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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.

Our Part
For the last twelve years, it’s taken heroic optimism to detect anything hopeful on the business page. A day when nothing gets worse can seem like a good sign. The worst part, though, is the feeling that we’re helpless to make the situation better.

The euro is on life support, American cities are going into bankruptcy, your fellow citizens are in full panic and swallowing the Tea Party drivel whole. We seem to be at the mercy of vast, mysterious forces over which our institutions have no sway, much less our own pathetic efforts. We are nothing but hostages on a rudderless ship being sucked into a vortex of economic doom! Aren’t we?!

Gee, I hope not. And I do think there are some things that we can do. For starters, we can work to increase our own productivity. American productivity is at its highest levels in history, and that is all about the power of individuals to work smarter and produce more. It is, in fact, one thing over which we have absolute control.

If we increase our productivity, we save time, and time is money. That is our power — and a cause for hope for our economy. You want specifics? Okay, here are just a few ways to make your life more efficient. They may not seem like much, but if we all get behind this, it just might work.

Let’s start with pleasantries. It usually goes something like this: a chance meeting, Oh, hi (insert name here if you remember it), blah, blah, blah. It’s a complicated, time-consuming way of saying, “Yes, I recognize your face, and in general I have positive feelings toward you. Gotta go now.” I’m sorry, but we’re wasting too much time on this stuff.

I have heard that some people actually derive pleasure from pleasantries, but for all our sakes, perhaps they should look elsewhere for their fun. Until we get through this downturn, it would be better to just go with eye contact, a smile, and “Hi” — and then get back to business.

Another way to cut back is to not check the oven to make sure that you’ve turned it off. You already turned it off. Probably. And even if you do leave it on by mistake sometimes, ask yourself: has it ever been on when you did go back and look? No. So why continue to squander that valuable time when you could be double-checking to see if the front door is locked?

Then, there is the issue of phone-answering etiquette. Imagine yourself sitting right next to the phone; it rings. Do you pick it up immediately or wait for a second ring? Most of us, whether out of courtesy for the caller or a need to conceal our own desperate need for contact, will wait. Those extra seconds, when calculated across the whole economy, constitute billions of hours of lost productivity every year. That’s just an estimate, of course, but you get the idea.

Lastly, let’s focus on the time lost at stoplights. As things stand now, when the light turns green, we wait while each of the cars in front of us waits for each of the cars in front of them to start moving. If you’re back in the pack, it might take you two or three cycles just to get through the light. This is madness. If everyone just started forward at the same instant, think how much faster traffic — and our hobbled economy — would move. All we need is buy-in. I, for one, am game to try it. Starting tomorrow. Consider yourself warned.

If we pull together, we can beat this thing. We know that the job creators are working feverishly to do their parts; can we afford not to do ours? At least you’ll feel like you’re doing something to help, even though the vortex of economic doom will probably devour us all tomorrow. Oops — I hope I haven’t spoiled it for you.
Pique Experience
There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “The Survivors” that pops up to the surface of my brainpan during moments of murderous frustration. I won’t go into the details of the plot; the tidbit I focus on is a simple confession that comes at the very end of the story.

The confessor is a Douwd, an immortal energy being with powers beyond mere human understanding. You know, the usual stuff. Anyway, he cops to Captain Picard that he did this really bad thing to some other aliens, the Husnock, who had killed his human girlfriend. He destroyed them all, he admits; not just the marauders, but every Husnock, everywhere in the universe — with a single thought.

Now, it should be said that the Husnock were bad. For the sake of this writing, let’s call them the worst aliens ever: cruel, violent, remorseless. So they definitely had it coming. Furthermore, no other life forms were harmed, just the Husnock. Still, to use your power to kill all of them in one terrible fit of pique is a sobering thought.

What if I could do that? What if I could respond to my own murderous frustration by killing all terrorists everywhere, or all despots, or all real genocidists? But then I think of that immortal energy being, with all his supersmarts and superethics, lugging around a conscience with 50 billion deaths on it, and I can feel the rage ebbing away. Truly, I am not wise enough to wield such power.

For just the gophers in my yard, though, I think I could handle it.
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.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee