A Blog by Jameson Parker
The Span of Life
The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.
- Robert Frost
The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.
- Robert Frost
I’ve been writing almost exclusively about books and politics and Second Amendment issues lately and much of that is due to the aftereffects of the horse wreck, my not being able to do some of the things I used to do outside.
One of the things I used to do that I do not miss in the slightest is weed whacking the critical areas around the property that must be cleared in case of fire. Fire is an ever-present danger in these mountains, and clearing one’s property is required by both law and common sense. Behind our house the hill rises steeply and weed whacking is limited by natural obstacles: a property boundary fence here, boulders there, a sudden rise in incline in this area, more boulders in that area, a natural cut, trees… You get the picture. The men I hired to do what I used to do followed pretty much the same boundaries I would have followed: above that area the weeds are dangerously thick this year; below it, everything is cut down to the dirt.
So I was standing with my back to the window, talking to my bride, when she suddenly yelped and pointed out at the hill. For a moment, what I thought I saw was one of our ridiculously overly-domesticated and overly-pampered indoor-only cats trotting across the cleared area. Then I realized it was a bobcat kitten. (Not the bobcat in the photo above; that one is a fully grown bobcat, with attitude, and in a bad mood.)
Not a kitten exactly, as much as barely an adolescent, a very young bobcat hovering in that awkward stage between childhood and adulthood. He had probably only within the last week been kicked out of the house for talking back to his mother and he was now boldly exploring his world with no thought to either danger or his next meal. There are ground squirrels galore in the boulders back there—I have been shooting them with monotonous regularly, but every time you kill one, twenty more come to the funeral—but no bobcat ever caught a ground squirrel by trotting blithely along in the open.
We watched him trot up at an angle to the base of one of the groups of boulders where he threw himself down on his back in a dusty spot and wriggled as hard and as thoroughly as he could. I know what he was doing was taking a dust bath to discourage fleas, but something about the way he did it, the youthful energy, the joie de vivre, the quality of making even a necessary toilette something of a game, made my wife and me both laugh. And when he got up, he didn’t just “get up;” he bounced up, shook himself vigorously, and vanished into the long weeds above.
That youthful exuberance reminded me of a boy I knew half a century ago, a boy whose boundless energy and sheer joy of living in his own healthy body used to make both his parents alternately laugh and tear out their hair. Unlike Mama Bobcat, they were patient and forbearing enough not to throw me out on my own.
I wish that young bobcat well.
France was my father’s favorite country. I think it was in part because he had studied in Paris as a very young man (footloose and fancy free in his “Paris twenties”), in part because he had bicycled through much of France at that time (instead of studying), in part because he loved the language (even though he spoke it atrociously), in part because of the food, the wine, the architecture, the landscape, the whole ball of wax. He loved France.
Many of our vacations during the years we lived in Germany were spent driving around France, particularly southern France, the itinerary based on which cathedrals and museums my parents wished to see, and which five star restaurants my father wished to dine at. Because he was a civil servant living on a civil servant’s salary, and because the exquisite dinners took so much of his very limited budget, we stayed at the tackiest, cheapest little hotels we could find and ate picnics during the day, usually on sun-drenched hillsides, occasionally crouched in the little car as an icy rain blew sideways on us, but they were all golden days when he was there.
I can remember only a very few exceptions to the cheap-pension rule and one of those was our visit to Nice. Perhaps there were no cheap pensions available, perhaps for other reasons, but if memory serves we stayed at the world-class Hotel Negresco, with its soaring ceilings and grand staircase, and its ornate, over-the-top exterior, like a wedding cake designed by a mad pastry chef.
When the news broke about the latest Islamic terrorist attack, I recognized immediately the tree-lined boulevard, the Promenade des Anglais. I remember walking along that boulevard with my parents on a blistering day, and stopping at a little outdoor café to drink bottled water, and to see that same boulevard littered with dead bodies sickened me.
My bride just came into my office a few minutes ago, spitting with anger. Some French politician, she didn’t know who, apparently said that France must learn to live with terrorism. I wonder if the French soldiers who fought and died so gallantly in World War One would agree with that. I wonder if the courageous men and women, and children too, of the French resistance during World War Two would agree with that. I only know that I, as a more primitive and less refined man, can think of other, less accommodating reactions, and my heart bleeds for France and for any country that has leaders who could be so anemic in the face of evil. I know of some others.
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him…
President Barack Hussein Obama came so close. He spoke so eloquently, but…
For the first five minutes of his speech he rightly and gracefully praised the rare and shining courage of the Dallas police officers, both those who were murdered and those who risked their lives to save civilians who were marching in a Black Lives Matter protest against the police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana. But it should have ended right there, as a brief eulogy, instead of droning on in yet another lecture to the American people on how he thinks the world should be.
President Obama came so close. He spoke so eloquently, but…
The Dallas Police Department has been praised as being one of the most advanced and innovative departments of any major metropolitan area in the country, and the President himself acknowledged that, but he should have stopped there. This was a memorial service for five dead officers from that rightly lauded department, not a place to criticize. But beyond Dallas, in general terms, name a police department anywhere in this country that does not use screening protocols to weed potential racists out of the applicant pool. Name a police department in this country that does not have protocols and practices at the supervisory level specifically intended to identify such biases. Whatever the truth of the shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, whatever the causes—fear, inadequate training, faulty communication, faulty judgement, officers who were perhaps too high strung or under too much stress, racial bias, whatever—this was not the place for that conversation.
President Obama came so close. He spoke so eloquently, but…
The President rightly stated that we ask too much of our police, expecting them to be social workers, parents, teachers, drug counselors. But he should have stopped right there instead of disingenuously allocating blame on society at large for the poor schools, festering poverty, lack of employment opportunity, and resultant violent crime in inner-city neighborhoods that police must then try to control. The cities with the highest rates of poverty, poor schools, lack of employment, and violent crime are the President’s home town of Chicago way up at the top of the list, followed by Baltimore, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and New Orleans, all cities with Democratic mayors and Democratic controlled governments, so I would be happy to have a debate with the President about what might work to ameliorate poverty, poor schooling, lack of employment opportunity, and violent crime, but this was a memorial for five murdered police officers, and not the place for that conversation.
President Obama came so close. He spoke so eloquently, but…
But he can’t help himself. Like a card shark drawing your attention to the king in one hand so you miss the ace he is palming in the other, he had to say: “We flood communities with so many guns that it’s easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book.”
Ah, Barack, Barack, Barack. You simply cannot tell the truth, can you? You claim to have taught Constitutional law and you are the President of the United States, so you are supposed to have a working knowledge of the laws of the land, the same laws you have sworn to uphold, and yet you lie every time you open your mouth about guns, and if you have to lie, it vitiates whatever validity or authority or integrity you might once have had. Federal law 18 U.S.C. subsection 922(b)(1), (c)(1) states, as you well know:
(b) It shall be unlawful for any licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector to sell or deliver—
any firearm or ammunition to any individual who the licensee knows or has reasonable cause to believe is less than eighteen years of age, and, if the firearm, or ammunition is other than a shotgun or rifle, or ammunition for a shotgun or rifle, to any individual who the licensee knows or has reasonable cause to believe is less than twenty-one years of age.
But you just couldn’t stop yourself from lying yet again to advance your own, dreamy utopian progressive agenda. It doesn’t matter, because even if you had been able to bring yourself to tell the truth, this would not have been the place for that conversation. You came so close.
O judgement, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason…
I received a message from someone taking me to task (very mildly) for not weighing in on the unspeakable shootings in Dallas. But what can I say? What is there for anyone to say? I can no more wrap my head around that kind of evil than I can comprehend the equally unspeakable evil of ISIS. Evil exists and there is no point trying to understand or explain or justify—as if one could!—or in any way reduce it to a level comprehensible by normal people. Remove it from the gene pool (that’s been done, thank God) and if you’re in a position to do so, do whatever can be done for the victims and their families. And no matter where you live in America, wave to your local law enforcement officers when you see them driving by. If you encounter officers on the street, take a moment to thank them for their very real and very courageous service to us all. Let them know they are appreciated and supported and depended on. Let them know they are a glad and reassuring presence in our midst.
I was going to reply to the following response to my June 24 blog, Beware of Politicians Bearing Gifts, but the author has raised enough issues that I felt it worth making my response to her response into its own blog. (I have no idea whether the author is male or female, but I have to use a designation and I have opted to use the feminine gender.) She is clearly an intelligent lady, and clearly distressed by the terrorist attack in Orlando, but she differs from me in her hope for a solution. Here is her letter:
Why, the old “slippery slope” argument trotted out again. Some of the reforms being proposed were so common sense and benign, and VERY limited to specific scenarios, yet gun rights people like yourself claim to want to fix things, but resist every single possible attempt to try to do ANYTHING. Every politician on the other side automatically must have a hidden agenda designed wholly for the purpose to take away your rights bit by bit and take away your guns, (guns, guns, guns, they want my guns so they will have absolute control like Hitler!). There is no possible way that anyone in politics could possibly just be seeking a better way, especially those dirty Democrats who just want all your guns and really nothing else, save for medical care for brown babies, and maybe to let immigrants into our country, which is a new thing, not something that America actually stands for right?
Do some people here even listen to themselves? Do they even see reason any longer? Or are they so fully entrenched in ideology that nothing could possibly mean more than an idea or a liberty that is actually more illusion and conceptual than anything. Lets keep drawing lines in the sand and getting more firm in our beliefs, that’s how it ends for all of us you know, not how we move forward as a nation and solve our actual problems.
Mr. Parker, I’ve been a fan for a long, long time, but as someone who seems pretty well read and educated, I thought you of all people would see more reason. Yet the last couple years on this blog I have seen you progressively get more one sided and closed minded. No one is ever wholly right, or wrong. Us average people live our lives in the grey areas, and to be so far on one side or the other does more damage to our ideals than anything else happening today. Dismiss me as some liberal or other easy label, but it won’t make it true, I am a person who looks for truth, and I say to you that your words are only your version of the truth, and that you have stopped considering anything else that doesn’t fit into that version of the truth. Shame on you, and shame on us all who don’t look for answers, and a better way forward. If all people can do is parrot other people’s words, then they have no voice that is worth hearing. If you don’t like something, how come your only answer is to do NOTHING? Where are your ideas, where is your light in the darkness? To do nothing is a greater evil than updating a few outdated liberties that have become passé in a very different world than the one our founders could ever have conceived. If the answer is “more guns” or “leave it alone” then clearly you haven’t heard the question.
The true slippery slope is the one where you do nothing to stop your decent into the abyss.
Doubt this gets posted, but I hope at least one set of eyes reads it.
Let me start at the end: you do me wrong. In all the years I have been writing this blog, I have never refrained from the posting a comment from someone who criticized or disagreed with me. In fact, I not only post comments from people who disagree, frequently strongly, but I have also always posted comments from people correcting me on this, that, or the other. The only comments I do not post are the profanity-laden ad-hominem attacks written by people with low IQs. (If you have to use profanity to make your point, you have not succeeded in making your point and you clearly haven’t anything intelligent to say to begin with.)
I’m going to ignore your comment about “babies with brown skin” and the mention of immigrants because I have no idea what you are referring to and I assume it was just an anomalous outburst. I made no comment about immigrants or about babies of any color, nor are either of those issues affected by any aspect of the gun control/due process debate.
With those two items out of the way, let me try to address your concerns.
You seem to dismiss the concept of “slippery slope” as a fallacious argument. I could honestly, without exaggeration, utilize more words than I have written in the history of this blog giving you examples of well-intentioned legislation that descended into either unenforceable chaos (the Eighteenth Amendment would be a good example) or into something that was never intended when the law originally passed. An obvious example of the latter would be the Sixteenth Amendment which, when it was passed was intended to range solely from a one percent income tax on the low end (up to $20,000 which in today’s dollars would translate to about $300,000) to seven percent on the high end ($500,000 then, approximately $8,000,000 in today’s dollars). Who among us would not relish a return to those income tax rates? And yet, when one congressman rose to protest the very concept of any federal income tax with the words (I’m paraphrasing; it’s been over fifty years since I took this particular history class): “My opponent claims a starting tax rate of one percent. That’s today, but I can foresee a time when it will rise to two percent, then three, perhaps even someday as high as ten!” he was literally laughed off the floor as being unrealistically preposterous. So slippery slopes are far too real, too slippery, and too numerous for me to have to defend myself on that issue.
I know all too well some of the politicians arguing in favor of “no fly, no buy” do in fact have hidden or not so hidden agendas (Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Diane Feinstein—who once famously stated that if she could she would confiscate all the guns in the land, “Mr. and Mrs. America, too bad, turn ‘em in,”—would be good examples), while some are probably well-intentioned, but good intentions do not mitigate or compensate for a badly-crafted law.
“Or are [the readers of this blog] so fully entrenched in ideology that nothing could possibly mean more than an idea or a liberty that is actually more illusion and conceptual than anything.” I assume you are referring to the Second Amendment, which I would argue is a good deal more than mere illusion or concept, but I was actually discussing due process. Due process is such a critical part of our legal system it can be fairly said that without it America is no better than, oh, let’s say Venezuela, where people are starving in the streets, or Saudi Arabia, where a raped woman can be and usually is both flogged and imprisoned for having been raped. Due process applies specifically to the Amendments I mentioned in my original blog, so forget about the Second Amendment for a moment and ask yourself about those other amendments and liberties that would be jeopardized by doing away with the concept of due process. Are you really willing to so casually surrender rights that are dependent upon a fundamental aspect of the law that protects every single one of us? Because if you give up due process in the instance of the Second Amendment, it will be that much easier for it to be taken away in other instances, just as a tax of one percent can be raised… But no, that’s a laughable idea.
“Mr. Parker, I’ve been a fan for a long, long time, but as someone who seems pretty well read and educated, I thought you of all people would see more reason. Yet the last couple years on this blog I have seen you progressively get more one sided and closed minded. No one is ever wholly right, or wrong.” On the face of it, you are absolutely right, no one is ever wholly right or wholly wrong, but let me tell why I am one-sided and close-minded on this issue. If you disagree with me after I explain myself, we can then debate further.
If I lie to you, you would be a fool to trust me any further. I believe that’s a reasonable statement, and expounding on that, only a fool trusts a proven liar. Starting well before the creation of this blog, I researched every statement, pro- or anti-gun, that had any relation to magazine articles I was writing. Since starting my blog, I have even more assiduously tried to track down the truth of every statement I repeated or made myself. The final arbiters of truth I use vary from issue to issue, but when the issue is the Second Amendment, which probably accounts for ninety percent of all the arguments I have had to make, I rely on the FBI. They are arguably the finest law enforcement agency in the world, and they are the only completely non-partisan organization in this country to track and record the facts of all kinds of violent crime in America, breaking them down into every conceivable category and demographic you can imagine and a lot you probably never dreamed of. In close to fifteen years of doing this by utilizing the internet, and for longer than that before I had a computer, I have never once—not one single time—caught the NRA lying. I have caught the NRA using partisan studies that anti-gun sources deride (even when they can’t counter them) and I have caught it making tone-deaf comments when silence might have better served the purpose, but I have never caught them in a lie, even on topics where I personally disagreed with them. By way of contrast, I am not going to waste my time or yours by laboring over the stony and uneven ground of falsehoods that are repeated ad nauseam by politicians, the mainstream press, and every anti-gun organization out there; instead I will cite just one source for you to check up on: our president, Barack Hussein Obama. I’ll make it easy for you. Go to the virulently anti-gun Washington Post and look up their “Fact-Checker” column. Virtually every time the president opens his mouth about the gun issue, the Washington Post awards him another one or two or three or however many Pinocchios for, shall we say, taking liberties with the truth. If you are more ambitious and have a taste for doing your own research, read practically any statement or statistic quoted by other liberal politicians or on any of the various anti-gun organization websites (Everytown [sic] for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action, Violence Policy Center, too many others) any of them, and then check those statements and those statistics against the dispassionate and objective numbers on the FBI Uniform Crime Report. Tell me what you find.
So when you say that I am becoming progressively more one-sided, you are absolutely right, because I would be a fool to trust a liar. The day I hear an honest statement from the other side, you will read me rejoicing right here on this blog. Until then, I will base my decisions about right and wrong and what is in the best interests of this country that I love so much on the truth, not on emotionalized spin or weary reiterations of deliberate dishonesty. My words are not “my version of the truth.” My words are the truth I find by doing the best research I can possibly do. And my words are written in good faith; if you catch me in a mistake, tell me and I will rectify it. Until then, don’t let yourself be fooled by those who have proven themselves unworthy of your or anyone’s trust.
“To do nothing is a greater evil than updating a few outdated liberties that have become passé in a very different world than the one our founders could ever have conceived.” The US Constitution was written precisely to protect your God-given, “unalienable rights [including] life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Those rights, and the liberties enumerated in the Constitution, were not passé when Aristotle wrote about them 2300 years ago, nor will they be passé 2300 years from now. The founding fathers knew both from history and from bitter experience that those rights could be taken away, either by sudden violence, or by gradual erosion, and they designed and crafted the Constitution as a bulwark to protect those rights, both by delineating certain liberties—liberty to worship as we choose, to speak our minds, to own property, to defend ourselves, and so on—and, at least as important, by severely curtailing the reach of government and limiting its power over those liberties. The founding fathers realized the necessity of that bulwark because they knew what so many seem to have forgotten today: that man’s essential nature is immutable. To deny that is to deny both human nature and the laws of evolution. Look around. Where do you see man so evolved that you can safely dispense with your liberties? In any of the strains and permutations of radical Islamic terrorism? Indeed, anywhere in the Levant other than Israel? In China’s saber-rattling and expansion of territory into international waters? In North Korea’s development of one nuclear weapon after another? In Iran’s quest for their own nuclear weapons, or in their stated desire to wipe America and Israel off the face of the earth? On the continent of Africa, where tribal animosities still erupt into the kind of wholesale bloodshed that occurred in Rwanda? In which corner of the globe will you hide with your rights, after you have relinquished your liberties and due process to the use and misuse of mere men who have all the same evolutionary instincts for good or ill as the rest of us? Or do you believe America is somehow immune from the laws of nature and evolution? Man is what he is, and the Constitution reflects man as he is, not as we would like him to be.
Finally, you have challenged me to offer my own solutions, my light in the darkness. I would humbly suggest that encouraging dialogue in this forum is one way to grope toward a solution. But beyond that, I do have a suggestion that would go a long way to curbing the violent criminal use of firearms. It would be to enforce the laws that are currently on the books. According to the Syracuse University Transitional Records Access Clearinghouse project, which tracks, among other things, ATF prosecutions, under Barrack Hussein Obama prosecutions of gun crimes have dropped to forty-five percent of what they were under George W. Bush, and it was too damned low even back then. (Interestingly enough, the ATF districts with the cities that have the strictest and most draconian gun laws in America—Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles—are the districts with the lowest rate of federal gun law enforcement, so we could start right there.) That’s one suggestion. Another novel concept might be to enforce the law that makes it a felony to lie on a federal form. Whenever a person wishes to purchase a firearm, he or she must fill out a National Instant Criminal Background Check System form 4473 (NICS, the background check that anti-gunners would like you to believe does not exist). Of the millions of applications to purchase a firearm in recent years, only 1.2 percent (76,142) resulted in a refusal (which reinforces the argument that the vast bulk of law-abiding gun owners are just that: law-abiding), and of those refusals, while some were overturned upon appeal, only sixty-two cases were referred for prosecution. Sixty-two. Total. Even the anti-gun, pro-Obama New York Times urged the government to pursue such cases. (To give the Times credit, it admitted that this was a step pro-gun organizations like the NRA have called for for decades.) I could give you more examples, but the bottom line is that if the government can’t be bothered to enforce the laws already on the books, why should anyone be in favor of yet more laws?
So when I see the president weeping in a news conference even as he claims a terrorist attack was “workplace violence,” or “a hate crime,” or a case of “gun violence,” when he knows damned well what the attack was and what the laws are and how they could be enforced; when I see anti-gun politicians sitting on the floor of the congress, wringing their hands and shrieking for more laws when they know damned well it is only political theater to suck in those who don’t know how many laws are already on the books, or what the reality of violent crime is, I am indeed moved, but only to contempt.
For the record, I am a survivor of so-called “gun-violence.” I was shot twice, so I have some skin in this game. I know all too well what the cost of violence is, both physically and emotionally, but I also know that punishing the law-abiding for the crimes of a tiny minority is as unethical as it is ineffectual. These are things worth thinking about over the Independence Day weekend.
Steve Bodio is one of America’s greatly underrated treasures. He writes like an angel about a wide range of fascinating topics; he is one of the most widely-read and well-educated men I have ever come across, a twenty-first century version of an eccentric Victorian polymath; when he writes about topics close to his heart, he has the rare ability to weave emotion and objective scientific observation together; and he knows (or has known—time has thinned the ranks) practically everyone worth knowing, famous and obscure, rich and poor, artist and scientist, from New Mexico (where he lives physically) to Kazakhstan (where he lives spiritually).
We live in a time when polymaths are rarer than honest politicians and, whenever one does float to the surface of public perception, he is regarded with deep suspicion. Everyone and everything has to be quickly and easily pigeonholed in our Age of Single-Minded Experts: if you’re an artist, you can’t possibly be a scientist; if you’re a naturalist, you most certainly cannot write fiction; if you’re a cynologist, what the hell can you be expected to know about paleontology? When obvious exceptions such as Peter Matthiessen do arise, they are explained away as anomalies: Well, after all, how can you expect anything else from someone like Matthiessen when he was really a CIA agent all along? But Steve Bodio is a genuine polymath without being a CIA agent. As far as I know.
So what do you do with a book like Hounds of Heaven? Really now, is it about dogs or is it about falconry? Is it about pigeons or paleontology? Is it about hunting or is it about cultural anthropology or is it about genetics? And if it’s supposed to be a serious work, why is it so funny? Where the hell in the bookstore do we stock the damned thing?
I suspect some or all of those specious and asinine arguments will be voiced.
The fact is, the book is about all those things and more, it is indeed a serious work that will make you laugh out loud, and my recommendation is to stock it everywhere. It’s that good.
On one level Hounds of Heaven is about a quest, a search for an almost mythical beast that takes Bodio from a vodka-soaked apartment in Brooklyn to an unexpected and interrupted life in New Mexico, to that vast, high, central Asian region dismissed by a former presidential candidate as, “all those –stans,” where once Tamerlane and the Scourge of God and Marco Polo roamed, a region still inhabited by fierce and independent men who love deeply their horses, their eagles, and above all their dogs. It may be that Africa was the cradle of man and Mesopotamia the cradle of civilization, but the rugged steppes and mountains of central Asia were probably the cradle of man’s best friend, and very certainly the cradle of that unique variety known as sight-hounds.
And on another level Hounds of Heaven is a love story, for no matter how useful or scientifically intriguing dogs may be, ultimately our relationship with them is based on mutual love, and anyone who has ever shared his life with a dog will admit he has learned at least as much from his faithful friend as his friend ever learned from him.
Finally, several years ago, before Steve ever started this book, I asked him to vet an article I had written for a magazine in which I posited the theory that the only way to save virtually every dog recognized by either the AKC or the UKC was to outcross to related, but genetically different, breeds. In other words, if you want to return the German shepherd, for example, to the healthy, long-lived specimen it once was, open up the gene pool and go back to some of the distantly related breeds that prior to the end of the nineteenth century used to be lumped under the loose category “sheepdog.” Try a Malinois or Groenendael or Tervueren, try a Kuvasz, hell, try an Anatolian. If those don’t work, go farther afield, but for God’s sake stop breeding crippled, short-lived beauties to crippled, short-lived beauties. I’d rather have a German shepherd that looks like the vaguely mutty ones von Stephanitz had, that was capable of living its full twelve or thirteen years free of the more than fifty heritable diseases man has bred into and concentrated in that noble breed.
It turned out Steve had been studying (of course) and thinking about this very issue, and he kindly corrected some of my errors and told me to sic ‘em. Steve goes into this issue in depth, but very readable depth. If you love dogs, or even if you’ve ever loved just a single dog, you will love Hounds of Heaven and its cast of unusual, eccentric, and passionate characters, two-legged as well as four-legged.
“I believe when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”
Sir Thomas More in A Man for all Seasons, by Robert Bolt
We all know about the Trojan horse and how the wily Greeks used it to burn the topless towers of Ilium and destroy the Trojan civilization. It’s a lesson worth keeping in mind.
The appalling terrorist attack in Orlando has brought out the usual absurd, extreme reactions on either side. The progressive left claims that repealing the Second Amendment and confiscating all firearms will make America a kinder, gentler, safer place where, according to our Attorney General Loretta Lynch, even terrorists will be defeated by love and compassion, and we’ll all become vegans and behave like a cross between Care Bears and Barney the purple dinosaur. The radical right claims that if every American went armed everywhere we could use ISIS terrorists and random bad guys as pop-up targets and wipe them off the face of the globe, or at least off the face of the fifty states. Both sides, and those who wallow indecisively in the middle, agree something—something—must be done.
And indeed something must be done: every American is rightly calling for a stop to the kind of bloody carnage a single radical Islamic loony-tune was able to perpetrate, and politicians are tripping over themselves in their rush to push their particular vision of a solution into law. But the Trojan horse every American should keep in mind is the unforeseen—or far worse, casually dismissed—effect these proposed laws will have. It’s not just the Second Amendment, but also the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, that are being conveniently overlooked in the political stampede to appear relevant and effective and decisive. And if you want to take the progressive liberal proposals in Congress to their illogical but certainly not impossible extreme, other Amendments jeopardized by current proposals include the First, Fourth, and the Sixth.
Forget your feelings, pro or con, about firearms; instead, think of your right to free speech, or to own your house and/or land, or your right to privacy, or your right to “be secure” from unreasonable search and seizure, or your right to a speedy trial where you have been informed of the charges against you. Think of losing all those things. Think of losing the unwritten principle of innocent until proven guilty. All of those depend to a greater or lesser extent on the due process clause, and due process is what outraged Democrats—and even some Republicans—want to dispense with.
If you are really naïve enough to believe in a perpetually benign and loving government that would never abuse you or your rights, I would remind you that a due process clause was first enumerated as a right in the Magna Carta in 1215, but because Great Britain does not have a Constitution, that clause was cheerfully ignored by kings from Henry III on. Don’t believe me; read your history. It only affected firearms beginning (gradually and “reasonably,” as such things do) in 1920, but it really took effect in 1997 with large-scale confiscation of firearms, blithely by-passing the due process clause first written-up in the Magna Carta almost eight hundred years earlier: “No free man shall be imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions…” Has ignoring due process and confiscating guns had a salutary effect on violent crime in Great Britain? According to Pulitzer Prize nominee Joyce Lee Malcolm it has not, and according to several British news investigations it has not, but that’s beside the point.
Other countries recognize some vague kind of due process as stipulated in international law, but only America and Great Britain spell it out, and only America pays any attention to it, sort of. All of the current schemes being touted on Capitol Hill, couched in the meretricious language of, “no-fly, no buy,” violate our due process clause as clearly spelled out in the Fifth Amendment (“…nor [shall any person] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” and in Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment: “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” And without due process, nothing else in our legal system holds water.
In case you should doubt that this is the intent of the various proposed laws being hailed as vital by lawmakers wallowing in righteous outrage, bear in mind that the loss of any right is, and should always be, protected by the due process clause, and to violate that with regard to firearms opens a slippery slope to other rights as well. Free speech is the first one to leap to mind, especially given Hillary’s stated intent to overturn the Citizens United ruling. But property rights also leap to mind: far too many people in this country, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from ranchers to inner-city low-income housing residents, have lost property precisely because of abuses of due process by various levels of government, from municipal to federal. Again, don’t trust me: do your homework. Hell, Tom Brokaw did a special on this very topic about fifteen years ago.
I believe it was Ronald Reagan who once observed that the Constitution was like a crystal bowl; you can’t take one piece out without destroying the whole thing. Just as Troy once welcomed a specious good that destroyed it, the laws our politicians are promising will make us a safer and gentler country carry within them consequences that will prove disastrous, now or later. We would do well to remember Reagan’s admonition. We would also do well to remember that each age and each country, each sad and guilty age, each sad and guilty country, has, or has had, or will have its Hitler, its Mussolini, its Stalin, its Mao, its Pol Pot. To believe otherwise is to be guilty of dizzying and willful naïveté.
Somewhere, I now forget where, I stumbled across the following quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Prize-winning author of, among others, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago:
“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more—we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”
It’s worth keeping that quote, that sentiment, in mind when reading Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time. Barnes’ novel about Dmitri Shostakovich opens with the composer standing by the elevator in his apartment building all night long, with a small overnight bag at his feet, smoking endless cigarettes as he waits for Stalin’s security officers to come take him away. Those who were unlucky enough to drift into Stalin’s vast (seven million or more dead) and frequently merely peripheral web of disfavor were invariably taken away during the night, and Shostakovich’s standing by the elevator is his personal act of courage, his desperate effort to save his wife and children.
I am not knowledgeable or sophisticated enough to appreciate this novel from a musical perspective, but it doesn’t matter because what it really is about is courage, not the great, courageous stroke of the hero, but the small and varying courage it takes to live—to endure—for decades in fear. You cooperate here, resist a little bit there when you dare, bow low and weigh your words carefully this morning, then try to recoup a tiny fraction of self-respect by taking a small stand this afternoon. The subtle stands of resistance—a musical masterpiece like the Fifth Symphony—are offset by the capitulations that breed self-loathing and regret for the opera not written. Courage, under Stalin, had to be used by the teaspoon. Shostakovich recounts the experience of a friend, a violinist who expected to be arrested. Instead, the secret police came, night after night, and each time they arrested someone else in the violinist’s apartment building, gradually working their way up, night by night, apartment by apartment, floor by floor, until at last the entire building was vacant except for the violinist. And that gradual, casual murdering of everyone else, of totally innocent people whose only crime was to have lived in the wrong building, made the violinist completely, utterly compliant. Fear is a powerful weapon, more powerful than death, because after all the dead are immune; nothing more can be done to them.
Barnes has an odd writing style, a detached, cerebral style that in the only other book of his that I’ve read, Flaubert’s Parrot, I disliked. It’s as if he uses his own writing to keep all emotion at arm’s length. (In Flaubert’s Parrot, the narrator is so cold and emotionally detached that the result is there is no one in the novel for the reader to identify and empathize with. I found myself thinking of Herman Melville’s comment in a letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, discussing the relative value of emotion versus intellect in art: “I stand for the heart. To the dogs with the head!”) Yet here, in The Noise of Time, that same distancing of emotion works, in part because the only way a man can find the courage to stand, night after night, by an elevator, waiting to be arrested, is by distancing himself from emotion. And by showing us a man who will sacrifice himself to save his wife and children, you have automatically presented someone the reader can empathize with, not a hero, not even a consistently brave man, but one who, like most of us, screws his courage to the sticking place when he can, and hates himself when he can’t.
Readers with more musicality than I may get more out of this book, but its universality lies in its harrowing portrayal of what it’s like to live in fear, not for a day or a week or a year, but for decade after decade, and then, at the end, to look back and to think of what one might have done, might have accomplished if only one hadn’t been afraid. If only. If…if.
It’s a lesson to be kept in mind.
Perhaps I read the wrong news sources, but I have come to the conclusion that too many people on the far left have dangerously violent tendencies and fantasies. I moderate a chat room site for gun owners; I frequently visit pro-gun sites; I regularly check up on the latest information available from major pro-gun organizations such as the NRA, The Second Amendment Foundation, California Rifle and Pistol Association, Gun Owners of America; when I read an anti-gun article somewhere, I almost always try to do my due-diligence and read the responses from both those who agree and those who disagree; and, believe it or not, I periodically check out various ultra-liberal, progressive news sources just to see what is being discussed on the left.
What I have found over the years is that when pro-gun types like me write in to protest anti-gun articles, we usually, not always, but usually spend a lot of time trying to be rational, factual, and unemotional. Sometimes pro-gun types write contemptuous or disdainful letters decrying the ignorance of non-gun owners, but that’s about the extent of it.
On the other hand, when anti-gun types write in to support anti-gun articles, or to protest against pro-gun articles, I can readily understand why so many of them are so terrified of guns: their own emotions seem to get the best of them in ways that should indeed preclude them from gun ownership for reasons of instability. I have read emails suggesting (and I’m not making any of this up): all gun owners should die slowly and painfully of cancer; all NRA members should be executed by the government; all NRA members should be shot at random on sight; that anti-gunners should go out in the field during hunting season and kill hunters; and (my favorite and a perfect example of complete lack of logic) anti-gunners should go out and buy guns so they can kill everyone they can find who owns a gun. (Okie dokie, uh, would that include suicide before or after the assault?) I have read many other statements of more or less the same nature, but not as dramatic or as memorable.
Now however, the psychopathic tendencies of the hoplophobic (hoplophobia is a word taken from the Greek and coined by the late Jeff Cooper that means an irrational fear of firearms) have come home to roost. I received a comment I chose not to post that came in response to my open letter to Senator Chris Murphy. I chose not to post it because I do not post gratuitous profanity, especially when it is used as an angry and incoherent substitute for rational thought and civilized debate, but suffice it to say that the fine old Anglo-Saxon word for sexual intercourse was used as a verb, an adjective, an adverb, and as part of a compound noun. I was referred to as an intimate part of the anatomy used for evacuation, a piece of the substance that comes out of that orifice, and (in the few words I will reprint) as sick, sociopathic, ignorant, twisted, and a “2 bit [sic] actor.”
What I find so fascinating about all this is how rage—frequently, as cited above, murderous rage—seems to motivate these people. I have many readers who disagree strongly with me about the Second Amendment and gun ownership in general, but as long as they neither resort to this kind infantile raging nor to reprinting the kinds of lies and misinformation the New York Times and so many other news organizations and politicians seem to delight in, I am happy to debate with them. In some cases, I have been correctly taken to task for not getting my facts right, and I have admitted it.
The responses to other articles and writers I mentioned above, and the one I just received, remind me very much of the hysterical tantrums so widely publicized recently on college campuses such as Yale, Princeton, the University of Missouri, Oberlin, CSULA, and so many others, where children shriek at anyone who disagrees with them and have to be excused from the final exams because someone wore a sombrero, or wrote Trump’s name on the sidewalk, or—in the case of a college in Oklahoma—read an admonishment from the Bible. Heaven forefend!
I have no idea what causes such preposterous and paralyzing delicacy and, frankly, I’m not interested enough to want to know. In fact, the only part of this whole episode that intrigued me was the use of the phrase, “two-bit,” an expression I thought had vanished from common usage. I’m glad to see it is still in vogue. It is, I believe, an exclusively American expression, coming from the one bit coin which was originally a Spanish coin worth one eighth of a Spanish dollar. (Think of Treasure Island: “Pieces of eight!”) Apparently, however, the phrase is still in use, at least as a derogatory term which, correctly spelled, would be, “two-bit” as in, “You’re a two-bit actor.” And I do take offense at that; I think I was worth at least four bits.
This is an open letter to Senator Chris Murphy (D. Conn.)
I am first going to reprint the exact press release about the Orlando shooting that came from Senator Murphy. It is still up on his website, for those of you who might believe I made it up. Mr. Murphy is certainly not the only progressive liberal, either in politics or in the media, to try and deflect the blame for an ISIS terrorist attack onto anything or anyone other than radical Islamic terrorism, but he is certainly the most disgustingly craven and egregious. This is his statement:
“I’m aching for the victims, their loved ones, and the people of Orlando, and I pray that all those injured have a quick and full recovery. I know the pain and sadness that has brought too many communities – Newtown, Oregon, Aurora, San Bernardino, and now Orlando – to their knees, and I can only hope that America’s leaders will do something to prevent another community from being added to the list. This phenomenon of near constant mass shootings happens only in America – nowhere else. Congress has become complicit in these murders by its total, unconscionable deafening silence. This doesn’t have to happen, but this epidemic will continue without end if Congress continues to sit on its hands and do nothing – again.”
Dear Senator Murphy,
Let’s take your statement (reprinted above) apart and look at both the explicit and implicit dishonesty here.
“I know the pain and sadness that has brought too many communities – Newtown, Oregon, Aurora, San Bernardino, and now Orlando – to their knees…”
I doubt very much, Mr. Murphy, that you have a goddamned clue of the “pain and sadness” actually felt by the families of the victims, because if you did, you wouldn’t be so disgustingly dishonest in your statement. Newtown, Oregon, and Aurora were the results of a failed mental health system where in each case the shooters were perfectly standard middleclass Americans with no political or ideological motivation, and for you to lump them together with a murderous bunch of barbarians who have declared war on America is criminally dishonest and disgustingly partisan. Barack Hussein Obama’s ideologically childish and simplistic progressive liberal view of unstoppable enlightenment, based on a Darwinian belief in inevitable progression from the primitive to his rarified level of enlightenment that would allow peaceful negotiations in place of boots on the ground, was an absurd and unrealistic piece of nonsense when it was first espoused by Woodrow Wilson, and the passage of a century has done nothing to make it more rational or believable. Tell me, Mr. Murphy, which of the following has demonstrated to you an enlightened progression toward Reason and Peace since Woodrow Wilson’s day:
The estimated 12-to15-million murdered under Adolph Hitler? The 7-plus-million exterminated by Stalin? The close to 70-million estimated to have been killed by all the Soviet regimes? The 5-million civilians killed under Hideki Tojo’s rule? The 50-70-million Chairman Mao either killed directly or allowed to starve to death? The 1.5-million Armenians killed by the Turks? Pol Pot’s 1.7-to 2-million? Kim Il Sung’s 1.6-million? The paltry 800,000 butchered by machete in Rwanda? Saddam Hussein’s modest 600,000? The many, many millions more exterminated by numerous less ambitious butchers I haven’t listed? Where there do you see proof of progress, of the progressive liberal theory of man and history’s inevitable march forward?
And to be clear, you despicable excuse for a man, not one of the communities you listed was brought to its knees, nor will America ever be. Americans live and die on their feet and the way the entire country has rallied around the LGBTQ community is proof of that.
To deliberately and deceptively ignore the fact that America is at war with radical Islam in all its manifestations, not just ISIS, is contemptible. Just because Barack Hussein Obama can’t bring himself to use the words “radical Islam,” or declare war on the people who have expressed, very clearly and repeatedly, their intention to wipe us and Israel off the face the earth, doesn’t mean we aren’t at war. Yet now you want to disarm law-abiding American citizens and cravenly deflect blame onto Congress for the actions of ISIS. Shame on you. And shame on the people of Connecticut for buying into your lies.
“The phenomenon of near constant mass shootings happens only in America—nowhere else.” Really? Your extraordinary perspicacity might come as something of a surprise to the victims of mass shootings by terrorists in Paris, Brussels, Israel, Peshawar, Norway, Bombay, Algeria, Kenya, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Thailand, Afghanistan, Guinea, Uzbekistan, Beslan, Northern Ireland, Syria, the Ukraine… Do you want me to go on? Do you want me to include bombings, which have killed far, far more people?
“Congress has become complicit in these murders…” You unconscionable little weasel. Congress has at least made an attempt to protect the God-given right of Americans to defend themselves which—given that we are at war with radical Islam, whether you and Obama can bring yourselves to admit it or not—is a damned good idea. I have far more faith in my armed fellow Americans than I do in those who hide behind armed security guards while telling me to trust in their failed leadership.
Sincerely, but not respectfully,