Grow up or shut up

Blurted this out of my own key-actuated bullhorn sometime during the Obama administration, and never posted it AFAICR. Why would I have? It’s kind of mean-spirited.

Now, as I find myself angrily clamoring my way through the Age of Trumpidity and a plague that much of my country would like to wish away, I realize that I often contribute to public discourse more fuel than fire retardant.

I’ve become what I warned against below.

Fair notice: if I weren’t feeling cranky today, you never would have seen this. Feel free to add any comments you please. I’ll make an effort, but I don’t promise to hold onto my party manners. Nor am I planning to spend time editing this into gentle reason.

And whatever you do, please don’t bother to point out that I’m exactly who I’m talking about here. You don’t get to claim, as your own, an insight that you just read several times.


If you used the death of a stranger to make a political point before the bodies were cold, you weren’t respecting their memory. You were pissing on it.

Who are you to decide, in the heat of a moment in which you weren’t even involved, that you’re somehow appointed to render judgment before any reasonable quotient of the facts is known? For 150 years, United States cavalry sergeants have drilled this maxim into their scouts, a fact which should be blindingly obvious to everyone over the age of 11 but seems opaque to most “journalists” and all Facebook heroes: the first report is always wrong. If you blasted out your conclusions before the facts were in, don’t be surprised when people point and laugh and tell you you’re a jackass.

But you will be surprised, won’t you? And a little offended. The jackass doesn’t know he’s a jackass. He just keeps braying. He thinks it’s a goddamn aria.

If you picked and chose convenient factoids to support a simple-minded argument, you’re not cutting through the bullshit with elegant pith. You’re distorting the facts. You could look deeper, of course, but that might require more than 20 minutes of concentrated rigor and in that time, someone else will have responded before you and first is best, right?

Sure it is — if you’re a firefighter.

The rest of us might pause to consider that educated, professional experts have already been considering policy formulations regarding education, firearms access, and mental health care for decades. They don’t just own keyboards. They have doctoral degrees and years of study and field experience. Whenever there’s a catastrophe, good-hearted Americans from coast to coast rally to see what we can do to help — but all too many of us decide that our best efforts should be directed toward adding two capitalized lines of anguished, misspelled wisdom.

We want to solve the problem. We want to be taken seriously. Ignobly, we also immerse ourselves in self-adulatory fantasies of what we might do in a similar situation or worse (much worse) armchair quarterbacking the victims.

Better mental health care would preclude atrocities. Stricter gun control would disarm the loonies. If the dead teacher who formed a human shield for her students would just have pumped a double-stack magazine into the guy…

Simple answers for simple minds.

Our age of vibrant communication and information saturation should have taught us by now to wait for solid information; to corroborate, cross-correlate, and seek expert knowledge. But it’s so much quicker to pull down a block quote from Wikipedia, lash up a false dichotomy that gets your snark on, and paste your clever meme across the server bands. In a market where most information is bountiful and free of charge, we fail repeatedly to grasp the obvious: you may not get what you pay for, but you sure as hell won’t get more.

Summarizing complexities into a single, ringing phrase doesn’t make you the “winner.” It devalues the conversation, because it only polarizes the sides. Congratulations. You’re now pursuing Pres. Bush’s black and white worldview, summarized as “we’re the good guys and you suck.” No feet of clay for your idols, and no unexpected streaks of grace allowed in the grubby-souled opposition.

They’re your neighbors, you know. You can’t just secede, or go buy an island. You have to learn to live with people you think are wrong… even if you’ve never been wrong a day in your own perfectly rational life.

“The United States has a gun problem.” Let’s start there. It’s objectively true that if anyone — anyone at all — is killed by firearms in our country, then we have a gun problem. Set your diehard Second Amendment reactions aside for a moment and realize that this statement is no more charged than saying that the United States has a rat problem — if anybody has rats in their attic, well, that’s a problem.

What’s the nature of our gun problem? Too many guns out there?

Almost certainly due to an ethos predating even the Second Amendment, we have more guns in private hands than any other country: around 88 firearms per 100 people that we know of. Given private sales, quiet inheritances and gifts, this number is almost certainly low.

And yet, for all the legitimate anguish surrounding school shootings and political assassination attempts — for all the hysterical rush to buy more guns from shops subimposing pictures of Pres. Obama under the legend “SALESMAN OF THE YEAR” — we currently have the lowest rates of gun violence in 32 years.

Too many guns out there? Or too little context? One thing’s for damned sure, whoever said “an armed society is a polite society” was an inept futurist.

Some of us are confident that we can add context in a way that’s been missing for all too long. This is their battle cry: “It’s time to have an intelligent conversation about [gun control/education/mental health/my pet axe to grind/my new pet issue].”

My G-D, the arrogance. Can you seriously presume that no one ever showed any intelligence on the subject until you showed up, fresh-faced, pissed off, and suddenly ready to engage? People were having intelligent conversations in ancient Greece. Get over yourself and your place in history. We all love ya, but you’re not the personal lord and savior of public policy.

Others of us are persuaded that our personal prowess as pistoleros and riflemen is going to save the day when the balloon goes up, the mugger approaches, the ATF comes in black heloes, or zombies attack.

Or when a school shooter shows up, and you and your portly posse pals come lurching and wheezing to the rescue, armed to the earlobes with 58-round magazines and $600 tanto knives with solid-state GPS skull crusher pommels.

Here’s good news for you, Hero: the balloon has already been up for your entire adult life. Maybe you were too busy fantasizing your way through Halo 16 to notice, but there have been a few wars on — some of which you’ve probably even heard about. Git on with your bad self and go sign up. It’s good cardio!

Maybe you’ll get lucky and draw a mission in Somalia, like the army Rangers. Or Fallujah, with the Marines. Or the hills of Afghanistan, as an Air Force JTAC accompanying a SEAL detachment. Or with a Civil Affairs team in Kosovo. Think of the possibilities to be a real live badass!

Maybe then, you’ll have something to talk about out of your own experience, and you can quit piggybacking your fantasy life on other people’s grief.

And the world goes on, and nothing was ever solved by two loudmouths wrangling in a coffee shop, or an impassioned demand that everyone prove their loyalty to you by reposting your Facebook meme. The world goes on, in all its complicated glory and perennial dirty shame. Thank whatever gods you worship that you’re not running it from the safety of your keyboard.

G-D knows, we all do.


  1. Sheelagh Q Sullivan says

    Well, damnit.
    In all sincerity, though, thanks for the reminder.

  2. Steven C says

    Well written bullshit as always! Stay safe and healthy! I wish you luck. You are gonna need it. We all do with Dummycrats as yourself running around. God knows. It all goes back to the fact that stupid people shouldn’t breed. Sad fact is stupid people tend to breed like rabbits.

    • Congratulations, Bultaco guy! In your zeal to distort general commentary into partisanship, you’ve made yourself today’s example.

      My folks include a fighter pilot turned entrepreneur, and a school teacher who went on to manage commerce. They both earned college degrees, both are Republicans, and they had four kids together. I’ll tell them Steven said “hi.”

      Since you’ve framed reproduction rates as the arbiter of intelligence, I think my parents deserve to know: how many kids do YOU have?

      • Steven C says

        Yup. You Einsteins got my number. I am busted! You and your circle jerk fan club got me dead to rights! You can’t say anything to make your case for your Marxist beliefs, so you go for the low road. How pitiful you and your suckasses are! Typical liberal elitists. You imagine anyone who would stand up and disagree with you must be a knuckle dragging mouth breather. I should reply with a reference to your gene pool, but I won’t stoop to your level. You are just another Hunter Thompson wannabe. And he wasn’t shit. There’s still time to make something of yourself other than the bloviating fool you are. Please make your next attack more original than the last few lame attempts were. Fucking idiot!

        • Quite a diatribe, Steven. I can’t connect the spittle-soaked invective to anything in this so-called dialogue, so I’m guessing maybe you’re a Tourette’s sufferer? Sorry to hear that. I understand there are treatments available, so that you may enjoy a productive career and rich social life.

          So no kids, then?

  3. Jack Burcham says

    Jack, this was a most excellent rant, especially the paragraph ending with, “Think of the possibilities to be a real live badass!” Put me to thinking of a certain US President who, after the Parkland, FL school shooting, said that he was pretty sure he would have run into the school to save lives if only he had been there. I found this most surprising given his “heel spurs” that, coincidentally enough, made him ineligible for the 1960’s Viet Nam-era draft. Pretty tough to run when you have those pesky, darned-old “heel spurs”. Dream big or go home, I guess, but it is, as you said, “…piggybacking (his) fantasy life on other people’s grief.” Oh, and for all those wanting to jump in my face, yes, I served in the ‘Nam with a combat unit, and yes, I know from personal experience you shouldn’t play it safe with your heel spurs one day and play the pretend hero the next, for that truly is pissing on the memory of the dead.

    • Jim Scott says

      I wish I had been clever enough to say it, but I am glad someone did: “If you have the facts, pound them. If you have the evidence, pound it. If you haven’t got either, pound the table.” …or something like that. It’s too bad, but whenever you decide to pull out a diatribe like that of your’s, it seems to fit.
      I’m a 75 year old veteran. (Sort of dates my obligation [Pre-draft].) No need to elucidate. Like the apostle Paul, it matters not. What does matter is the sourful lack of use we give to the one gift above all the other animals; reason.
      Whether you and I agree is of no consequence. I enjoyed your two books, your columns, and now this format….. and John Prine.

  4. Lyle Gunderson says

    Given the sort of creature you are addressing, you were just about mean-spirited enough. I wish I had written it, but haven’t the skill.

    The image I have is of a portly, pale, mouth-breathing parasite living in his parents’ basement and paying no rent, leeching off their pantry and (unfortunately) Internet. While his writing voice is loud and full of swagger, he’d wet his pants and snivel if addressed in person as you address him above.

    This stereotype is based on a few guys like this I’ve met in person. Two of them also had lots of bumper stickers on their vehicle, most of them against something or somebody..

    Oh, and: “an impassioned demand that everyone prove their loyalty to you by reposting your Facebook meme”

    I hate those demands.

  5. Opposing views are more an invitation to self reflection than a call to arms. We all get mean now and then, but it gives us a chance to learn the best way; through our mistakes.
    Thanks for reminding us that Compassion, Understanding and Empathy are a CUE we all should take.
    Here’s to more thinking and less yelling
    —the timid introvert

  6. John Stockman says

    In spite of a hater, great response. I treat them like I do the news: I DO NOT watch. After getting my education in broadcasting and journalism, I learned what “news” is. A plea to get you to watch because those who read their script from a teleprompter are impassioned folks who care about you. What goes on behind the scenes is something that many have no idea about. Since the FCC allowed large corporations to acquire local stations, very few independent outlets exist anymore. Look at FM radio, a former bastion of independence from a local perspective, now part of large corporate entities who pay salaries and expect compliance with their ways, methods and yes, play lists. Which brings us to independent thought and information. I revel in independent thoughts and ideas; the kind you write about. Eloquently. Many disagreed with me when all I wanted to do was ride a motorcycle again. Idiot, insane, accept-the-hand-you-were-dealt attitudes. Undaunted, I did become a motorcyclist, accomplished, successful, improving my skill-set. Glad I didn’t listen to the negative types or those that thought a severely disabled guy should never ride a motorcycle, or even have an aspiration to do so. My life has been enriched beyond any human measure because of the many challenges required to become one and the indescribable joy and sense of accomplishment I felt after i was able to ride. Also enriched because I get to read your thoughts and no fear to express them. Thanks.

  7. great, thank you

  8. Daniel Souliere says

    Again well said Jack, Thanks, Dan

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