Search Results for: shootings

The shootings are not senseless

Every time there is a mass shooting (which on average is every sixty four days) one of the key words we hear describing the tragedy is “senseless.” This would suggest the action was without meaning or purpose.

I hate to tell you this, but nothing could be further from the case.

The most recent attacker, Christopher Harper-Mercer, follows the strict pattern of highly-aggrieved men trapped in a cultural paradox from which they cannot escape. His and the other attacks like it, congruent down to sporting military-style clothing, are an attempt to call “society” to task for leaving them behind. To these men, who perceive they are not receiving the level of respect to which they feel deeply entitled, it’s nothing less than a revolution. When you read their posts online they discuss previous attackers like the Dylan Klebold of the Columbine massacre and James Holmes of the Aurora theatre shooting and now Harper-Mercer as a martyr, a hero and most disturbingly, a “warrior” for the cause.

These young men, when you read their writings (and they write a lot), are trapped in ideologies insisting on a natural order where the strong dominate the weak.  Overwhelmingly their stunning number of journals, manifestos and posts show them to be captivated by thinkers and leaders like Nietzsche, Rand and Hitler. Ironically, these typically introverted outsiders fully buy-in to the idea that there should be a ruling class over the “undeserving” in society. Yet, in each case they have come to realize through a pattern of personal setbacks and failures they themselves are not exactly the Übermenschen ole Friedrich described in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Additionally, they all suffer from acute paranoia, developing a blind rage at those whom they feel have unfairly usurped the power that is rightfully theirs.

Usually I would make a mustache joke here but fuck it, this whole topic is too depressing.

Usually I would make a mustache joke here but fuck it, this whole topic is too depressing.

The shooting is simply a release of this cognitive dissonance. It fills the strong need to demonstrate in the context of their ideology they are not the losers, the “others” are. Dr. Donald Dutton and a trio of psychologists from the University of Vancouver went and read everything the assembled killers had written to date in 2013 and uncovered this pattern.

“They become and remain fixated and obsessed with rejection by what they see as an elite in-group, whom they see as having unfairly achieved success,” Dutton and his colleagues write in a compelling paper just published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior. “Instead of transcending the rejection, they formulate plans to annihilate the transgressors, which they justify as vengeance for the transgressions made against them.”

Ok, so that’s the individual motivation. But now it gets worse, thanks to the Internet with its dark corners like 4chan, these desperate outsiders have begun link up. They have developed an increasingly organized doctrine that blends white supremacist beliefs with garden-variety nihilism, the so-called “mens’ rights movement” pick-up culture, and others to form an ideological toxic sludge of byproducts from Western Civilization. And thanks to the NRA they can arm themselves for considerably less effort than it takes to adopt a cat from the animal shelter.

So, quick quiz: What do you call a group willing to kill innocents and die themselves for an ideology centred around striking back at what they are convinced is an irredeemably oppressive regime? Hint: it rhymes with “Leher-cyst”

The mass shooting epidemic is, in actuality, best described as a nascent domestic terrorist movement which like many others uses mass-casualty suicide attacks as their primary weapon. We will continue to see it develop and organize if social conditions continue as they have, isolating growing numbers of volatile young from the benefits of our society. The shooters are the tip of the iceberg, once you start poking around online you find a massive bulk of rage under the surface.

We refuse to admit this glaringly obvious fact at our peril. Yes, their ideology is hateful and stupid. But like most uprisings it centers in legitimate grievance, metastasized into it’s own mass of lizard-brain hatreds. Young men don’t regularly kill large numbers of innocent members of their own society in a healthy culture, that is a simple fact.

Think I’m wrong about this? Look at Saudi Arabia, which spawned Al Queda. Unlike what many of my liberal brethren believe, the 9/11 attackers who took down the World Trade Center, attacked the Pentagon and crashed flight 93 into a field in Pennsylvania were not indigent Muslims fighting back against the economic oppression of the West. They were, in actuality, disaffected middle-class young men who found themselves increasingly incapable in their home country of meaningful attainment in the highly stratified power and wealth structure imposed by the House of Saud and supported by its global superpower partner the United States. These men were seduced into giving their lives to murder Americans by terrorist recruiters who prey on finding such personalities and providing their perceptually meaningless lives with a grand purpose.

In 2007 American forces raided a suicide-bomber training camp in Iraq. Interviews with those captured conducted to discover the motivations for suicide attacks it was discovered over half of the recruits had come from a Libyan town called Darna. Here is what researchers found:

The reason why so many of Darnah’s young men had gone to Iraq for suicide missions was not the global jihadi ideology, but an explosive mix of desperation, pride, anger, sense of powerlessness, local tradition of resistance and religious fervor.

This is the exact same set of motivations, minus the organized religious component, we find in most mass shooters here. The researchers also found the attacks were typically organized and carried out from the bottom up, not as top-down attacks directed from an overseeing power. Again, just like here.

Suicide bombers also give long, rambling speeches posted on the web.

Before their attacks, suicide bombers also post long, rambling speeches on the web.

So why is this happening in the United States? For similar reasons it happens anywhere else in the world. These young men feel humiliated and powerless. They find themselves incapable of achieving the status they perceive necessary to secure what they want most, typically access to sexual partners (and let’s not forget that suicide attackers in the Islamic tradition are awarded 72 virgins in paradise). They then attack the people who they think are responsible for their standing, typically at a school or a workplace where their daily perceived humiliations are carried out.

Is this so hard to understand? Just like in other countries where there is extreme change and social tension, the formerly empowered group being pushed “out” is fighting back with violence. We continue to perceive these mass shootings to be individual, isolated incidents. They are not. They are like car bombings and transit attacks overseas, individual incidents but linked to a greater struggle.

“Humiliation” is the word you see again and again. That’s the engine driving this, the never-ending loss of face of volatile young men.

Today a growing segment of young adult males will not achieve the material and social success necessary to be attractive mates and form households. By way of comparison, a generation ago in his mid-20s my father had a house, a wife, two kids and a stable job things I was unable to achieve until my ’30s (he would go on to fuck all this up later, but that’s another story). Today Increased economic opportunity and higher educational attainment for women has removed the economic need to be tied down to undesirable dudes. This is a good thing for almost everyone. But for those on the outside, however, it turns social awkwardness and the tail end of the achievement bell curve into a prison planet of isolation. And that generates rage.

If a disaffected young man does not find an identity in some positive group or activity where he can demonstrate a level of mastery, he will find his answers late at night on a message board where an anonymous poster will explain the problem is not him, but instead is women or blacks or Jews or ‘sheeple’ or some other shared lunacy which in the group-reinforcement model that describes closed circles of thought will eat his mind.

And there will be guns around to level the score. Militarized, menacing, assault weapons optimized for mass output. A ticket to forever fame and glory among his new online friends and the ultimate bullhorn to telegraph his resentments at everyone else for less than the cost of a medium-range laptop.

I for one am not surprised that an increasing number of these men, whom the experts call “grievance collectors” have taken this route. What does surprise me is how they are organizing, though I suppose it shouldn’t. Here’s one of many posts in support of the attacker post CoAlpha a “radical free speech” site after the killings at UC Santa Barbara by Elliot Rodger in 2014. CoAlpha is just one place, there are dozens of others.

"Incel" is a term they use to define themselves. It means "Involuntary celibate."

“Incel” is a term they use to define themselves. It means “Involuntary celibate.”

We may not want to give this the legitimacy of a “movement” just yet. That risks elevating the perpetrators to the level of “freedom fighters” beyond their own small and marginalized ranks. But we have to let the air out of the support and encouragement for violent attacks carried out by the most unstable of their number.

And the most effective, cheapest and least blood-soaked way to reduce and remove the motivation for the attacks is to alleviate the fundamental grievance of inequity. Put simply- we can’t let a generation of young men flounder. Yes, they can be assholes and no we don’t need as much of what young men are traditionally good at anymore- dangerous, dirty and difficult jobs requiring brute strength and a lack of self-concern, but we need young men to grow up into reliable citizens. And for them to do so there has to be an acceptable pathway, not just a stew of grievances they marinade in until they get their shit together.

Because some won’t and we’ll all end up bearing that cost. And in an increasing number of cases, it will be too much to bear.









In 1992 science fiction author Neal Stephenson released a book called “Snowcrash” which was about, among other things, an information virus with the ability to infect the human brain the way a computer virus gets embedded in operating software.

After the past week, I’ve seen it. It’s now painfully obvious that, as a country, we’re guncrashed.

Related image

The book also features an Innuit biker with a nuclear bomb sidecar, a skatepunk girl who attaches herself to cars, Sumerian religion, the mob, Russian attack helicopters and atomic cyborg dogs. The whole thing is pretty badass, is what I’m saying.

I have now come to believe the very idea of guns in our culture, literally just the thought of them, is restricting the ability of our brains to conduct logical operations. Last week someone online posted the popular meme that we blame bombers, not bombs and therefore we should blame shooters, not guns. When I replied that we do, in fact, restrict access to bombs, he pointed out one can still buy fertilizer like the kind the Oklahoma City bombers used.

Except you can’t.

I told him you can’t buy more than 25 lbs of Ammonium Nitrate without a background check now and that industry has actually formulated it to be less explosive. It’s a perfect example of a mass killing leading to reasonable regulation. People still farm, but it’s much harder to build a bomb that way now.

His response? He didn’t believe me, then changed the subject, then got mad and said, “Why do you always assume everything I say is wrong?” This is after what he said was demonstrably wrong, a counterpoint to the point he was trying to make. But he couldn’t handle it. Guncrashed. He’s totally guncrashed. 17 people were dead and his primary thought was, “I’d better get out there and defend guns.” No one who isn’t guncrashed would think that way.

What’s worse is person is actually a computer programmer- someone who inherently understands logical operations. Yet he refused to accept the logical outcome of reasonable restrictions leading to effective outcome, even though there is ample evidence of same. As before, people still farm. Ammonium nitrate is still available, we’re just more careful with it now. But applying this same reasoning to firearms is simply not possible when you’re guncrashed. Just the idea alone of guns somehow prevents these calculations from being made accurately. Every subroutine somehow ends with “All guns are OK all the time,” and then tries to work backwards from there, often leading to sadlarious results, as the above “blame the bomber” example demonstrates.  

Image result for crops

We outlawed some specific kinds of availability to fertilizer and yet non-outlaw farmers still grow crops. Weird.

Think of how guncrashed we’ve been. 20 years of mass killings with guns and the simple idea that some firears are just too powerful to be owned by the general public is still anathema. And the absurd arguments, especially the idea that adding more guns into the mix will somehow help, is maddening to watch for the non-guncrashed. It’s gone from annoying to terrifying.

Did you know there are ants who literally get taken over by a tiny flatworm, Dicrocoelium dendriticum? This fluke releases chemicals into the ant’s brain making it think the idea of hanging out chomped on to the top of a blade of grass where it can get eaten by a bird is the best idea, like, ever. I imagine the other ants yelling up to it, “Ted! Ted, you stupid asshole, that’s incredibly dangerous, you’re going to get eaten by a bird, Ted!” and Ted yells back, “BUT I’M SO FUCKING BEAUTIFUL!” That ant is “wormcrashed.” It’s pretty much the same thing. He’s getting positive signals from his brain for thinking something obviously wrong and very likely harmful to himself.

Image result for drunk eagles fan on light post

just sayin’

The exalted place guns are given in our society, how they feature in movies, TV, games- and not just the stuff the kids play, but shows like “24” and “Homeland,” the power they give to the characters, is completely outsized to their actual utility (guns, like all tools, do have utility). But we’ve come to treat them as totems of power and respect in a society where weakness is seen as anathema. I would argue our history as Americans coupled with a lack of any kind of social safety net and an increasingly “winner take all loser gets none” society has left a power vacuum in many people’s psyches that the idea of guns has come to fill. True or not, the idea of guns in our minds is nothing like the reality.

There are actually very few problems that can be solved satisfactorily from the perspective of either party with a gun. And even when it’s possible, it’s unlikely- for instance NYPD officers only hit their targets less than 20% of the time. Yet we imagine guns, and we especially picture our own selves armed with guns, saving the day, making impossible shots, being the hero. Yet Chris Kyle, a SEAL sniper, was shot in the back by someone he trusted on a firing range in Texas. The trained, armed deputies in Parkland Florida did not go into the school and try and confront the shooter, even though protocol calls for them to form a “contact team” and attempt to do so. It turns out the gap between what we imagine guns can do, and what they can actually do in the hands of failable humans is massive. A chasm the guncrashed have fallen into, and it honestly remains to be seen if they can or care to return.

The late Richard Earle, an early pioneer in cause marketing, had an incredible observation about powerful ideas once they have rooted themselves in the brain. His teams found that when making anti-drug ads, if you showed a needle with copy or voiceover saying, “When you use drugs you go broke, lose your family and will probably die,” addicts didn’t listen to the message at all. They just saw the needle and wanted to use. The idea of the drug had “infected” the brain of the user through the memory of the powerful pleasure chemicals they had released, and was now communicating on a deeper level than language. You might call them “drugcrashed.” All addiction could be framed this way: a powerful idea or compulsion that makes an end run around our logic filters and causes us or others undue harm. 

Related image

Only $3.98? Gotta get me some.

Guns in America, it is all too obvious, have bypassed the language and logic centers. They are chomped up there on the blade of grass where everyone can see. The one hope is for the first time in a long time we seem to have a clear view of the situation. In no small part this is thanks to the Parkand High School Students slapping us out of our guncrash coma, and for this alone we owe them a huge debt of thanks. We’re starting to realize we have to actually do something, and that the truly guncrashed can’t be reasoned with, as somehow they are blocked from this capability.

It’s going to be up to the rest of us.

Author’s note: Please don’t read this article and attempt to argue that once high-capacity firearms have been restricted perpetrators will then conduct mass killings by other means and try and fall into the massive logical fallacy that more people are killed with hammers than guns. Even if that’s true, we’re talking about mass shootings here, not mass hammerings, which to our knowledge are exceedingly rare. You’re guncrashed. Get help. 


Gloucester’s Ken Lawrence, AKA “MC Hawking”, to Perform for Stephen Hawking

By Len Pal, Clamrespondent and Co-Host of MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast

We here at Clammedia Towers have some pretty nerdy friends. (We’re drawn to others of our own kind.) And just as communities cheer on the success stories of local athletes, musicians, or businesspeople when they achieve national or global recognition, we must do the same for our local nerds.

Take Ken Lawrence, for example. On the exterior, one might not even notice what a gigantic nerd he is. (Sure, he’s a software engineer, but these days, who the hell isn’t?) Most folks from Gloucester just know him as a guitarist in the heavy metal band F-Bomb, which plays at bars on the North Shore about ten times a year. How nerdy can you be when you’re banging out guitar solos to songs by bands like AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Tool?


Ken Lawrence performing with F-Bomb

But beneath that badass rocker façade lies a nerdy underbelly the likes of which have not been seen since Lewis, Gilbert, Poindexter, and the rest of the Lamdas went up against the Alpha Betas back in ’84. About sixteen years ago, Ken discovered that his computer at work had a text-to-speech program, and he noticed that when it read what he typed, it sounded a lot like Stephen Hawking. For fun, he keyed in some rhymes and made it rap.

That got a lot of laughs out of his co-workers. He could have just stopped there. Instead, he went home and wrote a few rap songs and put them on the Internet, purporting to be “lost tracks” uncovered from Stephen Hawking’s “largely unknown career as a gangsta rapper”. He created an MC Hawking website that included the songs, lyrics, some brilliantly photoshopped images of Professor Hawking alongside rap legends like Run DMC, NWA, and the Beastie Boys, and a fictional biography of Hawking’s path to rapping.

hawking 2

MC Hawking and Coolio Dropping Science

And people dug it. I mean, like, a lot. Think about it: who was using the Internet for more than e-mail in the late nineties? Mostly nerds. Hey, even the real Stephen Hawking heard it, and found it flattering, likening it to Spitting Image. And right around that time, a couple of other nerdy rappers were putting songs up there too. It became a whole thing. A rapper named MC Frontalot coined the term “nerdcore hip-hop”, and it stuck.

People wanted more MC Hawking tracks, and eventually Brash Records signed Ken to create a full-length album, A Brief History of Rhyme: MC Hawking’s Greatest Hits, released in 2004. It featured staple braggadocio rap tracks like The Mighty Stephen Hawking and E=MC Hawking, gang-style tracks like All My Shootings Be Drive-Bys, and most notably, the science tracks. UFT for the MC explains the concept of a unified field theory, and why it is so important. The Big Bizang describes the birth of our universe. And Entropy uses the melody of Naughty by Nature’s O.P.P. to explain the principles of entropy in such plain English that science teachers started using it in classrooms.

The album also included a few skits voiced by a voice actor named Dave B. Mitchell. You probably don’t recognize his name, but if you play a fair amount of video games, or watch the National Geographic channel, or for some reason you like the San Jose Sharks, you’ve probably heard Dave’s voice. Oh, and did I mention that the album cover art was done by Tony Moore, one of the creators of The Walking Dead?

hawking 3

Album Cover: A Brief History of Rhyme

Great stuff, right? You can listen to it on Youtube or buy it on iTunes (Warning: explicit lyrics and dope rhymes). “Wow, Len!” you’re probably saying. “You’re right! These songs are great. Ken must have gone on to become super rich and famous! And hey, have you lost weight?” Well, maybe a few pounds. It’s a struggle; I mostly work at a desk, and I really like brie, pasta, and Oreos. As for Ken, real life happened. Ken slacked off because like all of us, he has a job, other hobbies, and ten cats. Well, I don’t have ten cats, but Ken tells me that it’s totally normal to have ten, and that having ten cats doesn’t make him weird at all.

So the follow-up album sat on the back-burner for a really long time. A few years ago, Ken said “Hey, I got an idea for an MC Hawking podcast, and maybe that will motivate me to get going on more songs and stuff.” And so we did that, and maybe the effort level on new MC Hawking tracks went from about 5% to about 15%. But then one night when we were about to record an episode of the podcast, Ken said “Check out this e-mail I just got…”

It was from Deborah, Stephen Hawking’s personal assistant. She was writing because this year’s Starmus Festival in Spain’s Canary Islands was going to honor Stephen. The festival’s founder, Garik Israelian, hoped that MC Hawking could come to the festival to perform for the professor.

Um, what?

That’s right, they want MC Hawking to perform live on stage for the real Stephen Hawking (along with all of the other attendees and delegates, including eleven Nobel laureates, a handful of famous musicians and composers, and a whole bunch of scientists and astronauts. They’re nerds, but will they get it? We hope so. But how the heck do you perform an MC Hawking track live? They know the voice comes out of a computer, right?

The festival was hoping Ken would write a new song, and figure out a way to make it work on stage. They also hoped he’d allow a guest on the track, and spent a lot of time trying to get RZA from the Wu, but there were communication issues, and so Ken reached out to MC Lars, a nerdcore rapper most known for rapping about literature. (I wrote about him for the Clam a while back.)

The finished product is a track called Fear of a Black Hole. Inspired by Stephen Hawking’s recent discovery that energy isn’t destroyed in a black hole, but instead is simply changed, the track applies that as a metaphor for dealing with adversity or depression: “No matter how low you go, energy can never be destroyed.” To make the song work for a live performance, it includes verses using the regular “MC Hawking” voice (as well as a verse by MC Lars), and Ken’s and MC Lars’ voices on the chorus. Ken will also perform the guitar solo live.

And so on Sunday, Ken will be arriving in Tenerife. (And me too, because I weaseled my way into the trip.) On Wednesday, he’ll perform.

It’s been a long time coming, so go on: Cheer for your local nerd hero.


Sure, let’s send a bunch of pale nerds to a subtropical island.

Would you order a refreshing “Boston Marathon Explosion” at your local pub?

All you do is plop a shot of Fireball into a pint of Sam Adams and BOOM! Hilarious drunktasticness! You can almost hear the desperate moans of the maimed as you enjoy!


Wait, what? You wish to never stop mashing your fist into my squishy asshole face because I’m the biggest shit in the entire universe?  Maybe you should wait until you’ve finished your drink there. What is that you’re having by the way? Oh, an “Irish Car Bomb”? You and your twelve frat buddies just ordered these? Sounds fantastic.

By all means use my holiday to celebrate terrorism before you puke in an Uber.

By all means use my holiday to spend an evening celebrating terrorism before you go puke in an Uber.

Strange, no one ever orders a “Flaming Manhattan” on 9/11. We have no drink representing the Sandy Hook Massacre. Should somebody break out the mad mixology skillz and come up with a cocktail to commemorate the Virginia Tech shootings, the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris (Contreau and bloody Mary mix?) or the downing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland (Jager and single malt)? No? Or you could order your buddy who did two rotations escorting convoys in Iraq an “Explosively Formed Penetrator”? Tasteless? Offensive? Ass-kicking worthy?

If yes (and I hope you said yes) then why the fuck does the goddamned “Irish Car Bomb” exist? How is it ordered in 2015, and how are those who request it not told to go respond to their own mother’s ‘Casual Connections’ ad on Craigslist? This is a town where a fair number of Irish and Brits live. How are we still doing this?

For the record, the last major terrorist attack in Ireland was the Omagh bombing in 1998. A Vauxhall Cavalier full of semtex was detonated on a busy street at three in the afternoon killing 29 people of all backgrounds and ages. Kids. A woman pregnant with twins. This wasn’t in the ancient past or even a generation ago, it was a few short years before 9/11. Bombings perpetrated by Irish terrorists have injured civilians as recently as 2010.

It looks grotesquely familiar to us now, doesn't it?

If this doesn’t look so familiar it turns your stomach, I don’t know what to tell you.


Asking for it, all of them

They were enjoying a nice day out, too.

When you tell someone in Ireland you’re from Boston they joke, “Boston is the capitol of Ireland!” So, citizens, try ordering that drink anywhere in that country and see what happens to you. Hint: There is a fair chance you will get to see how good you are at picking your teeth up off the sidewalk with broken fingers.

As Bostonians, we claim many special rights. The right to be a small city that gets to play with the big boys. The right to be a town where wicked smart people are celebrated alongside sports heroes and rock stars. A place that will unapologetically get all up in your face for being a dumbass (try being in the wrong lane on Storrow or giving money to that sob story guy on the train) and where we show terrorists what it’s like to fuck with the wrong town. Our composure after the Marathon bombing, our resilience, and our strength showed the country and the world how we do things here.

All of that is for shit if one week out of the year we tolerate a bunch of dick-holes in green plastic bowlers and those horrific louvered sunglasses to order “Irish Car Bombs” without challenge, without someone saying “dude, not cool”. We can just revert to being nothing more than comically-accented provincial idiots, swimming in our own fetid hypocrisy, in that case.

Your call.


No Snark Sunday: Big Things That Can Kill You

We’re at a weird time in our species’ history but anyone with teenagers recognizes it instantly. You go from being a kid where everything is bigger and more powerful than you to having an unprecedented amount of control over the world. And it’s not until a few years later when, as an adult, you realize, “holy crap, what an illusion that was. It’s a miracle I survived.”

Really the whole early history of humans and civilization is about managing or at least coming to terms with big things that can kill you. Unlike most of our fellow mammals, our bodies are under equipped as far as animals go. Put a naked human being next to a bear or a tiger [editor’s note: don’t actually do this] or even an otter or a rabbit and you get a sense of how helpless are. No claws, no fur, not especially fast, not a particularly great sense of smell, of the entire animal kingdom our offspring are the worst helpless idiots and for years. What other species young would willingly walk off a cliff or eat a poisoned berry unless watched and cared for constantly?

I imagine a saber toothed tiger chilling with a cave bear at the base of some glacier a few hundred thousand years ago. They’re gnawing on some bones and just swapping predator talk while  watching a rag-tag band of early humans struggle by in the mud of the effluvial outwash. The tiger points with his paw and says:

Soon hipsters will be dressing like this

Soon hipsters will be dressing like this

“Will you look at those things? Hobbling around on just the two back legs, covered in preyskins  because they can’t even grow their own fur. They’re slow, they’re loud, they are clumsy as hell and it takes like 10 of them to bring down a mammoth. Pathetic, really.”

The bear nods his head and then after a second says,

“Yeah, but have you seen that fire shit they do?”

Fast forward to the present day and the only physical  memory of both of their species is a drawer in a museum and the place where they were chatting is now a moped dealership.

I firmly believe that if human beings had any decent innate tools at all to fight against our early predators besides intelligence we would never have gotten past the “sharp stick” phase of technological development. We develop tools and ideas to protect us from big things that can kill us.

But somehow, in the teen years of our species, before we really know what the hell is going on and are just reacting to the day-to-day, we’re confused about the big things that can kill us. For all our knowledge and technology, most of us are just really bad at pointing out and avoiding the most obviously dangerous things.

Usually when someone makes this point they start talking about auto crashes or heart disease, but I want to spend a minute thinking about trains. Yes, trains, our relationship to trains is more indicative of the problem at hand, I think than cars which for their danger are incredibly useful or fatty foods, which our brains are actually programmed to want.

Trains have been around for a century and a half. One can easily predict where a train won’t be, and even predicting where one will be is limited to a highly defined area called “train tracks.” If you are not on train tracks, which when you think about it are pretty small comparatively, you will not be hit by a train. It’s that simple. Yet people are killed by trains all the time and engage in all kinds of risky behaviors around them.

I commute by train when I go into Boston and have done so for years. You would not believe all the dumbassery that takes place around trains (and I’m not talking about the incredibly sad cases of folks who’ve actively chosen to end their lives this way). People step in front of them, they walk along the tracks, they drive across the tracks when the train is coming and I once even saw a dude go under the  train as it was leaving Gloucester so he could get to McDonalds that much quicker, saving him the time of having to wait for all seven cars to pass.

Essentially, trains are this

Essentially, trains are this

This woman in New York last week who caused an accident that killed five people had stopped to check her car because it had clipped one of the crossing signals. All the details are not out, but it looks like she leapt back into her car and drove even further into the path of the train, maybe with the car in the wrong gear? You’d think she wasn’t trying to gun it across, but in my time as a rail commuter I’ve been on trains that have hit cars on three separate occasions.

Even more unclear on the concept of Newtonian physics was the guy who jumped off the train in Lynn when he realized it was express to Salem and not stopping there. We were stopped for hours and hours as they investigated the scene and the poor bastard ended up losing an arm. When we finally got moving the conductor shook his head and said, “He risked his life to get INTO Lynn? I just don’t get it.”

So why can’t a too-large portion of the population come to grips with the fact that trains are dangerous while at the same time freaking out over things like ebola, which obviously aren’t? I think it’s familiarity. I think if things are too common we forget to be afraid of them. A friend works in an elementary school in Essex where they routinely practice lockdown drills in case of an armed intruder. This is wise and desperately sad, but the shootings are so uncommon that there is not much else you can do. Sealing the place up like Masada is going too far. At the same time, you may not know this, but Essex Massachusetts is currently under a plague of rabid skunks. Read their police notes, it’s like the frikin zombie skunk apocalypse over there. I’m an outdoorsy person, I have an overly-curious collie, I walk in Essex sometimes and the stink-monsters from Hell are far more dangerous to creatures I love and all those kids on that playground than some loon with a gun, who is indeed dangerous but just not common.

Pretty much

Pretty much

We take the common dangers in stride, push them away and habituate ourselves. We append no risk to the boring or the mundane. The snowstorm has to be sold as a howling death fury to get our attention. By March even blizzards will probably fail to get a reaction and they will start giving them dull names. Winter storm “Sheldon”, snow event “Ed.” Maybe to be scared we need a little drama and hype, maybe to take precaution we require some pizzaz. Local media does it with storms, maybe we can get Fox 25 to do a “Deathtrain Watch” or we could combine two boring things together to make them a more exciting and therefor more avoidable threat.

Strap rabid skunks to the front of the trains, is what I’m saying. It’s the obvious solution.