Tuesday, January 11, 2011

the pen is mightier than the glock

If you aren't aware of the Gabrielle Giffords story by now you probably aren't reading this blog. I wrote most of this in fits and starts and quick breaks while at work, so forgive the tone and the jump cuts. I still feel the ideas are there. And solid.

It didn't take long for the rumors to hit Twitter and with it came bits of truth, piecemeal accounts, lies, fabrications, hope, and, naturally, the invective. There was name calling and blaming and the swift takedown of all previously published, tangentially related, mildly objectionable material. Sarah Palin's camp was notable for their campaign: "No, those are surveyor's symbols. We chose a meaningless metaphor back in an important and contested election season because the public will believe anything. Surveyor's symbols. You've heard of those before, right?"

&c &c

Personally, I am a bigger fan of the first amendment than the second. Especially when it comes to 30+ round clips and assault rifles. They aren't for hunting. And if you need an assault rifle to protect your home from the spetznaz team that has come to take you out, you are not an average citizen whose experience should be used to model legislation. The only other individuals who seem to require use of assault rifles to protect their interests are criminals and as a proponent of legalizing almost everything, I am not really concerned with a criminals desire to protect his narcotics with a MAC-10 when the State could do a better job of it. So yes, I would rather see restrictions on gun ownership than on speech. That is a given for me. An obvious answer to an easy question. I would much rather have to freedom to speak my mind than carry a weapon that I should have no legitimate need for in a free and open society. And, if you want to contest this point, it is because of the fact that we do not live in a fully free and open society that the issue should ever arise that one might need a gun more than free speech. Not that anyone ever really trusts the words of the man with the gun. Sure you listen. But that's about it. Fear is not the heart of love.

So yes, I believe in gun laws. I believe that an average citizen should be restricted in the guns that he or she can own and legally operate. There are some things that should be left to the military. And if you want to disagree and make the claim that at some point in the future we citizens may need to rise up and resist our government with any means necessary and firepower is the key to success, I say the zombie apocalypse is a more likely scenario. And a shotgun and machete will do you just fine for that.

[and for that claim that he would have just purchased the self-same gun on the black market had he not been able to obtain it legally, srsly? Have you ever purchased anything on the black market? It isn't easy. It isn't like walking into Wal-Mart and asking for some bullets. The black market isn't something you look up in the phone book or go into unprepared. It isn't a "place." Yes, stricter gun laws will send some criminals to the black market for guns. But those are already hardened criminals. Your average citizen who suddenly develops a desire to go postal will not be seeking that measure. It simply isn't something you happen into. Which means, yes, there need to be alternative measures for controlling illegal guns. So? Because one has to use alternative measure for illegal guns suddenly all gun control measures are void? You expect me to believe that line? That is some weak ass bullshit.]

So there is that. Which is not to say that I am anti-gun. Hunting is a legitimate pastime. A handgun for personal protection is ok by me. Though how you keep it safe from the kids becomes an issue. And once you put a trigger lock on it it is about as useful against a home invader as the Nintendo Duck Hunt controller. But that is a separate concern. I don't want to take your guns. Giffords is a gun owner. The judge, as well. After all, guns don't kill people. People kill people. With guns. There is a difference there and it is more than a minor semantic point. Agency is required. Sarah Palin and Talk Radio did not pull any triggers. Not physically. Not while aimed at people.

Violent rhetoric does not incite passive people to violence. Same with videogames, movies, and every other form of media. Violent rhetoric can be a reason/excuse that a violent/unstable person commits acts of violence. But they would have found a different reason/excuse if the rhetoric wasn't there or was otherwise censored. There are measures that need to be taken, but muzzling language and discourse is the wrong one.

Should politicians and public figures be held to a higher standard? Yes. They should be expected to keep a civil tongue and to restrict their invective. They have been elected to represent the best in us, not our lowest common denominator. But it should be self imposed. And if it is not, perhaps it reflects deeper issues in the American populace that need to be dealt with and aired in public. Why indeed is their so much rage and hate? Why is it found to be so appealing? The politicians are just giving the people what they want. Why is this what "we" want? I don't know. It certainly brings to a head the quintessentially American question of violence- why does it appeal to us? Why are we locked into perpetual war? Why don't more people make an effort to do something about it? Why does America, if not Americans, always compete rather than cooperate when it encounters a prisoners dilemma? Why, indeed. Why do Michael Bay films make money?

So yes, we have problems. Deep seated American problems. And this is what our politicians and pundits should be working to remedy. They should be endeavoring to raise the level of discourse not lower it. They should be appealing to commonalities and working towards shared goals like not having one of the shittiest education systems in the post-industrial world. Or one of the shittiest health care systems. Or really any and all of the broken down systems we have lumbering alongside us just waiting to be put out of their misery. "We sent Social Security to live on a farm, Timmy. Where she will have plenty of room to run around in and will never have to worry about going broke again."

Is it really so much to ask that every educated, voting age adult be expected to know the difference between a communist, a socialist, a marxist, a fascist, an anarchist, a terrorist, an asshole, and some guy that you happen to disagree with on a few points? Or is this the way that polite society finally acquiesces to postmodernism's dreaded lexical "relativism"?

Ultimately, the problem is the rhetoric or the guns. They are just symptoms of a greater disease. An American malaise as the sun sets on our century of greatness. Full of hate and fear bred of ignorance and opportunism. The perfect recipe for a crowd of angry, unfulfilled malcontents screaming impotently at the Angel of History. But it gets better, right?

Look, having and knowing how to use a gun (for personal protection) is still going to be of limited effectiveness on a lone crazed gunman. It's not like they wave the gun around in warning "I'm a out to shoot you with this here gun, maybe." But having and knowing how to use a gun is still a right we possess. So is saying whatever the fuck we want (in almost any situation). There should be limitations on gun ownership, usage. There, I guess, need to be limitations on speech (in certain situations, &c &c).

Hate to be on the same side of the fence as Sarah Palin, or at least, hate to be having to defend her against the onslaught of the "pc liberal media," as her "real America" is something I am heir to and have willingly and knowingly abandoned, but there is a big difference between shouting "fire" in a crowded theater and typing it to a crowded Facebook.

Salinger may have been a colossal ass but he didn't kill Lennon. Of course, he didn't put a surveyor symbol over the Dakota Building either.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pointless Censorship; or, Would you please pass the oar, N-word Jim?

Dear Mary,

I was going to start off this post with the Family Guy clip that it now seems everyone is referencing in relation to this whole Huck Finn dustup. But I couldn't find it in a simple google search and gave up. As my generation is wont to do. I'm sure someone else has it on their blog post. Go look for it there.

I first heard about it on twitter, the read this story over at the Times, and since censorship and books are a couple of my soapboxes I figured I would weigh in. I can't write about politics with any depth or sensitivity, I can't discourse on the troubles in Pakistan and Kashmir. I don't want to go into the Tea Party Mandate that apparently exists, somehow.

So the main point of the book (not necessarily the discussion around the book, though the Room for Debate has many good points.) is that replacing the n-word and the i-word will make the book more accessible to high school students, will get it back on reading lists, will revive and modernize and update an apparently stale classic that no one much cared about because it had what the bad language in it. Of course, racial epithets are not what is keeping kids from reading these days. High school students are naive enough to think that we are post-racist now. That electing Obama ended the war. It's a nice thought, I guess, but what it means in the context of this debate is that kids don't care about the word. Or to misquote Inigo Montoya, "I don't think that word means what you think it means."

If the point of this censored edition is to get kids reading Twain again, it might work by accident. I mean, nothing sells a book like controversy. That's how I got into Burroughs, Miller, Bukowski, the 無頼派, and so many more. Though my hope will be that they turn to an unexpurgated edition. And I still don't hold out much hope. I believe the parlance is "too long did not read."

Which brings me back to why. Why do this at all? Do the publishers really think that this was all that was keeping kids from reading? Not the impressive graphics and interactivity of video games, not the pabulum being spoon-fed at the box office, not Facebook and Farmville, and every other conceivable means of waisting precious time and bodily fluids? Why? Why take out the word? Not that this is really about a word, even that word, so shunned and verboten that it cannot be named or spoken (look at the flack Ebert is taking for his position, treading the ground that no white man may yet safely tread). Is it about offense? Yes, the n-word is offensive. Incredibly so. But that was Twain's intention. He was a satirist and a social critic. He wasn't telling a ripping good yarn to make the children sleep easy at night. He was ripping apart polite society and showing the rot underneath the fresh coat of whitewash. It was offensive then, it is offensive now. Has usage changed, and connotation. Yes. Naturally. But "slave" certainly doesn't carry nearly as much of that pain and baggage. Who said reading was meant to make you feel safe and comfortable? Who said it wasn't meant to make you angry and try to better yourself, better your society? Or is Holden going to be scrubbing FUDGE off the walls next week?

Frankly, I still don't see the reasoning. Maybe they will make some money. Maybe some more people will read Twain and this [CLEAN] copy will be the gateway drug that gets them reading The Diaries of Adam and Eve. Or maybe they will still find it offensive and scale back to the decent, god-fearing retelling know as VeggieTales Big River Rescue. It seems such a trivial thing, in the big picture. It comes down to whether or not you like shopping for CDs at Wal-Mart. But not all reading is good reading. And the more we change our classics the less they stay the classics. Might as well just break down and translate Shakespeare into English while we're at it. Because that's all that's keeping kids from reading, right? Or we might want to looking into the deeper issues. Might want to wonder why kids would rather spend two hours watching the same 30s youtube clip than reading a good book. Might. But this is probably easier.

I yearn for you tragically.

A.T. Tappman, Chaplain U.S. Army

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

That puzzle is missing its pieces

So I missed last week. Off to a good start.

But it's a new year now. And so fresh starts. Fresh starts with stale ideas.

Given that the holidays are finally winding to a close and work is looking even bleaker in the cool, grey light of January, I figure I could write about family. About growing up and apart and becoming who we always were but only seem to really realize when we revert to who our families expect us to be.

I could.

I could write about resolutions and plans on making this year better than the last. There are lots of things I hope for, but few that are really in my immediate control. The big one is publishing.

But there isn't much to say about that either. I need to put more words to the page - an effort that having family around and in need of entertainment (or just wanting to talk, we see each other so rarely) makes increasingly difficult.

I don't live into most conducive environment. Welcome to real life. Fix what you can, deal with the rest. And keep the words moving. Hopefully without someone coming into the room every minute or two to blather (I have been trying to write this meandering nonsense foe hours.).

There. One post. That's one in the bank. Next.