Armed and Gregarious

31 12 2007

On Saturday, one of my friends came up from North Kackalackie with his kids and we all went to the local Gun Show. A wonderful time was had by all. My friend was looking for a hunting rifle, and I was planning on just looking around at the neat stuff- unless something caught my eye, of course.

Being a guy, lots of stuff caught my eye. I firmly resisted temptation, however, and virtuously spent my time searching for a rifle for my friend. Somewhat to my surprise, I found one, and turned aside to call my friend over to take a look. In the time it took to turn around, call his name, and wave him over, someone else popped up and bought the rifle first.

At this point, I was in a bit of trouble. My primary excuse for not lingering at any given table and possibly buying something was gone. Nonetheless, I squared my shoulders, girded my loins, and … capitulated to the siren song of a very nice weapon whose existence had been completely unknown to me prior to that moment. Drat and other comments!

Those few of you reading may relax- I am not going to wax rhapsodic about the virtues of my new pistol, nor will  I post pictures. That would result in anti-gun whackjobs to start screaming about “gun porn” and pro-gun wingnuts deriding me for my choice and advocating the benefits of their favorite boom-stick.

Instead, I’m going to talk about responsibility.

A weapon is merely a specialized tool. Tools have their uses. There is a time and place for using any tool. Using a tool for something other than its intended purpose risks damaging the tool and possibly the user. A firearm is a very specialized tool, designed to put holes in things at a distance. Period. Full stop.

Like all specialized tools, a weapon by itself is useless. Someone has to make the weapon operate. If the person operating the firearm does not know what he/she is doing, they risk putting holes where they did not intend to put holes. All too often, those holes end up in the operator or people who just happen to be close by. It is therefore the responsibility of the operator to make sure the firearm only puts holes where he/she wants them- and nowhere else.

Fortunately, this is not terribly difficult. A modest amount of basic firearms training- with emphasis on safety- is generally sufficient to give most people enough familiarity with a given firearm to prevent the more egregious mistakes. Regular practice with a firearm should be used to hone these skills and reflexes to where safe operation becomes automatic. It is the responsibility of the gun owner/operator to know how to properly (and safely) use the weapon.

Part of this responsibility involves un-learning everything you have learned from the movies and TV. A firearm is not a magic wand. Simply waving a gun around does not make you a Man, nor will it automatically gain you respect or authority over others. Anyone who thinks this way- or acts as if they think this way- is not a responsible gun owner. People who act this way are merely fools.

Another responsibility for gun ownership is to avoid frightening others unnecessarily. If your state allows this, get a concealed weapons permit. Even if “Open Carry” is legal where you live, think twice before doing so. My Grandfather once told me, “Never carry a gun if it could get you into more trouble than it can get you out of.” This is sound advice. Think about your reasons for wanting to carry a firearm before choosing to do so. I will not provide a list of “good” or “bad” reasons to carry- that is an individual choice. Just think about it.

And finally, let us discuss the responsibility of using the weapon. Carrying a weapon means that you have accepted the responsibility of making the right choice under intense pressure and with lives in the balance. If this responsibility is too much for you, don’t carry a weapon. If the possibility bothers you, think about it seriously before deciding whether or not to carry. If you carry a weapon and don’t use it when you really need to, all you’ve done is given a Bad Guy another weapon. On the other hand, if you are blithely certain that you will react properly at the Point of Decision and are not a combat veteran, you probably shouldn’t carry a weapon. Knowing when not to use a weapon is just as important as knowing when to use it.

Current status: Armed and Gregarious

Current music: Kashmir by Led Zeppelin

Stupid People Tricks

26 12 2007

Since I spend a lot of time on the internet, I read a lot of “news” stories about Stupid People Tricks. We should all be familiar with this sort of thing by now. Someone does something that makes everyone else ask, “WTF? Why did he do something so stupid?”

To clarify, allow me to offer a couple of definitions. Stupidity comes in three flavors: Accidental Stupid, Generic Stupid, and Weapons-Grade Stupid.

Accidental Stupid is the normal sort of incidental stupidity which can afflict even the smartest humans from time to time.

Good examples of Generic Stupid include what gets churned out in overwhelming throngs by our Public Education system and people who watch American Idol.

Weapons-Grade Stupid is best described as a particularly toxic kind of stupidity, capable of causing people with an IQ higher than room temperature who encounter it to suffer spontaneous explosive brain aneurysms.

There’s a lot of Weapons-Grade Stupid out there. Anything said or done by Phredd Phelps is a whole category of Weapons-Grade Stupid by itself. There are countless reports of people punching a wall or window because they’re pissed off about something (and then suffering the consequences). A mother who got angry because a school-bus driver wrote up her kid, so she stormed aboard the school bus and physically attacked the driver. Police officers in a particularly crime-ridden northern California town spend time pulling people over to reward them for driving safely. A sailor on leave who tried to multi-task driving and checking to see if his weapon was loaded (it was). A couple of women who locked the keys in their rental van while it was in the rental office parking lot, but decided to try and force open a side window instead of walking a couple of hundred feet to get another key. A bunch of college kids who roamed their neighborhood stealing Xmas decorations, but then left the swag on the lawn in front of their apartment for the cops to find an hour later. A delivery driver’s co-worker who wrote, “drive up to the main building and detonate in the name of Allah” on the driver’s trip direction sheet to a military facility as a joke (the gate guards were less than amused). A convicted murderer who got hired to head a city’s “Anti-Crime Task Force”. The list goes on … and on … and on and on and on and on and on and on.

While many of the stories are humorous on their own, the sheer quantity makes for depressing reading- even accounting for the probability that only the real wombats are making the news. People unfamiliar with the US would be justified in assuming that every third person here is bat-shit insane, and the other two are merely nuts. I am familiar with the US, and I’m giving this idea some serious consideration.

Fortunately for our reputation, the rest of the world is trying hard to catch up. Americans often don’t hear about some of the idiocy going on in other parts of the globe, but there’s so much stupid out there that it seems to be an inherent part of the human condition. Take the old story of the Thai kids who decided to set off a bunch of fireworks … using the top of a fuel storage tank as a launch pad. Have you heard about the imbecile in Germany who decided to reach inside the tiger cage to get a better picture? The two Mexican kids who couldn’t swim but jumped into a canal to catch shrimp?

I still think the US has the edge in Total Reported Stupidity. Whether that’s a function of the sheer number of so-called “news” outlets in this country or the vast herds of mindless dolts we produce, I don’t know. While I’ve no problem with competition per se, this is really one contest we should try very hard to lose.

“The stupid … it burns!”

Current Status: Discouraged

Current Music: No Quarter by Led Zeppelin

… Cheaper to Die by the Vote

17 12 2007

I read an Op-Ed piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by an ex-NBC correspondent (and current University of Georgia Associate Professor of Journalism) named Dan Hazinski. Mr. Hazinski is apparently peeved about the wild and unruly nature of what he calls “citizen journalism”. You can find the article in its entirety here.

Mr. Hazinski then goes on to describe the manifold potential horrors from such unregulated “journalism”, and calls on the major news organizations (his words, italics mine) to apply discipline and monitoring of free speech and free press. I’m pretty sure freedom of speech and freedom of the press are what the 1st Amendment is designed to help protect. Of course, the 1st Amendment applies only to actions of Government. Mr Hazinski seems to want his “major news organizations” to (somehow) regulate everyone else’s free speech and press- that makes it all better.

Mr. Hazinski, how should your “major news organizations”  enforce this regulation? More to the point, how could they? Viewers and readers are abandoning the “major news organizations” in droves- driven largely by the lack of substantive content, pandering to the lowest common denominator, and sheer unprofessionalism exhibited by mainstream “journalists”. I suggest removing the beam from your own eye before mentioning the mote in ours.Here are Mr. Hazinski’s actual recommendations, copied directly from the article linked above:

  • Major news organizations must create standards to substantiate citizen-contributed information and video, and ensure its accuracy and authenticity.
  • They should clarify and reinforce their own standards and work through trade organizations to enforce national standards so they have real meaning.
  • Journalism schools such as mine at the University of Georgia should create mini-courses to certify citizen journalists in proper ethics and procedures, much as volunteer teachers, paramedics and sheriff’s auxiliaries are trained and certified.

Let’s take a look at the first item. “Major news organizations … establish standards … substantiate citizen-contributed information …

That sounds like a problem belonging to the “major news organizations” not the citizens. If you- as a journalist- received a tip from an anonymous source claiming that Barack Obama was a direct lineal descendant of Ethelred the Unready  and was therefore by right King of England and the United Kingdom, you would not immediately rush to your editor yelling, “Stop the presses!” Would you be more likely to do a little basic research to see if there was even a vague possibility of accuracy first? Why aren’t your journalistic brethren and sistren doing this now with “citizen-contributed” content? If your “major news organizations” are already failing to police their own behavior, why should anyone rational consider allowing them to police anyone else?

On to Number 2: “… clarify and reinforce their own standards …

Hmmm. I thought that was what we talked about in Item #1. If you want your mainstream media organizations to clean up their own acts, I approve. They (and you) have no business trying to clean up mine- except by setting a good example.

… and work through trade organizations to enforce national standards so they have real meaning.

Might have to run that one through the English-Greater Obfuscese  translator. To what “trade organizations” do you refer? Writer’s unions? Editor’s unions? Aunt May’s Guide to Professional Speaking? Blogging for Dummies? How are these “trade organizations” supposed to enforce these notional (not a typo) standards? If Uncle Wiley from East Armpit, Alabama wants to write a blog about how Jimmy Carter was the greatest President ever, will Aunt May’s Professional Speaking Enforcement Team descend upon the ancestral Wiley tar-paper shack and lock Uncle Wiley away for failing to properly use a semicolon?

Item number 3: “Journalism schools … certify citizen journalists …”

Let me see if I got this straight, Mr. Hazinski. You want Journalism schools to determine who does and does not have the right to free speech or free press? Did I miss some of the nuances in that third item? What the Hell have you been smoking?

If you- as a former journalist by profession- want to enforce standards of journalistic integrity, perhaps you  should begin with the “major news organizations” you would permit to regulate the free speech of others. If you do not like the content or doubt the accuracy of something written, broadcast, published, or blogged, there are several remedies at your disposal. Among these remedies:

  • You could ignore the subject
  • You could ignore the author/speaker/whathaveyou
  • You could take legal action for libel or slander

Note that none of these options  involve depriving the author/speaker/blogger of his or her rights to free speech or free press.

A side note for those of you who have not been paying attention: The Constitution of the United States does not grant rights to the people. Government cannot give you rights- it can only limit them or take them away … until you (the People) forget about your rights and vote to limit or remove them. The Constitution is mostly involved in limiting the actions and powers of the Government. Those rights you think you get from the Gummint are inherent, inalienable, and part of your birthright as Americans.

Whatsoever, for any cause

seeketh to take or give

Power above or beyond the Laws

suffer it not to live!

– Excerpt from MacDonough’s Song, by Rudyard Kipling

Mr. Hazinski is- of course- entitled to his own opinion. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is- of course- entitled to accept or reject any material according to their policies. I am also (despite Mr. Hazinski’s apparent disapproval) entitled to my opinion, and I can publish it on my blog. I can even urge everyone who is taking (or considering) courses in Journalism from the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia to seriously reconsider that choice. Any “journalist” who proposes such monumental poppycock does not- in my opinion- understand his own profession well enough to be a good teacher thereof. For those of you who wish to delve further into how the “major news organizations” got to be major news organizations, I highly recommend a thorough study of early American History. The “major news organizations” of the late 18th and early 19th centuries bear uncanny resemblance to the political bloggers of today.

But Mr. Hazinski does not approve.

Current status- Flabbergasted

Current music- Storms in Africa, by Enya


2 12 2007

I like animals. I like most animals more than I like most people. I prefer to leave wild animals alone as much as possible. When I see wild animals in their natural habitat, I tend to just admire them from a distance. When I was in the Boy Scouts, I made a point of learning the habits of possibly dangerous animals so I could avoid them whenever possible.

I’ve had pets my whole life. My first pet- a cat named Smokey- shared my life for 23 years. I’ve shared my life with dogs and cats and mice (sometimes all at once), and get along with most domestic animals.

I try to avoid killing animals unnecessarily. Since my wife freaks out at the sight of a spider, I get the spider-chores. Rather than killing them,  I try to collect them and carry them outside. When ants invade the house, I prefer destroying their scent trails to wiping out their nests outside (I make an exception for fire ants). On the rare instance a mouse manages to get into the house without getting hunted to extinction by my cats, I try to catch the critter and release it outside. If I could deal with roaches in this fashion, I would do so. Unfortunately for the roaches, the only practical means of controlling them is to kill them in large numbers.

I eat meat, but have no illusions as to the origins of the meat I consume. I’ve killed chickens for my family’s consumption, butchered a hog, and even dressed out a deer the one time I tried hunting for food. I wear leather garments, drink milk, eat cheese, and generally enjoy the benefits of being a member of the top omnivorous species on the planet.

I support our local “no-kill” animal shelter, encourage others to spay/neuter their pets, purchase”free-range” meat for my own consumption (and avoid fast-food restaurants), and provide food for the local birds and squirrels in the winter.

But I absolutely refuse to support or have any sympathy for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Two years ago, PETA members were caught dumping the bodies of dogs and cats into a dumpster behind a convenience store in North Carolina. The van they were driving held several empty cages and a tackle box full of  syringes and drugs used for euthanasia. It turns out that PETA routinely”liberates” animals from pet stores and kills them, dumping the carcasses into refuse bins in rural areas.  According to some PETA opponents, PETA has euthanized more than 14,000 cats, dogs, and other such pets since 1998.

When a blizzard threatened to kill hundreds of cattle in Colorado, the Governor asked PETA to pitch in some money to help. Despite their high-sounding ideals, the PETArds couldn’t be bothered. If animals feeling pain is what they’re trying to prevent, why not help save the cattle? Is it better for the animals to starve and freeze to death?
Precisely how does this equate with “ethical” treatment?

There’s a KFC down the road from where I live. Several times a week, PETA holds a  “protest” outside this establishment. As far as I can tell, none of the other KFCs in town get protested. Three other restaurants specializing in chicken can be found within two blocks of this particular KFC, but they never get protested, either. The only major difference I can find between this particular KFC and all the rest is location: A major intersection near a freeway. These “protesters” only show up when the weather is clear and even then only between noon and 1PM. The neighborhood in question is predominantly black, but every one of the “protesters” are white. None of them live in the area- they travel to and from the “protest” in several vans. I managed to speak with one of these PETArds. He told me that they get paid to drive to that particular KFC and protest.
What’s the matter, PETA? Isn’t that KFC serving dismembered chickens at other times of the day? Is that particular KFC the only one which serves cooked meat? Do they only serve meat when the weather is nice?

In the interest of fairness, I visited PETA’s website. They blithely equate their cause with the struggle to end slavery. Their advertising tries to equate the meat industry with the Holocaust. They also claim to be a strictly non-violent organization, but they seem to finance a lot of people and organizations that have been convicted of domestic terrorism. PETA claims “animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or any other purpose“. Does this include Seeing-Eye Dogs? Pets?

Here’s a novel idea, PETArds. If you want to live your lives without using animal products (or products tested on animals), that’s your business. Knock yourself out. Your right to those beliefs stops when it comes to trying to force me to live the way you want me to.

I have a low tolerance for stupidity. After looking at PETA and the actions of the PETArds, I’ve discovered that my tolerance for hypocrisy  is even lower.

Current status: Obstreperous

Current Music: Cygnus X-1, by Rush