Sunday, November 11, 2012

Eleven Thoughts at 11:11 on 11-11

from November, 2004
"Well, I thought about the Army,"Dad said, 'Son, you're f***ing high!'"So I thought, 'Yeah, there's a first for everything.'"And I took my old man's advice."-from "Army" by Ben Folds Five
My son was born at 11:11 p.m. For weeks after his birth it seemed that every time I saw a clock it was "11:11", so I got in the habit of whispering to myself, "Happy Birthday, son" whenever I saw that time displayed. After a while, it started to seem like it was eleven after eleven every time I looked at a clock. I've whispered a "Happy Birthday" to him almost every day for five years, now.

I mentioned this to my friend in Texas. He's a veteran of the Army, a former Russian linguist like myself. He's not what you would think of when you say "veteran"; a skinny kid with long, black hair; a guitar player, a coffee drinker, a philosopher. He got out after four years, realizing that the Army wasn't interested in what he had to offer. The feeling was mutual. He told me the number "11" is a pretty important one in numerology, and that the lead singer of a band called "Fate's Warning" was captivated enough with it to write an entire album about it. The title, of course, is "11:11" and the title track is 11 minutes, 11 seconds long. I haven't had time to listen to it, yet.

On November 11, one is not supposed to be thinking about little boys' birthdays and heavy metal bands; one is supposed to be thinking about Veterans. In America, though, Veterans' Day is relatively watered down. We try to cram the remembrance of all of our veterans into just one day. The UK and Europe still call it "Remembrance Day", and it is still heavily associated with World War I. They still remember to wear poppies in their lapels (not to mention WHY they wear poppies in their lapels) and have a moment of silence at the precise moment the Armistice ending the War went into effect: the eleventh second of 11:11, November 11, 1911. Of course, if they tried to remember their veterans from every war THEY'VE ever fought, it would require more than one day; perhaps as many as eleven.

In the spirit of the US holiday, though, I try to think about as many of them as possible. Remembering veterans has become a lot easier for me over the years. Doing the family tree has given me a lot to remember. My dad was a medical specialist in the National Guard; my uncle was in Vietnam. Both of my grandfathers were in World War II; a great-grandfather in WWI, his father in an Ohio Regiment in the Civil War along with his brothers and cousins. I've found ancestors that were in service in wars that Americans (Spanish-American, and Mexican Wars) and Britons (War of 1812) have all but forgotten about entirely. When I dwell on the breadth of service others have given, it is still a shock to me to be reminded that I am a veteran, too.

I don't FEEL like a veteran. I never experienced any kind of combat. My time in service was more "Catch-22" or "Stripes" than "Sands of Iwo Jima" or "Pearl Harbor". I'm not complaining, but I relate more to Dilbert than to John Wayne. Lt. Dan swinging from the rigging of Forrest Gump's shrimp boat seems more veteran-like than I do. Maybe it's the missing limbs; I'm just an overweight shlub with authority issues and an over-developed grasp of acronymns.

My lovely bride, also a veteran, tells me that I should be proud that I served at all, since so few step up voluntarily. I am proud; I'm just humble about it. It feels weird to honor myself, and I certainly don't expect anyone else to do it. I don't feel like what I did was terribly special, compared to all of the more competent people around me. I try to prove my worth as an observer, remembering the people I served with, who had done so many neat things with their military careers. My wife and I try to talk about them on these occasions, and give the kids a sense of the respect we have for those in the military, then and now.

We all know how uncertain the future is. That's why our species takes so much comfort from remembering the past. Whatever happened before, however horrific, is at least KNOWN. We look for patterns and try to predict what will happen next. Symbols are comforting; numbers are symbols, like "11:11" and all of it's associated implications. Maybe it really means something that the boy was born at that time. Maybe it's some kind of sign that he'll grow up and follow in the long, unspoken family tradition of service. Of course, he could decide to wear a pink tutu on his head, call himself "Mr. Booty" and sing songs about his own butt for a living. That's what he did yesterday, and you know how insidious some patterns can be. We'll just have to love him no matter what.

Of course, the boy is a lot like my brother-in-law, and my brother-in-law is now in the Air Force, stationed in New Jersey. A mechanic who was sent to New York on 9-11 (there it is again), and was 12 blocks from Ground Zero when the second tower fell, he is more veteran-like in my mind than I will ever be. However, I have it on good authority that he was posterior-ly obsessed when he was five, so I hold out hope that my own child won't turn out too badly.

These thoughts, and others less focused, churned through my mind all day, and as I crawled into bed. I kissed the veteran lying next to me - already asleep, so my snoring won't disturb her - and I checked to make sure my alarm was set. Of course, the time is 11:11.

"Happy Birthday, son."

And Happy Veterans' Day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Pinch of Nerve

"I look so cool," the boy thought, as he checked out his image in the bathroom mirror.

Black shoes, black slacks; turquoise shirt with silver braid glued around the cuffs. The key piece, and the item he was most proud of, was the Starfleet badge he had fashioned from cardboard and masking tape, and covered in gold paint. His hair was plastered down with the black hairspray his mom had picked up at the costume shop - the sole item he had needed to purchase to make his costume complete. Except for the ears. No one in Arizona sold pointed ears; at least not that a seventh grader could afford for a mere Halloween costume.

Taking one last, long, admiring look, he wiped the smile from his face, and arched his eyebrow and froze his expression into a cool, appraising blankness. The boy was gone, and Mr. Spock stepped out of the bathroom.

Spock strode to the boy's desk, and picked up his tricorder (which said "Panasonic" on the side, and held a cassette of pre-recorded sound effects lovingly recorded off the three inch speaker of the small TV set in the boy's room). He clipped his phaser (Legos, wrapped in masking tape, and painted) to his belt, and beamed himself downstairs to the waiting Datsun shuttle in the garage.

The pilot and other passenger - the boy's mother and sister - chattered excitedly about the Halloween party at the school. Spock answered them with a crisp "Yes," "No," or "Fascinating" as the social situation required, but otherwise gazed analytically out the window. He breathed deeply, and used ancient Vulcan meditation techniques to control his emotions - Anticipation! Excitement! - that threatened to surge and break his carefully cultivated character.

The shuttle docked in the front lot, and the landing party approached the entrance to the carnival. Mom - the pilot, rather - bought tickets for the games and divided them between Spock and Snow White, and he thanked her briskly before turning on his heel and striding off to observe the local population's harvest rites.

He noted the knotted clusters of friends - females clinging and giggling in groups of five or six; males lurking and sulking in smaller groups. The costumes chosen seemed to follow a theme, again along gender lines: girls varied between younger pastel princesses and older rock goddesses and vamps while boys favored gore-spattered corpses or maybe occasional movie characters.

A fat boy, painted green and wearing a cardboard box on his back, broke off from one of the small clusters and approached Spock. "What are you s'posed to be?" he demanded.

"I am Commander Spock of the Federation Starship Enterprise," Spock replied. He arched his eyebrow. "May I inquire as to your identity?"

"I'm Michaelangelo," the fat boy said, brandishing a pair of plastic nun-chuks. "Kevin was supposed to be Donatello, but he decided it was too gay for both of us to be Ninja Turtles." He gestured toward a boy who seemed to be dressed normally, except for eye-makeup and uncomfortable looking plastic fangs. "Wanna check out the cakewalk?"

"I will merely observe," Spock said.

The fat boy - whose name was actually Leonard - won the cake. He, Spock, and Kevin began wandering past the music building toward the area set aside for rides. Spock excused himself to use the sanitation facility. When he came back out, his companions were nowhere to be found.

The boy - no, Spock - forced down the panicky emotions and assessed the situation coolly. There was no need to feel abandoned, as he was here to learn the native customs and evaluate these people for membership in the Federation. He would continue his investigation alone.

Not quite alone. A voluptuous animal with long, furry ears and an adorable little nose mask (adorned with whiskers that only accentuated the sprinkle of freckles across her nose) hopped in front of him. A brown leotard with a fluffy tail pinned to the back completed the bunny costume of Loree VanDorn. Spock nearly melted away completely, leaving the boy to gibber self-consciously on the sidewalk, but he resisted the red haze of the Pon Fahr long enough to take another deep breath.

"Hello, Loree," he said. The bunny grinned back at him.

"So, what are you supposed to be? Dr. Spock?" she chirped.

He sighed. "No, actually. Dr. Spock is the child-rearing expert. I am *Commander* Spock, of the Starship Enterprise."

"Okay," she sighed, rolling her eyes. "Did you want to go to the cafeteria? They're having a dance in there..."

Spock's vision blurred at the prospect of dancing with Playboy Bunny Loree VanDorn, but before he could reply, there was a commotion behind the music building. Shrieks of indignation and loud, whooping laughter preceded a ninja turtle, a vampire, and a hail of flying chunks of cake. They ran up to Spock and nearly collapsed in hysterics.

"Omigod, omigod, omigod! Julie Hunt was back there..." one began.

"...with Bobby Sweet, and they were..." the other continued.

"...going to do IT!"

"No, they weren't! They were just kissing!"

"She had her costume off!"

"Just the mask!"

"No, they were gonna go all the way!"

"But she wouldn't..."

"She would to... she's a total flooze..."

"No, way! She's so tight she squeaks..."

"Well, if you hadn't thrown the cake at 'em..."

Loree's face had turned hard and cold. "Julie's my friend, you jerks." She cast a baleful glare at Spock, and turned to go find Julie. Spock watched her go, mouth hanging slightly open. He had been so close...

" shoulda seen her face!" Leonard was saying. "It was so FUNNY!"

"I need to go," Spock said, and turned to follow the huffy rabbit...

...and ran straight into an angry wall of cake-covered football jersey. He looked up into the red, sweating face of Bobby Sweet - known in gym class as Bobby Sweat. Bobby glared down at him, and took note of the cowering pair behind him. Leonard and Kevin were already poised for flight, and took off headlong when Bobby grabbed Spock's arm.

The pain in his arm focused his attention away from his emotions, and Spock spoke to the seething adolescent in front of him: "Your anger is not logical. It was not I who covered you with pastry."

"Stuff it, Geek-boy," growled the angry boy in the soiled Roger Staubach jersey. "You're their friend, so you're going down, too!" His voice broke awkwardly, but that stole none of the menace from his threat. Spock snaked his free arm upward, and reached for that point where the spinal column joins the skull. His fingers pressed into solid, ungiving steel.

"Shoulder pads?" Spock asked, re-thinking the use of the Vulcan nerve pinch.

"Nope," said Bobby, drawing back his fist.

Spock's mind raced. There was no logical counter-argument to the bully's rage. He knew, intellectually, that there were species that did not share his distaste for violence, and times when it was most prudent to perform a surgical strike and evacuate. This situation required the unexpected. Spock bowed his head, and let the boy inside him take over.

The boy looked the bully dead in the eye, a small grin playing on his face. He lowered his hand from its futile grip on the bull-like neck, and with his fingers still forming the painful Vulcan Death Grip, he asked about another standard piece of football equipment: "Cup?"

Bobby's eyes gave him the answer by widening in surprise and pain. The grip on the boy's arm loosened, and he dove out of reach and started running, leaving logic behind on the wind, along with a peal of triumphant laughter.

He stopped when he felt he was safely away, and turned to make sure he wasn't being pursued. He wasn't. Bobby was coiled around the pain in the center of his being, and Julie had appeared from somewhere to console him. Loree was by Julie's side, and glaring photon torpedoes at back at him. The passing crowd was either staring at him with shock, or ignoring him completely. No one seemed impressed with his handling of the situation.

He spotted his friends-by-default, the ninja turtle and vampire, and headed their way to seek camaraderie, and perhaps their thanks for his quick thinking.

"Nice grab," they sneered. "Jealous of Julie?" They howled with laughter, heaping more abuse on him as they collapsed against each other with mirth, both denigrating his combat prowess and questioning his sexual orientation. He felt his face flush, and the heat of building tears pressed against his eyes; but then Spock returned, slowly.

He mustered what remained of his dignity, straightened his posture, and clasped his hands behind his back. "You," he said, "are HIGHLY illogical!"

And with that, Mr. Spock turned his back on the crowd, and stalked off; the only one surprised at the unrepentant fickleness of middle-schoolers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

You Wouldn't Believe It

"Is there anyone who 
Ever remembers changing their mind from 
The paint on a sign? 
Is there anyone who really recalls 
Ever breaking rank at all 
For something someone yelled real loud one time?" 
     - John Mayer, Belief*

I used to believe a lot of things that are different from what I believe now.

Some things I held as beliefs out of ignorance and apathy.  "I don't know anything about climate science, but Al Gore makes me not care about it."  Once I did some research and assessed the biases of those arguing about it, I came to my own informed conclusion.

Some things I believed because I was brought up believing them.  "There just HAS to be a God, and my world won't make sense if there is not!"  Once I realized how little sense my world made anyway, and began asking myself objective questions, it wasn't hard to drop this - but the cultural pressures working against making that change were a different story.

Some things are very clear to me, even if they are hard to explain to others. "You can choose how to respond to everything; so I choose to be happy, even in worst situations."  My outlook on life has been called "ablist" (still not sure what that is supposed to mean), but I describe it as an aggressive and defiant joyfulness.

Some things are extremely murky and confusing, but I do the best I can. "I really have no idea how financial or economic systems work; I just know who has tried to screw me over in the past, and avoid dealing with them."  I am not a mathematics person; I am a language person.  If you start trying to work your number-fu on me, I will get semantic on your ass.  That way lies stalemate.

Obviously, I have changed my mind about many things over the years.  Some of these changes were trivial, and others were deeply painful. Most importantly, none of them had anything to do with you.  It doesn't matter who is reading this essay, it is not about you - or what you believe, or why.  It's about me, and how I came to make the choices and changes that led me to where I am.  It's up to you whether you make those choices or not - and as long as you don't choose to tilt at my windmills, I don't care what you choose.

In other words, don't try to make this about you - I'm not trying to change your mind.  I am being intellectually generous when I take you at your word that you even have one.

So how have I gone about making these changes in myself?  It depends on the topic and how much I know about it, but there are two important things that I have made every effort NOT to change which have driven a lot of the other changes over the years.

    1. I value reason and evidence, and change my position when new facts arise.

When I was a kid, as you may read in other posts here, I was a devout Southern Baptist. I considered myself to be a Christ following, born-again believer, and I believed in many of the positions that tended to go along with that description: that God created the world in 6 days; that morality meant what God (via my pastor or Dr. Dobson's radio program) said it meant; that America was based on good Christian values of freedom and liberty; and that while there were millions upon millions of other people who *call* themselves Christians, there were only a relative few who were "real" Christians.  Not only did I believe, but I insisted that all of this was logical and consistent with objective reality.

I was taught this by all of the religious authority figures who mattered to me - taught that we did not simply adhere blindly to all of these positions, but we also had proof.  Our proof mattered, and was only ignored by those motivated by Satan to destroy us and keep us down. This basis in reason was important to me, at first because it was important to those who taught me.

Later, when the fallacies and lies that most of this belief system were built on began to unravel, the only thing that I could count on was myself; and following the advice of I Thessalonians, "test everything, keep only that which is good," I found that I could honestly only stick with those ideas that could stand up to scrutiny.  I found that most of the things I believed in were built on fallacies - circular logic, semantic tricks, or "gotcha" gimmicks.

As an example of one of the most basic of these: saying "You can't prove that God *doesn't* exist!"  or in other words, insisting that someone else "prove a negative," when the Burden of Proof clearly rests on the believer.  Some of the less obvious examples require honest research into claims that the believer does not want to disprove. I insisted for years that there was physical evidence supporting the existence of Noah's Ark and plenty of evidence that Jesus existed as a real person when, in fact, the tiny amount of "proof" that exists is unverifiable at best, and outright fraudulent in most cases.

You don't have to take my word for it - just find anyone who claims there *is* proof, and insist that they show it to you.  Where is it?  What is it? What tests have been done to verify it?  I would have loved to have been armed with that proof back in my youthful days of "debating" my atheist friends in school, and yet, strangely, it never materialized.  There is probably a good reason for that: it doesn't exist.

     2. I do not hate anyone. Ever.

Following logic and reason to reach difficult conclusions is (by definition) hard to do.  It requires a lot of discipline and work - and frankly, I have neither the skills nor the time to explore or know everything there is to know about the world. No one does.  And that means trusting others who look into things more deeply.

Unfortunately, since I have to trust the work that others do, that means that I have to allow others to do the same, and they don't always trust the same people or accept the same margin of error that I do along the way. And sometimes, of course, I will learn that the person(s) I trusted were wrong or lying. That can be maddening.

From where I sit, though, figuring out the basis for someone's opinions and establishing how reliable their facts are is the whole point of any argument. Those who get along with me best are the ones who recognize that; others seem to assume outright that I am ignorant of the topic at hand, while they hold some magically reliable Answers or Truth. That can be frustrating - especially when you get into arguments that provoke strong emotional responses with someone who clearly hasn't done any research or thinking about the topic at hand.

Most of the "political" posts on this blog are about dealing with this phenomenon of trust, background, and POV. They are usually told from my point of view - since I'm the one writing them - but always represent my attempt to understand the friend or opponent - and their position - as objectively as I can.  Some examples don't end well, at least not if my goal was to change someone's mind (as opposed to just making them understand my position better).

But there are lessons to be learned from the people involved in all of these different situations, and at the end of the day, no matter how heated the words may become, I can't hate them for essentially being what I was when I was a kid: confident, opinionated, and dead wrong.

In fact, while most of the losers in arguments that I have will dispute me on this claim, I always allow for the fact that I may still be quite wrong about any or everything that I talk about.  But by now, anyone who hopes to convince me should know better than to walk into the conversation with bumper sticker ideas and shallow memes to back themselves up, because even if I agree with your premise or principle, I will still poke at your logic.  Sometimes, people accept this humorously - which is honestly the reaction I am looking for; others resent it, and I apologize for stirring up that resentment.

But I don't hate anyone.

Hate, like love, is a choice you make.  In my faithful childhood, I learned to hate Satan and Evil.  That was the focus of any hatred I felt, and I bought into the whole "love the sinner/hate the sin" idea because I had that focal point for my hatred.  When I grew up and found that "Satan" was a fictional symbol for all the Things We Don't Like(tm), and that Evil was usually just the accumulated effect of a lot of flawed people rationalizing their small-e evil, it was hard not to transfer that hate to all of the individuals around me - the "sinners". If there is one universal truth that believers and non-believers agree on, it is that people can be despicable.

But I learned that I had to find a way to not hate others, because like love, hate can get wrapped around your passions and drive you to ignore important things - like your morals, your reason, and your compassion.  I argue passionately with people because from my point of view, many of their ideas are things that used to poison me, too, and I want to help them. Even if they reject that, I try to make them realize that even if they don't choose to let go of things that I think are silly beliefs, they can at least rest assured that I'm not a threat to them for making their choice.  All I really ask is that they are honest with themselves; about me, about my ideas, and about their own motives.

I expect that I will rarely see any "wins" come out of this.  I'm not arguing with you, hoping the light will dawn and you'll come around instantly to my way of thinking.  But I am hoping that I will force you to think.  I am hoping that, if I'm right, you will save yourself and others a lot of pain in the long run by abandoning your bad ideas.  And if you're right, I'm hoping you'll be able to prove it - because wouldn't it be a shame if you were right, and you failed both of us by failing to show your homework?

I learned from my childhood that you should never take anyone at their word.  You can never rely on assurances of belief or faith - those things are vapors and illusions.  They are useful for imagination, and if you explore them, there are things to be learned.  But always question them.  And don't expect me to change my mind just because you said you did and you were satisfied by the answers you pulled out of nowhere.

The point is, I have changed before. I may change again.  But along the way, I've learned to be careful about it. I want you to be careful, too.

But ultimately, only I can change my mind - and only you can change yours.

*Here - I Googled it for you already:

Saturday, October 27, 2012


I was up in the air, looking down, and my world was tilting back and forth.

I saw my dad, frowning, off to one side, as the rest of the men in the family gathered around, laughing and stacking the metal trash cans inside of each other... while my cousin and I sat in the topmost can.

We hooted and shrieked with screams of delight as we waved around more and more drastically, the creak and scrunk of the cans growing louder as the stack grew taller.

Dad was already a firefighter, and had already begun to worry more about physical damage; but the ringleader of the can stackers was Uncle Dick. Dad's Uncle Dick had been in The War; he'd had two fingers shot off by a "Jap sniper". Uncle Dick was a Maricopa county Superior Court Justice. A man of respect and dignity, and well respected in the community.

And Uncle Dick said there was no harm in boys' rough-housing.

So my cousin and I sat in a trash can, and let the grown-ups lift us higher and higher. After all, what harm was there in it? Ted's a firefighter, isn't he? They'll be safe!

And at some point, the tilting and wavering became the fall. Slowly -- at least in my memory -- we eased to the ground, which seemed to stay distant until the very last second, when it rushed up all at once and slammed the sides of the cans.

We tumbled, laughing, in hysterics from fear and thrill, into a meager stack of leaves. I don't think it hurt... but that's probably because I was Superman.

At five, who isn't?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Apparently You Need Definitions

If you're here, you probably followed a link I posted in response to something you said that relates to one of the words defined below.  I've collected them here as a courtesy to save you time in looking them up.

I've created this post because I keep falling into these arguments where someone is behaving badly (in my opinion), and treating another group of people like something the cat dragged in.  Sometimes I am part of said group (and therefore consider myself to be acting in "self defense") and sometimes I am not. If the latter is true, I try to make it clear whether I am defending someone else or trying to determine the validity of your treatment of that group.  (Sometimes I fail at clarity.)

But I find that most often, after laying out my case, someone gets mad - and rather than basing their rebuttal in any kind of logic or reason, my opponent tries to counter with an ad hominem... defined below. (See - this is useful already!)

If you have just questioned whether your behavior (or mine) is bigoted, intolerant, or is demonizing someone else, this should help answer your question.  If you're confused about my uses of doubt and faith, this should clear it up.

Enjoy! (And scroll down for a post script.)

ad hom·i·nem  (hm-nm, -nm)
Appealing to personal considerations rather than to logic or reason:Debaters should avoid ad hominem arguments that question their opponents' motives.

big·ot  (bgt)
One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.
obtuse or narrow-minded intolerance, especially of other races or religions. — bigot, n., — bigoted, adj.

de·mon·ize  (dm-nz)
tr.v. de·mon·izedde·mon·iz·ingde·mon·iz·es
1. To turn into or as if into a demon.
2. To possess by or as if by a demon.
3. To represent as evil or diabolic: wartime propaganda that demonizes the enemy.

doubt  (dout)
v. doubt·eddoubt·ingdoubts
1. To be undecided or skeptical about: began to doubt some accepted doctrines.
2. To tend to disbelieve; distrust: doubts politicians when they make sweeping statements.
3. To regard as unlikely: I doubt that we'll arrive on time.
4. Archaic To suspect; fear.
To be undecided or skeptical.
1. A lack of certainty that often leads to irresolution. See Synonyms at uncertainty.
2. A lack of trust.
3. A point about which one is uncertain or skeptical: reassured me by answering my doubts.
4. The condition of being unsettled or unresolved: an outcome still in doubt.
faith  (fth)
1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. See Synonyms at belieftrust.
3. Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one's supporters.
4. often Faith Christianity The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will.
5. The body of dogma of a religion: the Muslim faith.
6. A set of principles or beliefs.

ob·tuse  (b-ts, -tysb-)
adj. ob·tus·erob·tus·est
a. Lacking quickness of perception or intellect.
b. Characterized by a lack of intelligence or sensitivity: an obtuse remark.
c. Not distinctly felt: an obtuse pain.

tol·er·ance  (tlr-ns)
1. The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others.
a. Leeway for variation from a standard.
b. The permissible deviation from a specified value of a structural dimension, often expressed as a percent.
3. The capacity to endure hardship or pain.
4. Medicine
a. Physiological resistance to a toxin.
b. Diminution in the physiological response to a drug that occurs after continued use, necessitating larger doses to produce a given response.
a. Acceptance of a tissue graft or transplant without immunological rejection.
b. Unresponsiveness to an antigen that normally produces an immunological reaction.
6. The ability of an organism to resist or survive infection by a parasitic or pathogenic organism.

zero-sum game
A situation in which a gain by one person or side must be matched by a loss by another person or side: "It's not a zero-sum game in which either youth or pensioners must lose" (Earl W. Foell).

Assuming you're really curious about how I tick, you are welcome to read all of the things I have posted previously.  They are publicly available for that very reason.  To save you time, here are some posts that may show my approach to earlier situations in which I might have used the above list:

Using Your Brain Is Not a Team Sport

How to Tell if You Are a Bigot

In Defense of Friends

Pot and Kettle: Former Facebook Friends

Friday, September 28, 2012

In Defense of Friends

So, this happened:

Someone on my friend list posted a link to a small blog post by "Carlos" claiming that Satan is using the media to convince us all that there are "lots" of gays, when really there aren't that many, and we should all just pray for them when we see or hear about them. When I called him on the illogic and inconsistencies of his position, he denied that gays are demonized (which is odd, because his POST did that very specifically) or that the issue is about equality.  After a lengthy discussion involving others, he tried to close the thread with a prayer which, in my opinion, arrogantly tried to blame all of us for being intolerant of his faith and asking Jesus to heal the hurt and pain and make the gays not gay any more.

Then I said:

If you really wanted to heal hurt and pain, you would take action to stop causing it. Which was my point in responding to the link you posted in the first place. The point is not "Dan [whose take on this is here] and I are right about the interpretation of the Bible and you are wrong" but rather, "there is more than one correct interpretation of the Bible, and even if there weren't, you don't get to enforce your Biblical 'rules' on everyone else because the U.S. is not a theocracy."

U.S. law and the Constitution used to be discriminatory toward a lot of people who had to fight to get it changed. Slavery was preserved for far too long in the name of protecting the rights of slaveholders; women were prevented from voting in the name of protecting the rights of men; and now gays, who have historically & traditionally been banned from openly existing (let alone having the nerve to marry and act like normal citizens) are asking that we fix the laws that discriminate against them.

You do not lose any rights by allowing them to enjoy theirs. There is no harm done to you or me, or anyone else by [our friend and his partner] ... getting married, so that they can run their lives in a way that my wife and I take for granted.

It is offensive to me, personally, that this is up for a vote. I plan to vote for Maryland Proposition 6 because it's only fair. But as I said before, these people should already be protected from laws that prevent their marriage because we have the 14th Amendment. 

... your lack of awareness that they were and are harmed by the ban on gay marriage does not change the facts. They are. It needs to change. There are only three reasons people give for justifying the continued ban - two of them are irrelevant and one is a lie:

     * My religion says it is wrong - irrelevant. You practice your religion freely whether this is legal or not.
     * I think gays are 'icky' - irrelevant. I think football is 'icky,' but I can't ban it.
     * Gay marriage harms traditional marriage - lie. If you claim otherwise, the burden of proof is on you - and if any proof existed, it ought to have shown up by now. However, the judge in California's Prop 8 case asked for it, and the defendants were unable to produce any. It turns out the only real reasons to keep it up are irrelevant.

So, ... - I'd like to point out that I did not attack your faith or try to belittle it in any way. In all honesty, I used to be a born again Southern Baptist, and in those days I would have thought it perfectly acceptable to demonize others and call their existence a "distraction from satan"... but as I grew up, I learned how immoral and un-Christian that attitude was. (My eventual departure from faith is well documented in my blog, if you have any desire to pursue that discussion elsewhere. It isn't really pertinent to this thread.)

As far as I am concerned, you're welcome to your faith - as long as you don't try to impose it on others. Your post showed me that you clearly think that your faith is challenged by the political attempts of a group of people to claim their rights under the law; I would prefer to educate you to their actual plight and explain why I - a straight man with no actual "dog in the fight" - feel so strongly in their favor.

I think if you were better acquainted with the facts, you would see that we are not motivated by any desire to change you or your beliefs, but rather by the necessity of making our country's legal practices match our stated, mutual values of liberty, and individual freedom.

Needless to say, he did not take it well, and I will have one less bigot cluttering my Facebook feed.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

I Dare You

I am on President Obama's mailing list.

It's my own fault - I wanted a free bumper sticker.  And now I get a constant stream of nearly panicked email signed by him, Michele, Joe Biden, and a cast of campaign characters telling me how Mitt Romney and his shadowy array of anonymous donors are outspending the President and asking me to chip in a few dollars.

It's sad, because while it's still true that money buys ads and access to mass media, it's also clear that the vast majority of the audience being targeted neither likes nor trusts ads and mass media.  So why should the huge amounts of money matter any more?

A lot of my friends and people I follow on the web complain about the money in politics.  Whether they are griping about Sheldon Adelson, George Soros, or joining in Lawrence Lessig's #rootstrikers campaign, they all claim to want to "take back" our democracy.  Some seem to think that by donating to one cause or another they are nobly attempting to buy it back.

I say, enough.  

I say, we-the-people need to start running for office ourselves.  And we need to start doing it with donation-free campaigns.  

Think you've got ideas?  Pick an office.  Run for city council and watch for openings in statewide offices.  You will be surprised how many of the crazy loons you read about got into local and even state office by running unopposed.

And I dare you to try it.

I dare you to stay independent.  I dare you to run on ideas (not ideology), and do it without becoming financially beholden to someone else.

Still need money to register? Start an Indiegogo campaign.  

Need exposure? Tweet and blog regularly, get business cards with your URL and twitter handle on them, go door to door talking to your neighbors. That's important.  Listen to what they say, figure out how to match up your ideas to their needs - and incorporate whatever makes them passionate into what you write.

Make your own campaign videos.  Post your "platform" online and encourage your commenters to make their own videos based on that.

There will be trolls - use their antics against them.  Humor and good nature have a way of making you look good next to them.  Use that conflict to generate attention for your ideas, and focus on them.

Stop complaining about having no voice, and exercise the one you have.

I say, if people really want to make their democracy work, they will be looking for you.  People like me will test you.  We'll throw stones at your ideas and quiz you on your credentials. Don't confuse us for those trolls. You will have to learn how to take criticism without crying about "conspiracies" or the "system."  

But be out there.  Be patient.  Be visible.

A lot of us want to find someone moderate, stable, independent, and willing to do these crappy elected jobs.  We talk about wanting change, but we really just want people who are willing to do the job - that would be remarkable enough.  That would be a change from the current crop.

If you can be that person, stand out and tell us.  Let us organize around you.  Let us call local TV and talk you up.  Let us share your videos and posts.  Let us get excited about you.

And let us keep our money.

I Dare You.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saying Crude Things About Oil

I frequently tell people that the issue most important to me is Energy. It's a complicated one, and because it's intimately tied to world politics, oil and coal lobbies, and it is often linked to the Global Warming issue, it is easy for people to misunderstand where I'm coming from and what motivates me.  So, I'm writing this post to explain myself. 

If you intend to engage with me on any topic related to Energy, it's important that you understand these things, and understand what research I've already done, so that you respond to what I actually think and not to what you think others think about this issue. For example, if you see me admit that I accept the overwhelming weight of evidence that mankind is causing Global Warming, you might be tempted to dismiss the rest of my argument as "environmentalist propaganda."  That would be a mistake. My motivation is not informed by the Global Warming debate.  You probably need to look deeper - and this is my attempt to help you with that.

So, carve out some time to read, prepare to open new tabs to read background, and take notes.  If you still want to argue with me when you're done, then you care more than you thought you did.

When I was a kid, just beginning to pay attention to the world around me in the 1970s, I remember seeing stories about gas shortages on the news, accompanied by images of long lines at gas stations and tales of rationing. This would have been the second energy crisis in the U.S., after our failed meddling in Iran led to the deposition of the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. (The first energy crisis occurred in 1973, when OPEC retaliated for our decision to re-supply Israel during the Yom Kippur War.)  Don't take my word for it, though - I was only 7.  This lady was 18, and working in a gas station.

The Point: From my earliest memories, Energy has been a central issue.  It drives world politics, economics, and as the population of the Earth grows in size and demands more and more energy to survive, it makes all of our other conflicts worse.  I have wondered since those early days of my childhood how we (humans) might be able to stop relying so heavily on oil that we would be vulnerable to this kind of episode.

One way that is readily available - and has largely been rejected by the American public - is to use mass transit.  There are a lot of reasons (both compelling and frivolous) why mass transit is so unappealing to our population. I think some of them are well-articulated in this paper. My own desire (which people who know me hear about all the time!) is to see electric cars on the market.

Many people have pointed out that my pet idea is not a good solution, and they cite two reasons why:

  1. It is expensive to develop and roll out a new technology, and electric cars "aren't there yet."
  2. Shifting to electric cars only shifts us from dependence on oil to dependence on coal, as most electricity is generated by coal in the U.S.

The first half of that first reason is true.  It is certainly expensive to shift an entire population of 300+ million people over to a new technology.  But that kind of large-scale investment in ourselves has never stood in the way of American Progress(tm) before.  After all, we were motivated enough to build the Interstate Highway System in Eisenhower's time, and before that we built the railroads - largely thanks to federal land grants and assistance from State and local governments. So in itself, the expense should not be a game-stopper. It is, in fact, an investment.

The second half of the first reason is not true.  Electric cars are finally on the market after a long delay, and while there is a minority of people for whom their range will not be enough, these cars should already be able to meet the needs of the average commuter.  I do not pretend to know why the delay has been so long, and while there was a movie done speculating why a few years ago, I haven't seen it and I try to avoid assigning blame or wallowing in conspiracy theory.  That said, there are clear economic forces at work against a move away from reliance on oil - and it doesn't require a belief in some evil cabal or accusations of "greedy oil barons" as much as it requires an understanding of how investment works. (More on that in a moment.)

The second reason is also true, by the way. Trading dependence on oil for dependence on coal would not be a good solution. Apart from the climate impact (which won't really get into in this essay), the strain on our current electrical infrastructure would require some significant upgrades to that system. My favorite solution, though, is to take advantage of new renewable technologies - in particular photovoltaic solar - and make the production, sale, installation and maintenance of individually owned energy production a priority.  That way, individuals can scale up their own distributed electricity production as they need it, and large, centralized producers can focus on industrial customers or residences where it is impractical to have their own system.

But whatever direction we chose to go in a move away from oil, we would be threatening the oil market to some extent. The laws of supply and demand operate in a very straightforward manner, as the handy "What's Up With Gas Prices" infographic provided by the American Petroleum Institute can tell you.

A 2012 article in Forbes has a few interesting stats on this:

  • Demand shrank "[f]rom 9.29 million barrels per day in 2007 to 8.2 million barrels per day [Feb. 2012] (that’s from 390 million gallons a day to 344 million gallons), a plunge of 12%."
  • Drivers in the U.S. drove "about 100 million miles fewer [in 2011] than in 2007. Granted that’s only a 2% reduction in miles, or roughly a half-mile less for each of the 210 million licensed drivers in the U.S."

  • Since hitting a low in 2008, drillers are pumping 18% higher volumes, totalling 5.8 million bpd. The U.S. now supplies more than half of its petroleum needs from domestic fields.

  • John Felmy, chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute says that after taxes and refiners’ profits, 84% of the price of gasoline is tied directly to the price of crude oil. And who controls that? “It’s all the Saudis,” says Ed Hirs, professor of energy economics at the University of Houston.

According to that API infographic, worldwide demand is expected to grow - "The Energy Information Administration expects growth to accelerate over the next two years reaching 88.8 million barrels per day in 2012 and nearly 89.7 million barrels per day in 2013." 

I throw all of these stats at you to make a point about scale.  "Barrels per day" is clearly a good unit of measurement for comparison.  The U.S. approached 10 million barrels per day in demand, while supplying around two-thirds of that for itself. The World demands nearly 100 million barrels per day, and most of the production to meet that demand is controlled by the Saudis.  To show where the oil comes from, check out this neat map from APM.

The Point?  No matter what we do, we do not ultimately control the supply of oil.  We have been largely shielded from the results of that fact by aggressive foreign policies revolving around oil politics. But our adventures have cost us, and those we have offended over the last century are beginning to gain enough economic clout to take us on. At the end of the day, we can only count on 10% of the supply, if that - and much of that is hard to reach, expensive and dangerous to produce, and always vulnerable to volatile world markets.

So thanks to Supply, we are vulnerable.

In 2011, when Newt Gingrich tried to pin rising gas prices on the Obama administration, CNN reported:

Also, it's important to remember that oil and gasoline prices don't move in lockstep with one another. Gas prices lag behind oil prices by a couple of weeks.
During the oil price spike of 2008, gas prices were still trying to catch up as oil prices had already started falling.
That put refiners in a tight spot.
"[Refiners] couldn't sell their product for as much as crude was increasing," Rayola Dougher, a senior economic advisor for the American Petroleum Institute. "People lost money."

That's, literally, the money quote right there: "People lost money."

And people are going to lose money no matter what the Energy Policy of the U.S. is.

That's important to know.  No matter what we do, people will lose money.  And when they do, that loss will affect all of us. I'm not saying this to try to scare you.  It's just that if you understand how unavoidable that one fact is - people WILL lose money - it changes your individual motivation from one of "I'm only concerned with what I'm paying at the pump right now" to "I need to make sure that when the bottom falls out, I'm in a position to survive it."

In other words, we need to take control over our own Demand.

There really is no hope for avoiding some kind of financial fallout from the inevitable collapse of the oil industry. There is hope that we can make that collapse somewhat graceful, and less damaging. Staying on our current path, however, ignores the same problem that led to the housing market's collapse a few years ago: leverage.

Consider this from a recent Rolling Stone article Bill McKibben wrote about why the fossil fuels industry has fought so hard to discredit science supporting the notion of Global Warming (emphasis mine):
"We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We'd have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. ... Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it's already economically aboveground – it's figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It's why they've worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada's tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians."
Whatever you may think of the science supporting the Global Warming issue (and if you want to debate that with me, I'll just go ahead and refer you to this resource and save both of us a lot of time), the purpose of this essay is to convince you that there is a real financial danger ahead that can be mitigated if we are smart. Because there are hundreds of billions of dollars worth of money to be made in oil sales, and because companies (and entire nations) have already bet on the futures of those sales while the oil in question is growing harder and more expensive to reach, everyone is financially motivated to gloss over those expenses and risks - extraction, processing, and transportation are not going to get any easier or cheaper.

Oil and Coal are giants we should not attack and slay, but they are burdens that we should plan to set down gently. We are addicted not only because of our cars, but because we have allowed the hedging against supply & demand to creep into the rest of our money. We need to plan to put that money somewhere else. There will be severe costs for ignoring that plan.  There will be less-severe costs from investing in a way out.

My money (if I had any to bet) would be on the prudent course.  Put our policies behind incentives for moving electric cars and rooftop solar to market, and take our money out of coal and oil.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Evolving Out of Evil

I was asked to respond to this question on a friend-of-a-friend's Facebook page, but couldn't reply directly due to various Facebook privacy settings - so I thought I'd bring my thoughts here for everyone.  Steve asked:

"...the problem of pain and suffering is often pointed out by atheism as being inconsistent w/ a loving, merciful god so therefore God must not exist. Evolution is often touted as a process by which things change "from a lower, simpler or worst to a higher, more complex, or better state" (via Webster's dictionary).

"So ...If evolution is the process by which things (and we would include humans in things) get better, how do the continued evil actions of mankind get explained in evolutionary thinking? How long before humans get it 'right' in evolutionary terms?"

 David already hit one right answer square on the head: 

"I would take the position that things are better, that society, and civilization has gotten better. We have not attained perfection, by any means but things are better. the simple fact we can have an intellectual discussion on this very subject with fear of the inquisition or being charged with treason evidences that."

But my own thought was that this question conflates concepts that are commonly mixed up.

1. The dictionary of "evolution" is not the same as the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection.  Too few people understand what that is, and tend to argue against it in ignorance.

2. We, as individuals and members of our culture, have a completely different concept of "better" than nature does. Survival of the "fittest" doesn't correlate to "nicest", and "good enough" usually trumps "perfect" in the real world.

The first point drives most of the discussion between any creationist(s) and "adherents of evolution" and it betrays a fatal flaw in our education system. Few of the people who believe in a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation story have any idea what the Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection actually is, what it says, or how it has changed since Charles Darwin first suggested it.  That becomes apparent when a creationist asks a question about evolution, and frames it the way Steve has here.

This isn't an attack on Steve.  It's just important that everyone understand why the question isn't very useful.  There are simply too many logical fallacies embedded in a question like that. Brian Dunning did a much better job of explaining them, and how they work, in his recent podcast on "That Darned Science".  The main one that applies here is Dunning's reply to "Dezi" on scepticism being a "negative" of everything. 

The truth is, there is no "atheism" which "says" anything.  There is no atheist dogma.  An atheist simply believes that there is no god, and may or may not accept any number of other ideas depending on their other beliefs.  But there are millions of atheists who get tired of being told that without a god there can be no joy or morality - because we tend to see ourselves as still being good and moral, strangely enough - and they frequently use arguments like the one Steve cites to show the faithful that they don't have a lock on the definition of "evil" - which is the focus of the second point. 

The argument itself is not an "atheist" argument; Christian philosophers have been grappling with it for as long as there have been Christian philosophers.  From Wikipedia: "An argument from evil attempts to show that the co-existence of evil and such a deity is unlikely or impossible, and attempts to show the contrary have been traditionally known as theodicies." Some Christians even have a pretty good handle on Evolution, and write about how they can be a good Christian and still accept what the scientific method and more than a century of evidence are telling us.

So, with all of that set-up, I hope it is understood that:

a) I'm not going to lecture Steve (or anyone else) on the Theory of Evolution.  There are so many good, reliable, existing resources for learning about it already - go find them.  (You can start by Googling "Jerry Coyne" and look for his YouTube video.)

b) David's answer is one "correct" answer, in that he took the question at face value and applied a different yardstick to how Steve measures "better".  I put "correct" in scare quotes because that answer is really a subjective opinion, and there's no way to "prove" that it's any more valid that the perspective of those in the thread who see evil in those around them.

c) If you're really interested in understanding evil and God, then you should probably read up on "theodicies," linked above.

As for MY answer - which doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what other atheists may say or believe - I see evolution happening everywhere, and our species has reached a point where we have developed a certain set of skills and traits that we call "intelligence."  We are social primates who have developed self-awareness and independence.  We have a lot of conflicting impulses, and we have lots of tools for dealing with them.

The concept of "evil" doesn't really factor into my understanding of evolution, except to say that sometimes I see examples where being "evil" is an advantage, and other times where it isn't.  Since my own definition of evil has more to do with an individual's intentions, most definitions of evil are based on an individual's point of view, and since individuals are unpredictable and ever-changing (or evolving) creatures, I don't think it's ever likely to "evolve" away.

That's not to say that I won't continue to try to be good, with or without a god in the equation.  It's just that the existence of "evil" doesn't prove anything one way or the other.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


By request - the text of my audio story published by the Dunesteef audio fiction magazine.

Something was wrong, but you couldn't quite figure out what it was.  You were hiking through the Black Forest, following those leads.  The girl who reported the sighting may not have remained a virgin, but that didn't mean that her story was false.  It just meant that the experience would never happen to her again.

You were still pure, however, and your hope and faith made you a beacon to draw them, if they were there.  If they wanted you.  But something was wrong.

Her description was flawless; everyone gets the pure white coat, the flowing mane, and that damned horn.  But she knew the details.  She heard them speaking their names.  Names you recognized.  Names you first heard when you were a young girl, and you wandered away from your family's campsite on that trip to the Black Forest.

And she saw the tattoos and the scars.

Which brought you back out there with your gear and your plans.  This time, you were determined to get the proof that you needed.  It had gone beyond an obsession, long before your job was lost and your reputation was gone.  Certainly, you wanted to put a stop to the snickers and the pity.  But this desire was older than that; it was much more than that.  You had given up on that dream of proving yourself to doubters early on, and you learned to pay lip service to their disbelief, so they would believe you had recovered your senses. 

The doubters couldn't help you get what you wanted, anyway.

It was that desire to see Them again; to touch them; to ride one of them again.  That desire kept you alone - and intact - throughout your adult life.  It kept you aloof and distant, focused on your career.  Your success as an interrogator was attributed to that detached focus.  But in hindsight, your whole life was a balancing act between lies that hid your obsession and the truth that smoldered beneath, like embers hidden by wet leaves.  No one could lie to you.  You could smell the feeble smoke of their falsehoods, and fan the truth into flame.

On the interview tape, you were different, though.  The girl's story was feeble; it was plain they had stolen that car and headed for seclusion.  You were your usual, competent self, cold and taking notes, waiting for the holes in the tale that would inevitably show themselves.  She veered from the unlikely into the fantastic, telling you of the sound of hoofbeats, and the flash of silver through the trees.

You froze at that.  Your detachment melted away.  You ought to have torn her lies apart right there; exposed her fraud and closed the case.  And yet you listened, and instead of cutting apart the lies with logic, you asked for more.

Where did you go? What did you see?  How many were there?  Can you describe the marks...

You wrote down everything, squeezing her for details until the chief came and ended the interview.  They took the girl away, and you screamed at them to stop; you needed to know more.  The tape captured your frenzy, and words that you were shouting.  Words that couldn't be heard on replay, because no two listeners heard the same sounds.

They detained you, and made you wait for the chief's decision.  You simply stared intently, stroking a lock of your silver hair, which had fallen out of your normally severe bun as you clutched your notes and eyed the maps on the walls of the station.

They took away your badge and your car; they revoked your investigator's license.  After the magistrate reviewed your case, they were going to offer you a small pension, and a quiet, part time desk job at some village in the southern part of the country. 

It was strange that you had become so intent; that you lost your control.  If you had stayed calm, you could have interviewed the girl again later; you could have taken your notes, and pretended not to believe her.  You could have held on to the dignity and respect of your peers.  Would that have made a difference?

You went alone, with the illegal gun you had found during a drug raid, and a pack full of modern camping gear; microfibre bedroll, piezoelectric generator, and basic protein sequencer.  You went with no radio, no GPS, and no phone, but you took a long, thin silver chain and wore it coiled off your belt.  You wore the night vision goggles, but didn't really believe those would help you.

It was your blood they would smell, and they would find you.  Or they wouldn't.

You wandered, uncertain for the first time in your life.  Something was wrong, but you couldn't figure it out.  You could only roam through the woods, clutching your hopes as they wilted into doubts.

And then, as you approached a stream, they surprised you.  They appeared out of nowhere, surrounding you, and pinning you where you stood on the road; a ring of tall white equines with their long, thin horns forming spokes that seemed to emerge from your body and radiate out to their foreheads instead of the other way round.

You knew that a distant part of you felt fear.  The old, weary part of you felt that, but it was far away, and it was sinking beneath the waves of joy that were radiating from the young, innocent virgin still within your heart.  The joy of a faith long held, and now rewarded; the joy of anticipation fulfilled on a wedding night, after a protracted engagement; this was what you felt, even before they spoke to you.

But they did speak to you, and if you had swooned when they did - swooned as you had all those years ago when they came upon you, lost and afraid - they would have escaped you again.  This time, though, you were ready with your silver lasso, and you revealed to them your secret.  You reminded them why, for so many centuries, they had avoided wise, older women who wander through the forest in favor of those innocent, young virgins.

As quickly as they had appeared, they were gone... scattered like brilliant aspen leaves, first shimmering silver, and then flipping into the dark green that dominates the trees of the forest, giving it its name.  All but one, which strained at the end of your chain, trying to flee.  You leapt upon his back, chain coiled around your fists; fingers balled into his mane.

He was not the same one you rode in your youth.  That time, you had found yourself astride a young stallion with a pattern of swirls that wove around his middle in the shape of a saddle.  This time, you were riding their king.  No swirls on this back; no hint of domestication.  This skin was covered with the story of their kind.  Tales of their migrations across time; their conflicts with other creatures; the Flood that ended their rule.  Scars told of the battles that followed, the encroachment of humankind.  And one symbol, on his shoulder, where the pommel would be... this you recognized as the seat of their power.

You caressed it with a finger, risking your grip to ride one-handed.  This tattoo, on the back of their king, was the key to their continued existence; this symbol was the Meme - the Idea which kept them alive in the hearts of the world.  It kept them anchored, despite their secrecy.

You should have let it go, then.  You would have been filled with their magic, returned to your golden youth.  Nothing could have harmed you until you let it, and no one would have doubted you with the knowledge that you held.

Instead, you wanted too much.  You wanted to be seen, in the city, riding triumphantly upon the King of the Unicorn.

You believed that nothing could harm you, though you ought to have realized the danger.  The Meme that had revealed itself to you should have filled you with their caution.  But hubris is not a trait of the Unicorn; it belongs to us.  And to you.

And so you rode him to the city, where you were able to charge to the center square; a highway, choked with fools and machines.  And when you stopped, you dismounted, holding onto his chain, expecting all eyes to be on you, and on him.  You honestly believed that the world would stop and take notice.  Most did, but certainly not all.

The humble car should not be enough to kill the King of the Unicorn, but he is a creature of magic, and it is a creation of iron.  It was simply unfortunate that the car struck him from behind, and that you were in front of him, arms upraised and shouting for attention.  When the horn pierced you, it lifted you off the ground, and the weight of the beast carried you both over a wrought iron fence (yet more iron), and into a fountain.  The horn snapped off at the very base when it struck the stone, leaving it in your body.  The Unicorn fell away, and a mighty flash of silent, heatless light blasted from his forehead.

By the time the authorities arrived, the water of the fountain was a dark red.  The blood and moss had obscured whatever strands of white were left in his coat, which had mostly turned a dingy grey.  The horn had remained, but as a charred and blackened stick.  And the proof you wanted so badly was reduced to this sooty shaft through your torso, a dead horse in a fountain, and the uncertain memories of witnesses who had barely noticed the event.

They took your statement, for whatever it is worth, capturing your last breaths on tape.  Legally, it will be inadmissible.  The pain and trauma would have robbed your credibility even if they hadn't given you the pain killers.  But it has been transcribed, and notarized, for the public record.  Reading it, one could assume only that you had broken from the strain of police work.  No one would believe the tale you told in this age of miracles and wonders.

Not that anyone ever will read it.  Such a humiliating incident is certain to be buried as deeply as possible.  As will you, and the King of the Unicorn.