Monday, October 9, 2017

The Things We Do Not Want to Believe

Earlier this year, the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, made a statement that has stuck with me. 

“People who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late.” 

I found it interesting not because of its applicability to treason, but because of its applicability to our own lives and, more specifically, to the current surrealistic nightmare we are in. 

People who go down any path often do not know they are on it until it is too late. 

When you are a kid growing up in this country, you are taught at a very early age about the inherent goodness of these United States of America. Scratch that. The inherent motherfucking unassailable GREATNESS of America.

Every politician - Democrat and Republican - who has ever held any political office repeats the mantra - America is the greatest country in the world. 

You learn how we threw off the yoke of British colonialism and forged the “greatest” country the world has ever seen. 

And in many ways, this is a great country. The freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, the due process protections that prevent the government from tossing you in jail indefinitely without cause, the freedom to make your own way. Not only that, but perhaps in a world of nation-states as we are in, it’s important to believe that. A country’s survival may depend on its citizens believing that. 

But there’s a dark undercurrent to believing in your country’s unmatched greatness, in refusing to understand its complete history and not just the one you learned in the second grade. Personally, I spent most of my childhood believing that "Indians" were bloodthirsty subhumans who deserved to be slaughtered by the brave newcomers to the continent. Slavery was bad, the textbooks said, but slaves were often treated well.

And I post this on Columbus Day, a holiday to celebrate the guy we all are taught "discovered" America. I remember just accepting that as fact, although I sometimes wondered why other people, like Amerigo Vespucci, didn't get way more credit or attention. I mean, why isn't there Vespucci Day? We named two continents after him! But you get my point. Only the dumbest among us would believe that Columbus "discovered" America. 

I found that people often look at their country the way little kids look at their parents - perfect. Only as you get older do you start to see that parents are like everyone else - people. Usually good people, of course, but people who’ve faced the same challenges and indecision and self-doubt and regret that we all do. 

For some reason, too many people refuse to accept the dark truths about this country. 

When you unquestioningly believe you live in the greatest country in the world, a lesson imprinted upon you at your most impressionable age, by the time you have enough experience and knowledge to understand that America has done and is capable of doing both great and terrible things, it might be, as Clapper said, too late to accept anything else as reality.  

When you first start writing (and this happened to me), there is a tendency to make your protagonists very heroic, almost to a fault. It can be very challenging emotionally to see your characters as flawed people who’ve made mistakes, have regrets, think less-than-pure or selfish thoughts, and make bad decisions that they know are bad—possibly because it makes you confront, or at least acknowledge, those flaws in yourself.

We don’t want to believe that we make bad choices or think bad things or do dumbass things even knowing ahead of time that they’re bad or make snap judgments about people that are fed by deep-seated biases and prejudices and beliefs that have developed over the course of a million different interactions and exposures. I've done it, you've done it, we've all done it, even if we haven't realized it (although we all realize it and just don't want to admit it). We don't want to believe that we, as a country, do this, because a country is nothing without its flawed people.

And failing to recognize the flaws in ourselves and in our country comes at a terrible price.

(EDITED TO ADD: I wrote this post before the Harvey Weinstein story broke, and I have edited it to add this section in light of it. I was in college the first time a female friend shared with me that she had been sexually assaulted by another student. I listened and I told her how sorry I was that such a thing happened, but I remember a part of me, at some level, not believing - or not wanting to believe that a guy I went to school with could be capable of something so awful. Of course, I know now she was telling the truth - it was my own obstinance that led me to doubt her. She would not be the only one to tell me about such an experience. Later, I would see something that showed me once and for all how widespread this is. 

One night during my second year, I was at a party at a fraternity house. It was very crowded on the main floor. As we made our way through the crowd, we approached a corridor, where a girl was standing against the wall with her friend. A guy behind me reached out and squeezed the girl's breast as we shuffled by - this happened less than a foot away from me. It was dark and loud and crowded, and there was no way for the girl to see who had done it. I caught just a glimpse of it, but I remember the look on her face, one of stunned anger. It did not occur to me then that I had just witnessed a sexual assault. I did not know the guy who did it, but I could have identified him. Again, even though I had seen it with my own eyes, I didn't want to believe what I had just seen. As the years passed, I've become more disappointed with myself that I said nothing that night. I am sure this scene has played out countless times in countless college towns at countless college parties.) 

And I think this is a big part of the reason why we ended up with Trump as president. When you refuse to accept that America is like any other powerful country or civilization that ever existed, one that bears many warts, one that has done less than pure things to achieve its current status as a superpower - when you start to think it’s infallible, then you accidentally hand the nuke codes to quite literally the last man on Earth you would want to have them. When you refuse to accept terrible things as reality because you don't want to accept that sometimes the boogeyman is the guy next door. 

You buy into totems like MAGA and the National Anthem and the flag without stopping to think what they really and truly mean. I’m not even judging America for what it has done or what it has not done. What I am judging is its apparent inability to even admit those things happened at all. 

We don’t want to believe we are racist. 

We don’t want to believe we are sexist. 

We don’t want to believe we are misogynistic.

We don't want to believe that women are assaulted and harassed every day. 

We don’t want to believe that we are selfish. 

We don’t want to believe that white Christian men spent many decades stacking the deck of America in their favor, at the expense of women and people of color and non-Christians. 

We don’t want to believe that these men went as far as they could to corner the market, running right up against what the Constitution would allow - and in some cases, then some - to protect their corner on the market of America. 

We don’t want to believe the scar of slavery will never completely heal. 

We don’t want to believe the atrocities that European colonists committed when they got here. 

We don’t want to believe that something like the Holocaust could happen again. 

We don’t want to believe that two oceans provide a pretty big security blanket. 

We don’t want to believe that other countries might not want the things we do. 

We don’t want to believe that police officers or soldiers can do terrible things.

We don’t want to believe that we really do need the government. 

We don’t want to believe that if, to steal an old analogy, the American Dream is home plate, that white people start on third base and many more people score before their mothers push them out of the womb. 

We don’t want to believe that the good old days were not all that good for anyone but heterosexual white men and women. 

We don’t want to believe these things because to believe means to cast doubt on the things that were imprinted on you as a child like someone jammed your flesh with a hot brand that reads America the Beautiful

We don’t want to believe we elected an evil man as President, despite every single bit of evidence to the contrary. 

We don’t want to believe that he lies every single day about matters big and matters small.

We don't want to believe that it's our fault because to believe would mean accepting that it was all these denials about ourselves that gave oxygen for the Trump fire to burn.

We don't want to believe that Trump is the shadow version of us, down to the easy-street lifestyle many of us wouldn't mind having, the version of ourselves that we hide from the rest of the world in our day to day life (although more and more are willing to let it all hang out online), fears and biases and prejudices that we let bubble out into a President-shaped vial of toxic waste because we were not willing to face up to them.

One thing I’ve learned in my two decades as a lawyer is that evidence does not lie. Evidence does not care. When you put on a case to a jury or judge or tribunal, you’re trying to reconstruct a picture of an event that has already happened, and you’re trying to get the fact finder to see it in a light as favorable to your side as possible. But the facts are the facts (although even that is becoming a bit more elastic as time goes on).

The evidence of America - both good and bad - is right there in front of us, if we were only willing to look. But we need to look, America, soon, or it will be too late for it to matter. We will end up in a very, very dark place that we never believed possible. 

I feel very lucky to live here, in a place with so many different kinds of people and cultures, and I would live nowhere else. But that doesn’t mean I’m blind to America’s faults or to my own. 

If we could believe for a minute that we’re not as great as we think we are, if we could believe that the founders did great things while also doing terrible things, that we are all capable of low moments, of being racist or sexist or misogynistic or ethnicist (I think that's a word), if we could stop looking at America through rose-colored lenses that belong on the face of a first-grader - then we could see the founders, in all their flawed brilliance, gave us all the tools we needed to keep making America - if not the greatest - then at least pretty great. 

Not just Great Again.

But Greater than it Ever Was.

Monday, October 2, 2017

I Cannot Remember All the Gun Massacres Anymore

Here we go again, because of course we have to do this again, and we will do it again soon.

Let me start by saying that with the possible exception of September 11, no event ever hit me as hard as the Sandy Hook school massacre, partly because I have a son the same age as the children who died that day and partly because it was kids. Kids, man. Every so often, not every day, I'll see my kids head out the door to school, and I'll think about that terrible day.

But hell, folks, that was like four or five massacres ago!

Anyway, again, I write not to change anyone's mind but to keep myself on the sunny side of sanity. Partly sunny, at least. This will change no one's mind but I'm writing it anyway. I fear nothing about guns will change in my lifetime because guns are more than part of our culture - for many, they are the physical manifestation of what it means to be American. You can't even talk about reasonable restrictions without some clown spouting off about the Federalist Papers.

And this week, we (again) face the deadliest gun massacre in American history, which supplants the previous deadliest gun massacre (Orlando) in American history after it held that morbid title for only 16 months. Think about that. In 16 months, we've had the two worst gun massacres in American history - at a time when gun ownership is at an all-time high, when we're supposedly made safer by such a well-armed public.

(I won't even get into the lone-wolfication of the shooter that has already begun. OF COURSE he's not a terrorist, of course, white men can't be terrorists, they're just disillusioned maybe he was ECONOMIC ANXIETIED if you know what I mean. But that's another rant for another day.)

In addition to Sandy Hook, we've had Blacksburg and Orlando and Aurora and Chattanooga and Lafayette. The on-air execution of two reporters from a Virginia news station. The community college in Oregon. San Bernardino. I can't remember all of them. Can you believe that?

We can't keep track of all the gun massacres.

I mean, this stupid thing doesn't make any sense at all.
Just look at it.
And it will never stop. It will never stop because if a classroom full of dead first graders didn't change anything, nothing will.

OK? I get it. We are never getting any substantive gun control. But Jesus, Republicans won't even give an inch? Their heads are so far up the NRA's ass that they won't even consider a universal background check?

So, understanding some might take issue with this anti-gun rant, please - and this is the best part of being in your 40s - rest assured that I am all out of fucks to give. The gun folks will come at me with their Federalist papers and their smugness, their strict constructionism, anything to cloak themselves from the responsibility for the fact that it's their bizarre fetish with instruments of death that resemble 18th-century firearms about as closely as a pudding cup resembles the Mars rover that keeps us trapped in this endless cycle of death. And believe me, I know that I'm not reinventing the wheel here. Everything I've said has been said. It won't matter. Nothing will change. That ship sailed when America looked at a classroom of children ground into hamburger and shrugged.

That said, I've long been done with your supposed right to own as many guns as you want. Do the math. More innocent people are killed by privately-owned guns than are saved by them. UNLESS you're a soldier or law enforcement officer or a hunter with appropriate hunting weaponry, you don't need a gun. I'm not at all convinced by the argument that you might use a gun to protect yourself, since that right has been paid for and will continue to be paid for with the blood of too many innocents. Oh, and, in the extremely remote chance you're ever confronted with a situation in which you could justifiably use a gun, the odds are excellent that you'll miss, shoot yourself or another innocent bystander, piss yourself, or have the gun taken from you. Then you die anyway. And yeah, I get that once in a while, a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy. Is it worth a blood-soaked massacre every year?

I hate guns. I didn't grow up around them, but my family in Lebanon did, especially during the civil war. Sure, they had guns for hunting, but the ones I remember were the ones they had for war. I remember my cousin, who had fought in the war, showing me his Russian-made AK-47 machine gun.  He may have been sixteen years old. It scared the shit out of me.

I cannot imagine the fear that those people felt at that concert or inside that school or in that church or in that movie theater. Stop pretending you're Bruce Willis in Die Hard and understand that your childish fascination with guns has real, life-altering consequences. When I was twelve years old, on our first night spending a summer in Lebanon, I lay awake for hours listening to a gun battle a few miles away, and it sounded very much like what you've heard on the videos of the Las Vegas attack. I wasn't anywhere nearby that gunbattle, but I can still hear the rat-tat-tat of those guns, even though it's been thirty years. It's terrifying in its relentlessness, the way it burrows into your head (and remember I WASN'T EVEN IN HARM'S WAY). So I cannot imagine the ball-shrinking terror you'd feel if you were in the middle of such a nightmare.

If you want to protect your home, get a dog or security system. A security system costs about the same as a decent gun plus the cost of ammunition and the cost of time on the shooting range you'd need to maintain any level of gun proficiency (you gun humpers all do that, right?) Criminals don't want to break into YOUR house. They want to break into ANY house. A barking dog will send them on their way.

The Second Amendment sure as shit didn't contemplate weapons that fire bullets like lasers. You know it didn't. And in the end, even assuming it did guarantee an unfettered right to bear arms, even if it said, ALL THOSE WHOSE EYES CAST UPON THIS PARCHMENT CAN POSSESS ALL THE GUNS THEY WANT, so what? Aren't we better than that?

Aren't we civilized enough that we don't need to pay an almost daily blood sacrifice at the altar of the Second Amendment? Aren't we smart enough to recognize that these aren't your great-granddads' guns and adjust accordingly?

Don't people in the 21st century get to decide what the Constitution says? I mean, we let women vote now and we ended slavery, right? Back then kids died of typhus every day and today we've got two spacecraft that we built outside our solar system. THINGS ARE DIFFERENT is what I'm saying. For the love of Pokemon, if this guy had done this when the Second Amendment was first written, he'd still be trying to shove his second musket ball in for a second shot. But in 2017, you can shoot 600 people in 10 minutes. Stop pretending this doesn't matter or that it's irrelevant or, gasp, that the founders' original intent is largely irrelevant because of technology.

Why do gun-rights activists forget this part when someone says "hey maybe we need gun control," and they're all "POINT ME TO MY FAINTING COUCH WHERE ARE THE SMELLING SALTS?"

Every time you mention a possible regulation, something that might prevent people from being slaughtered in bunches (what kind of constitution-hating monster wants to stop mass murder RIGHT), the gun rights groups come at you with HEY TRUCK ATTACKS, HEY SHOULD WE BAN KNIVES - their arguments are so devoid of logic or common sense that it's befuddling. There are 300 million guns in this country. No one is coming for them - despite what the NRA wants you to believe. And the NRA - Christ, what a bunch of self-serving assholes. Here, read this opinion from a former Supreme Court justice and tell me the NRA is on the front lines protecting some ancient right, your supposed right as an individual to rise up against the tyrannical government.

And enough with the mental health treatment bait-and-switch. Let's put aside the fact that these same people are the ones who want to cut healthcare. But this guy in Vegas - no mental health history. No warning. He was a good guy with a gun until he wasn't. You cannot stop that. You can't stop a good person snapping, you cannot stop them if they decide to do this.

Call me a partisan, a pansy-ass liberal. A coward. But before you do that, close your eyes and picture that psychopath inside that classroom, pumping his .223-caliber bullets into those 6- and 7-year-old children, turning their precious little bodies into human rubble.

Picture that racist piece of shit murdering nine innocent people engaging in their faith or that wanna-be terrorist killing 49 people in a dance club or that other lunatic cutting down a dozen people while they watched a movie. Picture that young reporter running for her goddamn life as that psychopath chased her down and executed her. Picture thousands of people running for their lives in Las Vegas as a lunatic rained death down on them from a hotel room. And not to mention the invisible gun killings that happen every day of every year, victims of family disputes, domestic violence, toddlers, women, children, innocent bystanders, and so on.

Either way, it doesn't matter. So keep your guns, America, the rest of us just sit by and die while Republicans and their soulless NRA overlords dish out thoughts and prayers the way Mexican restaurants hand out chips and salsa. No one is ever coming for your stupid guns.

It's far more likely that someone ends your life with a gun.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Charlottesville

I don't write this to change anyone's mind because, shit, we know that is not happening. I write it because I've felt sick to my stomach for days and Saturday's horrific white supremacist terrorist attack in Charlottesville, a place I love like few others on Earth, coupled with Trump's horrifically pathetic response (he might as well have patted his KKK and neo-Nazi buddies on the back, he might as well have put on a white hood), has pushed me over the edge and I don't know what else to do but put this into words. I am too angry and too heartbroken to hold back any longer. 

When I think about my own family - I look white, but I am the son of Lebanese immigrants. Full-on Lebanese immigrants, as Arabic as they come. There are many like me, people you claim to be friends with, that you work with, that you claim to respect, that you live alongside. But when you stand up for Trump, or when you claim that both sides were in the wrong, you stand against me and my parents and all my relatives and anyone with skin that isn't lily white. When you talk to me, Trump supporters, when you look me in the eye, I can no longer help but wonder what's really going in there. 

(Oh, and to my relatives who voted for Trump - really, LOL, in the words of the immortal Heather Chandler from the movie Heathers, did you have a brain tumor for breakfast? What the ever living fuck is wrong with you?) 

So let's stop bullshitting. The President of the United States is, among many other really awful things, a white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer. That's why his response to the terrorist attack was so weak. He may be the president of the United States, but he is anathema to the only thing that matters about the United States. It's really that simple. And if you support him, well, boy howdy, have I got some bad news for you, that's what you are. Let's put a knife in the chest of the idea that the Confederate flag stands for anything but racism. When white supremacists carry the flag next to one bearing a swastika, it sounds pretty ridiculous and yet HERE WE ARE. 

So when this is all over, assuming we live through it, nothing will define you in my eyes and the eyes of a majority of Americans more than where you stood on Donald Trump. 

And history is not going to be kind to many of you. Nor should it be. 

It won't matter how many kids you had, what your job was, how much you volunteered or where you went to church, whether we're related, whether grew up together, whether we broke bread together, whether we got drunk together. 

Your support of Trump, a Nazi sympathizer, is disgusting and reprehensible and tells me everything I will ever need to know about you.  

There is no a la carte option with Trump. You don't get to believe in the (nonsensical) fantasy that he will make America  great again but simultaneously disavow the KKK and Nazism. 

In for a penny, you are in for the whole goddamn racist and Nazi pound. 

Here's the thing. Deep down, you know you will lose. Not today and maybe not for a while (again assuming we live through it). But someday. Someday. Someday you will be an absolute disgrace to your descendants, nothing but an embarrassed whisper at Thanksgiving.

Part of me hopes that every day a different Trump voter, somewhere in America, wakes up and thinks, "GOD WHAT THE FUCK HAVE I DONE?"

I've seen stories that the Democrats are asking for trouble by running solely on an anti-Trump platform. Why? Why is that? He is destroying us from the inside out. I would very happily support anyone who made destroying Trump's Presidency his or her sole platform. If my house was burning down, I wouldn't care about the candidate who promised to fix my cabinets.

I hope flying the flag of a pathetic and backwards "country" of traitors that got its ass kicked 150 years ago or buying into the idiotic and mind-blowingly stupid fantasy of a perfect white Christian America that has never even existed was worth it.

Lastly, go ahead and let me know if you're a Trump supporter - it will make my Christmas shopping easier.  

I'll just send you a white sheet.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

THE LIVING is here!

Very excited to share that my new book, THE LIVING, is now available on Kindle. It's a sequel to THE IMMUNE, but I wrote it to stand alone, so you can start with either book.


Here's the book description:

Thirteen years have passed since the Medusa plague wiped out nearly 99 percent of the world’s population and pushed humanity to the brink of extinction.

Climate change triggered by nuclear skirmishes in the last fevered days of civilization decimated agriculture and livestock, and the hardened survivors battle for what few resources remain.

Rachel Fisher is one of the lucky ones. In her small community in Nebraska, she and her family have access to food, clean water, weapons, and medical care.

And her 11-year-old son Will is the only child known to have survived infancy since the plague.

But everything changes when someone comes looking for him.