Categories
Basic Fucking Rights Be Better Musings Society

Free Speech

The fundamental issue underlying the necessity of free speech is the inherent and unwavering value of Truth.

Truth is not always self-evident. There are many interpretations of a collection of facts that can steer a person or group farther from or closer to base Truth. Statistics and data analysis reveal this to scientists every day. Members of all political ideologies bend data to their biases at every turn.

What brings people closer to Truth is discourse. The exchange of ideas between open-minded but passionate individuals is the best way to whittle down perception to uncover base Truth.

There is no substitute for it.

Open-mindedness is key to this. Discourse cannot succeed in its mission without this critical factor. Those involved in discourse must be willing to be contradicted so that their misconceptions can be remedied.

Passion is equally important. If one is not dedicated to their point-of-view, perhaps one marred by a slight variance from Truth, they may succumb to a more-incorrect, but more attractive, theory, replacing one misinterpretation with another, and thereby carrying them farther from their goal.

One (or a group) who is passionately dedicated to their perception, but also willing to concede when another interpretation holds merit, is destined to find, if not the full base Truth, then something closer to it than was known before them.

This search, the quest for Truth, is at the core of humanity. It is a driving factor in all that we, as humans, do. It is, in my estimation, one of the reasons we exist. When we find Truth, as a Race, something will happen. And it will be Earth shattering.

But we can’t get there if we limit the free exchange of ideas. Even, and especially, ideas that we find repugnant and/or vile. Truly evil ideas should be given their space. Debate them vehemently and expose them for what they are. If we do anything less, they will fester and grow, drawing people secretly in and taking root.

Bad ideas cannot grow in the light. They may not die completely, but they will not prosper. The light put upon them by debate and prudence will show all who will listen in earnest that they are not worth credence. There will always be those who would prefer to join with poorly-conceived hateful doctrine. There is nothing to be done for them. There is no debate or oppression that will stop them, and they are certainly not worth giving up something so precious as the pursuit of Truth in futile attempts to keep them at bay.

We can only fight these by ensuring they are outnumbered by well-informed individuals who base their lives in Truth.

The only way to do this is to not only fight against the curtailing of Free Speech, but by actively engaging in the exercise thereof.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Be Better Musings Society

Finding the Happy

I am an unreasonably lucky man. I’ve never won the lottery, I didn’t buy Bitcoin when it was <$100 a coin (though I know a number of people who did), and it seems like every time I play cards or dice I lose my ass, but I deeply feel that where it really counted, I was as lucky as they come.

I was born in the United States of America. I was born to a pair of people who didn’t have much to their name, but who loved one another and their children fiercely, and believed that hard work and grit could build a better future. Through nothing more than universal good fortune, I grew up in the one place on Earth where I could be and do anything in the scope of human ability, with parents who put blood, sweat, and tears into making sure I had the opportunity to thrive.

Talk about luck.

There are millions of us, something like 330 million at the time of this writing, and if nearly all of us are among the top 5 or 10% of the wealthiest people on the globe, then why the hell are we so angry all the time?

I did some research for this post and found hundreds of articles and posts about anger from COVID lockdowns, being dissatisfied with race relations, or livid with politicians who ignore their constituents’ needs, but that isn’t really what I’m talking about. I believe that those things are symptoms, and the real problem lies deeper.

I think that modern Americans are fundamentally unhappy because contemporary cultural influencers have redefined what happiness means in order to improve their bottom lines. Many entities thrive on discontent, including commercial interests, social media personalities, and politicians. It’s to their benefit to keep people discontent.

“Okay, wise guy, what do you suggest?”

Well, I’m glad you asked.

Stop Comparing Joy

The number one ruiner of happiness is comparing yours to theirs. If everyone looked more at what they had and less at what their neighbor seemed to have, we would all love our lives a whole lot more. Top of the list of most prolific serial killers of joy is social media.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. all take snapshots of peoples’ lives and put them on display. Very few people put up random candid pics and posts from their day. They curate what they show, and that gives a biased view of their lives and their satisfaction therein. Instagram models have even started renting planes, cars, and friends in order to make their followers believe they enjoy a certain lifestyle. Your friends on Facebook you haven’t talked to since high school probably aren’t out there ‘living their best life’ nearly as well as they want you to believe.

They’re showing what they want others to see, so they can keep up.

Even if that weren’t the case, even if there are millions of people out there with more things, more love, and more peace than you, that doesn’t make the things, love, and peace you have worth any less. The only person who can diminish your joy is you. Stop letting some dick nose on Twitter or Insta make you feel like what you have is lesser.

I’m certainly no world traveler. I’ve only been to a couple of foreign countries, and I haven’t even been to all of the lower 48 states. I have, however, seen poverty and the impoverished. I’ve seen those who don’t know for sure where their next meal will come from, and who are thankful for a sliver of shelter floor to share with others. I have seen those people smile from ear-to-ear and heard them laugh deeply. They find happiness in their lives and experiences, despite having next to nothing to call their own.

How can that be?

Perhaps we’ve been sold a bill of goods. Perhaps we’ve allowed advertisers, marketing gurus, and Instagram models to convince us that we need fancy cars, big TVs, and the latest iPhones to be happy, when what we really need is a good hobby, good relationships, and freedom to pursue our passions.

Stop Blaming Other People

Here’s where I will lose people. By and large, especially in the United States and western Europe, it is en vogue to blame The Man or The System for our shortcomings and failures.

Despite what people/media/government/social justice warriors/haters want you to think, your circumstances are your responsibility. The sooner you acknowledge this truth, the sooner you can take this weight on your shoulders, and the sooner you can take control of your situation.

There are tons of self-help books that hammer on this point, all of them written by people who are far more commercially successful than me. I’m not a big self-help book person, but I’ve read a number of books that have helped me grow as a person. A couple that I really liked: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willing and Leif Babin, and Fortitude by Dan Crenshaw. Both of those books focus heavily on the mindset of taking responsibility for your shortcomings, fighting to overcome them, and finding ways to make the most of bad situations.

Yes, some people get a head start by virtue of being born into affluence. Yes, some people have an easier time getting a leg up because they know someone, have a more winning smile, or a better personality. Yes, some people have it harder due to biases in perception from people in positions of power.

So. Fucking. What.

Put your shit kicking boots on and wade through it. Fight hard and fight smart. Whatever field you are striving for success in, make yourself undeniable and you will achieve your goals.

Seek Out Suffering

I truly believe that constant comfort leads to long-term unhappiness. At any given moment across the first world, there are thousands of people smashing the keys on their phone, tablet, or computer to complain. Most of them do this complaining while sitting in a cushy chair or couch, eating a hot meal with high calorie content, and enjoying reasonably-good health. Maybe their hair is still damp from the long hot shower they just took. From a place of such comfort it is easy to feel every prod, poke, or itch, to dwell on each pang of hunger or aching joint.

Each of those small (or huge) conveniences is easy to take for granted. Why not step outside of them for a weekend (or more) and enjoy some time outside of the house and in the wide world where the only running water is between two banks and the closest thing to air conditioning is a cold front? Out there, where our ancestors lived their entire lives, hunger, thirst, and slight exhaustion are constant companions.

Maybe the outdoors really isn’t your thing. You can choose another type of suffering. Go for a run. Lift weights. Take a cold shower. Talk to Chatty Charles at the water cooler who talks incessantly about his world-view that you completely disagree with. Each of those things have benefits beyond making you uncomfortable: Running helps your heart and lungs; Lifting weights strengthens muscles, bones, and connective tissue; Chatty Charles might teach you something you didn’t know, and at the very least you will have a better understanding of another human being, which has its own inherent value.

Voluntary suffering makes you appreciate the simple comforts you might have forgotten about, comforts that other people don’t have, and that appreciation is requisite for happiness.

Find a Partner

Humans are social creatures. We crave companionship. If you want to improve your happiness, find someone to share happiness with. I call this person a partner, which can carry romantic connotations, but it doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship. A partner can be a husband or wife or a close friend or a sibling. This partner is a person who will be present with you, invested in your success, and provide an outlet for your investment to ensure their success as well.

Happiness shared is happiness doubled. Troubles shared are troubles halved.

I know this topic causes intense unhappiness for some people. “Oh sure, just find The One and be happy. Thanks a lot, asshole.” And to an extent, yeah, something like that, but also, no it’s not like that at all. I’m not telling you to find The One, settle down, and live happily ever after. I’m telling you to find like-minded people, cultivate meaningful relationships with them, and revel in the shared joy and reduced pain that comes from a strongly-tied community. From that will come relationships of all kinds, probably even the romantic kind.

I don’t give relationship advice because different things work for different people. If you need to hear more than ‘be open, be honest, and demand the same from those around you,’ then I can’t really help. That’s not your failing, it’s mine. I’m just pointing out my limitation.

Corollary: cut shitty people out of your life

Very few things will kill joy like an asshole. If you have a person (or people) in your life that does not give you the same openness, honesty, support, and respect that you give them, then throw them out like a rancid steak. You don’t need that shit hanging around.

Don’t, however, mistake someone’s honest opinions or criticisms as disrespect. A person with different opinions or experiences can be invaluable. Be careful not to cut someone out just because you don’t like what they have to say. It could be an insight that could change your life for the better.

The Wrap Up

I figure I better make a big bold header to show people where they can jump to get a TLDR.

To wrap up, the biggest thing to do for your happiness is to stop comparing your shit to other people’s shit. Social media is a strong offender in this regard. Stop blaming other people for the things that go wrong in your life. Take responsibility and quit being a bitch. Eschew (why yes, that is a great word) comforts from time to time to better appreciate what you have. Seek out opportunities for voluntary suffering. You’ll feel better after feeling worse. Build real relationships. Find a partner. Share the good and the bad. Cut out the blood suckers and assholes and keep close the no-bullshit friends who are willing to tell you hard truths.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Computers Society

Vote Tampering

I’m a vulnerability researcher by trade. Many people refer to this as ‘white hat’ hacking. What this means is that people pay me to try to compromise their computer systems through whatever channels they’re concerned about. It also means that I am pretty familiar with the ways to break into computer systems, networks, applications, and embedded systems.

This has led to a number of conversations lately around the topic of voter fraud, election tampering, and compromising voting systems. I can sum up my beliefs pretty succinctly:

I don’t believe there is such a thing as a secure computer system.

Within the last few weeks, lots of people have been talking about Dominion and how they were used in the Venezuela election, and how that election was grossly manipulated. Within the last few days, people have alleged that they were able to gain access to voting machines in Georgia, and are present on the systems and actuating 2-way comms while voting is taking place. In 2019, DefCon hosted a hack the vote event, and those machines fell over like my cardboard fort from pre-k.

In an age of cyber espionage and nation states warring silently over the interwebs, I’m not confident at all in our nation’s ability to host a secure and reliable election via any connected electronic means. If a system has the hardware to connect to a network, someone can control it, manipulate it, and exfiltrate data from it.

A Thought Experiment

I will perform a thought experiment. This will begin with a handful of assumptions:

  1. An electronic vote tallying machine exists
  2. The vote tallying machine uses software to tabulate votes
  3. The software can be accessed via a user interface
  4. The software is periodically managed by the manufacturer or user
  5. The manufacturer uses the internet
  6. A nation state exists that wants to compromise these machines

All of these are pretty reasonable assumptions, and I would speculate that all of these (and more that actually make the job easier) are true for every voting machine in use. Given these things, let’s discuss how someone could subvert this machine.

If an electronic machine exists that runs software, a dedicated individual or group can obtain that software. Ideally, they would be able to break into the company itself and steal its source code. This isn’t nearly as hard as you might think if the company uses the internet. From here there are generally two paths:

  1. Compromise the supply chain
  2. Compromise the software/firmware/hardware

Compromise the Supply Chain

If the manufacturer maintains their software/firmware/hardware, then they keep that information somewhere. If they use the internet, then that information can almost certainly be accessed through any number of avenues from anywhere in the world. I’ve linked to several examples earlier in this piece, but here are a few more. The easiest method here would be to exfiltrate the source code, add in whatever new features you want the software to have, and then replace the production/distribution version on the manufacturer’s servers.

The hard parts here are the initial compromise of the target network, and getting around any kind of certification/signing system the company has in place. Once the first one is established, the second kind of falls in your lap. The first one can happen with an email that says “Please review these account numbers” and has a malicious Excel spreadsheet attached. Boom, compromised.

From there, you move laterally through the network until you find what you’re looking for. Sometimes that’s hard, sometimes it’s easy, but it’s basically never impossible. People become multi-millionaires on tools and techniques to accomplish this. It’s a big business.

Find the code, change the code, compile and sign the code from inside their own development environment.

When the time comes to update the machines, your software will be installed instead of the one the manufacturer intended, and votes will be randomly given to Mickey Mouse and Peter Pan instead of Biden or Trump.

Game Over.

Compromise the Component

This one is harder. This one assumes you can’t get to the manufacturer’s supply chain for one reason or another. Let’s say that the manufacturer doesn’t keep their software on an internet facing server. Let’s say that you don’t want to leave behind evidence on their servers. Let’s say that the manufacturer doesn’t perform regular updates anymore. Lets say that the manufacturer went out of business.

No problem. We’re a nation state. We can do this.

One of our assumptions was that at least one extra machine exists. This doesn’t even mean that the machine isn’t going to be missed if it disappears. This just means that there’s one sitting around unused, like a spare in case one breaks. Every major government in the world has an intelligence service that specializes in gaining access to systems like this. They pay someone to turn their back, or maybe one of them falls off a truck somewhere. However it happens, someone who is well-informed and well-prepared can pull the entire contents of a hard drive or flash storage in a matter of minutes, even from something that doesn’t look like a computer. All they need is a little time and nobody paying too much attention.

This path means a little bit of extra work reverse engineering the binary data on the machine, but for someone dedicated to undermining the validity of democracy, that’s not that big of a deal. There are tons of people who do that kind of thing for a living, and many are willing to sell their services to the highest bidder. Finding 0-days, also known as Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE), is what they live for.

Once a vulnerability is found (and it will be found, there are thousands of 0-days found in trusted software every year), they will create a piece of malware to exploit that vuln.

Please note that none of our assumptions actually include network connection or the ability to have 2-way communications with the device. This isn’t really necessary. There are plenty of pieces of software out there that do everything they need to do and never connect to the internet.

“But how in the world will you manage to get your malware onto that voting machine?” you might ask. “Social engineering” would be my go-to answer. That’s the way pretty much all malware gets onto a system (aside from remote exploitation, but that requires network connectivity). One of these ways would be to pay a legitimate employee to install a compromised update to the system. Or perhaps the nation state in question manages to get an operative hired on at the company and that operative installs the malware as they go about their normal maintenance tasks. Both of these scenarios happen often enough to have a term in the business: “Insider threat,” a la Edward Snowden. Or, since we know there’s a user interface to the voting machine (because you have to, you know, cast a vote) perhaps an operative compromises the system through that interface while in the booth.

Finding a vulnerability in a simple user interface is all-too-common. If there’s a place for a user to input data, there’s a possible attack surface. Once that’s found, it’s lights out.

Concluding Thoughts

I say all of that in order to say this:

Don’t trust anything that happens in a computer, especially if it’s important. It is so much harder to fake physical ballots than electronic ones. At least physical ballots have to exist to be counted, which means there’s some measure of accountability and a requirement for evidence.

The most recent SolarWinds breaches, which include dozens of governmental departments, should be a clear warning. Oh yeah, did I mention that Dominion used SolarWinds?

We’re making it too easy for them.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Be Better Things I Read Lately

Things To Read

Before we take this Ramble, I have a confession. This Ramble is also a bit of a book review for a few books I read recently. I’ve linked to them throughout the Ramble, and if you buy those books through those links, I get a little kickback. The site I’m linking to is called Bookshop, and they help support local bookstores that are all in danger of shutting down because of Amazon. So, if you buy from those links, you’ll be helping me and helping keep local bookstores open, which is pretty fucking cool. With that said, Ramble on:

If you haven’t checked out my reading recommendations for dudes, check out my other post: Being a Man. I talk about some cool books I’ve read and some of the lessons they’ve taught me about myself, and what I think masculinity means.

This post won’t be that boring.

This post is going to be a list of good books that I’ve read and that I think you’ll like. If you don’t like them, then you’re wrong, and that’s okay. Don’t feel too bad. I don’t really know what it’s like, but I hear it’s a pretty common problem amongst normal folks.

I read a somewhat wide range of things. I’m a long-time fan of “speculative fiction” aka “Science-Fiction and Fantasy,” but I dig a good thriller or murder mystery or alternate history. Good non-fiction will draw me as well. Some things labeled “self-help” actually do help, history is vital to understand as fully as possible, and some people who really lives are more interesting than their fictional counterparts. As Mark Twain said “truth has to be stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense” or something like that…

Let’s dive into good stuff I’ve read in my time, starting with some books that changed my mindset.

On Combat and On Killing both by Lt Col Dave Grossman. (I know the first link goes to Amazon, but Bookshop didn’t have On Combat on their site)

I put these two together because they very much build on one another. Grossman’s research has had profound impact on our understanding of war, policing, and other forms of mortal conflict, and their effects on the soldiers, first-responders, and victims. The value of the information in these books can’t really be overstated. If you live around humans outside of your trust circle, then you need these books. If you, like me, consider your personal safety to be your personal responsibility, then you should be taking the training and mindset cues from these books to heart. From how to better train to prepare to defend your life, to how to deal with the overwhelming emotional and spiritual fallout after the fact, these studies are absolutely packed with information you shouldn’t pass up.

The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers by Various

This book is a compilation of the writings of various of the founding fathers of the United States who published articles in newspapers to try and sway the opinions of the populace while debating the future of the New World. Many Americans these days have a very black-and-white view of the Constitution. They don’t really know the history, process, or points of contention that surrounded the creation of the document that would alter the course of modern governance. These writings are an excellent source of information and insight into why certain choices were made int he balance of state and federal powers when the republic was first born.

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

Did you like 300? Would you like to read the book that made that movie possible? Do you like tales of badassery, fights-to-the-death, and epic last-stands? Pressfield really brings home the warrior ethos in this book. You pick it up and put it down with a feeling in your guts that you, too, could be a ridiculous badass and hold the line against the Persian hordes. This is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants a little more warrior spirit in their lives.

1984 by George Orwell

This one should pretty much stand on its own as a recommendation in the current political climate. Big Brother, governmental overreach, the nanny state. It’s all a little too real. Read about what it means when you lean too far into safety and give away your dangerous freedom.

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

A classic. The first introduction to Jack Ryan. Inspiration for the Connery (RIP) classic. If you like action, you should be all over Clancy, all the time.

Terminal List by Jack Carr

Jack is one of my new favorite authors, and James Reece will be one of your favorite characters. Terminal List is one of those balls-out revenge stories that has you salivating for more. Pick this one up and root for the SEAL in his Cruiser against the political machine that fucked him over good.

Hope you find some of these enjoyable, and you support some local bookshops along the way. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Fiction Original Content Writing

JOEYIS, aka CAPTAIN RUNNEL’S TRAVELING SHIT SHUTTLE

The mixing bay of my freighter is full of shit and horny robots. The shit is fine, this is where it belongs. The robots are fine, this is where they belong, too. The adjective, as usual, is where the trouble lies.

I bought the androids off a retired bajillionaire-turned-monk last week, and the damn things are pawing at each other like pubescent hormone factories after dark. A couple of the friskier ones have their eyes on me. It wouldn’t be so creepy if they were the older Mark I or even the Mark II models, but these are so damn lifelike. It’s terrifying.

I trudge through the knee-deep fertilizer, working as quickly as I can against the thirsty, sucking sludge on my muck-boots.

“Pre-production Mark III’s” I say, in bitter mockery of the shining monk’s sales pitch. “You can sell the ones you don’t use! They’ll be worth a fortune! The androids that put Amos Anderson out of business!”

I see now how they put Anderson under.

The nearest bot, a guy with brown eyes and an impressive piece of hardware, starts pulling himself through the mix room’s giant shit puddle toward me. It’s slow work for both of us, and he isn’t gaining ground, but the simple fact that he’s moving toward me at all lights a fire under me.

The sound my boots make in the slop is almost as nauseating as the smell. The rotten odor of the bacteria chewing through the mix, combined with the sharp scent of whatever the bots are secreting to aid their perverse playtime creates a stink-beast whose only mission in life is to claw its way through my nose and rip the food from my stomach.

I reach the edge of the mix pit and lift myself over the containment wall. Liquid shit drips off of my boots and splatters on the textured metal floor as I swing over and drop to the ground. I don’t know if that bot is determined enough to chase me over the short barricade, but I don’t spare the time to find out. I chuck myself toward the stairs and the waiting exit.

I slam the big red button but the door doesn’t budge. “Dammit, Clayn, get this door open!”

Her voice comes back to me through the intercom system, but it’s cutting in and out. 

“Can’t hear ya, Clayn!” I yell. “The intercom’s on the fritz again!” I look behind me and see Mr. Muddy Tackle easing over the retaining wall. It doesn’t look easy, with his… protrusion in the way, but he’s making it happen. “Get me the fuck out of here!”

About the time old buddy’s feet slap against the floor with a fecal-wet flap, the crane above the pit starts to move. The bot’s foot lands on the first step and my stomach jumps. I don’t think my eyes can get any wider.

Something brushes against my cheek and I jump so hard a little pee comes out. At the same time the intercom crackles behind me, shrieking with feedback, and Don Juan takes his first step onto the platform with me. Whatever hit me in the face is dangling next to my cheek and given the situation, I immediately worry that it’s phallic.

It’s the sling from the boom crane.

I grab hold and scream incoherently at the intercom. Clayn must have understood, because in the next moment I’m swinging out over the mix pit, thirty feet in the air, praying that my grip lasts longer than the robo-orgy happening underneath me.

Never, even during my military flying days, has the phrase “don’t look down,” repeated so adamantly in my mind.

#

“No shit, there I was, fertilizer up to my knees and horny robots up to my ass.” It’s my favorite line in the story. I don’t see myself coming up with a better one any time soon. Joyous laughter warms the cold steel dining area. It softens the hard angles and masks the rust on my ship’s time-battered walls.

Those of the crew who can fit are gathered around the too-small table, with the spillover filling up open areas of the countertops or the floor.

“No shit! Fertilizer! Good one, Captain!” Jespo brays. He’s a Findalian monk, so of course he’s sotted. Their Golden Ale gives the monks gilded voices and glowing skin, and his bald head is shining brightly this late in the evening. I don’t mind, so long as he does his job in the morning. Besides, it’s part of his recovery.

I grin, glad the pun landed, and file it away as a joke to keep in the telling.

“So these bots are everywhere,” I continue, “covered in Mendolian Eel Mix, and all doing their damndest to press each other’s no-no buttons. I’m yelling for Clayn to open the doors, but she can’t hear me ‘cause the intercom is on the blink again. The smell of robo-sex on top of the aging fertilizer could choke a maggot. It’s half a miracle I didn’t suffocate trying to escape unpenetrated.”

Laughter echoes again, holding the smile on my face. This is how life on an interstellar dump dozer should be.

“How did you even come across droids at a Findalian monastery, Runn?” asks Quiin, the logistician and navigator. The pair of us started flying the JOEYIS together after the Yurisha Hiccups Incident. You don’t get stuck on poop patrol by winning medals, and we both managed to hose our careers in that little catastrophe. He’s the scruffy sort, now that we’re no longer beholden to military grooming standards. He’s not a handsome man, but at least he has good looks and brains in equal measure.

“Well, you know Amos Anderson?” I ask.

“Not personally,” he replies. Smart ass.

“I do,” Jespo pipes in. “He joined the monks a couple years ago. Solid tenor once you get enough Ale in him.”

“I ran into him while ‘Spo finished with his rehab consult,” I say. “Anderson had heard the captain of a shit shuttle was there and managed to pick me out from the crowd.”

“Being the only person who wasn’t a friggin’ light bulb was probably a dead giveaway,” Clayn says. My lead engineer is a terrifying kind of smart, with a chin and cheekbones as sharp as her intellect.

“I’d lean more toward Runn being the only one not bare-arsed,” Spo chuckled.

“What?! The monks are nude?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I have no idea why.”

“Actually-” Spo starts, but I shut him down. A drunken lecture on monastic culture isn’t something I’m willing to sit through right now.

“So, Amos Anderson, of Anderson Apech Androids, comes up to me, business all aglow and flapping in the breeze, and offers me the entire pre-production run of Mark-III droids for next to nothing. It seemed too good to be true, but I figured I could trust a monk.”

“There’s your first mistake,” Jespo says before bursting into his absurd laugh, somehow guffawing and tittering at once. “He’s gonna be famous!”

“Anderson was a jillionaire before leaving the modern world for the monastery,” I say. “Doesn’t get much more famous than having a bot with your name on it in nearly every home and business in the cosmos.”

Jespo’s choked with laughter and can’t respond. He’s too far down the chuckle hole to find his way out. Only one thing to do: Findalian torture. I clear my throat and tear off into the warbling sustained notes of Galataya’s national anthem.

Spo’s laughter cuts off as his smile rots into a grimace. He shakes off a chill. “Not okay, Captain.”

“What do you mean he’s going to be famous?” I ask.

“It’s a secret,” he says, serious as Ungregian Measles. “Can’t tell you.”

“Who are we gonna tell?” Quiin asks. “Besides, who’d listen to a bunch of dung deliverers?”

Jespo considers that for a second and takes another pull from his flask. He shakes his head, but as the fading glow resurges across his skin, he cracks.

“Guess it won’t hurt. But you can’t tell. It’s a secret, after all.” He drains a little more of the Ale. “Within the order, we enjoy a good practical joke. Nobody rises very far among the Findalians without having at least a few serious pranks in their flask. The big ones are reserved for prominent figures who petition us to perform at their events. Usually they’re too embarrassed to tell anyone what happened, or they just keep mum to watch as a rival receives the same treatment later. Either way, their secret is safe with us, and ours is safe with them.”

“It doesn’t get farther from ‘prominent’ than the bay of a fertilizer ferry,” Clayn says.

“That’s the genius of it,” Spo replies. “Anderson couldn’t pawn those off on anyone important without serious repercussions. Two dozen androids having sex all over a royal compound, or on the floor of the Grand Council; that isn’t the kind of thing you can keep a lid on. Us, though,” he shrugs. “Besides, they get the bonus of gleaning a little retribution from me, for my… episode.”

“Is that what we’re calling it now?” Clayn sneers. “It’s been downgraded from ‘tragic mass poisoning’ to ‘episode’?”

“I didn’t poison anybody. At least nobody lost their face, pyro.”

“Just their voices. And that monastery’s reputation, built over the last five hundred years. I don’t know what else you’d call feeding bad Ale to a slew of monks and nearly killing them. Sounds like poisoning to me.”

“That’s enough,” I interject. “Everybody here’s stepped in the mix at one point or another.” I turn my gaze back on Spo. “So, let me get this straight. You think Amos Anderson, former richest man in the cosmos and member of the most regarded society for performing arts in the galaxy, wants to earn respect from his peers through a shit-stained-sex-robot prank?”

“Yes.” The simplicity of his reply sends everyone into another fit of laughter.

All I can do is shake my head. “Clayn, I need you to come up with a way to fix this,” I say.

“I’m not a droid expert, Runn. I don’t even know where to start.”

“You are now. Figure it out.”

“Yes, Captain,” she grumbles, like a kid half her age.

“Good, now let’s try to get some down time. We’ve got a big delivery tomorrow.”

#

“JOEYIS to Asirin Five Seven Fervis,” Quiin mumbles over the radio. “Requesting clearance to approach for a delivery.”

“Confirm, JOEYIS. You may approach along vector Six Quylon Four, elevation Gibbon Rex Two.”

I type the proper vector in when I realize Quiin is too busy rubbing the bridge of his nose to pay any attention.

“Didn’t think you had that much to drink last night,” I say. “Did you try to keep up with Spo after we broke up for the evening?”

“No, it was them bloody bots. Up all night raising hell in the bay. Couldn’t get a lick of sleep with all the moaning and carrying on. Don’t they need to recharge or something?”

“I don’t know,” Clayn says, walking onto the bridge, “but from the sounds of it, they shag the way Andersons do everything: beautifully. Might be able to give you a lesson or two.”

A laugh blasts out of me. I’m not supposed to find those kinds of things funny–I’m the captain after all–but that was too smooth.

I shoot Quiin an apologetic look. “Sorry, man, but she got you.” 

“Yeah, yeah.”

I drop down the little rearview so I can see Clayn without having to turn away from the controls. The view behind is much the same as it is to either side: depressing gray panels filled with buttons, levers, gauges, and displays. Clayn’s leaned against the back of the only unoccupied black chair on the bridge. “Any luck with a solution?”

She shakes her head. “No. I told you, I’m not a droid expert. Even if I was, I have no way of accessing any of their programming. No drawings, no schematics, no diagrams, no code.”

“You better come up with something or we’re going to be doing the shoveling instead of the bots. We got a ship filled to the ports with actual sex machines. We need a fix.”

“Don’t you figure they’ll eventually get bored?” Quiin asks. “I mean, they learn just like people. Wouldn’t they get bored, too?”

“They’re built to do menial tasks over and over again forever,” Clayn says. “You see…” I tune out at this point every time I talk to her. She has a habit of going too deep with the technical details and it just leaves me feeling… well, dumb as a shit slinger piloting an interstellar manure mobile. 

It’s a side-effect of her schooling. She’s a chemist and physicist by education, but she’s stuck as the lead engineer on a crap cruiser after burning the face off the Togarian chancellor of her university. She says he was standing too close to her demonstration, the school says she forgot to swab the blah-blah from the whatchamaheedle–I wasn’t listening.

Either way, the school ruled that it was her fault, she got booted out, and the chancellor got a new face from the best surgeons in the cosmos. That’s not as nice as it sounds. Togarians base their seniority on their battle scars, and this guy was more scar than scale, apparently. New face meant no scars and no scars meant Mr. Baby Face had to find a new way to instill terror in his students. Alumni now refer to their dates of graduation using the face as a demarcation. 

OF/NF. Old Face/New Face.

My lead engineer fucked up bad enough to create an epoch.

That’s a source of pride for me, the captain of a ship named after a military acronym for victims of career suicide. JOEYIS, pronounced “Joyous”: Just One Error, You’re In Shit. It’s my personal joke for the galaxy at large. 

Cruising on a whiff wagon is legal limbo. We all took the job to avoid hard labor time for our various indiscretions. As the captain, I choose the crew from the pool of washouts the system hands me. The catch is that JOEYIS counts as a private enterprise, with all the risks and responsibilities thereof.

If the business fails, it’s straight to the labor camps of Chiron Prime. I’m too delicate a flower for that.

“So, what that means,” Clayn says–the universal signal for the captain to pay attention again– “is that they don’t get bored because boredom is programmed out.”

“They should’ve programmed out all the buggery,” Quiin groans. 

I focus on the controls as the ship guides itself along the approved vector. Anything I say at this point will only prove how little I was listening during Clayn’s intricate discussion of the flibbertygibbet. In the rearview, Arok, my security man, well, security zinzz, steps between Clayn and me. Zinzz don’t have sexes, but he’s so damn big that I think of him as a man.

“Problem,” he says, which is one more word than he’s said in a month.

 Zinzz only speak when calamity has struck. Clayn and I exchange horrified glances.

“Take over. No crashing.” I tell Quiin, waggling my finger, and jump from the seat. Clayn is already running toward the back like her ass is on fire.

She’s out of sight by the time I lug my ass off the bridge. She has a knack for knowing what’s wrong, like the ship talks to her. I’m just trying to keep up with Arok.

“What’s going on, Rok?”

He doesn’t respond. That’s why he’s head of security. Nobody messes with a giant blue guy with thorns protruding from his skin. And he’s shit at sales.

I have no idea how he came to be in the washout pool. He doesn’t answer when asked. Once in port I heard another zinzz say Arok “dropped a sword.” I don’t know if that’s literal or figurative, but, given how badly the rest of us messed up to get here, I’m guessing that zinzz take their swords seriously.

I near the mix tanks and Clayn is already there, shaking her head over the instrument panel.

“Shit.”

“What’s the matter?” I ask, pushing up beside her to look at the displays. They answer my question right away. “Shit.”

The mix temperature is too high. The maturation cycle operates within a wide tolerance, but if the temp gets too high, the bacteria start to die off. If the bacteria die off, the mix won’t reach ideal potency, and the Mendolians we’re delivering it to won’t be happy.

It’s the difference between recouping the money I spent on those fuck-droids and having to sell one of my crew members so I can feed the others.

Clayn is hopping between displays, checking the performance of this and the status of that. “Conditioners are working double time,” she says, “but it’s still hotter than Tares VII in there.”

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” Clayn says. “Maybe we should install some cameras. Someone should’ve recommended that months ago. Oh wait, I did. I believe your exact words were ‘It’s just shit, Clayn.’ ”

“Yeah, yeah.”

She’s right, of course. She usually is.

“I’ll go check it out,” I say, hustling toward the mixing room.

I open the door and blink through a wall of wet heat. The smells of melting shit and robot sex-juice claw their way into my nose, waging war to decide which gains olfactory dominance. Through the tears trying to wash the stink from my pupils, I see the energy source: a full dozen bots, a knot of pseudo-flesh, right in the center of the room.

“They’re overheating,” Clayn says from beside me, pointing a thermometer toward the cluster. “Screwing themselves into a meltdown. The Mark-II had a safety feature to enter standby if the bot got too hot, but it should’ve kicked in about eighty degrees ago. We’re gonna lose these droids.”

“Get them out of there,” I tell her. “I don’t care how you do it, but get them out of my mix.”

Clayn jumps into a pair of high boots by the door and slogs into the room. She’s braver than I am.

I tromp back to the bridge to check on Quiin and make sure he isn’t about to fly us into a mountain or something. He’s not a pilot; he’s a navigator. Without him, I might never get where I’m going, but I’ll get somewhere. Without me, he’ll plot a direct course for the nearest crash site.

“Still on track?” I ask, stepping back through the port.

“Yes, Captain. I graduated from flight school, same as you. I know how to maintain a heading.”

“Sure. Let’s just unload this mix and try to sell a few of these bots.”

#

“Oh come on! There’s a market for these, you just have to find it!” I say. The dark-haired merchant shakes her head and strokes her greasy beard. The port city of Asirin hustles all around us. Boxy cargo carriers and sleeker passenger shuttles zip above and below the walkway. The brown air carries a bitter aroma, like coffee brewed with stale urine.

“I won’t be able to make anything on them,” she says. “Anderson made great androids, but no one will want a faulty bot.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me! These are collectables!” I reply. “They’re a limited edition run of Mark-IIIs! The only Mark-IIIs in existence! So what if they’ve got a couple of bugs? Imagine how much someone would pay for the chance to own the droids that put Anderson out of business! Don’t you remember how much they auctioned those Nautilus 32B’s for? The ones with the engines installed backward? Nobody could fly them without getting irradiated into dust, but people paid out the ass for them.”

“It is too risky. If they don’t become a commodity, I will lose too much. The best I can give you is twenty-five a head.”

“I can salvage them for more than that,” I mutter.

“Then do so,” she says, whipping her merchant’s guild cape in my face as she walks away. Haughty bastard.

I have to go through the guild if I’m going to get any reasonable amount of credits for these things. If I try to go through darker channels, it could mean getting my freight license revoked and I’m not willing to risk that.

I open my mouth to call her back, when Quiin’s voice jabs into my ear drum.

“Runn, we got a problem here.”

“What now?”

“The mix is toast.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, already moving back toward JOEYIS.

“Clayn just got done with her tests. It’s dead, and the Crowls just floated up.”

I take a breath, but the air is too filthy for it to cleanse the way I’d hoped.

“Okay, explain that we’ve had a bot malfunction and we’ll revitalize and deliver in a week at a thirty percent discount.”

I break into a run across the elevated walkway. My breath comes faster than it should. I tell myself it’s because I’m breathing aerosol crickets and not that I’m right before taking a tumble down panic mountain. If this doesn’t go through, we’re all up the creek. I spent too much on the bots to buy another shipment of mix.

I haven’t been running long enough to justify this much sweat. It isn’t even hot sweat, it’s cold and clammy. It sticks to me like I’m seeping glue.

“They want sixty percent off,” Quiin says. They’re negotiating. Good sign.

“Counter with forty and settle at forty-five,” I say, not slowing.

“We won’t make many credits on that,” he says.

“I know, but we won’t lose our asses either, and the Crowls are influential. If we keep them happy, it could mean more business for us later.”

Thirty seconds of praying to the universal powers-that-be and Quiin comes back on my earpiece. “They took it.”

“Good. I’ll stop off and pick up some vita-packs on my way,” I say, trying not to sound too relieved. The captain can’t be shaken. It’s bad for morale.

#

“How many of the old mixerbots do we have?” I ask Quiin.

“With Clayn’s last spit-and-wax fix, we can have one running full time and another on a half-time rotation,” he says.

“Okay. The bog needs three mixers working at all times or the vita-packs won’t be effective. We can’t put two of the new droids in there together or they’ll get… distracted. We need to work out a schedule to maximize the use of the bots and supplement with manual labor.”

Groans fill the kitchen-slash-common-room-slash-dining-area.

“I know it sucks, but if you all wanna keep flying, it’s what we have to do. I’ll even take a turn in the muck. Nobody’s exempt.”

Jespo sits upright, the fading mirth turning his golden cheeks a brassy yellow.

“Even me, Captain?” he asks.

Quiin gasps and presses his hand to his breast. “Even the monk, Captain?” he mocks.

“Yes, even Jespo,” I say. “Either work here, or work in the camps.”

Spo slumps back into his seat like a jaded four-year-old who has to eat his veggies.

“But, that takes us to the next topic,” I say. Smooth segue. “We’re moving up Spo’s next rehab appointment. He’s going to pay Amos Anderson a visit and see what he can learn about these droids.”

“What makes you think I can do that?” Spo asks, sitting up again.

“Yeah,” Quiin says, eyeing me sideways. “What makes you think he can do that?”

“Two things. First, you’re a monk, so you can move freely about the monastery in a way none of us can.”

“And being a monk suddenly makes him a master of espionage,” Quiin mumbles.

 “Second, if you mess this up, we’re all out of a place to live and work. Desperation breeds inspiration.”

“Right. No pressure,” Spo replies.

“We just need everything you can get,” I say. “You don’t have to find the dark center of the Milky Way, you just have to learn why these bots are broken and how we can get them to keep their damn hands to themselves.”

“Yes, Captain,” Spo sighs and slouches back. His copper complexion tarnishes to green.

“Try to get him to talk about schematics or code stores or diagrams or chits or anything,” Clayn says. “I need to know how to access their inner workings, and then how to modify them to get the results we need.”

Spo just stares through her. She might as well be speaking Zinzzen.

“Why’s it gotta be so hard?” Quiin asks. “What if we just numb them? Shut off the nerves in their privates. If it doesn’t feel good, they’ll stop doing it.”

Clayn shakes her head. “I thought of that straight away. All that would do is make them frustrated. They’re going to continue to have the urges, but be unable to satisfy them. They don’t work exactly like people do. They focus on something and never let it go.”

Quiin looks puzzled for a second. He’s thinking. He opens his mouth.

“As a man-”

“Nothing good ever starts with those words,” Clayn interrupts. “Just stop there.”

“In this case,” I say, “it could be the perspective we need. Quiin doesn’t think often, but when he does, it’s usually with his dangly bits.”

“All I was gonna say,” Quiin continues, “is that maybe it just needs to be a temporary fix. We distract them with work and numb knobs long enough to finish a shift, then we let them loose on each other in the bay when they’re done.”

Clayn opens her mouth to respond, but surprise stays her words.

“You know, that could work,” she says after a short hesitation.

“Don’t sound so shocked,” Quiin says.

“If we can get the schematics and chits from Anderson, or one of his colleagues, I might be able to make that happen. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it could be good enough.”

“Great. Let’s get this mix revitalized and then trick a holy man into revealing the secrets of his sex-bots.”

That’s a sentence I never want to say again.

#

Spo stumbles back into the ship. Brother Perron, his therapist, helps him with the tricky bits, like walking.

“Thank you, Brother,” I say as I take possession of the brightly glowing, mostly naked Jespo. “I can manage him from here. We’ll see you again in a couple of weeks.” Brother Perron waves and the personnel door clunks shut.

I wrap my arm under Spo’s and hoist him over to his bunk. He starts humming and mumbling in some alien language. Apparently he’s making progress. He couldn’t sing a lick a few months ago. I lower him onto the bed but my grip falters. He drops awkwardly and… let’s just say the glow gets a little too bright.

“What’d you find out?” I ask, covering his personal bits back up.

“Mandersdon’s a late white,” he slurs. Lightweight, maybe?

“And?”

“His brother has the meskackits and chimps.” His eyes are lidded, like he’s trying to squint away the light from his own skin.

“His brother has them? Good work, Spo. Get some sleep. We’ll talk later.”

Spo gives up the fight against his eyelids and murmurs a few bars as I head toward Clayn’s workspace.

I press the button next to her port and she buzzes me in.

“Anderson’s brother has the schematics,” I tell her, stepping through the doorway. Her workshop is cluttered with displays, wires, connectors, and adapters of all kinds. A model of some complex molecule rings the room where the ceiling meets the wall. “I didn’t even know he had a brother.”

She rattles something off with her keyboard. “According to this, Amos Anderson has a younger brother… Oof. Had a younger brother. Some incurable degenerative condition left him in a vegetative state. Says he died about four years ago. He was sixteen.”

“Dammit. There goes that lead. I mean… It’s always a tragedy when a child dies.”

“Sure, that’s what you meant.”

“Why would he say that his brother has the schematics if he’s dead? Spo used the present tense.”

“His account isn’t all that reliable,” she says. “You’re three levels deep in a game of drunk monk telephone.”

“Just keep tracking with this,” I tell her. “Maybe there was some kind of estate sale or something and some collector bought them.”

“Will do.”

I make for the bridge.

“Let’s head for the next pickup,” I tell Quiin. He starts plugging in coordinates as I slide into my seat.

“What’d we learn from Spo?” he asks. “Besides that he’s not a spy.”

I catch him up as we leave the monastery’s orbit. It’s takes maybe five minutes. Quiin has that puzzled look again.

“What would a kid who can’t walk or talk or wipe his own arse need with schematics for some droids?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” I reply, “but it’s a good question.” Wish I’d have thought of it.

Clayn clears her throat behind me.

“Eloquent as ever, Quiin” she says. “I had about the same thought as Runn left my shop. Turns out Anderson did an interview right after his brother died. He said ‘Arron was the smartest person I’ve ever known. His body may have died, but his mind will live on.’ What if the reason these droids behave so much differently than their predecessors is because their neural pathonomy is based on a different model?”

Crickets.

Clayn sighs. “What if they swapped brains? The Mark I and II are modeled off of Amos himself. What if the Mark III is modeled off of Arron’s brain and it went wonky?”

“Are you saying these bots are horny as sixteen year-old boys because they are sixteen year old boys?”

Clayn nods. 

“But that doesn’t help us find the schematics or the chits,” I say.

“I wondered about that for a second, but I woke up Spo to get the exact wording of what Anderson said to him.”

“How did you manage that? He was bright as a star when I left him.”

“I have my ways of dealing with monks,” she says. “You aren’t the only one who can offend him with the music of your people.”

I chuckle. Parnesky music is horrendous, and Clayn’s voice is nearly as grating as my own.

“Anyway, I expected him to say that Arron ‘had’ the schematics, but it turns out Amos’ exact words were that his brother ‘knows’ the schematics. Not ‘has’ or ‘had’. Spo figured he had used the wrong word because he was two skins in.”

“I’m not tracking,” Quiin says. I’m glad he saved me the embarrassment.

“The schematics are in the bots,” she says. “Everything we need to fix this is right in front of us.”

“So, what the hell are you doing standing here? Let’s get to work!”

Ten minutes later, Clayn has one of the bots strapped onto a gurney with a wad of wires shoved into its skull. It’s pretty eerie, seeing the patch of scalp pulled away to reveal complex circuitry instead of a brain. Even now, with its processors open to the galaxy, the silly bastard is struggling against the straps trying to wank itself off.

I turn from the spectacle to watch the displays. I have no idea what any of them mean, but it’s better than a solo robo-peep-show. 

“This is a graphic representation of the data structures in the bot’s storage area,” Clayn says. Shelves fly by as she navigates through them. “Give me a few hours to understand the layout and sift through the information. I’ll come get you when I find what we need.”

#

“Runn,” Clayn says, stirring me from the waning moments of sleep. “You’re gonna want to see this.”

I shuffle out of my covers and shrug into a proper shirt. The captain has to look respectable.

“What sort of ‘this’ are we talking about?” I ask.

“The sort that may explain a lot about how Amos Anderson went from richest man in the cosmos to a naked shining monk.”

Now that’s worth getting out of bed for.

She leads me down to her shop, stopping on the way for a mug of hot snot. Once we’re in her shop, a poke and a couple of swipes change the display to show Amos Anderson’s face. He looks so young. Behind him stands a well-appointed office.

“This first video is timestamped a week before Arron’s death.”

Amos begins talking. There’s something a little manic in his eyes. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t have an iridescently calm version of him in my recent memory. It fits him, like it’s been building for some time.

“I scanned Arron’s brain. He doesn’t have long. I’ve devised a way to see him, and for others to know him, long after his body is gone.”

Clayn closes that display and opens a new one. 

“This one is from about three months later,” she says.

“Something has gone wrong with animatizing his consciousness,” Amos says again. He looks older, more desperate. Time and knowledge weigh on him. “Arron was always such a bright and smiling child. But, the simulations of his mind show something… dark. I’ve looked over the animatizing algorithms. There is nothing wrong with them. The process was performed properly, but the results speak for themselves. Perhaps I have to consider that Arron himself changed.”

He looks away as the video stops. I think that’s shame on his face.

“This next one isn’t his diary. It’s some footage of an early prototype,” Clayn says. “Prepare your backside. This is bad.”

The video comes up. It’s crystal clear but I really wish it wasn’t. The prototypes are eerily human, slightly less perfect than the androids we have in storage, but too close to make looking at them comfortable. There are two of them–one woman and one man. They’re in a grey-walled room with what used to be some kind of furry creature.

It’s torn to pieces, blood and bone and meaty bits litter the ground and smear the walls.

“I loaded it past the bad parts,” Clayn says. “It was a dog. They were supposed to groom it, but instead–” she motioned silently at the display. “They laughed while they did it.”

“Jesus,” is all I can squeak out.

Amos is back on the screen.

“Arron’s memory is forever spoiled,” he says. “Were these thoughts festering beneath the surface for his entire life? If he was capable of horrific acts, was it better that he was paralyzed? I hate myself for thinking such things. He was my brother. I should remember him better.”

That video disappears, replaced by another. Amos’ hair is disheveled. The first several buttons of his wrinkled shirt are open. The office behind him is a wreck. A couch that wasn’t there before is shoved into a corner and covered in bed linens and discarded clothing.

“Nearly eight months later,” Clayn says.

“I’ve analyzed the scans and I think I’ve fixed the problem. In the process, I’ve had to remove so much of Arron, I can’t even consider this to be based on him anymore. I’ve scheduled a pre-production run. They are due for delivery in a month.”

The man that appears on the screen next is hardly recognizable as Amos. His eyes are hollow, he hasn’t shaved in weeks, and I wouldn’t want to know what he smells like. The room isn’t visible behind him. Except for a single light illuminating Amos’ face, the scene is utter darkness.

“The modifications were unsuccessful. There’s so much about the human psyche that I don’t understand. No one understands. I can no longer do this to the memory of my brother. I have called a stop to all further production of Anderson androids.”

Tears stain his cheeks. He isn’t weeping, but the sadness covering his face is unmistakable.

“Before he died, I took Arron to hear the Findalian monks. His eyes had such a glimmer as he lay there listening to them. I thought I saw him smile. That’s one of the only happy memories I have of him anymore. This has been a mistake. I shouldn’t have looked so deeply into his mind. I know too much. More than any human should know about another.

“I cling to that memory so tightly I fear I will choke the life from it. In tribute to him, to keep it alive and untarnished, I am going to share the music he loved with the rest of the cosmos. I will join the monastery and spread the light that I saw in his eyes that day.”

“That’s the last one,” Clayn says. “The rest of the files are snapshots of the brain scans and the modifications Anderson made to try and fix them.”

“Wow.” It’s all I can manage.

“Yeah. It’s a lot to take in.”

“What about the other stuff?” I ask. “Did you find the schematics and whatnots?”

“Yes,” she says,  “they were all in the same set of folders. I think I’m going to go with Quiin’s basic idea. Now that I have the scans, it should be pretty obvious which parts of the animatized brains are causing the hyper-sexuality. If I can figure that out, I can schedule a complete shutdown of that portion of the brain during normal working times. They won’t operate exactly right, but they’ll be normal enough to turn mix.”

“But what about the whole ‘frustration’ thing?”

“I’ll wire up their scheduling matrix with the ship’s task management system. That way we can update each bot’s schedule for the current delivery cycle. When they’re working, we’ll shut off their ‘wanna-shag,’ as Quiin would call it. When they’re off the clock, it’ll come back online and they can go about their business as they see fit.”

“So we’ll still need to install sound-proofing.”

#

“My engineer managed to get them on a schedule so they could maintain the mix without adding their own chemical blend to it,” I say, wrapping up my tale. The room is full of impeccably dressed sophisticates, all jovially entertained by my yarn.

Word of our unique androids has spread farther than I would’ve liked, but we’ve managed to turn it into a positive. A shit shuttle filled with Anderson sex-bots is memorable, and if they remember you, they’ll call you when they need fertilizer delivered. It isn’t my ideal way to boost business, but I won’t argue with success.

I didn’t expect to be asked to tell it here, in a glamorous concert hall, but when someone who could buy my whole ship and crew three times over with the change jangling with their pocket lint asks me to tell a story, I by-God tell it.

We disperse as an overhead speaker asks us to take our seats. Clayn and six of our bots are waiting for me on the front row.

We all sit, with Clayn on one end and me on the other. The curtain at the front of the hall shimmers and disappears, revealing the Findalian Choir. They’re standing in three rows, each obscured below their shoulders by an opaque concealment field, but the unmistakable glow of naked monks fills the room.

Amos Anderson stands front and center. His eyes widen in recognition and grow larger as he sees the bots next to me, sitting calmly.

The chorus of robust voices fills the room. Anderson joins in after a few notes as the shock wears off. To my right, all the androids are staring into space, a glimmer in their eyes. They each interlace their fingers with the unit next to them, closing their eyes to take in depth of the song.

The shimmer from Amos’ face is amplified by a pair of wet streaks. He mouths ‘thank you’ to me as the other monks hold a final chord.

The last echoes fade from the room, carrying a part of my soul with them. The moment resonates within me.

A sigh to my right breaks the music’s spell.

The goddamn bots are at it again–fondling each other on the front row.

Categories
Basic Fucking Rights Guns and Stuff

Why They Aren’t “Just Guns” To Us

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Second Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America

It doesn’t take much time at all outside of my socio-political bubble for me to realize that the majority of Americans don’t understand why firearm ownership is so important to those of us who have them. Why the Second Amendment to the Constitution is one of my absolutely fundamental political topics. I’m basically a single-issue voter. Some people are Pro-Life. Some people are Pro-Choice.

I’m Pro-Gun.

To many people this seems like a radical stance. How can an educated and otherwise seemingly intelligent person have such an extreme view? I figure if you’re reading this, it means one of three things: 1) You already agree with me on guns and you want to reaffirm your opinions; 2) You’re waiting for me to say something radical so you can dismiss my arguments and reaffirm your opinions; 3) You’re open minded and actually interested in why a person would consider the Second Amendment to be of the utmost importance to modern Americans.

I’m going to speak to the third group. Everyone else, feel free to tag along with me, but I’m going to pretend like you don’t exist.

The most basic and fundamental reason I can give for being a “gun guy” is very simple: Freedom. Owning, carrying, and training with a firearm keeps me Free. Freedom comes in many varieties and flavors, and a gun (or many many guns and lots of ammunition)–and the right training–help safeguard every one of them: Freedom from fear of bodily harm from an ill-intentioned criminal; Freedom to secure my own food if the need arises; Freedom from oppression in an extreme case of historical redundancy.

To address the title of this Ramble: They aren’t “just guns” to me because they literally represent my ability to keep Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. If you’re anti-gun, you’re anti-my-Life.

If you need more reasons than that, I’ve got plenty of Rambling to do on this one.

You Ever Wonder Why It’s Amendment Number Two?

My first argument for the importance of the Second Amendment is fairly simple. There were ten amendments to the Constitution immediately gathered and ratified by the states of the newly-formed Union. These became known as the Bill of Rights. Now, being a group of rather wise, worldly, and organized folks, it would make sense that the founding fathers would endeavor to include the most prescient and pressing Rights first and get them front-loaded so they would be seen as priority.

Therefore, we can say that the Right to practice whatever religion you wanted to was extremely important to them. Also, the Right to speak your mind without fear of the government silencing you. The Right to assemble and request redress of grievances. These were paramount to them because they saw these as the best means by which they could guarantee the free flow of ideas that would help the People to improve their newly-established nation. They were also strong motivators for the war of independence they had just finished fighting.

So, upon figuring out how to word the First Amendment, guaranteeing the absolute most important Rights of the citizenry, what did they tackle next?

Arms.

The Inalienable Right of the People to keep and bear Arms was so crucial to maintaining the stability and freedom of the population–in fact, the security of the free State–that it was the second thing they voted on as a newly-formed government.

That seems like a big deal to me. Maybe like the second biggest deal.

But Muh Mulisha

One of the biggest talking points brought up by proponents of strict gun control laws is the mention of the Militia. It’s been said that a Militia must be an organized military force, and that in the modern world that means the US military. This is supported by the idea that any other “militia” is outlawed in each of the 50 states. They are considered private paramilitary organizations, and are banned.

This seems like a legitimate argument on the surface, but I believe in taking a deeper dive than that. Let’s put aside for a moment that the militia’s legal definition includes every able-bodied male between 17 and 45 who is a citizen or wishes to become a citizen of the United States.

I ask who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers.

George Mason, Address to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 4, 1788

Let’s go back to the start. In order to understand how to best interpret a governing document from another era in modern times, I posit that we have to first understand the intent of each mandate. Reading through the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, and other musings of the founding fathers, it seems somewhat obvious that the Bill of Rights was intended to leash the federal government: to limit its ability to muzzle the populace. I believe that the members of that first Congress had contingencies in mind when they crafted the specific limitations on the government that each Amendment represents. In other words: “What were they thinking when they wrote this? What were they thinking when they voted on this? What were trying to keep the government from doing?”

From what I’ve read of the events surrounding the founding of our country from the likes of Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams, etc. I believe that their reasons for arming the Militia were two-fold: 1) They needed to be able to raise an army at a moment’s notice against any country wanting the test the fledgling nation; 2) They were inherently distrustful of any organized federal government, and wanted the people to be armed against tyranny. This mindset can be inferred from the series of checks and balances they built into the framework of their new government, combined with the rigid protections they placed against the new government for the populace. It would be understandable given that they’d just been under a regime that had pressed them to the point of rebellion and used exactly the tactics they were barring against to try and keep then in line.

The only way they were able to fight against the crown was because they were natively armed. They wouldn’t have been able to mount an offense against their oppressors were it not for the number of privately-held arms among the citizenry. So in their minds, the best way to keep the people prepared against a tyrannical state or invading outside force, was to make sure the People could fight from every nook and cranny. If a threat, foreign or domestic, wanted to steamroll the citizens of the United States, they would have to bleed for every inch.

But Things Are Different Now!

No, they’re really not. The only real difference between 1776 and 2020 is that we’re softer and have the internet. It only seems different to you because we’ve been a powerhouse since we dropped a couple of atomic bombs on an island nation in the Pacific, and we’ve enjoyed something akin to domestic peace ever since. Sure we’ve been in constant “police actions” but those have been somewhere else–abstract ideas of war to those not fighting in them. Things easily put out of mind. The fight has always been somewhere else, not at our front door.

Soft times.

Outside of a few acts of terror, there have been no real attacks on our soil, no armies knocking on our gates, and no serious internal threats to national security. We haven’t known a real threat to our way of life. This gives many people a sense of security; they believe they are going to be safe no matter what. They’ve forgotten the world is full of predators.

Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.

G. Michael Hopf, Those Who Remain

Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that just because we’ve been on top that we will always be on top. We have enemies in the world, and they would love nothing more than to see us knocked off our pedestal and onto our ass. I was a Boy Scout. I didn’t make Eagle or anything, but I took many of the lessons from my time in the troop to heart. To wit: “Be Prepared.”

You Don’t Stand A Snowball’s Chance in Hell Against the US Military

That is a pretty accurate statement. I don’t think that I, or some coalition of a significant number of Americans, stand much of a chance of defeating the American military in a war. The government has done a pretty good job of making sure of that by keeping citizens from owning the same level of weaponry that they have, not to mention the proliferation of things like drones, recon aircraft, tanks, and hellfire missiles.

I’ll mention in passing that the North Vietnamese made a pretty good showing back in the 60’s and 70’s, and the Islamists of the last 20 years have given us way more headache than anyone anticipated (the Soviets before that, too). “Hearts and minds.” The only reason any revolt of the last few millennia has had even moderate success was because the people were armed.

An armed individual is a citizen, an unarmed one is a subject.

But the Police!

There are so many ways to approach this one. I’ll see what I can do to be brief.

With everything going on in the “defund the police” world, I can’t even believe that someone would seriously still pull this one out of their pocket. The level of doublethink required is almost laughable, but, that’s where we’re at today. If you can’t trust the cops, then you can’t use them as an argument about why I don’t need them around. Not being able to trust the police is all the more reason to be able to protect yourself.

Then, even if you believe you can trust them, there’s the simple fact that the police can’t be everywhere at all times. They are overworked, overburdened, and often just too damn slow to get there in time to save anyone from anything. There’s a saying among the 2A community that goes something like:

When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.

So, when you’re staring down the barrel of some bad guy’s illegally-acquired M4 or AK-47 or even their little .380 pea shooter, and you’re wondering if you’re going to survive the next ten seconds, you go ahead and let me know how safe you feel knowing that the police are just a few blocks away with their radar guns pulled on the guy doing 5 over on the frontage road to the highway, licking their chops at the thought of meeting that traffic quota.

This next point is the real doozy that most people just aren’t aware of, so I’m going to give it its own little standalone here:

The Police Have No Duty to Protect You!

Supreme Court of the United States, Warren v District of Columbia and DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services

You can read more about that from people that know more about law than I do, but basically, there have been a number of SCOTUS cases that have upheld the established precedent that the police don’t have to do that whole “protect” part of “protect and serve.” Just jump over the wikipedia page for the Warren case, and scroll down to the “See also” section.

I carry a gun everywhere I go because I can’t rely on anyone else to protect me. The highest court in the land has said that it’s my job to protect me, and I plan on taking that job damned serious.

You Don’t Need an AR-15

I’ll address this one last because it’s basically a throw away argument. As such, I’ll give it a throw away answer: It’s not called the Bill of Needs, it’s called the Bill of Rights.

I have the Right to keep and bear Arms. As such, nobody has the power to deny me that Right. So fuck “Need.” I don’t have to prove to you that I need anything. The Bill of Rights asserts that I have an Inalienable Right by birth to keep and bear Arms as a de facto member of the disorganized Militia charged with securing the free state. That said… You’re God damn right I need an AR-15. Have you seen the riots happening lately? Have you ever tried to defend yourself against a dozen or more people trying to surround and murder you or burn down your fucking home?

I need an AR-15 and more, because there are people out there who will use their own number (not to mention illegal weapons, because don’t forget there are CRIMINALS out there who don’t give a shit about the legalities of the firearms they’re carrying) to kill me and take whatever I have.

I assert that as a citizen, as opposed to a subject, of the United States of America, we are all charged with guaranteeing our own safety, security, and Freedom. That’s what the Second Amendment is really all about. In order to ensure that we can live up to that responsibility, the founding fathers insisted that our Rights to Arms be preserved and upheld against any infringement from authoritarian power. If you don’t believe that, then I charge that you are simply in denial–denial of the basic fact of nature that at the end of the day, in the dark of night, when you are alone and confronted with a Wolf, there is no one responsible for your own safekeeping but yourself.

I accept that there are Wolves. I am prepared for them.

I am Pro-Gun.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Musings Society

Rona

Most people will agree that COVID-19 and our response to it has been something of a cluster fuck. A goat rope. A monkey fucking a football. Most people will also agree that any response from a true leader (or organization dedicated to leading people) must be measured, reasoned, and based on facts.

Yeah… right.

Instead we have a bunch of thumb suckers running around like their assholes are on fire, screaming to the ceilings, pointing fingers and throwing shit at each other while they argue incessantly about whose fault it is that people are dead, while our economy spirals down the toilet, all in the name of garnering a few more votes through disinformation and oneupsmanship.

One day we’ll elect an actual leader instead of having to choose between a reality TV actor slash real estate mogul who speaking style makes your stomach roil or your great great great grandpa’s weird pervy neighbor in the retirement home who uses his unreasonable lust for his sassy black nurse as proof that he isn’t racist. But, that’s a path for a different Ramble.

It’s my position that we should have gone with the administration’s first plan; the plan where we recognized that there was a disease running around, and that people were going to get sick, but that life still has to go on. It was the plan that was going to be used before Trump et al. caved to the pressures of a populace stricken with uninformed panic and a handful of medical professionals who saw the chance for political gain and pop culture stardom.

People Are Dumb

In the words of Steve Perry, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.” We have, as a race (the human race, not the modern anti-racism racist definition of race), allowed hyperbole and fear to pull aside our reason, and governments the world over have given in to societal panic. COVID-19 presents in the vast majority of its patients as a cold, and a mild version at that. There is a percentage of people, varying by age group, that have a truly severe reaction to the disease. Something like 90% of hospitalizations from COVID are from people with aggravating conditions like hypertension (there’s a link between COVID and ACE receptors), obesity (lots of health impacts, typically including hypertension), chronic lung disease (you know… where COVID likes to attack ACE receptors), diabetes (which impacts your immune health), and heart disease (typically the result of an unhealthy lifestyle).

We see from the numbers (and we were seeing this back in March and April) that the virus strongly impacts the elderly, with something like a 5% mortality rate and a pretty staggering 20% hospitalization rate. There were places reporting numbers like 70% hospitalization rates for the elderly but those were very early on and we weren’t testing nearly as widely as we have been since then. We discovered that the number of mild and asymptomatic cases was much higher than we initially suspected, meaning that the total number of cases was higher, and therefore the proportion requiring interventional treatment was much lower. The real numbers seem to have settled somewhere around 15% average for those over 65. Keep in mind, that that’s hospitalization, not mortality and not even severity. That’s just the number who are admitted to hospital, even for observation.

We also see from the numbers that people under 20 are shrugging this virus off like a fly buzzing around a cow’s ass. The hospitalization and mortality rates for school-age children are virtually 0. That climbs steadily until around 50, where there is a jump, and then again at 65+.

So for a disease that strongly impacts a very specific demographic (65+), and has flu-like impact on the vast vast vast majority of people (99.5%), we decided to just roll with it and protect the vulnerable populations like we do every flu season, right? Oh wait… no, we decided it was best to SHUT EVERYTHING DOWN and let the economy atrophy until small businesses (you remember that whole American Dream thing, right?) all had to close and leave their owners destitute and dependent on stimulus checks.

It is my personal opinion that this was a mistake.

Unintended Consequences

Now, I’m no supergenius, but even I could look ahead from March and see that locking everyone up in their homes for long periods of time would have all kinds of negative impacts. For me, personally, it has been a net positive: it forced my employer to allow remote work (which was something we always said was a reasonable measure, but management and customers weren’t fans of the idea), let me spend way more time with my family, and helped me build better relationships with my kids and wife. I recognized early on that I was one of the lucky ones. Imagine being single with no kids; you’re alone all day, every day, and every time you leave the house you have to abstain from any kind of physical interactions. That kind of isolation is absolutely devastating to a social being, like humans. Even extremely introverted people crave interaction with people they know and love.

This doesn’t even mention the emotional strain caused by people having sick and dying relatives that they can’t visit because of draconian COVID-fearing visitation policies in hospitals and care centers. Can you imagine not being able to gather around your mother on her death bed and be there to comfort her as she passes from this world? No chance to tell her one last time how much you love her? No way to feel her hand in yours one last time?

Take this kind of isolation and trauma and combine it with the superficial and unfulfilling relationships that people develop through social media and add in the absolute societal insanity that 2020 has brought along with it, and you have an emotional wrecking ball on your hands. Not having the relief of interpersonal interaction means that people aren’t able to level out between stressors, so it should be no surprise to anyone that suicides have skyrocketed during the quarantine.

Aside from these direct consequences, there are studies being conducted right now that are focusing on the indirect deaths resulting from COVID. These would include deaths as a result of hospitals/urgent care not being willing to treat patients who show up with non-COVID symptoms because they are trying to save space for critically ill Rona victims. Alternatively, people are choosing not to seek health care until they are critically ill, because they are afraid of catching COVID if they venture from their homes. Both categories of people then worsen under their own care until they are finally admitted to the hospital but it’s too late.

So what we’re seeing is a dramatic increase in overall mortality in the United States that far exceeds the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19, and I believe that can be directly attributed to the implementation of a panic-driven strategy for containment, as opposed to a reasoned plan for cautious continuation of every-day life.

“Okay, wise guy, what’s your brilliant fucking plan then?”

My plan is to put kids back in school. There’s virtually no risk to them from Rona, but there are lots of risks (mental, emotional, and physical) to them staying isolated from one another and away from a consistent education.

Open businesses up and let people who can work do so. Those among us who want to stay in business and meet with our friends and relatives should be free to do so, at our own risk. After all, if people can gather for political protests, I can gather for a birthday celebration.

Keep the elderly protected under voluntary quarantine and don’t send COVID-positive people back into the most vulnerable populations in the country.. Spread the word that this shit will fucking wreck them if they get it, and then trust them to make their own decisions.

Most Fucking Importantly: STOP MAKING A HUGE FUCKING DEAL ABOUT NEW CASES

Nobody should care about the rising number of cases of COVID-19. It’s a God. Damn. Virus. A highly-contagious virus. People are going to get it. There’s not much we can do about that. What the media should be reporting on, and what the government should be basing their decisions on, is the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and interventional treatments.

Who gives a rat’s ass how many people test positive without symptoms? Who fucking cares how many people get the sniffles? Tell the people in charge how many people are seriously impacted so they can know when stricter measures are actually necessary. The only context in which total number of cases matters is when we need to calculate the percentage of cases that end up badly. Even then, there are so many factors at play with the human body, that total numbers like that are nearly meaningless.

We should have done 15 days to flatten the curve. That was okay. What should have happened was 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off, on, off, etc. responding to the total number of interventional cases in the local populace, until we reached herd immunity. Instead, we fucked our economy, bankrupted thousands of small business owners and their families, and led a non-trivial number of people to suicide and you know what? People still fucking got sick. People are still dying.

The difference is we’re killing our prosperity at the same time.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Musings Society

Free Speech and Social Media

I’ve seen a lot of talk about social media and free speech, so I figured I’d weigh in because my opinion is better and should be considered more valid than everyone else’s.

The main thrust of the argument I’m hearing is that the government should regulate Twitter, Facebook, and Google like utilities because they are such prevalent entities that stand between the populace and access to information and communication. I’m going to be frank, well actually I’ll be Martin, but I will be blunt: I think that stance is a crock. I don’t think any individual social media platform has the responsibility to ensure any kind of free speech on their platform. I don’t think Google has that responsibility either.

I don’t think any individual social media platform has the responsibility to ensure any kind of free speech on their platform.

“But First Amendment,” you might say. “But monopoly,” you might say. “Curating information,” you might say.

“First Amendment is protection against the government, not the individual,” I would reply. “Free enterprise,” I would reply. “Use a different platform,” I would reply.

The First Amendment argument, in my view, is moot. “Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech…” So, it protects you from Congress making laws and enacting policies, but there is no guarantee under the First Amendment that a business owner has to allow you to walk into their property and say whatever the hell you want to say. The First Amendment is a guarantee that the government can’t curtail your right to the free expression of ideas. Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc. are not (yet) the government. Therefore, the First Amendment does not apply.

For the monopoly argument: believe it or not, there are alternatives to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, just like there are alternatives to CNN, New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal. We don’t go out and insist that the government regulate newspapers or the 24-hour cable news cycle. What they do and what Google or any social media platform do are basically the same thing: they curate information and present it to you. The real difference is in customization and scale.

What I mean by that is that you can’t walk up to a news anchor and be like “What’s the story with Benghazi?” and expect an answer. Google will give you a whole bunch of stories about Benghazi and if you’re super lucky you’ll find an answer like “On September 11, 2012 two US government buildings in Benghazi, Libya were overrun by an insurgent force in a premeditated attack. Repeated requests from local security forces to the US State Department went unheeded, allowing the recklessly lax security to be overwhelmed, resulting in the deaths of four Americans: Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods. These men were let down by their government and left to die unnecessarily.”

Right… back on track here…There are alternatives to these platforms and if you don’t want them to have control over what you see, then–and I know this is a whacko crazy thought–STOP FUCKING USING THEM. Switch from Google search engine to Duck Duck Go (my search engine of choice), or Yahoo, or even Bing for Christ’s sake… I take it back. Don’t use Bing. Never use Bing. Use Vimeo instead of Youtube. Use any of a thousand cloud storage solutions instead of Drive. Use protonmail for email instead gmail.

Proton is doing amazing things with privacy and security, by the way. They have FREE end-to-end encrypted email and offer FREE VPN services that keep no logs.

If you want to do social media for news but don’t want Twitter or FB curating what you see, create an RSS feed from your favorite sources (and a few of the ones you hate too because a balance of ideas is critical to avoiding an echo chamber).

If you want to talk with your friends, then get them all on a different platform, like Parler. Or you can just start using a chat app. I have a bunch of friends on Keybase and Slack and Mattermost (and IRC, but we don’t talk about IRC) and we have different channels dedicated to memes of varying levels of crudeness and offensiveness. The more offensive channels are the best channels.

The point of all of this is to try and make you aware that things like Google and Facebook and Twitter and all these other things are services with viable alternatives. They aren’t forcing out any of the market, USERS are forcing out other markets. And what’s more, these aren’t services that are required for the function of the modern world. They are conveniences. Google is convenient, but the internet existed before it was the most popular search engine in the world. Twitter and Facebook are convenient ways to communicate with your friends and check up on some current events, but there are other ways to get your friend fix and check the news.

The point is that invoking something as dangerous as governmental intervention in private business, and setting more precedents about when it’s acceptable, is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It should be the last of last resorts. We shouldn’t be considering it as a necessity in a scenario where the market still has plenty of ability to make decisions on where they “spend their money,” or in this case, spend their clicks. Clicks to Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. all mean money from ad revenue.

Choose wisely which corporations you choose to support with your traffic. Do some research and see if there are alternatives that you would rather see succeed. If there are, then try to use them more and get the word out to your friends and family to push that platform.

Use Duck Duck Go to find me on Parler.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Be Better Musings Review Things I Read Lately

Being A Man

Before we take this Ramble, I have a confession. This Ramble is also a bit of a book review for a few books I read recently. I’ve linked to them throughout the Ramble, and if you buy those books through those links, I get a little kickback. The site I’m linking to is called Bookshop, and they help support local bookstores that are all in danger of shutting down because of Amazon. So, if you buy from those links, you’ll be helping me, and helping keep local bookstores open, which is pretty fucking cool. I promise I’m not linking you to bullshit books that suck, I’m only recommending things that have helped to change me in some way for the better and that I think we can all learn something from. With that said, Ramble on:

“Toxic” masculinity. You hear it thrown around all the time. Makes me think of some kind of ‘roided up powerlifter glowing green after being exposed to noxious chemicals. You know, kind of like…

The Toxic Avenger (1985, USA) - Wrong Side of the Art

But what does “toxic” masculinity mean? What does is portend for the future of our boys when the adjective used to describe their biology is constantly paired with a word that literally means “deadly”? Is there a way we can raise men who embody the positive traits masculine without this so-called poison?

Fuck yeah there is.

Now, I’m not claiming to be a shining pillar of manliness. I’ve never been the picture of a testosterone-fueled Hollywood dreamboat. I’m not jacked or yoked or cut or chiseled. I spent a large percentage (probably half) of my life training brain more than brawn. I skipped athletics when I was in high school, opting instead to get my phys ed credits from marching band. Thanks to asthma, I always hated to run, and since running was the core of everything athletic that I could see, I chose to carry around a bundle of drums to beat on instead. I never joined the military–a thing many associate with masculinity. Instead, I thought the best way I could support the warfighter was to put my brain to use solving some of the hard technical problems they face way out there at the tip of the spear. I’ve made a modest career helping support the guys out there dangling their asses over the line, but not being one myself.

Doesn’t sound like a picture of masculinity, does it?

Luckily for me, being an athlete and military veteran aren’t the only measures of masculinity. Those men certainly display a number of masculine traits (and veterans have my unwavering respect for the sacrifice they made for my family and me), but those aren’t the only ways to make a man. Not by a long shot. Which brings us to the point of this post: “What does it mean to be a man in the modern world and why the hell should anyone listen to some dude on the internet?”

What does it mean to be a man in the modern world and why the hell should anyone listen to some dude on the internet?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

Let’s start with the second part. Why should anyone listen to me? Well, I’m a modestly successful man who has read a bit about masculinity through the ages, listened to some really smart people talk about manhood, and generally feels pretty good about himself as a representative of the male of the species. Give me a few more paragraphs and you can decide whether I have anything useful to say. If you close this page thinking I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, then okay, but if not, then maybe we can help a generation of lost boys become found men.

In my not-so-humble opinion, any good learning endeavor begins with books. There are 3 in particular that I think any man (or teenage boy approaching manhood) should thumb through.

The first one is King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette. This was one of those that I was skeptical to pick up at first because I wasn’t much of a philosophy or psychology guy, but once I started, I found it hard to put down. It’s a dive into the Jungian archetypes of man that have carried pretty consistently throughout history and across geography. The crazy thing about it is how approachable and fascinating they manage to make something as chewy as Jung.

Pick it up on Bookshop: here

The general premise is that masculinity presents in 4 archetypes. I bet you can guess what they are. Those archetypes are pyramidal, meaning there are an aggressive version at one bottom corner, a passive version at another bottom corner, and one balanced version at the top peak of each archetypal pyramid. From there they discuss the presentation of each one of these variations in both childhood and adulthood, how to recognize when you are too far to one side or the other, and what kind of disservice you are doing to yourself and your community by not growing to your fullness.

In the end, my main takeaway was that one must strive for balance and temperance in order to be your best and most fulfilling self.

The second book was nothing like what I expected it to be. From the title, I expected Iron John by Robert Bly to be some kind of John Henry or Big John fiction about manly men doing manly things. Turns out I was way off. Robert Bly creates a surprisingly enthralling narrative where he walks through the symbolism and metaphor in the Grimm story of Iron John, a fairy tale I had never heard before.

Pick it up on Bookshop: here

I don’t want to get too deep into it because Bly does a much better job than I ever could, but basically the story follows a boy born to power who finds Iron John and is pulled from wealth and civilization into the wild natural world. The balance he must strike between wild and civilized before returning to the world of men in triumph and power, describes the struggle all men must endure to embody a true definition of a righteous and masculine man.

Both of these first two books hit on two critical things that previous generations had that modern men lack: elder mentors and manhood rituals. The authors all posit that lacking a moment to point to where they can say “I am a boy no longer,” and not having another man–an Elder–to point to where they can say “This is how a man lives,” leave a boy wandering through adulthood, lashing out at those around him in search of some evidence that he is truly a man.

Lacking a moment to point to where they can say “I am a boy no longer,” and not having another man–an Elder–to point to where they can say “This is how a man lives,” leave a boy wandering through adulthood, lashing out at those around him in search of some evidence that he is truly a man

After those two books dedicated to defining the transition from boy to man and outlining the qualities of True Masculinity in its Strength, I’m recommending something more focused on awareness of thought and forming better mental habits.

As a Man Thinketh by James Allen is a very quick read. Basically a treatise on how thought sculpts your reality, it’s not long but it’s profound. There’s a reason that Allen’s work has been considered a classic since it was published in the early Twentieth Century. In the end, the primary thing I left with was the uplifting feeling that I was not only responsible for, but ultimately capable of, building the reality I wanted for myself.

Pick it up from Bookshop: here

That, to me, is the heart and soul of masculinity: taking responsibility for your actions, sculpting the world around you to realize your goals, protecting those people and things that are your charge, providing for the same, and leading them as an example of personal responsibility.

In the vast majority of cases, none of those tasks will require violence, anger, or aggression. But that brings me the final piece of masculinity that, in my estimation is the basis of this idea of “toxic” masculinity, and that is Violence. Capital V.

I don’t think you can mention the male of (most) any species and not also mention Violence. Birds, cats, dogs, deer, humans. All of these animals will attack one another under certain circumstances, and all of these animals will attack other creatures at other times. It is the role of the masculine to do the dirty work when necessary to protect or provide for society. Those who speak out about “toxic” masculinity are seeing this violence and aggression used in ways that are destructive and hurtful to society, and conflating it with true masculinity.

From the readings, especially King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, it seems straightforward to me. These men have yet to understand that they are acting from a place of insecurity and weakness. To embody masculinity is not to pick on those physically weaker or try to insert yourself into the world of an attractive woman through cat calls or unwanted confrontational advances. In fact, real masculinity is the opposite of those things. A masculine man will stand up for those weaker, help them along, and understand that by helping those weaker than himself he is making the entire community stronger. A masculine man can approach a woman he finds attractive confidently and respectfully and strike up a conversation in a way that doesn’t make her uncomfortable.

I said earlier that I had spent a large percentage of my life training my brain and not my body. I also spent a lot of my life insecure, depressed, and tired. Then I started going to the gym. I started lifting weights. I began to take pride in my body and recognize it for what it was: my only real physical property. I lost a ton of weight. I’m still kind of a squishy motherfucker, but I eat right, I train BJJ, and I hit the range a few times a month. Simply put, I increased my ability to do Violence and that made me a calmer and more centered man.

It is a hallmark of masculinity to train your body to the limits of its capability. That doesn’t mean that you have to be a chiseled Adonis. A man with ALS who can only move one arm who still works that arm to the best of his ability in a struggle to keep his machine functioning as well as possible; that man is masculine as fuck. That dude has as much of my respect as the powerlifter cleaning more than his bodyweight.

It’s a strange balance to have to strike, this melding of Testosterone and refinement, but I think it’s one that most men know in their hearts. I think those who display “toxic” masculinity know they are misbehaving, but don’t understand where they are compensating or how to grow into better men. Maybe someone will sit them down and be their Iron John or their modern-day shaman and put them through that ritual we all need to make the transition to manhood.

Thanks for taking this Ramble with me. Now, get out there and be some Lost Boy’s shaman.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Be Better Musings

No Regrets

I have this theory about life. It’s not terribly groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it is something I think about whenever I’m worried or afraid to do something I think will improve my life. It goes like:

The things you fear are the things you should be doing.

Now, this isn’t fear like “if I do that, I’m going to die,” although, some of those fears should also be faced. These fears come from without. The fear that someone else will see you doing a thing and judge it a waste of time. The fear that someone will take in the product of your labor and deem it unworthy. The fear that you will look silly.

The fear that you will fail.

That last one–that’s the big one, the reason most people don’t do things. That’s the reason why dreams lay by the side of the road, bloated in the ditch, as people drive past in their fuel-efficient vehicles acting like they don’t see them because someone else’s dead dreams might remind them of their own hope corpses. That’s why people die with regrets.

I don’t want that. I have no idea how long I’m going to be here. I can’t tell you whether I will die next week from some rare blood disease or hyper-aggressive cancer or stray bullet or Antifa brick to the head. I’m 37 years old and people younger than me die every single day.

What makes me special enough to be exempt from that? Nothing. Not one single minuscule fucking thing.

So I decided a few years back that I wasn’t going to let any of that petty bullshit hold me back. I was going to do the things that made me and the people I care about happy. I was going to chase contentment. I decided I would keep working my normal job, because it pays the bills and doesn’t stress me out too much, but in my spare time, I was going to write a book, or two, or three.

In the process of all of this writing, I’ve discovered a lot about myself. For three years, I worked on writing this story. I wrote 300,000 words without a single thought to how good or bad it was. I just puked words out onto a page. It was glorious. Then I joined up with the community and started showing other writers my work.

Judgment came down from on high.

For the most part, people were positive, which was awesome. Some people were negative, which was less than awesome, but it helped to make the work better. Then this strange thing happened: I started having difficulty writing.

I would sit down at my keyboard and stare at it. My mind would go totally blank. I knew what I needed to write, but it wouldn’t come out. I would start typing, because that’s what you do when you get blocked, you just write. Write anything. It doesn’t matter. Just get the words flowing again.

Still, it was all crap. I would write and write and write and end up deleting it all the next day because it just sucked. Eventually, I would break through the barrier and something worth a damn would spew giddily from my story hole and my fingertips would hesitantly cram it onto a computer screen. Then a few weeks later, the cycle would repeat.

I noticed something after a while: Rarely did the block come on its own. There was something that incited it. Something that made my mind say “You’re not a writer today. Today you’re a failure.” And somewhere in the corner there was this weak little nerdy kid, with his hair parted on the side wearing a bolo tie sitting at his desk, who just couldn’t tell the voice that it was wrong (I have a picture of me looking exactly like that from like 4th grade, by the way. If you don’t believe me, ask my mother, I’m sure she’d happily show it to you and gush about how adorable I was). That kid would just agree and curl up in a ball and decide it wasn’t worth the effort if he was just going to fail anyway.

Here’s my thoughts on the matter: that kid’s wrong. Even if the voice is totally right and I’m a complete failure and not one single person ever enjoys the words I write down, that kid is still wrong. The value and beauty in life is in the living.

The measure of how well you’ve lived your life is how satisfied you are with it.

I’ll leave you with an exercise I do from time to time. I do this to make sure I’m living this life the way I want to, not the way someone else thinks I should. I do it when I feel like I’ve lost perspective and I need to remember the shit that matters.

Okay, relax. Here it is:

Contemplate for a moment the idea that one day you will die. Don’t think of it as an abstract idea. Really consider what those last moments will be like. Maybe you will die in your sleep, after a long struggle with an illness. You’ll lie in bed and your chest will feel heavy. Breathing is a chore and when you do manage a gasping wheeze, it isn’t enough to satisfy your need for oxygen. You close your eyes, and listen as the world hurdles through space. You can feel that the end is near and your essence will return to be among the forces of the universe.

What will you think in those last few breaths before you close your eyes and the darkness takes you? How satisfied will you be with the decisions you’ve made and the way you’ve spent the all-too-few and precious minutes you were given? Did you look at the things that were just too scary, the things that, while in the moment, seemed too big and daunting to reach for and turned away from them? Or did you, instead, listen to your heart–to your soul–and grab life by the balls and take the things you wanted as it screamed and fell to its knees begging for mercy? What things will you wish you had the chance to go back and do? What things will you regret as you lay there, contemplating the end?

Go do those fucking things.

Live your life as though you’re watching it from your deathbed. Because one day you will be.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo