Category: Reflection

Unwarranted

Let’s talk about the fourth amendment.

Now to be upfront, I am not a lawyer. That sentence is usually followed by a “but, I blah blah blah might as well be” bullshit justification for being an expert, even if on the layman level.

I am not a constitutional law expert either.

I’m a weird bird. I consume trial transcripts. There’s probably half a dozen cases where I have read every brief, motion transcript or filing. US v Microsoft is probably where I got the bug. Such a fascinating case from end to end.

BUT

That doesn’t make me a lawyer.

I do, however, have opinions on the law. I also where possible, repeat guidance that learned lawyers have stated publicly.

With that, let us examine the 4th amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

This is a good amendment, and very important. It essentially is the protection in our society from the government simply looking at whatever it wants to on a fishing expedition and it has served us well to date.

But then 9/11.

I’ve stated it before, but there is an old joke that a liberal is simply a conservative that has never been mugged. On 9/11 our entire country got mugged. To put it succinctly: We lost our collective minds.

Shrouded in cries of “Never forget” and “Protect the homeland” we quite simply did shame to our founding fathers by agreeing to give up many of the things that make America unique. All in the interests of thinking we could prevent another 9/11 from happening.

We can’t. Another major terrorist attack will happen on American soil. If you count domestic terrorism, many already have. It is not a “solve for zero” problem. The safest society in the world is one that chains everyone in the country to their beds 24/7. The greatest victory Osama Bin Laden achieved is our own violation of our principles. Every shoe taken off at an airport, every email read by the NSA, every time a TSA agent violates someone’s body in the interests of the greater good of security is in the final analysis, a victory for those who attacked us. They terrorized us.

So why does this bring me to the 4th amendment?

The word “Warrant”.

We put a lot of stock in that word. I don’t know an American who would not say “well if they had a warrant then…”

But here’s the thing. It’s trivial to get one. It is the linchpin of the entire 4th amendment. It is the very due process we trust. That a judge considered the arguments and, having weighed the impact and risks, issued the command that bypasses the amendment.

How many warrants are denied? Less and less I fear. I am concerned that in the post 9/11 world no judge wants to be the one to deny a warrant if the word terrorism is involved. I am concerned the process of obtaining a warrant, often on very tight timelines, has been so diluted as to make the 4th amendment itself useless.

Let us consider a hypothetical. I tweet to Edward Snowden. He replies. Because his twitter stream is followed closely by law enforcement, and I am a well-known member of the security industry, how difficult would it be on the part of a judge to issue a warrant to search my computers and phone due to Snowden’s status as a fugitive whose actions have (according to those pleading the warrant) materially affected the security of the United States?

I see struggles like this all the time. Thanks to the Patriot act one need simply find some way to invoke terrorism in the application for a warrant and many safeguards that might give a judge or controlling authority pause simply melt away.

This problem is not related to political administrations. It existed under Bush, Obama, and now Trump.

Armor is only as strong as its weakest point. In the case of the 4th amendment, the strongest link is now made of brittle, poorly cast metal.

I WROTED YOU A CHRISTMAS STORY.

(It is of course non-canon. Eternal thanks to Brenda Cooper, Wil Wheaton, Christina Diddle, and Yesenia Cisneros for story notes and feedback. Yes it’s a little blasphemous, if you are sensitive to that, don’t bother reading. You will have no one to blame but yourself.)

 

Teaching Toward Bethlehem

 

 

The air was crisp and cold, and smelled strongly of smoke. To be more clear, it wasn’t the smoke smell of destruction nor the smoke of a pipe of herb. It was hearth fire smoke. Wood smoke. A smell of comfort, and Nathanial Boren inhaled it deeply and held it inside of him for a moment. He exhaled and watched his breath float away into the night sky, imagining for a moment it was smoke itself. It was a childhood play act that even at the ripe old age of fifty-one he indulged in.

His wife was fast asleep in the settlement behind him, his children were grown and had hearth fires of their own. Nights like this he could stand out near the perimeter, see the stars in the winter night air and just be. For a moment he wished he’d poured a dram of the spiced cider on the stove before he went out, then decided that tiny imperfection made the night somehow better.

Sometimes just being meant feeling a slight pang of regret.

The grassy hills that rolled over the landscape were dusted in a bit of light frost and the dark outline of the old city structure could just be made out against the far mountains under the light of the full moon. The perimeter was set up to prevent raids from there, but the grand old Vancouver skyline still stood proud if inert. Nathanial’s reverie was broken by Old Messy goat, the cranky one, who bleated from her position at the center of the flock and that’s when little Rhiannon scared the living shit out of him.

“Caught ya dreaming!” she shouted, slapping him on the backside.

After the shock wore off “Sweet Christ child, you’ll give me a heart attack!”

Rhiannon cocked her head, dark skin and eyes bundled up in her little parka, “You weren’t tending the flock. I get spanked for that.”

All of nine years old, his granddaughter was already a taskmaster at settlement responsibilities, and yes, he had been musing instead of watching the herd. For a moment he was doubly grateful for not having the cider, as she startled him so badly he would have either dashed it on himself or on her.

“Fair point. What are you doing out here? The perimeter isn’t safe at night.”

A shrug, just like her mother would, “Yeah well you guys say that, but no one has come from the city since, you know, I was born.” She put a sarcastic emphasis on the last word and Nathanial’s heart soared because that part, that part was just like his wife.

“All right little one, look and tell me what you see.”

Rhiannon dutifully gazed over the perimeter fence line for a moment. Nathanial could see her mind working on the proper response. She was analytical. Businesslike. It hurt somewhat to realize she was not whimsical, and that this world had by necessity made her that way.

“There’s no tracks in the frost, no one has been in the crossfire zone. Old Messy is cranky because none of the males want to fuck her.” She said plainly.

“Hey! Language!”

Rhiannon rolled her eyes, “Owpaw I know all about fucking. That’s how we get more goats and babies.”

“Language! I should speak to your mother about her teachings.”

Again with the rolled eyes. “You guys tell me how important words are, then spend a lot of time telling me not to say them.”

Nathanial took a deep breath for a blistery comeback and exhaled slowly instead. The air still smelled of burning wood and comfort.

“Yes. Yes, sometimes we do that. We’re not perfect. But while your eyes caught much, you missed my point. Look at the sky.”

She cast her eyes up at the stars then shrugged again like her mother.

“It’s clear. No glowy fog or clouds tonight.”

“But do you see that star?” he pointed.

“The brighter one?”

“Yes, that one.” He said.

This time there wasn’t a shrug. Now, she was listening.

“I see it.”

“That star is Polaris. It is the northern star. It’s one of the brighter stars in the night sky. It is said that Polaris guided the shepherds.”

And yet again with the eye rolling. Nathanial wanted for a moment to chastise her but Rhiannon wasn’t one to be silenced or interrupted.

“Oh not the Christmas story again.”

“It’s winter little one, and the time when we used to mark this time with great celebration.”

She pulled the hood of her winter coat back, her dander up now, which again gave Nathanial great delight. Rhiannon had a sharp mind. He had much hope for this young generation.

“Stupid! Owpaw no one tends flocks in the field in desert winter. And wise men don’t need a star to guide them. The whole story is dumb. Why would a god fuck some woman—“

“Language!”

“—to create another version of himself to die but not really die so everyone here could hurt people then feel bad and feel ok about it later because they think they get to live forever?”

Rhiannon’s blood was up he could see, Nathanial changed his mind and wished for a moment he had that cider. He looked back up at the sky.

“I suppose you’re right.”

Rhiannon blinked, unsure of herself. He shifted slightly and put his arm around her.

“I like the story though,” he said, “It reminds me of generosity. It reminds me of sacrifice. It reminds me of the fact even if we worship something, that doesn’t mean it didn’t face struggle too. All we have in the end, are our stories. Isn’t the message of the Christ worth that? Forget the main parts, think about the message. Of love and sharing it. Doing something to help everyone. Yes, the story is a myth but all stories are. We can take the lessons even if we don’t buy the story right?”

Rhiannon hugged her grandfather tightly around his waist. “No. It’s silly. But I think I know what you mean?”

He did. They stood like that, enjoying the cold for a moment.

“There’s a hymn I like,” he said.

“The holy night one?”

“It’s fun to sing isn’t it?”

“I guess,” she said.

“There’s a line about fall on your knees, hear the angel voices.”

“That’s dumb. You can’t fight back on your knees.”

“That’s not entirely true, but also not the point,” Nathanial said. He didn’t feel the need to further it.

There was a moment again with just the two hugging each other in the cold. The goat bleated.

“I think you’re right about Old Messy,” He said.

“Yeah. I am I think,” came the small reply.

“Go to bed little one.”

Rhiannon hugged him tight and breathed in deeply. Nathanial realized for a moment that perhaps he had imparted some wisdom. He also realized that having an impact on her was a life experience few and far between. Rhiannon let him go and trudged off but then turned for a moment.

“Owpaw, what is the point though? Why even bother with these people you made if you’re a god? Make them think they can be bad but feel bad and be forgiven?”

Nathanial smiled. “I don’t know. Maybe people should try harder to avoid being bad.”

Rhiannon frowned. “Wait. This is you telling me again I can’t tease Nat Jr? Owpaw he is so lame.” Again she emphasized the last word with sarcasm.

Mission accomplished, her brother might experience a little less torment.

“Merry Christmas, Rhiannon.” It was an instruction not a wish.

And she rolled her eyes, shuffled back to her cabin. Nathanial took a deep breath of the night air, and watched the flock.

 

Announcing Stepto and Friends LIVE at the Triple Door Seattle

I’m crazy excited to announce my very first headliner show at The Triple Door in Seattle April 10, 2016: “Stepto and Friends: Just Let Me Finish This Level.”

As many of you know I had a health scare over the summer when I fell into a coma. Thankfully I recovered and that recovery is going well. While in the hospital I had the chance to reflect on a lot of things, note some unique aspects of being in a bed for three weeks with a “NO INTERNET” rule in effect, and tied together some lessons learned. All of this has combined into this show, which is a mixture of readings, stand up comedy, and music. Molly Lewis and Marian Call will each be providing musical sets, and the Seth Boyer will join me as musical accompaniment to a dramedic (it’s a word!*) reading of my experiences.

It takes place on the final night of Emerald City Comic Con, 7:30pm April 10th (doors open at 6:00PM) at one of my favorite venues in all of Seattle, The Triple Door. I’m excited, nervous, excited, scared, and excited to bring this unique show to you and I hope you all buy tickets and join me there.

Or I swear I will coma again.

 

*It’s not a word.

On the Turning Away

My new house is dead silent. I can’t sleep at the moment, a minor issue I find has cropped up since my coma. It’s not a bad thing, I don’t feel anxious or physically bad. Neither too do I feel energetic or purpose driven as if this is some psychological replacement for both the time I was nearly asleep for good or the second chance I was given. I’m just… awake.

Living in the country allows a lot of time for quiet and reflection and I suppose that’s a part of it. I’ve finished up my question list for Wil for Sunday’s Rose City Comic Con panel, and I’m making the drive down to Portland tomorrow to see my friend Mark before I hit the event.

It is, as I said, dead silent around me.

Except for Basil’s snoring, a reminder of the life I’m a steward of and how much happiness he brings me. And the clicking of my keyboard as I write, reminding me these same tools I use to write this are the tools that provide my livelihood. The house itself occasionally makes noise, a squirrel or wandering cat on the roof or the simple sounds that all houses make when talking to you if you remember to stop and listen and not tune them out. (They have their own languages, Houses. Some of them shout like Ollie the weather man, and others whisper.) I can hear my own breathing, a reminder I’m still here. My stomach growls loudly because my medication often makes me want to eat something at odd times.

I go downstairs to grab a piece of fruit from the fridge, conscious of the sound of my bare feet on the wood floor. I can hear the soft whir of the fridge. Outside, despite the late hour, a car drives up the gravel main road.

All these noises and sounds happen all around me typically while I sleep, and now I feel pleasantly sleepy having gotten to sit and experience them for a moment. I finish my snack, turn away and go back to bed.

No there ain’t no rest for the wicked, till we close our eyes for good.

I’m sitting in a posh hotel bar in San Francisco. Just a couple of months ago, I was looking at the city from a much different view, that of an ICU bed at Pacific Medical Center.

I sit here now, like I sit each day, wondering a little bit about what I am going to do with the gift I have been given. You see I was dead for a short bit. Well, mostly dead. At one point the Neurologists had concluded they could detect little electrical activity in my brain, my foot and ocular reflexes were zero: no response, that of a person brain dead or with severe brain damage. An ammonia buildup in my brain combined with a septic infection in my lungs had put me into a coma. The verdict was that I was either already gone, or so far gone I would not return in anything resembling a normal state.

Then something happened. Thanks to the charity of my friends and followers on Twitter and Facebook and just awesome people in general, my family was able to all fly in to San Francisco from Dallas to say goodbye and decide when to pull the plug. Things were that bad.
Then I woke up. Then I got better. Then I got a lot better. Then I got almost normal. Then I got pretty much normal. And now I sit here awaiting my dinner (Salad!) and a ginger beer three months later, and I stop often to think about this continue button I got to press.

When I was out at the deepest level, the “he’s pretty much brain dead” level, I was locked in. I was aware, but unable to communicate or move. I was able to prove this later by recounting conversations around me that happened at that time that I otherwise could not have known about. During that, I lived other lifetimes. I had no temporal sense at all. It was the single worst thing I have ever experienced, by far, because I was just gone enough mentally to be so confused I thought it was normal. When I awoke they could have told me I had been out for 5 years, 5 weeks, or the 5 days I was actually out and I would have believed them. It is, for all methods I could possibly think of, impossible to describe. This isn’t a case of “It felt like forever”, this is a case of being left out in forever entirely, so deep you have no frame of reference for the word “forever.” I moved from fragments of lucidity to dreamstates to…well something I simply cannot describe to you.

There was no tunnel with a light at the end, there was no sense of anything guiding me or spiritual. There was simply this existence out of time, experiences so far reaching sometimes they hit me out of the blue, not in a traumatic way, but in a way that makes me feel somehow much older. I feel, on occasion, weary mentally. Not unlike I’ve been around in this universe way way too long. It’s not especially unpleasant, and some of the experiences I remember were positive. But it tends to take me by surprise when it happens and it’s sometimes hard to shove aside.

Again, these…reveries I suppose they could be called, are not unpleasant or traumatic. I recovered physically such that I am out of any apparent danger, exercising and trying to eat well. They serve to give me pause and reflection about what happened to me, which is a good thing because I don’t want to forget and become complacent about getting a second chance at so many things. I’m extraordinary lucky to get my health back. I live in a beautiful house on a large plot of land in a beautiful part of the country. I have my dog Basil whose unbridled joy at discovering a simple rock in the back yard never fails to make me smile, and I have a life and more full of friends and people who care about me who I inadvertently scared the shit out of.

Being a writer I am of course mining as much of the experience as possible for pieces to perform, believe it or not there is a tremendous amount of humor to be found in the situation once you’re past it. There will be news on that version of events pretty soon.

But for some reason tonight I thought it best to think about the poignant part of what happened to me, that sense of immense age that hits me out of nowhere sometimes. I’m still me, I escaped any lasting brain impacting issues. My follow-ups are all a-ok.

And even with all the time I felt like I lived in that very weird block of darkness, it still would not be enough time to thank everyone properly who came to my aid, from family to friends. From people I’ve known for decades to people I don’t know at all, but who know me through my writing or performances or work. From people I’ve worked with in the past, and people I work with now at HackerOne. The Internet is a wondrous and complicated thing, full at once with 1’s that are angry at 0’s and vice versa. But it also brings us closer together, and I like to think that as loud and painful as the bad parts are, they are still overall in the minority. Something I try to minimize but sometimes falter at.

Next to me a couple is arguing, from the snippets it sounds like a breakup. Across the restaurant there’s a guy sitting alone like me, reading what I think is the latest Jack Reacher book. My salad is half gone, as is the ginger beer. Moments feel immeasurably longer than that every once in a while, just for a brief bit. But that’s more or less where I’m at too.

I’m only half done.