Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is This Thing On?

I don’t know who reads this blog.
A month ago, I installed a counter that ticks upward every time visitors view the blog, but I have no way of actually gauging who reads my writings or even how my words affect them, if they do at all. Seldom does anyone post any feedback and it seems that the whole blogging venture is just a useless exercise in emoting and rending thoughts from my head and spilling them onto a published format.
That’s neither tit-for-tat, since most of what I write are my own opinions on politics and life. If I wanted, I could set up an absurd celebrity blog where I post embarrassing paparazzi photos of starlets in compromising positions. Have you seen the photos of Hilary Duff blowing her boyfriend after he proposed to her? I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. Totally hilarious! She’s on her knees, ass up, blowing Mike Comrie! God bless sleazy paparazzi and the Internet!
But I digress.
A blog’s purpose is to record and present the author’s thoughts. With newspaper subscriptions taking a nosedive and journalists now universally hated more than serial rapists and baby eaters, it’s time for me to question my career.
I’ve dedicated most of my adult life to journalism. Besides the cadre of corrupt elected officials, the whining ninnies in most municipalities and the billions of trees killed to inform the public on the daily activities of their community shuffleboard teams, the job has been overall good to me.
My first editor, Julie McWilliams, gave me really good advice when I started out as a copy editor in 1994. I worked in a cramped office above a fudge shop in a weekly newspaper in Cape May, New Jersey. I went on to cover county, state and federal politics and eventually won several awards for my reporting through the years.
I can do this job and do it well, but I feel my writing has suffered somewhat. My greatest dream, to write novels and have them published, has eluded me. I know it’s a cliché for writers to carry around a manuscript they started in college, one chained to their arm and weighing them down like a millstone crammed with navel-gazing goodness (or badness as in most cases). Maybe they work on this mammoth tome at a coffee shop where a lot of skinny girls from Belarus in turtleneck sweaters argue with the barista over the price of a mocha latte. Perhaps said writer attends a writing conference filled with published writers who treat the unpublished like medieval lepers, ostracizing them or worse, patronizing them for their wide-eyed attempts at breaking into publishing.
If you’re still hanging on my words and reading, know this: I love writing and I’m not quitting.
My father dispenses advice like cigarette machines dispense Marlboros and the one thing he said that will always resonate with me are three obstinate but tough words: “Never give up.”
That applies to my writing, whether a newspaper article to making an editor notice a short story or novel I’ve written. If I live to be as old as Methuselah, I’m not abandoning my dream of becoming a professional writer.
Never give up.
Lately, I’ve become mired in despair over love. I haven’t made any real attempt to connect with women for a long time. This is because I’m about as popular with women as painful menstrual cramps. Because I’m not driving a Porsche, wearing Armani suits or possessing a royal title in front of my name, women are not interested in anything I do or say. I’ve seen men who look like the back end of an evolutionary chart, with sloping foreheads, dragging knuckles and the personality of a besotted warthog in happy relationships and I wonder why.
Then I realized the same three words: Never give up.
Instead of sulking in their bachelor pads every night, they circulate and socialize. They’re not afraid to be themselves, no matter how repulsive or awkward.
They have not abandoned the essential strengths of love.
Love is one of the most rewarding, most frightening, most exhilarating things in life. Human existence is drawn toward love, and nothing we ever encounter in our brief lives can match it. Love is the all-encapsulating emotion, the state of bliss and perfection we strive for.
Without love we are empty hollow husks, deprived zombies shambling through life unfulfilled and incomplete. With love, are at our most generous, most caring and the most graceful we’ve ever been. We’ve found that connection, that bond with another human being, that familiarity of the kindred spirit. That, my friends, will banish loneliness, cynicism and wrath. That will make us better human beings. In the end, isn’t that what we long to become? Isn’t that our lifelong quest, to understand our humanity and broaden our existence through contact with others?
Earth can be a desolate, empty hellhole and life a mundane, unrewarding gulag of tormented suffering. Yet when we dare ourselves and reach out to others, when we make ourselves vulnerable and lower our defenses and let love in, this planet and life can be a great, rewarding adventure.
And the people, with their multitude of ideas, emotions and gifts, can enrich our experiences in ways we’ve never dreamed.
The carping, volatile masses sowing discontent and gloom need only that push into awareness and self-actualization to understand that all humans, when you get right down to it, share the same drives, desires and wants.
I used to think that the ideal woman for me doesn’t exist, that she was a figment of my imagination or that she was aborted as a fetus. Yet part of me has faith that this perfect woman, my beautiful and intelligent soulmate is out there waiting, and that she’s just as miserable as I am.
Thanks to the far-reaching, global power of the Interwebs, I can tell her to never give up.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

American Martyr

Joseph Stack boarded his Piper PA-28 Cherokee in Georgetown, Texas on Feb. 18 knowing he wouldn’t return.
The 53-year-old software engineer, sickened by what he perceived to be unfair treatment from the federal government, took matters into his own hands. He purposefully crashed his plane into an Austin building that contained Internal Revenue Service offices.
Before he embarked on his suicidal journey, burned down his wife's house. Fortunately, his wife wasn't home at the time.
What had boiled inside Stack for years, the notion that prosperity and the American dream were forever lost in a land of big government, corporate bailouts and a system that put the screws to the little guy, drove him over the edge.
Both Stack and an office worker named Vernon Hunter, a Vietnam veteran, were killed in the incident.
Conservative commentators have hailed Stack “a new American hero,” a David standing against the federal government’s Goliath. Grim portents indicate that Stack’s vendetta against the IRS could cause a backlash of copycat incidents is frightening.
Before he took to the skies, Stack posted a rambling note on the Internet describing his dissatisfaction and outrage.
The letter captures a frustrated diatribe of a man trying to get ahead, but thwarted at every turn by politicians, insurance companies and corporate decisions. If Stack had written this as a newspaper column, had he spoke publicly and attracted like-minded Americans pissed off at the plutocrats and powerful moneyed interests that are rewarded for failure while decent people work themselves to death, then he might have garnered sympathy. The little guy versus the mean ol’ government. It would have been a stirring moment, a time when the people have said enough is enough and brandished their pitchforks and torches and taken to Congress to reform their shenanigans.
But Stack shanghaied his own cause through violence. His wrath got the best of him and he went out a blazing cannon who murdered an innocent office worker.
“I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less. I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are. Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the ‘only answer’,” Stack wrote.
Like the Michael Douglas character in the 1993 movie “Falling Down,” Stack sees murder as the only way to express his frustrations and rails against greed, economic insecurity and a corrupt political system that favors the wealthy.
Despite Stack’s kamikaze attack on a federal agency, his manifesto resonates with the downtrodden and powerless plebs who feel victimized by a government warped by its own appetites and bolstered by partisan politics and corporate agendas.
Stack was batshit crazy at the end, describing his failed business ventures, the Catholic church and a government akin to Orwell’s “Big Brother.” There are thousands of malcontents out there who espouse similar rants. Most of them silently fret and fume. Fewer commit acts of domestic terrorism.
That’s really what Joseph Stack was: a low-rent Guy Fawkes seeking to bring down the government with cataclysmic violence that he thought would prod others into action.
Though what Stack did was barbarous, his plight is heartbreaking. If he wasn’t a roiling cauldron of unpredictability, I might have empathy for his misfortune.
Stack wrote that the 1986 tax reform act negatively impacted his career as a software engineer. He and a few friends spent time and money understanding the tax loopholes and exemptions as “the vulgar, corrupt Catholic Church.”
“The intent of this exercise and our efforts was to bring about a much-needed re-evaluation of the laws that allow the monsters of organized religion to make such a mockery of people who earn an honest living. However, this is where I learned that there are two ‘interpretations’ for every law; one for the very rich, and one for the ret of us… Oh, and the monsters are the very ones making and enforcing the laws; the inquisition is still alive and well today in this country,” Stack wrote.
Stack spent tens of thousands of dollars and a decade wrangling with the tax laws, and his retirement plans likewise suffered.
“It made me realize for the first time that I live in a country with an ideology that is based on a total and complete lie. It also made me realize, not only how naïve I had been, but also the incredible stupidity of the American public; that they buy, hook, like and sinker, the crap about their ‘freedom’ and that they continue to do so with eyes closed in the face of overwhelming evidence and all that keeps happening in front of them,” Stack wrote.
In the early 1990s, when the federal government closed Air Force bases in California, it caused an economic depression for the Los Angeles region, where Stack lived at the time. The dot-com bust of the late 1990s and terrorist attacks of 2001 further shook the economy.
When the government bailed out struggling corporations with taxpayer’s money, rewarding failure and incompetence, Stack had had enough. He moved to Austin, but struggled to find employment. He worked for lower rates, which he wrote were the result of corporate collusion to drive down prices and wages.
His letter also assails former President George Bush for proving the wealthy get away with far more than the average Americans who toil and work fruitlessly only to get robbed by burdensome taxes.
“Nothing changes unless there is a body count (unless it is in the interest of the wealthy sows at the government trough). In a government full of hypocrites from top to bottom, life is as cheap as their lies and their self-serving laws,” he wrote.
While the sane and rational view Stack as an angry man raging against the machine of inequity and plutocracy, the far right lionized him as some sort of folk hero, a Jesse James in a small aircraft taking the outlaw path against a corrupt government.
Conservative talk show host Jon Alvarez created a Facebook page honoring Stack, who he said made “a sacrifice to others who were having problems with the IRS.”
Facebook responded by pulling the page.
Tea Party Conservatives, upset with the current Democratic administration and Democrats in general, call Stack a communist because he quotes the “communist creed” in his manifesto.
Liberals referred to Stack as a right wing looney terrorist whose rant espouses anti-government sentiment.
Yet Stack may have been apolitical, or at least disgusted with all politicians. He referred to political representatives as “thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags.”
“While very few working people would say they haven’t had their fair share of taxes (as can I), in my lifetime I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. Nor, for that matter, are they the least bit interested in me or anything I have to say,” Stack wrote.
Stack was pissed off at the well connected, privileged few who didn’t suffer as he did. Angry at an America filled with shysters, conmen and bureaucrats, Stack snapped and justified his actions for murder as the first strike in a revolution.
I phoned in my friend’s radio show the day after the incident happened and we briefly talked about it. While my friend thought that Stack’s actions were wrong, he said the suicide note did have valid points and “made sense.” Then he said Stack tapped into some kind of discontent with the American people and “it only takes one person” to start a revolution.
One man sacrificing his life for his own warped cause borne out of frustration is not a revolution. Joe Stack shouldn’t be feared.
Others who see his act as symbolic and ascribe meaning and power to it, they should be feared, because they have their martyr. They have their battle cry against the government. They have a warrior of economic desperation and victim of the IRS.
Whether the Cult of Stack takes root in the Tea Party Patriots or the disaffected rabble remains to be seen. Hopefully, Joe Stack will be remembered not as a revolutionary beating the drum against the federal government's wretched excesses and flagrant abuses but as a tormented soul who chose to kill himself and others as a final, personal act of rebellion.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I Second That Amendment

This week I received my State of New Jersey Firearms Purchaser Identification Card, which gives me permission to buy rifles and shotguns in New Jersey.
Receiving the card was a culmination of seven months of waiting after I filled out the necessary forms back in July 2009. According to information on the New Jersey State Police website, the average waiting time for the permit is one month. Why it took seven months is mindboggling, but I’m not quibbling over bureaucratic lag time. I finally have my firearms permit.
Woodland creatures, here I come!
The process into securing my Second Amendment rights began at my local police department, where I handed in my applications and paid the $60 processing fee. I was taken by a nice detective and fingerprinted. He collected my information, including the names and numbers of two non-relative contacts and a consent form to search my mental health records (since so many lone gunmen are insane), and told me to wait.
So I waited.
For seven months.
Why such a long waiting period? In New Jersey, permits could be issued in 30 days but usually take many months. This is due to intense background checks by the New Jersey State Police and Statue Bureau of Identification.
Firearm waiting periods were enacted to prevent easy accessibility to guns by people who might use them to harm others. They attempt to weed out the risky purchasers, including ex-cons, people with a penchant for violence or those who hear voices in their heads instructing them to purge the unworthy ones at that Dairy Queen.
Waiting periods were also enacted to prevent crimes of passion, presupposing that those who are enraged would have a “cooling off period” before buying a gun. This is flawed logic, because if you’re really angry and want somebody dead, you’d probably just stab them. I wonder if the government will enact waiting periods for buying cutlery sets.
New Jersey requires one permit for purchasing rifles and shotguns and another one for purchasing handguns. I went with only the rifle and shotgun permit since stalking a grizzly bear with a Derringer would be suicidal.
There's also a permit to carry a gun, which the police officer said I didn't need because "only policemen carry guns." I guess he was worried I'd assume the guise of a masked vigilante and put him out of a job.
Gun advocates who are suspicious of waiting periods and legislation which ban certain types of guns (like assault weapons) have registered their discontent online.
One firearms forum carried the following posts:

“If a nationwide ban on guns does happen it will be a sad day for America. I like to believe we have enough gun owners and pro gun organizations to make our voices heard. Next they will be listening in on your phone calls and detaining you for 48 hours without a reason...O wait, They do that already.”

I don't know if it could happen, a nation-wide ban that is. I don't know what oath LEOs take (I'm not knocking on LEOs, I simply don't know ), but people in the military swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, and lawful orders of the officers appointed over them-- and the Commander-in-Chief. Seeing how a nation-wide ban would be un-Constitutional, any utilization of military-type would be an unlawful order, and can be discarded without punishment.
I'm sure bureaucracy would rear its ugly head, but it states explicitly that we swear an oath to the Constitution before anything else; and I simply don't see a way any politics could deter otherwise.

True, I do not see them having a nation wide ban. I can see them adding new rules to gun ownership. I can just see it now..................

1) You cannot own a gun if you have kids in the house.
2) You cannot own a gun if you live within 25 miles of a school
3) You cannot own a gun if you have less then 20/20 vision.
4) You cannot own a gun unless you complete 30 days of fire arms safty (sic) training.
5) You cannot own a gun if you are reading this right now.

By the way, a LEO is a Law Enforcement Officer. I looked it up.
Besides fevered calls to join the National Rifle Association, the forum participants expressed a deep outrage that federal authorities would slip into their homes unseen at night and using ninja-like tactics, confiscate their firearms. This is the lynchpin of the NRA’s sales pitch; that an abusive federal government run by liberals, hippies and feminists wish to emasculate the gun carrying, freedom-loving alpha males by disarming America and dismantling the Second Amendment.
Some academics indicate that the Second Amendment is archaic and applies to only militias and not a blanket license to own every firearm, while gun advocates insist it’s a fundamental cornerstone of Constitutional freedom.
In other words, you have the right to possess as many M1 bazookas as possible.
Here’s what the Second Amendment actually says:

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

So it’s all about public defense if you think about it. While such a concept dates back to the Middle Ages, the idea of citizen soldiers was popularized during the American Revolution when the colonists, not a standing army, repelled the British. Your Average Joe would be called upon to take up arms and defend his country on short notice. The National Guard still maintains this tradition today.
Yet a citizen must now prove his citizenship, sanity and good standing in order to acquire firearms because a lot has changed in America since the days of powdered wigs and muskets.
I think we should be true to the sprit of the Second Amendment. Everyone with a firearms permit must immediately purchase a gun and be part of a local neighborhood militia. They must keep watch on night patrols and wear tri-corner hats as they march up and down the streets. Every hour on the hour they will be required to announce the time followed by “All is well!”
This would bring the Second Amendment in line with reality, create an opportunity for people to serve their communities and present a new level of homeland security in a scary and turbulent world.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Frozen hell came to southern New Jersey as 17 inches of snow fell where I live. So far, the snowfall amounts are unprecedented for the region as the Mid-Atlantic states continue to dig out from snow. If I didn't loathe winter before, I surely do now. Piles of snow left from the snowplows line the streets, and a night of sleeting has turned them all into Mount Slushmore. Things grew so bad that Gov. Chris Christie visited and promised to declare a state of emergency, which would secure federal money for reimbursing snow removal costs.
The area was paralyzed. Days before the storm, everybody instinctually went to the supermarket to hoard food for Old Man Winter's icy onslaught. I never understood why people stock up on milk, eggs and bread before a snowstorm. I guess people like eating a lot of French toast whenever they're snowed in. There's something maddening about the behavior of grocery store crowds. I waited in line 30 minutes at the self-checkout while some old woman struggled with figuring out how to scan her vegetables on the machine. I think there should be an age limit on technology use. If you're over 60, you should be barred from using anything invented after the year 2000 that has more than two buttons on it. I like the lemming mentality of grocery shopping before a snowfall. It's as if people would be snowed in for a solid month, that a glacier was bearing down on their towns and they wouldn't see the light of day until the spring thawing. Just how much food do you expect to consume in a 24 hour period before the snowplows come?
"Oh, no! I forgot the margarine! Better harness up the snow dogs and head for the Inuit trading post..."
With the snowstorm came the loss of electricity. My house wasn't affected, but there were 50,000 people in the area with no electricity due to icy electric wires. If you thought that being snowed in for a day would grind civilization to a standstill, wait till you lose electricity for a day. Most people couldn't survive without heat, light or television. Like blankets, candles or sock puppets wouldn't suffice. The very notion that we are so dependent on these creature comforts really comes through during a blizzard when everything you take for granted is taken away as electricity is snuffed out. Your life just wouldn't be complete if you didn't catch that episode of "House," now would it?
But not everything is chaos during our mini Ice Age. We have cheerful-looking snowmen, the sound of snow crunching under our boots and the heartwarming sight of cars stuck on snowy roads to make us appreciative of winter's wonders.
A car became ensconced in snow in front of my house and I, along with two other men from the neighborhood assisted. We dug with our shovels and the motorist was able to free his car and drive along the yet unplowed street. Before that moment, we didn't know each other, yet we came outside to help a stranger. Perhaps that is the one good thing this storm has taught me - the intrinsic value of helping others. That, and stocking up on milk, bread and eggs because French toast warms a cold, winter morning.

Patriotic Snowman says "Hey you damn kids! Get off my lawn!"

The governor holds a press conference about the blizzard. Purple is not his color.

Louisa comes out to play.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fun With Documents

One of the most unexpected things about receiving announcements and press releases from the city is when they send them in the DOC format instead of a standard PDF. In DOC formats, I can simply go into Word and erase the text but still retain the city's letterhead. This inevitably leads to all kinds of deviltry and high jinx, especially for someone with my twisted sense of humor.
Consider the following example from last year, which contained a communication from the mayor on city letterhead, which I turned into the mother of all resignation letters.
Names have been purged to protect the innocent and I'm reposting it here because it just shows you what a dumb mistake the communications director made by sending out press releases and other important documents on city letterhead in the DOC format instead of a PDF. Some who obtain those DOC formats could write anything they wished, and could create bogus documents that might harm the city and cause legal troubles. In an age where criminals use technology for their own malicious gain, reproducing official letterheads is like counterfeiting money. By not converting DOC files into PDFs, the city opens itself up for mischief by unscrupulous types who'll use the letterhead for their own purposes. The city should safeguard all of its outgoing communications, whether to the media, to the public or to other official entities.
Remember, kids: protect your official letterheads and only e-mail PDFs.