Monday, January 28, 2013

Ready, Aim... - Part II

Another snappy quote from the guy on TV who tells stories from history, but avoids words like "historian" at all cost: "The first Thanksgiving was no picnic."

As you recall, last week I listed some arguments often given by those who oppose regulation on guns and gun ownership. But somehow I forgot to cite the most common (though not the most logical)  argument of all, "Hey, people get killed in CARS, don't they? And you can get killed by a knife or a club or a falling piano, right? But we don't make any of THEM illegal, do we? Ya think we should?" If you haven't actually USED this reasoning, you are no doubt familiar with it.
Here are the arguments cited last week, with opposing views added. First, there's the simple claim that gun ownership is in the Constitution, and the Supreme Court has lately clarified that it's an individual right and not tied to any "militia". True enough, but in practice NO right is absolute. Freedom of Speech does not allow public threats on the president, and Freedom of Religion excludes the ancient practice of human sacrifice. These things are hammered out in the marketplace of ideas every day. Should we, for instance, treat every type of gun the same just because there were very few types in existence when the Constitution was written? Our current practice is NOT to treat all guns the same. You cannot, for example, legally own fully automatic weapons.
The second claim is that guns help us to be safe when threatened from outside OR by the very government we helped put in place if it should be turned against us by domestic tyranny. No doubt many dangerous individuals have been turned away, wounded or killed by gun owners in their homes, but studies have concluded that a gun in the house makes it MORE (and by a wide margin), not LESS dangerous, because of the new danger from THAT weapon. And America is NOT the safest nation on earth despite owning the most guns.  As for arming to prevent invasion by OUR OWN armed forces, let's admit that, over time, our taxes have gone into the creation of the mightiest defense establishment the world has ever known. They have the power to kill us all fifty different ways from miles away before we even know we are under attack. Hold THEM off with a collection of hunting rifles, clay pigeon shotguns and handguns wielded by unorganized, non-combat trained civilians? Puh-leeze.
The manufacture of guns and ammo, together with the functions of sales, marketing, accounting, etc. no doubt employs thousands of people. SOMEONE had to make the efforts needed to arm our nation with three hundred million guns, highest per capita in the world. You could make the same case for the alcohol, tobacco or pornography industries, all of them mostly legal. Sure, it's great to collect taxes from industries of all kinds, but is that ENOUGH to simply wave off thousands of deaths annually coming directly from use of a "product"? Gun deaths to the industry are evidently just "collateral damage", like torn ligaments are to the NFL.
People are known to ignore gun laws, particularly when committing other crimes. But that in itself isn't a good reason to toss away the law itself. The effectiveness of a law shouldn't be whether it is always obeyed, but whether the TREND is toward MORE or LESS public lawfulness. After all, we didn't toss out laws regarding Ponzi financial schemes just because Bernie Madoff broke them. Nor do we grant Wall Street every deregulation they wish following some new scandal.
True, people die in cars, and there is no shortage of ways to kill people, including attacking them with falling pianos. But knives, clubs and solid concrete have other uses, and cars AND driving conditions can be and ARE made safer over time. I don't recall the last mass stabbing, but I can guarantee that someone at the scene said, "Thank goodness he didn't have a gun."
There isn't room to analyze proposals from the Obama Administration to try to make people safer from guns. Not all proposals will pass, not all suicides will be prevented, nor has the door been shut on future mass shootings. The one aspect largely (and often deliberately) ignored is that there are NO proposals to confiscate privately owned weapons, no matter their firepower or future legality. The thing people scream against the loudest is not even being proposed. That's the most important single fact a person can take away from this blog entry. NO ONE IS COMING FOR YOUR GUNS.        

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ready, Aim....

What a day for our country. We can look in both directions - to the past when Dr. King led the crusade to end legal racial bigotry, and to the future, as President Obama once again takes the Presidential Oath of Office. Hooray for us!

I had another "Only in America" moment when I saw Jeremy Lin, Chinese American, Harvard man and a player for the NBA's Houston Rockets on TV doing a commercial for...Volvo, the pride of... Sweden. I wish him well, but...who thinks these things up? And what about that commercial about a dream showing the Williams sisters playing some furious ping pong doubles using TWO balls? It makes my head spin.

The three branches of our national government are constantly in disagreement. That shouldn't be something that's insurmountable, though it often seems to be. The next big fight may come over a subject never far from the minds of large parts of the population - guns, along with their permitted features and uses.
Here are the main arguments of those who oppose restrictions to gun ownership. Most all of them are good people, but some seem to be strung...rather tightly
1. "The Constitution says I can have guns, and I agree. Anyone who doesn't may force me to use another right. which is my right to blow them away if they ever come for my guns."
2. "Guns keep us safe. This applies not just to local criminals, but also to our bad ole gum'mint, who would march on good people and grind them to powder if gun owners didn't stand in the way. But to do that, we have to be as well-armed as they are."
3.  "Making and selling guns and ammo and everything else that goes with them employs lots of people who pay taxes. Banning guns will end up with them having to go on welfare."
4. "Criminals always find ways to get guns, so any ban just applies to people who keep the law. Gun control laws get broken so much that we should just drop 'em and let people defend themselves however they want."
Now, I am aware that certain long-time readers of this blog have a preference for shorter entries, and I can respect that. I mean, War and Peace, Moby Dick and even The Bible would have lots more readers if they had just found a way to take out a million words or so. Let's leave this where it is, and take up the other side of these arguments in the next blog entry. Hasta la vista, baby.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Perspectives in Empathy

Before diving into the sometimes murky world of personal psychology, two notes in the way of anniversaries. First, it was one hundred years ago (Jan. 9, 1913) that Richard M. Nixon was born. I hope I never get over the dark complexities that influenced Nixon to become the most Shakespearian  of all our modern presidents. He wore paranoia like a badge of honor, and make it a point to trust as few people as possible. He was an introvert who somehow became a political figure. His loyal subordinates (more than what you might think) did all they could to keep their boss' bad side out of sight of the public. And I hope he never stops being mentioned in this space, though over time his personality is destined to become less and less familiar as time passes. About all we have now to remind us are a handful of former White House staffers like G. Gordon Liddy, a slightly disappointing Oliver Stone movie and a good number of books.

At the end of 1972, Roberto Clemente had already played seventeen years for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he was more than a player. He was a role model, leading the way in showing that a mere baseball player could be an example to an entire class of people (American Latinos), and a role nodel for everyone. He helped collect and organize a flight loaded with aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, and was on the plane, which, unfortunately, crashed on takeoff under stormy conditions. It happened December, 31st, the second day of our marriage, forty years ago. An award carrying Clemente's name is given annually to a baseball player involved in community service. He was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame within a year of his death, and is still missed by baseball fans everywhere.

Remember the phrase we always associated with Bill Clinton when he was a candidate? You're right if you recall, "I feel your pain." That little phrase sums up the quality of empathy - seeing (and feeling) things the way other people do. Naturally, some people have this quality as a kind of gift which opens the door to all kinds of (mostly) good works. Others, like Mitt Romney, have a hard time with this particular quality, or at least demonstrating that they have it. And, of course, it isn't limited to politics.
I'm reading the book Team of Rivals, which is the latest Lincoln biography to attain  bestseller status. Lincoln was ambitious, he was political in every sense, and as president he stretched the Constitution considerably trying to reunite the nation during the Civil War. But for whatever reason, empathy also came easily to him. The book recalls that he once walked a half mile retracing his steps to where a hog was stuck in a mire. Lincoln had no connection or feeling for the beast, but pulled it out of its predicament anyway, in order to feel better himself. I hope this didn't happen on the way to something important. 
My tennis magazine allows people to write in to ask for help from teaching pros. A man wrote in to say that he had experienced a "medical issue" with his left arm, and had learned the game again, this time playing right-handed. Several local coaches had commented that they would not have known that had ever played the game lefty, but he still had a problem sometimes with reacting to opponent shots as a left-handed player would. What could he do?
The answer came from Nick Bollettieri, probably the world's best-known tennis instructor. It started with the words, " need to work on your anticipation" and went on to offer specific suggestions, but never noting what a challenge the man had already overcome. True, he wrote in looking for suggestions, but would it have killed the famous man to simply say "Wow. You've already done something your whole family can be proud of. I doubt one player in a thousand could have actually changed hands playing a game that's so hard to master. You're an example of what people are capable of if they are determined." Well, I suppose that's the difference between a teacher and someone who leads by inspiring  the people around him..                     

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

New Calenders

The bowl games are through, all 100 or so of them. Our national figurtive "leap" over the fiscal cliff ends the way plenty of other such moments have - with a compromise reflecting the superior cards held, this time, by the Democrats. Our next self-made crisis comes next month, the debt ceiling "crisis" with Congress reluctant to authorize borrowing to pay for things it has already bought. The so-called Super Bowl isn't here just yet, although the NHL somehow finally settled with hockey players to bring back the country's favorite sport contested on ice. It's a new year
It seems to me like the "Winter of Lincoln". I was lucky enough to receive a copy of "Team of Rivals" as a Christmas gift, and am reading it. Last night I went (alone) to see the Spielberg movie "Lincoln", based somewhat on the book. I've concluded that anyone today who sighs, wishing for the good old days in which Lincoln floated benignly over the mere politicians of his day is someone who  only pretends to be educated. Lincoln was political up to his eyeballs, and employed every trick of that era in order to advance an inch toward his ultimate goal. I mean that with all respect to the man, who's correctly put right at the top of any worthy historian's list of the best presidents.    
The Inauguration is coming up  quickly, too. This one may not have quite the drama of the last one, at which our first, and perhaps only African American president takes office. But Mr. Obama goes back to the presidential control board with enhanced ability to fine tune its numerous dials and buttons. The complexities of holding the office must be stupefying, especially if your goals go beyond simply rewarding group X while penalizing group Y.
Does anyone wonder what a President Romney Inauguration Party would be like? Maybe the GOP would be relieved at no longer having to oppose literally everything coming from the White House. I can visualize clutches of formally dressed white guys saying (loudly, too) things like, "We figure what we did in Pennsylvania blocked 80,000 Obama votes, which led to our win there, and the trend just continued all night! We're working now on how to stop another 80,000 votes next time, so that we stay right here." I'm guessing the testosterone level at this event would be something between NFL pregame pep talks and a Mafia summit conference.
Just so you'll know, we did get new calendars. Last year for me was a collection of surfers in action. I still know almost nothing about the sport, but it sure makes for some good pictures. This year, it's back to well-known tennis pros. Rafael Nadal is Mr. January. His arms look like he could crush walnuts with his bare hands. His face leaves you wondering if the guy even shaves  The all-important kitchen calendar is a return to flowers, which looks great among all the other vital works that warrant display on the family art gallery - the refrigerator.