Funny Things

Life can be exhausting to keep up with, having spent a lifetime around others who don’t bother enough to stick up for it.

Currently working two jobs, in order to save money to move, doesn’t help with the exhaustion, either.

New reports of PCBs and high levels of mercury in fish from chemicals dumped into lakes, rivers, and oceans, in sync with what multi-million and -billion dollar energy and pharmaceutical industries, et al, are persistently pumping into the air – twofold infecting both the food we eat and air we breathe – are coinciding with new reports of radiation from the Fukishima disaster in migrated fish, like tuna, along U.S. western shores.  (The general safety, here, however, of the air and water from said radioactive material is thankfully deemed so diluted to the point of negligible.)  Multiple special-interest groups the industrialist Koch brothers alone fund, whose spokespeople over-subliminally tout ‘freedom’ in damnable poetic terms at many a public speaking event, in support of an American Dream defined as being free to make as much money as you want.  Environmental regulations, the industrially and technologically developed world over, are not fascistly suppressive.  They are, in fact, not fully enforced.

I am not startled one or the other based on the emotional impact of anything.  But I personally feel it better safe than sorry – provided I keep tabs on it – to just altogether avoid eating fish for a good while.  …More on this a bit later.

 

Democracy is very moral.  Capitalism is very amoral.  The Supreme Court’s recent decision on campaign finance – McCutcheon v. the F.E.C. – is yet another reflection of how we are veering away from a democratic system.  I am exasperated with the ballless, aloof, and ineffectively debunked Democratic argument (in this case) – originally botched by the Solicitor General, when asked by Justice Alito, over Citizens United – that money is speech.  If money is speech, then what is lack of money?!  Once again, I as well as millions of others do not measure personal or social growth in terms of financial worth.  Wealth corrupts.  And these beliefs do not make us non-capitalists.

I paid about $800 in state taxes, last year.  For this past year’s filing, I ended up owing $249 back to the state.  I ended up owing roughly 30% more of what I had already (relatively meagerly) paid in state taxes.

The Democrats (true to form) stated they wanted to make income-inequality the theme of their 2016 midterm campaign.  Shortly before hearing this, I happened to post the following on fb:

“The economist Dean Baker recently wrote: ‘If the minimum wage had risen in step with productivity growth it would be over $16.50/hour today.’ (‘Minimum Wage: Who Decided Workers Should Fall Behind?’, Dean Baker, February 18, 2013)  …According to numerous sources, the typical worker’s annual salary, adjusted to inflation, has not increased since 1979.  By the end of the 1960s, the ratio of CEO-to-typical-worker salaries reached no higher than 20:1.  It is estimated now to be anywhere between 202 and 272:1, depending on measurement of options.  …The federal government recently raised the income-tax on people making $450,000/year from 35% to 39.6%, but the payroll tax for the 150 million other working Americans went up about 48% from 4.2% to 6.2%![1]  …So, my question is how would corporate-CEOs respond if all hourly paid, corporate employees threatened to quit their jobs by a certain date in order to see their wages increased?”

I’ll admit this sounds like a brash haggling tactic, but this is the point.  Do the wealthy necessarily have to make the amount they make per year?  The fact that I can be “capped out” as an hourly employee, as I was recently informed at my full-time job, seems relatively absurd.  How would those at the top be able to make money off the backs of those at the bottom should the latter organize, online, and, without bluffing, set a date to stop working?  I would be curious to see their overall reaction, as well as from politicians and the mainstream media, as the quit-date would loom near.

Student loan debt is now higher than credit card and auto loan debt, and is second only to mortgage-loan debt. …This is almost criminal.  Most people deserve the benefit of the doubt for wanting to go to college, but just cannot afford it.  I currently cannot afford to invest in a Roth-IRA, on top of still being apprehensive of investing and trading, in general, in the stock market.  This whole business seems like a sport of (among other substances) hyped-up males in uniformed, rolled-up sleeves and ties who I’d normally rather than associate with.

I like actual politics, but, once again, it is not being practiced.  We supposedly have a Democrat for President who does not know how to use his post to throw rhetorically clear, fact and experience-based, admonishing rage up the asses of many in the legislative branch – those enchanted with our greatest Constitutional power, rightfully so; elected, to represent us.  This is the President’s job, as well as our own.  It is the President’s job to work with and not around Congress, for Presidents have historically proven to be failures when they do not.  They are to have a vision, rally a case around it, and publically, verbally bust some ass should those in Congress refuse to work on account of the people.  Republicans have more than regularly shown they do not respect him, in the Oval Office.  His speeches abstractly pass in the spirit of a community organizer.  On the whole, it has been enough for me and many others to wonder why he has never dedicated, say, the gist of a State of the Union to taking a proverbial flame-thrower to Congress’s hypocrisy and childishness in front of a national audience.

One of their longest standing members, who will be retiring after he finishes his current term, John Dingell (D), of Michigan, once joked that pedophiles have a higher approval rating than Congress.  …Ha…huh?!  And yet, they just keep on doing what they’ve been doing, riding along in their first-class bandwagons, preferring to spend weekends with the mutually exclusive high-funded and influential kinfolk who legally side-step their occupation as anything other than ‘lobbyist’, on their W-2′s.

Look, if you were to donate $50 or even $2000 to either major political party or campaign, do you truly feel you’re contributing next to someone giving $19 million?  In 2008, Senator Obama raised over $750 million for his campaign, and in 2012, both the President and former Governor Romney raised over a billion dollars, each.  This was heavily ironic, considering how the economy was the overwhelming issue in both campaigns.  It was an utterly grueling, media-scared campaign, if you wish to recall, overall, as neither guy came close to exemplifying vision or leadership.  And because both spent the majority of their campaigns railing against the other’s economic policies, most people did not so much vote for their guy as against the other.

And yet they still managed to raise over one billion dollars – as predicted, no less – each.

Sometimes I wish I had the power to become invisible.  I could sneak into meetings and private offices, record conversations, read confidential documents and memos, and share any a horrible secret I uncover with the non-mainstream media, and just walk away anonymous and scot-free.  But I cannot have that power, and do not want to be made invisible, because I live in reality.  Women are too quiet, too.  I know of many (men, mostly) who all too willingly prefer their worlds of fantasy-fiction – of Batmans and Avengers and the like (each one, themselves, heroically appealing within their rural, suburban, and urban likenesses) – and fantasy sports.  I’ve come to resent the term ‘heroes’ – scapegoated, or otherwise.  They really don’t exist when you think about it.

We are becoming increasingly, cynically self-preserving; increasingly living in a world of compromised death.  Or as the late, great comedian, Bill Hicks, existentially put it: “…Tired of this back-slapping, aren’t-humanity-neat bullshit, we’re a virus with shoes, okay.  That’s all we are.”  We largely prefer to devolve, self-involved.  It is continuously intolerable, and the rest of us have to learn to live with it.

I cannot, per say, create my own world of vitality, self-responsibility, creativity, and moral courage.  So, I have had to search for a strong, decent enough community (which do exist, here, in this country) to move away from family and friends, which is a typical American pain.[2]  Writing is not a solo, concrete, point-A-to-B type trade.  It is communal.  You are in the business of dealing with emotions and so need to be around a community whose teeth you feel you don’t have to pull just to draw the most basic of honest responses!

We, as responsible adults, are above the realization that we disagree on issues, having rarely – if ever – been able to sort out any betrayals from within our younger days.  We all know our ageless souls, wavelengths, crisscross in bodily form for just a cosmic blink, in the grand ‘ol scheme of things.  So it is illogical, really, when considering the whole root-to-the-fruit spectrum, to be so fervently inconsiderate of one another.

Life is not a business.  It’s personal.  And it will only always stay the same unless we very easily change the tone.

And just the quick end-note on personal health…  I know it is hypocritical, but I will continue to work with the cooking and selling of meat and seafood, for the time being.  I own cats, who are unfortunately incapable of maintaining a vegetarian or vegan diet.  Dogs can, as far as I know.  But as far as my cats go, who have always eaten well and not the crap that mostly sit on supermarket shelves, their tiny metabolisms from now on will get dry and moist food comprised of poultry, rice, and vegetables.

And I would like to one day return to no longer advocating for the slaughter of fellow, sentient creatures, at human hands.  We’re all the same color, same creed, on the inside, as us human animals are endowed with a far greater capacity for thinking and feeling, and are also capable of maintaining a full life without meat while comfortably allowing of course for the occasional vice.  (Since keeping tabs on health can be stressful enough, and stress, then, is what it is, any proper diet should allow for coffee, or an occasional beer, and such.)

Advancements in soy replacement-meat products, which for the most part taste perfectly fine, to go with organically grown fruit, vegetables, starches, and herbs, have made it incredibly easier to eat vegan, these days, than ever before.

And finally, people who know me know that I have never been a ‘militant’ sort of vegetarian.  I can only strongly encourage things, but have never insisted on doing other people’s thinking for them.  I really tend to dislike it when others do that with me, and so instead rather do the other person’s listening for them, whenever openly misinterpreted.

 

 

[1] http://www.epi.org/publication/ceo-pay-2012-extraordinarily-high/ Also an interesting read: http://www.sfgate.com/politics/joegarofoli/article/Thumbs-up-for-15-an-hour-minimum-wage-in-new-5321206.php.

 

[2] If sex, wealth, or seeking the acceptance of my father were any of my typical motivations, I think I could have cashed in on any number of million dollar-ideas by now: bacon-wrapped cigars, a mosh-pit video game from when I was in my early twenties.  Heck, even late-night comedy writing.  But I have pesky scruples. ;)

On dementia…

I absolutely love moments of sheer joy and adulation that only sport or music can seem to provide, like the way his appearance at the 2010 UNC alumni game was depicted in the following story: http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/10545949/precious-memories-dean-smith-story.  It’s goes to show how many a two people in a large crowd, totally opposite on other matters, can have a mutual and almost spiritual appreciation for something so basic.

For a person such as he, so widely revered as both humble and larger-than-life, this is not so much a story about his legacy but an effectively, beautifully written account on the sheer power of dementia.  He is still here, his heart and its memory is still here.  And so he should not be so dramatically perceived or acceptably referred to – understandable as it may be – by his entire ‘family’ in the past tense.

The heart may want to recede into a dark corner after reading this.  I feel what makes people instantly tense about the “cruelty” – an accurate term – of this disease is being invariably confronted with their own mortality.

And on the more personal note, reading this compels me to conjure up means to try to bond with my Mom, as she is roughly in the middle stages of dealing with this disease.  If/When the time comes that she does not recognize me, I will never allow myself to believe, without in any way stressing her, that she does not know me nor I her.

The Toothpick is Mightier Than the Sacrificed Lamb

Wow, this past Thursday, the Arizona state legislature passed a law which awaited the signature or veto of the governor on whether to permit businesses to refuse service to gays based upon “religious principles”. The legislation was placed on the governor’s desk on Monday, upon which she had had until this Saturday to decide whether to sign or veto. Arizona’s U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, had both urged the governor to veto. Apple began back-peddling on their plans to build a plant in the state. The Super Bowl was threatening to leave (just like they went ahead and done about fifteen years ago when the state did not want to recognize MLK Day, and the state lost hundreds of millions in revenue). The tide of protest grew and grew. But, thank goodness the governor did not for any reason wait until the weekend to decide to veto.

Since most politicians rather willfully shy from educating, before simply cutting to the heart of the tedious, Leviticus 18:22/Old Testament debate and debunking the “religious principles” claim, given how nutty this particular piece of legislation was, first, to air out a few civil liberties quandaries (in case it should ever come up anywhere, again)…

For one, how would one know if a potential customer is gay?! How awkward would it be if a teenager, out with his parents, is refused service by an unwise proprietor despite having yet come out? …I would love to stop at any a gas station in the state and say, ‘Hey, biologists and anthropologists say that the vast majority of us are to some extent bisexual. That includes you, Dwight. So, $25 on Pump 2.’

How perverse is it to leave it up to the law to decide what is ‘burdensome’ to the business person’s religious beliefs? Would gay residents of Arizona ultimately have to be registered to wear a yellow – or, pink – star, like the Jews in concentration camps, to be ensured potential discrimination from business? If a general physician became known for refusing gay patients, one could go in for a prostate exam and then share when it is over, “By the way, doc, I’m gay, and you just had your hand up my ass. Peace!”

Arizona is one of five states that allows its general public a no license or permit (or, “Unrestricted”) concealed/carry handgun policy, as well as upholding a Stand Your Ground/Castle Doctrine which extends coverage to any place in the state where a person has a right to be. So, if discriminated against (or, not), where deadly force is threatened (or, not), said person could shoot the discriminator and legally claim self-defense. It seems like interpreting public policy in Arizona is a bit like knowing how to play poker. …Poker and guns. Long…live the wild west.

The argument from those who support this legislation is that businesses would simply, legally be protected to politely refuse transacting with presumed gays. It is perfectly astonishing, even more so now in the Information Age where a matter like this right now could go from outrageous to tedious in less than a half of a day, how a conformed brainwashing can lend to an inability to see the discriminatory element (let alone, overlook the constitutional, separation of church of state element, which separates us from the countries we choose to continue to coldly and hotly war against).

People might look at religious/social conservatives and say or think something to the effect of, ‘You can never change them.’ Wrong. Facts open people’s eyes. They do mine.

And so as for this so-called “religious principle”, it has been proven that children who have gay parents become acclimated to the normalcy of living among gays and gay couples, and, therefore, do not grow up discriminating against gays. Or, to put it as one sign at a not-too-long-ago same-sex rally proudly, and rightly, so: “Jesus had two daddies!” I would see gay couples at the church I used to go to and not so much blink an eye but feel a warm sense of relief.

Intellectually, as well as sociologically, just about everyone alive now in the U.S. has been acclimated to having come to reject as well as accept several passages/ideas written in the Bible. For one, one of the very ten commandments dictates Christians should not work on the day of the Sabbath. Multiply roughly 50 Sundays per year times the 26 years I have been legally working, and I and others ought to be worried about burning to a crisp in hell. No. We can safely agree that there are actual, deeper and darker hierarchal sins that need the authority of addressing.

That being said, in a nutshell, refusing equal rights for gays just because it is written in the Bible – or otherwise referred to as ‘religious principles’ – is simply means to hide behind one’s homophobia.

Review of Every Ghost Story is a Love Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace

“For reasons that are not well understood, war’s codes are safer for most of us than love’s.” – David Foster Wallace, “Federer as Religious Experience”, New York Times, 8/20/2006.

 

I have a problem with the last sentence of this book.  Let me just get that out of the way from jump.  The sudden, judgmental tone seems to tarnish the entire account: “This was not an ending anyone would have wanted for him, but it was the one he had chosen.”  The first part is true.  But in contrast, the second part, too bluntly put.

Nobody chooses to be born with a neurochemical disorder, where by adolescence symptoms of depression and anxiety begin to appear, and had begun with him.  And as indicated, from the first paragraph of the bio’s final section, the medication for which he had been taking for twenty-odd years started to simultaneously give him heart palpitations, and caused him to sweat profusely.  The physician he subsequently saw referred to his medication as “a dirty drug” and so recommended a different one.  The plan then was for him to flush out the old before starting a new anti-depressant.  His only questionable choice here was to try and go cold-turkey from anti-depressants altogether.  Although valuing life more than writing, he was financially obligated to finish the novel he was worried he was taking too long to finish.  With a healthy degree of skepticism, he wondered if medication for which he had been taking over twenty years may have been affecting his ability to write fiction.  He had been taking it for over twenty years, and so tentatively decided to see how not taking it might go.

I never read his final book, The Pale King, published posthumously and unfinished (by him), but I wonder if the idea of self-deprecating his now idolatrous image as a prominent literary figure – fully constructed and ironically marketed even by those influenced by him as a result of his major work, Infinite Jest — would have freed up the creative juices.  It appears he at least touched upon the idea of tearing down his ‘statue’, as he generally referred to this new status which affected him.  Such singularly honest, no-holds-barred satire has a way of bringing out one’s sincerity all the more, for anything big, bold, and ‘new’ which becomes a success has a way of turning disingenuously and overly marketed. 

But, the cold-turkey approach to medications would very unfortunately prove not to work.  By the time he tried taking a new set of anti-depressants – one of which, the potential side-effects included anxiety — the pain proved too much to reverse and again stabilize.  He even suggested going back onto his original medication (Nardil), but according to the bio, “was too agitated to give it the weeks it takes it to work.”

And this all slightly harkens to my confusion over the book’s subtitle: “A Life of David Foster Wallace”.  As for the choice of article, why not ‘The Life…’?  Was it meant to convey choosing to side-step a little discussion or interview with an expert on the effects clinical depression can have on the life and work of a writer, or artist in general?  I would have thought it fundamental to include.  Mr. Wallace was, understandably, self-conscious about even discreetly revealing or talking about his condition, publically.

But overall I cannot think of an author for whom it would better serve in order to promote and defend his work in a life cut so short than for David Foster Wallace.  If people felt Infinite Jest[1] was too much to ingest at first (including myself), they will want to try soldiering through it again after reading this book.  From a universal perspective, this biography was a very important undertaking, illustrating just how much care and responsibility is at the ready towards making a substantial and creative difference.  Halfway through, some of the remembrances may start to feel a little redundant, or unsparsely depict him as too self-involved (which could very well be chalked up to his condition).  But, much of it feels like a shared conversation with friends and family about something you love to do.  No one would criticize a farmer or doctor for being too dedicated to each of their callings. 

Support from family and friends in order to excel at something just as risky as being a serious artist is crucial.  It is reassuring to read he had a good amount of this, growing up (Dad, a philosophy professor, and Mom a literature teacher).  These foundations helped fuel his competitive desire both as an excellent student on into his undergraduate years, and as a junior tennis player (before retiring as an amateur).  As his depression and anxiety started to reveal themselves, such support would prove more prevalent during his struggles with addiction, his feeling overwhelmed as a graduate student and attempts at being a teacher/professor (working a few odd-jobs instead) which had resulted in a couple of breakdowns, as well as primarily during romantic struggles throughout his turbulent twenties.  He would ultimately find his greatest personal and professional niche in his early forties.  And all of this stuff went into his work, for which he was very thorough, honest, and discreetly unabashed to share.

I just wish the final sentence in this otherwise objective account was differently worded.  The last sentence of the following obituary published by the New York Times, two days after his death, could be supplemented instead: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/15/books/15wallace.html.


[1] ‘Thought-provoking’ would be too great an understatement; maximized with purpose in every way, shape, and form, simply distilled, it is a satirical novel about the taken-for-granted effects of commercialism and consumerism upon society.  (…And, this here being said, prepare yourself for plenty of footnotes.  The book has 388 of them.)

Mass Silliness

In the midst of all the back-slapping and poignant hypocrisy (coordinated stump-speeches as televised eulogies are pretty tasteless, culminating in the Commander-in-Chief, the only Nobel Peace Prize winner with a kill-list, pleading we “Stop hurting each other” and “Peace”), the mayor of Boston, Tommy Menino, opened this morning’s edition of “This Week” with continued trumped-up stumping for what would be an entire episode covering the Boston Marathon bombing.

After incompetence on the part of the BPD in the accidental killing of a college student in the aftermath of the Red Sox winning the 2004 ALCS, the BPD’s Commissioner at the time stated how the police department “accepts full responsibility” for the death of the student, Victoria Snelgrove, “but” immediately thereafter went on to condemn the actions of some “punks” as deserving partial blame.

First of all, there ought to be no “but” after accepting full responsibility.  Also, let it be clear that in the immediate media-aftermath of that tragic incident, the originally worded “punks” started lazily getting lumped together with “fans” throughout the rest of the statement.  I remember how that sparked my ire.  Baseball is a game that can bring out one’s inner child (sometimes in not so good ways, particularly between Sox and Yankees’ fans), and fans of any sport should never be confused with actual vandals who would seek to seize upon a large crowd to commit individual, destructive acts.  Cheering in the streets, or even observing a celebration as Victoria was doing safely and legally atop a one-story parking lot across from Fenway’s left-field wall, is not destructive.  The vandals, or “punks”, are the ones who deserve the partial blame; the inference of accessories to her death.

I was there that night, standing only several feet away from when her unconscious body was discovered on the street.  Moments earlier, one of the riot-officers walking up my side of Landsdowne Street was aiming his pellet-gun up at the Monster, just as another on the other side of the street must have been doing when he fired up — unlike as he was required to, into the ground, in order for the pellets to explode and release their gas on impact.  These officers deserve, and have publically acknowledged the bulk of, the blame for her death.

I am not saying mayhem was not happening elsewhere in order to prompt a reaction from the police, there was just none going on from my vantage point.  Another fan passed right in front of me with his nose bloodied and broken by a mounted police-officer, according to his crying sister in his defense.  One officer, on foot, had a very geared up expression on his face.  Pepper-spray was fuming up the back of the Monster where strangers were helping others trying to safely climb down from the girders.  Then the aforementioned student standing along the edge of that parking-tier somehow had one of those pellets embed itself into her eye-socket, wield its chemicals to her brain where she then fell unconscious onto the sidewalk, where a fellow celebrator screamed in horror.  I did not want to leave nearby the scene until I saw some movement from her, which I did see.  It was not until the following morning did I learn she had died.

Considering the historical fashion of how the Red Sox had won the league championship that night, the historic rival whom they had beaten with only the loss of one year prior as the latest gut-wrenching chapter in that rivalry, the very bitter to very sweet celebration that ensued immediately onto the streets that night should not have only been expected by authorities as very cathartic, but more like a cosmic event.  And given how there was a trend at the time of such celebrations turning out of control in college campuses and towns across the country, in the aftermath of their area’s teams winning championships, in retrospect, I was surprised the BPD appeared so unprepared for this outpouring.

But it was the “but” that still lingered.  For the majority now generally being lauded for their stoic ‘heroism’ in the aftermath of the Marathon-bombing were then labelled partially responsible for this young woman being killed.  Such education in existentialism is not-so-subtly, persistently devolving, as that partial blame slowly culminated to full when the Commissioner and some representatives of the mayor’s office reportedly went as far as meeting with the parents of the deceased young woman a couple of days after the initial condemnation and managed to convince them to publically blame the “fans” for their daughter’s death (according to a banner headline in the Boston Herald which read, “Family Blames Fans”).

I am white, Irish, and lived in Boston for three months in the summer of 1995.  I am perhaps an odd blend of introvert and gregarious.  I intended to try and make a living there, seeing how the city is pretty much the literary capital of the country and I like to write, and about ninety percent of my family happen to be from towns around the south of Boston.  My parents and older siblings are originally from Brockton.  Maybe it was because it was a hot summer that year, as it is a big city of roughly three million residents, or perhaps it had something to do with my just having spent two years living out in a smaller and less crowded city in the Midwest, but a big reason I decided to last only a few months there was from having spent a lot of time walking around Boston-proper on days off from work and not one single passer-by returned a friendly smile.  The only friend I did manage to make was my roommate through a mutual friend, a very nice person from Ohio, whose previous roommate had actually moved out on her only after a short time for the very same reason as myself. 

So I don’t think “tough” is the word I would use to generally describe Bostonians.  Neurotic, distrusting, over-caffeinated, perhaps as a result of a Mr. Donut or Dunkin Donuts on practically every street-corner.  The dose of xenophobia that the “Euro-trash” get practically extends to anyone not from Boston.  Very old-school in terms of social politics.  (Little do people know that over a hundred years ago, the Irish were actually discriminated against by the Germans in Boston.)  I once saw a native Bostonian actually get out of his car in not-so mid-afternoon traffic on Boylston and confront the driver in front of him, yelling, “Go back to your fucking country!”

Cities right now in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, sub-Saharan Africa have to deal with the threat of bombing and random terror attacks on a daily basis.  These are cities well-acquainted with actual, unvarnished fear.  I have trouble understanding these conflicting messages of how Boston can on the one hand be referred to as “tough” yet also “a city paralyzed by fear”.  In very recent, post-9/11 America, it is near-impossible for me to believe the majority living in a city where those planes happened to take off could carry on unsusceptible to the possibility of future terrorism.  Old school politics press on.

If there is anything we the public have learned from this latest terror-incident, it is that America has a continued inclination to oversell.  Boston was a city largely paralyzed by inconvenience from being locked-down for a day, and overcrowded by multi-media tourists.  (How do police bypass peeking inside a resident’s big boat parked in his backyard, very near the scene from where the younger Tsarnaev had fled, bloodied?)  I wish we would learn to not perpetuate any possible, future tragic incident in this country with the disservice of tragically shallow perspective.

Heroes Don’t Exist

I love how the formula in the BBC series “Sherlock” is not another classic superhero versus super-villain in a league-of-their-own battle of wits. It plays up to this formula very well by way of the eponymous character’s work-ethic and supersonic observational skill – punctuated as well by his more empirical chief associate and friend, Dr. Watson. But the seemingly incredible mindsets of the show’s adversaries, Holmes and James Moriarty, dueling in the modern maze of our collective unconscious, are very tangible.

The following is a moment from the finale of the dynamic, three 90-minute episodes from season one, called “The Great Game”. Holmes and Watson had just fought the clock in order to rescue another hostage innocently associated with a case exclusively texted to them, via photograph, by a ‘fan’ (later confirmed to be Moriarty). Here now they sit engrossed by the news-footage of a slight mistake in judgment on the part of said hostage having resulted in her and a large section of her apartment-building being blown apart, killing 12 in total. After shutting the television off in disgust, as for why their bomber keeps making games out of people’s lives Holmes responds by rather cheekily, eerily believing it is because the bomber is “distracted”. This sets the doctor upright… http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=5yN5O2XG-Mk

That’s pretty ballsy for a self-proclaimed “consulting detective” to say to a veteran army doctor, yet he doesn’t get any argument. At the very least, it is safe to say it is a sharp rebuke for how the word quickly gets commercially abused.

A ‘hero’ is anybody who undertakes a natural impulse for salvaging a greater good. S/He neither humbly acknowledges his/her actions, nor for that matter intends to portray him/herself as a valiant disconnect, for any a ‘villain’ would seek to manipulate or capitalize on the imbalance. A ‘hero’ can appear irked from having to associate with others or maybe it is the case of the ‘other’ who chooses not to measure up, according to a perceived threshold.

Many of us live in our respective immediate surroundings where obvious, direct acts of violence do not occur as frequently as in other parts of the world. This is very fortunate. Yet when something does occur, many either prefer to escape into something more comforting or feel obliged to prematurely obsess until its impact fades.

I don’t dislike politics, per say, just the superficial culture it culls to. Instead of looking to rehashed manifestations of scapegoated fears for which some heightened sense of glory never in any way intended to separate the ‘super’ amongst us to begin with, why not altogether decrease this obnoxious, in-between space for ‘heroes’ by recognizing our better capacities now?

A Meaningful Discussion: A Left-to-Center Understanding of Guns in America

The gun-violence/control debate could be less complicated to discuss, overall, if it were not so undeniably interconnected with other big issues like education, the economy, healthcare, racism, immigration, the drug war, campaign-finance reform, to name a few. One thing is for certain, this discussion makes those pertaining to our ongoing fiscal controversies appear, well, shallow.

The history of our ‘dueling’ nature…young men in abject poverty conforming to gangs and/or desperation…our retro-ideological, inarticulately overlapping, time-and-patience-evaporating, posturing, and overreaching arguments towards responsibly revitalizing economic opportunity in this country…films, music, and video games sensationalizing violence…and a thus far extraordinarily understated re-emphasis on secured storage of firearms in the home, among the key mental health aspects largely, exclusively surrounding the recent rash of shooting rampages can keep law-abiding folks on both sides of the issue awake nights. But, whenever the national discussion is impelled by a horrible gun-incident the conversation reverts to default polemics, politicians prefer to altogether avoid the issue, and/or the whole conversation proceeds nowhere. Obviously, things need improving, just as ambition should be made of sterner stuff.

Every reasonable, responsible, law-abiding gun-owning and non-gun-owning citizen has the same goal: how to reasonably keep ourselves, as individuals, safer from violence. For, now—although, marginally—I am grateful more have decided to contribute to what is being dubbed along both sides of the aisle as ‘meaningful discussion’ [...or, ‘action’, ‘conversation’] to de-escalate future scores of gun-violence.

 

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, since 1968, over 1,384,000 Americans have died from firearms. 1,309,000-plus Americans have died over our whole history of combat (http://www.militaryfactory.com/american_war_deaths.asp). Almost the same amount of Americans have died from firearms, than in wars, in about one-fifth the time. A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun-murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined. Studies suggest that about 80% of gun-crimes in the U.S. are committed from guns which were acquired without any federal monitoring. …The preferred weapon of choice in mass-shootings (62 in the U.S. in the last 30 years; 7 in 2012, alone) is either the semi-automatic rifle with a high-capacity detachable magazine or a semi-automatic handgun, in the hands of the mentally unstable, which points again to the controversy of whether to seek to ban ‘military-designed’ firearms and high-capacity magazines as beyond that of a mental-health matter.

Since the ratification of the 2nd amendment, revolt and revolution had not only been stirring here but as well as in Europe, leading to our Revolutionary War, our 2nd Revolutionary War (of 1812), ‘manifest destiny’ and the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War. After WWII and the Korean War—and for that matter, on into Vietnam and the Persian Gulf—we made the decision to globally extend our interests. In the early to mid-fifties, we assisted in the overthrow of Iran, followed by Guatemala, followed by an embarrassingly unsuccessful attempt in Cuba, in 1961, and followed by what a considerably high percentage of polled Americans imagine (though I strongly hope against) to be a successful overthrow of our own, in 1963… Throw in our most recent double-whammy in both Iraq (despite the WMDs being in North Korea), and Afghanistan—where things are as yet stabilized, drone-might is not necessarily making right, and after hundreds of billions of dollars al Qaeda is spreading across North Africa, entering Syria, as well as maintaining in Pakistan. All the while, European countries’ economies are getting thinner. Department of Justice indictments against the big bankers responsible for the lending-crisis: 0. According to the D.o.J.’s assistant attorney general, Lanny Breuer, as to whether there was enough criminal intent to prove massive fraud in the selling of and investing in outrageously bad mortgages to the public, there is still “reasonable doubt”. (And as there always seems to be a moreover in cases like this—and not to mention, separate cases involving the big banks, UBS and HSBC—in a somewhat recent speech before the New York Bar Association Breuer made reference to “losing sleep at night over worrying about what a lawsuit might result in at a large financial institution”?) What does it matter how wealthy some people get, what kind of military do you expect to have leftover to defend you and us?

So, given our exploits, and what we are still very capable of, we are not very far beyond our covetous and aggressive nature. Might it very well be far from ironic or impractical, then, to assuage citizens from believing they should one day go without being able to purchase—albeit, hopefully, more carefully and universally monitored—semi-automatic firearms for the purpose of home-protection, as a means to (goodness forbid) defend against a threat of tyranny? Perhaps this particular notion may not entirely stem from a powerful lobby’s ever-fluctuating, bottom-line, after all (even though only around 4% of the nation’s licensed gun-owners are members of the N.R.A.).

Why do some of us voters, every two to four years, campaign and argue vigilantly on behalf of those seeking to best represent our ideals and values—at times going against our better judgment in legitimately scrutinizing their sincerity and ambition, or not so much voting for one person but against the other—while much of our past still has a great deal to atone for?

I think about my nieces and nephews, that little girl at the elementary school with 10 or 11 bullets in her, the young teacher at the same school who sacrificed her life in defending her students and the part of the argument around whether to prohibit beyond the date of a bill’s possible enactment anyone from being able to purchase a semi-automatic firearm that can accept a detachable magazine of more than ten rounds—however, continue to allow for anyone who may already own such a firearm to legally keep and use it—begins anew.

 

Let’s face it, the recurring controversy around guns largely centers around one aspect: semi-automatic rifles. The perception problem with the most popular of them all, the AR-15, for example, is it looks like a machine gun. But it isn’t. By itself, it can only fire a single shot at a time, less than a second at a time, with each pull of a trigger. They are equipped to be of better quality and more convenient than say a bolt-action rifle, which requires considerable more manual action between shots.

Fully automatic rifles, which are and have largely been prohibited for civilian use, are actual machine guns. They have been outlawed since 1934, in accordance with The National Firearms Act, for civilians to own without special permission from the U.S. Treasury.

To become a registered owner of a fully automatic, a complete FBI background investigation is conducted, checking for any criminal history or tendencies toward violence, and an application must be submitted to the ATF including two sets of fingerprints, a recent photo, a sworn affidavit that transfer of the NFA firearm is of ‘reasonable necessity’, and that sale to and possession of the weapon by the applicant would be consistent with public safety. The application form also requires the signature of a chief law enforcement officer with jurisdiction in the applicant’s residence. And since the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act in May of 1986, ownership of newly manufactured machine guns has been prohibited to civilians. Machine guns which were manufactured prior to the Act’s passage are regulated under the National Firearms Act, but those manufactured after the ban cannot ordinarily be sold to or owned by civilians. (They also cost about the same as a new car.)

However, regarding semi-automatic rifles, here’s the hitch: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/how-make-your-gun-shoot-fully-automatic-one-easy-step. The Slide Fire Solutions bump fire stock is still for sale and, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, still legal. The bump-fire stock entirely changes the semi-automatic to a fully automatic, with increased accuracy at about one-tenth the price.

Preventing and prohibiting the manufacture and/or sale of this (which Senator Feinstein’s newly proposed bill does seek), and not the semi-automatic rifle itself, would only be consistent with the full-auto ban.

 

But still, I myself still do not own nor have ever felt compelled to own a gun—which I take as a good sign. I am actually a vegetarian for animal rights reasons, to show how far I have had to come in analyzing this issue. I also happen to prefer other, more creative means of tension-release, than, say, the instantaneous appeal of extending one of our more powerful phallic symbols, squeezing a finger, and feeling that resolute bang at a gun-range. (Hence, I suppose, this is one reason why pink guns are now being manufactured.) My sister and brother-in-law are Catholic Workers—pacifist activists who have little problem with intervening in conflict resolution, and who live a life of voluntary poverty, working in solidarity with the poor. For several years they have lived in a three-story apartment-house in an abjectly poor, inner-city neighborhood.

Would it be valid to consider either of us as ‘crazy’ for not owning a licensed firearm, for self-defense purposes? Not at all.

But I can acknowledge that carrying oneself in such ways can only protect so much. For one, any a more mentally stable, licensed gun-owner could be capable of losing their cool and fatally overreacting in an instant. Any person then ought to have the right to likewise protect, minus the compulsion to try to be a media-hero. (Although the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, which exists in about 24 states, is too open-ended to interpret as ‘defense’).

But as mentioned, studies suggest roughly 80% of those who have used a firearm in a crime had acquired the weapon without any federal monitoring, and you can obviously be certain a criminal will not willingly relinquish such guns. An estimated half-million of guns used in crimes are reportedly stolen from the home every year because they are not securely stored. So, for the time being, and for a good while hereafter, we have the overarching, undeniable, and unfortunate truth that there are still millions—plural—of illegally owned guns in the U.S. And also for the time being, with that said, an equally compelling truth that is easy for non-gun owners to overlook is how the presence of the second amendment serves as a major protectorate.

 

In May of 1999, in front of Congress—as well as in December 2012 episode of “Meet the Press”—Wayne Lapierre advocated on behalf of universal background checks. But, lately, not so much, instead advocating what would a criminal care about a background check? Did he mean to word this as what would a potential criminal as yet having to fear a background check care? The solution is obviously not for Americans to buy more guns, for who is to say which potential owners would be potential criminals?

But I have to disagree with Senator Durbin in declaring Lapierre had completely missed the point behind the idea of universal background checks, during his most recent argument in front of Congress. He purposely missed the point. This recent line of thinking of his, and not of most gun-owners, either reflects paranoid-delusion or drunk-with-power salesmanship. I think it is more a case of the latter. Funnily enough, when it applies to winning an election or to economic policy, over 50% can considered a “mandate”, but when polls indicate over 90% of the public supports universal background checks, word is this proposal is “likely to happen”. …Backwards logic?

The amount of illegally owned guns is certainly where the personal traverses with the political, in everyone. As many know, the so-called “straw purchaser” technique is a popular method by which guns fall into illegal hands. Criminals purchase firearms by enlisting an aforementioned type of individual, as yet lacking in a criminal background, to travel to certain states to purchase firearms from gun shops. The criminals then safely travel the interstate to transport these guns back into states which happen to have stricter state-laws, mark up the price of the gun(s), and privately resell them to anyone.

There also of course exists the so-called “gun-show loophole”. As of the “Summary of Federal Law” by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence from their website, http://smartgunlaws.org/private-sales-policy-summary/, updated in August 2012:

“Five states (California, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island) and the District of Columbia require universal background checks on some or all firearm purchasers, including purchases from unlicensed sellers. In California, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia, universal background checks are required for transfers of all classes of firearms; Maryland’s law applies only to handguns and assault weapons; the Connecticut and Pennsylvania laws are limited to handguns. Delaware, Nevada and Oregon have laws allowing voluntary background checks by unlicensed sellers.”

Thus, there just seems an obvious solution to drastically lessen gun crimes, in the future: make every firearm dealer in the country a federally licensed firearm-dealer. This would also include outlawing the private sale a gun to your neighbor (I don’t care how well you think you know him/her) and cracking down on anyone hanging in or around a gun store looking to sell in case a person claims to ‘need’ a gun right away. Federal law could also extend to what California does: prohibiting gun ownership for people convicted of any kind of violent crime, drug offenses, alcohol abuse and juvenile offenses while underage.

How the idea of making every firearm dealer a federally licensed dealer went unchecked for so long is positively beyond me.

Let the idea for a gun-registry pass if the ultimate goal behind universal background checks is to prevent people with criminal backgrounds or mental instability to be able to buy a gun, anywhere, and to thus assure all federally licensed dealers with the proper funding and resources to conduct checks through the NICS system. (On a side-note, I wish mainstream media pundits would also be impelled to immediately defer to the psychological elements behind why a tyrant is why he is, or why an unstable person who shoots multiple people is why he is, instead of sensationally ramping up the rhetoric of either as ‘crazy’ or ‘evil’.) If gun-owners as so-called patriots wish to believe there one day could be a military coup in this country, and then imagine themselves serving as the last line of defense against tyranny, then let them believe that. I don’t believe such a coup could ever possibly, remotely get off the ground, in this country.

 

So how then do we further help abate the fear induced by the millions of illegally owned guns still currently out there?

For one, targets for a large or small act of gun-violence do often seem to be ‘unsuspecting’. Doing away with signs outside of an establishment indicating guns are not permitted would be an obvious plus. But what if federal legislation were to be suggested for a responsible and licensed private citizen to be permitted to carry a concealed handgun, anywhere, apart from federal establishments currently secured under restriction? The suggestion itself can in a way sound exactly like: just hire more police. And it does sound more cost-effective than implementing walk-through metal detectors in any public establishment (one of which could cost around $3500-4000).

If one is compelled to own a gun, s/he is expected to bring with this responsibility the mental, emotional, and physical preparation to be able to use it in an instance of self-defense. This expectation, of course, is not always a given. The annual number of revoked Carrying a Concealed Weapon permits—for which there are several types, and are all regulated on a state-level under four possible policies: Unrestricted (which I am currently not wild about), Shall-Issue, May-Issue, and No-Issue—are always small, and often on the grounds of DUI, unlawful carry, and aggravated assault. Of course, next to preventive, common sense there is still no threat of close bodily harm which a good can of mace or pepper-spray, or even a small, blunt object along with alert thinking to call and/or run for safety or help, still could not ward off.

Typical conceal carry requirements under a ‘Shall-Issue’ jurisdiction indicate that a granting authority literally shall issue a permit if certain permit requirements are met, as opposed to where an authority decides it ‘May Issue’ a permit, at their discretion. Thirty-seven states are currently Shall-Issue; eight are May-Issue, 4 are Unrestricted, and only Illinois (although some counties ironically have an Unrestricted policy, as the state will be required by a recent court-order to establish a better policy by May of 2013) and D.C. are the current no-issue jurisdictions, which forbid open and concealed carry for private citizens.

Allowing to conceal and carry in certain restricted yet more randomly unsuspecting targets of desperation or bigotry—hospitals and places of worship, respectively—vary from state to state. Despite popular opinion, recent mass-shootings, at their foundation, are not entirely mental health-based. There are dual elements at their core (the other I will get to, very shortly). The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act under The Federal Gun Free School Zones Act grants exceptions to current and honorably retired law enforcement officers to carry a weapon within a thousand feet of a school zone, per any state that happens to disallow certain conceal carry permit-holders to legally carry a firearm anywhere in public (except, as mentioned, in all federal buildings).

Schools are generally now in fact very secure. Nevertheless, implementing safety plans as a means to significantly decrease the impact of a future incident, in advance, certainly could not hurt.

 

An extremely important and decidedly overlooked attribute from any and all updated discussion on guns is one that does not call for new regulatory intervention at all. In any mass-shooting or gun-crime exists the potential shooter’s empowered knowledge of easy access to a gun. Now, when it comes to secured storage of guns in the home, the majority of gun-owners are deeply responsible. However, still, a great many annual gun-deaths and gun-crimes in the U.S. stem from folks who are to some greater or lesser degree tragically blind in believing their gun(s) could fall into immature, irresponsible, depressed, mentally unstable, or criminal hands. (Half of all teen suicides, for one, are by the gun.) Steel-safes with a key-coded locking system cost anywhere from only $25 to upwards around $230, depending on the size and amount of guns being stored, along with the ammunition. A small price to pay for safety.

Keeping tabs on more irresponsible gun-owners would realistically be more the responsibility of those who have an interest in guns. Rest assured, non-gun-owners could find tactful ways to address it as well. But as an altogether savory incentive, the prospect of less shooting incidents will come with less shouts for regulatory gun-control.

 

As for the final and herein most prevalent aspect, there is certainly a recurring pattern to mass-shootings. They involve a male; young and/or unmarried; socially frustrated and/or possibly abused in some way, possibly into substance abuse, and/or mentally and emotionally unstable. As information regarding the recent incident at Newtown is still being analyzed, the young man responsible in this case was a mentally/emotionally unstable resident of a legally qualified gun-owner.

Violence in mental illness is rare, and thoughtfully seeking as well as maintaining faith in proper courses of action for schooling and/or treatment, is obviously a very delicate matter for the family involved. Measures in the Affordable Care Act will allow access to care and treatment of the mentally challenged to be easier, as well as for the rash of violent cases involving combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder back home, all victims of domestic abuse, random street-violence, and bullying.

It is now perfectly essential to improve the accuracy and availability of information in order to get every state to adhere to the law already in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (or, NICS), prohibiting the violently/mentally unstable from being able to buy a gun. Every state must be able to have the financial resources available to report dangerously, mentally imbalanced people to the NICS.

The very first thing which tends to come to my mind upon hearing of a shooting incident is the missed warning-signs. There always has to be some. Within hours after Newtown, I could not help but think back on something I had read regarding the Virginia Tech incident. Here was a case where the future shooter, among other ignored signs, was in a college English class seriously scaring the crap out of his fellow students with his writings. The professor took this upon herself to consult with the Dean. …Proper thing to do. However, the professor was then instructed to dismiss the matter as not too serious and to then privately tutor the student back in his dorm-room?! She followed through, but not without deciding to set up a code-word with an assistant standing outside the dorm-room in case she was to suddenly feel threatened. The assistant would then immediately call for help. Although, eventually, as we all well know the student ended up killing 32 on campus, injuring several more, had sparked a national incident, and then took his own life.

There is a recall to do our best to listen for, be cognizant of, recognize, acknowledge, and utilize whatever our powers of peaceful persuasion to intervene and mediate more obvious warning signs. It is always heart-rendering to hear examples of obvious bullying in schools still treated by any and all of the powers-that-be as some matter-of-course; as something a teen or pre-teen needs to somehow endure on his/her own. Considering not all teens are extroverted, gregarious, nor for that matter perhaps properly guided enough, this is ridiculous.

It takes a number of things to go wrong for a plane to go down, or for a nuclear meltdown to occur, and thus multiple precautions have been put in place to prevent these things from occurring. So, I don’t think it is too much to ask to have the same approach when it comes to observing and initiating more amicable threat assessments. Over 120 school shooting and/or bombing threats have been stopped across the country by some form of intervention since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School (http://www.reporternews.com/news/2012/dec/18/many-school-shootings-prevented-according-list/).

The Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness sums up quite nicely the whole matter of gun-violence in the final paragraph of his following August, 2012 post: http://blog.nami.org/2012/08/gun-laws-and-mental-health.html.

 

Finally, and just very briefly, a New York Times op-ed published the day after 2012 Election Day (appropriately titled, maybe, “We Need a Little Fear”), included an alarming stat: in 1960, 5% of American children were born to single mothers; as of 2010, that percentage grew to over 40%. Of course, most single mothers are not necessarily single by choice. Some are because of irreconcilable differences with a former spouse or partner. And many cases involve the father-to-be deciding to split upon hearing news of the pregnancy. Then, the anti-abortion/pro-choice woman—oftentimes, of low-income—is left to decide whether to have the child and possibly piece together a support-system. I don’t wish to get into that debate because the ultimate decision should be left up to her. I only dare, frankly mention this particular scenario because raising a possibly male child without a father, on a small income, takes more energy. And with the help of family, friends, and a community—and/or the option to find a more palatable place to live, if available—is not always a given. Love, love, love, communicate with, and guide that child to no end, should she decide to have him or her.

 

If there is a middle ground on reducing gun-violence it is responsible control through reasonable means of protection. (Slide action stocks: unreasonable.) The ultimate social and political goal would be to significantly pacify the threat of violence, in general, as well as come to a better understanding of ourselves. The usual catalyst of a mass-shooting is primarily related to a call for easier access to mental health care and support in every way. And the best annihilator of any gun-crime is all-around, damn-near impossible access to any firearm.

I have never liked the idea ingrained in our culture of a singular hero. And whether we ought to do less with the word or think upon anyone who plays a helpful role as one would be of the same difference. But this issue, among others, is in need of serious, practical re-examination, and requires a group-effort.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvWokFcD22E