Monday, May 26, 2014

A New Pledge of Allegiance

Lemmie ask you something: when was the last time you said the Pledge of Allegiance?

I've had an uneasy relationship with the Pledge for a long time.  At first, I thought it was something meaningless that I mumbled out with the other kids every morning.  As I grew older, I became annoyed at the addition of "under God" and started, quietly, omitting it.  Watching my son's class recite it recently, I became sad about the Pledge.  It didn't feel right.  I couldn't sense any emotion in the crowd of parents and kids droning it out.

The problem with the Pledge is it's too impersonal.  It's been rewritten over and over by congress.  As much as I hate to agree with conservatives, it sounds like something made by a government: clunky, slow, and insipid.

I mean, listen to it.  You've got it memorized.  Recite it right now (in your head if you're embarrassed).  Go on!  The first half is:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation...
It's just saying the obvious.  We already know we're pledging allegiance.  We know you're pledging to the flag, because you're looking at it.  And we know you're not really pledging to the flag itself but the country it represents because we're not morons.  And really, one nation?  Duh.

The second half is:
Under God, indivisible, for liberty and justice for all.
My favorite part is "liberty and justice for all."  That rocks.  The indivisible is nice, because it means we stand together.  The Under God thing is just a silly holdover from the Cold War.

I had planned to write about creating a new Pledge.  Our Pledge has been rewritten every 30-50 years; it's due for an update.  Then I realized anything I wrote would be meaningful to me, but not to anyone else.  That's when I understood what the Real Problem is.

The Real Problem is our country means different things to different people; it's great for different reasons to different people.  Who am I (or any group of elected officials) to tell people what to say when they pledge allegiance to their country?

So, here's what I'm proposing: let everybody write their own Pledge.

Imagine this: around fifth or sixth grade (after the time the words "fart" and "poop" get huge laughs but before the hormones really kick in), there's a special assignment.  Every kid sits down and writes a list of what they think makes our country great.  They get into groups and edit it into a new Pledge of his or her own.  Then, once a day, one of them reads his or her Pledge to the class and everyone recites it.

They don't have to recite it.  After all, there's going to be a lot of kids who want to pledge their allegiance to Minecraft and Satan, who pledge to stop the Illuminati and kill all the Jews, who pledge to themselves.  However, they should pledge something.

Here's the one I'd use:
I pledge to serve the United States of America and the principles that made it great: freedom, equality, justice, and joy.
Still needs some work, but the point of this exercise is to think about what would make it work.

What would your Pledge be?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

44 - The Shooting Birthday

As with all men having midlife crises, I feel a need to do something I've never done in my misspent youth.  Unlike most other men, I don't want to waste it on an overpriced phallic symbol of a car and a young blonde girl.
Well, until I found this picture.
Instead, I need to dye my hair odd colors, do dangerous things, and eat at expensive restaurants.  This year was no exception.  You've already seen the hair...
I'm trying out for Ron Weasley in "Harry Potter - The Musical."
The restaurant this year was Manresa.  Here's the meal in one, quick image:
Quickie review: most of the dishes were great.  A couple of the fish dishes were more fishy than I would have liked.  The lamb was terrible.  The first appetizer looked exactly like the last dessert, which was awesome, but made me wish the entire meal did tricks like that.

But enough of all that.  Let's talk about the crazy part.  Let's talk about
  me shooting guns

That's right; little old Matthew from East Central Illinois never fired a gun before.  I'd been afraid of them ever since the famous Time Magazine issue where they showed every death from a gun in the United States in one week.  Pages and pages of children shooting themselves, suicides, and murders.  Almost none were "good shootings" (self defense, police firing on criminals, etc.).

After the waves of mass shootings (Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, and so on), I got into arguments online with gun owners.  The evidence that guns caused more harm than good seemed overwhelming.  However, as many of my gun nut owner friends pointed out, I really didn't know anything about guns.

I did know this argument as people post it ad nauseum.
So I wanted to fire a gun for my birthday.  Knowing nothing about gun laws, regulations, and best practices, but knowing the meme above, I assumed learning to fire a gun would be a lot like learning to drive a car.  I assumed you had to be at least 16, took classes before you got a learner's permit, and then only got to fire one under strict supervision.  I looked into classes that took you to a gun range at the end and taught you how to shoot, but found them hard to find.
Note the pro-anarchy bumper sticker.
Then my wife mentioned that her father (a retired soldier) and brother-in-law (a police officer) both owned guns and enjoyed shooting them.  She contacted them and they set up my shooting day, bringing along the whole family to shoot for the first time.

Earmuffs make everyone sexy.
Let me just take a moment to thank my brother-in-law for all he did.  He borrowed guns from friends, so there was a variety to try.  He patiently showed several of us how to use them.  He answered numerous, goofy questions with grace.  So, thank you Art, you are my hero.  Also, you should read my blog, as you'll probably never see this.
The range.  The coffee cans are, sadly, not for spitting tobacco.  It's for shell casings.
I started with a .22 handgun, firing at paper targets.  Then I moved on to bigger handguns, revolvers, and rifles (one with a scope).  Here's what I learned:
  • Bullet sizes make no sense.
    .22 bullets are the weakest and smallest.  .357 are the most powerful.  .44 is in the middle.  Obviously, size doesn't determine effectiveness.  Men rejoice.
  • Shooting a .22 is like shooting a bb gun.
    I could barely tell I was shooting a .22.  When I moved up to the .357 it hurt my hand.  My father-in-law's revolver was so loud I could feel it in my chest even several feet away.
  • I'm glad the NRA doesn't run the DMV.
    I expected more safeguards.  You can go shoot at the range if you're ten years old, but they don't check your age. No training is required.  Some guy hands you a gun and you just... shoot things.  If we treated cars like guns, we'd hand them out to kids in 5th grade and wave goodbye.
The rules we were given at the range.
The rules they actually enforced.
  • Hot metal things hit you in the face.
    Most of the guns we used ejected the shells into the air after each shot.  They're burning hot and somehow always ended up hitting me in the face (which, I was told repeatedly, was better than getting them down your shirt).
Most people call these "shell casings."  I call them "Stop shooting next to me!  Ow! Hey! Ow!"
  • Cops have serious advantages.
    My brother in law had just bought a gun with the sticker NOT LEGAL IN CALIFORNIA prominently displayed on the box.  How did he get it?  He's a cop.  We used his hollow point bullets (Also not legal.  How?  Cop.), and he had to buy more because he's required to use ammo that's illegal for the rest of us.
The bullet opens up inside you, just like a meal at McDonald's.
Gun rights advocates have told me people need guns to protect them from the government.  Yeah, good luck with that. 
  • Bullets are kinda pretty.
    Some bullets are shiny and gold, which is odd because they're supposed to be made from lead.  Isn't lead grey?
  • Sniper rifles are as cool in real life as in videogames.
    I love rifles with scopes in games.  In Mass Effect 3, I killed a whole wave of enemies with one shot (then stood around waiting for the bad guys to come).  When I fired a real one, I kept missing.  Turns out you aim higher than what you want to hit.
You can get these in the hidden levels on The Citadel.
  • You don't have to shoot far.
    When I mentioned the targets seemed awfully close, I was told most gun battles take place between people standing six feet apart.  Seems we could get rid of guns and give everyone spears for protection.
My first time using a rifle.
  • Shooting is really, really easy.
    No, seriously.  Look at the two targets I fired on.  I hardly missed (after the first four bullets).
Some of these weren't mine, but I'll take credit for the good ones.
  • Shooting isn't all that fun.
    Certainly not as much as in a videogame.  Perhaps it's because, after a few shots, you can't see where you hit the target anymore.  Perhaps I need a big "LEVEL UP" sign.
  • Guns are not safe.
    If you drop a gun, it can go off, and most guns don't have safeties.
There was a (probably deaf) bird living at the range.
  • Gun owners want to shoot people REALLY BADLY.
    It's hard to talk at a gun range (because of all the BANG BANG going on), but the one conversation I repeatedly overheard was about the legality of shooting someone.  I learned the best time to shoot someone is when they're invading your home.  I learned I should to make sure I hadn't invited or lured the person into my home first.  I was told to be on the phone with the police when I started shooting.
In short, from my experience, I'm less afraid of guns than I was.  Gun owners, on the other hand...  Well, they scare the bejeezus out of me.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

An Average Week

You who don't follow me around every day, peeking out at me from dumpsters and mailboxes (unless you're that one guy who keeps weirding me out), so I'll update you on the explosive, technicolor, circus of sushi that is my life.  In short, this week's post is a bunch of random crap that happened to me.

I Have New Hair
As all both of my readers know, I do a hair color change every birthday.  So far, I've done blue, yellow, and green.  This year, I went with orange, because it was a permanent color and wouldn't leak out everywhere.  Here's the result:

What do you think?  Needs more tzujing? I think it looks too... Natural.  My stylist keeps wanting me to look good, but I want to look garish.  Maybe I'll try purple next time.  No way she can make that look natural.

I Got More Bad Reviews on My Book
Yeah, I know, I said I wouldn't post about Pinhole anymore, but there was this one review on Goodreads that I couldn't ignore.  In part, it says:
I don't believe in a technology that provides time travel, mind control, remote download of a personality and is also a weapon. My suspension-of-disbelief only stretches so far.
My first reaction was "That's probably what people said about motors 200 years ago."  However, I recently saw this article which describes how scientists linked two mice together and found the younger mouse's blood made the older mouse become younger and healthier.

My daughter and I are INSEPARABLE!
Just as I describe in part two of my book.

On a related note, I was at a Cinqo de Mayo party with a guy named Larry whom I convinced download a copy.  It turns out he was THE Larry Page from Google.  I expect to see wormholes in the next Google Doodle.

Sexy Tesla Ads
A while back I became Friends (in the "Facebook sense) with a young woman named Avens O'Brien.  We shared experiences of losing beloved bird pets.  She posted last week that she found Tesla cars sexy.  I thought it was funny, so I threw together one of her pictures with her quote and BAM invented a new ad medium.

I call it "Using sex to sell a product."

Avens has a website where she writes about freedom, posts pictures of herself and...  You've already clicked the link, haven't you?  Well, if you come back I'd like to point out these pictures were taken by a talented photographer named Peter Paradise, who also has a website with pictures of her, and several other models.

Where was I?  Oh, right, my new advertising model.  I figure I could sell almost anything with this picture and some tiny changes:

Did I mention she likes spatulas?  Well, she does in my imagination.
What do you think?  Should I get a new career as a "Mad Man?"  I'm certainly as hot as Jon Ham now that I have red hair.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Supreme Court Ruling on Prayer

The big news of the week (unless you count how the world is coming to an end or the usual GOP nuttiness) is the Supreme Court ruling it's okay to start political meetings with prayer.  Conservatives rejoiced, liberals were outraged, and Sarah Palin said something blisteringly stupid.

Same as always.

Now that we live in a post "prayer-is-okay-ruling" world, we have a new challenge to face: how to make government meetings inclusive.  See, prayer is, almost by definition, exclusive.  If you pray to your god, or gods, or lack of deity, you're excluding those who don't believe what you do.  You're essentially telling people of other religions: "You can't participate in the running of this country."

The alternative is to create a truly non-denominational prayer that would include everyone and every dimension of faith.  Many theological scholars have said such a prayer is impossible to create.  I have proven them wrong.

Yes, I'm just that good.  Here goes:

Oh all-powerful, or simply powerful, or weak and fallible, or non-existent God or god or gods, or goddess, or goddesses, or spirits, or energies that watch over us or simply watch and don't intervene...
Or whatever. 
Bless or enchant or sanctify or guide or don't harm or do nothing to us...
Or whatever. 
We are but insignificant worms in your eye (or eyes), or your children, or sinners unworthy of your grace, or the results of evolution you planned or had nothing to do with, or usurpers of your divine right...
Or whatever. 
We seek only to do your will, or our will, or what you planned all along, or what you might want if you were still around, or to thwart those beings that might be against you, or to right the wrongs that you weren't able to...
Or whatever. 
We are all here as one nation.  We may believe in one god or many gods or only those things that can be proven or any of the thousands of faiths in this world, but we all believe in working together to make this country better, stronger, healthier, wiser. 
If you can help us with that, please do.  If you can't, thanks anyway. 
Amen, selah, verily, so be it, or whatever.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Ice Cream Truck Finale

Way back in February I asked for your help.  We had lost our ice cream truck.  It used to come by my kids' school almost every day, and I'd buy ice cream from it every week or so (for the kids!).  My weakness for ice cream novelties is well-documented.

Then, in what can only be assumed was caused by a conflict with the school district, it vanished.  I tried calling the number on the card he gave me, but it had been disconnected.  I tried calling the number on the side of the truck, but the person who answered just hung up on me.  Once, late to an appointment, I saw the truck driving by and couldn't stop.  My son cried.  The appointment was cancelled five minutes later.

Months passed, and I compulsively stared at every passing truck on the road.  No luck.  Then, suddenly, about a month ago, I saw it on a side street while taking my son home.  We screamed and I performed a vehicular stunt that would have resulted in the immediate revocation of my license had it been observed by any public servant.

Something like this.
We followed the truck through the neighborhoods of Los Altos, flashing our lights occasionally.  For several blocks, the driver was completely oblivious, then he pulled over.

"Where the fudge* have you been?" I cried as my son ordered.  "I tried calling the number on your truck!"
"Oh, yeah.  That's the place I get ice cream.  They don't speak English."
"I tried the number on your card!"
"Oh, yeah.  That's off."

He took out another business card and wrote his new number on the back.  I put it in my phone and, over the next month, called him several times a week.  The calls went something like this:

"Where are you today?"
"San Jose!"
"Oh.  Maybe another day."


"Where are you now?"
[Incomprehensible mumble.]
"I'm sorry, what?"
[Louder, incomprehensible mumble.]
"Oh.  Maybe another day."


"I come to you at five o'clock."
"Oh, that's dinner time.  Maybe another day."

On Tuesday, I called while leaving my son's school, and he said he'd be by in half an hour.  I spelled the name of our street just to be sure he'd find us.
Not that hard to spell, really.
Half an hour later, my children sat, staring out the windows, definitely not doing their homework.  Half an hour after that, I called again.

"I can't find your street," he said.
I tried to explain, but there's a language barrier and a "my hearing sucks" barrier.
"Are you near downtown?" he said.
"Uh.  Kinda."
"I find you."

Thirty minutes pass.  I call again.

"I went all over downtown.  I'm near Costco now.  Are you near there?"
"No!  That's miles away.  Don't you have text or email?  I could send our address."
"No.  I give you the number of my friend.  You text it to him."

I do as he says.  We wait half an hour.  Someone calls my phone.

"Hi.  This is kinda strange.  There's a guy in an ice cream truck in front of our house.  He handed me your number and asked me to find out where you are."

You have to admire the man's chutzpah.  In any case, she drew him a map.  We finally sat down to dinner (masa fried trout and grilled artichokes), assured he'd never arrive or we'd get another call from somewhere in Nevada.

Then, nearly finished eating, my head shot up and my eyes widened.**  Everyone jumped back and my wife asked if I was feeling okay.  As an answer I charged out the door (which was, conveniently, right next to my chair).

And there he was.

"I remember you.  You go to the Community School." he said.  Charter school***, but who am I to argue with a man who drove all over Silicon Valley to sell me five dollars' worth of ice cream?
My kids each picked out two. I gave him a twenty and insisted he keep the change.  He gave us extra popsicles.

"What's your schedule like?" I asked.  "When are you around?"
"I'll remember your street," he said.  "I'll come by on Tuesdays."

The kids cheered.

So, ice cream party at my place.  Feel free to drop by any Tuesday.

*You can only swear in dessert terms when talking to the operator of a licensed ice cream truck.
**Can someone explain to me why, sometimes, someone like me (with terrible vision and hearing) can hear things before everyone else and see things other people don't notice?

***There is no footnote here.  I just put it in to see if you'd look.