21 December 2012

One Million Moms

The NRA wants you to think that gun control means you can't have a gun in your house.  But apparently, the NRA also wants you to be free to keep a rocket launcher and a cache of AK-47s in your house.

Sorry, America, the right to bear guns can exist without being an absolute right to as much firepower as anyone wants.  I'm completely tired of the NRA controlling the conversation.

Hunters don't want to think that their right to hunt is going to be threatened.  But state Fish and Game departments already control hunting rights.  Hunting is permitted only during certain times of the year, and hunters are limited in the number of animals they're allowed to kill.

In Pennsylvania, four more people were killed today, and three police officers injured while the head of the NRA was calling for schoolteachers to be armed and saying we need to regulate movies, not guns.

(I'll admit I think he has a point about the movies.  The Offspring and I have seen numerous advertisements for a TV show about a serial killer.  On the side of the NYC bus.  But movie and video game violence need to be curbed alongside -- not instead of -- limiting the availability of guns.)

In Pennsylvania, you have to have a hunting license if you want to go out and kill animals.  You can bring home one deer, two turkeys, and one bear each year.  If you want to get yourself another deer, you can get another license -- to hunt with bow and arrow instead of a gun.  The list of days when you're allowed to go out and shoot things is complex, but limited; it's here if you really want to know.

One Million Moms for Gun Control, on the other hand, wants you to be free of the threat of gun violence. Following the lead of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which a generation ago finally got lawmakers to get serious about cracking down on drunk driving, One Million Moms is building a nationwide grassroots movement to oppose the gun lobby.

And guess who pays the NRA organizers's salaries?  The people who manufacture and sell guns.  It's not your right to bear guns they particularly care to protect -- it's their right to keep selling guns, even though this country already has more guns than people.

Join One Million Moms, even if you're a dad.  Let's put real pressure on lawmakers for real change.

16 December 2012

What If?

What if a woman, 20 years old, had shot her father and six other men, and twenty children, with dozens of rounds of ammunition?

Would that change the rhetoric around gun control?

Gloria Steinem pointed out a long time ago that the unnoticed and unmentioned feature of these mass killings is that the shooters are always male.

Women are constructed by significant segments of our society as weak.  Women are subject to male gaze, male desire, male appropriation, male violence.  What if a middle-aged woman -- a mother, maybe, a wife, a daughter, an employee -- opened fire?

If guns were associated with out-of-control estrogen instead of out-of-control testosterone, would lawmakers be scurrying to limit access?

If mentally ill women were inclined to violence, would that change access to and treatment of mental illness?

14 December 2012

Culture of Violence

When The Offspring was a baby, I swore there would be no toy guns in the house. Nine years later, somehow he owns several water guns and nerf guns.  I caved.

We have no television, we turned off the radio when he was a baby and never really turned it back on, and we're careful about violent movies.  Yet somewhere, T.O. has learned to cock his hands and make machine-gun noises.  All summer, the neighborhood kids played "Hunger Games."  Before school started, we finally let him read the book.

The news about the shooting doesn't seem to have filtered down to the younger kids. At pick-up from school, T.O. was holding a piece of graph paper, and said he wanted to go to Staples and get a whole pad of graph paper.

"Sure, what for?"

"I'm making a death maze."


"It's a really hard maze."

Then he said something I didn't catch (it's noisy among hundreds of kids who've just been freed for the weekend) about "ammo."

His imaginative world is full of weapons and violence.  It's a big feature of the books he reads -- Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl.  He's growing up in a culture where violence is constantly represented as exciting, honorable, and fun.

And that culture has been around us for millennia.  Last year, I read him The Odyssey, with all its depictions of death and destruction.  I lingered a bit over the scene where Odysseus scolds Eurycleia for her joyous reaction to the death of the suitors.  In Fagles' translation, Odysseus says: "No cries of triumph now. It's unholy to glory over the bodies of the dead" (XXII. 436-7).  Yet this is one line in a long narrative in which Odysseus' survival depends on death upon death upon death.

The anti-war hippy tunes that form our family soundtrack are lost in the winds of this culture.  Anything I've said about peace, pacifism, the wounds of war -- it's drowned in a cultural message that makes violence so much more engaging.

I don't really know, aside from moving to a remote island, how to insulate T.O. from that culture.  I can only hope that he will never find himself at the wrong end of a gun, and that at some point he'll turn aside from killing games and find other ways to express his energy and creativity.

And maybe, in my wildest dreams, he will use that energy and creativity to help to change the culture.

04 December 2012

Aftermaths and Catastrophes

Corlears Hook Park, next to our building, used to have whole rows of stately old trees, 80 or 90 years old.  When we first moved to the neighborhood, I kept taking pictures: it seemed the trees demanded it.
Many of those trees are gone now.  Three came down in Hurricane Irene and another nine in Hurricane Sandy, and the park has a completely different feel now: more open, brighter, yet without the majesty of the tall trees.

Corlears Hook park was damaged by the winds of Sandy.  Across the FDR Drive, the East River Park flooded.  A month later, there are still piles of rubble, flotsam and jetsam, tree limbs, and garbage: there just isn't enough people power to get everything cleaned up.  The dog run is in shambles.

These are local reminders that a month later, people in the region are still homeless, still suffering in various ways from the storm's destruction.  And I keep thinking of people and places elsewhere in the world: the tsunami in Japan, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the earthquake in Haiti.  Civilians, many of them children, in places riven by war, drought, famine.

My internal landscape was shaken by the hurricane, and I'm left more aware of the people around the world who suffer from ecological and political catastrophes.  At worst, I'm paralyzed: there's too much suffering, and I can do too little.

Yet I'm fortunate that my institution has given me space to develop two courses on the environment, and in those courses, I can help bring students to awareness of climate change and the resulting problems.  It seems too little, a tiny ripple in an immense pond, yet it's what I can do.

And so I need to push away the feeling that the world's problems are too big, and my capacities too small, and keep doing what I can do, and hope that those around me will also be inspired to action, and the ripple effects will build.