Summer Daze (2016Jul16)

Saturday, July 16, 2016                                            4:38 PM

Summer is supposed to be hot and lazy, but I’m finding this summer kinda nerve-wracking. Our geopolitics are simmering dangerously close to a full boil—at this point it would be easier to list the countries that are stable and enjoying business-as-usual, if indeed there are any, rather than compile the list of trouble-spots and terror attacks. On the domestic front, we seem to be having a presidential race that is more a referendum on fact-based democracy than a choice of parties. The gun violence has hit record highs without anyone having a clue as to how to stop it. Violence of every kind piles atop itself, barely a day going by without a new atrocity in the news—it’s actually pushed our obsessive election polling off the top-stories-list these past few days.

I saw a Medium post this morning—a tongue-in-cheek essay listing the many horrors of the last six months, claiming that ‘due to extreme disapproval ratings the rest of 2016 has been cancelled’. I applaud this blogger—she or he has succeeded in finding anything funny to say about the first half of this year. I wish I could. The only positive message sensible folks like President Obama or Secretary Clinton can offer lately is ‘things aren’t as bad as they seem’, and ‘we all have to work together’. I can’t disagree—my life, compared to the average American, is just a bowl of cherries—and I’m far better off than the usual unemployed sixty-year-old.

And I would far rather welcome refugees from war-torn countries, and make allowances for long-term undocumented workers, especially those whose children were born here. Those who face these ideas with fear and anger are forgetting that none of us are native, except Native Americans—and they are overlooking that the net effect of all immigrations is always a plus for America. We have never failed to integrate and welcome any group into our nation before (well, eventually, of course) and I don’t see why we should start now. This nonsense about building walls, deporting masses of people, and banning religions—it’s not just un-American, it’s stupid. It’s a mistake we’ve never made before, so some people can’t envision just how horribly such ideas would work out in practice. With one exception—we’re still pretty embarrassed about the Japanese-American camps at the start of WWII. That failure of our national nerve still pinches—and it gives us a good idea of what extreme nationalism can do to the spirit of this country.

Our national spirit is a fragile thing—like many valuable treasures it can easily be misplaced or damaged. It can also be warped to the purposes of a charlatan—jingoism masquerading as patriotism, capitalist greed masquerading as national security, discrimination masquerading as religiosity, and other tap-dancing by power-seeking narcissists. Practicality is often used as an excuse to stifle our national spirit—we can’t afford it; it’s too dangerous; it threatens our children; it abridges our faith—but in the end, more of us are willing to trust in our spirit, our humanity, which is how we’ve gotten to our present level of social justice, work-in-progress though it may be.

Other nations marvel at our freedom of speech and of the press—they don’t really believe that such freedom can exist. Other nations marvel at our gender equality—women’s rights are severely curtailed in many nominally ‘developed’ countries. Even in Europe, many of their foreign nationals aren’t nearly as integrated into the fabric of their communities—they exist in separate enclaves that exaggerate the separation of cultures rather than combine them into a whole. America has its failings—don’t get me wrong. The persistence of racial division is undeniable and women are not yet fully equal in pay rates and other stats. The power of the wealthy is undermining our governance, our culture, and the economic divide is ever widening. And guns—boy, do we have a problem with guns.

For Americans, guns are the good guys. The colonists used guns to defend against the ‘savages’ and the many four-legged predators of the New World. The revolutionaries used guns to win our liberty as a nation—and one of their first new rules was ‘everyone can have a gun’. Guns made up both sides of the Civil War, and afterward, guns went west and made it wild—until other guns came and tamed the Wild West. Then we used guns to win the War with Spain, the First World War, and the Second World War. America wouldn’t be America without guns—and lots of’em.

Curiously, at present, we virtually ignore our armed military, those who are facing action in at least four other countries—and focus on gun misuse by Americans against Americans. Mental health seems to be a major factor—but I sometimes wonder whether the crazed gunman isn’t at least partly a product of a crazed community. The whole country is kinda gun-crazy—the mass murderers are getting their ideas from somewhere—and they’re getting their arms from somewhere too. I wish I had a solution to offer, but I’m as stumped as everyone else. I’m just on the lookout for those ‘better angels of our nature’ that have seen us through tough times before.

It’s looking like a long, hot summer. Here’s some music to help cool off:

 

Undeclared News   (2015Dec04)

Friday, December 04, 2015                                               12:54 PM

We must fight for liberty—freedom isn’t free. That makes us a fighting kind of people even though our present military is less than 1% of our population—and civilian-military engagement, like all social interaction, is less today than it was during the Big One, or even during Nam. No, today’s young whippersnapper doesn’t spring up to drive to the recruitment office and prove his manhood (or, as of today, her womanhood).

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But we do express our combativeness by buying guns—we’re not going down without a fight. And, yes, there is crime—and certainly more crime in certain places than others—but, by and large, the suburbs are designed to be lived in without gunfire. In most cases, everybody is too busy with other things. Putting aside the far greater, so-called white-collar crimes, we find that crime stats follow poverty stats. That seems clear to me—what do you think? You end crime by ending income inequality—by giving a hand to the underserved, by making the whole place rich and not just your patch of it.

I’m troubled by the undeclared aspects of recent news—the unadmitted connections between things we favor and things we disapprove of. The Senate just passed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood (which won’t pass but plays well to the base, I guess?) but the GOP are bending over backwards to deny that there’s anything wrong with the 2nd Amendment. You can’t revere the sanctity of life for the unborn if you don’t care about tens of thousands of annual gun-related killings.

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There’s something else notable about mass-shootings and gun violence in general—there’s always wounded as well as killed. In San Bernardino 14 people died—and 17 were wounded. I’ve never been wounded by a bullet and gone to the hospital—for anything from a Band-Aid to a wheelchair for my paralyzed body—but I imagine that pretty well ruins your whole day. And on top of all the death that day seventeen people had that experience. There’s always more wounded than killed (maybe the same mind that goes to trigger-pulling isn’t that keen on the whole aiming thing) and with gun-shot wounds, you have to go on living with whatever havoc a hunk of metal has wreaked on your poor, baby-soft skin.

The truth is these right-wingers don’t revere the sanctity of life—not nearly as much as they fear being disarmed. They only want to revere their God above women’s reproductive rights—and opposing legal abortion is the only way they can do it without revealing how backward they are. But they should try it—I’ve got my sixtieth birthday coming up in a month or so, and I’ve never owned a gun or handled a firearm—and I’ve never been in a situation where that made a bit of difference. I’ve almost died from disease, fire, traffic, and bad-living—but I’ve never been shot at. Am I just lucky—or does not being a part of the gun culture make me lucky?

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Anyway, there’s a far stickier wicket in the unacknowledged issues department—religion. We make the distinction between ISIL terrorists and average Muslims who have no truck with violence—and we have this right-wing nonsense about grouping everyone together—terrorist and Muslims, terrorists and Syrian refugees. But what we don’t address is the part being played by religion, both in the Planned Parenthood shootings and in the San Bernardino shootings—these people imagine themselves in some kind of battle between good and evil—a battle where dogma outweighs human life.

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I don’t blame religion for what these people did—if they didn’t have a religion to turn to, they would have made up one of their own—crazy is crazy. I’m just saying that there is an association between religion and crazy—cult-leaders are an embarrassment—as are pedophile priests—yet no one sees an obvious connection between a strong fundamentalism and mental imbalance. If you think about it, Al Queda and ISIL are really just cult-leaders gone pro, and gone global. Reality won’t be obscured, though—there are communities now that purposely isolate themselves to lessen the cognitive dissonance between their overblown zealotry and the run-of-the-mill Protestant. It is far more difficult for such nut-jobs to maintain their self-importance when they are individual oddballs sprinkled throughout our average communities.

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The original pilgrims’ decision to separate church and state was the first time that a society put practicality above its supernatural beliefs—at least publicly. You have to remember, back then, they still believed in a monarch’s ‘divine right’ to a throne—entire governments were based as much on religious dogma as on bloodlines. And the colonists still accepted that—they would remain loyal to the crown—even if they couldn’t decide on exactly which divinity was granting the right. That whole Revolutionary War stuff would come a hundred years later—America has always been more about getting on with life without letting religious nonsense cause trouble, than it has ever been about freedom or democracy. Indeed, you can’t have either of those things until you chuck religion, anyway.

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Religion is okay for kids, and it’s okay for people to believe something in their hearts—but our important decisions should never concern themselves with anything other than justice and fairness and kindness, no matter how many people believe in stuff they can’t see. That’s what separation of church and state is all about. Those Christians who wish to drive a religious wedge into American politics and government are just as dangerous as ISIL—perhaps more so, in the long run. And right-wingers who wish to lay off all gun violence on the mentally ill should take a look at ISIL’s behavior—and ask themselves, “Are these Muslims, or are these just sociopaths using religion to cover their troublemaking?”

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Millions of people live their lives, going to church on Sunday, but not basing their lifestyle on their afterlife—they accept religion in its rightful place and leave the rest until they have more evidence—a sensible approach. But some would have us all join them in their conviction that all life is just a journey towards an afterlife, with very specific rules—some will even go further, convinced that the world will end on a specific date—then the afterlife, as if the end of the world is just a feature. And religion doesn’t have to worry about charges of false advertising, because no one comes back to complain—of any religion, by the way—so we can assume that all are satisfied customers, regardless of faith. End-of-Days people have had their embarrassments, it’s true—but it is the nature of religion that most of these people just pick a new date and carry on.

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Now these beliefs are beautiful and strange—I would never resent anyone investing their interior life with such exoticism—but there is a bullying quality to evangelism, to caliphate-building, to confessions and shaming, to exclusion, regimentation and dogma—these are the signs of someone using religion for self-aggrandizement—and I really don’t see how people fail to see through their bullshit. So—religion—good stuff—but keep it to yourself, please—and don’t go terrorist, whatever your faith.

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A final question—since it was reported yesterday that this year’s mass shootings outnumber the days in the year, giving an average of more than one mass shooting per day. Where are all the stories of the brave, armed-for-self-defense Americans that fired back at these crazed gunmen? If we need guns for self-defense, why are none of these victims defending themselves? Is it because only the nut-jobs feel the need to carry weapons? Is it because we don’t live in the Wild Goddamned West anymore—and the average American prefers not to carry a gun?

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Hieronymus Bosch did all these religious paintings, by the way–anyone want to debate me on that point about the connection between fundamentalism and mental imbalance?

Things That Are Wrong (2015Oct02)

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Friday, October 02, 2015                                         6:42 PM

Guns are bombs, okay? They’re sophisticated bombs with a piece of custom-shaped shrapnel that comes out the end. They’re explosives—adding the bells and whistles doesn’t change that. Now think about the difference between our attitudes towards guns and our attitudes towards bombs. Think about the pre-boarding inspections that confiscate water bottles and cuticle scissors. Think about that schoolkid who got busted for bringing a clock to school. Now think about those yahoos that parade about in public spaces with semi-automatic rifles across their shoulders.

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We have got to stop romanticizing guns—we have to amend the constitution to rescind the ‘right of the people to keep and bear arms’. We have to end the NRA’s choke-hold on Washington—and on state and local lawmakers. Or we should just add ‘bombs’ to the Second Amendment—what’s the difference? Most homeowners own guns—and of those who use them, most of them accidentally shoot a family member—now that’s a proud tradition.

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Money has hacked our democracy—and the proof is in the proliferation of commerce and industry, without a commensurate explosion in regulatory agencies. We are constantly told of all the wonderful new advances, new products, new materials, new investment derivatives, new genetically-modified products—where’s the damned regulatory structure to keep all these new enterprises from going rogue? They’re being suppressed by the rich bastards who are making money off all these new things—using society as a vast, cost-free experiment lab. We live on a knife-edge of new technology running in all directions at once—where is the government oversight on all the wonderful new risks and excesses?

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We are unwilling guinea pigs for every new internet site, drug, GMO food or feed, flavor enhancer, investment scheme, and safety feature (or lack thereof) on every vehicle, appliance, or toy. We are told that the unions our grandparents went to jail for, got beat up for, or died for, are the evil influence—not the owners and executives with all the power—and because of our failing educational system, many of us are stupid enough to believe that. But don’t get me started on what the American voters have become stupid enough to believe—common sense has long fled the field of battle against these pidgeon-heads—a mindless victory that is looking fair to elect a clown for president. If you need further proof that our democracy has been hacked by capitalism—explain to me Trump’s poll numbers. I think he would be the first president who never read a history book.

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Vladimr Putin is a gangster—a short one, because he’s not a whole person—he’s mostly asshole. Now that Russia is run by mobsters, it makes sense that the one with the Napoleon-complex is the big cheese. But the worst part about Putin is that he’s right. America thought it was clever to arm a bunch of religious fanatics and let them do the fighting in Afghanistan—then America turned its back on Afghanistan after the Russians gave up and went home—just when that region needed committed efforts (and funds) to help to transform itself into a developing country. Now we’ve got Taliban, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIL—in some ways it would have been better to let the Russians occupy the place.

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So that’s on us—9/11 was a direct response from a bunch of pissed-off fanatics that resented being used by America to fight their Cold War, and then got dumped once they had done what we wanted. And attacking the wrong country in response—well, that was just Dubya’s little cherry on top, destabilizing the entire Middle East for no good reason. Now this oafish Capone-ski, Putin, is annexing countries and bombing Syrian freedom-fighters for Assad—and he’s got the moral high-ground. This is what happens when Conservatives use whatever it is they use, instead of thinking, to lead our nation.

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Obama is understandably reluctant to throw fuel on the fire, having been elected partly on the premise that militarism in the Middle East is not America’s strong suit. And really, how is America supposed to end the conflicts between Shia and Sunni half-a-world away? All we could do is copy Putin—drop bombs on whatever targets present themselves and hope that random bloodshed adds to the discourse—and we’re already doing that. World War III, here we come—Oh, boy!

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Meanwhile, all the reasonable Syrians are on hiking trips, or boating in the Mediterranean—well, if I think about it, I’m sure there are millions of decent Syrians who are too poor or too trapped to leave. Maybe someday, if the fighting ever stops, there’ll be a couple of intelligent people left to rebuild the place.

And of course our National village idiot, Trump, promises to ship all the Syrian refugees back to Syria (that’s after he’s shipped millions of undocumented workers south of the border). He’s really into transportation, this guy. What a tool.

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The presumed-next Speaker, McCarthy, has admitted that the only purpose of the Benghazi hearings was to throw a wrench into Hillary Clinton’s political image and muddy her rep—that’s an unexpected bit of fresh air—not that he shouldn’t be ashamed of himself and his party for putting themselves above the service they purport to render. I watched a little C-SPAN and heard them cawing over Planned Parenthood—until Cecile Richards had to correct one of them on live TV. But even after the tapes were proved edited and it was pointed out that Planned Parenthood provides important women’s health care, with only a small percentage of their efforts involving abortion (which is legal, BTW) the GOP continues to pretend that Cecile Richards is leading a band of bloodthirsty cannibals who eat baby-brains for lunch. (They have it on video.) We hardly need rich people to screw up the world with idiots like this in government, especially now that they’ve gotten into the habit of doubling down on every stupid lie, no matter how many times it’s exposed as a lie.

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And, as I predicted, the moronic Jeb Bush is making the talk-show rounds and looking downright erudite after a whole summer of Trump—and the Democrats, according to polls, are falling for the Hillary E-Mail smear—proof that we Democrats are just as stupid as the GOP—just in our own way. When I look at Hillary Clinton I see someone who’s uncomfortable—she’s not a natural politician, like her husband—she’s less comfortable feeding us bullshit. But I think that’s a good thing. When I look at Hillary Clinton I see someone who’s spent her life in public service—someone who has only entered politics because that’s where the chance for real change is. Perhaps I go too far—but isn’t it about time we had a counter-balance to the GOP’s bullshit against her? Whatever her faults, she’s Socrates with a touch of Einstein—compared to her rivals.

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And whatever happened to our dream of electing the first woman president? Are we too smug now that we’ve had an African-American president—do we think that we’ve been ‘enlightened’ enough for now, let’s get back to the rich white guys that always do such a bang-up job? Yeah, that’s sounds about right. Sorry, Hil—you’re more than qualified, but the GOP says your email server destroyed the free world—and your lady Democrats got hit on the head, I guess, because they’re starting to believe those jerks.

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Gun Owners (2014Oct25)

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Those who own guns want to own guns—that’s the sad, simple fact—and that’s why reasoned arguments don’t go over so well with them. I admit, there is one thing in this dangerous world that guns will protect them from—other gun owners. Unfortunately, the stats show that gun owners shoot themselves and their families far more than any outside faction.

You can use a rifle to hunt for dinner, or to kill a wild beast in the woods (if you get one angry enough to attack you—they prefer to avoid us) and this allows pro-gun nuts to confuse the issue over hand-guns, open carry, and school shootings. So, sure, keep the rifles—at least until you can get your ass to the A&P to buy dinner, like a normal person. Come to think of it, hunting rifles are closest in kind to the “arms” noted in our second amendment—so if you’re thinking of overthrowing the tyranny of our present government, by all means, keep that rifle.

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But if you just want to feel that deliciously heavy steel killing machine in your mitt, and your neighbors all feel the same way—well, you’re all just looking for an excuse to feel the Power—that better-than-sex power you feel with a pistol in your hand. You’re in love with violence. Go on—admit it. You just want to shoot somebody—because what bigger thrill has life to offer? The power of life and death—strong stuff. I mean, they’re there, they’re right there—and if you don’t own one, someone else will—and then you’ll be helpless against their childish impulse to try something that goes bang. Happiness, as the Beatles pointed out, is a Warm Gun. (Bang, bang, shoot, shoot…)

Geometrically speaking, if we consider the ever-growing incidence of school shootings, parents shouldn’t be allowed to own guns. But then, the psychotic teenagers that perpetrate school shootings don’t always get their arms from their parents. So, better idea, gun owners should only live in child-free zones, so the two never intersect. (Or is it ‘children only in gun-free zones’?) Still, I’m starting to think that all these school shootings may have something to do with bad parenting—maybe we should focus on random, adult shootings, instead. After all, parenting is hard—and 99% of us do it wrong—so let’s leave the kids out of this.

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Maybe it’s religion—is there anything more terrifying than a fundamentalist with a fully-loaded firearm? Ask ISIS. But I have to say, if these people really believed in anything other than their own hatred, would they need weapons to enforce their ‘heaven on earth’? Isn’t God supposed to have some kind of power? Other than a tank battalion, I mean. Belief in God should disqualify us from weapons purchasing for two reasons: If you die unarmed, isn’t that a free pass to the Magic Kingdom? And isn’t God’s will going to triumph, regardless of firepower?

Religion, kids, dinner—these are the real problems. Owning a hand-gun means nothing—after all, guns don’t kill people—they just make it so damn easy.

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S’always Somepin

two points, actually. One: The NRA is one sick-assed concept of an association; and Two: The House Republicans are a bunch of no-good sons-o-whatever.

Since the later would appear to have priority, let’s begin with the GOP Representatives—they include a hard-core, tea-bag-stifled bunch of tax-nothings (magical economics?), a large number of scared-to-admit-it moderates who think it might actually make sense to set our federal financial house in order (especially when that self-legislated implosion of non-decisions-from-the-past is about to go BOOM). Then there are the vanguards—those so enameled by media-coverage, and those ensorcelled by power into irrationality—that nothing they can say or do will result in anything but delay.

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I’ve been kept from my keyboard a couple of days since I started simmering over this, so I’ve retreated from the full boil I had going just before Xmas. But I still want to point out that these officials are elected to represent the will of their electors, the people. Only those forty tea-baggers have the excuse that they were elected by ignorant fools. The other three-hundred-something House members have only the tissue-thin armor of being Dems or Reps, Red or Blue—and at this point, that still doesn’t free them to defy stark reality, or to accept an avoidable wounding of those people who voted them into office.

But that vanguard—well, give me two days with flashes blinding me every time I walk to my car and people shouting at me, and I’ll lose touch with reality myself. The President can’t do anything to help these legislators—because he still feels obligated to produce sensible results as a part of holding his office. And he knows that his name will be attached to this time in history, whether the House GOPs destroy our economy or not. He has to do what he said he would, come hell or high water.

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Plus, there is some evidence that this whole, protracted nonsense over taxes really only amounts to a barely significant fraction of the total being addressed. This gives rise, in me at least, to conspiracy-theory-like paranoia. How do I reconcile my optimistic attitude towards our nation with clear evidence of civilization becoming some monstrous distortion of all our vague notions of freedom, equality, and patriotism. This distortion has but one root cause—ignorance, not just in the young products of public schooling, but in individuals with responsibility for how we run our government and our businesses.

I’m an educated guy. I ain’t no genius, but I can carry on a conversation, OK? So when I see shifty-eyed, mealy-mouthed scam artists behind podiums with a sign over them that says “POTUS” (Thank God that one’s over for now.) or the Pentagon, or the House Of Representatives, or the Senate, or Mayor of AnyCity, USA, or Governor—it makes me mad. It isn’t so much that they are clearly egotistical or of dubious character—I can live with some of that—but that they are ignorant boobs who have no right to be a part of an adult discussion on the issues.

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I’ve told myself not to lean too hard on the evangelical types—there are many quite-mundane morons whose ignorance side-steps religion altogether. The only real beef I have with the former, that isn’t shared by the later, is a willingness to believe in things like ‘the end of the world’ as an ‘appointment’-event, or that harm, in the present, is not as important as quality-of-‘afterlife’, whatever that is.

Still, the down-to-earth idiots are just as dangerous in their insistence on confusing value with worth. These guys (and gals) will see themselves Chair-persons of the most powerful banks and corporations on Earth, even if it takes the destruction of the human race, either before or after the destruction of our very Earth.

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But whatever your (or their) poison, stupidity-wise, there are none so dangerous as those whose job it is to write our laws. Elected ignorance is no joke—but what can we do when we have legitimized ignorance by voting it into office?

Which brings me nicely around to Point One: the NRA—they seem to think that controlling who can or can’t own a firearm is as bad as deciding who is smart enough to vote and who isn’t. I see their point—it is a fact that most of these tragedies end in suicide by bullet or bullets. They are first exposures of the lethal psychosis that these mass-murderers never give a doctor a chance to diagnose. And with the highest frequency psychotic breaks occurring in otherwise normal adolescents and young adults, or in recently-returned service-people, it is also a fact that no legislation against those already diagnosed as mentally ill or mentally challenged, owning a gun would have prevented even one of these horrific incidents.

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Personally, I’m anti-gun. I feel that in such a fragile civilization as ours, people should be encouraged to trust each other, not to defend against each other. ‘Being prepared to fire back’ is a mindset that nearly begs for its own fulfillment. The idea that armed citizens of the fifty states could win an argument with the federal government is charmingly quaint. It’s also a good premise for an action movie. But either way, it is still fiction.

But a regular person wanting to own a gun, for whatever reason, seems like an important part of our heritage. If only the founding fathers had specified ‘flintlocks’ instead of ‘arms’—then folks could still hunt, still protect their home or family in an emergency, but there wouldn’t be any debates over magazine size or semi-auto vs. auto—it’d just be Flintlocks. Just one problem—Old Father George had some cannon, too. Damn! It’s always something.

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