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Keith Richards meets a hipster

Since I first saw one smugly slurping a Pabst Blue Ribbon, I have sworn eternal vengeance against hipsters. Why concentrate so much negative emotion on such a silly segment of the population? Hipsters are like the gray blob of nanomachines that some theorists say will eat all matter if unleashed: they take everything people find enjoyable and reduce it to a basis for irony and petty judgment.

Hipsters choose their favorite music based on the number of people that haven’t listened to it. If you genuinely like anything, even the air you breath, don’t ever tell a hipster. They’ll tell you that a 78.04-20.95% nitrogen-oxygen ratio is too mainstream.

I’m given to bouts of cynicism and irony, but I still think basing one’s entire existence on negativity makes for a pretty horrible person. Hipsters think they’re just too cool to be human.

Recently, I found some solace in the fact that this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. I’ve been reading Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life, and in it he describes what could be proto-hipsters.

As a teenager, Richards hung out with other young blues enthusiasts, some of whom were such purists that even actual blues artists couldn’t meet their standards:

“None of these blues purists could play anything. But their Negroes had to be dressed in overalls and say, “Yes’m boss.” And in actual fact they’re city blokes who are so hip it’s not even true.”

Like today’s hipsters, the blues purists sought an art that was so authentic it didn’t actually exist. In this case, because it was more than a little racist. Hipsters don’t subscribe to an antiquated racist view of culture (at least, I hop they don’t), but it still seems like reality isn’t good enough for them.

When an artist creates a piece of music it is what it is, regardless of how many people like it or whether it meets some critic’s standard of authenticity.

What kind of a world would we live in if people were too afraid of appearing unsophisticated to like anything? That is why hipsters, past and present, are such an irritant. At least they’re nothing the world hasn’t dealt with before.

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Christmas truce: Part II

It seems like it would be better to begin the holiday season in good spirits, and to know when to end it. That’s why I’m proposing a sort of amnesty period once all the gift giving is done.

Today, I exploited the narrow window before a bad snowstorm to run a few errands, like any other Wednesday. However, since this was the day after Christmas, it was oddly sickening. After a month of crowded stores and endless commercials it just seemed like too much, and I don’t even celebrate Christmas.

I’m sure the people who work in retail that had to get up this morning and wait on customers returning the gifts their relatives had frantically bought weeks (or days) earlier feel the same way.

We live in a commercial society, there’s no denying that, so piling an extra helping of buying on top of our normal consumerist activities is like chasing a keg stand with a martini.

There’s nothing wrong with needing stuff, or wanting to give it to show affection, but after such a long slog maybe it would be nice to take a break. That’s why I’m proposing that Christmas and December 26 be a shopping holiday, where the stores are closed and we can focus on using our possessions instead of buying more.

This idea definitely belongs in the “it’s a nice thought, but it’ll never happen” category, but it’s nice to dream. Wouldn’t it be relaxing to have two consumption-free days, a counterpart to Thanksgiving and Black Friday? Balance is important.

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Drawing the line at Sandy Hook: Why America needs a frank discussion of gun control and the treatment of mental illness

There are obviously a lot of people discussing the school shooting last week in Newtown, Connecticut but, as a Connecticutter, this tragedy hit close to home and I wanted to add my voice to the conversation. It’s a conversation that needs to happen; after so many mass killings, it’s time we as a nation took a serious look at what we can do to prevent it.

We may never know what was going through Adam Lanza’s head, but we do know that he was mentally ill, and that he used guns to do what he did. Some people have tried to add other factors (media sensationalism, for example) or downplay the role of guns (if guns were unavailable, Lanza would have used another type of weapon, they say), but the simple truth is that we know that mental illness and guns were the major factors in this and nearly every other mass killing in the United States.

With that in mind, it seems logical for us to evaluate how we deal with guns and mental illness in order to prevent future tragedies. More importantly, we need to think of ways to prevent those two factors from combining to cause mass violence.

I think it’s important to make a distinction between gun control legislation and an outright ban. I think this is important because many of the people I’ve talked to don’t seem to understand the difference.

As with every other aspect of life, gun owners need to be able to compromise. They have been able to avoid a frank discussion on gun control despite numerous mass killings, using excuses like “it’s too soon, let people grieve,” or that “guns don’t kill people, people do.”

The fact is that rights come with responsibilities and, gun owners have become too cavalier. Newtown has historically been a gun-friendly community, with multiple hunting clubs and legal shooting ranges. However, a recent article in the New York Times noted that residents’ patience has already being exhausted by overly enthusiastic gun enthusiasts.

This doesn’t mean that all gun enthusiasts are irresponsible, or that overt carelessness caused the Sandy Hook tragedy. It just shows how accommodating people already are to gun owners, and how ridiculous it is that asking someone to stop shooting at night so a neighbor can sleep, let alone discussing gun control in the wake of a mass killing, is viewed as an attack on gun ownership as a whole. A minority is dictating policy to the majority.

The second factor in this and other mass killings is mental illness. An article published in Mother Jones last month notes that, in 61 mass killings studied, 38 perpetrators showed signs of mental illness beforehand. That was certainly the case in Newtown.

Like gun control, the way we deal with mental illness is a topic most people avoid. Perhaps some just don’t want to think about it, or don’t think they have to; they assume a combination of drugs, therapy, and specialized institutions has everything covered.

Unfortunately, many individuals slip through the proverbial cracks. Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, was declared mentally ill by a judge, which should have disqualified him from gun ownership, but this information was not made available to the appropriate authorities. Steven Kazmierczak, who killed five people at Northern Illinois University, stopped taking his medication. Charles Whitman told people he didn’t feel right before shooting his way into infamy, and was later found to have a massive brain tumor.

The Sandy Hook shooting has definitely made people aware of mental illness, but the question of what to do about is a long way from being answered. Singling out the mentally ill would be just as wrong as singling out responsible gun owners.

That’s why, in addition to stricter gun control regulations and more resources for treating mental illness, we need a way to preempt incidents like the one that occurred last week.

Mental health professionals are obligated to report child abuse, so perhaps a similar system could be set up to report imminent threats of violence. As with child abuse cases, this would create a procedure for everyone involved, from school guidance counselors to therapists to the police, to follow. It would ensure that all potential threats are investigated and dealt with.

Regardless of what form the solution takes, the important thing is that we find one. It’s time to stop making excuses about why we can’t discuss ways to stop mass killings, or limiting the discussion to why any potential solution will not work. As a nation, we have a responsibility to make sure the victims of Sandy Hook, Aurora, Northern Illinois, Virginia Tech, Huntsville, and Columbine did not die in vain.

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Elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT

Today there was a tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Around 9:40 this morning, a man entered the school with two handguns and opened fire. As of this writing, 27 people are dead, 18 of them children. The shooter is also dead at the scene.

I live near Newtown and it is absolutely the last place one would expect an act of violence, let alone one of the worst mass killings in American history. There really is nothing else to say, other than that we should send our thoughts to the victims and their families, and hope this never happens again.

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Aurora, Colorado tragedy

Dark Knight Rises shootingI went to bed last night slightly jealous of the thousands of fans who were going to the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.” No one could have imagined what would happen in one movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. My heart goes out to the victims who were gunned down while trying to watch a movie, and hopefully all this ugliness will pass soon.

When something like this happens, it’s only human to try to look for an explanation. However, in this case, maybe people should keep their mouths shut and let those affected grieve.

This morning, I turned on the news to get more information on the shooting, and instead heard an anchor talking with a writer from U.S. News & World Report about whether “Dark Knight Rises’” violent imagery inspired the shooter to kill 12 people.

Yes, this movie is incredibly violent; it’s main villain is a masked terrorist named Bane who has no problem massacring innocent people. But to say that James Holmes opened fire because of something he saw on T.V. sounds pretty ridiculous.

The theory that Holmes was responding to “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs,” as Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) put it, is equally ridiculous.

Neither scenario is out of the question for a truly disturbed individual, but we don’t know what Holmes was thinking; making assumptions about his motivations just makes the speaker sound like they don’t know what they’re talking about, because they really don’t.

What makes these comments truly unsettling, though, is how quickly the media and politicians are willing to apply existing and self-serving narratives to a tragedy. The idea that violent video games and movies inspire violent actions has been going around for years, and makes great copy, and refocusing things from gun control to religious freedom would probably pay dividends for a Texas Republican.

What happened in Aurora is tragic, and it should be left at that. People were needlessly killed; their deaths will not be exploited. Presupposing why the shooting occurred is worse than ignorant, it is reprehensible.

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Life’s little revelations

I’ve been out of school for a little over a year now, and the thing I miss the most, besides being able to sleep past 11:00 on weekdays, is the random things I would learn. Not just the big ideas, but the trivial observations that hide in plain site until a professor unmasks them. This is the story of one of those observations: the arrow in the Fed Ex logo.

Many people have seen the arrow in the Fed Ex logo (it’s the lower half of the “e” and left half of the “x” in “Ex”), but I was ignorant. Then, one cold December day in an old public school-turned art studio, I saw the light.

“Did you know that there’s an arrow in the Fed Ex logo?” my graphic design professor, Cynthia, asked. She pointed it out to the class, most of whom didn’t look as dumbfounded as I felt. It was a good example of typeface design, she said. A graphic designer shaped each letter and deliberately placed them to create the logo with the hidden arrow.

In that moment, I felt like I could see the inner workings of the universe. I assume this is what people feel like when they have a religious revelation, or when they take DMT and start seeing the machine elves in the walls of reality.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but I was enlightened. Some people look for evidence of God’s will in everyday life, but what about human will? Fed Ex seems like an inhuman monstrosity, but it’s composed of people. A machine didn’t design that logo, a person did.

In that moment, things made sense; the logo wasn’t an arbitrary creation forced on the unwashed masses, it was someone’s design. Given the complexity of today’s world, it’s rare for things to be that simple.

The world is a big, confusing, scary place. Usually, confusion and fear go hand in hand. When we don’t know why something is happening, we fear what could happen. That’s why it is so important to hang onto every kernel of information we can find. The more things make sense, the better off we are.

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Independent society

“Everyone’s the good guy in their own story.” It’s funny how perspective works: we get so focused on living our own lives that we sometimes forget that everyone around us is trying to do exactly the same thing. Marketing departments and Tea Partiers want us to be our own unique selves, but how can we do that without getting in each other’s way?

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the fundamental freedoms necessary for each citizen to be their own person, but until now they haven’t had access to the sheer amount of esoterica that can craft a unique persona. The rise of social media changed that, which is why so many suburban white kids now have a taste for kimchi.

Expanding cultural horizons is always a good thing, but sometimes it smacks of desperation. It is possible to spend too much effort on introspection, to examine one’s self so closely that you will inevitably find an excuse to continue a self-aggrandizing search for happiness.

The more we spend looking at ourselves, the less we see of other people. That makes social interactions more difficult, because everyone else starts to seem like an obstacle, or a pawn. We deserve to make ourselves happy, but we need to remember that everyone else is doing the same thing.

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