Gun Control: Some Bullet Points

Popular Mechanics.

Talking about guns in the United States is a tricky thing. The Constitution is quoted by both sides of the gun control debate as a defense for either restricting the use of guns or keeping the government out of gun sale regulations. Should the government have the power to ban guns, assuming that the Constitution is too vague to be a sole authority? I don't know, but here's how I look at it.

I take as an assumption that this country is very big and that there are a few firearms laying around already. Even if we were able to pass a law restricting gun sales, disarming the public at large is definitely something the Constitution would prohibit, not to mention that it would be completely implausible. I also take as a given that, like prohibition, restriction of firearms federally would serve to expand the already quite large black market for guns so that buying across the border or from local smugglers would still be the thriving industry it already is. Moreover, while criminals would still have access to guns, the law-abiding populace would not. The notion of this puts me in an awkward position mentally.

There is the added consideration that police are not primarily designed to stop crime. There just aren't enough police officers to be around when every violent crime occurs. The foundational occupation of the police force is to respond to crime and bring the perpetrators to justice. While I'm glad that they're around, they will not be there while the actual crime is being committed, and as such it is possible for me to get assaulted or killed without police intervention. So who is charged with your defense at the time a crime is being committed? You, of course. If that is true, and (like myself) some people have a delicate constitution, shouldn't we be able to use such tools as we can (a rock, a loose brick, our hands, etc.) to fend off an individual that wants to harm us? Wouldn't a gun be a very helpful weapon in a situation like that? I'm inclined to say that yes, a gun would be helpful, and that yes, people have every right to defend themselves with the best weapons they happen to have at their disposal.

Still, philosophical musings don't appear to me to be decreasing the number of violent crimes, or the number of guns that are stolen out of homes after being obtained legally. The fact remains that people do kill people, and when they do, it's typically a gun they're using to do it. That notion also puts me in an awkward position mentally.


John Ciardi and the Narrative

Human Beings are happiest with cycles that aren't hermeneutic.

"My special concern is for the reader of poetry: I cannot escape a feeling that the poets must face the responsibility of providing themselves with a wider audience...if such a reader could be enlightened on what the poets are trying to do, he might come a lot closer to understanding it when he sees it done."
-John Ciardi in a letter to Karl Shapiro. April 29th, 1949.

I know that in writing this I run the risk of flogging my own dead horse. I've been yammering for over a year now that when it comes to literature, we see many of the same themes resurface again and again, and if they happen to always be in a dialectic reaction, then I leave to the post-modernists--if there are any still alive--the task of telling me yet again why oppositions are arbitrary.

The reason I keep coming back to the thesis that these romantic and 'enlightenment' ideas are seen in the history of literature throughout the course of time, always embedded in, and perhaps responsible for, the furtherance of the hermeneutic spiral is that, in hermeneutic fashion, the thesis keeps coming up. The early 1900's present to careful readers a number of modern writers hell-bent on yapping about the state of society, emphasizing stylistic flourishes, and forcing a play in language. What was the reaction? A cry for sincerity, individual transparency, and romanticism. The rise of existentialism proper, the writings of Ciardi and the forties poets, the "new" beat generation, and the general desire to tear down all pretense of modernist style all follow directly in the wake of a period that rendered some of the most difficult to understand texts in our short written history.

As we find ourselves firmly entrenched in a "post-ironic" movement, we are inhabiting the philosophical principles already seen in the 1930's. Our society doesn't want post-modern language games and spectacles. It wants to know the secrets behind the art. It wants the bridge between the author and the reader to be short and simply written. It wants language to be unambiguous and understandable.

I don't think it is an accident that right now I feel my sympathies drawn towards the ideology of the many romantic movements our textbooks record. At the same time I approach my own thoughts with an amount of hesitation equal to my eagerness. If we are just going through this cycle all over again, and we know it, isn't there a way to start in a new direction? Is there something outside of individual sap-stories and the cryptic style-sessions of the language movements? Is there something between people and the society they live in, some other area philosophically unexplored, passed over as we fluctuate between two extremes and ultimately re-pen the same things? Something tells me there just might be. I just don't know if we'll ever find it.


Buried Alive

Remember all the times we tried to bury the word Stupid?

It used to be that we buried people. Then some of our fellow citizens became attached to their pets and decided it was just as rewarding to bury our animal companions. In the history of human beings, we've buried seeds, grudges, hatchets, historical events, and a bunch of other things I'm sure. Now, at last, we've come to the final step. We've learned how to bury the very thing that, only a few decades ago, philosophers were calling bigger than philosophy itself. Words.

The NAACP decided in April that today would be a monumental day. Meeting together for their annual summit, the traditional leaders of the Colored People's Movement came to the conclusion that today they would bury the N-Word. This is a big step for them. Nay, it's a big step for all of us.

The idea that a group can put to rest a word, something that is completely abstract, something that rarely exists in the tangible world, is (for language junkies like me) kind of a deal. I mean, how does one go about that? How does one accumulate such an overpowering influence over the meta-narrative itself that you can banish words by holding, of all things, a literal funeral. NAACP delegates carried a casket behind them with fake black flowers over the top of it. A symbolic gesture to kill a signifier, or at least to bellow to the world that the signifier could no longer be used to point to the sign it was originally intended for. Surely, my friends, we've left the age of post-modernism when something like this would be mocked and dismissed by all.

Hermeneutically, of course, they could never kill the N-Word. The trace goes on, and even talking about it as you put it in the ground reinforces the truth that the word is far more powerful than any mortal speech act. Still, its true that for more than half a century the word has come to greater and greater disfavor as it becomes less socially acceptable. So how does one effectively imprison a word? Influence the society that depends very heavily on the political power of language. It's true that as a nation we've become a little timid in our social gestures, more aware of how we are discussed by the world-at-large, more concerned with how much capital a good reputation equates to. We've become enslaved to the global dollar, and every person willing to give us one has feelings that we probably shouldn't hurt. A mentality like that very easily could lead to a truly political citizenry. That is to say, all smiles in public and backstabbers in the dark. I think we're getting to that point.

The last time the NAACP had a funeral like this, it was the symbolic laying to rest of Jim Crow in 1944. Isn't it funny how the first was a symptom of the rise of existentialism, and this one comes on the very heels of the so-called "post-ironic" movement? It's enough to make a person think that there are circles in our social history. It's enough to make that person think that you can trace them back all the way to Greece, trace them like veins in a hand following all the way back to a pulsing ideology that passes the cultural and the individual considerations back and forth through its beating filter, passing them out only to call them back. It's enough to make a person believe that the currency through which we find the base of our civilization is teeming with the overlapping history of words, the timelines of how and when they were born, that somehow those movements in our philosophical history are always a signifier for the sign of the language we use to express them. We do not note the death of a word. We do not notice the death of a word. That's what makes it dead. I doubt we will ever become so self-conscious that we, as a society, manically trace all our hermeneutic roots to find out what ideas we lost when we lost the words to express them. I think it is enough to note that the N-Word has not yet passed, try as we might. I hope that means we're still working on the problem that brought it into use in the first place.


Our Arctic Ally, the Nanook

Two patriots keep us safe for about the seventieth time this year.

Even if you don't normally pay attention to animals, there is absolutely no excuse to not pay attention to polar bears. Legend tells us that not so long ago, during the Little Ice Age of the 15-1800's, polar bears were largely responsible for making sure icebergs from the rapidly expanding North Pole didn't float from the Arctic Ocean into the Atlantic. Reports that come down to us from writers in Iceland during that time tell tales of polar bears swimming more than sixty miles from the Arctic icecaps to mount an iceberg, hammering away at it with nothing but their powerful paws until the iceberg was utterly demolished. During this period of budding interest in the New World, the relentless vigil of the polar bears was a powerful line of defense protecting sailors from a hazard that could have easily caused both a loss of life and interest in the newer "unsettled" continents.

Outside of their historic significance, polar bears are also the number one killer of seals. Terrorizing fish schools, capsizing oil tankers, and causing glaciers to fall into the sea with their bellowing roars, seals are dangerous and unnecessary beasts who care only for themselves. While Inuits traditionally cowered and paid tribute to the Tyrants of the North, polar bears held the Great Arctic Convention of 1775 in which they decided to declare war on the seal nations and bring them to justice. With sharp claws and their natural camouflage, polar bears have been responsible for the deaths of more than one million seals, and they are proud to tell all curious tourists that they are still counting.

This noble bear has a keen sense of smell that allows it to sniff food ten miles away upwind, and more than twenty downwind. Though the polar bears can't run because their bodies are highly sensitive to fluctuations in temperature, polar bears have the unique ability to sleep while they walk; as they get within a certain distance of their prey, they awake fully refreshed and thirsty for equality. Polar bears are also one of the only bear species that does not hibernate during the winter. This allows them to protect our oceans year-round from both the threat of the ice and that of the seals.

While there are many in the media who attack polar bears, wanting us to believe that they are soft on crime and undetermined to break us from our dependence on foreign oil, there is little evidence that this is anything more than a political ploy, a plot for panicked politicians to score an easy point using fear. Polar bears continue to be the number two supporter of alternative energy sources (after this guy), even if they remain adamantly opposed to the expansion of Alaskan drilling into ANWR. Drilling these wildlife reserves will destabilize the region, allowing a refuge for cunning and dangerous seals to conceal themselves in oil and make their way down into the United States. Because of their dedication to national security despite their mounting political unpopularity (and lack of citizenship), it is unreasonable and cruel to try to label polar bears soft on crime. If we continue to belittle our allies in the War on Seals while we slowly give way to the sentiments of liberal seal-friendly environmental groups that have no regard for the damage they do to polar bear morale, then we may find ourselves in a very deep and icy spot. Believe me when I tell you that those are the places seals like most.


Serial Literature, Fiction's Lost Genre

Novels command a certain amount of respect.

The premise has become the foundation for our television shows, our kids books, and our news cycles; the genre encompasses some of the most well-known writers of the last century, from Ernest Hemingway to Rudyard Kipling (and, if fact, it secretly got Kipling a Nobel Prize). It never has caught on here in the states (and I can almost guarantee it never will now), probably because those who practiced it best were almost always British. And yet, one of my favorite genres in the history of literature is also one of the most ignored today. Of course, I'm talking about serial fiction.

The idea of writing multiple stories about one character (or group of characters) first became famous in the late 1800's, specifically with the publications of A Study in Scarlet (1887) and The Jungle Book (1894). Though there were people who did it before, the wide dissemination and instant popularity of Sherlock Holmes and Mowgli (respectively) left a strong impression. To me, the idea still does.

Similar to a novel, someone who writes bunches of stories can develop and flush out characters while tangling with some overarching themes. Unlike the novel, the authors are not tied to one plot-line, and since the stories are shorter than a typical novel chapter, they can write more in less time, thereby retaining an audience more effectively. There are other advantages, too. Since each story stands alone, they are typically more compelling and less long-winded. Since the authors aren't going through a publishing house, the deadlines are almost non-existent.

So why has serial fiction fallen to the likes of Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys? Partly, I think, because kid's books are the only things that sell when they are short and skinny. Moreover, publishing companies run this country like a 1960's numbers racket, and ten thousand over-hyped novels are cheaper to manufacture than ten thousand well-constructed copies of a magazine. Some of it, I'm sure, also has to do with literary magazines not even having half the readership of a rural newspaper. The most critical factor, beyond all others I'm positive, is that magazines don't pay for stories anymore, and authors get royalties for novels. The combination of all those things is pretty damning.

Still, I would like to see someone try and bring it back. If J.K. Rowling, on her Harry Potter victory lap, announced that her next project would be an epic released in subsections to a variety of different literary magazines (very similar to how James Joyce published Ulysses, by the way), she could no doubt revolutionize the industry. Besides taking money out of the hands of the large publishing blocs and giving it back to the places that have always pushed the medium forward, she could also encourage multiple generations to read more than one book every two years or so. Serial fiction was more popular than novels when Kipling and Doyle were done, and I think it could happen again if the right person were to give it a kick start. Perhaps I'll write J.K. a strongly-worded letter about it. Perhaps you should too.