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Thu Nov 27, 2014 at 05:44 AM PST

Protests, Violence, and Leadership

by Max Udargo

Tuesday night I was in Oakland participating in the demonstration there against racial injustice. It did not end well.

I’ve attended several demonstrations in my life. Most prominently in my mind: a demonstration in 2003 in Seattle against the looming US invasion of Iraq, a couple of Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in Oakland at Frank Ogawa Plaza where I was again Tuesday night, and several demonstrations in Nicaragua in 1992. I’m not much of a shouter or chanter, so I’ve always been more of an observer than an active participant, but always aware that I was contributing one more body to the crowd and participating in that sense, and also complicit in that sense.

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Tue Oct 28, 2014 at 12:29 PM PDT

It's Up to Joe

by Max Udargo

On November 4th, something amazing is going to happen, and it boggles my mind to contemplate it. On that day, tens of millions of American voters are going to walk into a voting booth and vote for a Republican.

Most of these voters will be ordinary people, not too different from you and me. They’re not billionaires, and they’re not demented, paranoid rage-fiends. They’re average, pragmatic, rational people; hard-working or wishing they had hard work to do. They are fathers and mothers who worry about their children and the world their children will live in. They are normal, everyday people, and yet they’re going to vote for candidates representing a political party that isn’t even trying to appeal to anybody who isn’t a billionaire or a paranoid lunatic.

Why? What is the Republican party offering these people? Is the Republican party even pretending to offer them anything at this point? Why do these people think the Republican party represents their interests?

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Thu Aug 28, 2014 at 11:25 AM PDT

The Right Way to Play with Guns

by Max Udargo

After consulting with several gun experts, CNN is reporting that almost all are in agreement that the little girl who accidentally shot an instructor with an Uzi was playing with the wrong kind of gun.

“Gun experts contacted by CNN on Wednesday said young children should be taught to shoot with single-shot firearms rather than submachine guns.”

Apparently, when parents take their children to “Bullets and Burgers” to eat hamburgers and play with guns, the kids should only be given “single-shot firearms” to play with. And the video CNN has of the incident bears that out. The little girl manages ok when the Israeli commando weapon she is holding is set to single-fire, and the problem only arises when the instructor flips the switch to fully automatic.

Greg Block, one of the experts consulted by CNN, says that giving the girl an Uzi was a mistake. "That's not a kid's gun,” he wisely intones.

Most experts agree that you don’t give your child an Uzi to play with. In fact, most agree it’s probably best not to give a child any type of submachine gun. Make sure you give your child a kid’s gun, and keep the submachine guns for you and your drinking buddies. Or for protection when you go shopping.

If your child really, really wants to play with a submachine gun, and you’re tired of hearing her whine about it, Steven Howard, another gun expert, has some advice. He tells us, according to CNN, “that the clip on the submachine gun should not hold more than three rounds during instruction.” But as long as you take that precaution, "It can be done under the right circumstances… There are some machine guns that I could have trained my 8-year-old on."

And to be fair, it’s only the second time in all of American history that a child has accidentally killed somebody while playing with an Uzi, and the other time the child only killed himself, and does that even count?

So, although this “industrial accident” - as Arizona authorities are calling it - was unfortunate, it’s not an excuse to overreact. It’s not like our society has gone off the rails because we actually debate the advisability of parents encouraging children to play with guns and there are businesses all over the country dedicated to satisfying this urge. It’s not like we’ve gone completely insane because we live in a society where the Target retail chain has to explain why they would discourage customers from bringing firearms into their stores, and only after "weighing" the "complex issue" and struggling with the "nuances of this debate." It’s not like we’ve all gone nuts just because it’s no longer a self-evident, common-sense conclusion that you shouldn't let your child play with a submachine gun, or that you shouldn't walk around in a discount retail store with a rifle slung over your shoulder.

Perhaps some people get a little carried away, but the Founding Fathers were very clear that everyone has the right to play with weapons designed for elite assault troops that fire 600 round per minute. It’s in the Constitution. Look it up. The Founding Fathers also believed men looked dignified in panty hose and little white wigs with a little black bow in back, and nobody freaks out when I go shopping dressed as they intended, even at Target.

And let’s be clear: most gun enthusiasts are just that, enthusiasts. They’re not all cops, soldiers, possum-eating swamp dwellers or Montana cattle ranchers. They’re not people who use guns as tools. They own guns because guns are cool, and you can buy all kinds of cool “tactical” accessories for your guns and carry them around pretending you’re fighting crime or single-handedly protecting your community from tyrants or communists or zombies or Negroes or whatever. For most Americans, guns are toys – deadly, child-killing, Constitutionally-protected toys.

And we were all taught to share our toys with other children.


Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 11:33 AM PDT

At Home

by Max Udargo

Clo sat at the end of the table nearest the window and looked out. It was her dinner break and she had fifteen minutes to look at the outside world for the last time. By breakfast the window would be gone. She could see the maintenance robots outside, working along the perimeter of the window.  

The window framed a view of a black, mucky inlet of the Pacific Ocean. Jagged walls poked up through the muck, the remains of a city called Santa Barbara which had been abandoned long before Clo was born. She had seen pics of the city before it was drowned in Pacific sludge. It had been, she thought, a very pretty city.  

Now they had decided to cover the window - the last window for hundreds of miles. She would have to go to the far east side of Home to find another window, and who had time for that? You could only go so far on a fifteen-minute break. And for all she knew they were closing up all the remaining windows everywhere.

She looked down and poked at the contents of her dinner bowl with the spork.  

“What’s wrong?” asked Rik, one of her cubemates. Rik was sitting on the bench next to her at the table, hurriedly shoveling the contents of his bowl into his mouth. Clo didn’t want to have to explain. She didn’t want to get Rik started. She scooped up a sporkful of dinner and replied, “Nothing.”

“It’s the window, isn’t it.  You’re upset because they’re closing it up.”

“I’m not upset.”

“You always sit here next to the window and spend your break looking out. Waste of time. Complete waste of time. You only get three breaks a day. You should use that time for something useful. Watch a vid or something.”

Clo pulled out her vidopad and waved it at Rik. “I always watch vids on break.”

“You know what I mean. Something educational. Something that will make you more productive. Not that nostalgia stuff. You’re always looking at old pics of the wild. Looking out this window or watching old vids of the wild. What’s the point? Nothing useful in thinking about it. Complete waste of time.”

“I just enjoy thinking about it sometimes. It must have been nice when people could live in the wild. Don’t you ever wonder what it was like to breathe wild air?”

“What’s wrong with the air here at Home?”

“Nothing. I just think it would be great to breath… you know…wild air. Back when it was breathable, of course.”

“Wild air wasn’t filtered and sterilized. You never knew what might be in it. You never knew what you were going to smell. Have you ever smelled something that smelled really bad? I bet people had to smell things like that all the time before they left the wild and came Home. The air at Home is clean and pure. It never smells bad.”

“I know. I just wonder what it was like to be free in the wild. To be able to walk around anywhere in any direction, with nothing above you but a pretty blue sky. To walk around and look at all the different buildings and the trees and people going in and out of the buildings… If they didn’t want to smell bad things, they could go inside, but they could also go outside and look at all kinds of pretty things. Look at this, Rik.”  Clo pushed a button on her vidopad and held it up for her cubemate to see.

Rik glanced at the image on the pad and said around a mouthful of food, “Trees.”

“But look how pretty they are! And how big they are! Look how small those people are next to them! These are redwood trees. Have you ever seen anything like them?”

“Of course. We have trees at Home. In the parkrooms.”

“Yes, but not trees like these! These trees are so big they would go right through the ceiling if you tried to grow them here at Home!” Clo set the pad down on the table. “Have you ever actually been in a parkroom, Rik?”

“No. Of course not. Waste of time.”

“I’ve been to the one down at the end of Milpas Corridor. Sometimes I used to grab my lunch bowl and run down there and have a picnic among the trees. But all the trees there are really small and not very pretty. I don’t even think they’re real trees. Trees had roots that would stick down into the ground, but these trees were on plastic stands and you could move them around on the floor of the parkroom. I finally decided that I preferred to eat here next to the window rather than in the parkroom with a bunch of fake trees.”

“Why would someone want to eat with trees, anyway?”

“Because the trees were so pretty! Look at these people,” Clo tapped the pad, “I’ll bet when they got finished looking up at those pretty trees they sat down right there and had a picnic!” Clo sighed happily at the thought and gazed back out the window.

Rik stared at her for a long moment, his spork suspended in mid-air, halfway to his mouth. Then he dropped the spork in his bowl and threw one leg over the back of the bench so that he was straddling it and facing Clo. He crossed his arms over his chest.

“You know what the problem is with people like you?”

Clo turned away from the window and looked down at her dinner, “What’s the problem with people like me?”

“You romanticize the past.”


“Yeah. You think that living in the wild was just standing around looking at all the pretty trees. Well, let me tell you, life was hard in those days. Those people lived without the benefits of modern society. People like you don’t appreciate what that means because you take for granted all the advantages of modern life. ”

Clo stared down at her bowl, “I know life was harder back then than it is now. I just think it was probably worth it because everything was so… pretty.”

“Pretty? Well, let me tell you, I don’t think anybody back then had any time to stand around thinking about how pretty it was. Those people lived in the wild. I know a thing or two about the wild myself, you know. Just because I don’t waste a bunch of time on it like you do and talk about it all the time like you doesn’t mean I don’t know a thing or two. Have you ever seen a pic of a rhinoceros?”


“Big sucker. Big sucker with big teeth and big claws.”

“And a big horn.”

“And a big horn! How would you like to be walking around in the wild looking at all the pretty trees and run into one of those suckers?”

“That would be bad.”

“Yes, it would. Because that rhinoceros is going to eat you. That’s why he had the big horn, so he could stab you with it and kill you and then rip you up with his claws and eat you. Because that’s what wild animals did, they ate people. Living in the wild, you had to be on the lookout for wild animals, and if you saw a wild animal you had to run to get away from it or shoot it with a gun and kill it before it ate everybody. It was no picnic.”


“Know what a grabhopper is?”


“An insect. Know what an insect is?”


“Insects flying around all over the place. And some of those insects had teeth and would bite you, or they had stingers with poison on them and they would sting you and you would die.”

“Some of them were very pretty. Have you seen pics of butterflies?”

“Oh yeah, butterflies were real pretty. They evolved that way so that you would stand there like an idiot looking at how pretty they were while they flew in close enough to sting you to death. And this grabhopper I was talking about: It would grab you with these big, green scissor-claws and have sex with you and deposit its eggs inside you and then, as soon as it was done, it would bite off your head and eat you.”

“Hm…Was it a big insect?”

“The grabhopper? Yes, it was one of the larger insects. People usually think of insects as small but, in fact, some of them could be quite large.”


“And what about rain?  And snow?”

“Snow was pretty!”

“Snow was pretty? Snow was cold! Ice cold! And if you were covered in snow you would freeze to death. And you never knew when you would be covered with snow because it would just fall out of the sky. Rain too. Think about rain. You would be walking along and suddenly water would just start falling out of the sky! Water just pouring out of the sky on top of you! And you never knew when it was going to stop. Sometimes it didn’t stop and people would drown. Think about that!”

Clo tried to look like she was thinking about that.

“And remember, this was before they cured sleep. So people could go unconscious at any time. With all those dangers all around them! They would be walking down a street and suddenly they would just fall down unconscious. Then they’d wake up two hours later and they would be soaking wet and some rhinoceros would be chewing on their leg and some grabhopper would be trying to have sex with them!”


“And everybody was poor because everybody had sleep. Having sleep meant you couldn’t work more than 18 or 19 hours a day, because you would fall down unconscious every day for a few hours. So nobody could work enough to support themselves. Everybody was hungry and the animals were hungry too. It was no picnic.”

Rik turned and scowled at the window, “No, let me tell you, it was no picnic. No standing around looking at pretty trees, no sir.”

The buzzer sounded to alert them that they had one minute to return to work. Dinner was over. Rik grabbed his bowl and stood up. He took one last look at Clo to make sure his talk had done some good and then turned and headed back to their cube, stopping on his way  to toss his bowl and spork into the outchute. Clo picked up her unfinished bowl, took one last look at the wild, and turned to follow Rik.


Tue Jul 22, 2014 at 08:59 AM PDT

Killing Things

by Max Udargo

The first thing about quail hunting I hate is that it involves getting up at five in the morning.  Mom’s hippie-redneck boyfriend bangs on my door and leaps into the room all full of enthusiasm.  “Come on, little man, let’s go hunt some quail!”  He shakes my shoulder as I lie defiantly unresponsive in bed, my eyes tightly closed.  I want to tell hippie-redneck boyfriend that it’s bad enough he’s banging my mom, but now this?

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Let's call him Donald.

The last time I saw him he was a high-powered lawyer in LA with a house in the Hollywood hills next to that English guy who used to play on Star Trek: Enterprise. I assume Don’s still there; I don’t know about the English guy.

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Most of us agree the thing that sucks about Stephen Colbert replacing Dave Letterman is that it almost certainly means the end of The Colbert Report. In denial about this looming reality, some have suggested possible replacements, such as John Oliver or Jason Jones. But we all know, as talented as those two are, nobody can replace Stephen Colbert as the parody right-wing character around which the show, its tone, its brand of humor, and a new paradigm of satire have been built.

Nobody can replace Stephen. You know it and you have to accept it: Night is falling on The Colbert Report.

But, wait… Maybe there is one person… Yes, one person who is not an obvious choice but who would be the ideal replacement. Not only would this person continue what Stephen started, but he would take it to the next level. In fact, not only would he continue the journey, he might bring it to its logical end -  completing the circle, closing the circuit, leading us all to a comic nirvana where all the colors bleed into one and our country is made whole again.

Of whom could it be I speak?

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Tue Apr 01, 2014 at 05:31 PM PDT

Don't Tell Me You Love Your Country

by Max Udargo

What is this country?

This country is 316 million people. That’s what this country is.

It isn’t an extension of your ego. It isn’t the team you root for during televised sports events. It isn’t an abstraction. It isn’t a flag or a fireworks display or a jet-fighter formation flyover. It’s you and 316 million other people who are your fellow Americans.

And if you love your country that means you love those 316 million fellow citizens. You care about them and their well-being. You don’t condemn a law that helps millions of them obtain affordable, quality health insurance. You don’t try to undermine that law because it wasn’t your idea, or because you don’t like to be proved wrong, or because you hate the guy who pushed to make the law a reality.

If you are pushing to repeal a law that helps millions of Americans live better lives and makes our citizenry healthier and happier, don’t tell me you love this country because you don’t. You don’t even know what it means to love your country. In your selfish mind you’ve so completely twisted the idea of patriotism that you couldn’t be a true patriot if you tried.

Go buy a flag made in China or watch a John Wayne war movie or something. Go clean your gun and fantasize about one of your fellow Americans giving you an excuse to shoot him by coming to take your gun or wearing a hoodie or whatever. Whatever it is that deludes you into thinking you love your country; whatever it is that makes you think you have the right to call yourself a patriot.

Just stop trying to interfere with your fellow Americans as they try to look out for each other and work together to make your country a better place.


CNN is promoting a video of Harry Reid getting “fiery” over a question asked by their reporter Dana Bash. “Testy” might have been a more apt description of Reid’s response, but at least CNN didn’t use a word like “slammed” or “ripped.” How CNN managed to restrain itself from the use of “Reid bashes Bash” we can only wonder.

So what was Bash’s question? “You all talked about children with cancer unable to go to clinical trials. The House is specifically going to pass a bill that funds at least the NIH [National Institutes of Health]. Given what you said, will you at least pass that? And, if not, aren’t you playing the same political games as Republicans are?”

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I've been on the internet this afternoon, sharing some thoughts on the Zimmerman verdict with sundry anonymous strangers, most of whom have expressed in blunt terms their desire that I learn how to think logically about the subject so that I might finally comprehend that George Zimmerman is the true victim and that Trayvon Martin was a violent aggressor solely responsible for his own untimely demise.

I hope I'll be believed when I say that I've made a sincere and intensive effort to follow the logic of these arguments, so that I might better understand.

But my mind isn't what it used to be and what it was was never what I would have wished, so I find myself struggling, and it seems the sundry strangers have given up hope on me. So I thought I would turn to this community in a last-ditch attempt to edify myself and transcend my mental limitations with a little help from like-minded friends.

So I have come to ask you to explain a distinction that I am incapable of seeing. I seek your help in understanding the true logic behind the incident that concluded with the death of Trayvon Martin and the martyrdom of George Zimmerman.

I believe the arguments being made by the sundry strangers can be broken down and analyzed as a sequence of escalating events, like so:

Perfectly logical (in fact, indisputable):

    1. Martin threatens Zimmerman.
    2. Zimmerman fears for his life.
    3. Zimmerman inflicts justifiable violence on Martin.

Complete nonsense (totally illogical and impossible):

    1. Zimmerman threatens Martin.
    2. Martin fears for his life.
    3. Martin inflicts justifiable violence on Zimmerman.

What is the crucial logical distinction I'm failing to see here? What makes the first of these sequences valid and the second pure nonsense?

To clarify: this isn't a question about the validity of the jury's verdict. To reach a different verdict I suppose they would have to have accepted the second scenario and rejected the first. According to my limited understanding, the two scenarios are not mutually exclusive, and if both men felt threatened at some point and both men resorted to the violent options available to them, then it's clearly Martin's fault for bringing a sidewalk to a gun fight.

Except that Martin didn't go looking for a gun fight, and it perhaps makes more sense to say that Zimmerman brought a gun fight to Martin's sidewalk...

But now I'm confusing myself again.

Given the state of our society and our laws, and the "special" nature of Florida's society, I'm not surprised by the verdict or prepared to argue it was wrong. What I did try to argue was that even if Zimmerman isn't guilty of murder, he is certainly guilty of being an epic dumbass. He stuck a loaded gun in his trousers and went out into the cold, rainy night to fight crime. When morning came no crime had been thwarted, but a 17-year-old boy was dead. Good job, Batman.

But the sundry strangers have assured me that I'm wrong. George Zimmerman is the victim in all this, a victim of violence. Sure, the violence that Zimmerman himself inflicted was decidedly more deadly, but his violence was different, and the above breakdown explains why, somehow.

But it eludes me. Maybe somebody can explain the crucial difference. What could it possibly be?


Tue Mar 19, 2013 at 05:19 PM PDT

Ted Cruz: Master of Analogy

by Max Udargo

Ted Cruz, freshman Senator from Texas, is a man of some intellect, no doubt, and the United States Senate is blessed by his willingness to share his intellectual bounty in the form of ad hoc lectures.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has served as a Senator from California for over 20 years, is a recent beneficiary of Senator Cruz's pedagogic expansiveness. Her edification occurred during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The issue was the ban on the sale of assault rifles and Senator Feinstein's inability to reconcile her emotionalism with the clear and manly dictates of the United States Constitution, which Senator Cruz illustrated with the following brilliant analogy:

"... the question I would pose to the senior Senator from California is would she deem it consistent with the Bill of Rights for Congress to engage in the same endeavor that we are contemplating doing with the Second Amendment in the context of the First or Fourth Amendment? Namely: would she consider it Constitutional for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books, and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights? Likewise, would she think that the Fourth Amendment's protection against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following specified individuals, and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?"

Senator Cruz didn't appear surprised when Senator Feinstein ignored the substance of his argument and instead responded with more sentimentalism and cantankerous grousing about the educational value of his lectures. Unfazed, he generously praised her "sincerity" and "passion," and then gently pointed out that she had failed to answer his question.

Senator Cruz deserves better than that, and I thought we should look at his argument by analogy a little more closely.

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Mon Jul 23, 2012 at 08:28 AM PDT


by Max Udargo

It’s a compelling vision of the future, you have to admit.

In the aftermath of the latest crazy-guy-shoots-a-bunch-of-people-for-no-reason incident, the dreamers are inviting us once again to share their dream. Like John Lennon, they ask us to set aside our cynicism for a moment and dare to imagine a bright, golden future devoid of all the ills of today’s sick society. A future they say is attainable if we could all just come together and agree to pack heat.

Some say the conservative movement, by definition, has no vision of the future. Conservatives are all about preserving what is, or even taking us backward. But when it comes to guns, the Conservatives are passionate idealists with a vivid dream of how things might one day be. Let’s call it Peckinpahtopia. And let’s indulge the dreamers by closing our eyes for a moment and using our imagination to see the future as they see it.

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