A Good Name - pt 10
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woohooligan May 21, 2016
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It's probably good that I'm scared right now. The tragic events that transpired between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin are understandably very sensitive and raw for a lot of people. So the fact that writing about those events scares me, I think, shows that I at least have the wisdom to understand that it's a risk. And as some have pointed out, courage is not the absense of fear... courage is being terrified and doing the right thing anyway. You can only be courageous if you are afraid. Saying that doesn't make me feel any better, of course, I'm still biting my knuckles like my hand is a state-fair corndog... but isn't this what you do when you're trying to screw up your courage? You give yourself these pep talks. At least maybe it helps me get through this.

I haven't regularly attended church in many years. In my twenties I was introduced to the Unitarian Universalist church and for a time I went regularly because my first experiences with them were like coming home. Here was a place where you could come in and be part of the community without having to accept any specific ideas about god or the world... even atheists are welcome to attend and share in the community.

I woke up last Sunday with a sudden urge to be at church. I misread the church calendar and invited my mom to the wrong meeting. Mom is recently intensely interested in the atheist community, although she's also interested in the CUUPS (pagan) meetings at church. Because mom needed a shower, I drove to church twice that day. On the drive I heard the movie Field of Dreams mentioned on Public Radio, reminding me that I had avoided this film for near thirty years... I dunno, something about the combination of Kevin Costner (an actor I'm not overly fond of), and baseball (a "sport" that rivals the international paint-drying olympics in number of z's you can catch during an event), that didn't do much for me. What's next? A post-apocalyptic film about sailing? Or better yet, a post apocalyptic film about how slow the post office is? But it's sort of like Moby Dick in that while I've always suspected I wouldn't get much out of it, I've always meant to see it anyway, just because it's such a big part of our culture. I had similar reasons for seeing the movie Rain Man, (which after seeing it I feel it inadvertently harmed autistic people in America with its misrepresentation... I'm convinced it's the primary reason that for several years I routinely heard "you don't seem autistic" from a variety of people).

I got to church a little late, just as the ... discussion was starting (it was audience participation day). :P The discussion was around the the difference between a "gift" and a skill. So if a gift is a talent you're born with, some people are musically gifted, but nobody is born knowing how to play piano. So there I was at church, by myself, doing my best "average joe" impression. I was trying not to let on that I have all this social anxiety... and then we're asked to talk amongst ourselves about the topic and then write down one of our gifts or skills on a little cut-out slip of paper and walk around and trade them with people... and my anxiety shoots through the roof. It's been two years now since we bought this house in Dayton, and of all the folks at church, I've only met a dozen or so of them, and none of them for more than a couple hours tops. So I'm a stranger to everyone and everybody's coming around and sharing their paper slips and inside I'm thinking, "don't fuck it up, don't fuck it up!" And then I noticed the time and was mercifully relieved that I had to leave to pick up mom, because I'd underestimated the 40-minute drive.

You can' laugh at that, I don't mind. I know when my anxiety is ridiculous and certainly polite conversation with some strangers at a UU church is no call for me to get all Sophie's Choice on people. ;P I did tear up once or twice too, not because of my anxiety, but because it reminded me about where I am in life and where I'm headed. The autism makes me really good at technical things -- that's common, although certainly not guaranteed. So from 1994 until now I've been a software engineer and a damn good one... but the autism also makes it incredibly difficult for me to make and keep friends. So for many years I moved from one job to the next, always the guy who could answer every technical question from anyone in the company, but then got fired because I made some dumb comment that the boss took the wrong way. That's how I got an Asperger Syndrome diagnosis in 2007, because I needed an explanation for why I had a marketable, highly-paid skill with peers earning six-figures and yet, I lived paycheck to paycheck and in constant terror of losing a job and the next time I would have to move four-states away for the next job.

So knowing that my gift is for computers and that I'm literally crippled when it comes to people skills, what do I do? I give up computers to make a career out of making people laugh! And apparently that's not enough for me, I've gotta pull Trayvon Martin into my routine! I wanted a challenge! Tune in next week for 9/11 jokes! Yeah, yeah, too soon, I know... (No really, I don't know, is it too soon for 9/11 jokes?) Why? Why do I do this to myself? I feel like I have to... I can't really explain it. I need to be a part of the world, I can't let myself be the scientist from Independence Day ("as you can imagine, they don't let us out much").

Ah well... a ship in harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are built for. Have I been fair with touchy subjects before? Have I treated GLBT rights with an even hand? Well, no... so if I haven't let it stop me before, why not continue my march to the gallows with polarizing conversations about race relations? (Plus there's an obvious bias on GLBT issues since Tiffany and I are both pansexual.)

I have three kids from my first marriage. My oldest daughter, Alex, was born four months after Trayvon Martin. She recently moved out with her current boyfriend. My younger daughter, Callista, is seventeen for another month, the age Trayvon Martin died. When I was sixteen, I was a sharpshooter in the NRA, and I consider myself politically moderate on the subject of gun control. I feel like I did a reasonable job of describing my beliefs on the subject of guns a couple pages ago. The thing about Trayvon Martin is that his death isn't just about guns, it's about a much more fundamental (and uncomfortable) question about our law: when is it okay to kill someone?

Are you uncomfortable yet? No? Okay, here's blow number two: George Zimmerman has something in common with Han Solo.

Sir? Sir. I can assure you there's no need for the machette right now... seriously, man, it's a joke! After all, only Solo is a criminal. Sir! This is a machette free zone!

Over the past week I've spent a great deal of time researching Trayvon's death, because I knew he was in the story. I've included other recognizable names in the story before -- Ayn Rand, Katherine Hepburn, Jimi Hendrix... Trayvon is different. There's something about a tragedy like this, the violence of it, it being still so new and so raw, that you can't include his ghost in a story without commenting on his death. That wasn't true of Edgar Alan Poe, despite his dying young and under mysterious, possibly malevolent circumstances.

If I was going to write a story, especially a comedy, including Trayvon's ghost, then I wanted to have my facts straight. I'm not entirely sure why I feel I need my facts straight, I just do. I know that no matter how accurate my facts are, some people are going to be offended by anything I write. No matter what I write, some people will likely see me as "supporting a racist murderer" and others will see me as "attacking an American Hero". (You might want to disable javascript before reading that particular article.)

I take it back. I do know why I need my facts straight. I'm a decent person who wants to respect Trayvon's family and friends after the tragedy they endured, instead of profiteering from his death... multiple times. It's true that some people still buy and sell Nazi memorabilia, which is pretty horrid in itself (excepting museums)... but that stuff's not being auctioned off to the highest bidder by Joseph Goebbels.

For the moment however, I don't want to focus too much on Trayvon and George and their respective histories... I don't want to get caught up in the mire of it all, there's plenty of time to discuss all that later. For the moment, I just want to focus on the singular event and the question I posed before, "when is it okay to kill someone?" There's a long-standing idea in our law called the Castle Doctrine, which states that it's okay to use force to defend yourself if someone invades your home. This is distinct from encounters with people in public spaces where historically there has been a legal "duty to retreat" from a situation before (note the emphasis) using lethal force. In recent years in the US, many states have expanded this idea to other areas, up to and including everywhere, (within the state at least). We mostly call this wild-west style thinking "stand your ground", though logically we should probably be calling it "shoot first", since that's what we're saying, it's okay to shoot first instead of backing away or trying anything else that's less likely to kill someone.

But wait! Han Solo shot first and not only do we still love Han, many of us feel that Lucas' revision of that scene is one of the few cases in which it is okay to kill someone! (Lucas, we want to kill George Lucas... with a shovel... in the go back in time to kill Hitler scenario.)

So Han shot first and we love him. Zimmerman shot first and we want to shove a spork up his urethra sideways. So what's the difference? Well of course, Greedo was threatening Han's life! Except that according to first-hand testimony (of which there is only Zimmerman's to be had), Zimmerman's life was also threatened. But there's an even bigger issue here... even if we believed all of Zimmerman's dubious claims about being attacked, Trayvon was unarmed. Greedo may or may not have fired a shot at all (I say he didn't), but the fact remains that he was holding Solo at gun-point when he threatened Solo's life.

Florida's expansion of the Castle Doctrine to a Shoot First law required only that Zimmerman prove that he "feared for his life", and our court system demands that the jurors see that his guilt is proven, not merely beyind doubt, but beyond the shadow of a doubt. So maybe if that's the case, Zimmerman could have been afraid of having his neck snapped! It looks so easy in the movies, how hard could it be? (Asking for a friend.)

The thing is, people are often afraid of things they shouldn't be afraid of. For Christ's sake, look how terrified I was at church! (Oh, you forgot about how this story started?) But, Sam! Life threatening?! You betcha! How many people fear the vanishingly small risk of being shot (Trayvon notwithstanding), but think nothing of the fact that their three-pack-a-day smoking habit is working them into a fat, healthy tumor? If we only demand that a person be afraid and then we're going to just give them a pass on whatever deadly thing they decide to do, then we're going to have a lot more of these tragedies, and that's not even including making it far easier for a creative person to get away with a planned murder.

Cop: You killed that man!

Shooter: Yeah, I was so scared.

Cop: Seems legit.

I don't care if everything George Zimmerman said about it was entirely true, I still think what he did was wrong. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe it's never okay to shoot an unarmed man. You kill an unarmed man with a smart-bomb from a predator drone thousands of feet in the air... or from a moon-sized space laser while he's feeding pidgeons in the park on Alderaan.

I leave you with this, as I try my best to stop being the Tin Man. Of all of King Arthur's retinue, only Sir Galahad, a late addition, was pure enough to find the Holy Grail. This is despite the fact that he was a bastard, born to Elaine only because she deceived Lancelot into believing she was Gwynevere, with whom Lancelot was having an affair behind Arthur's back. Then again, the once and future king would not have been conceived had not Merlin cast a spell on Uther, making him appear to be someone else, so he could sleep with the man's wife. So the heroes of Arthur's time were a bunch of rapey... rapish? rape-esque? bastards... And of course we know what happened to the bastard son of Mary and Yaweh... but when Galahad found the grail he was granted one wish. He wished for the power to die whenever he wanted, (which seems kind of redundant for a dude who carries a broadsword everywhere during the black plague, but whatever). As he, Percival and Bors carried the grail back toward Arthur's court, they were visited by Joseph of Arimathea. I'm not sure what Joe said, but apparently it was good, because Galahad turned in his ticket for the rapture on the spot. It's said that since Galahad, the world has not seen another knight pure enough to obtain the grail. The word tropic has a an older, much less common meaning, "turning toward", as in "phototropic" (turning toward the light). Soap bubbles are sometimes green. But that's a horse of a different color.

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