Friday, April 26, 2013

Snapping Points?

Like most children growing up, I had to deal with my share of bullying. Most of these were relatively minor instances, but trying for the emotional child I was.  At one point in middle school,  I even became a bully, for reasons I can’t even comprehend as an adult. Fortunately, it did not last more than a couple of weeks, because my victim finally made the decision to stand up to me.

Beyond my brief and shameful period as a bully, most of my encounters with bullies were the result of witnessing the bullying of others, and reaching my breaking point to speak up for others when they would not speak up for themselves. Sadly, I never spoke up enough to completely end their bullying, all I did was end a few instances. But the experiences did teach me that to truly end bullying, you have to stand up for yourself.

My most memorable instance of being bullied was in high school during my Junior year.  A small group of my friends and I spent many of our lunches in the school library playing Dungeons and Dragons and other games. A classmate of ours, whom we’ll call Wesley, apparently decided that was reason enough to pick on us. At first Welsey’s attacks were merely verbal, and we ignored him - after all, at that point in time, if you played D&D openly, derision of your hobby of choice was to be expected.

When Wesley realized his verbal taunting was doing little to bother us, he escalated things a little bit.  Honestly, it was so many years ago, I don’t remember the specifics, though some of my friends may.. What I do remember is that as a result of his actions, we asked the librarian if we could move our games to one of the private study rooms, and she agreed we could. For a while, that helped, until the day of our final encounter with Wesley.  That final encounter is what I remember the most.

One lunch period, Wesley let himself into our study room. We were right in the middle of something important in our game, and he reached down and picked up a pair of dice I was using.

“Give me back the dice, Wesley,” I said, in what I recall as a calm, but firm voice.

“What are you going to do about it,” was the gist of his reply.

After about a half a dozen repetitions of my request, and his taunting replies, I had had enough, and I unleashed.  Things got physical - which was, and still is, pretty rare for me.  Wesley found himself shoved up against the wall with my hand on his throat, and a shocked look on his face.

“Give me back the dice, Wesley,” I repeated for the last time, but my voice was now brimmed with venom.  Wesley dropped the dice, I let him go and that was the end of it. As far as I can recall, Wesley did not bother me nor my friends for the rest of our time in school.

What I recall the most of this event isn’t the details, but the way I felt when I snapped, and unleashed on Wesley. It was anger, righteous indignation, vengeance and a sense of violation all rolled into one. But with all that, there was also an overriding sense of not giving a fuck what happened to me.  Wesley was a bigger guy than me, I had almost no fighting experience, and frankly, in the back of my mind, I just knew I was going to get my ass kicked.  But I didn’t care, damnit - I was determined to go down swinging.  

Every single one of us has that snapping point, that point in time where we feel the actions we take are far, far more important than consequences we will suffer for them.  The most profound example I can think of this point is that of the passengers of United flight 93 on Sept 11th, 2001.  They reached a point where they knew they were going to die, but damnit, they weren’t going down without a fight.  Their actions ultimately didn’t change their fate, but they probably changed the fates of hundreds, possibly even thousands of other lives.

Sometimes it’s the other way around.  Sometimes people feel they are being bullied, and snap, even when hindsight shows they over reacted. A good example of this is the Oklahoma City bombing - McVeigh repeatedly said that his actions were a response to the government’s actions at Ruby Ridge and Waco TX.  His actions may have been reprehensible nor justified, but I don’t think any of us can deny that he reached a point where he snapped.

We are at a point in this nation where millions of Americans feel they are being bullied by the government.  Specifically, I’m referring to the fight surrounding the 2nd Amendment.  This fight cannot go on at it’s current level without someone else snapping.   

What I find surprising is the number of people who can’t or won’t factor this into the conversation.

From the research I’ve done, an estimated 30-34% of our population are lawful gun owners. That’s an estimated 70-80 million adults who legally own guns.  Let’s go with the lower of that number - 70 Million gun owners. If 99.9% of gun owners do not reach their snapping point with any future gun laws, that still leaves 0.1% who will.  That’s 70,000 people at their snapping point. To put that in perspective, that’s approximately the same number of people as live in Sheboygan WI, or Flagstaff AZ.

Now let’s assume that is only people who are at their snapping point, but not yet over it. They have not yet been faced with the incident that causes them to snap. An incident such as law enforcement confronting them about their previously legal guns.  If only one percent of those people are actually faced with an incident, and shooting starts, that’s still 700 incidents of shoot outs with law enforcement over something that was previously legal.  If only one percent of those incidents result in the death of a law enforcement officer, that’s still 7 officers dead.

Now consider that’s only pushing 0.1% to their snapping point, and only 1% of those being confronted.   Things have the potential to be much, much worse.  Put the number at their snapping point at 1%, and you get 700,000 people who are potential trouble.  That’s between the population of Allentown PA, and Rochester NY.  If 1% of those are faced with an incident, and again, only 1% of those incidents result in the death of a law enforcement officer, that’s 70 officers dead.

If the percentage of people pushed to their snapping point is higher - and I have no doubt it could be as high as 6-7% - then you’re looking at hundreds of potential law enforcement deaths over enforcement of gun laws.

These quick calculations leave out a lot of other factors as well.  I’m only pointing out the lives of law enforcement officers, the ones who are on the perceived “good” side - agents of government.  What about deaths of those who fight back when confronted?  Ruby Ridge had a death toll of three - two from the Weaver family, and one law enforcement officer.  Waco had a death toll of 84 - 80 Branch Davidians and 4 law enforcement officers.

Furthermore, every death caused by government confrontation over gun laws is a potential catalyst for further violence.  The ATF’s illegal actions at Ruby Ridge, and perceived illegal actions at Waco were a catalyst for the 168 deaths in the Oklahoma City bombing.

In a nutshell, being too aggressive with anti-gun laws in this country has the potential to get ugly fast. Real fast.  Especially when you consider how fast information (and misinformation) about these type of incidents can spread. An overzealous ATF officer in Minneapolis could very well touch off an incident that leads to the deaths of FBI agents in Los Angeles and beyond.

For an agenda that says “if we can save even one life with these laws, it’s worth it”  I find it incredulous that they don’t consider the potential loss of life these laws could cause, especially when pushed by a government that has done much to erode our trust. Because it’s not just gun laws we’re talking about, but laws and policies that violate many other Amendments, too.

The death of a child is a tragic thing. I agree that we should take prudent steps to protect their lives. But we’re also at a tipping point where another incident like Ruby Ridge could set off a firestorm and anti-government backlash that we might not be able to contain.By ignoring that potential, we're not being prudent.

Ramming through more anti-gun laws only increases the likelihood of things spiraling out of control unexpectedly. The 26 lives lost at Newtown, and the 12 lives lost at Aurora’s Century theater will mean nothing if the emotional reactions to them give us ill-conceived feel good laws that lead to even more deaths.

Once again, I find myself standing up for those who are being bullied.  In other words, it’s time for the government to stop bullying law abiding citizens, because a significant number of them appear to be at, or near their snapping point.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Reading Assignments!

In lieu of my usual story and rant this week, I’m just posting some links to some reading you can do for yourself. Again, I’m a big believer in people educating themselves and making their own decisions, and all of my posts so far are intended to make you think about these things for yourself.

But sometimes it’s helpful to just say “Hey, read this” without editorializing (too much).

The following are all Supreme Court Cases where the government was found to be in violation of the Constitution in some form or another.  To make them easier to digest, I’m linking to the Wikipedia article for them where it exists. Wikipedia is usually pretty accurate, and relatively neutral, though not always.  I encourage you to do your own research, the references given in each Wikipedia article are a good place to start.

United States v. Jones - attaching a GPS to a citizen’s vehicle to monitor his movements without a warrant violates the 4th Amendment.

Sackett v. EPA - imposing fines against landowners for non-compliance without due process violates the 4th Amendment

Arizona v. United States - States are within their 10th Amendment rights to uphold Federal Law regarding immigration.

Gabelli v. SEC - the Security and Exchange Commission must abide by it’s own statute of limitations.

Arkansas Fish & Game Commission v. United States - reinforces the Takings Clause of the 5th Amendment

Georgia v. Randolph - police need a warrant to search a residence if one resident objects to the search, even if another resident gives consent.

Various blogs out there will try and paint some of these cases as evidence to push an agenda that either Bush or Obama is evil.   For example, the first example - US V. Jones came from a Republican leaning blog that used it as one example of how horrible the Obama administration is.  However, the fact is that the violation and the subsequent court case began under the Bush administration, but was just as vigorously pursued or defended under the Obama administration.  Abuse of government power by it’s bureaucrats does not suddenly change just because the President is a member of one party or the other. 

These are just the cases that have made it to the highest courts.

More interesting cases can be found here:

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Thing or Two About Villains

Sometime around 7 or 8th grade I was introduced to a new type of game - a role playing game called Dungeons and Dragons. I was drawn to D&D because of the imagination and creativity it required. My friends and I spent hours taking on the roles of Elven Archers, Halfling Thieves and Human Wizards, just like our favorite characters from Tolkien, Donaldson, Eddings and more. As more of my peers were drawn to this new genre of games, more of these types of games were published in several different genres, like Sci-Fi, Westerns and Spy thrillers. 

These types of games usually require a coordinator, a Game Master, who takes the rules, and the background, and makes it come alive in a functioning world of imagination for the players.  It was this portion of the games that I was really drawn to.  I learned to use my imagination to create entire worlds, and the cast of characters to inhabit them. My natural inclination for writing and drawing led to volumes of works on places, things and people who don’t exist anywhere else but my mind, and the friends I’ve shared them with.

Being a Game Master taught me things - in fact, being a GM (as Game Masters are known) may have taught me more than high school ever did. At first glance, Role-Playing Games (RPGs) are educational in terms of reading and arithmetic.  A single game can have multiple volumes of books, with lots of various rules to assimilate, and background material to enjoy. That means lots of reading.  And since the rules are almost always based upon math, you end up reinforcing all those math skills that seem so dry and boring in math class.

RPGs also teach valuable social skills, because, it is, at it’s heart, a social experience. Playing an RPG requires taking on the role of a character who may be vastly different from your own personality, a practice which builds empathy for another person’s viewpoint. GMs in particular get to practice this skill running multiple non-player characters - the people of their world.  It also requires learning how to work with others as a player, and as a GM, how to get groups of players to work together to play the game. Time management is another important skill that good GMs pick up over time as well.   And as they build their worlds and adventures, GMs also learn valuable research skills, and quite often a basic knowledge of the things they research.  

The things a typical GM researches is a variety of topics that would boggle most people. Over the years, I’ve done research on things as varied from medieval mining techniques to the history of the Crusades, from basic botany to the French Revolution, from gem cutting to string theory, from how tanks are built to the history of Prohibition, and from the formation of the Protestant churches to psychology.  From Ceasar and Julius to Hitler and Rommel.

As a result of all of this, myself, and most of the experienced GMs I know of almost universally share three important traits. The first trait is that we all tend to know at least a little about most topics - more topics than the average person does, anyway.  The second trait is that our extended knowledge has often shown us how little we actually know overall - we’re always willing to learn more. The third trait - and the real focus of this essay - is that we also tend to know a thing or two about villains.

Crafting a good adventure or campaign is quite often about crafting a good villain.  The primary focus of most RPG adventures is to defeat something or someone, and whether it’s an individual or an organization, whether it’s a human opponent, or a monster or an alien, there are personalities with their own goals at work. Or at least there should be. Any good GM or fiction writer knows that villains need to have motivations, and that those motivations need to be clear to the writer/GM, if not to their audience.

A good GM or writer quickly learns that the best villains - the scariest and most memorable ones - have clear goals and motivations, but generally do not consider themselves as villains. They do the things they do because of who they are, and the goals they’re trying to achieve, not just because they’re evil or bad. They do the things they do for a variety of reasons, but much of the time those reasons are clear and understandable to anyone that takes the time to try, even if they are despicable. Because they were beaten as a child and vowed they would never allow anyone to hurt them again. Or a woman who was raped, and vows that no other woman shall ever be raped. Or a child who was powerless to stop his mother from being beaten, vowing to never feel that powerless again.  The list of reasons and motivations is practically endless, but all are, for the most part, understandable, if you can get into the head of the villain. 

Every GM has to get into the heads of their villains in order to play them well. We have to see them as people first to make them memorable villains. 

And that, my friends, is precisely the point of this entire ramble so far. In real life, outside of the criminal element, many of the villains we see around us rarely, if at all, perceive themselves to actually be a villain. They have their reasons and motivations, and they operate on those.  Even when they’re doing villainous things, they don’t see themselves as being villains. It's important to remember that.

The neighbor who can’t or won’t keep his dog from barking doesn’t see himself as a villain. Neither does the car salesman who sells you the lemon. Nor does the cop who skirts procedures in order to catch a bad guy. Neither does a politician who helps pass a bad law.

In modern times, politicians and those with political opinions are some of the most vilified people. Democrats call President Bush and Senator Cruz villains for their opinions and actions. Republicans call President Obama and Senator Feinstein villains for their opinions and actions.TV hosts, and even bloggers and forum commentators are labelled as villains.

In the cases of those in power, yes, many of these people have committed what I and others would consider villainous acts. President Bush and his administration pushed a war in Iraq that probably wasn’t justified.  Senator Cruz has made some inflammatory comments to his colleagues in Congress. Senator Feinstein has pushed for anti-gun laws that either border on, or out right cross constitutionality. President Obama and his administration have been increasing drone use, and hiding many of their legal justifications for doing so. All could be considered villainous things.

And I could fill a dozen pages with examples like this.

We can label them villains all we want, but doing so doesn’t actually help the situation. We have to recognize that they don’t perceive themselves as villains, and that they honestly believe the actions they take are to help. Calling them villains simply causes them to perceive you as the villain.

C.S. Lewis once said “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

They think they’re helping. They do what they do with the approval of their own conscience. You cannot change their thinking by labeling them as a villain - because, in their own mind, they are not. Calling them names does little help either, no one likes to be called a right wing gun nut, or a left wing libtard. People shut down, and rational discourse dies when you start using labels, and calling names.

The only way to get the rational discourse going again is for all sides to start appealing to each other’s good consciences, rather than calling each other names. The key to defeating a villain is to understand them, and understanding what their motivations are.

In a nutshell, villains are people, too. As a society, we need to start treating people as people, not as labels.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Reluctant Revolutionary.

If I get to choose how history remembers me, I would rather it be for something fun, like a game designer of the caliber of Gary Gygax or Richard Garfield. Or maybe as an author of a science fiction or fantasy novel (yes, I actually wrote one, once), like Robert Heinlein, or Carol Berg. But I’m really going to be quite content just being remembered by my family as a loving husband, father, grandfather, etc. I need no other recognition in history.

I say this, because it is important to me that people understand that it is not out of a need to be noticed that I’ve been writing my essays recently. The message I write is what is important, not the man behind the message. America is at a crossroads, and it is time for the common man to realize what is important, what built this great country, and stand up for what is right and just.

I am a common man.

I am simply standing up for what I believe is right and just.

Were a revolution to happen tomorrow, I would prefer to be remembered for my role in it as Peter Van Dusen is remembered for his role in the American Revolution back in the 1770s. Who was Peter Van Dusen, you ask? I don’t know. It’s very likely you don’t either, unless perhaps you’re one of his ancestors. And that’s exactly the point. His was a name I pulled off the first census in 1790. A little research on his name turns up a number of modern Peter Van Dusens, and a couple of genealogical links. And nothing more – he may have participated in the Revolutionary War, but that is not what he is known for.

So I would prefer to be a Peter Van Dusen than a Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin. I have no desire to incite a revolution. But like Jefferson and Franklin, I am frustrated by what is going on around me with our government and my fellow citizens, and I feel it is time to speak up.

I am, so to speak, a reluctant revolutionary. You should be, too.

It feels like I am a lone voice in the wilderness. But I know I am not. I know that among my friends, family, acquaintances and neighbors are many who feel the same as I do, who have similar critical thinking skills, and have reached many of the same conclusions. We are at a time of crisis in America, and it is time for cooler heads and common sense to prevail.

Unfortunately, common sense and cooler heads aren’t all that common in America these days. We can’t stand silent, and expect things to get any better. I can stand here and shout, but my voice can only carry so far. America needs us to stand up and cry out together, to speak up, even though we have not yet been affected by what tyrannies may or may not be to come.
Alone, we are single voices. Together, amassed, we are a mighty chorus. My single vote means no more than yours does. That's why some think a single vote is unimportant, that individual votes don't matter. But a single vote is no more unimportant to the future of our cities, states and country than a single penny is to making a purchase. When making a purchase, every penny counts, even if the source of those pennies doesn't matter, because being even one penny short can prevent the sale. Likewise in an election – every vote counts. My vote – or yours – could be the one that tips an election.

We must cry out, we must group our votes together, and do something about the state of the nation.

We cannot do this by continuing to vote in the people who currently represent us. We cannot do this by concentrating on the top executives. We've been doing that too long. It is time to focus on the smaller elections, the ones that we as individuals have a better chance of influencing. It is time to start concentrating on getting the representation we want in the State legislatures, and in the US Congress.

Furthermore, I believe we should stop voting for those who want to represent us so badly they're willing to spend tens of thousands, even millions of dollars to run for office. One thing I learned over the years, is that those who seek to lead are often the worst of leaders. People who are thrust into leadership roles unwillingly often tend to be better leaders overall. People who seek leadership often wish to control others, while people who reluctantly accept leadership roles often do not – they merely accept the responsibility and move forward while trying to do the best job they can.

Look around you for that guy or gal you know is a good leader, and convince them to run for office. The more they resist, the better they will probably be for the job. If you don't have a friend like that, look for the smaller third party candidates. Most of them don't really believe they will win, and knowing that, they probably don't have an overwhelming desire to lead. If they did, they would likely be seeking parties or elections where they have a better chance of leading – like an HOA, or city council. But the ones we want leading us are the ones who don't want to control us.

If you're reading this, you're probably a common man (or woman), like me. Step up, raise your voice, and become a reluctant revolutionary.

And look for the reluctant leaders among us. We need them now more than ever.