“Fuck you, I like guns.”

Edited to add: I can’t thank you all enough for interacting with this post. I am actually surprised that it’s become this popular. This is the first time more than ten people have read anything I’ve written here. I’m probably going to turn off commenting soon because everything that can be said already has been. In general, I’d like to point out that this is an opinion piece. I wrote it on a 15 minute coffee break and posted it unedited. It’s raw, and that’s the whole point. The tone, the language, and the style are intentional. This was written for people like my mostly conservative Army buddies who will never click an article that is titled “Gun control is your friend”, and tend to assume those who support such legislation have never seen a gun before. I’m not a professional writer, nor a particularly prolific blogger until about three days ago. I’m just a person trying to sort it out like everybody else. Thank you for stopping by. I really do appreciate every one of you. Please find us on FaceBook.BCMCarryHandleAR-15-3

America, can we talk? Let’s just cut the shit for once and actually talk about what’s going on without blustering and pretending we’re actually doing a good job at adulting as a country right now. We’re not. We’re really screwing this whole society thing up, and we have to do better. We don’t have a choice. People are dying. At this rate, it’s not if your kids, or mine, are involved in a school shooting, it’s when. One of these happens every 60 hours on average in the US. If you think it can’t affect you, you’re wrong. Dead wrong. So let’s talk.

I’ll start. I’m an Army veteran. I like M-4’s, which are, for all practical purposes, an AR-15, just with a few extra features that people almost never use anyway. I’d say at least 70% of my formal weapons training is on that exact rifle, with the other 30% being split between various and sundry machineguns and grenade launchers. My experience is pretty representative of soldiers of my era. Most of us are really good with an M-4, and most of us like it at least reasonably well, because it is an objectively good rifle. I was good with an M-4, really good. I earned the Expert badge every time I went to the range, starting in Basic Training. This isn’t uncommon. I can name dozens of other soldiers/veterans I know personally who can say the exact same thing. This rifle is surprisingly easy to use, completely idiot-proof really, has next to no recoil, comes apart and cleans up like a dream, and is light to carry around. I’m probably more accurate with it than I would be with pretty much any other weapon in existence. I like this rifle a lot. I like marksmanship as a sport. When I was in the military, I enjoyed combining these two things as often as they’d let me.

With all that said, enough is enough. My knee jerk reaction is to consider weapons like the AR-15 no big deal because it is my default setting. It’s where my training lies. It is my normal, because I learned how to fire a rifle IN THE ARMY. You know, while I may only have shot plastic targets on the ranges of Texas, Georgia, and Missouri, that’s not what those weapons were designed for, and those targets weren’t shaped like deer. They were shaped like people. Sometimes we even put little hats on them. You learn to take a gut shot, “center mass”, because it’s a bigger target than the head, and also because if you maim the enemy soldier rather than killing him cleanly, more of his buddies will come out and get him, and you can shoot them, too. He’ll die of those injuries, but it’ll take him a while, giving you the chance to pick off as many of his compadres as you can. That’s how my Drill Sergeant explained it anyway. I’m sure there are many schools of thought on it. The fact is, though, when I went through my marksmanship training in the US Army, I was not learning how to be a competition shooter in the Olympics, or a good hunter. I was being taught how to kill people as efficiently as possible, and that was never a secret.

As an avowed pacifist now, it turns my stomach to even type the above words, but can you refute them? I can’t. Every weapon that a US Army soldier uses has the express purpose of killing human beings. That is what they are made for. The choice rifle for years has been some variant of what civilians are sold as an AR-15. Whether it was an M-4 or an M-16 matters little. The function is the same, and so is the purpose. These are not deer rifles. They are not target rifles. They are people killing rifles. Let’s stop pretending they’re not.

With this in mind, is anybody surprised that nearly every mass shooter in recent US history has used an AR-15 to commit their crime? And why wouldn’t they? High capacity magazine, ease of loading and unloading, almost no recoil, really accurate even without a scope, but numerous scopes available for high precision, great from a distance or up close, easy to carry, and readily available. You can buy one at Wal-Mart, or just about any sports store, and since they’re long guns, I don’t believe you have to be any more than 18 years old with a valid ID. This rifle was made for the modern mass shooter, especially the young one. If he could custom design a weapon to suit his sinister purposes, he couldn’t do a better job than Armalite did with this one already.

This rifle is so deadly and so easy to use that no civilian should be able to get their hands on one. We simply don’t need these things in society at large. I always find it interesting that when I was in the Army, and part of my job was to be incredibly proficient with this exact weapon, I never carried one at any point in garrison other than at the range. Our rifles lived in the arms room, cleaned and oiled, ready for the next range day or deployment. We didn’t carry them around just because we liked them. We didn’t bluster on about barracks defense and our second amendment rights. We tucked our rifles away in the arms room until the next time we needed them, just as it had been done since the Army’s inception. The military police protected us from threats in garrison. They had 9 mm Berettas to carry. They were the only soldiers who carry weapons in garrison. We trusted them to protect us, and they delivered. With notably rare exceptions, this system has worked well. There are fewer shootings on Army posts than in society in general, probably because soldiers are actively discouraged from walking around with rifles, despite being impeccably well trained with them. Perchance, we could have the largely untrained civilian population take a page from that book?

I understand that people want to be able to own guns. That’s ok. We just need to really think about how we’re managing this. Yes, we have to manage it, just as we manage car ownership. People have to get a license to operate a car, and if you operate a car without a license, you’re going to get in trouble for that. We manage all things in society that can pose a danger to other people by their misuse. In addition to cars, we manage drugs, alcohol, exotic animals (there are certain zip codes where you can’t own Serval cats, for example), and fireworks, among other things. We restrict what types of businesses can operate in which zones of the city or county. We have a whole system of permitting for just about any activity a person wants to conduct since those activities could affect others, and we realize, as a society, that we need to try to minimize the risk to other people that comes from the chosen activities of those around them in which they have no say. Gun ownership is the one thing our country collectively refuses to manage, and the result is a lot of dead people.

I can’t drive a Formula One car to work. It would be really cool to be able to do that, and I could probably cut my commute time by a lot. Hey, I’m a good driver, a responsible Formula One owner. You shouldn’t be scared to be on the freeway next to me as I zip around you at 140 MPH, leaving your Mazda in a cloud of dust! Why are you scared? Cars don’t kill people. People kill people. Doesn’t this sound like bullshit? It is bullshit, and everybody knows. Not one person I know would argue non-ironically that Formula One cars on the freeway are a good idea. Yet, these same people will say it’s totally ok to own the firearm equivalent because, in the words of comedian Jim Jeffries, “fuck you, I like guns”.

Yes, yes, I hear you now. We have a second amendment to the constitution, which must be held sacrosanct over all other amendments. Dude. No. The constitution was made to be a malleable document. It’s intentionally vague. We can enact gun control without infringing on the right to bear arms. You can have your deer rifle. You can have your shotgun that you love to shoot clay pigeons with. You can have your target pistol. Get a license. Get a training course. Recertify at a predetermined interval. You do not need a military grade rifle. You don’t. There’s no excuse.

“But we’re supposed to protect against tyranny! I need the same weapons the military would come at me with!” Dude. You know where I can get an Apache helicopter and a Paladin?! Hook a girl up! Seriously, though, do you really think you’d be able to hold off the government with an individual level weapon? Because you wouldn’t. One grenade, and you’re toast. Don’t have these illusions of standing up to the government, and needing military style rifles for that purpose. You’re not going to stand up to the government with this thing. They’d take you out in about half a second.

Let’s be honest. You just want a cool toy, and for the vast majority of people, that’s all an AR-15 is. It’s something fun to take to the range and put some really wicked holes in a piece of paper. Good for you. I know how enjoyable that is. I’m sure for a certain percentage of people, they might not kill anyone driving a Formula One car down the freeway, or owning a Cheetah as a pet, or setting off professional grade fireworks without a permit. Some people are good with this stuff, and some people are lucky, but those cases don’t negate the overall rule. Military style rifles have been the choice du jour in the incidents that have made our country the mass shootings capitol of the world. Formula One cars aren’t good for commuting. Cheetahs are bitey. Professional grade fireworks will probably take your hand off. All but one of these are common sense to the average American. Let’s fix that. Be honest, you don’t need that AR-15. Nobody does. Society needs them gone, no matter how good you may be with yours. Kids are dying, and it’s time to stop fucking around.

Aliens, Flat Earth, and Conservative Army Buddies



When I was 10 years old, I stood in the supermarket checkout, astounded. There, on the cover of a newspaper, was Bill Clinton shaking hands with an alien. “Dad!”, I said, practically ecstatic, “Bill Clinton knows an alien! Look!” I was obsessed with aliens and UFO’s at the time, and we were Democrats, so this was basically my dream headline. Our president had convinced the aliens to talk to us. My dad laughed, and said, “That newspaper is what we call a tabloid. They report things that aren’t true to get people’s attention, just like they got yours. If Bill Clinton had met an alien, don’t you think we would have seen it in the New York Times or on the News Hour?” I realized he was right, and was slightly disappointed because I really wanted the aliens to visit us.

Years later, Men In Black came out, and my sister and I went to the theater to see it. In one scene, Agent K goes to a newsstand, and buys up all the tabloids, explaining to the newly minted Agent J, that that’s where all the real news is. Everyone in the theater laughed because we knew it was ridiculous. I was reminded of that moment in the supermarket checkout years prior. The entire premise of the movie was that there’s a whole alien eco-system hidden in plain sight, which is a lovely thing to think about, to me anyway. Of course, we all knew it was the stuff of, well, supermarket tabloids and Hollywood creatives.

Within my lifetime, the line between journalism and farce has become so blurred that people seem to have no idea what to believe anymore, and conspiracy theories have taken over. The internet has successfully allowed anybody to publish their views to a wide audience in seconds. While this has been important to society in some ways, like the ability to live stream police brutality or crimes, and a real trip in other ways, like how some seemingly random things go viral, it has also provided a means for conspiracy theorists to be placed on more equal footing than they were before. The New York Times was not generally placed next to The National Enquirer. It sat next to The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. There was a visible and clear demarcation. This is journalism. That is just for fun. That line doesn’t exist on the internet, though. A blog is a blog is a blog. Of course, there are wonderful and credible sources online as well, but a person really has to know how to sort them out from the rest.

We can’t talk about this without talking about the recent trend toward declaring anything that doesn’t fit one’s preferred narrative to be fake news. I remember explaining what fake news was to a friend’s cousin who was insisting that The Washington Post was fake news because it publishes a lot of things he doesn’t agree with. He showed me some evidence for his claim. It was the Opinions page, and featured an analysis of a recent issue written by a Democrat Congressman, and an analysis of that same issue written by a Republican Congressman. He said, “Look! It’s fake news! They run stories that contradict each other!” I pointed to the byline at the top that said “Opposing Views”. I explained that an opinion piece cannot be fake news because it is presenting someone’s opinion on an issue as their opinion, not reporting it as fact. I also explained that representing both sides of an issue is balanced reporting, not indecision. This, along with the fact that it wasn’t the first time I’d had this conversation, lead me to one conclusion. The ability to evaluate a source has become scarce in society, and that probably goes a long way toward explaining the rise in conspiracy theories. Increasing numbers of people deny the validity of a source that goes against their own bias, so if The Washington Post can be fake news, then Green Med Info, David Avocado Wolf, InfoWars, or any given YouTube channel could be the real deal as far as they’re concerned. I have found that in most cases, these same people are not open to logic and reason. My friend’s cousin still thinks The Washington Post is fake news, and says so every chance he gets.

I will never forget the day I came home from work to find my husband tapping away furiously at his laptop keys with the same look on his face that he gets when his ex-wife sends a particularly rude email. As I walked into the bedroom, he said, “Come here. You’ve got to see this. Some guy thinks the earth is flat and has been arguing with me for an hour about it.” My first thought was that a master level troll was messing with him. My husband is no stranger to the internet, and doesn’t fall for just any troll, so I figured this must be a really good one, the sort of troll you have to appreciate for their raw skill even if you think trolling is pretty annoying in general. I was wrong again. It wasn’t a troll. This was an actual person who thought the earth was flat, and they were certain they were going to convince my husband, who has an above average grasp of scientific principles, to believe them.

Our curiosity was piqued. How could any functional adult believe something that was the complete opposite of everything we learned in Kindergarten? The earth being round is pretty much the most basic scientific fact that exists, and these people deny it. How? We grabbed a couple of ciders and started Googling. We had no idea what a rabbit hole we were going down when we started, but there’s basically a whole conspiracy theory community out there who are convinced of everything from the earth being flat, to Australia not being real, to the moon landing being faked, to the illuminati being a thing that exists. There aren’t enough minutes in ten lifetimes to delve into all of it, so flat earth seemed like a place to start, especially since it’s so obviously and objectively wrong. The biggest thing we wanted to know was why these people think the earth is flat in spite of so much evidence to the contrary.

Most of the flat earthers’ arguments seem to be religiously based. They go by a drawing that was included with the Old Testament that described a flat earth with a firmament filled with the atmosphere as we know it. They think this entire assembly is floating in water, and that the stars are fallen angels who come to earth to procreate with human women. I wish I were making this up, but I’m not. That’s what they think.

But aren’t they aware that the Bible was written a long time ago, before Kepler defined orbits, before Galileo determined our orbit in particular to be heliocentric, before Newton defined gravity and figured out how it works? I’m not here to criticize anyone’s religious beliefs, but surely one can understand that the people who wrote the Bible weren’t exactly going to pass today’s peer review process with their understanding of science. The answer is yes, they are aware of that, and they don’t care. They’re right, we’re wrong, and we can take our peer review and shove it.

But how can they believe these things in a world where we have sufficient numerical analysis to prove the shape, size, and other properties of our planet? Anyone who’s been to engineering school remembers those first few courses in Newtonian physics, statics, and dynamics, the courses that taught us how matter behaves on this planet of ours. Our first equations, and some of our subsequent ones, made certain assumptions. All weights were on a Teflon track which provided no friction. All projectiles were spherical and encountered no air resistance. Bodies were uniform in density. Loads were always applied exactly at easily determined points. These completely unrealistic assumptions helped us to learn the concepts of motion, and add in the other factors as we went. Sometimes those other things are negligible, and there are methods for determining that. In any case, the general equation governing an event is important, and usually based on assumptions that do not represent reality.

Apparently, no flat earther ever went to engineering school. Please try to hide your shock. Anyway, they found an old equation in a public NASA archive from 1984, the explanation for which includes the words, “Assume a flat earth.” It is a formula for a general equation that can be used for aeronautical calculations on any landing surface, whether the earth, the moon, another planet, anything. When it comes to engineering calculations, you can always add another term or coefficient to narrow down your results, but we start with the general equation, flat surfaces, Teflon tracks, and spherical chickens with no air resistance launched from cannons with exactly known blasting loads. These are the ingredients, and everyone who survived even to sophomore year of engineering school knows it.

But how do people deny the earth is round when there are pictures of it taken from space? They claim it’s all CGI, that NASA is a giant conspiracy made to trick the people, and that all of it is completely made up by the government. Why would the government want to do this? Your guess is as good as mine. As a longtime government employee, I have no idea where the funding for that type of cover-up operation would come from, and I really wish they’d give me some of it to improve our infrastructure. That’s what these people think, though. That’s the bottom line. They think the earth is flat, and Big Science has some covert interest in keeping that information from the people.

I’m not concerned with what these people think. I’m more concerned with the fact that we live in a world where something so patently ridiculous that most people dismiss it as a joke the first time they hear it can gain enough traction that the average netizen is aware of it. This is more than just some internet rumor we can laugh about on FaceBook. Shortly after my husband and I discovered that flat earth theory exists, we made the extremely unfortunate and maddening discovery that many of the same people who are convinced that we’re floating through space on a giant Frisbee are also spreading rumors that the Parkland students who are currently rallying for common sense legislation to keep our kids safe in schools, are paid actors, and that the entire deadly incident at their school was a ploy by the government.

A quick search turns up hundreds of memes showing pictures of the Parkland students, photoshopped into movie posters, with sayings superimposed over them about how they got paid, and other things that are completely vile to do to a bunch of teens who have been through enough already. They will latch onto anything. Because one of the students posts a lot of YouTube videos from California, they insist he actually lives there, and was flown into Florida to be a paid crisis actor in Parkland. Even after he explained quite publicly that he is from California, and moved to Florida a year ago, these people did not let up.

Upon searching a little further, we find that they did this to the Sandy Hook kids’ families as well. They accused them of being paid actors, of participating in a government operation to subjugate the people in some way. How, I’m not exactly sure. Why the government would even want to do something like this, they never can answer. They are just determined to believe that people are not who they say they are, and it’s all a massive conspiracy.

If the 2016 election taught me anything, it’s that we can’t ignore the parts of our society we think are fringe like we once could. We simply don’t have that luxury anymore. I remember one of my Army buddies telling me in 2013 that the Tea Party was a big deal, and that the GOP was going to move significantly to the right because the base was energized. I didn’t think much of it because he is extremely biased on the subject, and having been in the pub for several hours at that point, we weren’t exactly sober. Given the circumstances, I did what every other university-educated, major city dwelling liberal did when confronted with ideas like that, and dismissed the concept as illogical, because objectively, it was. If they couldn’t even elect McCain or Romney, then how the hell would they elect someone as crazy as Palin on their own? Then a few years later, we got blindsided when those exact people showed up in droves, and elected Donald Trump, who makes Sarah Palin look like a lady and a scholar by comparison.

My lesson was that these days, you can’t brush off the drunken ramblings of your conservative Army buddy. Similarly, we cannot just dismiss these conspiracy theorists as crazy people who will go away. They will not go away. They create tons of content, disseminate it widely, and have a bigger following than most of us know. They prey on people who don’t know how to evaluate a source, who are disenfranchised in society, who don’t have access to the formal education that would debunk their ideas off hand. They are a symptom of a major problem with our society. They exist because people don’t know how to evaluate a source. They proliferate because people are trying to make sense of things they can’t explain.

The cure is information, not for them because they won’t have it, but for our children and others in society so they never fall into these traps. We knew we had to protect our kids from traffickers on the internet. We knew we had to protect them from for-profit university scams. We need to protect them from conspiracy theories, too. It’s not funny, it’s not cute, it’s not a phase. It’s harmful, and it’s causing problems in society. In today’s world, we have to fight for science and for reason, and this is one of the ways we have to do that. Talk about reality. Speak the truth. Talk about science. Do it every day. Make it second nature. Then these people and their bad information won’t stand a chance.

Maybe then, the aliens will want to talk to us.


Talk About Money.


My husband can pinpoint the exact week the financial crisis hit California. He received more bad checks from clients that week than he had in 20+ years of business combined. As the owner of a sole proprietor business that relies on people having disposable income, he’s the canary in the economic coalmine. His business follows a predictable pattern throughout the year, with high and low months being fairly consistent over time.

February and March are usually high months. This February, he didn’t sign a single new client, and March is looking only slightly better. Nothing changed about the way he does business. His website is working fine. He still has a fantastic reputation. Clients just didn’t call. We were obviously concerned, and did what anyone would do. We began to investigate. We already knew the stock market was low, but that hadn’t affected his clients much in the past, so we put that aside. It wasn’t long before we found the answer, in our mailbox, of all places.

We submitted our tax return on January 29, the first day filing opened, and on March 2, the IRS sent us a letter informing us that they could not finish processing it until we verified our identities. They thought we could have been compromised by the 2017 Equifax breach, so they wanted to make sure it was us before moving forward. We were annoyed since we’d already taken care of this with Equifax when the breach happened, but my husband gathered all the documents the letter said we needed, and I called the IRS. I was on hold for 58 minutes.

When someone answered, I was cheerful and polite, and gave her all the information she asked for. Abruptly, she became rude, and said, “Are you a third party or something?” I replied that I was not a third party, that this was my husband’s and my return. She said that we would have to verify our identities in person, and transferred me to a different department. They were nicer, and set me up with the soonest appointment they had in our city, exactly one month out.

For those keeping score, our tax return was filed on January 29. It will not proceed until after we have verified our identities in person in April. It probably will take a couple weeks after that to fully process, so mid-April. Normally, people who filed when we did could expect a refund in mid-February. A quick Google turned up reports that this identity verification was being asked of millions of people, and millions of others were asked to send verification of health insurance coverage. That means many millions of tax refunds are delayed. This explains my husband’s low revenue February. A lot of people use their tax refunds to pay for his services.

I had questions, though. Namely, why are we not seeing thousands of social media posts about this? I realized that I hadn’t seen any posts about people getting their tax refunds. I usually do see posts about that this time of year. This year, there has been none of that. This substantiates, at least anecdotally, that lots of people have delayed refunds. Why, then, are people not talking about how refunds are delayed? For every person who uses their refund for Disney tickets, there are probably three or four who use it to catch up on bills, pay off credit cards, or get a much needed vehicle or home repair. These people, a noticeable percentage of Americans, I would guess, are likely suffering due to the delayed tax refunds.

For us personally, we managed a small refund this year, mostly due to the fact that we got married, and I’d had taxes withheld as single, so we’re getting most of that back. Between my husband’s business being low and our refund being delayed, we’re not in a great place at the moment either. We’ll be ok. Our bills are paid and we’ve got plenty to eat, but our credit cards are higher than we’d like them, and every day that refund is delayed, we accrue more interest. Every day everyone else’s refunds are delayed, his business stays low. It’s a vicious cycle for us, and I know we’re not alone in that.

The question, once again, is why people in this giant boat, myself included, are not posting about this on social media. This is happening to a lot of us, none of us like it, yet, we’re not talking about it. I had to think about why that is, and while I’m sure there are many components to it, a huge part is America’s taboo around talking about money. Another huge part of it is how our society demonizes people who admit to not having enough money. Our culture openly despises the poor, but you don’t even have to be poor to catch hell for your financial practices, even if you did nothing wrong. Think about it. What would happen if you posted about having a hard time financially? You’d get a few people who were empathetic, and at least as many who gave either the worst advice in the world or some backhanded comment that implies you deserve it somehow. Where did this start? Why are we like this?

Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the rich have a tangible interest in the common people being divided and distracted by in-fighting. This allows the politicians they pay with lobbying money to pass bills that don’t do anything for the majority of us, and shift wealth in directions that benefit only approximately 1-5% of Americans. If we shush each other about our hardships, or smack each other down with trite advice and backhanded comments, we are doing this work for them, preventing ourselves from coming together and addressing the real issues that exist, the things that would have to change to make our government work for us. This is why we can’t seem to vote these bought and paid for politicians out. They have divided us well enough that we can’t seem to come together and agree that they’re the problem for putting us in this situation in the first place.

Anyway, this seems to have started in the form of distrust and dehumanization of the poor. In 1976, Ronald Reagan gave a campaign speech about a fictional woman in south Chicago who lived richly off government benefits, epitomized every racist stereotype of black people, and was definitely someone hardworking people should be mad at because as far as he was concerned, she was picking their pockets. While he never used the term itself, this became the myth of the welfare queen, the foundation for American distrust of the poor. This was almost coldly comical coming from the person who brought us trickle-down economics, which shifted more wealth away from the common people, thus creating more poverty, than nearly any other economic policy in our nation’s history.

Make no mistake, though, the myth of the welfare queen was an absolute game changer in the way our culture relates to its most vulnerable citizens. It gave people license to judge the purchases and practices of those less fortunate, and self-appoint as judge, jury, and executioner over who was deserving of help, and who wasn’t. After all, they’ve been told that they pay their taxes, and those people are just living off them. This divided people, and caused a profound loss of empathy on a societal level, not to mention a complete disregard for the facts surrounding social welfare programs and poverty in general.

While all this was happening, wealth was being shifted away from the common people, and toward the rich. Things have become drastically more expensive, and we’re not allowed to admit we’re struggling, lest we cop to being “the poor”, and open ourselves up for the judgment thereof. As a person who temporarily experienced poverty, I can attest that otherwise decent people are awful to the poor. You get the worst, most useless, advice ever, and everyone looks for ways that your own failures as a human being put you in that position. Nobody ever says, “Yeah, this economy is awful. Sorry you’re getting the worst of it right now.”, and leaves it at that. I think this is mostly to convince themselves it couldn’t happen to them, but I’m no psychologist.

As a society, our reaction when someone is struggling is to blame them, not look at the circumstances. This isn’t just a conservative thing either. People all over the political spectrum do this to varying extents. My parents, who have always voted Democrat and think Reagan’s economic policy sucks, are the worst offenders I know when it comes to this. It took until I was in my 30’s before I realized the hardship I’ve experienced at times is actually not the result of me being stupid, the economy is just brutal. That’s why I have student loan debt, why I rented for so long before buying, why I live a more modest lifestyle than engineers did in the 90’s.

People have been trained to assume the worst of one another. “They don’t have money. Must be gambling or alcohol.” While addiction is certainly a legitimate problem, it’s far more likely to be some combination of crushing student loan debt, medical bills, a savage job market, and runaway housing prices, which we absolutely could do something about if we could just come together and agree that they’re a problem for the majority of us. Nothing will get done as long as we’re insisting that we don’t have these problems, and that if those people over there just did whatever financial program is popular now, they wouldn’t either. (These programs work for some people, and that’s great, but they’re not a substitute for fixing the ways in which our economy isn’t working for the average person.)

In order for this change to happen, we have to talk about money, and not just bragging about all the nice stuff we just bought. We have to talk about how we put a month of daycare on a credit card because our ex-spouse was late with the child support, and we rely on that money. We have to talk about how we actually kind of wish we got free lunch for our kids at school, like our chronically unemployed cousin gets for their kids, because pretty much everyone would benefit from giving this across the board. We have to talk about how scary it was when we experienced a layoff, an injury, a corporate restructuring, and nearly lost our house because we missed a paycheck or two. We have to stop pretending we all have a cushion in savings, and be honest about the fact that most of us don’t anymore, if we ever did.

Above all, we have to stop judging each other for this. It’s ok to be mad because the government is taking too long with your tax refund. Please tell that Baby Boomer who thinks you can save for a house by forgoing your weekly Starbucks that they’re full of it. Avocado toast is delicious, and totally not the reason you’re in debt (seriously, avocados are like 39 cents at Aldi). Tell people who insinuate that your smartphone is the problem that it’s actually the reason you have a job, and selling it probably wouldn’t even pay off one credit card. Talk about money. Talk about your debt. Reply to trite advice by explaining logically why that won’t work. Do it enough times that the message gets through.

Then vote. Vote for people who won’t accept money from those who want to buy politicians. Vote for people who know what it’s like to be middle class or poor, and to raise a family like that. Vote for people who remember who put them in public office in the first place. Vote for millennials! Vote for people who see that most of us really aren’t ok by the standards previous generations knew. Vote for those who agree that it’s maddening that these politicians keep moving the goalposts like some kind of 4chan troll in a comments section. Be honest. This isn’t working for you any better than it’s working for me.

I’m Anastasia. I’m an engineer, and I live in a major metro area that is considered a great place for young professionals to accomplish things. I’m a millennial, a wife, a mom, and a homeowner. I have debt, not because I’m stupid, or because I love avocados and La Croix, but because education and housing are expensive! My husband and I pay about $10k/yr in state and local taxes. We are contributors to society, like everyone else. We want our tax refund, and for his business to pick up because everyone else got theirs, too, and that’s not a personal failing of ours. We won’t be shamed, and if you’re mad about this, too, you shouldn’t be either. The government isn’t functioning well, and we are seeing the results of that.

When the common people have money, the economy flourishes because we spend it. When it’s withheld, the economy lags. Let’s talk about money, let’s fix this for all of us, and let’s stimulate the economy.

Are You a “Responsible Owner”?


At work, we have to do something called Smith System Driving classes. It’s like Defensive Driving, but really detailed. I learned recently that UPS uses the same program for their drivers. Apparently, since we drive vehicles owned by our employer, sometimes for very far distances to visit project sites, the cost-benefit analysis weighs out in favor of sending us through this really expensive driving class every three years.

I took it for the first time last September, and after making about 100 jokes about how engineers are rich and awkward, the instructor asked each of us to rate our driving ability. Two older admin specialists said they were above average drivers by reason of experience. I was next. I said, “I know of no rubric for analyzing how I stack up against other drivers. However, since I’m relatively young, I have quick reaction time, and my vision is fantastic, but I’m also often tired, which can reduce reaction time” (I showed equations for all of this. There was a marker board. Never give an engineer a marker.) I continued, “I’ve never been tested on my actual skills as a driver, only on my ability to follow basic laws, so I have no idea how my technique stacks up against my peers. I posit that we can probably consider driving ability to be defined by a normal distribution, and that the best odds are I’m within one standard deviation of the mean, so I would classify myself as average.”

The other engineer in the room concurred with my analysis and reasoning, and classified himself as average, too. I was, admittedly, being pedantic about it, as the preceding hour had basically been one long joke about engineers, so I decided to be as stereotypical of an engineer as I could about answering, but my point was solid. Most people are average drivers, if we consider “average” to be within one standard deviation of the mean, by whatever numerical standard we might use to quantify ability in this respect.

The instructor looked at my coworker and me, dumbfounded, and said, “I’ve been teaching this class for five years, and nobody has ever said they’re an average driver until you two.” That’s engineers for you, always the odd ones out. He made a good point, though. Most people consider themselves above average drivers. Ask 100 people how good they are at driving, and your experience is going to be similar to his. Everyone will tell you they’re a good driver, and they’ll also probably tell you that everyone else on the road is a blithering idiot, and most traffic problems are due to that fact.

For extra credit, do this at a military base, which has people from everywhere all living in close quarters, and see how many people you can get to tell you that people from everywhere but their hometown can’t drive. You’ll find a lot of people like that. Driving is a tradition in this country, and people have strong ideas on how it should be done. Most people are convinced they’re doing it right, and better than other people. This is statistically improbable, but nearly everybody in society believes it. Look at how many memes exist about bad drivers. Nobody sharing them thinks it could possibly be them, and they have absolutely no basis for that position.

I don’t want to talk about driving, though. When people talk about privately owned weapons of any type, they always talk about being a responsible owner. What does that even mean? “Responsible owner” is an arbitrary term like “good driver”. It means something completely different to each person, and we have no unified standard available to the average person for any of it. Consequently, everyone is a responsible owner by their own standard. In every aspect of life, we all cut certain corners, and we justify to ourselves why those corners were acceptable to cut. The problems come when those cut corners begin to affect other people, as is the case with cars and deadly projectiles. That’s when it becomes everyone else’s business.

I know someone who keeps their deer rifle in a safe with three locking mechanisms, and their ammo at their brother’s house. I know someone who keeps a loaded .375 in a boot on the top shelf of their closet. I know a lot of people between these two extremes. The one thing every one of them has in common is that they’ll all tell you what a responsible owner they are if you ask, even my friend with the loaded .357 balanced precariously in a boot. He has looked me right in the eye and told me that’s safe practice, and given me reasons why he thinks that. I don’t agree, of course, but at this time, there’s no way to disagree officially with things like this. By and large, it’s left to the judgment of the individual.

When I was 10 years old, I was in a crowded farmers’ market, selling produce my family grew, and I heard the loudest sound I had ever heard in my life about 20 feet from me. Everyone gasped and then started yelling and running. It was mayhem for a solid ten minutes until a farmer across the aisle from my family’s table figured out what happened. A 7-year-old had gotten her dad’s .45 out of the glove compartment of the truck, and fired it. Luckily, the round lodged in the engine block, and while I don’t think that truck was much good to anybody anymore, nobody was hurt. When my dad later talked with the farmer whose daughter was involved in the incident, he assured him that he’s a responsible owner, that this was a fluke, that the glove compartment had been locked, and his daughter had gotten ahold of the keys, which normally never happens. My dad, of course, was not pleased with this, and proposed a no weapons policy in the market from there forward since it could have ended horribly if she’d fired it into the crowd rather than into the engine. The board of directors unanimously denied his motion to amend the policies, most people choosing to believe this could happen to anybody. If you think about it, that tells a lot about what responsible ownership consists of to the average person. That’s not reassuring.

Years later, when I joined the Army, my Drill Sergeant asked us one day, about 4 weeks into basic training, “Who knows a lot about marksmanship, hunting, or anything related? Who’s been doing this all their lives?” A few people raised their hands, fully expecting to be made leaders of something rifle related, no doubt.

He said, “You idiots are going to have a much harder time learning the fundamentals than everybody who’s coming into this cold, because you’ve had a whole lifetime to develop terrible habits, and you’re probably going to make me sick when I look at your form on the range.” (He is a Drill Sergeant. Insults are part of the job.)

Look past his words, and you’ll see that he actually highlighted a major issue with private ownership of firearms in the US. People do unsafe things because it’s the way they’ve always done them, because that’s the way their dad taught them, and the way his dad taught him, and so on. We have no federally legal way to tell them to do otherwise, so they continue doing what they’re doing, and when horrible things happen, usually by accident, they tell themselves and the world that it was a fluke, that it could happen to anybody, and that nothing else could have been done to prevent it. This is false, harmful, and we can change it.

We have changed a lot about our laws to reflect new knowledge about safety practices in other areas. Children have to use carseats until a certain age now, and there are laws governing how that’s done in each state because we know now that they prevent death and injury in car accidents. Every landlord is now required to provide smoke detectors at certain places in every unit they lease because we know that they save lives in the event of a fire. We change building codes when areas start getting more hurricanes because hurricane anchors drastically reduce the number of rooves that fall on people’s heads. Laws like this work. People are dying less of things that used to kill almost everyone in that situation.

With that in mind, as a part of responsible firearm legislation, can we quantify what it means to be a responsible owner? Can we debunk some of the traditions that are resulting in accidents, and even weapons falling into the wrong hands? We desperately need the CDC to study the effects of firearms in society, on injuries, deaths, accidents, etc. We need an immediate repeal of the laws barring them from conducting this research. I would like to see legislation on what types of safes are required, how ammunition is stored, and where in the homes these things can be kept. I want to see studies on how accidents happen, and a detailed analysis on what could minimize that.

Mostly, can we be honest about the fact that most people need a class on this stuff? I don’t think anyone would argue that defensive driving classes are a bad idea. Like it or not, most of us are average drivers, and we benefit from that sort of thing. Why, then, is ownership of a device that launches high speed projectiles in a split second, often with deadly, injurious, or damaging results, considered more intuitive than driving? Most people are not responsible owners, just as most people are not above average drivers. Most people are average owners who would benefit from a class. It’s time we required one, just as most employers do for anyone who expects to drive their vehicles. The benefits outweigh the costs.

Arm the Teachers



Picture it, senior Calculus Seminar, 2019, Any High School, USA. It’s April, the warm breeze is blowing through an open window, and your teacher is explaining a type of integral you know you’re going to use in real life because you just got accepted to the College of Engineering at the State U. As you fantasize about the labs you’ll be working in next year and how beautiful the people there with you will be, your teacher reaches up to write something on the Smart Board, and her blazer moves just slightly, revealing the handle of her Glock 19, lovingly carried in a purple shoulder holster that matches her blouse. Without a moment’s hesitation, you continue taking notes, and she continues teaching. It’s just another day in America. “I’m glad she’s armed. Nothing can happen to us like this.”, you think to yourself.

OK, enough. Apparently, there are a lot of people in this country who think like this. I know a bunch of them personally, and apparently, people elected quite a few to public office. I keep hearing these ideas discussed, and subsequently denied on Twitter by a certain 45th president, and I have no idea why people can’t see what an objectively horrible idea it would be to arm teachers. Leaving aside our ideals about schools being safe places, and any emotional reaction we may have to guns, there are multiple practical reasons we should take this idea off the table for good, and instead focus on legislation that will help in other ways.

First, let’s think about equipment and its capabilities. This is the one that really jumps out at me. Even if you love guns, this idea makes no sense. Actually, anyone who loves guns and knows anything about them, and still proposes this is being deliberately disingenuous because they know damned well that it won’t work. Mass shooters in recent years tend to use AR-15 rifles, as we have established. One reason they tend to prefer these is because they’re accurate from a long distance. In the Army, we qualified on targets up to 300 Meters with our M-4’s, which are a military grade AR-15 equivalent. If you have good vision, it’s not even difficult to hit those long targets. This rifle is fantastic for picking off targets at a distance. That’s exactly how mass shooters use them, and why they’re so deadly. Nobody can get close. The most recent shooter didn’t even get taken down. He stopped shooting when he decided he was done, and walked away. That’s the kind of prerogative a long range rifle buys a person in that situation. Every proposition I’ve seen has suggested that teachers be armed with handguns as concealed carry permit holders, and right there is where you should stop and declare this idea ineffective and tactically unsound.

In addition to other weapons, I had the opportunity to qualify a couple times with the 9 mm Beretta when I was in the Army, and the first thing I noticed was that the targets were much closer than what I was used to seeing on the M-4 and M-249 ranges! Instead of the closest target being 75 M away, it was more like 5 M, and part of qualifying was firing while walking toward the targets. The reason many staff officers carry 9 mm’s rather than M-4’s, is because they don’t do patrols, and if they need to shoot an enemy, it’s because the wire got breached, a lot of enlisted soldiers with M-4’s got taken out, and they’re going to be in close contact with those combatants. Handguns are for close range. That is what they’re designed for. They are extremely inaccurate at long distances. Arming a teacher with a concealed handgun against a shooter with a long range rifle would not achieve the desired results even if they were an expert marksman, which the majority of teachers are not. It is a gross imbalance in equipment capabilities.

Speaking of accuracy, I read a statistic yesterday that didn’t surprise me a bit. The NYPD has a hit rate of 18% of their targets in live fire situations (the streets, not the range). This doesn’t mean they’re bad shots. They aren’t. They’re well trained professionals who visit the range on a regular basis. As far as accuracy goes, they’re pretty much the best case scenario. They hit 18% of their real world targets because live fire situations are always messy. A suspect doesn’t stay still and wait for the police to shoot them. They run around erratically, seek cover, and you can bet they return fire, necessitating that the officer seek cover as well. The odds of getting a good shot are slim.

Let’s also acknowledge the obvious byproduct of the above situation. 18% of rounds fired by NYPD officers hit their mark. What do you think the other 82% do? They don’t just disappear into thin air. They hit something. With luck, that’s a building, or a tree, or something else inanimate, but in these situations, people are afraid and act unpredictably. If it’s a crowded area (as schools are), then you can just about guarantee that a certain percentage of those rounds are going to hit innocent people. Fortunately, a majority of people who get shot in error don’t die, but they do suffer injuries, sometimes severe, sometimes life limiting. This isn’t a small risk. It’s a reality of gun use in public.

The risks to bystanders drastically outweigh the slim chance an armed teacher could actually get close enough to the shooter to be in range with their sidearm, and get that 18 in 100 shot that takes them down. Chances are, the shooter would take them out before they could get close enough for those 18% odds to even come into play, and that’s assuming the teacher in question is as well trained as an NYPD officer. Since they probably would not be, because they’re teachers, not police officers, the odds are actually much worse.

Next, let’s look at the tactics of an active shooter situation. Anyone who’s ever had training in military or law enforcement knows what a combatant is. Basically, it’s someone with a weapon who looks like they might use it. When you are clearing a room, you take down all combatants you come into contact with. You don’t ask them a bunch of questions about whose side they’re on, and then deliberate on what you should do about it, because if they’re not on your side, they’re going to shoot you while you sit there trying to figure out if you should shoot them. You have to make a one second decision on whether that person is a combatant or not, and then act. In an active shooter situation, when law enforcement enters the building, they are looking for someone with a gun. If you have a gun in that situation, you are going to get shot because you look like a combatant. The only good guys with guns in this scenario are the police. Armed civilians just end up dead. This is a recipe for more dead teachers. Who would actually advocate for that?

There are numerous other reasons this is a bad idea, including cost, training, freak accidents, and it simply not being the job of teachers to take something like this on. We could talk about these aspects of the issue for a week given the chance, but at the end of the day, this is a practical and tactical disaster waiting to happen, and we need to put it out of our minds immediately. I’m disappointed that so many people in this country value guns over human life to such an extent that they would actually propose an idea that would cause more death, and not address the issue at hand in any respect, rather than taking the hard step and coming to the table to create common sense bipartisan legislation to keep our youngest citizens safe in school. We have to demand better than this.

The Kids are All Right, and the Revolution Will Be Televised.



It’s still a mess out there. Trump’s photo-op with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting survivors went just as one would expect (I say photo-op because it can’t really be called a visit, can it? That would imply some meaningful interaction.) and the comments section on my previous post clearly shows that a lot of people in this country would rather cling to their guns than keep our citizens safer. My husband and I watched these things happening over the weekend, and shook our heads. He asked me, in his very British way, “Why are so many Americans like this?” I honestly didn’t know what to say, because even though I’ve been American all my life, and love a lot of things about this country, I don’t get it either. A lot of us don’t. It is so easy to feel like we’re just beating our heads against a wall trying to talk empathy and common sense into people who are set against understanding things like that. Amid all this, however, I have hope, and lots of it.

People, have you seen the Parkland students?! They are all over Twitter, calling out these politicians and pundits by name, replying to their tweets and platitudes, calling BS on their thoughts, prayers, and refusal to act. Conservative news anchors, they hear your comments about how this is not the time and we shouldn’t make this political (in other words, “please let us sweep this under the rug, keep our guns, and funnel the politicians NRA money”) and they are refusing to be silenced. They’re telling us that yes, this is the time, this is the place, and it absolutely is political. They are right, and their words matter.

I hope everybody saw Emma Gonzalez’s powerful speech at the rally for gun safety. If you haven’t, drop what you’re doing and watch it now. As a born and raised Floridian, as a citizen of the United States, and especially as the mom of a student just a couple years younger than she is, I was so proud of her. The world was watching, and she did a better job at delivering the message that needed to be delivered than any adult, and especially any politician. Nobody deserves to be in the situation these students are in, especially at a young age, but they aren’t accepting the role of victim. They are reframing themselves as change makers. As it turns out, the revolution will be televised.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas students aren’t alone in their efforts, as teens across the nation are staging protests, including one outside the White House over the weekend, and planning school walkouts to send a powerful message to politicians that they demand action. I strongly recommend all politicians of all parties shut up and listen. These aren’t kids. These are people who are going to vote you out of office very soon if you don’t do something. Probably ¼ of the students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting will be 18 in time for the upcoming midterm election, and probably half of them by the 2020 general election. Politicians, meet your constituents. Aren’t you lucky? They’re telling you exactly what you need to do to get the votes of their generation (and their generation is huge, so you really want their votes).

I know a lot of people are wondering what was different about this one, why these students are so much more vocal about fighting back than the survivors of previous school shootings. To be clear, I’m not criticizing the response of any survivor. Everyone copes in their own way, and it’s all valid. Even so, we have to admit, this time is different. This isn’t the first time school shooting survivors have had Twitter, or microphones, or intelligence, or anger. None of that is new. Maybe this was just a long time coming. Maybe we’re already so angry as a nation about the horrible (elected) situation in DC that we were sitting on a powder keg for action, and this was one hell of a catalyst. Whatever the reason, I think we are finally going to have the national conversation we’ve been needing, and hopefully affect change at the ballot box in a few months, and again in a couple years. These students and their courageous activism are going to be a game changer.

As I watch these students find their voices and their power, I remember Columbine as the event that changed everything. I was a student at a different Florida high school at that time, and I remember how it shook our community even though we were half a continent away. I remember my school receiving bomb threats in the days following, and how the deans tried to figure out security, which was nearly impossible since the school consisted of a large sprawl of small buildings with outdoor hallways, surrounded by large fields owned by the school’s Agriculture department. Since metal detectors would have been largely pointless, the goth kids all got questioned because they wore trench coats, we all had to buy clear backpacks, the Sheriff’s Department searched our cars and lockers a few times, and our Resource Deputy worked overtime, trying to keep his finger on the pulse of the school, and learn of any potential threats.

Consider now, that many of today’s high school students were born in the years immediately following Columbine. Some, if their parents were young, were born to people who remember this from the perspective of a student. (My oldest is the same age as the younger Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors. I was in high school during Columbine.) These students have never known a world where mass shootings in schools are not a thing. They have grown up in a nation that teaches Kindergarteners which alarm means vacate for fire drill and which one means hide in closets and bathroom stalls for a lockdown drill. The world they grew up in is so jaded that the “smaller” school shootings barely make the news, and the most dystopian headlines ever, things like, “There were only 8 school shootings in the past 6 weeks, not 18”, get shared widely as if they represent the voice of reason, as if we’re doing kind of ok despite the fact that we have school shootings on a regular basis, and the rest of the world is actually pretty horrified with us.

They live in this reality, but go home to parents who remember when it wasn’t like that. I don’t know anybody who’s not completely gutted by the fact that their kids, all the way back to Kindergarten, have rehearsed what to do in the event of a mass shooting. We tell our kids that it doesn’t have to be like this. We tell them that we can do better. Say what you will about millennial parents, but we are raising our kids to know they can make a difference. We grew up on girl power anthems by Gwen Stefani, TLC, and the Spice Girls. We were told we could do anything we wanted in life, and that the technology we were raised with would allow us to innovate more than any other generation. (The fact that a lot of us were hobbled to some degree by the economy has limited this, but our mentality is still influenced by the optimism we came up on.) We danced around the living rooms with our toddlers to Beyonce, and dressed them in shirts that said, “Strong like mom” and “Kind like dad”. We turned gender roles on their heads, with dads happily taking on more of the parenting duties than ever before, and moms contributing in the workforce and politically more than any previous generation. We took our kids to see every Marvel movie, where the good guys always win and diversity is celebrated. We send them to schools that have metal detectors and lockdown procedures, but we fill them with optimism even though we have had a lot of it sucked out of us by the world in recent years. Most of us, at our core, are pretty sure the only way we’re going to change the world is to raise better people. Whether the parents of these students are older millennials, Gen-X, or somewhere in between, they did exactly that, and I’m so proud of them.

We’re a young country. I have to wonder if all this upheaval is part of our growing pains. Maybe the combination of young people with empowered upbringings, Twitter accounts, and anger at the nation that elected the most inept, unhinged, and out of touch presidential administration in history, is what will finally push us in the progressive direction that we’ve been needing for a long time. I don’t think this would have happened if Obama were still in office. I like Obama just fine. Most people do. That’s kind of the point. Maybe because we don’t like our government’s face anymore, we’re finally able to get angry enough at them to affect change.

There’s always been corruption. There’s always been inaction. There have always been policies and decisions that every sensible person should disagree with. This stuff was true no matter who was in office. It was really hard to get mad at Obama, though, because he was a decent person. You can say the same, to some degree, of Bush, Clinton, and if you remember other presidents, probably them as well. The current regime is different. They are not decent people. They are very easy to get justifiably angry at. Maybe it wasn’t solely this massive shooting, but the combination of the vileness of our current political status, the number of victims, and of course the universal availability of Twitter, that created this tide of activism.

Whatever it is, I’m here for it, and you should be, too. Things may seem bleak, but election day is coming. Let’s join with the Parkland students, and give ‘em hell.


No, it’s not like Blue Apron.


I’m home with a sick kid today, which means I spent most of my morning catching up with the happenings on social media. My newsfeed is blowing up with one thing, Trump’s proposal on food stamps. Of course, since I surround myself with mostly very liberal or at least left leaning people, everyone I know is horrified by it. Some of my low-income friends who receive SNAP benefits are really insulted by the entire suggestion, and they should be. I’m insulted for them.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the current regime has proposed to cut SNAP (food stamp) allotments and replace half of the value with basically commodity foods. The things mentioned were shelf stable milk, canned fruits and vegetables, canned fish and meats, pasta, rice, and peanut butter. It’s basically every government cheese joke told on the elementary school playground come to life.

I grew up in a somewhat poor town in the rural south. We joked about government cheese a lot because most people got it, and all of us had eaten it. It wasn’t bad, but its presence in your home definitely marked you as a “have not” in a world of “haves”, so we did what kids do, and joked about it. My family wasn’t eligible for that type of help because we owned our land, but sometimes others would share their government food allotments with us, so I’m no stranger to those plain brown packages nor their no-frills, calorie dense, contents. While I was glad to eat it as a kid, the idea of bringing it back just strikes me as crass.

This also reminds me of another lesson I learned the hard way, this time as an adult. People in this country hate the poor. I have been mostly fortunate in life, but in 2011, two weeks before my youngest child was born, my then-husband walked away from his military career, choosing instead to work for $10/hr at a car dealership. This resulted in a situation where we had enough money to pay exactly 1/3 of our bills every month. It was an awful situation in every possible way, and to fully describe what it was like to go from solidly middle class to losing our house, having utilities cut off, and not having enough to eat, would require its own entry, or possibly a book. I do not think I have ever been more scared in my life than I was during those few months. The biggest lesson I learned was that people are really weird about the poor.

There were a few friends who stuck by me. They fed me even if they didn’t have much themselves. They bought things I sewed, even though I know they didn’t need them. They didn’t act like I was stupid. I will never forget the kindness of those few people. Unfortunately, they were in the minority.

Most people say really stupid things to poor people. They ask why you still have a car if you’re so broke, why you can’t move to a cheaper apartment, why you still own a stroller for your baby, why you still own your wedding ring. They don’t understand that not having a car isn’t an option in a city without reliable public transportation, that moving to a new place is more expensive than staying (and that on a reduced income, nobody would approve us as a tenant anyway), that I’d sold just about everything I could on Craigslist already, that that money had already been used for groceries, and what you see is the stuff nobody would buy. They would tell me I needed to put my foot down and make my husband pay those bills, stop blowing all the money, etc. They didn’t hear me when I said nobody was blowing money on anything, that it just wasn’t there.

As we slid down the poverty rabbit hole at fever pitch (all of this took place from May to November) I ended up without a phone. My doctor tried for months to get in touch with me over an abnormal test result, my birth control prescription lapsed and I had no way to schedule an appointment for more because I couldn’t call the doctor, and on two occasions, my kid was stuck at school sick with no way to get ahold of me. The kids didn’t go to the pediatrician because I couldn’t call for an appointment and couldn’t afford the gas to get there even so. When I told people about this, they said, “Cell phones are a luxury. You could still call 911 from yours in a real emergency.” as if that somehow made it ok that I was cut off from the world in general.

They had to believe that the situation I was in was my fault, that I somehow deserved it because I was stupid, and that their rationalizing of it meant it could never happen to them. I honestly think my situation scared them because it proved it could happen to anybody. I had been the wife of an Army Staff Sergeant. I had a brand new house and a brand new car. I had three kids who wore adorable clothes, and one who went to private school. I bellydanced and had lovely costumes. I cooked responsible, consciously sourced, whole foods to rival any hipster housewife. I paid for my homebirth in cash. I was any suburban mom, and when my husband at the time decided that his end of the deal was too much, all of it was ripped away from me and our kids so fast we hardly knew what hit us.

We burned through our savings in a couple months, and it didn’t take long after that for everything to just crash around us. It has only been within the past year that I have stopped fearing the sound of the doorbell, because during those few months, the doorbell meant we were losing our house or a utility was being shut off. I developed anxiety, my psoriasis got worse, and I just generally lived in fear because the basic things I had always been able to count on were not there because someone else made a choice not to provide them anymore. People do not want to believe this can happen to them, so they convince themselves that the people it did happen to, are somehow less deserving, less intelligent, less human. This is how they keep the fear of the reality that it can happen to any of us at bay. I know because I’ve been on that side of it, too.

The new SNAP proposal is born of the same mentality. It’s condescending and dehumanizing. Look at the way the articles in The Hill and several other credible publications are describing it. The administration officials are likening it to Blue Apron meal kits. This is extra insulting because canned goods in government boxes are nothing like Blue Apron, which is a gourmet meal kit service that even I, a working structural engineer, cannot afford on a regular basis. No poor person, no human being, will consider these things similar. The officials and their cronies rib each other, “Blue Apron for the poor, amirite?!” “Ah, good sir, yes, let them eat cake! Actually, wait, no, don’t let them eat cake. That’s an extra! Let them eat shelf stable milk and peanut butter!”

When you’re poor, you know you are, and the entire way you relate to the world is different. Nobody is more intensely aware of “have” and “have not” culture than the “have nots”. Marking the have nots visually in their kitchens is crass and disgusting. People should be trusted to feed themselves. I don’t care if all they want to eat is Cheetos, or if they buy the biggest birthday cake at HEB for their kid and the entire block. I DO NOT CARE. Let them do it. They deserve that tiny bit of normalcy because odds are, nothing else is normal in their lives.

With that said, the average poor person does not want to eat only Cheetos or buy a giant birthday cake. They mostly want what we all want, decent food that their families like to eat, familiar brands, comfort food, all the stuff for grandma’s soup recipe. Studies show that SNAP recipients eat mostly the same way as non-recipients. This idea that they’re blowing their allotments on stupidity is yet another manifestation of the mentality in which people convince themselves that the poor are stupid and can’t be trusted.

I know I got very personal on this issue, but I don’t think it’s irrelevant. The entire point is that everyone who’s in need has a unique story of how they got to that place, and it usually had nothing to do with the horrible failings we’re told usually result in poverty. It was a layoff, an injury, an illness, or maybe they were just born into really disadvantaged circumstances. This stuff is valid, and most of all, it’s human. It happened to me. It could happen to you. When we see poor people as human beings, we don’t want to do things like make them live on preselected survival foods, with no regard for their preferences, allergies, or intolerances, because we wouldn’t like that either. We trust grown adults with their own grocery money because we would want that if it were us.

It also occurs to me that Republicans seem to be the last remaining people who believe upward mobility is a thing that exists in today’s world. This means they think people can overcome bad circumstances, and move up to better ones. In some rare cases, this is true. I managed to get out of that bad situation, and things turned out ok, only due to some very rare circumstances. One big thing we can do to help people try to better their situation is to trust them. My mom taught Kindergarten for years, and she used to always say that kids will rise or stoop to your expectations of them. You tell a kid they’re bad, they’ll be bad. You tell a kid they’re a hard worker, they’ll be a hard worker. This is true of people of all ages. If we tell those who are in need economically that we trust them to choose their own foods, to feed their families the best way they can, to make good choices, they will do exactly that. This is evidenced by the fact that SNAP has the lowest rate of fraud and abuse of nearly any government program. We trust people to manage their own grocery budget, and not surprisingly at all, they do it. If we give them the government foods subscription box, we are telling them they are untrustworthy, and just generally unworthy. What do you think that’s going to do to people’s morale? It’s not going to help, that’s for sure.

Bottom line, can we please not be the country that does this? In today’s economy, with the volatile markets and the constantly changing job market, it could be any of us on the receiving end. Let’s find out every single elected official who supported this idea, and vote them all out as soon as we can. We can’t have this. We’re all people, and demand to be treated as such.

A Business Owner and an Engineer Did Their Taxes…


My husband is the tax pro in our family. He’s a small business owner, and as such, has never seen a simple tax return in his life. I can’t even weigh in on this process significantly because mine have always been simple. Input lines from W2 form. In a really tough year, maybe there were two W2 forms. Deduct daycare expenses. If there was tuition, input that. I get a form for everything. He gets a form for nothing. It’s the numerous files of receipts and credit card statements, each thing in its intricately stored place, as he methodically goes through, as he has every year for 33 years, and inputs each part of it where it goes. The last thing to do was my income, which, as I mentioned, is simply a matter of copying figures off a form. It took a matter of minutes.

When the dollar figure at the top of the page reached its final magnitude, we both marveled at how few credits we really got, and wondered at how much this will change next year when the proposed tax plan is set to take effect.

We did everything right, by the standards of the average Republican. He’s run his business for nearly as long as I’ve been alive, helping thousands of people through his work, and always paying his way. He has never received any form of assistance. As an immigrant, he wasn’t eligible for a while, but then he just never qualified for it, nor wanted it, I think. Republicans love to talk about entrepreneurs, and he fits the bill perfectly.

I joined the Army, and then I went to college and didn’t major in any of the things they like to laugh at. Nope, not this girl. I studied civil engineering, published research, and got myself a nice tidy government job where I occupy a cubicle 40 hours a week, doing literally the most stereotypical work a civil engineer can ever do, designing bridges. I love it, and I’ll do it until I’m too old to see my calculations anymore (probably because my pension will go away at some point… but I digress).

We bought a house that we could afford. We drive sensible cars. We cook at home 99% of the time and only go out to eat occasionally. We clip coupons. We live within our means.

We’re actually a fantastic test case for the economy. Everyone knows the average politician doesn’t give a shit about the poor. The Democrats say they do, but only a few of them actually try to make policy to help. The Republicans tried to cut CHIP this year. I don’t need to say anything more about what they think of the poor. The rich have lobbyists who buy the politicians for them. Yet, everyone talks about the middle class. That’s us. We’re the middle class. One small business owner, one engineer, literally 2.5 kids under our roof on average at any given time, a 2500 square foot house in the burbs, and a couple of Mazdas in the driveway. Our income is above the median, but not by a lot. We are the average family, a shocking success story considering my generational cohort, but the type of thing lawmakers love to hold up and say, “See?? If you just major in engineering or start a business, you, too, can live a decent life!”

With the new tax proposal, we’re going to be totally and utterly screwed.

Let me tell you about our tax situation. When you make about what I make, you trigger some algorithm in every government agency that has anything to do with money that says, “Oh hi! This person is successful!” (I’m pretty sure the marker for what constitutes “successful” hasn’t been moved since roughly 1995.) When that happens, your student loan payment adjusts. In my case, it adjusts to the maximum allowed for that loan amount under income based repayment. My student loan amount and payment is nearly identical to my car loan and payment, so let’s just consider it that financially, we’ve got three Mazdas in the driveway, but one of them is invisible, because that’s what we spend like. The other thing that happens when you reach this “Oh hi! This person is successful!” threshold is that the IRS decides you don’t need tax credits anymore. If you made just $10k less than you did, then you’d be raking in serious bank with all the favor of the tax credit gods, but you don’t, because you’re successful, and that stuff is for working class people, not you.

So what does this mean? It means people like us live and die by our deductions. We deduct mortgage interest, and student loan interest, and all the state and local taxes we pay, and every other thing we have that is eligible under the numerous categories that exist.

Where does the new tax plan hit people the hardest? That’s right. Deductions.

“But Anna, you can still deduct $10k of state and local taxes. There’s no way the average person pays that much. Stop bitching as if you represent the average person.”

Let me explain why $10k in state and local taxes really isn’t that much, and why a lot of people you know probably are paying at least that much. The average home price in our metro area is $400k, but you can get a decent house in the burbs in the $250-300k range. Consider a 2.8% tax rate (that’s what we pay). Some neighborhoods have less, some more, but it won’t take you long to figure out that if you’re not paying $10k/yr in property taxes already, you will be once your property value goes up a little, and they’re rising constantly. We live in an area that is quite average in cost of living. People in other places probably have it a lot worse. Let’s also point out that people in a lot of states pay income tax to the state as well as the federal government. We don’t here, but this adds up a lot faster for people who do. It is absolutely inevitable that we will lose deductions when we can only deduct $10k in state and local taxes each year.

Student loan interest will also not be deductible. This is several thousands that I’ve been able to deduct every year since I’ve been in the workforce. I actually have roughly half the student loan balance of the average borrower of my graduation year, although my payments are on a par with people who owe more because I am on income based repayment (remember, my salary triggered the “Oh hi! You’re successful!” algorithm), so the impact for us will be shorter lived than higher borrowers, but the magnitude will be the same for the years that my loans do exist.  Consider that student loan debt is the biggest financial problem of this generation, and you can clearly see where this goes wrong. Not allowing us to deduct student loan interest was a huge mistake by the people who wrote this thing.

“But Anna, you guys have kids! You’re going to be fine because they’re increasing the child tax credit!”

OK, let me tell you something really nutty about the child tax credit that didn’t occur to me until I got my current job, and was really shocked by that year’s taxes. Remember that “Oh hi! You’re successful!” income threshold? Yeah, it affects this, too. Once you get past a certain income level, you get less money for having kids. This is one of the tax credits that practically goes away for those of us past the income threshold that would have made us really well off in 1995, and to be fair, probably would allow us to live pretty high on the hog in rural Mississippi even today. (But who pays this much there? See the conundrum? But I digress.) The point is, them raising the value of a credit we barely get anyway doesn’t do much to offset the fact that we lose deductions for state and local taxes, and student loan interest paid. If they touch the mortgage interest deduction for people in our price range, I’m going to scream, because it’s basically the only thing we have left.

So why are some people ok with this?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I honestly wonder if it’s because they have absolutely no shot at reaching an income threshold where this stuff would even matter, so they’re pretty equally screwed by any tax plan, because they’re already totally screwed by their paycheck.

Defaulted student loan debt is a huge issue these days. After graduation, people often can’t get jobs that will allow them to afford their living expenses and their student loan payment, and after their forbearance period is over, they default.

How feasible do you think it is to buy a house if you have defaulted student loans? It doesn’t take an accountant to tell you what something like that does to your credit rating.

So if you can’t pay your student loans, and you can’t buy a house, you don’t have property taxes and student loan interest to deduct, and you probably don’t even notice those aspects of the tax code, since nobody really pays attention to the parts that don’t apply to them (ask me what happens to mortgage interest on properties valued over $750k. I honestly couldn’t tell you because I will probably never be in that situation.)

Add all this up. Look what they’ve done. They basically subjugated an entire swath of society to only partial participation in the economy through lack of regulation on university tuition prices, student loan practices, wages, and inflation. Because this happened, tax policies that totally screw the last remaining shred of the middle class, are passed without nearly the outrage they would have been met with had they done this to our parents’ generation.

Let’s not forget there’s an election this year. You all know what to do.

A Week Without FaceBook


A couple weeks ago, I deactivated my FaceBook profile for a week. It was a truly interesting social experiment, and changed the way I think about a lot of things. There are many articles circling the internet lately about the harmful effects that social media is having on social interaction throughout society, many quoting former high level personnel from Google, FaceBook, and Twitter. I’ve read these, as have most people, but until recently, I didn’t take them very seriously. It wasn’t until I actually went without my favorite social media platform for a week that I realized just how good their algorithms are at creating an echo chamber, polarizing people, and being genuinely addictive.

The biggest reason I deactivated my FaceBook was because it was causing problems for me in relationships. My partner had been telling me for the past couple years that I ignore him in favor of FaceBook. This was completely accurate, and I didn’t realize the extent to which it was until I deactivated for a week. Additionally, like most parents, I often tune out and check notifications while sort of helping my kids with their homework, or after they’ve been talking about Minecraft for longer than I find it entertaining to hear about Minecraft (just for reference, the latter is a pretty small amount of time). There is no debate or mitigation on the fact that my time spent on FaceBook was causing detriment to relationships within our home, and deactivation seemed the best way to address that at the time.

During my deactivation, I kept Messenger, mostly because my partner and I communicate with it throughout the day, and it’s functionally no different than text messaging, which I already have on my phone no matter what. I kept my Instagram because it’s a less interactive platform which I spend very little time on (maybe ten minutes a day, and not even every day. I mostly look at my daughter’s pictures, and post a couple times a week.) I have never found Instagram as alluring as FaceBook. I also kept Twitter, on which I have never posted anything, and use solely to follow relevant politicians. Let’s be honest, I kept Twitter because I have to fact check what people claim Trump said, and to take screenshots of the more egregious ones. My deactivation from social media was exclusive to the main FaceBook newsfeed, groups, and profile, but since these comprise well over 90% of my social media interaction, the impact was nearly as substantial as unplugging completely.

The first thing I noticed was that it really is addictive. For the first three days of my deactivation, I still clicked the FaceBook icon on my phone probably a dozen times a day out of habit, only to have it go to the solid blue screen asking me if I want to reactivate my account. At that point, I would close it, and remind myself that I wasn’t on FaceBook now. It reminded me of when I quit smoking, and would sometimes reflexively go outside at certain times of the day, and upon getting there, remember that I didn’t smoke anymore, and go back in. That’s what it felt like to be without FaceBook for the first three days. There were no physical side-effects, of course, but emotionally, it felt very similar to what quitting smoking felt like.

The second thing I noticed was that my sense of time changed. I was still online a lot. I read the news directly from ABC, BBC, The Guardian, and The Hill while I did my hair and makeup in the morning, on breaks from work, and while cooking. I read fashion blogs and vegetarian cooking sites. I enjoyed the very aspect of the internet that made me fall in love with it in the first place, the availability of information. I found, interestingly, that I was able to consume this type of media without losing track of time. An hour spent reading Vegetarian Times recipes or articles from The Guardian while stirring a simmering pot of soup, feels exactly like an hour. An hour spent falling down the FaceBook rabbit hole of notifications, tags, and threads, feels like five minutes. Additionally, it’s way harder to step away from FaceBook than it is to step away from a news article, recipe, or blog entry, if family needs my attention. I found it easier to come and go when I was consuming primarily conventional media or low interaction social media such as Instagram, rather than highly interactive social media like FaceBook.

I would say the biggest realization I came to is that FaceBook is shaping how we interact with each other, and how we view each other. By virtue of the format, we are literally shoving our opinions down each other’s throats all day long. Granted, the newsfeed is highly curated, so the odds of coming to anything we find really objectionable are slimmer than would be natural, but when we do happen upon those opposing views in groups, or occasionally the comments section of a post by that one awesome college classmate whose family is really backward, it’s become so easy to just rip each other to shreds. The reason, I think, is because we come to see each other as less than whole people. We become a set of attributes, aggregate data, views. For all I know, a person on a group who totally makes my skin crawl with their conservatism, which I perceive as hatred of the poor, could actually be a really fun person to hang out with, but I’ll never know it because they probably live on the other side of the country, and in this context, I have no idea that they’re a fun person, because all I see is comments about bootstraps which show a willful ignorance of the economic realities of our country as far as I’m concerned.

Think about it. I guarantee there are people in your life you enjoy spending time with even if they’re completely opposite of you politically or socially. I can think of a lot of people like that. There are people I served in the Army with whom I consider family, and love to hang out with, but would never ever want to talk politics with because we’re so far opposites. I don’t see them as less than human on social media because I know them as whole people. I’ve known them since before social media existed in our lives. I knew them before I knew their views. Now it’s the opposite. We know people’s views before we know them, and this does dehumanize our interactions.

The other aspect of this is that it makes things really awkward when people from various stages of your life, people you’d never introduce to each other, end up arguing on your status. College roommate calls your uncle a racist piece of shit because he doesn’t understand the importance of Black Lives Matter. Uncle calls your coworker an entitled participation trophy millennial because she believes in affirmative action. To you, these are both awesome people that you value for completely different reasons, and you don’t want to smack either of them down, but neither one of them sees the other as a person. They see each other as the factions they’ve relegated each other to in their minds.

Social media had a lot of potential to bring people together, and to some extent, it has. I’ve met some amazing people on FaceBook. I cannot count on two hands and two feet the number of people on my friends list I wish lived down the street instead of across the country or state, because I would hang out with them all the time if I could. There are many others I met in person when I lived elsewhere, and haven’t had the chance to see for years because we’ve both moved. I am so thankful to have social media to keep me in touch with those people. Ultimately, it’s all of these people who keep me coming back to FaceBook. I want them in my life, and in 2018, social media is the tool for that.

With that said, I don’t think my first deactivation will be my last. After the observations that I made during the week I spent off FaceBook, I see many benefits to strategic breaks to keep grounded in reality, and avoid getting sucked into the worst aspects of it. The week I spent off FaceBook felt good. I felt lighter in a way. My partner and I went out on Christmas Eve, and my phone stayed in my purse the entire time. I was focused on him, not on posting a picture of the funny thing he did, or how many people liked that picture. It felt authentic, honest, and simple in the best way.

Social media is not like other advancements in media that we’ve seen over the course of modern history. This is not akin to how people thought TV would do more harm than good, or how certain ancient Greek philosophers opposed books because they thought they’d harm their students’ ability to commit things to memory. This is different. Social media talks back. It’s highly curated, interactive, and tailored to be the drug every person wants. We need to be mindful of what we’re working with. I’m not telling anyone else how they should manage this. I’m saying, let’s acknowledge this for the double edged sword that it is, and consume wisely.


The trajectory was, overall, positive.


Do you ever have a moment where you realize that this is your life, and you just kind of observe it and declare that it is good? Last night, I was putting two sick kids to bed. One was complaining of a headache, the other was coughing nonstop. I walked down their hallway, turned into the game room, passed the stairs where our beloved ginger cat, Beowulf, was waiting to grab my foot as I passed, and went into the master bathroom for Motrin and Dimetapp. It was in that moment, right about when I passed Beowulf, that it hit me. I am a structural engineer. My salary got us the mortgage for this gorgeous house. I have a job that leaves me energy for my family when I get home. My kids have their own rooms, good food, medicine, clothes that fit and suit the weather, and a great place to grow up. We even have two adorable cats. This holiday season will be the first of many in this home. Every single day is still a first, and a reminder that yes, we made it. 2017 was the year that we finally made it.

Today, as we celebrate the holidays with a big lunch for the entire division, we’re all festive as we close up our projects for the year, and prepare to start back after the holidays with more enthusiasm and motivation than ever. This is my second holiday season at the state DOT, but the end of my first full calendar year here, and my first full calendar year designing structures. While I am still not where I would like to be as far as my aptitude for the subject matter is concerned, I can say with confidence that I am a better engineer today than I was a year ago. That in itself is something to be grateful for.

I designed four new bridges this year, and designed repairs for five. The repairs ranged from new rails to complete structural overhauls. I have a few more new bridges in my queue for after the first of the year, and was just assigned another one this morning. One thing I learned is that life is never boring when you are a bridge engineer. Every bridge is different, and even the simplest one imaginable can throw you a curveball that makes it require something really interesting of you. The first bridge I designed this year was a simple two-span thing across a gorge on a rural state highway down by the coast. We thought it would be so simple that we could just assign standard drawings for its components, and all the engineering it would require would be quantities calculations and foundation design. Then we realized that the topographical conditions required us to make the first span roughly 1/3 the length of the second, requiring an extensive analysis of the piles supporting the interior bent. I learned a lot from this bridge.

I’ll never forget that analysis. It was during it that I realized I no longer had to consciously make myself think like a structural engineer. That pile analysis was what it took to push me from a pavement engineer who had, for some reason, been hired to design bridges, to a legitimate structural engineer. My work has been much less exhausting since. Nobody can ever tell me the human mind isn’t malleable. In 2017, I learned to think like a structural engineer, and the prospect of doing this for the rest of my life became a lot less taxing.

I have noticed that my bridges have gotten progressively more difficult. I had one that was built in two stages. I had a couple with very different geometric concerns than any I’d seen in the past. I’ve started getting bridges that go over roadways, not just over water. This adds more considerations to the design process. Sometimes I worry that I stagnate in skills development, or that literally everybody in this department is a better engineer than I am, but when I look at my trajectory, and see that it is generally upward, I am reasonably sure that I am a good enough engineer to be here, and that this is a strong foundation upon which to build.

I also received some very meaningful projects, my first extensive repairs. I’d done rail retrofits before, but this was the first time I got assigned to design major structural repairs for bridges to prevent them from becoming structurally deficient. It was amazing, and if I had my choice of what to do forever, it would be that. Designing new bridges is fun and all, but repairing old bridges is amazing. You have to look through plan sets older than your parents, figure out how the bridge was built, why the faulty part of it is failing, and how to fix it without a loss of functionality. Every repair is different. There is no standard for any of it. You never know what you’re going to find when you start looking into an old bridge. It’s amazingly cool. I did three extensive repair bridges this year, and two minor ones.

I inspected my first bridges this year, and I don’t know that I’ll ever get that red clay off my boots! That was an interesting and challenging experience. I don’t know that our local personnel knew what to make of the delegation from the Capitol. We were a bunch of skinny vegetarians with really clean safety gear, and the area engineer correctly pointed out that my cuffed skinny jeans might not have been the best thing to wear in the field. But as the sun rose, and we crossed the river in hip waders, ultimately inspecting all 35 spans of the bridge in question, I think we earned their respect. Their intern had never met a female engineer before. I hope inspecting that bridge with me will influence his perspective positively as he goes on in his career. While I don’t expect I’ll be applying for a position as a full time inspector anytime soon, I enjoyed the experience more than I thought I would.

The second half of the year was mostly consumed by the Professional Engineer’s exam. I prepared for it, and ultimately took it in October. I passed on the first try, keeping the departmental winning streak alive. Nobody from here has failed in years. The pressure was high. I scored a respectable 82. I deserve to be in this profession. I have earned the right to be here, to have the title of PE. I don’t know when this will be real to me. I still haven’t unpacked my books. I need to do that soon.

In all, it was a good year. There’s a lot to celebrate this holiday season. As I submit the design notes for my last bridge of the year, I feel triumphant. Nine bridges are better because I was here. I contributed positively to the PE exam stats for my organization, my state, and my university. I feel less stressed than I did a year ago. I have reached every major milestone of adulthood that had felt distant from me before, owning a home, passing the PE exam, etc. I am not where I want to be. I hope to make major improvements in many aspects of my life next year, earn a large raise, and do better in every way. The trajectory is positive, though, and I can’t complain about a thing.