Which of These is Not Like The Other?

What do fat kids and guns have in common?
First, a list: one of these things is not like the other, “PowerBar, Oatmeal, egg, Cheese, Cookie, Cake, Candy Bar, AK-47″. See what I did just there? Maybe so. But let’s fire off a few rounds and see what shakes loose.
Patrick Carrube, when writing his article “Why the 1911 Doesn’t Suck” for TheTruthAboutGuns.com echoed a sentiment that I’ve read from other websites, heard from gun enthusiasts, and is generally reflected in the purchase records (such as they are) of gun sales from all over the country. Namely, that a lot of newer, higher yield magazine, higher fire-rate guns are no match for the reliability and accuracy of a gun that’s had basically the same design for over a century.
But along with his testimonials and anecdotes he makes an interesting point about the intensive over-manufacturing of modern firearms. He says their tolerances are sometimes so exact, so laser etched, so gee-wiz ultra high-tech that even ammo they’re supposed to be able to use doesn’t fit. He says that the older, looser, less exacting models are actually sometimes better.
He stands by his M1911, 100 years of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ can’t be wrong, right? Hell, he goes so far as to say that the fact that the safety can be tricky to release, and that the gun takes some getting used to is a strength, not a weakness. That it takes finesse and practice, like good shooting should. My favorite part was this paragraph, “One can argue that reliable 1911′s are actually more affordable than some other modern pistols. What Smith & Wesson pistol of recent manufacture won’t feed hollowpoints? …Glock? SiG? Beretta? Hundreds of them! …My neighbor has a brand-new S&W that jams every other round, and I have had two issues this year alone with brand-new, well-known, and popular firearms.” He doesn’t mention, but he could, a firearm series that’s become a cliche in the gun world. The Remington 700 series, with its “Walker Trigger” is famous for being such a piece of crap that it basically fires whenever it feels like it, safety on or not.
Still remember the list? PowerBar, Oatmeal, egg, Cheese, Cookie, Cake, Candy Bar, AK-47. Let’s soldier on.
After the Sandyhook shooting, and the Batman Premier shooting, and the Virginia Tech shooting, debate centered around firearm limitation. It’s about freedom, 2nd Amendment, a law so important it’s part of the DNA of the document that made us a country, says one side. It’s about insanity, it’s about protecting people from guns and gun violence, it’s about drawing a line in the sand and saying ‘you’re free, but you’re not that GodDamned free’, says another side.
I was asked by a friend of mine after the latest round of “Ban/No-Ban” went a spinnin’ if, once and for all, I favored a gun ban. I answered that I favor tipping points. That from the first, I was talking about violence and masculinity, competition based civic discourse, and that I wanted the whole issue re-framed. “I’m in favor of tipping points,” I said. “And until people see this for what it is, I’m just here to ask questions”. Unfortunately, and much to my chagrin, I find that frequently irks people something fierce.
How’s that list doing? PowerBar, Oatmeal, egg, Cheese, Cookie, Cake, Candy Bar, AK-74. Let’s bang on.
When the full magnitude of the Remington 700 series’ flaws came to light, replete with inter-company memos that went back 30 years showing that they knew all about it killing people accidentally, a news story on Dateline, the works. The call went out and defense attorneys came out of the woodwork to declare that it was a 2nd Amendment issue. “You can’t put manufacturing restrictions on guns” they said, “it’s our Constitutional right!” After Sandyhook, several of my friends bristled at any hint of gun regulation, even on magazine size. And yet, when I asked about it every one of them answered that 75 round drums were worthless, that with proper training a 6 shooter was just as fast as any uzi. None of them owned high cap mags, none of them wanted to. When I asked them why they were defending a technology that was obviously useless and pointless, I got no answer. They just somehow knew that it was important. Like a kid who’d been asked why sugar tastes good.
Speaking of sugar, permit me a moment’s digression, I promise it’s worth it. Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Moss just wrote a book. “Salt, Sugar, Fat” is about junk food, and junk food science, and how companies have spent decades and billions to get you hooked on Twinkies and hotdogs. He even interviewed people in the industry. He related the following on NPR’s Fresh Air, with Dave Davies standing in for Terry Gross: “I was surprised to hear from the former CEO of Philip Morris, who is no friend of government, no friend of government regulation,” says Moss, “to tell me that, ‘Look, Michael, in the case of the processed food industry, what you’re looking at is a total inability on their part to collectively decide to do the right thing by consumers on the health profile of their products. In this case, I can see how you might need government regulation if [for] nothing else [than] to give the companies cover from the pressure of Wall Street.’ ” These are businesses at their core, and they have to show a profit. They can’t be the first one on the block to win the award for ‘healthiest but bland as dog shit cereal’, their market share will drop too far for it to be worth the risk.
So, a guy who made his money on cigarettes and Hostess Cupcakes is asking for the government to step in and help Cambell’s and Nabisco to not be the bad-guy. He’s asking for government to take the bullet. Remember that list? PowerBar, Oatmeal, egg, Cheese, Cookie, Cake, Candy Bar, AK-47.
Depending on what stats you trust, we have enough guns for every man, woman, and child to own 4, and enough bullets to blow a crater in the moon with the collective gun powder. What if, just what if, the gun manufacturers know this? What if they also know that none of them wants to be the first to stop making 100 round drums and 9mm’s that don’t fire for shit but people buy like iPods and are released like the newest video game with state-of-the-art graphics? What if, just what if, we’re as addicted to guns as we are to nutter butters, and the companies know it?
So what’s with the damn list? Egg, that’s what. Of every item on the list, eggs are the only thing that don’t come fully formed from a factory press. They come out of the ass end of a chicken. It’s called Confirmation Bias, through a combination of Serial Position Effect, Availability Cascade, Von Restorff, Spacing Effect, and Repetition we’ve all been told that the shotgun is the stand alone, that it’s not like the others. When the whole time it was about what a chicken can make that we can’t. Eggs are even an essential element in the production of some of the others. Only the egg is the irreducible item.
What if, just what if, AK-47 is exactly like most of the others. What if it’s exactly like that food CEO and Cookie Crisps? What if they’ve been making shitty guns for years because that’s the only way they have of saying, without actually saying, “The NRA leadership has officially drunk the kool-aid, we’ve saturated the market three times over, this has become nothing but a never ending spiral. It’s gotten so bad we’re making them to the standards only a crazy person would want, and instead of cutting off the whole thing you’re helping the crazy people get more!? Take the hint already and do what we can’t to get out of this death spiral.”?
I’m in favor of tipping points. Let’s do this, so we can start talking about why it is that 80% of mass murderers are male, why it is that they go to schools and not Klan rallies, why they use guns and not cars or Molotov cocktails, why they make it personal and not political or anonymous. How is it not blind to say it’s an absolute right for me to own something nobody seems to own, and an absolute wrong to just stop making it?
So, what if the manufacturers aren’t trying to cajole us into doing what they can’t? Well, that’s certainly a possibility. But what would it look like if they were trying…?

They Call Each Other Names, Why Can’t I??

Yeah, they do. Why can’t everybody? Because not everybody is them. I can’t call a woman I don’t know a c*nt, I can’t call a Jew I don’t know a k*ke, I can’t call someone in a wheelchair a cr*p, and someone doesn’t get to call me a f+ggot unless we’ve at least been properly introduced and they’ve bought me dinner. Broad, indiscriminate diminution isn’t inclusion. It’s someone making very clear to the room, “I have the right to call everybody whatever the hell I want”. That’s ownership, not respect.
And really, it’s wanting all of the perks without any of the work. If I want to be taken seriously by someone, I have to get to know them, we have to discuss things, we have to reach common ground. That’s especially true if I’m a different color, or from a different culture, or crashing their birthday party.
If I just walk up to someone I don’t know and start giving out intimate details about my sex-life (and they’re in any way average), they’re going to get very uncomfortable very quickly. They don’t know where I’m coming from, and they have no way of knowing what would constitute ‘private’, if I’m willing to start talking about my favorite dildos with a perfect stranger. If they’ve got any sense they’ll worry that if a list of sexual positions my partner refuses to try is what I consider business card material, what in great google-eyed fanarkle spotted Hades do I keep back for later?
Walking up to a stranger, or even someone a little unfamiliar, and breaking out with the in-crowd lingo doesn’t bespeak a backstage pass. It clarifies for all to see that no matter what, this jackass thinks they own the place. And not by force of personality, not by ability, not even by wit, but by telling everybody “You’re mine, I will now call you what name I choose. Ya know, like a dog, or a houseplant.”
Of course, there’s always looming in the background the issue of ‘reclaiming’ words. Supposedly this is the process whereby if I call myself something often enough, and in mixed company, it takes away the teeth of it. Supposedly it becomes a form of empowerment. But the only way that works is if I’m acknowledging that the word is a slur and I don’t want it to be. When I use a slur among compatriots, it doesn’t suddenly, magically become a compliment. It’s a slur, the only thing that changes is it’s affiliation. It’s still derisive, and our laughter at it is also derisive. I’ve never heard someone actually use a common invective as a genuine compliment.
Can a word be truly reclaimed? I’m dubious. If I’m standing in a room full of people who are not like me, and they call me something that I have called myself to them, but which they are not connected to personally, I don’t suddenly feel a sense of belonging. Though I have now given them tacit approval to abuse me with my own vocabulary. In a way I’ve given them extra power in that now they can claim “Hey, you said it first.” How then can I justify, “Well yeah, but when you say it, it’s mean, and that’s not how I meant it.”?
It’s not actually reclaiming a word to use it among friends. It’s commiserating. Which is a form of liberation. It is also a diffusion of pain and acknowledgement of shared suffering. But it’s not empowerment.
“They call themselves redman, why can’t I?” Apart from sounding puerile, it’s because if they were talking to each other then we weren’t invited. It wasn’t meant for everyone. And more importantly, what’s the motive in trying?

The Science of Spiritual Debt

Newton was fond of alchemy, in fact he wrote more on alchemical formulae than he did on the physics or mathematics that we remember him for now in hindsight. Of course, there are still hints: our color wheel has 7 basic shades (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet). This is because in alchemy 7 was one of the numbers of perfection. See it’s the number of sides in a triangle added to the number of sides in a square (the shape of a square being how we get the word “square” when we multiply a number by itself) which represents a circle since you have to know squares to calculate circles. Since those are the 3 most basic shapes, squares, circles, and triangles, the number 7 contains the universe or somesuch. Thus white light, “pure light”, had to contain 7 colors. In fact the human eye can differentiate over 16 million shades, the Japanese have a word for ‘blue-green’ which they list in their rainbow, and printers have no idea what blue or violet are and use cyan. In other words, Roy G. Biv is total bullshit, but we’ve kept it because that’s what we do. We take ideas that have no basis in reality and squeeze the life out of them only to tell ourselves they’re now just the way it is.
In other words, some ideas from alchemy have become pervasive and lost all their context. Even wonder why the opposite of ‘man’ is ‘woman’? Because one fertilizes and one is fertilized. For some cultures, like my own tribe, the opposite of ‘man’ is ‘boy’. Because one can make babies, one can’t. How did I do that just now? Easy, the Ancient Greeks had an idea of ‘opposite’ that meant something’s opposite had to be another thing outside itself, up/down, left/right, man/woman. For other cultures a thing can easily contain its own opposite, old/young, bare/leafy, cool/warm. Thus you say man/woman, I say man/boy, and we both mean by that ‘opposite’. Are we really saying the same thing in that case?
Unfortunately the Greek ideal of opposites and the values of alchemy have pervaded Western European and thus Modern American thought to such a degree that it shapes the very discourse and values. When we hear people talking about Israel and Palestine for example, the discussion is frequently about who is owed the land, the debts that have accrued. This is an alchemical formula debt/repayment. When what’s happening is people are dying right now, no matter whose book of ancient amusing anecdotes we use to justify it. Or whose great grandfather killed whose great aunt.
The formula being established is a 1:1, life for a life. But for some of us that formula doesn’t work, life is not a constant. One life is not equal to a life taken three or four generations, or centuries, or eons ago. One life is equal to one life only today, right now. Meaning the void left by a murder is filled by that murderer being brought to justice, otherwise the void simply remains. The equivalent exchange that alchemy demands is simply not required by some of us. More importantly, for alchemy the universe is constant and unchanging, there is perfection out there somewhere. Which means time is not a factor in balancing their equations. A life taken now can equal a life taken at any point in history.
Those of us, however, who view time as a variable, who see the past as malleable and the future as unknown, cannot treat murder as simply the redress of grievance. It becomes itself a new murder, which then must also be avenged. It becomes a cycle, not a terminus. In that formula, the only way to end the circle of violence is to exit. To balance the equation for some of us is to present the thing’s opposite, where -1+1=0. The only way to answer a death is with life. And the universe does that every day.

When Is A Fish Just A Fish

“So, do you believe in Jesus?”
I get asked this most times I discuss a faith system that is not only non-christian but doesn’t really have a dogma at all. It’s a question perplexing because it’s so presumptuous. Not just from the standpoint of religious exclusivity, has anyone ever been asked “Are you sure you don’t believe in Vishnu??” But also because it assumes that belief in a person automatically means belief in what other people have said about them and whatever value system has been attached to them over time.
If I say that I do believe in Jesus, does that mean I accept that a person named Yeshua lived in the area we know as Judea around 2000 years ago and narrowly escaped a pedocideal culling by one Roman appointee only to be eventually crucified by another all the while telling people that the poor are actually human? Or does it mean that I believe that the primary deity of the Jews impregnated the child-bride of a carpenter in order to fulminate a socialist revolution by allowing people to observe several magic tricks and then fake his own death because he was actually immortal.
In short, if I say “Yes, I believe in Jesus,” am I asserting belief in a historically reported person, or a demi-god? More importantly what do they mean when they ask me this? Because I watched the presidential debates and coverage and punditry. As near as I can tell, when someone says “I believe in Jesus” what they mean is “I’m about to say something absurdly hateful so I’m using the name of a famous nice person we’ve all heard of to ameliorate the overwhelming selfishness and pernicious evil that would otherwise be painfully obvious, and immediately derided as blinding levels of self-indulgent bile bordering on egomania.”

Seance For Science!

As I was listening to my mp3 today a thought occurred to me that was inspired by a confluence of several experiences I’ve had over the past few days:

Part 1) There’s a scene in the first season of True Blood, shortly after we first discover that our heroine has met an actual vampire, that the show attempts to explore the implications of a truly immortal being. They do this by having her tell her grandmother. Her grandmother replies “How old is he?”.
When grandma is told that he’s a Civil War vet she tells her granddaughter to ask him if he’d be willing to speak to her next Historical Society meeting. This is a woman after my own heart, ‘I’ve met a bloodsucking monster but he has authentic period uniforms.’

Part 2) Some people I know recently went on a ghost hunting expedition to a local haunt called “Theorosa’s Bridge” (I won’t go into detail, we all have local ghost hot spots, this is one of ours). One of their number was a very tall Native who generally wears his hair long and a trench coat.
Arriving at the location they discovered others already at the bridge who were there for the same purpose. This other group was populated by several teenagers so full of preconceived notions they decided tall and dark indicated a fearsome devil worshiper who was therefore possessed of magical ability. Meaning people who frequent supposedly haunted locations also frequently believe silly things and be highly suggestible. Who knew?

Part 3) Earlier today I was listening to a BBC radio repeat of the travel program Excess Baggage. The host, Sandy Toksvig, was interviewing a man who wrote a book about walking the London Wall. Originally a Roman fortification, it has survived in pieces to present day. One section is at the bottom of a government building in the center of the city.
He had to get special permission to see it. But when he was shown around the civil servant that was accompanying him refused to go into one excavated section. The intrepid explorer soldiered on, found a 2m x 2m hole, climbed in, took some pictures, and came back out. He then asked the employee why he did all of this alone. The guard responded,
“Have a look at your pictures when you get home.”
“So I did,” the explorer continued, “And it had some funny orbs in the pictures. So I asked about it and I found out they’re ‘ghosts’.”
“Were you frightened by that?” Asked Toksvig.
“Not really.” He answered.
“See, I find the idea of spirits so wonderful,” Toksvig laughingly replied. “Talk about getting in touch with real history.”
Again, I love this, hauntings as anthropological research tools. Ghosts aren’t scary, they’re artifacts.

Conclusion) I have a scene bouncing around in my head:
A cloaked and bejeweled medium, sitting at a table, gazing into a glass ball, seeing colors and shapes swirl and dance. Eventually her eyes roll back in her head and she begins to speak very slowly “I. Am. Here. I am N’Shek-te, I lived among the ancient and noble peoples of the mountains of the American desert. Ask me your questions.”
“Um, did you live in the mountains, up high, or on the ground?” A man asks.
“We lived below, our cities were vast and surrounded our round ceremonial cave.” The spirit answers.
And the man on the other side of the table bounces like a little boy, “Fantastic! I’ve always wanted to know, were second-person possessive nouns prefixed with an aspirant or a simple fricative? Oh, and while you’re here, did you prefer binding be made of sinew or plant fiber, since we’ve found both? Oh, oh! I almost forgot, did you celebrate at the new moon or the full moon, we’ve never been sure about that.”
Wanna break up a spiritualism session? Bring in a historian and an anthropologist. Never mind the, “when will I die,” malarkey. We want to know ritual calendars and basket weaving techniques.