walls and fences.

25 years….don’t they go by in a blink.

A quarter-century ago, the Wall between East and West Berlin finally came down, and a divided city and country began growing back together after 45 years of enforced separation.

I was in the military at the time. When the Iron Curtain became porous, and the flow of refugees went from a trickle to a steady flow and then a tidal wave, I was a young private, barely 18. It felt momentous at the time, but it was mostly a punch-drunk rush, so many things of such magnitude happening so quickly that you lost your sense of being firmly anchored in history. We didn’t know what was going to happen in the following years when those first Trabis came across the border, but we knew that things would never go back to the way they had been.

Whenever some starry-eyed campus Marxist waxes on about the failures of capitalism and the free market, I know that they never got to cross from West Germany into the East, and have their world turn from color to gray. And I tell them that the truth of the matter is this: no capitalist free market society has ever had to use walls and guns and barbed wire to keep their population from leaving, but every socialist or communist country does.

The East German legal system had a term for the felony committed when trying to leave the country without (almost impossible to get) permission: Republikflucht, “flight from the Republic”.  Tens of thousands were arrested and imprisoned for the offense, and many hundreds were killed attempting to cross.

And that’s why I flinch whenever someone runs their mouth about putting a similar border fence up along our southern border. When you advocate that sort of thing—when you call for armed guards on that wall—you have to be aware what “closing the border” would entail. Who is going to machine-gun unarmed men, women, and children trying to cross that river and climb those fences? Will it be the people who wanted that wall there? Will it be their children? Or will they just pay some barely-out-of-high-school kid twenty grand a year to do that unpleasant work for them? And to what end?

Free people and free markets don’t require fences and armed guards, whether it’s to keep people in or out. I’ll never be a fan of walls and fences, no matter which way the barbed wire on top is pointed.

elections, schmelections.

Here’s my (not terribly prescient) prediction for tomorrow’s midterm elections:

The GOP will most likely gain Senate control. They will then promptly assume that they weren’t elected because people are tired of Team Blue’s fuckups, but rather that they now have some sort of mandate to double down on stupid and harp on gay marriage and abortion. I feel comfortable predicting this because it’s what the Stupid Party has been doing every single time they got a workable majority in the last twenty years or so.

I’ll go vote, of course. As usual, I’ll be voting for the candidates that best reflect my personal political beliefs. And as usual, I’ll have to spend the next two years listening to people telling me that I “threw my vote away” or “helped the other guy get elected”, and other such nonsense. The only wasted vote is the one you cast not based on your conscience but on who has a better chance of winning. It’s an election, not a goddamn prom, even if it has all the external trappings of one. And even if your unprincipled windbag loses on account of my single vote, it won’t be my fault because I voted for someone else, it will be his or her fault because he or she failed attract my vote.

Anyway! It’s Monday, and I have a novel to continue and a novella to finish. Let’s not all get negative over who is going to be elected to carry the slop bucket for the next two years. I’m going to make some coffee and fire up Pandora, and get to work. That’s one thing in the world that is entirely in my control.

they can thank “blackboard jungle” for that one.

This excellent and thorough Village Voice article on the outdated, arbitrary, and capricious knife laws in New York City is about “gravity knives”, but those laws share the hallmarks of most weapons-related legislation:

  • They were passed in an emotional atmosphere fanned by perceptions and media coverage
  • They have little to no basis in demonstrable facts or science
  • Their intent at enactment was to disarm specific ethnic or racial groups
  • They are used as a universal legal adapter to arrest primarily people from those ethnic or racial groups at will
  • Their statutory language is intentionally vague and interpreted by law enforcement in the broadest possible definition to make it applicable to as many people as possible
  • They are still used disproportionately against specific ethnic and racial groups
  • They are used to pad arrest and prosecution statistics artificially to make the police and DAs look tough on crime
  • They put thousands or even tens of thousands of nonviolent people in prison who have no proven criminal intent
  • They are enforced inconsistently, arbitrarily, and unequally depending on race, ethnicity, and social status of the accused person

Most weapons laws aren’t about public safety, they are–and always have been–about social control. 

on hitting your children.

“My parents spanked me, and I turned out okay!”

God, how I loathe this argument in favor of corporal punishment.

I wasn’t spanked as a child. If someone had set up a nanny cam in our home between the time I was in, oh, first grade, and the time my mother finally left the no-good sack of shit my father was at the time, it would have recorded frequent occasions of what these days would be considered savage child abuse. My father liked to drink, which was a problem because he was not a happy drunk. As his alcohol level increased, he got in turn gregarious, boisterous, morose, and angry. When he was toward the end of that scale, he could get furiously pissed off at anything.

During my childhood, my father ran a series of pubs into the ground. He liked to be the proprietor of the local watering hole, but he wasn’t a very good businessman, so we moved around a lot as he started place after place with much enthusiasm and high hopes, only to see everything shuttered and me having to change schools again when the initial excitement of a new business had worn off and the money stopped making it to the suppliers and the power company again. I suspect this had a great deal to do with what I now, with my adult knowledge, understand was a latent cycle of low self-esteem and depression. It didn’t take much to put him in a bad mood—a pub patron upstaging him or making a light-hearted joke at his expense, that sort of thing—and then the hair trigger was set.

I was his first-born, and after my mother I was the biggest target around that couldn’t fight back and kick his ass. (The one time he picked a fight with a patron he ended up getting cold-cocked and laid out on the floor of the pub in just one hit. The guy warned him not to be stupid, and only hit my father in self-defense when he didn’t take repeated warnings. That didn’t do much for his self-esteem that week, let me tell you.) It didn’t work in my favor that I was shy, bookish, and in many ways not the rough-and-tough son he would have preferred. Sometimes it was stuff that I said or did, but more often it was something I didn’t say or do and should have, in his opinion. Then the belt would come out, and he’d beat the shit out of me. Not just “a spanking”, or “a slap or two on the butt”. We’re talking five or ten minutes of continuous and indiscriminate application of the belt on any exposed part of the body. Struggling pissed him off and made him hit harder. Staying passive and not showing the proper level of distress was taken as defiance or implication that he didn’t hit hard enough, and that made him hit harder too. 

But here’s what I realized at long last, with many years between me and that wretched childhood of mine: he was never the bad guy in his own mind. He was never an abuser in his own eyes. There were always the classic make-up actions borne of the shame of knowing you’ve gone too far: ice cream consolation, promises of future fun, and half-hearted apologies that weren’t really apologies because they always placed the responsibility for his loss of control in my court. See what you made me do? That hurt me way more than it hurt you. Why can’t you just listen to what I’m telling you? In his own eyes, he was the stern but loving disciplinarian, straightening out a defiant kid that had stepped too far out of line by disrespecting parental authority. I never understood the reasoning, of course, at eight or ten or twelve years old. I only understood that I was a wimpy disappointment of a son who spent too much time with his nose in a book, and that it was wise to become invisible when he tromped up the stairs after a long evening tending bar.

And here’s another thing I realized long after the fact: I don’t remember the good times with him.

I’m sure there were some. I have pictures from my childhood that show us all on vacation, or at local amusement parks, at parties, out playing with cousins in backyard pools on family visits—but I hardly remember any of those moments, and I don’t recall much in the way of happy things from that time. What I do remember are the beatings, and being scared of my dad most of the time, and the physical and mental effort to go out of my way to not cross paths with him. 

I’m sure he loved me and my siblings. But I don’t remember the acts of love. I remember the open hand and the belt, and the tears, and the late-night huddled fear.

And that’s why the idea of hitting my children makes me physically sick.

There is no clear delineation between “necessary discipline” and “abuse”. Physical violence is always abuse. It doesn’t teach anything but fear and resentment, and it will always, always, always come back to you in some form.

 “My parents spanked me, and I turned out okay!”

Bullshit. You turned out okay despite the corporal punishment, not because of it. And don’t say there’s a difference between your spankings and my abuse, because then you’re operating a really slippery moral sliding scale, and I can guarantee you that my father too was convinced at the time that what he was going was an unpleasant but necessary parental duty to recalibrate my moral compass. You know, so I’d turn out okay as an adult. What you need to do is to take that justification of “appropriate” violence and realize that what you’re doing is to establish what level of physical and mental pain is okay to inflict on your child intentionally. The answers should always and unambiguously be none.

My father died over fifteen years ago, in his early fifties, alone and eaten up with cancer. He’s buried in a welfare plot somewhere in Frankfurt. I met him only once after my mom left him. When I saw him again, he was in his early fifties and in bad health, and I was in my early twenties and in prime shape, so the power imbalance went the other way, and there was no animosity. I don’t feel anything other than pity when I think of him now. I should have had a good childhood, and he should have had a loving family and children and grandchildren by his side when he got sick and died, but it was all wasted, and it was all due to things solely in his control, and it’s the saddest fucking thing in the world.

I was hit as a child, and I turned out okay. Eventually. After a long time and much perspective, and after having kids of my own. But that shit leaves scars in the head that won’t heal, ever. And from one parent to another, I’m telling you that you don’t want to risk putting those scars there. Because love and fear can’t take up the same space, and what you want your children to feel when they hear you walking up the stairs is the former, not the latter. Hitting doesn’t teach a child anything, at least not anything close to what you think it will teach them. 

peel’s principles of policing.

Sir Robert Peel, who in his tenure as Home Secretary established London’s Metropolitan Police in the early 19th century, set forth nine principles of policing. They are as follows:

1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.


Now, if I drew up a list of policing principles with intent to make them diametrically opposed to Peel’s, and then designed a police force around them, what do you think it would look and act like?

Regardless of your stance on the militarization of American police in general and the recent events in Missouri in particular, here’s a simple truth: a police department that loses the trust of the community it serves can no longer fulfill its primary function. 

I am not anti-police—I recognize policing duties as one of the few legitimate and important functions of a state. But the War on Drugs, onerous and liberty-destroying as it is, has merged with the War on Terror, and as a result we have big-city police departments who are perpetually in conflict mode.  It’s not that I mind the cops having AR-15s. What I mind is that “compliance by overwhelming force” has become the first and only tool in the toolbox in many cases. If you dress your cops like soldiers, equip them like soldiers, have them train like soldiers, and adopt the lingo of soldiers, it’s really no surprise when they sooner or later start feeling and acting like soldiers.

I don’t think the War on Terror/Drugs will end any time soon. There are too many jobs involved, too much power to give up, too many agencies making a living and justifying their own existence off perpetuating the whole thing. (Asset forfeiture laws in particular have done more damage to the Bill of Rights that any other piece of legislation in the last 40 years. This policing-for-profit business has to stop.)

I know many police officers who are upstanding both as people and professionals—who take their duties to heart and execute them with integrity and professionalism. But policing as a whole is in dire need of reform in this country, because it’s as far removed from Peel’s Principles of Policing as you can get, and everyone suffers for it: our communities, the officers, and the general respect for the law. 

Where do we go from here? Anywhere but the way we’ve been going, because it’s not working. I’ll leave you with a link to this excellent WaPo article by Radley Balko, who has some insightful examples and suggestions to get our police back to something resembling peace officers instead of law enforcement professionals.



So I found myself at the K-Marts yesterday to procure some kid shoes and some mothereffin’ Cold Water Tide laundry detergent LIKE A BOSS, when I walked past a life-sized poster display of THIS:


And I swear to you, my first thought was “It’s official. We’re living in the Fifth Element future.”

there’s no such thing as localized incompetence in politics.

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.” –Michael Crichton

This applies to politicians in equal measure, and it’s one of the reasons why I hold Democrats in as much general contempt as I do Republicans.

I am by no means an expert on a lot of things, but there are some subjects where I know my stuff extremely well. So when I see someone go off on, say, gun control, and then proceed to display a breathtaking level of ignorance about the issue at hand, get basic facts and definitions laughably wrong, misdiagnose the problem entirely, make demonstrably false claims, propose counterproductive solutions, and be deliberately deceptive just to get some pet legislation passed, I automatically assume that the politician in question is equally clueless and dishonest about every other social issue. (That goes for Conservatives and Liberals alike, by the way.)

I think much of the problem with politics these days is that too many people are willing to assume that the politicians they support are more competent and honest when it comes to pushing their pet causes. Me, if I know you’re either willfully ignorant or demonstrably dishonest about one subject, I have a hard time believing you at all.


news from absurdistan, item #2,912.

Fifth-grader points finger in gun-like fashion; gets suspended from school.

“Level 2 Lookalike Firearm” sure sounds a whole lot less idiotic than “pointing your index finger and thumb”.

Public education is on the ropes in this country not because we aren’t spending enough money on it, but because the lion’s share of it goes toward a huge administrative overhead where we pay people eighty grand of taxpayer cash a year to come up with a level system for “things that totally aren’t guns, but may be shaped that way.”

nothing to hide, nothing to fear, part MCVIII.

Feds seek contractor to build federal license plate reader database.

Remember: if Team Us does it, it’s a sensible national security measure, and if you oppose it, you’re a paranoid nutjob and/or want the terrorists to win. If Team Them does it, it’s a totalitarian police state measure, and if you support it, you’re a fascist pig and/or hate America, freedom, and apple pie.