Sunday, January 16, 2011

Second Amendment Solutions

In my old age, I've become a rabid radical.  I just don't respect anything anymore.  Lately, for instance, I've been "disrespecting" the Constitution, particularly the Second Amendment, which seems to me to have been one of God's mistakes.

Like avocado pits.

Because, according to the vast majority of NRA true believers, the Second Amendment (unlike, perhaps, the Fourteenth), was granted to Americans, not by civil authorities drafting a social contract for a particular place and time, but by Yahweh Himself, speaking for and from All Eternity.  The Second Amendment, intone these zealots, enshrines the God-given right of each and every American to bear arms.

Rubbish.  Rubbish.  Rubbish.

The Constitution is a man-made document, establishing or affirming MAN-MADE values.  I find absolutely repulsive the notion that some "loving" God would want, indeed decree, that we should tote around lethal weapons in order to compensate for His inability to design and actualize a secure environment for His Chosen People.

No, a constitution is made by men, for men--and, most pertinently, for a specific society of humans. For as long as it works, this social contract binds a group of people to a distinct political structure and to guidelines for acceptable behavior.  Obviously, the document--both as a whole and in its various parts--is intended to ensure and advance the prosperity, security and overall well-being of that society.

It is NOT intended to negate or impede the achievement of those very goals.

The writers of our Constitution--themselves imperfect men (and NOT Yahweh)--soberly recognized their unavoidable inadequacies and, accordingly, clearly specified a means (albeit a very "prudent" one) whereby their document could be amended to suit changing circumstances or needs.

(Surely the very inclusion of an amendment procedure is proof positive that the Constitution is not in any way an expression of divinely immutable principles.  God's laws, if such exist, presumably could not be changed by anyone under any circumstances.  And yet, the Second Amendment is itself just such a "change," brought about by an act of Congress and approval of three-fourths of the states.)

In any event, it's pretty clear that the country's circumstances and needs HAVE changed since 1789 (or 1791, when the Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution).  And even more significantly, popular thinking has evolved--not always in directions foreseen by those who drafted the Second Amendment.

Even the most cursory glance at the language of the Amendment reveals that the Framers were primarily focused on providing "security" for a "free State." People should have the right to bear arms in order to organize themselves into a "well regulated militia" and thereby protect themselves against invaders or, perhaps, a tyrannical government.  In other words, it is the interests of the STATE and the COMMONWEAL that must be served (not those of particular individuals).

But precisely because the remainder of the Bill of Rights, enforced by an elaborate legal system, has worked fairly well, citizens no longer have any desperate need to use firearms to protect themselves against tyrannical government or abuses of authority. Indeed, the gun collectors and hoarders have only very rarely organized themselves into "militia" in order to defend their liberties against agents of some despot--foreign or domestic.  Instead--with the notable exception of hunters and sportsmen--they seem to regard their guns as a legitimate means of advancing their own subjective interests--a "God-given" instrument for intimidating, threatening or coercing "lesser" citizens into a certain course of action--or else.

I fear that increasingly our American definition of freedom is both simplistic and anarchic:  "Shoot any son of a bitch who doesn't agree with me or pisses me off!" (So much for the FIRST Amendment, BTW).

This, I hasten to point out, is NOT the defense of the Commonweal spoken of in the Second Amendment.  Rather, it is aggression in the service of selfish interests or private grudges--Commonweal be damned.

Let us note here that the language of the Amendment says nothing specific about employing weapons for self-defense (against a personal attack) or for hunting or sport.  I assume that the Framers, living in late 18th Century America, would have considered such practices both reasonable and proper.  And, if  "well regulated," similar gun use seems appropriate for our modern world as well .


I very much doubt that the Framers had any such purposes in mind.  Unfortunately, their vague language has all too often been so interpreted, much to the detriment of our collective security. Statistics leave no doubt about the fearsome prevalence of gun deaths in America.  Indisputably, we own more guns than any other people--and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, we kill each other with guns at astonishing rates (14.2 per 100,000 vs., for instance 4.3 for Canada or .41 for England).

So, the Second Amendment, which was originally intended to ensure domestic security (NOT God-given rights to kill people we don't like), has, to paraphrase Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, become destructive of these very ends.  It therefore behooves us, again as Jefferson asserted, to "alter or to abolish" the offending writ.

Not by armed uprising, not by violent revolution (as advocated by Jefferson), but by the very prudent amendment procedure that established the Second Amendment itself.

I realize that this will be a very long process, especially given the pro-gun culture that now prevails in the U.S. And I am not naive:  perhaps we have grown so fond of our guns and/or so afraid of defying the NRA that we will be forever powerless to remedy our current Old West environment and restore some measure of domestic tranquility (the language of the Constitution's Preamble) to the general citizenry. Still, I continue to hope. Perhaps people of good-will and good sense will ultimately triumph.

So MY Second Amendment Solution is to trash the whole confusing and misinterpreted thing.  Replace it with a clear-cut set of rules appropriate for life in  21st Century America--rules governing the sale of weapons and permitting duly licensed/registered firearms for sport and self-defense. Period. Maybe then--sometime in the distant future, I suppose--we will begin to resemble the safer and more civilized democracies of the world--none of which (true believers please take note) seem to have the slightest yearning to share our "God-given right to bear arms."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shit Maria in the Hen Coop!

As best I remember, my father almost never uttered the word "shit"--or, for that matter, any other vulgarism.  Fastidious and professorial, he donned a suit and tie every day and affected a language that was generally as tasteful and tailored as his outfits (except when, inexplicably and incongruously, he would let slip an ungrammatical "he don't"). But my MOTHER, imitating HER mother, was perfectly capable of employing decidedly colorful language.  Both Mom and Grandma, though they generally avoided the "Lord's name" in at least conventional deference to the Third Commandment, would quite willingly--almost gleefully--"talk shit" whenever they deemed it appropriate or, even, just fun.

In fact, for my maternal ancestors, the simple interjection "shit," sometimes prefaced by "oh," was an almost indispensable reaction to nearly all unanticipated or aggravating situations.

Not surprisingly, then, "defecatory" similes and metaphors (albeit not very original) also abounded in the diction of my progenitresses:  "I feel like shit; ha,ha, that gander sure scared the shit out of me; uffda, isn't that minister a dumb shit?"  

But now both Grandma and Mom are gone--and I find myself regretting that they departed before I ever had the chance to ask them what they meant by one of their absolute favorite excremental ejaculations:  "Shit Maria in the Hen Coop."  BTW, they always pronounced "Maria" with an affected British accent--as "Mar-eye-ah."  

What in the world was the origin of that curious exclamation?

I used to think that the name "Maria" could have referred to a kind of dimwitted poultry tender (not to be confused with a "chicken tender" of the McDonald's variety)--a peasant girl of Chardinesque mien who needed advice about where it would be appropriate for a person of her lowly status to defecate (answer: in the hen coop).

But if this expression were some kind of Dr. Phil-type admonition, why would Mom and Grandma have emitted it most typically immediately after slicing a thumb with a paring knife or dropping a freshly-baked tuna hotdish on the floor?

My grandmother's hen coop was definitely--and literally--full of shit.  Because I adored my grandparents, I used to spend entire summers living with them on their rather bleak and terribly primitive farm in northern Iowa (though for me, this dreary farm--lacking telephones and indoor plumbing--was perfectly idyllic and in every way hors pair).  To the north of the house, between the garage and the privy, lay the dilapidated chicken house--or hen coop, if you will.  Since I suffered from hay fever and, I must confess, genuine fear of pigs, my doting grandparents generally exempted me from chores in the allergen-filled barn or the roiling pig pens.  But I WAS expected to gather eggs in the chicken house.

God, what a stinky and intimidating dump!  Don't tell ME that "free-range" chickens and "organic eggs" are any more healthy than the agri-business-industrial variety.  Uffda!  Every day, sweatily clutching my basket, I ventured into that shitty hen coop to do battle with vicious hens for possession of  their daily eggs--as if, somehow, those egg belonged to THEM.  Mean, violent creatures--they pecked me and scolded me and shit on me.  Because I hated and feared them so, I never felt the least bit bad when, upon occasion, Grandma decided to seize one of them and summarily chop off her head in order to have something to serve the dumb shit minister who had unexpectedly shown up for dinner.

So what is my point?  Well, I guess it's just that NO HUMAN BEING, not even Maria-the-chicken-tender, should, under any circumstances, be obliged to shit in a hen coop. Shitting is unpleasant enough as it is (especially on a January morning in an unheated privy)--but in a hen coop?  How perfectly inhuman.  Ergo, I conclude that "Shit Maria in the hen coop" must have been my foremothers' expression of utter misery, humiliation and pain.  A fate that should happen to no-one.

Much like dropping a freshly-baked tuna hotdish on the floor just as the dumb shit minister appears at the door.  Shit Maria in the Hen Coop!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cock and Bull

A rooster crows and immediately afterwards, the sun rises.  Therefore, the rooster crowing CAUSED the sun to rise.  This follows that, therefore this is responsible for that.  Post hoc ergo propter hoc:  one of the most popular and infamous of logical fallacies.

A French nun prays for healing to the spirit of Pope John Paul II and, subsequently, is "miraculously" cured of Parkinson's disease.  

Therefore, by time-honored post-hoc reasoning, the prayer to John Paul II actually brought about the cure from the disease.  

And therefore, also, John Paul II must be "in heaven" and, not only that, but a powerful force in heaven--i.e., a saint.  

Consequently, the current pope, Benedict XVI, is going to "beatify" his predecessor on May 1--signaling the Church's intention to put JPII on a "fast track" to sainthood.  Subito.

I don't have any problem with people wanting to honor John Paul II with another title.  Though I almost always disagreed with his theology, I admired his sincere attempts to further peace and social justice.  So, if people want to light candles to him and talk to him about stuff, I couldn't care less. (After all, I talk to my deceased mother all the time.)  No, my gripe is about the faulty logic.  Because there is simply no RATIONAL justification for concluding that Sister Whosit's intercessory prayer to JPII had any cause/effect relationship with her recovery from Parkinson's. One thing just followed the other, that's all.  Pure coincidence unless proven otherwise.

Nor, when we read the various medical reports, is there any certainty that the good nun actually suffered from Parkinson's.  But let us grant that she did.  Let us grant, even further, that the disappearance of Parkinson's was not medically explainable.  

I.e. it was an anomaly.  Something that seemed to defy the usual rules.  Something that medical science, at this point in its development, is unable to understand.

OK.  A "miracle," if you like.

Thousands, perhaps millions, of such anomalies / miracles occur daily, weekly--everywhere and in every domain of earthly experience.  But because we cannot immediately assign a natural cause to these phenomena, are we therefore justified in assuming that some sort of supernatural  intervention has occurred? 

That is indeed a leap of "faith."  

Is it not much more likely that the cause of these so-called miracles lies in some unusual (but naturally occurring) jerk, twitch or glitch in the normal patterns of the universe--an anomaly which, because of its rarity, has as yet not been recognized and cataloged scientifically?  

True believers are familiar with "explanations" involving imperfect human reason. They are, for instance, constantly telling us skeptics and doubters that all the incarnadine and seemingly senseless evils of earthly life DO, indeed, have an explanation--but an explanation available only to God--an explanation that, because of our "fallen nature," will forever lie beyond human ken.  In other words, they are suggesting that "natural" disasters have "supernatural" justifications/causes--causes we can never know or appreciate.

I, on the other hand, am suggesting that so-called "supernatural" phenomena may very likely have "natural" causes--but causes we do not YET (and may never) have the skill to ascertain. 

Of course, none of this discussion applies to the "miracles" recounted in the Bible or (I assume) other collections of mythological tales.  THESE miracles are not really anomalies.  Rather, all the evidence suggests that they are complete, albeit pious, fabrications--invented by storytellers and theologians in order to assert (or prove) the omnipotence of a particular god or his agents.  We simply do not witness any such phenomena in the real world of 2011--not even in the devoutest of convents in France.  In 2011, praying to either John Paul II or your Heavenly Father will NEVER (I can assure you), bring your dead friend back to life.  Bathing in Lourde's waters will NEVER (I can assure you) give you the power to walk on those waters.  Invoking Yahweh to make the sun stand still will NEVER (I can assure you) afford you the extra hours you need to smite your enemies and/or get a good tan.

So don't ask for the impossible when you pray.  And be careful about assuming that there's anything more than a coincidental connection between the cock's crowing and the sun's rising.  Above all, please don't give in to all the cock and bull reasoning that ascribes anomalous "miracles" (which do exist) to divine intervention (which almost certainly doesn't).