July, 2017

Kudos to Kimber

July 21st, 2017 17 Comments

Let’s give credit where credit is due.

I have a Kimber CDP in .45 caliber. (The 1911 on the gun rug in the lower left of the photo above.) It has a full-length guide rod and no barrel bushing, which means when you disassemble it, you have to use a little tool (basically a paperclip bent into an L-shape) to hold the recoil spring back.

With me so far?

Other than the pain-in-the-neck factor of having to use a little tool (Murphy’s Law #3: if you need a tool to do anything, you won’t have when you need it) everything is fine so far. The problem comes when you have to disassemble the guide-rod-recoil-spring-recoil-spring-cap unit into its three component pieces. Kimber recommends only doing this about every 800-rounds, but if you’re a clean freak, as I am, you tend to get a little anal-compulsive about doing things thoroughly.

Soooooo, when I came back from the range, I decided to clean this particular firearm thoroughly. Unfortunately, I have arthritis in my hands, and between the shooting at the range and the weather and possibly the alignment of the stars, my hands were hurting that day. It takes a certain amount of physical strength to hold the spring back as you release the little tool without letting anything slip, because if you let anything slip, the odds of your ever finding the recoil spring, the recoil spring cap, or the guide rod are slim to none and Slim left town.

I had a stroke of genius. I put gun rags on either side of my machinist’s vice to protect the metal, clamped the unit into the vice, and promptly turned it one turn too many, torqueing the whole damned thing.

I took the whole (disassembled) gun to my local gun store where I was told I would have to replace the three pieces of the unit, and since everything about Kimber firearms is proprietary, that meant calling Kimber.

Now, let’s review the bidding: Shooter decides to disassemble and clean a part that doesn’t need cleaning; Shooter gets frustrated and irritable because his hands are hurting; Shooter gets bright idea that wasn’t very bright after all and destroys an integral unit of the gun that didn’t need disassembly and cleaning in the first place; Shooter calls Kimber and when the young man answers the phone in the parts department, Shooter tells the young man honestly and forthrightly that he (the Shooter) is a moron who did and astoundingly moronic thing that didn’t need doing and shouldn’t have been done anyway.

And this is where the story gets interesting, because the young man on the phone in Kimber’s parts department restrained his impulse to laugh, said he would put the parts in the mail that afternoon, and then announced there would be no charge. No parts fee. No shipping fee. No stupidity fee. Absolutely free and gratis.

Kudos and a grateful tip of the hat to Kimber Manufacturing. (https://www.kimberamerica.com)

At Last!

July 14th, 2017 15 Comments

At Last!

I have made no secret of my admiration for my old friend, Gerald McRaney, and his acting ability. He has worked steadily ever since he first came to Hollywood (not long after Cecil B. DeMille filmed The Squaw Man in a barn near the Cahuenga Pass and started the film industry as we know it today) and has a body of work that is almost unparalleled. If you look at his page on IMDb, your thumb will get tired scrolling down through his credits, and he richly deserves his reputation as one of the best in the industry. And at last the industry has recognized his talent: he has been nominated for an Emmy for his work as Dr. K. on the NBC series This Is Us.

Kudos to a talented man and good friend!

Hate Your Neighbor

July 10th, 2017 12 Comments

By all means, hate your neighbor. Please, feel absolutely free to do so.

Let’s pretend your new next-door neighbors are Muslims. You don’t know them all that well, perhaps you’re even suspicious of them at first, but gradually, over weeks and months and years, you begin to get a sense of them as just, well, neighbors, neighbors who happen to be Muslims. The mother never goes out without a headscarf, even when she hurries to your house to tell you your dog is loose and running toward the highway, or that your son just went ass over teakettle on his bicycle. The father smiles through his beard when he rings your doorbell and hands you a piece of mail that got mixed in with his, and he makes a comment about the expected snowfall. On the fourth of July, you all stand out in your respective backyards oohing and aahing at the fireworks display, and when it’s over there’s that sense of shared pleasure in a moment, shared pride in your community, your country. Your daughter and their daughter play together regularly, and their little girl is a frequent visitor in your house. The father gives you a can of Fix-a-Flat when you come out one day and find your rear tire is low, and when you take a new can over to pay him back, he waves it off as unnecessary. Perhaps you don’t watch the Super Bowl together, but they are good neighbors.

And then one day the government announces it is going to summarily execute all Muslims. Not arrest, not deport, not round them up and incarcerate them, as FDR did with the American citizens of Japanese descent. Just…execute.

It would take one of those rare and sick individuals with a severely psychotic anti-social personality not to rise up in horror, but perhaps, for other reasons, you won’t.

When Hitler started working his way to power on (among other things) a wave of anti-Semitic feeling, he carefully spent years making sure the press, his press, and his minister of propaganda, demonized all Jews. Not only were all the economic ills of Germany blamed on Jews (instead of the mentally negligible and megalomaniacal Kaiser who had led Germany into World War One and so destroyed his own country), but the blood libel about ritually sacrificing Christian children to make matzos (a libel that had its genesis several centuries before the birth of Christ, making it even more ridiculously offensive) was resurrected, discussed openly in newspapers as if it were a matter of course not even to be doubted, let alone argued.

It was, as the world knows all too well, an effective technique, but it required the collusion of the press. And more, it required the active and willing participation of the press, because as Saul Alinsky taught in Rules for Radicals, “He who controls the language controls the masses.” Or, to put it another way, as Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, taught, “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”

And those two simple statements bring us to what we laughingly refer to today as journalism.

In order to make the average, normal, healthy human being rise up and kill his neighbor, or sit back passively as his neighbor is slaughtered by others, there has to be a process of demonization that convinces the masses that the selected group, whatever group it is that has been selected to be the enemy, is evil. This is what Hitler did with the Jews. (It is also what Hitler’s actions ultimately and unintentionally did for the Nazi’s, actions that were in fact so atrocious they caused first Great Britain and eventually the United States to oppose him.)

But if the selected group is not evil (and has not committed any atrocities) the process must be started more slowly by first dehumanizing the selected group. To dehumanize you must first portray the group’s beliefs or religion or ethnic practices or skin color, or some other quality that is integral to them as a whole, as being wrong, unhealthy, bad for everyone who is not a member of that group, perhaps even evil. And how do you do that? Easily enough if you control the language. You claim the moral high ground.

Claiming the moral high ground for your ideology equals dehumanizing all who disagree with you, which will eventually lead to demonizing all who disagree with you. “It’s the right thing to do,” was used by Obama to dehumanize everyone who disagreed with him. (If they disagree with me, they, the others, must want to do the wrong thing, the evil thing, which makes them, ipso facto, wrong and evil.) It was used that way in a clunkingly awkward moment in Star Wars: the Force Awakens when the hero (played by John Boyega) takes off his helmet and reveals he is not a robot (as I had assumed all clone troopers were), but a human, and since he is covered with the blood of a fellow clone trooper, we immediately realize, hey, these guys are actually humans in white outfits, not robots, which makes their destruction a little less abstract, a little less impersonal, a little less entertaining. To assuage any qualms the viewers might have about the wholesale slaughter of living, breathing, sentient entities—and by way of homage to Obama—the hero solemnly tells the pilot he has just rescued he has done so because, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Oh, okay. Now it’s alright to mow down clone troopers en masse.

It’s a technique that has been employed throughout all of history: dehumanize first, then demonize.

Consider the controversy a month or so ago involving The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. Another Missouri newspaper, the Columbia Missourian, published an op-ed piece by a purported journalist and professor emeritus of the Missouri School of Journalism named George Kennedy. The article, entitled, The NRA’s influence is a danger to us all [sic: no caps], compares the NRA to ISIS. There are statistical inaccuracies and falsehoods I won’t bother to enumerate, but the thrust of Mr. Kennedy’s article is that more Americans are killed by other Americans wielding guns than are killed by Islamic jihadist terrorists, and that because the NRA supports the Second Amendment, and because the NRA pressures politicians to uphold their oath of office and support the entire Constitution, which happens to include the Second Amendment, that makes the NRA more dangerous than ISIS. First you dehumanize, then you demonize.

It’s Mr. Kennedy’s sick opinion and since he writes a weekly column for the Columbia Missourian, they have a right to print any opinion piece they want, if that’s their ideological belief. It is fundamentally dishonest, because it places the responsibility for America’s murder rate on guns and the NRA, rather than on drugs and gangs, but that’s not the point. Mr. Kennedy has the right to express any dishonest and hateful view he wants. What he does not have is the right to demonize well over five million of his fellow Americans simply because they hold a different point of view.

And this is where the story gets interesting. A conservative woman, Stacy Washington, wrote a column in another paper to which she was a contributor, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in which she blasted Mr. Kennedy’s assertions on a variety of levels, factual and ideological. Her column was promptly suspended by the Post-Dispatch, and the column was removed from the paper’s online site. The reason for the suspension and removal given by the Post-Dispatch is that Ms. Washington had failed to disclose that she is a supporter of the NRA; not a paid employee or—to use the Post-Dispatch’s word—a “shill” for them (“shill” implies secrecy and clandestine actions, and Ms. Washington has never made a secret of her support for the NRA), but just a supporter.

So what you have here is a professor who quotes a biased, factually incorrect anti-gun organization (“Gun Violence Archive”) who is allowed to not only express his opinion, but also to demonize America’s oldest gun-rights organization and its members by comparing them unfavorably to an extreme “religious” organization that believes in killing anyone who does accept their beliefs, that beheads men, burns them alive in cages, throws gays from rooftops, believes rape is perfectly fine and sanctioned by their prophet, teaches supporters online how to make bombs, slaughters countless thousands of men, women, and children, sells children as sex slaves, crucifies children who don’t wish to join them, and commits more inventive and nauseating tortures than I’m willing to chronicle. That’s considered acceptable by the press.

But if a conservative objects to the demonizing of a pro-Second Amendment organization that supports the Constitution, and that has done more to promote gun safety and to reduce accidental gun deaths than the federal government and all anti-gun organizations put together, that kind of opinion is immediately silenced.

The message sent clearly by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is that the First Amendment is only applicable to people who think the way the Post-Dispatch wants them to think (“control the language”), and demonizing your neighbor—in ways that would get them put out of business if they had said such things about Muslims—is perfectly acceptable if your neighbor is a member of the NRA. After all, it’s the right thing to do.

The next time you watch the news or read a newspaper demonizing the NRA and its well over five-million members (I am one), or the roughly 100-million gun owners in this country (I am one), remember that unless you live in a progressive enclave like San Francisco or New York City, where guns are effectively banned, Second Amendment and the Heller decision be damned, you probably have an NRA member or a gun owner living next door to you, and we deserve better than to be compared to ISIS barbarians.

Hizzoner Bill de Blasio

July 7th, 2017 11 Comments

For those of you who are law enforcement officers, or who have family members who are law enforcement officers, or who know law enforcement officers, or who have ever been helped by a law enforcement officer, please never forget this:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had one of his officers—a young black, female officer and mother of three named Miosotis Familia—murdered just two days ago, decided to skip a swearing-in ceremony for 524 new NYPD recruits so he could go to Hamburg, Germany and join protesters, rioters, and anarchists opposed to both America and capitalism at the G-20 Summit.

That tells you all you will ever need to know about Bill de Blasio.

Book Review: The Sense of an Ending

July 6th, 2017

I recently read Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending (Vintage International, 2012), and when I finished it, I did something I have never done before: I immediately turned back to the first page and started over again. I didn’t do this because I so greatly enjoyed the book, exactly. It’s not exactly an enjoyable book, at least not in the sense that some old favorite is enjoyable, the kind of old favorite you read over and over again like comfort food, escaping reality for a few hours to return to a world as familiar as reality, but a lot more pleasant and comfortable. It’s not that kind of book.

Instead, it is intensely compelling and disturbing, a thought-provoking book that demands you reflect on your own life, your own past, your own memories.

The book is divided into two parts. That’s the kind of meaningless piece of information that normally alerts the reader of a review that the reviewer has nothing meaningful to say, but it is important here because the first part is a more or less straight forward account of a sequence of events in the narrator’s youth as he remembers them. The second part, almost twice as long as the first, is the narrator’s attempt to unravel the skein of memory and to reconcile reality both with memory and with what Faulkner once called “the irrevocable might-have-been.” And therein lies the book’s genius.

Memory is tenuous and all too unreliable, sometimes even recent memory. It is the secular reason why I don’t believe in the death penalty (I also have religious objections): it is all too easy for memory to deceive us, to trick us into believing A when it was really B all along. I was once involved in a criminal police investigation and asked to give certain information. When it came to describing the suspect’s car, I answered with great certainty that it was brand new and bright red. I remember the blank looks on officers’ faces. The suspect’s car was brand new and bright blue. I had seen it, I had seen it clearly. I had even stood looking at it for several minutes, but because it was a new model, magazines were filled with ads, and television commercials ran on every network, showing bright red models and memory had conflated the two in my mind.

In the same way, one of the key points in The Sense of an Ending hinges on a letter which the narrator remembers one way in Part One, but which we—and he—discover in Part Two to have been very different than his memory would have it. (The phrasing of that sentence should give you a clue to what the reality was.)

The letter is pivotal because the narrator believes it to have set off a sequence of events he deeply regrets, and he is forced to reexamine his own story of himself. And that is what Barnes is asking us to do, to determine if the history of our lives is accurate, or if we have made convenient cuts and edits, or perhaps added a few cunning and subtle embellishments over the years, to diminish this painful reality here or that uncomfortable truth over there. We all long to be a little better than we are, and the stories of our lives, the stories we tell ourselves and others, reflect that longing, consciously or unconsciously.

In Atonement, Ian McEwan’s central character wants desperately to undo something she did as a child, something she too deeply regrets, and that novel ends with recognition of the futility of trying to change the past. We do terrible things, sometimes, intentionally or unintentionally, and we must learn to live with the consequences of those mistakes. Julian Barnes is also writing about living with consequences, about living with ourselves as we really are, and his narrator, like the narrator of Atonement, finally accepts that. But unlike the narrator of Atonement, Barnes’ narrator does not deliberately create a lie to satisfy his longing, unless you consider pushing the past aside—storing it in an unused closet of the mind—a kind of lie. Instead, his encounter with the reality of the past is thrust upon him and he must slowly come to grips with what really was, some of which may have been partially his own doing, some of which was not.

As long as I’m comparing the two novels, I find Ian McEwan’s writing to be much more emotionally engaging than Julian Barnes’. I read somewhere once that Barnes’ brother is a philosopher, and I can readily believe it because that kind of detached, cerebral quality permeates everything I have read by Barnes, including The Sense of an Ending. That is not to be construed as praise: I find the absence of emotional engagement and sensory detail off-putting, though I have no way of knowing if that is intentional on the author’s part or not. As my friend Dan Bronson (Confessions of a Hollywood Nobody) likes to say about writing (quoting Herman Melville’s letter to Nathaniel Hawthorn discussing writing): “I stand for the heart. To the dogs with the head! I had rather be a fool with a heart than Jupiter Olympus with his head.” Atonement is packed with such empathetic characters, including the little girl who ruins the lives around her, that you ache for them all. The Sense of an Ending has characters whose personalities are so reserved as to make them almost unknowable, and whose motivations and emotions we never fully understand, while the narrator, Tony, is completely emotionless in a frightfully British, stiff upper lip sort of way, so that at the end, when a bombshell is set off in what he thinks he understands about his life and actions and the memories of those two things, he simply ruminates on the advantages of thin chips (French fries) over fat ones. That’s not the best way to stir emotions in a reader either.

And yet… I have never before read a book straight through twice in a row, so clearly something in me was engaged, perhaps not by my heartstrings, but engaged nonetheless.

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