Thursday, August 8, 2013

My Lucky Life

I'm five weeks into the new job, and I really love it. A great group of co-workers. Everyone seems to be rowing in the same direction.

An anecdote:

About two weeks ago I made a recommendation that was valid, but rejected. It wasn't anything huge; a superior made a call and that was that.

A few days ago he came by and sat next to me for a minute. He said he "owed me an apology" and proceeded to say that in retrospect he perhaps should have used my recommendation, and that he felt badly about how quickly he dismissed it. He then told me that he hoped I would continue to bring ideas to him.

I was floored.

First off, it was initially his call and I respected it. I didn't take it personally that he didn't OK my idea. I felt it would be a good thing, but in the heat of the moment we went another way. It's his job to make those choices -- and my job to offer suggestions that may further the mission.

But the list of work environments where someone will come back later and do what he did is very, very, very short. Especially in my experience.

Now that I think of it, a few nights earlier I had another superior send me a chat note more or less about the same type of thing. She also offered a mea culpa.

This isn't just professional -- it's courteous, considerate and the mark of good people. It's kind of like when you send out a job application and await a response. I understand that places get deluged with applicants, but the professional and human thing to do is to at least acknowledge receipt. While a personal response/rejection would be ideal, it's 2013, and it's pretty easy to send an automated form/response that tells people their submission has been received, and if they pass muster, further communication will be issued. Additionally, once a decision has been made, those who weren't selected should receive notification. People are counting on getting those jobs; leaving them hanging is cruel and unprofessional.

Having looked for a good job for many months, I am perhaps still in a honeymoon phase, and maybe that's making this good situation seem even rosier.

But I don't think that's it. I genuinely like these people and this company. It feels like a great fit. And every day I get to go to work, I am excited and enthused about it. It's stimulating, fun and ... well, after those first two, do you need anything else?

All this to say that, thanks for your patience, dear visitors, if you've been checking in for fresh updates. I've been doing other things and haven't had quite as much time to write. My days off are now Wednesdays and Thursdays, and I spend them doing "normal" things that the gainfully employed do: running errands, attending to housekeeping duties, and so on.

I've been mindful that I haven't written much, and I don't want to let that lapse. Writing has been a tremendously important and useful outlet for my energies in this last two years of substantial transition. It's been perhaps my most reliably positive productive activity.

And those of you who have stopped by have no idea how much your mostly silent support has strengthened and encouraged me. Just to know that my thoughts are interesting enough for you to spend the occasional few minutes often fed my soul and spirit immeasurably.

Thank you.

I've got a lot of things that I've got to do to keep building and rebuilding my life. Expressing myself here is one that needs to be maintained. Count on it.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Here we go...

I start my new job tonight.

It's a great opportunity. In a couple of ways.

First there's the job itself. It's with a reliable company that has been in business almost 200 years. My two visits onsite have revealed a commitment of resources and a professional, talented team. I'm thrilled to start work with my new colleagues.

But there is a bigger opportunity.

When I started my dream job in LA, there was a flicker of self-doubt as I began. I was in a relatively new industry, among top-flight practitioners, and I was clearly the greenhorn of the bunch. Yet, I had tremendous responsibility. Was I up to it? I wondered.

But then I had to give myself a pep talk. It was a little Stuart Smalley-esque, but relevant anyway. I knew I had the ability, although still much to learn. I had to give it time and trust my instincts.

I think it worked. My last point to myself was: "You're in Hollywood. Play the part."

A new job is an opportunity for a truly fresh start. You haven't made any mistakes. The shine is totally on your star.

What will you do with that?

Don't squander it. Don't give anything away. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. I want to wow these people. I want to have them come away from our time together and have them say "Wow, we struck gold with that one. What a great addition to the group."

How do I accomplish this? These things are on my list:

  • Have a great attitude. Be positive, encouraging, and involved. Don't bring your personal problems into the mix.
  • Be a team player. Help out whenever, however you can. Take on more.
  • Be reliable. This means things like being punctual count.
  • Listen and learn. Even an old dog can learn new tricks -- if you're open to them.
  • Push yourself. I've got enough experience that I know a lot and don't go into this job as a rookie. But coasting is a mistake. Develop your talents. Find ways to improve. Set lofty goals.
I'm ready. Let's go.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Time is on my side

Yes it is.

One of the big worries that has cropped up in my mind the past two years while looking for work is how much time has passed.

Not just the time lost in the search, but the time in my life.

I "think young" (Rodney D. Young?) but I'm also a realist: I'm at an age where age discrimination happens. Employers think they can get someone cheaper, more compliant, more tech-savvy, whatever.

I worried about this, although I honestly don't feel as if I was ruled out of anything because of my age. I made it onto the short list of two great jobs in LA.

When I didn't get the editorship of the alt-weekly I interviewed for, and the job was given to a 20-something woman who actually listed babysitting on her Linked In profile and transitioned into the job from her previous gig selling dresses, I had some concerns. Was it age that worked against me there? It sure wasn't experience.

I tend to think that my failures there, however, were not mine. Science has determined fairly conclusively that island populations tend to regress and die out because of the incestuous, limited gene pool. My previous location was somewhat of an island, and I think that isolated situation worked against me. I always felt I wasn't "of" that place as much. I not only wasn't in the "Good 'ol boy" network, I wanted no part of it.

The concept of a meritocracy is always what I want. Can you do the job? Will you devote yourself to the WORK first? Will all of your efforts be in the service of the profession?

That's how I operate in a job. I just can't be half-assed about it. And, I have no tolerance for workplace politics and bullshit that have NOTHING to do with why you're there.

Who has the energy for that? If you're pouring yourself into the work, maximizing your abilities to improve whatever business you are in, there shouldn't be any time left over for frivolous, non-business-related game-playing.

But where I was, this was a significant part of the equation. It wasn't what you knew, it was more who you knew. You had to "manage up." You had to suck up. That's not my strength.

I manage "down." The people who actually do the work are more important than those who oversee the work. Think about it: generals don't fight the wars, soldiers do.

So my policy has always been, focus on the soldiers.

But that place is long behind me now. And very soon, I will be working at a place that has looked at my body of work and said, "this person can help us be better."

And I will help them be better.

I'm relieved, excited, very happy... and validated. I was evaluated on objective merits. That's all I've ever wanted.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Some Good, Some Bad

I landed a longer-term part-time assignment last month. At the time it happened I was told (twice) that the job paid at a rate of $17 per hour.

Not Walton money, but money that would come in handy, and money beyond the scale of the other jobs I'd been working for the district. As a classroom aide, I made $66 per day. As a substitute teacher, the rate was $80 per day; $85 after 20 days of service.

The job was to provide one-on-one monitoring and work with a troubled six-year-old boy with fairly pronounced anger issues. On May 16, the kid had a meltdown in the classroom, throwing items, screaming, and uttering a variety of colorful threats and expletives, the highlight of which was telling a girl he'd put something in her vagina.

I don't think I even knew that word until I was a teenager.

Anyway, this type of work isn't my favorite thing. It's unwinnable. The most optimistic outcome is to manage the situation, and hopefully provide enough guidance and oversight to let the class proceed somewhat normally.

After four of the five weeks, I'm fairly pleased with the results. He's reduced his outbursts significantly; the last few days of the week went quite well.

Just not for me. The district has decided to fuck me over, now saying that the person who told me (twice) that the rate for this gig was $17 per hour was mistaken, and that I'd get the sub teacher rate.

Now, odds are very likely that had they said at the time of the job that the rate was regular teacher sub pay, I'd have taken it.

But that wasn't what they told me. Contractually, I think this is no contest: they offered, I accepted, then they said they fucked up but too bad so sad. But I have no hammer. If I fight them on this, I could probably win. But it'd be the last time they let me work there.

Welcome to the Modern American Workplace, where you're going to eat it.


During class Friday, before I found out what was happening to my pay situation, I got a call. I quickly shoved it to voicemail, but the local number intrigued me. A little later I had the chance to listen to the message, and return the call.

Guess who's got a job interview Friday?

Friday, May 17, 2013

It's An Anniversary

Two years ago I got laid off.

It was an all-around shitty deal. As I've come to believe, layoffs are a failure of the top management. Only in sports are those at the top given the axe. If the strategy fails and the players screw up, the players don't get fired. The coach gets fired.

Too bad it doesn't work like that in the real world. The big boss can completely earn more than he's worth, then set a strategy ensuring failure, and then when things inevitably go south, what happens? Layoffs.

How does this make sense? Do the workers in staff positions make the big decisions that run the thing aground? Of course not.

Anyway. The bureaucrat responsible for my layoff was a cold fish who to this day has never worked in the private sector. After sucking at the government teat his whole life, he landed this cush job making six figures via a contact in his good-ol-boy network. As he no doubt learned in his government gig, he instilled a climate of silo management and fear, developing a total top-down, suck-up-to-move-up atmosphere.

Although the business was on the surface very people-oriented, that wasn't this guy's personality. Everyone else there (with one notable exception) was good with people. This guy was just a phony. I still cannot fathom how an NPO with an overall budget of $1.5 million a year can justify paying its CEO more than $100,000 a year. But I guess that's me.

The title of this post is a poke. Bearing this title, Mr. Warmth used to send a company-wide e-mail every year on an employee's anniversary. I always saved them to use for employee news. What I found out after the first year was that he essentially re-sent the same e-mail every year. I thought it was lame and insulting. First, that someone was that lazy who couldn't be bothered to create something authentic and not canned every year. We didn't even have 30 employees... it wasn't like he had to look hard to find out about his people. But that would have taken an effort.

The limp attempt at annual recognition was apparently not worth the bother. For me, I found it demeaning. I wasn't so stupid that I didn't know he'd made no effort to be heartfelt, sincere and original.

This is not what this post was supposed to be about.


The last two years have been hard. We had gotten out of debt and built savings of $10,000. Not Rockefeller, but more than I'd ever had on hand in my life.

Then suddenly I was without an income. I got some UI for a while, then managed to land a part-time job. Then we moved, and I started all over. The savings is almost completely gone. Further, we now have some debt. I don't want to get into the gory details, but let's just say without a major change, we're beholden to some others for the near-term future. That +10k is now the opposite.

All because a short-sighted exec with no real-world business experience was running the show. Military men aren't great at taking suggestions from people smarter than they are, unless they're higher in rank.

Yes, Colonel Clink, I am and will always be smarter than you. I don't know how you sleep at night. You put my family in a real hard way. You put others in an even tougher position. Did you ever think about cutting your own salary to make sure others weren't hurt? No, you didn't. I know because your pay is public record. You're one of those clueless hypochristians.

But this is not what this post was supposed to be about.


Since December, I have been able to work on a freelance basis for our town's public school system. Sometimes it's as a classroom aide, other times it's as a teacher. It's been a marvelous experience, potentially life-altering as I feel a real calling for this work.

I've always been someone who felt like money was great, but not as important if it meant sacrificing some of the fabric of my soul.

Journalism at one time felt that way. There was a nobility to providing a daily historic record of our lives.

Then the business got sold to slackers and hucksters who put a price on truth and booked passage on a slow boat to Idontgiveafuckistan. The people like me who were passionate about the work wound up getting either squeezed out because we'd accrued a living wage and benefits, or because we weren't glossy-eyed kids yet to see the sellout and less ready to question the drift.

Those of us who were journalism lifers had always believed it was holy to confront authority and bullshit. We were all a little stunned to realize how that rot and corruption and mission-shirk had crept into the doored, corner offices. It had always been us against them -- them being the charlatans and chiselers outside the fourth estate. When we found out that the charlatans and chiselers were now our bosses, we became hunted almost to extinction.

Alas, this is also not what this post was supposed to be about.


What this post is about is that after working sporadically with these schools, I've not only enjoyed the work but approached each task with the utmost professionalism I can bring to the job. So if I come in expecting to do one thing, and find that I needed to be reassigned to something else, I've smiled and taken on each challenge. This has created some interesting days.

Yet at the end of each one, I've emerged tired, but sublimely happy to be in that environment. I've faced things I never have before, but tried to observe others, use good judgment and pursue the goal of helping young children learn in any way I can contribute.

I always worry about the things I don't do as well with, but I think that's normal for anyone with a conscience. At least, it should be.

This morning I was slated to sub as an aide in a kindergarten classroom. I'd worked with them before, they're great kids.

I was in the room, and went down to the gym to help corral the pre-first bell students. They assemble in the gym awaiting the start of the day.

This morning, the last 10 minutes prior to the bell was a "dance party." Let me tell you, if you don't think seeing more than 100 students dancing, a lot of them in lines, is a great start to the day, you've got things to learn. Adorable.

Kids this age are just without guile.

When I got back to the classroom, I was asked to go down to the office. Turns out I needed to work with a fourth grader who has someone assigned to him to help keep him on point.

I've been put in this role a few times and it isn't my favorite thing. But I admire the district's devotion to the kids who need a little something more, as well as its devotion to making sure the other students have a good shot at a less-distracting work environment.

The day went well. The student was a good kid with some focus issues. I don't know if Hank done it this a way, but I always try and find a way to make a connection with these kids. It's that reporter training coming in handy: if you can get someone to relate to you on a personal level, and break down that barrier, then you can get to some truth.

Kids have underdeveloped minds. That's what school is about, teaching them to develop their intellect. If some kid has some issues that stand in the way of that, when they're my charge I want to help them get over or around those hurdles so that they can get to the learning part of the thing.

I was very cautious and cool around my student this morning. I was told by his teacher -- a phenomenal educator -- that the student had a good rapport with the regular I was standing in for, and that he was sometimes cool to new people. So I felt it was very important to be non-threatening and calm.

In time I found moments to help. The breakthrough came in art class.

For this class, the teacher had an assignment and allowed the students to move to a new location if they wanted to.

He sat at a different table with three other boys. In moments, two of them got up and left the table. My student sensed rejection. He laid his head on his crossed arms on the desk. I think he started to cry. I sat down and placed my hand on his back and asked what had happened.

"They didn't want to sit with me. They left me."

"That's not your fault. That's their decision. I won't leave you. I will stay with you, I want to see your work."

It seemed to turn then. Two other boys at the table completed this odd set. I was pleased when the art teacher came by later, smiled, and said "This is the right mix."


A bit later I was called back to the office.

The Conductor told me of an opportunity to do 1-on-1 work with a student through the end of the school year, which runs through June 21. Five weeks.

Of course I will do it. And at almost double the rate of pay, that money will be a real shot in the arm. We need it.

But I would have done it at the same rate, because these people have shown faith in me. They make me feel valued.

Coming two years after someone threw me away like I was trash, it gives me hope.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Always the Bridesmaid...

Got impatient waiting to hear back from the people who told me last week I'd hear back. So I slyly crafted an e-mail saying how busy I had been this week, and if I'd missed a reach-out, wassup?

It got a response. At least now I know.

I'm not first on their list. They've got they eyes on someone else and that someone else is getting the up-close-and-personal followup. My contact said she liked what she heard from me, but that they were looking first at the other or others. If none of them panned out, then I'm still on the list.

Alas. It's not the new I wanted, but at least it is information and a status update, and that's better than not knowing.

So now we all know.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


... Yeah, still waiting on that callback...

I wrote quite some time ago about what I call "Rejection Etiquette" -- the lack of civility and professionalism from employers who don't acknowledge a job applicant. Even if there are 10,000 applicants for a job, it's incredibly easy for a reply a-mail that says "We got your stuff, if we like it you'll hear from us." That's the least they could do, because it tells the prospect that their material was received, and absolves them of the obligation of any further contact if they're not interested.

It's quite rare, actually, that even that happens.

So last week I had a strong phone interview that ended with the employer saying "We'll get back with you about coming in for a face-to-face interview next week."

Here's how I heard that: "We WILL contact you and we WILL have you come down to learn more about you. You ARE a candidate for this job."

That was Wednesday. It's the following Wednesday. I would like to have heard from them by now.

So I wait. I guess this is one of those that I have to be understanding about their possible scheduling issues and assume that this is just slow-moving. But ... hurry up!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Ride

It's like a roller coaster or a see-saw. Hope-despair. Optimism-pessimism. Up-down. High-low.

Yeah, I know. You get it.

Long ago I decided that having those great highs were the cost of some abysmal lows. I see those people who are even-keel all the time, and I guess that's a choice, but it's just not the choice for me. It seems like a sort of walking rigor mortis.

Even when that flat line is way above me, I'll navigate my way out of the valley and head back to the pinnacle. But it's tempting to want to settle for something ordinary and still.

I'm trying to climb out of one of those holes right now. There are too many life stressors working on me right now and they're ahead. But the game isn't over. I've always been a fighter.

However, there is a time when it's wise to just retrench. And that's probably my best strategy right now. Just lay low, strategize, and find the right moment to battle back.

But at the moment, I'm not a happy camper. Hope your day is going better.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A New Hope

One thing being a sports fan teaches you is how to deal with disappointment.

Only one team per sport gets to be champion each season. Everybody else is a loser.


In that reality, being second-place -- or "first loser" -- is pretty tough for a fan to take. You make it all the way to the final, only one win away from ultimate glory -- only to watch someone else be crowned champion.

This is akin to what I've experienced in my job search the past two years. Granted, I've actually had some freelance activity, won a part-time job that I could have kept indefinitely prior to the move, and after the move landed the substitute teaching work.

So technically, I've had some employment. But nothing that was steady, nothing that stabilized not just our family finances but the gnawing worry that goes along with being unable to seal the deal.

What's really hurt has been the near-misses. The job editing the alt-weekly that should have been mine and instead went to an underqualified flake who bailed after nine months. The California jobs that I came so close to getting. Those three stand out, but there were others.

It's not like pro golf or tennis or other sports where you can win money without ever winning an event. Finishing second in a job hunt pays the same as finishing 20th -- zed.

Against this backdrop, I'm not letting the successful first two steps make me too giddy. But oh how I want to win this time.

A business here that matches my ideology needs someone with my skillset. I'm 90th percentile, at least. There is a Web component that I'm confident that I can master, but, it will be new, so I honestly have a potential issue there. But otherwise, I'm perfectly suited for this job.

After seeing my resume, they agreed, and mailed me Monday about setting up a preliminary remote interview.

That happened today. And at the conclusion, I was told I will be invited for a face-to-face downtown.

Everyone's process is different, and I've heard of long dances consisting of up to three direct interviews. I've been a part of something like that myself. But this situation seems to me to be one in which if I ace the next test, I'd be within perhaps only one more hurdle of getting the job.

Like the sports fan hoping for the best but guarding against the worst, I am doing everything I can not to be too hopeful, not to agonize over every possibility. Don't count your carp before they hatch.

And of course now I have to wait for an unspecified number of days before I not only know when the interview is, but then wait for it to actually take place.

To stay level, I will keep applying for good jobs, keep my head down and my spirits up, and hope for the best.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

April 23, 2009

I cried.

It completely blindsided me. I was part of management, and knew that layoffs were coming. I just didn't know one of them would be mine.

So when I was called in to a meeting with my supervisor, her supervisor and the HR person... I figured it out pretty quickly.

The whole thing took maybe 10 minutes. I was told what was happening, told what my severance situation would be, and a few minutes into it, I was overcome with emotion and began to cry.

Unprofessional. I wish I had handled it better. About 25 months later, I'd get laid off again. I didn't cry then. It still hurt, but I did better.

Losing a job sucks. It makes you question yourself in soul-shaking ways, even when you have no reason to. On April 23, 2009, among more than a dozen others, the most qualified person in his position was also let go. Personally, I feel like I was the far-and-away most productive person at my level. In fact, I was basically doing three jobs in one. And I guess that's why getting the axe shocked me so much.

I have a number of conspiracy theories about who got cut and why. It won't do me much good to review that. What's encouraging is that among my friends who suddenly found themselves without work that day:

* One has taken his extraordinary skills on a cross-country trek and gotten far, far away from those people. I still think he could play in a bigger arena and truly shine -- he's that good. But as long as he is happy, I am happy for him.
* One who had a very sick child has managed to start a career path with a reputable company and is advancing. In a place with limited opportunity, I'm very proud of his accomplishments. He's finally getting the respect he deserves.
* One who was actually torn about fulfilling her professional obligations and pursuing her dreams had the decision made for her, and it was the best thing that could have happened. She took a life-affirming trip, got an advanced degree and is just now starting to make a major mark. It's exciting.
* One exceptional young talent used the opportunity to develop his skills online, starting a mini-movement in his community and leveraged that into a reliable gig with a promising future.

Unfortunately my career has stalled to some extent. I landed a job about a month after the layoff, but it only lasted two years before the economy claimed it (and that of a few others). Snakebit.

I got a part-time job last year but had to leave it when we moved. Here, I've been able to substitute teach a little, and that not only brings in some income but rewards my heart as well.

Yesterday, I got a callback for a preliminary interview. It has sparked my hopes but a long period of underemployment makes me temper my enthusiasm. I don't want to hope too much.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

No News is Good News

I've read two stories in the past four days that I tried to avoid but couldn't.

Both of them talked about the grim prospects that the "long-term unemployed" face in getting back on the horse. The first one I read added in the variable of workers in their 40s and 50s.

It wasn't a pretty picture. The first one I just kind of rolled with. The second one was like a punch in the face.

I know it's bad out there. Since getting laid off (twice), I've scrambled. I took a job working overnights in 12-hour shifts that basically had a chief requirement of staying awake. I tried to be as professional as I could given the situation that didn't exactly call for initiative. I mean, this was a contract job that nine folks were hired for, and two of them couldn't even hack it. One figured he could go to his car in the parking lot and sleep for a couple of hours at a time. Another rubbed someone the wrong way and the resulting bunched panties jeopardized the whole contract.

Since relocating I've landed another freelance job with occasional work. But the "real" job has yet to come.

Yeah, I am worried. So worried that as I sit here, I wonder if even taking a few minutes to jot these thoughts down is counterproductive.

I can't *make* someone give me a job. That's really beyond my control. So what I have to do is just work harder at finding an answer, at giving myself chances.

So that's what I will do. The next few days I am going to hunker down and cast a wider net. Maybe that will work.

The other thing I have to do is forget those damned stories. Yes, people in my situation are mostly screwed. I have to find a way to be the exception rather than the rule.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


It's so hard to stare at long-term unemployment or underemployment and not feel like a failure.

The pain was mitigated for a while with the $276 a week I got in Unemployment Insurance. Then, I was able to work a blue-collar gig for a few months; that paid about $400 a week. Then came the move, and since then, I've not been able to land anything sustained. I've landed a contract freelance job that throws the occasional $60 per day at me. It's helpful, but really, it's just been a bandaid on a skull fracture.

And the bills have piled up. We borrowed a big chunk of change from her parents, a little from my mom, and still it hasn't abated. We've had more than $2,000 of unexpected expenses in the past five months, and now we owe more than that in taxes.

We don't have it. Austerity looms.

There's the tiniest part of my hope that flickers in the gale, refusing to go out. It's incredible in a way. I see a path to security regardless; if things stay the way they are, then it's just going to take longer. But it hurts me mentally. I just feel guilty. I feel like a failure.

Monday, February 4, 2013

War is Hell

Chris Kyle was murdered Saturday night in Texas.

He lived in a little town not far from where I used to live, and I have some friends who knew him. They're upset.

Which is understandable, but every death is sad to someone.

Or is it?


Kyle was the author of a best-selling autobiography called "American Sniper," which details his career as a sharpshooter in the military. He claims 225 kills, and it's said that 160 of those are confirmed, although actual Pentagon statistics have not been made available yet to the general public.

Saturday, Kyle and a friend were said to be attempting to assist another veteran said to have PTSD. Their therapy was to go to a shooting range in Glen Rose, Texas. Something happened, and the troubled vet turned a weapon on Kyle and the other man, Chad Littlefield, killing both.

So much for Wayne LaPierre's theory that all it takes to stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.


The gun argument is raging in America, although the gunnies right now desperately want the flames to die down. Their best hope is to let as much time elapse from the Dec. 14 horrors of Sandy Hook Elementary School as possible.

Good luck with all that. Newtown was just the latest mass killing in this country. This chart from Mother Jones shows the sickening, bloody trend.

Guns and violence and killing and blood are revered in this country. We are saturated with these images. Our most popular shows are about murder and crime. The sugar that makes it all go down so easily? The bad guys almost always get caught by the time the hour is up.

What bullshit. If we were so good at fighting crime, why is there so much of it?


That noted liberal rag, the Wall Street Journal, put together an interactive series of charts looking at American murders from 2000-10. The numbers exclude stats from Florida, a generally murder-friendly place, because the state doesn't conform to FBI methodology. It's pretty safe to assume Florida's exclusion only serves to enhance any positive conclusions from the research.

NB: The three lowest murder-totals in the sample span are in 2000, 2009 and 2010 -- years in which the White House was occupied by a Democrat. That's probably just a coincidence, right?

The CDC says there were more than 16,000 murders in 2011, of which more than 11,000 were by shootings. Interestingly, compared to the WSJ data, those breakdowns are statistically consistent: 111,289 of the 165,068 murders between 00-10 were gun killings.

Then there's this: 24/7WallStreet's list of the most and least "peaceful" states based on violence and its costs to communities. Seven of the top 10 are in the blood-red-state South; Missouri, Arizona and Nevada fill out the list.

Not every top 10 murder state is on the "least peaceful" list. New Mexico, Illinois, Maryland and Alabama round out that dubious bunch. Chicago and Baltimore are known as killing fields. So the blue states aren't without problems.

Having said that, the "most peaceful states (with the exception of Utah and North Dakota) are all blue: Maine is first, followed by Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Utah, North Dakota, Washington, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Iowa. Yes, Iowa has gone blue in three of the last four general elections.


I have several relatives in law enforcement. Two of them have been deeply immersed in the field, one has lived a particularly dangerous life because of his work.

I've never heard them anxious to tell me about what they've seen or done. I'm confident if pressed, they'd tell me, and I'm confident they would reveal that the job has brought them in close contact with the worst of the worst, and that blood has been spilled.

Their work has done more to improve the lives of Americans than they've ever gotten credit for. Both military veterans have helped keep our streets safe and sent criminals to jail. They're true American heroes and I am honored to share lineage.

Many others in my family have served in the military and as firefighters. All have served with honor and done what needed to be done to save lives, protect their units and co-workers, and defend the nation.


Could they have? I'm certain of it. I've even floated the idea to some of them. It was not embraced, but not rejected.

Fact of the matter is, they didn't do the things they did to draw attention to themselves. They did it because they felt it needed to be done, that the work was important. They sure didn't do it for money. They did it because they had the balls to do it, and they weren't afraid.

And no one's beating down their doors to hear their stories, even though they are no less important than those of anyone else who served our society in some capacity.


So Chris Kyle is now seen as a fallen hero. I'm appreciative of his service. But, he's no more a hero than anyone else who has taken on a dangerous job on the streets of Fallujah, Iraq, or Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Indeed, while his skill as a marksman is unquestioned, I don't think he's particularly special. This excerpt is from the New York Times, which cites a passage in Kyle's book:

He was deployed in Iraq during the worst years of the insurgency, perched in or on top of bombed-out apartment buildings with his .300 Winchester Magnum. His job was to provide “overwatch,” preventing enemy fighters from ambushing Marine units. 
He did not think the job would be difficult, he wrote in his book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.”
But two weeks into his time in Iraq, he found himself staring through his scope into the face of an unconventional enemy. A woman with a child standing close by had pulled a grenade from beneath her clothes as several Marines approached. He hesitated, he wrote, then shot.
“It was my duty to shoot, and I don’t regret it,” he wrote. “My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman’s twisted soul.”
That last passage troubles me, a lot.

Not incidentally, our entire reason for being in Iraq was phony. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, and its citizens, while repressed, had done almost nothing to beseech the great liberators of America to ride to their rescue. They weren't clamoring for the overthrow of Saddam or the institution of Western democracy.

So imagine a nation where life already somewhat sucks, but at least had some semblance of modern living. It wasn't like Afghanistan, where most of the population lacked modern conveniences. Into this rough landscape comes a third war... after the devastation of a 10-year failed war with Iran and the failure of the foray into Kuwait that generated "Desert Storm." Only this time, the invaders are going to completely subvert the existing political powers. They're going to occupy and shoot up the country for nearly a decade. They're sometimes going to go house-to-house and roust out suspects -- some of whom may be troublemakers, some of whom are identified as troublemakers by political and religious rivals who sell them out to eliminate competition for the nation's own coming new world order.

In a country known for its religious conflicts, scores were settled. Best of all, they were settled by an outside force that no one wanted to be associated with, but everyone could blame.

Sunni and Shi'a don't like each other much, but they pretty much agreed on one thing: they didn't like Americans.

Americans were the enemy. Whatever problems they had were theirs to solve; American intervention was unwelcome. We weren't greeted as liberators.

Against that backdrop, isn't it perfectly reasonable to see the enemy as not just a rival political or religious faction -- but also, the Americans?

Yes. Yes. It is reasonable. If an enemy force invaded the U.S., overthrew the government and started taking people from their homes... would we sit idly by?

I don't think so. Instead, we'd fight back. Perhaps a woman would conceal a grenade and approach an invading threat with the intention to strike back against her nation's oppressors. She'd clearly be right to do so.

And perhaps a sniper would cut her in two.

But that wouldn't make her a twisted soul. It would make her a patriot. The same kind of patriot Chris Kyle anointed himself as.


Chris Kyle was an assassin, a hitman, a professional murderer. It's what the U.S. military paid him to do, and what thousands of readers ate up when they made his book a bestseller.

He lived by the gun, and he died by the gun. If he'd known that by refusing to embrace the American murder and gun culture, he'd still be alive today -- do you think he'd have done it? I bet his twisted soul thinks very differently today about the life it has left behind. And the lives of a wife and two kids.

Was it worth it?

Until we stop killing one another, we're just animals. Not patriots. Not heroes. Animals. 


The man who killed Kyle and his friend apparently had his soul twisted by the horrors of war. Some in this country believe that mental health issues are more essential to address than the easy availability of killing weapons. This case will provide a forum for that debate. Will we take mercy on the accused, or look for another reason to kill?

You already know the answer, don't you?