Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Guns Blog

A Little Story

Years ago now, Miss O’ was visiting friends in Central Virginia for a holiday party. After a delicious dinner, as the guests—all of whom (save Miss O’) were just to the right of Reagan—adjourned to the living room for coffee, one guest said to our host, “I’ll show you the gun we got for Lex’s Christmas present.” He returned from his car with a handsome wooden case about 14" long, opened it, and displayed a stunning gun—I don’t know the make, but I know it was some type of handgun or revolver that shone brightly in brass tones and blonde wood, and the velvet upon which it rested was golden brown. The proud father-giver saw me looking at it and quickly said, “Now of course this wouldn’t interest you,” and he moved it out of my view. I was startled by his prejudice, his assumption that because I leaned left politically I must de facto oppose all gun ownership. I then heard him explaining loudly (for my benefit?) that he was getting his son lessons in how to properly handle it, and that he himself was licensed and the gun registered, though all anyone really wanted at that moment was to admire its beauty, something of which I was believed not to be capable.

I could not help noticing the apology (was that it?) in his voice, combined with a dismissive quality, when he said, “Now of course this wouldn’t interest you.”  When I was a kid—and this would have surprised him if he’d ever wanted to have a conversation—I played Guns all the time. Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, “Bang! Bang! You’re dead, fifty bullets in your head, you can’t get up till you count TEN!” Cap guns, water pistols, Western-style revolvers, toy rifles made of metal and wood—we kids played with ’em all. As adults, my brothers and I do not own guns (as far as I know), and neither did our family, though I vaguely recall an air rifle—not sure where that came from, but I kind of think it was our mom’s (she’d been a naval officer, though I don’t know if there is a connection). In the home, we had a decorative “colonial” “musket” from Ethan Allen Furniture hanging over a door in (what we called) the playroom, and our dad had a hand-carved wood gun his Uncle Art had made for him as a child, so he could have a toy gun (which his parents could not afford). Neighbors on either side of us were hunters and had gun racks in their living rooms the way you’d have pool cues lined up in a game room. Friends in the country always had a gun hanging over the hearth. Guns just were, is what I’m saying. I never thought about it, except to realize I had no interest in shooting a real one.

Here is the first time I got upset about guns: The third year I was teaching in Central Virginia (my first teaching job), I had moved from a tiny apartment over Edna’s Beauty Salon in the short stretch called “downtown” out to a rented 150-year-old former school house with a wood stove. The owners, a delightful retired couple, had a lovely brick home up on the hill, but my cute house was situated beside a gorgeous pond and surrounding woods, as well as a rust-coated shed that was once a delivery van for Schlitz beer, sans tires. This particular weekend, my landlords were having a lot of company—nieces and nephews, and their children. I was in my living room reading when I heard a lot of happy voices heading toward the pond, and then, soon after, a series of violently loud pops, as from the machine guns I’d heard in war movies and on TV news during Vietnam stories. It scared the shit out of me. When it stopped, I looked out my back door. There stood a man holding a machine gun (“assault rifle” or “automatic rifle” is, let’s face it, euphemistic). His children were holding nets, scooping up floating fish bodies atop the pond’s surface, or at least the ones that were the most whole, leaving dozens of floating carcasses where they’d died. (In the days that followed, the stench was unreal.)

They’d gone fishing, you see.

The entire episode lasted maybe five minutes. They then walked up the hill with their “catches.” Later, my landlady, Mrs. S., came over to apologize. She was disgusted, but had said nothing. She didn’t want to offend her nephew. “But that’s not fishing. He’d told me he wanted to fish…”

Actually, that was the second time I’d been upset by guns, now that I think about it. The first time occurred the first year I taught there, sophomore English, when I’d done a lesson on Martin Luther King’s speech, “I Have a Dream.” (I didn’t know that, at that high school, I wasn’t supposed to teach black writers, even though the school was 40% black.) Two white boys came up to me on their way out of the room after the bell, demanding to know what the hell was going on. “You called Martin Luther King a great man,” T.G. said.  “You know who is really a great man? George Washington. Why didn’t you talk about George Washington?” His buddy M.J. poked me above my sternum, “We don’t have to listen to this.” He looked at T.G. “You know, Ms. O’Hara, huntin’ accidents happen.” T.G. said, “They sure do. All the time.” They walked out. (These same boys used to spend weekends walking the mall in Lynchburg carrying semi-automatic guns over their heads (at age 16), ammo strapped across their chests Poncho Villa style, just because. “The law cain’t do nothin’ to us,” they’d crow. And at that time that was true.)

At some point back there, M.J. had put his index finger in my face, and I’d batted it away. Later, the assistant principal came to my door and told me that this student had charged me with assault. I explained. “Oh, he touched you first? Okay, then, I’ll talk to him. But what’s the matter with you? His father is furious. Are you trying to get yourself killed? Teach something else.”

The year was 1988.

And I taught “I Have a Dream” every goddamned year of my teaching career ever after. Showed the video. Set the volume on high. Dammit.

According to the majority of Americans, T.G. and M. J. of rural Virginia are just the sort of men they’d like to see running the United States of America. These young men have become the modern guideposts for interpreting the most important law of the land, the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Let’s look up the amendment, shall we? (I have two copies of this document in pocket form in my home. Do you have access to one? If not, I’d say that every citizen should have a copy handy. You can get a free one from the A.C.L.U.)

To Review: The Constitution begins with a preamble (“We the people…,” which many of us can sing, thanks to ABC’s “History Rock” during cartoon Saturday mornings!), seven Articles (each with multiple sections), followed by Amendments (currently there are 23, the latest to do with Congressional salaries). (The Constitution was designed to be a living, amendable document, because the understanding the crafters had of life in general was that while not only are we born not knowing everything and often die knowing even less, yet we can still try to make life in our nation better.)  Following Article VII are the signatures of the crafters. What follows those are Amendments, the first being:

Amendment I
Freedom of religion, speech, and the press; rights of assembly and petition
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Here is the second:

Amendment II
Right to bear arms
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

And the third:

Amendment III
Housing of soldiers
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner prescribed by law.

An Amendments Discussion

Amendments II and III, which are to do specifically with war and defense, came about for interesting reasons: In the case of arms (the second Amendment), the standing Militia of the time belonged to the King of Britain and served at his pleasure. In the American colonies (and that term is still how you find U.S. history when looking it up at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, by the way), there were no militias that were not the king’s. In order to fight a war, colonists had to form their own town militias to defend themselves against British forces. The first four words of the second amendment, “A well regulated Militia,” make clear that the writers’ intent was to secure a people’s army, regulated by the government, and not owned by a king. By extension (and here's where it gets ambiguous), the people have the right to keep and bear arms to secure the liberty of the State.  (Hunting is not discussed, but then hunting is not "bearing arms" in terms of war; hunting had ever been an accepted part of human life, but shooting was not the main method, since most colonials didn't have guns. Most hunting, as far as I can find out, was subsistence hunting, such as snaring rabbits.)

The third Amendment, by contrast, seems quaint now, but it was serious business at the time it was written. The tradition up to that time was that the British king could demand that citizens house, feed, and otherwise care for soldiers in the king’s Militia, at the citizens’ expense, and if they refused they could be imprisoned (or, possibly, hanged). This practice meant that the king did not have to financially support the standing army. Because the soldiers were armed, they could, presumably, demand to be fed even if you yourself didn’t have enough to feed your family.

So you see how Amendments II and III would really matter to the early colonists.

What has happened in the last three decades in this country has been a startling reinterpretation of the second Amendment, one that moves far beyond the “well regulated Militia,” to extend unlimited private gun ownership of most any manner of handheld weapon invented, to any person who wishes to purchase the weapon and any accompanying ammunition, without government oversight, restriction, or regulation, which weapons the owner may use as he or she sees fit.

If that weapon owner sees fit to kill human beings who are determined not to have been an actual threat to the user of the weapon, the State has the right to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to prosecute, incarcerate, and pay for any subsequent verdict appeals of the perpetrator.

This has been the accepted agreement between the U.S. government and the majority of American citizens (some Northeastern states, for example, excluded), unquestioned in earnest for at least the last two decades, as far as I can tell. Insomuch as we have experienced four large-scale massacres in vastly different public places in five years—Virginia Tech (2007, college campus academic building), Ft. Hood, TX (2009, military base), Tucson, AZ (2011, shopping center parking lot, political gathering) and Aurora, CO (2012, movie theater)—and a variety of prominent prejudicially-motived killings of single humans (Matthew Shepard (gay male, 1998, Laramie, WY; though to be clear, he was only threatened with a gun and was, among other tortures, pistol-whipped rather than shot before he died of his injuries) and Trayvon Martin (black male, 2012, Sanford, FL) among them); and since after each such massacre the People have cried, “Gun control is off the table”; and since, when some of us have suggested gun control should be on that table now more than ever, we have been shouted down, “It’s too soon! Where’s your humanity? Where’s your respect? We have to bury the dead!” (such cries to be followed soon after with, “Oh, look, voting rights are threatened…,” thus ensuring that these gun questions are never to be brought to the aforementioned political table), Miss O’ would like to offer this to her dear readers:

A Modest Proposal in Response to Large-Scale National Media Coverage of Random Regional Machine- and Hand-Gun Massacres in the United States of America.


Let us look first at the pattern of gun violence and response, which pattern was succinctly articulated in a recent email by Tom Corbin, Miss O’s senior English teacher and later department chair when she taught at Luxe High School (the massacre at Columbine in 1999 occurring in the middle of Miss O’s tenure), after she shared her modest proposal with him:

The new American ritual of mass shooting - pick one - high school, college, army base, church, political rally, movie theatre - total media coverage including almost immediate interview with the child, spouse, parent of a victim - flags at half staff - outcries from all politicians - President visits hospitals where wounded were taken - memorial at a stadium, convention center, large auditorium - then business as usual.

Herewith, The Proposal

To All American Citizens in the Aftermath of a Gun Massacre:

Shut up.

Turn off the cameras, shut off the microphones, and let’s just admit that it is better, freer, and more thrilling to live in a nation where one can be a victim in a hate killing or mass murder at any moment than to risk having a substantive, meaningful, and effective conversation about gun control.

Miss O’, you see, has had it. She has had it with the young male loner/mentally ill suspect with the legally obtained weaponry who goes batshit and blows away people either known or unknown to him, to be followed by the weeks-long media circus surrounding the scene of the tragedy: Photos of the faces of the victimized contorted in unspeakable grief; the on-air pundits blithely politicizing the second Amendment and the de-facto response from elected officials, “Gun control is off the table”; to be followed by the Liberal apology, “Of course, it’s too soon, oh, look, a bank crisis!”

Miss O’ is done. Miss O’ suspects that you are done, too. So let us agree: Random gun massacres are the price we pay for freedom. Enough with the tears, the gnashing of teeth, the beating of breasts: Embrace the possibility of random shootings with automatic weapons as you embrace the possibility of dying on the highway every day in your car, which is, statistically, far more likely, as gun defenders take pains to point out at the least opportunity.

If this is the world most American citizens want to live in, if death at the hands and guns of young males who enjoy unfettered access to Internet procurement of weapons and ammunition to use at their discretion whenever and wherever they wish to, is your definition of what it means to live free and easy in the U. S. of A., who am I, Miss O’, a mere blog cog in the American media wheel, to say otherwise?

Whereas grieving the fallout of gun violence has become America’s national obsession; and whereas Americans have shown themselves to be addicted to the images, sounds, and perpetrator backstories that accompany the aftermath of mass killing in somebody else’s backyard, “the yard over in that state, not mine”; and whereas the gun loving Americans are celebrating their freedom to kill and be killed, getting off on their addiction to watching the grief of others play out through nationally televised on-the-scene reportage and Internet slide shows: Let it be hereby pronounced that I, Miss O’, am losing my freedom. This Modest Proposal is about Miss O’ and her individual needs. The freedom NOT to see such massacres, which I, Miss O’, would prefer to come in the form of gun control, must needs be met in the form of Media Blackout.

Miss O' humbly proposes that when the next gun massacre occurs in the coming year—and it is only a matter of a year, statistically speaking—please, allow Miss O’—who, while not opposed to gun ownership per se, is not in support of unfettered access to automatic weapons and unregulated, unmonitored gun purchases—a great good courtesy, and, please, SHUT THE FUCK UP. No cameras, no reportage, no relentless coverage on the Web. Certainly, because of the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Miss O’ cannot stop you or the press from ejaculating your outrage onto the airwaves or social media, but she can, in any event, humbly, modestly request that all of you gun-adoring mourners out there shut your goddamned mouths.

Let’s face it, shall we? As to the far-reaching implications of gun massacres, the national consensus seems to be, “Who gives a shit?” It’s becoming like blizzards in the Rockies, isn’t it, these rampages? It’s boring, in the end. Since no national conversation is to be allowed to occur on the subject of unregulated access to money-making arms; since gun control laws in the United States are never to be on the American Corporate/Congressional table, Constitutionally speaking or otherwise; and since the first four words of the second Amendment, “A well regulated Militia” have fallen off the Constitution like so many spent casings from a machine gun magazine—and though not to regulate arms is tantamount to treason—Miss O’ realizes she is powerless to stand in the way of the irrational Will of the People.

Thanks to Amendment I, however, she can speak her peace. At least until “We” the Profit-Mongering People of the Corporate United States reinterpret that amendment for us, too.

Yours sincerely,

Miss O’

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Blog Light: Miss O’s New York Diary, Summer Edition

Bastille Day Blog 2012

Miss O's city porch

§  Heading Out in Summer: So I’m walking to work and I see Antoinette up in the upstairs right window through the screen. She waves, fans herself with tongue hanging out, then points to me, mouths “how are you” and “be careful” and then jumps as if remembering something and points to a card in her center window (where she puts all the cards that come to her, facing the street), a pink card with…is it a couple? And she gestures to up the street and then puts a hand on her heart, and I exclaim a mouthed “Oh!” and touch my own heart: So the Asian grandma with the amazing vegetable garden, four doors down, and the widower with crazy tchotchkes on his patio, two doors from Antoinette and Tony, have, after years of stepping out, finally gotten married. But you knew what she meant.

[According to Spellcheck, I spelled “tchotchkes” right on the first try, so I must be a New Yorker, officially, like.]

§  Dining in Summer 1: Monday night my friend Quinn and I decide we need not a movie but a dinner out, preferably in a garden (as it’s a real NY summer day, only around 83 degrees), and was there one in, say, Chelsea, the halfway point between our respective jobs? Voilà, I search and find Gascogne on 8th Avenue at 17th Street, with a $30 prix fixe on Mondays, three courses. We decide to splurge. At 6 PM we are the first to arrive, and are shown to the garden, which involves going through the long, narrow, wood-paneled bar, down a few steps, around a partition, and up a few steps into a lush green paradise surrounded by an ivied wood fence on one side and a peeling plastered brick wall on the other, with tall, artfully shuttered windows; beams above us are adorned with colored lights, the gardens in our midst contained in large pots and sculpted rock walls. The brick patio even extends to another level, up some steps. We sit in the back of the first level. The waiter places the napkins on our laps. Quinn and I are of the same mind when trying a new restaurant: get something you’ve never had, whenever possible. We began with chilled cucumber soup, which was heavenly, like a citrus, melon, liquid pillow on the tongue; Quinn ordered the duck. “How would you like it prepared?” Quinn owned this was a good question, and asked how he would like it prepared. “Medium rare,” the waiter said, and wrote it down. I ordered the lobster risotto in a white wine sauce. The food arrived looking splendid. My main course held half a lobster tail lying right on top.

I have to explain the irony of this: That very day, coincidentally, I had been telling my co-worker, Katrinka, about my one and only adventure with a real lobster, which I’d had in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, in 1989, when Terri Goodie’s uncle had bought the group of us lobsters for cooking at his beach house, $12 apiece, and how the horror of it on my plate—the huge insect glare of it—made me want to throw up. I apologized. “I can clean a chicken carcass with my teeth,” I explained, "so I don’t know why…” and Terri, who was thrilled, said, “That’s okay, I’ll eat it.” (In all the agony, I’d forgotten to pay for it, so Terri did. So embarrassing.) And THAT story reminded me of my Midwestern Grandma Kirlin visiting my mom when she was stationed in Newport, RI, in the 1950s, and her ordering lobster for dinner, and my mom trying to explain that it was the whole creature, not a casserole like you’d get in Omaha, and Grandma declaring, gamely, “I want to try it!” It came. She couldn’t touch it.

So there I was, you see, faced with a lobster tail. was delicious, once I figured out, with Quinn’s help, what to do, and I was happy in realizing, too, that I’m not the same person I was at 25, after all; and Quinn’s duck was so perfect, it forever changed my mind about duck: Medium rare, people—the secret to food, so very often, as with so much else, is not to overcook it or overdo it. We finished with sorbet—mango and raspberry, and who could want more? The patio garden now full of diners, we drifted onto the avenue and walked toward Union Square, where a walk down 17th Street yielded memories for each of us of the spectacular light of a perfect summer evening—playing outside as kids and getting filthy; our friend Donnie’s first week in Brooklyn and the importance of “just walking around” for hours and hours when one first moves to New York, and ever after; window shopping at all the design stores, including Housing Works (“This is where I found that amazing octopus coat rack,” Quinn said, “the one we saw in the Brooklyn Museum last week.” Quinn had just liked it, could afford its oddly low price (amazingly), and carried it on the subway home. A man asked about it and the price. “You did very well,” the man had said. Boy howdy.) While we were paused at one window I saw a young woman descend from the back seat of an SUV, petite, fit, tanned, her firm body sheathed in a tasteful sleeveless beige linen top and a mini pencil skirt in a patterned neutral, high heels, blonde straight hair in a smooth ponytail. Her high, flat voice said through pastel pink lips, “See you inside,” and I turned to Quinn: “I have never wanted to be that," I said, pointing to her bouncing form. "Never. Why is that?” and Quinn said without missing a beat (like me he misses nothing on a city street and yet is totally engaged), “It’s not authentic.” I knew just what he meant. Summer insights. We walked on.

I see a cyclist and think about how I just could not bring myself to bicycle if it meant I’d have to wear a helmet. Quinn agrees. Riding a bike should be done not only bareheaded, but preferably barefooted, and in short shorts and a tank top (Quinn agrees), down the center of Alabama Avenue in twilight, on a purple banana saddle and with no hands. Why else would you ride a bike?

I pointed down the blocks to the New York Film Academy. “Do you know what that building actually is?” I asked Quinn, who knows his American history, having attended and absorbed William and Mary. “Tammany Hall,” of Boss Tweed infamy. And who told me? A former visiting student, Doug Lincoln. Go KNOW. And then a hello to the Andy Warhol Monument and into the N Train for me, and home to Queens against the western sky, creamsicle light with white puffs and smears of soft blue. Summer.

§  Living in Summer: I avoid turning on the air conditioner for as long as I can, and I turn it off at the first opportunity. I’d rather have real air, a fan, and sleep atop the sheets, even a little badly, than be contained in machine-cooled air. I’ve always felt this way, even since I was a kid. I’d beg my mom, gazing up at her through the Salem menthol haze of the dining room (more like a dining closet) in the morning, wanting to open the windows, and she’d say, “Oh, it’ll get too hot later,” and I knew she was not wrong. It was visiting a friend in Arlington one summer, a friend who couldn’t afford to run the air conditioner, that liberated me: I was allowed to choose not to turn it on. And I rarely do. I look up at Antoinette and Tony suffocating on their second floor, and I know it’s finances, for one, but also a need to grapple, I think, with the reality of the season, with summer in the city as summer is. And then we can be grateful for fall.

§  Dining in Summer 2: Sangria is a food group. And, often, supper.

§  Travel in Summer: No money for Paris, so I’m trying new places, new areas: Discovered the sweet stretch that is Vernon Blvd in Long Island City, and want to enjoy Dominie’s Hoek (a cool bar) and the other joints there before it becomes all young and hip in the total sense. There I learned about the “PBR” and (Bellow’s) whiskey special: Pabst Blue Ribbon is now HIP and is called PBR?  Uh, Pabst Blue Ribbon for five bucks? My face made the bartender sorry for me. And I felt just plain sorry. “I’ll have a Powers. Neat.”

§  Memory of Summer: Summer holds more memories for me than any other season, I think because it was spent almost entirely outdoors throughout my childhood. I loved getting filthy and then bathing at night and getting clean. Building forts. Running races on the sidewalk in bare feet. Dirt under fingernails. Dirt has integrity when you know how it got there, and because it will only end up there again, there’s no need to really clean it with anything like care.  Popsicle drool in sticky dry rivulets along sand-coated bare brown arms. Lawn sprinklers. Plastic trucks. Trees, trees, trees. Yards. The running across them. The doing cartwheels in them. The first sensation of evening dew.

§  Recreation in Summer: Sometimes, now, when it’s not walking sultry streets in lieu of dew-drenched grass, it’s summer at the movies, as it was on Tuesday in virtual Paris—Funny Face at Film Forum with friends (where Howard and I explain to Pat the history of the film and every person in it, because that’s what lifelong passion is all about), parting at Broadway for the various routes home, shouts along the darkening sidewalks down toward Prince Street—and gratitude for any breeze, moving air providing instant uplift of the heart. Lightness at being alive and a grown up and out in New York City at night in summer. A dream, as long as you don’t look, or smell, too closely.

§  Summer Vacation: As there is no possibility of escape, this is a summer where Miss O’ does not want to get bogged down in the odors of the city garbage, but rather engage in the romance of things green, wherever green can be found. And in sangria. And in reading Alison Bechdel's graphic-style memoirs Fun Home and Are You My Mother? The N Train to Coney Island is only $2.50 and I mean to take it.

§  In Sum: Sometimes you just gotta let summer be summer. By the pitcherful.

Google images has lots of sangria pictures. 
Free. Avail yourself.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave…and Outpost of the Stupid

The Devil Made Me Do It

Whenever she hears or reads some particularly stupid-ass statement framed to sound profound, Miss O’ cannot help but call to mind Old Capulet’s response to his fourteen-year-old daughter Juliet’s spin on why she will not marry Paris in that romantic tragedy, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “How now, how now, chopped logic?” Juliet uses the kind of language adolescents often use to justify their incomprehensible or foolish actions, whether failing a test (“The teacher’s got a bad attitude”) or committing a date rape (“She asked for it.”). For example, in his teens, one of my brothers actually said to me by way of explaining how he broke a decorative object in our parents’ house, “Lisa, I didn’t break it. The alcohol did.”

It’s not only adolescents who use a linguistically gymnastical excuse to avoid personal responsibility for a reprehensible, or merely embarrassing, act (such as making up the word "gymnastical"):  We know people of all ages who drunk call old lovers while on a bender, explaining the next day: “I didn’t call you. The alcohol did.” And if such foolish acts stopped there, one might merely gaze wistfully into the middle distance and shake one’s head sadly, as Miss O’ is doing now (in remorse for all of last night’s drunk texting). But when a nationally televised pundit calls insurance-covered hospice and end-of-life doctor-patient discussions a “death panel,” a line of not only intelligence but decency has been crossed; that pundit fails the moral breathalyzer.

This Is SO TRUE!!!!

There is little that is more maddening to the educated and smart reader of Facebook than “inspirational” or “deep” posters that purport to offer quick wisdom for today’s on-the-go but caring social networker with an agenda. Whether it’s Jesus Loves You or God Hates Fags, or just a funny picture of a cat taking up the entire bed and proclaiming “It’s mine if I take it,” too much of this sort of offering is stupefying. And stupid-making. (And not to be an asshole, because I am FB friends with plenty of truly sweet people who really enjoy posting all kinds of posters like this, so I guess what I mean to say is I hope you know what they all mean. Ahem.) Here is an example of one poster in particular that set my brain anger to wildfire:

If guns kill people, then…forks make people fat, pencils misspell words, and cars make people drive drunk.

The layers of stupid are deceptive, so let’s break this one down in chart form.

To kill people or animals
If guns kill people, then…they do exactly what they were designed to do.
To deliver food efficiently to human mouths
If forks make people fat, then...people are eating an awful lot of forks.
To write words or draw pictures
If pencils misspell words, then…those pencils have stunning superpowers that should be harnessed for good!
To provide transportation to humans
If cars make people drive drunk, then cars should not be constructed so as to shoot straight vodka through the steering wheel directly into the veins of drivers’ hands. That is insane design.

In other words, there is no logic to this poster whatsoever, and yet, being a poster with a graphic design and big font (which poster image I refuse to reproduce here), people could easily nod and say, “That’s true.” As I’ve demonstrated, it’s not true.*

*[My drunken friend Scott slurs: A gun is a tool designed to kill and animal or a person the same was a fork is a tool designed to convey food. The gun does not shoot someone on its own nor does the fork feed someone on its own. The common denominator to tool usage is human intervention. The gun does not kill someone, a person wielding the gun does. A fork does not make someone fat, the person wielding the fork does. I would counter your counter of the flawed logic is flawed. Oh look, vodka! I don't disagree with him (it's a silly chart, silly goose), in that all the tools listed above were meant to be used by humans for specific purposes, but I stand by my point: Forks were not built to deliver obesity, nor pencils to deliberately misspell words, nor cars to deliver drunken drivers onto roads. Guns, however, were built for the sole purpose of killing: One does target practice in order to learn to kill more precisely (unless you take one former student's view, that guns were built to move projectiles, and that what happens after that is just bad luck, or God's will), whereas one really doesn't repeatedly lift a fork in order to get better at eating, perhaps accidentally toward obesity (which is way different from accidentally shooting someone to death). I suppose you could argue that one picks up a pencil in the hopes of...oh, fuck it. The poster's comparisons are not logical, in that a gun is for killing, however one may try to mitigate its use through comparisons to a fork, a pencil, and a car, is my point. Bombs away!] (P.S. Show me the National Utensil Association that strong-arms Congress into submission, and I may reconsider that analogy up there.)

Basically, the Bottom Line, When You Get Down to the Brass Tacks and Dig Down Deep, Where is the Bottom?

A guy, a “bestselling Conservative author” named "Jonah Goldberg," wrote a “hilarious” book called The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.  (Here’s a link to his book: ) The excerpts I’ve read offer loads of bubbles for easy popping, not unlike the gun poster up there. (But he’s so funny!)

I’d like to go on record as saying that, in times like these, I’d rather fight fire with fire, and if that means using a cliché such as “we are only as free as the least free among us” rather than repeat a single word that comes out of John Boehner’s mouth or Ann Coulter’s ass, at least I know I’m free.

Clichés are verbal shorthand, and politics is full of them because politicians do a lot of campaigning, and short clichés are summary statements that are easy to remember and easier to hear. Clichés are often cheats for original thought, but they come from somewhere, these clichés, and they stick around because they are useful. They must have lasted for a reason.

The same is true for generalizations called stereotypes, though this is trickier territory. Stereotypes have to be separated from prejudices. A stereotype comes about because at a certain point in time, the generalizations posited by the stereotype were generally true, and may still be a bit true: Irish are drunks. Who can really o'argue with that? Jews are careful with money. Again, who can argue? Women like shopping for shoes and clothes. I mean, who does most of the world’s shopping, Carrie Bradshaw? Blacks like fried chicken. They do, and I saw trails of chicken bones strewn across my old Harlem neighborhood to prove it. Gays are great decorators who love the arts. Girlfriend, please.

As with every generalization, there are myriad exceptions to "prove the rule" of a stereotype. A prejudice, unlike a stereotype, is a belief born of ignorance and fear: The Irish are savages. Jews are inhuman. Women are incapable of voting. Blacks are incapable of thought. Gays cannot have loving relationships. Prejudices all, the statements you just read, because they have no basis in demonstrable reality. Stereotypes just kind of happen. Prejudices are consciously encouraged and used, often by opportunistic politicians, to oppress.

The subject of today's blog came up for me this week because of my friend Kevin, who puts on his Facebook wall posters from a site called “Occupy Fran” [note: Kevin Townley CREATED these posters as a month-long art installation! --ed.], featuring the wit and wisdom of the writer Fran Lebowitz. In this particular offering, part of a series, she discusses how easy it is for the children of movie stars, who are most often white people, to “get in the door” (a cliché!) and have successful careers, regardless of actual talent.

A friend of Kevin’s took issue with Fran's assessment: “This is a generalization, no?” [NOTE: I do not know this person, but anyone who ends a statement with a comma and a “no” or “yes” and a question mark is officially a douche. Or should I say, "This person is a douche, no?"] Kevin said, “Generalizations are generally true, hence the term ‘generalizations.’” The woman countered that people who use generalizations are generally lazy. Kevin countered that someone who refuses to examine the source of a generalization is lazy. I was with Kevin all the way, and not just because he is generally talented and cute.

Here is a follow-up poster:

The Lebowitz statements—bold and challenging and funny and kind of mad-making—are the kinds of things I really like to read. They make me think, these posters, if not always completely agree with their contents. Her writing is not about pith that verbally slaps a face, nor made for rubbing someone’s nose in a political ideology. It’s argument by way of example and a life lived. Most important, though, the words have an OWNER who takes total responsibility for them. Eat it, Anonymous Generalizations Posters!

Say It, Maybe Spray It

So it seems to me that if I’m celebrating anything of America on the 4th of July, it’s TALKING. I celebrate the whole Freedom of Speech deal. As storyteller and NPR monument Garrison Keillor has pointed out, “The most un-American thing you can say in America is, ‘You can’t say that.’” You can. Say it. And be prepared to know that if it’s stupid, Miss O’ will take you down. And afterwards, take you for a drink. (And she knows you will extend the same take-down courtesy to her. Because you have. Scott.)

Let's join hands and close with a song from the joyous coming-of-adulthood American musical, Avenue Q, which you really, really must see. It's adorable!

Love to you all, and let’s hear it—use those WORDS—for the United Ever-Lovin’ States of Goddamned America.

Art by Heather Klinkhamer: "My New Word"