Category Archives: Opinion

Move Over Russia, Here I Come

I went through the process to be vetted to run political ads and content on Facebook’s platform. (Which, as you may or may not know, isn’t limited to the site itself.

Because of the fallout from the 2016 debacle otherwise known as the election, Facebook instituted some exacting rules to ensure that people and organizations are whom they claim to be – and live where they claim to. The rules don’t affect what you post on your private pages; rather, they affect what you post on pages you control and advertising platforms you access. Facebook reaches a couple of billion people. In some respects, it is the biggest communication platform in our shared human history.

Regardless of what content is on Facebook’s platform, it is our responsibility, not theirs, to use our brains in the way they were designed. We don’t adopt attitudes or prejudices at gunpoint; we are the guilty party in almost every case in which advertising is claimed to have been misused. It’s too glib to blame Russia or Facebook for undue influence. We own our collective stupidity.

The 2016 election proved that voting sometimes has less power when compared the reach of a determined voice, even if the voice is shouting disinformation. You can get your opinion and voice heard more effectively than by voting or arguing in a closed system. Even though we know that shouting doesn’t work to change minds, only cement them, we still do it, instead of using appeals to humor, persuasion, and targeted communication.

The most persuasive voice is another human presence, one of open mind and ear. The only sermon or speech which spreads your message is one of example. As we learned from the last election, the next best thing is a communication platform which allows anyone to reach a staggering number of people. The effect is amplified when people are engaging with passion at the expense of their intelligence.

You’ve read my words and creations in other places, many times without realizing that they were mine. You shouldn’t assume that they were the ideas, words, or images you would expect from me, either. None of us is the imagined version in the minds of others.

In an open society, that’s perhaps the best way. The best idea should be given consideration, even if it is disruptive to the beliefs and certainties we all cling to. Buried in the illusion of tribal affiliations of today, we automatically flinch and recoil away from the opportunity to hear new information. Our motto should always be: “I change my mind with new information.” This tendency is necessary for learning and growing. The greater our tendency to fight against flexibility, the more likely we’ll experience a breakage. 7 billion people in the world demand that we stop seeing ourselves as the torchbearer for truth.

I rarely share anything from another source on social media. It’s almost exclusively mine, even if it only my opinion, full of error and disinterest. Much of the problem with social media is that it is too tempting and too easy to use others to give voice to our presence. Much of the time, the voice we choose is whispering – or shouting – information which is slanted, incorrect, or completely false.

This is part of the reason why it is amusing to think that I now can anonymously sway your opinion across the entire platform of social media. The last election demonstrated the power and reach of interactive content. Why hack the vote when we can convince large groups of people that up is down or that everyone falls into neat categories of political and religious ideology? Obviously, most of us don’t recognize that we are being swayed or led astray – that’s precisely why it is such a powerful tool. All of us feel immune to it. Reality proves otherwise.

All of us, every day, see information on social media that we know isn’t true. We think, “What an idiot!” We rarely stop to consider that the idiot in our scenario is often us in the other idiot’s mind.

P.S. Facebook has trusted me to access your eyes, ears, and minds. Good luck to you all. It’s my turn to be the idiot. You’ll find me all over the internet, thanks to the largest communication project ever created. You’re welcome.

Live Your Life: The X-Hanlon Repudiation

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No matter what, we live our lives in the moment. Often, we convince ourselves we don’t. It’s an illusion. We’ve all said or done things that later come to diminish our ability to continue living good lives. We’ve placed our foot so far into our own mouths that we can taste toenails, so to speak. Whether we’re joking or we’ve simply intersected with the random wheel of life, what we’ve said or done infects our memory and turns us away from remembering the shared joys.

We can’t know that someone is going to die in his or her sleep, fall from the sky, or roll their car 13 times and get crushed underneath it. We do know, however, that these things are going to happen to a LOT of people every day. Statistics tell us that 150,000+ die each day. (106 per minute, if that seems more comprehensible to you.)

If we take overly careful steps as we walk through life, we sacrifice a great portion of what’s possible to what brings fear. We become afraid to speak or to express ourselves because of the immense ‘what if’ lingering on our tongues. Experience teaches us that life is painful. It is also our only opportunity to prance honestly through these ridiculous obstacles we all share.

If humor is at stake, we should err on the side of lunacy and caprice. Life has already sentenced us to death. I see no great reason to allow its shadow to overcome us as we go about our routine lives. A great gaffe will survive a long time. We all love to share stories of incredulity about what friends and family said or did.

Hanlon/Heinlein’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is explained by stupidity.

X-Hanlon Repudiation: Assuming you are interacting with people of mutual like or respect always feel free to do or say the thing which expresses pleasure, joy or greater enjoyment to the moment. Errors may arise – but humanity will exonerate.

I wince when I see the pain that results from good people regretting the things they’ve said or done in good spirit. Life is not only short, but it laughs at these self-conscious hesitations.

Good people will not bear malice toward you for openly embracing life and its whims. Mistakes are going to happen.

Go ahead and tell your grandmother that her house smells like boiled derriere if it makes her laugh. If it’s the last time you speak to her while she’s alive, you will have shared a moment of frivolous life together. There is no greater compliment than sharing your wit, wisdom and laughter will someone. Do not soften who you are because fear sits on your shoulder.

For anyone who knows me, you’ll know that this idea is one I earned one stupid comment at a time.
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Kroger in Hot Springs

A word of praise: The larger Kroger in Hot Springs was both amazing and depressing.

Old age has its pleasures.

It’s awesome to see the shores of the Pacific. But it’s epic to find new delicious foods to shove into one’s gullet.

The Kroger in question was a sight to behold, in part due to the wide selection of food, both healthy and otherwise. There were at least 30 items that I would gladly substitute as my entire diet if I could.

It was depressing, though, because I knew I’d leave and come back to NWA, where none of the competition has such a spectacular cross-section of items, price, and quality. It’s true that I can visit 3 different stores and probably approximate what I’d buy in one visit to Kroger.

I know that a “super” Kroger isn’t common. But if you’ll permit me to dream for a moment, I’ll ask for world peace, total nonviolence among nations, and that Kroger builds a replica of the Hot Springs store near my house. I wrote Kroger to let them know how much I look forward to them building a store near me.

P.S. You can remove all the Walmart Neighborhood markets and relocate them to Nebraska.

Thanks.

A Personal Story About Guns

This story is intensely personal, one involving guns, domestic abuse, and biography. It’s not what I started to write and it certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s honest and reflects much of who I am. Apologies for any errors and I tried to avoid the mention of real people; however, it is just as much my story to tell as theirs.

In 1970, I lived near Rich, Arkansas, near the nexus of Highways 39 and 49. It was a swampy place, surrounded by farms and mosquitoes. My family lived for a brief time slightly up the hill to the East, on the south side of the road. It’s easy to remember, because in March of that year, my dad killed a cousin of mine while drunk driving. Growing up, I thought my cousin Donald Wayne Morris was an uncle, as we called his wife Aunt Elizabeth. Like most family lore, it wasn’t accurate and caused confused conversations. After my dad was released from prison for, among other things, armed robbery, he came back to Monroe County, Arkansas to continue his wild ways. One of the ways he chose to do this was to have an affair with my “Aunt Elizabeth,” the widow of the cousin he had killed in a drunken driving episode. I was at home in the little white house near Rich the day my dad killed Donald Wayne. As I remember it, his wife was with us at the house, too.

But this story isn’t about Aunt Elizabeth, drunk driving, or armed robbery.

Despite having an extensive criminal record, my dad always had firearms around the house. Being a quintessential redneck, he believed that all guns should always be loaded. He would brag, “You’ll be careful if you know that all guns are always loaded.” Had Bill Engvall been around back then, he would have paid for a “Here’s your sign” tattoo to be emblazoned on my dad’s forehead. My dad also didn’t believe in keeping guns hidden or under lock and key, even if toddlers or small children were around. After extensive research, the word that best describes him in this regard is “moron.”

Growing up, there were a couple of notable deaths resulting from children getting their hands on guns and shooting themselves or each other. Some family members wanted to scream and get angry about such easy access to guns – but were silenced by the withering collective stare of the culture that considered any questions about gun access to be a treasonous breach of their rights. There were angry shouts about it sometimes, but they were rare and quickly subdued. In pockets of society all around this country, men will grow angry at any mention of responsible gun ownership. They are not likely to understand nuance and the greater collective good. The words evoke a threatening aura of loss, or make them feel like they are quite wrong about the idea that not all guns and gun owners are created equal. It is an ‘all or nothing,’ scenario, without regard to a safer middle ground.

I’m not certain how old I was, but somewhere before my fifth birthday. One early Saturday afternoon, my mom and dad were screaming at one another, planning to escalate to blows at any moment. It was a familiar and constant ritual – and they knew the steps as well as any dance. I went into their bedroom and the longest rifle I had ever seen lay across the bed. It was sleekly black, with a surprisingly long silver barrel. There were others guns in the room; there were a couple of shotguns and pistols under the bed, a few in the closet, and one leaning in the corner for quick access. It was the black one on the bed calling my name, though. Without hesitation, I went up to it, put my hand across the trigger guard, and squeezed the trigger. The gun leaped from the bed, thundering like an exploding gas tank in the bedroom. I felt my ears pop inward.

I’m sure I started crying – and not just because of the painful gunshot inside the room. I knew my enraged dad would be coming in to exact his revenge. I wasn’t disappointed. I suppose he forgot his mission to scream at my mom in the kitchen when the gun fired, because he backhanded me so hard I thought the back of my head was going to touch my shoulder blades. Although mom denied it, dad kicked me more than once as I curled against the dresser near the bedroom door. Mom would find it hard to believe I could recall an event from such an early age. I used to point out that it was more traumatic than a typical memory, as it involved firearms in closed spaces and being kicked like a coffee can along the sidewalk.

Later, I looked through the round hole in the bedroom wall to see that the line of fire went straight to the next house along the road. It turned out that the bullet had pierced through the siding on that house, too, although no one was hurt. I often wonder if anyone from the other house still tells this story.

At the time, I couldn’t understand how stupid my dad sounded, screaming at me that I could have shot someone – and that I should never touch guns. Part of it was that he was constantly handing them to me or doing ridiculously stupid things with them as he drank. Often, he pointed them in anger at other people, including his own family. He shot at several people when I was growing up. He fired guns from inside moving vehicles, shot propane tanks, poured ammunition into both open campfires and fireplaces, and did just about every idiotic and unreasonable thing possible with a gun.

But this story isn’t about how I could have killed someone when I was very young.

All through my youth, my dad had guns everywhere. Guns, knives, crossbows – of all kinds. He had a violent temper and a lengthy history of domestic violence and criminal behavior. Anyone who knows me also knows that while I came to terms with my dad before he died, the truth is that he had no business being allowed to touch guns or own them. Police in Northwest Arkansas and in Monroe County knew dad’s criminal history and love of hitting people in anger. They also knew he had an arsenal pretty much his entire adult life. Dad had more than one gun given to him by members of law enforcement. Is it hard to see that he felt somehow empowered to continue the same wayward behavior?

Part of the reason I’m telling this story is to shake my head that people seem surprised that just about anyone can get guns and commit horrible acts of violence. I acknowledge that it was a different time even a couple of decades ago. The truth, though? People haven’t changed. Right now, in places that might surprise you, there are people are thinking of doing crazy things. Many of them are surrounded by people that don’t think their friend or family member is going to be the one who loses it and goes on a rampage. The gun buffet is at their disposal, if they want it. It’s true that a person so motivated isn’t going to be limited by a lack of easy access to guns. Don’t try to weaken my story by implying otherwise. If the guns are military grade automatic weapons, though, we are treading into the less reasonable realm of gun ownership. As I might have mentioned, my dad had access to explosives, too, despite his criminal record.

On more than one occasion, I fantasized about taking one of the guns and killing my dad. He deserved it on several different nights. For those unfamiliar with anger and alcohol, the nightfall has always brought with it a greater likelihood of violence. For all of you who’ve never been put in the position of wishing you could kill your own father to protect yourself, I can only say “you’re lucky.” People around us and certainly some family members knew how likely it would be to get a call informing them that my dad had killed one or all of us, finally. There would have been tears and the usual, “We could have done something”nonsense. Yes, they could have done something – they could have knocked my dad silly and taken all of his guns. There were a couple of times I regretted not killing my dad because the lesson of not doing so was followed by him beating my mom so violently that it was difficult to get the sound of her head bouncing off the metal bed support frame from my mind. It would not have been the gun’s fault had I grabbed a pistol from under the table and shot my dad. It would have been his fault.

It is true that it’s not the gun’s fault. People commit crimes.

It’s also true that the gun crowd is a little too zealous; playing the role of society that surrounded me while I was growing up. We can all be reasonable without resorting to exaggeration. Our collective future society is not going to look like it does today. It’s inevitable, because the problems we are dealing with are complicated.

It might be an easy thing to say that my dad was an aberration from the normal; he was aberrant, that is true. He also was representative of many in our society, those who secretly know that having access to any gun they want is probably a bad thing for most of the rest of us. We blithely wander through our lives, hoping that anger or mental illness doesn’t propel someone to kill us or someone we love, all the while uneasily thinking of the millions of complex firearms sitting in closets, under beds, in attics, within reach.

As I walk the streets, I don’t worry about getting shot or protecting myself. It’s a fools errand. There is no guarantee of safety, no matter how many guns I carry or how many take up space in my home. From my experience, if everyone is carrying around sticks, the likelihood of someone getting clobbered is 100%.

I don’t own any guns but shooting at a firing range is entertaining. If you’ve never done it, you might be surprised how enjoyable it is. I don’t hunt, though, mainly because I would be a vegetarian if I weren’t so damned lazy. The idea of shooting animals for sport or food is strangely exotic to me. While I would do it to survive, it would be a lesser choice for me. (You’d find me eating stale prairie grass before you’d catch me skinning a hog as an appetizer.) For our own sake, we have to figure out a way to separate the exaggerated claims of gun ownership for hunting and basic personal protection from the one the fringe continues to impose on us all – the one which commands us to pretend that all guns and gun owners are the same.

Most gun owners are responsible, reasonable people. Contrary to what the NRA would try to tell us, most people don’t want automatic weapons or the ability to buy literally any firearm they want. They think gun locks and safes are reasonable. Most want responsible controls in place for everyone. It’s the way society works when it works well.

The shadow in the back of my mind, though, is the one created by people such as my father.

A List of Warnings About Writing Anything (Previous Post From Very First Blog)

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This post will be edited and reposted infrequently, both as a reminder to anyone reading and as a warning to myself. Especially for those of you who might have family, friends, or enemies. (These three categories are often fluid.)

We are all subject to fatigue, brain farts (medical terminology – sorry), inattention, sloppy thinking, etc. Mistakes will happen, words will escape our grasp, and meanings will be implied that weren’t supposed to be.

Sometimes, even when you are willing to write perfectly, you lose the initiative and get lazy. This type of writing often turns out to be the simplest possible method of expressing yourself, but you won’t recognize lazy writing until you start to revise it.

Even the best writers sometimes fail at adequately expressing ideas.
Everything written can and will be taken out of context. And when you least expect it. And in the worst possible way of interpreting it. If you write a few words about why you dislike licorice, your words will be later applied to indicate that you hate small children and drink your own urine.
Sometimes, what we write is used in context and still wrongly interpreted either through the reader’s malice or through lousy writing.

Every reader has active filters, affecting the meaning of words. Not all such filters can be avoided by stellar writing. (A crazy person can pick up your words and falsely believe that you are threatening their lives. An argument to the contrary doesn’t appease the crazy person – it only serves to amplify the belief.)

Continuing to explain an idea after a reader or listener has expressed hostility or less-than-gentlemanly response is a waste of time. You can’t “win” once this occurs. Stop trying.

Being right is an illusion. When you were younger, you falsely believed your ideas and actions to be correct; you aged and discovered that many of your thoughts, actions, and beliefs were probably just dumb. This process is still going on – but you can’t see it. That’s part of the human condition.

Even on a particular subject, people who have studied the subject exclusively their entire lives cannot agree. This is true with hard sciences, and it is doubly true for “soft” or subjective ideas. Someone is wrong – and usually, everyone is wrong to a certain degree, including me. And you, too.

Since everyone knows that I preach that it’s okay to change your mind if you’ve learned something new or experience something honest or new in your life, be prepared for the infinite shelf life of the modern written word. You might have espoused horrible ideas when young and later recognized the error of your ways. However, when you’re 35, don’t be surprised when a self-serving revisionist uses what you once believed as current evidence of your stupidity, vileness, etc. They’ll quote you at your worst possible moment. That you no longer think it will be irrelevant.

Waiting until you are perfectly able to express yourself usually means you’ll never get around to it.