Friday, January 28, 2011

My House

My house was built in 1964. Unlike the home portrayed, it is a small structure with a third of an acre of land, a pond I put in, a free-standing two-car garage and a crumbling concrete driveway. Its first owner paid $24,000 for it. I paid substantially more many years later, and have never regretted it.
My house talks to me almost all the time. It’s a chatterbox of a home that loves to whisper, and at any given moment can tell me how it’s doing. There are purrs, creaks, whistles, the occasional thumping and whirring, the scratching of squirrels on the roof and the scrapping of branches against the eaves. Sometimes there are soft sighs, and more rarely powerful and strange rumbles and the rattling of window.
The washer, an ancient Maytag, thumps like a wheel with a flat spot whenever it hits the rinse cycle while the fluorescents in the laundry room hum. The furnace motor that pushes masses of hot or cold air depending on the season has a voice of its own. It clicks, engages, revs and relaxes a hundred times a day and  at times the vents whistle shrilly. The sink in the kitchen makes a strange slurping noise as it empties but the one in the laundry room with its huge drain emits at best a quiet gurgle. Both toilets have voices too. The old one in the basement is slow and stately, the one upstairs near the bedroom is often recalcitrant if not downright unfriendly.
The cat knows to scratch at the kitchen door when it wants in but will sit by the kitchen window quietly purring with expectancy when he wants to be in the yard.
In the basement is a room where I play and record music, sometimes alone, other times with friends. This space has its own discreet cacophony. The Peavey single-speaker amps hum despite years of trying to establish a solid ground, and the big Fender monitor speakers are masters of the hiss. I have tried everything to make the room quieter—better cabling, attenuators, padding—to no avail and now I consider its noises part of the house’s symphony.
It’s been snowing the last couple of days which mutes all the exterior sounds save those of my Albanian neighbor who recently bought a set of drums and practices twice a day, mistaking thrashing loudness for talent.
My home is a living entity housing a parasitical entity—me—and I am lucky to have it, with all its noises, refrains and tics.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Take a Powder

My friend Elouise, a wonderful writer and teller of tales, recently sent me this email.

“I have to tell you that I find your ideas on gun control right on.

“T.C. (husband) and I have guns--long guns, and hand guns--because we find them interesting though there was a time when I wouldn't have a gun of any kind in the house. Then the kids were grown, we got some desert land in California, and needed a ‘snake charmer,’ a little .410, to keep the rattlesnakes from taking over. It went from there.... I am intrigued with the small (short) lightweight .22 rifles and have a couple of collectibles.

“Point being, everyone has to sign on the dotted line for MOST, but not all, legally purchased firearms. But anyone can pick up ammunition if they have the bucks to pay for it. I really like your idea of making the bullets hard to come by. We have to sign for medications that contain a controlled substance; farmers have to prove a need for, and almost sign away their lives if, they purchase specific fertilizers, so why shouldn't we have to sign for gunpowder? I say gunpowder because, ultimately, that is what does the damage. The brass and propellant stay behind, and we do have a significant number of folks who are into re-loading.

“Why not declare gunpowder a controlled substance and make it necessary to sign for it in any quantity, shape for form? We should even have to say where and how we are going to use it. Hunters could still hunt, we could still take our firearms out to the farm (away from town) or to a licensed shooting range to pop targets. It is just that we might be limited to how many rounds we can waste by how many we are allowed to buy.”

Sounds good to me. Thanks, E!

And on Another Front

I‘ve always admired Utah. Mormon murders and mysteries, polygamy, salt flats, a great choir, and of course, Brigham Young and John Smith, two of my favorites in American history.

Now I have something else to admire. Utah is in line to become the first state to have an official handgun, the Browning M1911. The bill to honor John Browning, the gun maker who created the pistol, sailed through a committee hearing this week.

Utah, it turns out, really likes state symbols. The state has 32 of them, including, according to the Associated Press, a folk dance, a tree, a hymn and a cooking pot.

Some things are just too good to be true…






Monday, January 24, 2011

Guns. Again. Part II

This is lifted entirely from a recent Washington Post article. More information is available from www.washpost.com.  This is stuff you should know since the National Rifle Association spent $6.7 million in this year's midterm elections, with 98 percent benefiting Republican candidates. A powerhouse in elections, the NRA has spent nearly $75 million on campaigns in the past 20 years.



Endorsed candidate
Party
Race

NRA money spent on behalf of candidate
rating
Pat Toomey
R
PA

$1,432,599
5A
Roy Blunt
R
MO

$1,313,875
5A
Ken Buck
R
CO

$746,078
5A
Rob Portman
R
OH

$597,268
5A
Ron Johnson
R
WI

$574,957
3AQ
RossiDino Rossi
R
WA

$414,100
5A
Carly Fiorina
R
CA

$258,323
3AQ
Christine O'Donnell
R
DE

$85,345
3AQ
Chuck Grassley
R
IA

$55,518
5A
Linda McMahon
R
CT

$54,998
3AQ
Richard Burr
R
NC

$32,698
5A
John Boozman
R
AR

$24,621
5A
John McCain
R
AZ

$0
2B+
Johnny Isakson
R
GA

$0
5A
Mike Crapo
R
ID

$0
6A+
John Hoeven
R
ND

$0
5A
Brad Ellsworth
D
IN

$0
5A
Tom Coburn
R
OK

$0
5A
Jerry Moran
R
KS

$0
5A
Jim DeMint
R
SC

$0
5A
John Thune
R
SD

$0
6A+
Mike Lee
R
UT

$0
3AQ
Richard Shelby
R
AL

$0
6A+
Joe Manchin
D
WV

$0
5A
David Vitter
R
LA

$0
5A

SOURCES: Center for Responsive Politics, National Rifle Association web page, Federal Election Commission filings.
GRAPHIC: Wilson Andrews, Tim Farnam, James Grimaldi, Dan Keating and Lucy Shackelford / The Washington Post.
Dec. 15, 2010.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Guns. Again.

“What happened in Tucson was not a failure of gun control laws. This was a failure of the mental-health system.”

Remember these words. They were spoken by Lawrence Kearn, the general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, during an interview held at the world’ largest gun show which opened this week in Las Vegas.

Let’s repeat it, just to be sure we understand the implications. . .  “(it was) not a failure of gun control laws. This was a failure of the mental-health system.”

The assumption here is that controlling mentally ill people is a better (easier) and more politically acceptable initiative than trying to control gun sales. That’s quite a reach. So we are back to the “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”

Like all great and successful lies, the NRA mantra has a seed of truth in it. Aside from firearms that accidentally discharge, guns, in and of themselves, are no more dangerous than electric toothbrushes. The rub, of course, is that a man armed with a gun and intent on harm will do a lot more damage than a man in the same state of mind but armed with a toothbrush.  A Frisbee-wielding maniac will quickly be subdued. A gun-wielding maniac? Not so much. Really, when was the last time you heard of a berserker with a knife, a baseball bat, or an ax.

There’s no doubt the health care system needs some serious work, and this is particularly true when it comes to assisting people with serious mental health issues. Ronald Reagan gutted mental health care and research during his tenure, and three decades later we’re still paying for his cavalier attitude, his certainty that all Americans should be able to achieve what he had done by pulling upwards on their own bootstraps. It’s a nice ideal and, of course, total fiction voiced by a man who, as a former movie actor, believed in fictional beings and fictional achievements. By the way, he got shot by another madman,  proving once again that guns do indeed kill, wound, maim.
Guns are cowardly, if efficient, ways of killing; they operate from a distance and do not involve the shooter in the visceral mess that is violent death. They do not require the physical strength necessary to stab, slice or perforate. Their very simplicity ensures no great skill is needed to make them perform as designed. A twitch of the index finger and irreparable harm is done…

Now here’s another interesting quote about guns.  "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Our principle is that the ***** commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the ****. Yet, having guns, we can create **** organizations… We can also create cadres, create schools, create culture, create mass movements.  All things grow out of the barrel of a gun."

That’s Mao Zedong, Problems of War and Strategy, written in 1932. The words I have replaced with **** are “Communist Party.”

I didn’t want to offend anyone.


Friday, January 14, 2011

EVERYBODY SHUT UP NOW!!!

I mean it! Newt and Beck and Palin and the sheriff, all the pundits and reporters and talking heads, Limbaugh, Stern, all of you, just zip it. This isn’t about one crazy guy in the hinterland; it’s about guns, pure and simple, and their availability to any idiot who wants to make a statement.  The events in Arizona are tragic, as is the loss of any life to violence, and they could have been forecast. Every few months, someone buys or steals a gun and goes on rampage. There’s nothing new about, and we’re inured by now. The NRA has done its job in desensitizing the country and making us believe guns have nothing to do with killing people. Effing amazing, the logic, if you just pause to think about it.

The media plays into this, despite its plaintive editorials. Every newspaper in the country printed the picture of a demented-looking Jared Lee Loughner looking just like a real berserker should look—shaven head, piercing Manson-like eyes (remember the Manson photo?) mad grin showing no remorse whatsoever—as if making it obvious that this was indeed a natural born killer who didn’t really need a gun to do evil. No doubt he could have killed all those people with a box of Cheerios.

The hypocrisy of it all is really stomach-churning. Come on, folks, what the hell do you expect? According to the National Institute of Health, one in four Americans 18 and older—that’s approximately 58 million people—suffer from some form of mental disorder in any given year. Even if only small percentage of these people, say 10 percent, have a mental illness that can lead to violent behavior, that’s 5.8 million violent people walking among us, their delusions bright and shiny and just waiting to be acted upon. Most of these people can go into a gun store and buy a handgun—a powerful piece of machinery that has no other purpose but killing others—with about as much difficulty as buying a six-pack of Miller Light.

There are 65 million handguns in the United States. In 2003, more than 30,000 Americans died by gunfire. In 2005, 477,040 persons were victims of a crime committed with a firearm.  Firearms are used in 68% of all murders. Do the math.

Why then, this explosion of guilt and regrets, this self-serving breast-beating? Why bother reporting what is just a mundane event—people getting shot and killed by other people who have guns and agendas. It happens dozens of times every single day and basically, other than reacting with shock and useless verbiage, nothing is done to prevent the next massacre.  We’re back to Einstein’s definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

The near assassination of Ronald Reagan 30 years ago by another madman with a point to prove led to a flurry of proposals to make gun purchase more difficult. Instead, many would tell you, in many states it is now easier to get a gun than it was three decades ago.

So here’s a thought: a little less hand-wringing, a little more balls. You want to stop massacres, you take away the tools that cause massacres: easily obtainable handguns. Or better, since the likelihood of ridding this nation of such weapons is remote, start dealing with what really kills—bullets. Legislate the manufacture and sales of ammunition. I’m willing to bet you’d see results almost immediately.     

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Future, You Say?

Most people are capable of time travel. In fact, most people are incapable of not traveling time. I’m not referring to getting older, which is a voyage through time and space, but of repeating our actions in such a habitual way that yesterday is tomorrow and vice versa. It’s what the French poetically call the culture of métro-boulot-mégot-restau-dodo.The rhyming may not challenge Verlaine, but the meaning is clear. Commute, work, cigarette, food, sleep.  Repeat five days a week. We largely repeat our actions on our free days too. Dry clean, vacuum and dust, shop, bills, sex, friends and relations. In fact, a modern poet from New Jersey wrote it best: GTL—Gym Tan Laundry.

For most of us, our present is our future, and there aren’t that many surprises. Random events can alter this slightly—new job, new geographical location, new relationship, new car—but then the patterns repeat themselves, though perhaps—if we’re lucky—in different places and different colors. There isn’t much of an escape for the majority. Few of us go bungee jumping or compete in extreme anything, and even fewer attempt to express themselves using means outside of their immediate identity, so we end up living up to Einstein’s contention that madness is doing the same thing over and over again while hoping for different results.

I have a pet theory that this endless repetition is partially responsible for addiction. The addict, by definition, unhappy and uncomfortable where he or she is, wants to exit the squirrel cage, unaware that he or she is trading a large cage for a desperately small one that will even further restrict the potential for a future.  But it’s a different cage, and for the nonce, that’s what’s important. When one feels so disengaged from and at odds with a repetitive future, any offering of change is a gift.

But of course nothing is more rote than an addict’s life, dominated as it is by a single, irresistible and unsustainable force. Addiction offers not even small surprises and the cosmic joke among addicts is that by trying to escape, they’ve become even greater prisoners.

So the next time you think the future beckons, think again…


Friday, January 7, 2011

Congressional Comedy

So let’s see… We’ve got poverty, crime, terrorism, biohazards, hunger, and a few other things nobody has a handle on, so what we should do is… yes, you’ve got it, read the US Constitution out loud!!!  How come no one thought of this before?

You may have missed this giant step sideways in American politics. The incoming Republicans who recently descended upon Capitol Hill thought it might be an interesting gimmick, because what could be more patriotic—and reassuring to the electorate—than aligning themselves with the country’s most famous document? So read they did.

Incoming Speaker John A. Boehner launched the initiative with, “We the people of the United States…” and was followed by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who, apparently overcome by the momentousness of the event, tripped as she walked to the dais. She read Article 1, Section 1, which enabled the creation of Congress. One after another, Congressmen read their passages. Time passed slowly, and soon the people’s elected servants began yawning, fidgeting, playing with their Blackberries and looking at the clock because, let's face it, reading the Constitution is not like reading James Lee Burke’s latest novel. It is indescribably boooooring.

The fun started when it was discovered that the politicians weren’t reading the full document. The section dealing with slavery (and endorsing it), was left out because it lacked political correctness. This led Representative James E. Clyburn the ranking Black member of the House, to refuse to participate in reciting what he called “revisionist history.” Other notables objected to the lapse as well, including Hilary Shelton, a senior vice president with the NAACP. Republicans reasoned that since slavery had been overturned by the 13th Amendment, why bother with the original—and no longer applicable—constitutional passages?

In fact, what happened on the Hill is somewhat remindful of many earlier attempts to ban works deemed inappropriate by authorities. Think Ulysses, Candide, Fanny Hill, Margaret Sanger’s 1915 Family Limitation dealing with contraception, Rousseau’s Confessions, banned by the US Customs in 1929 as “injurious to public morality.”  Think, Leaves of Grass and Origin of Species, Huckleberry Finn and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, both of which have been dropped from many high school reading curriculum.

What the Congressmen did was choose to change a document few had ever read in its entirety and certainly none was worthy of editing. They decided what was fit and right for public consumption, an incredible act of hubris.

I should add here that a section of the Constitution was omitted when one reader accidentally skipped a page.

This, in and of itself, does not bode well.