of a long-term, chronic, progressive health condition for which there isn't any kind of cure or preventative measure that can be taken, and for which physicians tend to not do anything at all until such time as the symptoms become so severe that they're interrupting activities of daily life.

So for me, choosing to not continue with consultations, assessments, and diagnostic tests seems like the best choice. I mean to say, all of these consultations, assessments, and diagnostic tools are for the purpose of extending my life, but if the process of pursuing and enduring them makes my life unlivable, then what's the point? If such a day comes that it becomes clear I've got a dire, pressing need for medical attention, you can be sure I'll be getting it... but today is not that day.