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Category: Culture

Guns
I’m not going to tell you that guns should be outlawed. It will never happen anyway, not in this country. They have been and will be a part of all our lives.

My father owned two guns, both .38s. One, which he had bought from a co-worker, had the regulation long barrel, and the other was a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson “Chief’s Special.” He kept them in the top, right-hand drawer of his dresser, right next to his keys, his wallet, and his badge.

As a cop, he was required to own a gun. The rest of us don’t have to, but under the Second Amendment to the Constitution, we do have the right to “keep and bear arms.” This right was further clarified by the Supreme Court in 2010 in District of Columbia v. Heller, a decision in which the Court shot down the proposition that such a right had to be connected to the owner’s service in a militia. They did so even though militias are specifically mentioned in the single declarative sentence that comprises the amendment. I think that was a bad decision made by one of the most conservative Courts in American history. That said, we can’t ignore the fact that guns are right there in the founding document.

Even if you like Heller, it’s obvious that the framers, given their reference to militias, were probably thinking about keeping guns in citizens’ hands so that they might rise up against another tyrant, some future version of George III. I can imagine that tyrant being a military junta, or a cabal of corporate interests, or simply a duly elected government gone bad. Taken that way, the Second Amendment isn’t so stupid after all.

Still, it’s a can of worms. Once you specifically allow guns as a last line of defense against tyranny, the door is open for them to become much more than that in our culture. Back in the day, the guns were mostly flintlocks. You’d take a shot, then spend a minute reloading before shooting again. Today, a simple handgun is not so different from a bomb. Pull the trigger on a Glock and hold it down, and you can fire 33 rounds in a second or two. Dozens of people could die, virtually in an instant.

The can of worms has been opened, and the worms have evolved into something truly frightening. A congressman recently said that a 100-round ammunition clip is constitutionally protected. I wonder where he would draw the line? Are bazookas okay? Battleships? Tactical nukes?

Maybe the problem isn’t so much the guns as our attitude toward them. My father would occasionally take us to the firing range. The Patrol required that he practice with his weapon once a month, and he saw this as an opportunity to familiarize my brother and me with the basics of firearms. He taught us to be careful with them and offered some tips on proper shooting technique.

I don’t recall that there was much emotional content in any of these lessons. There was no pride, no bravado, no anger, no humor. We tried to hit the target, and I suppose we got some satisfaction in hitting the areas of the dark human silhouette that were marked with a 9, the highest score. I can’t say that my brother and I got very competitive about it, though, or that Dad ever expressed any particular satisfaction about his own scores. It was an interesting experience, but the setting was all very matter-of-fact and serious.

Perhaps that’s why I feel a little embarrassed for people who are full, all-the-lights-on gun enthusiasts. I’m a little taken aback by so much reverence and devotion for an instrument of death. No matter; I’ll grant that it is a perfectly legitimate hobby, like stamp collecting, though the Benjamin Franklin Z Grill will never blow away a family of four.

If reverence and devotion were the only feelings people had toward guns, however, there wouldn’t be a problem. It is when we find a place next to guns for pride, or bravado, or self-righteousness, or revenge, or wanton viciousness that I worry.

We have a problem. The cacophony of dark emotions reflected back at us by our media and culture tells us something troubling and dangerous about ourselves. In the midst of that din, weapons proliferate and become more deadly. And yet, given the honored place of guns in our law and history, we will not banish them. What chance do good people have in such a world?

My only thought is that for all of us, the imperative remains what it has always been: try to exercise some self-control, especially around the kids, and hang on tight to your humanity. It’s our last line of defense against the darkness.

My Olympics
Later this summer in London, proud Olympic champions will hold up their medals for the world to see. Parents will beam; whole countries will celebrate the achievements of their sons and daughters. People everywhere will rejoice in the fellowship and unity found in the simple purity of sport.

Sadly, I will not be joining them. Not because I begrudge them their pride and feelings of brotherhood, but because the modern Olympic Games have abandoned that purity of sport in favor of a misguided notion of inclusion. Pastimes that have no business being on the same level as, for instance, the hundred-yard dash, have been elevated to that status simply because somebody somewhere likes to play them. Does anyone really believe that the ropes, hoops, and ribbons of rhythmic gymnastics belong on the same podium with javelins and shot puts?

Synchronized swimming, diving, boxing, gymnastics: none of these would be included in My Olympics. Why? Because, to win these competitions, a judge must vote for you. How did voting get to be a part of sport? Give me a measurement, a clocking, a score fairly earned by the athlete; save the secret ballots for Homecoming Queen.

I take my inspiration from the original Greek games. There were very few events then, and for the most part, the scoring was straightforward. Fastest, highest, farthest, strongest: these simple achievements won the day. Let us return to those times, at least for the Olympics.

Any event using complicated equipment of any kind will be looked upon with suspicion at My Olympics. Shooting in any form is banned outright, and I got your Second Amendment right here, pal. Furthermore, fencing, archery, biking, tennis, and croquet will lead the list of sports which will have to prove that their gear doesn’t play too large a part in the outcome. No sport is exempt from scrutiny. The pole vault, for instance, and all ball-related games will be closely examined for compliance. As always, purity of sport will be the standard for all determinations.

And no animals, please. All equestrian events and the modern pentathlon are out. Here, the ancient Greeks were not entirely without fault themselves. In a moment of weakness, they added chariot racing, and it all but killed the original Games. This is supposed to be about humans; Old Paint is welcome to try out for the Kentucky Derby.

There will be no winter games in My Olympics. I’m sorry, but it’s just all too strange: the subjective scoring, the rifles, the puffy clothing, the cold, the high death rate. There has never been skiing in Greece, not even on Mt. Olympus, so let’s save ourselves the anguish of pretending we care about the luge.

Finally, there will be no clothes in My Olympics. All athletes compete in the buff, the way the Greeks did. The Greeks also rubbed themselves down with olive oil, but I will not require that. Canola is fine, and so is corn oil, although most fragrant oils would be banned. They might add an unseemly dimension to some events.

For those athletes who would miss out on a chance to win gold because of these strictures, please find your sports immortality elsewhere. There are other venues for you to prove yourself to your family and your nation. You are certainly welcome to attend as a spectator — just as I would welcome people without any athletic ability at all. But leave your hoops and ribbons at home; your sport just isn’t pure enough for My Olympics.
A Better Place
Brightly-colored vegetables tumble across my TV screen, bouncing and twirling for joy — fast food in slow motion. Is it Arby’s? Sizzler? McDonald’s? Some of those vegetables need to be chopped, a task done with flair and gusto, also in slow motion. Sauces and seasonings fly, splashing and smacking the food.

Zydeco, or maybe happy techno, sets the beat. It’s a party back there, back in the kitchen. Such fun, just making our meal! Then it comes time for the main course. It may be a burger, or a chicken filet, or a prawn the size of your fist. The gorgeous offering is placed — so lovingly, so gently! — with tongs atop some fluffy butter lettuce.

Meanwhile, out front in the eating area, we are in a different world. Flickering fluorescence illuminates the grim patrons as they sit masticating and staring at nothing. Lines move, not in graceful slow motion, but as long stretches of waiting punctuated by brief shuffles forward. No Zydeco here, just the muffled din of street noise and the squalls of unruly children.

The food itself is transformed, as well. The entrée has shrunk, its plump vitality drained away. The special sauce has gone gummy. Vegetables, which so recently pirouetted in high spirits, now lie inert. Brilliant hues have faded to drab. Ambrosia has turned to grub.

I do not mind this contrast. Instead, I prefer to think of the public area as a metaphor for this earthly life. It is filled with heartache and disappointment, crippled by chance and human folly, destined to be brief and brutish.

Ah, but the kitchen! Where happy chefs mambo the day away working their culinary magic, where even the dreams of simple vegetables can come true. This is what heaven must be like. Well, maybe not heaven, but a better place, a perfect version of this flawed existence. It gives me comfort, it gives me hope that such a world could be so close — just behind that wall.

It helps, I guess, that I have never worked in a fast food restaurant.
Slo-Mo
Everybody loves slow motion. It’s the oldest, and still the best, cinematic special effect, and it retains its capacity to fascinate even after a hundred years of use.

Or, I would argue, a hundred years of over-use. It’s had a good run, and many filmmakers have used it deftly and with discrimination to entertain and move their audiences. It is time, however, to stop the madness and end our dependence on time distortion as a medium of artistic communication. By legislative fiat, if need be; it’s gotten that bad.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not an anti-slowmo-ite. Nothing I write here, for example, should be construed as an attempt to limit its use in instant replay on sports telecasts. There, it is employed as a means of ascertaining truth — and in some cases, great wisdom. In that context, it should be used over and over and over again. In Super Slow-Mo, if at all possible.

Similarly, I endorse its use as a tool of science. In fact, I request, here and now, that someone with the proper equipment compile a tape of slow motion sneezes. I am convinced that the resulting catalog of twisted facial expressions and violent expulsions of bodily fluids would be quite enlightening.

As a dramatic device, however, as a tool in the hands of the Hollywood storytellers, it has now been taken far beyond the portrayal of dream sequences and bouts of dementia. The turning point came in 1967. That’s the year Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde opened. You know the scene I’m talking about: the last one, where Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty are blasted full of holes by a battalion of lawmen for what seemed like twenty minutes — all in slow motion.

It is very effective cinematography, no doubt. I can still see them twitching and jerking and spurting inside and around that old Ford sedan. If Hollywood had stopped there and never produced another slow motion depiction of violence, then everything would be fine. But, no: the gates opened, and now the flow of slow-mo is at flood stage. Every film seems to be drowning in it: slow motion bullets, slow motion screams, slow motion homages to slow motion fight scene clichés.

Enough, already. Arthur Penn, if he weren’t already dead, would die of embarrassment. Sam Peckinpah is blushing posthumously. Dziga Vertov is spinning in his grave, probably in slow motion.

I’d like to be able to offer slow motion’s homely cousin, time lapse, as a substitute, but in good conscience I cannot. Let’s face it; “fast-mo” is only good for blooming flowers (aww) or rat corpses being consumed by maggots (eww). That’s kind of a limited repertoire. So we’ll just have to go on without access to time distortion as a special effect. It’s a shame to lose it, but I am sure the creative minds in Hollywood will come up with something. They gave us Smell-O-Vision, didn’t they?
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon