Those Pesky Gun Laws

J.W.

Just One Girl ♥

“What? Gun control?! The government is coming for my guns- what about my second amendment rights?” I’m sure you’ve heard someone, somewhere say these kinds of things. Am I right? Of course I am. Whether it’s your uncle Al the proud gun owner, your own parents, or the media, you’ve most likely heard these things. The problem is knowing how true those statements are and what these statements are taking away from the truth.

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Obama vs. The Senate

this article comes courtesy of the Associated Press:

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WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Senate prepares to begin debating new gun control measures, some of President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats are poised to frustrate his efforts to enact the most sweeping limits on weapons in decades.

These Democrats from largely rural states with strong gun cultures view Obama’s proposals warily and have not committed to supporting them. The lawmakers’ concerns could stand in the way of strong legislation before a single Republican gets a chance to vote “no.”

“There’s a core group of Democratic senators, most but not all from the West, who represent states with a higher-than-average rate of gun ownership but an equally strong desire to feel their kids are safe,” said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “They’re having hard but good conversations with people back home to identify the middle-ground solutions that respect the Second Amendment but make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on guns.”

All eyes are on these dozen or so Democrats, some of whom face re-election in 2014. That includes Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

The Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings Wednesday.

Interest groups, lobbyists, lawmakers, crime victims and others with a stake in the outcome will be watching these senators closely for signals about what measures they might support. The answers will say a lot about what, if anything, Congress can pass in the wake of the shootings of 20 school and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last month.

At issue are Obama’s proposals to ban assault weapons, limit ammunition magazines, crack down on trafficking and require universal background checks. Leading the charge against those ideas is the National Rifle Association. The group wields enormous power to rally public sentiment and is a particular threat to Democrats in pro-gun states who face re-election.

The political concerns of Democrats create problems for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has his own history with the NRA.

The powerful gun lobby endorsed him in previous elections, but stayed neutral in his most recent race, in 2010. Even before Obama announced the gun proposals this month, Reid told a Nevada PBS station that an assault weapons ban would have a hard time getting through Congress. That comment irked Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., author of such a ban.

“Clearly it wasn’t helpful,” she said this past week in reintroducing her measure. But Feinstein’s original assault weapons ban was a stern political lesson for Reid and other Democrats. Its passage as part of President Bill Clinton’s crime bill in 1994 was blamed for Democratic election losses that year after the NRA campaigned against lawmakers who supported the legislation. When the assault weapons ban came up for renewal in 2004, Congress, under pressure from the NRA, refused to extend it.

Reid has pledged action on gun measures. “This is an issue we’re not going to run from,” he said. But he’s under pressure from all sides.

Some major pieces of legislation are shepherded by the Senate leadership to the Senate floor. But Reid is promising that the gun bills will go through the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman is Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a gun owner and Second Amendment supporter.

Reid also is promising an open amendment process, potentially a lengthy endeavor. Those signals have some gun control activists concerned that the process will go so slowly that it will grind to a halt without action. Some question whether that’s just the outcome desired by some moderate Democrats.

“I’m concerned just because Harry Reid has a mixed record on these things and we want him to be a champion,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

On the other side, the NRA, known for rewarding friends and punishing enemies, promises it will be closely watching Reid, too.

“He’s going to be torn and a lot of people are going to be torn, particularly Democrats, but I think as the debate goes on he’ll do more good than bad from our perspective,” said David Keene, NRA president. “All this stuff has been debated before and once you get into a debate and a discussion and say will this do anything to protect children, to prevent another Newtown, I think the answer is going to come out `no.'”

Baucus, Begich, Pryor and others have been cautious in their comments on Obama’s gun proposals.

Baucus called for “a thoughtful debate.” Begich told his home state Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that passage of any element of the package was “a long haul. … There are some of us who just fundamentally believe in a Second Amendment right.” Pryor has told Arkansas media that efforts on gun safety should start with enforcing existing laws.

Another Democrat closely watching the issue is Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, known for a 2010 campaign ad where he fired a rifle shot though a copy of Democratic-written climate change legislation. Manchin recently told a West Virginia radio station that he’s working on legislation to require background checks on most gun purchases. Details weren’t clear but that’s the area where advocates are most hopeful of finding a solution that could get through the Senate and possibly even the Republican-controlled House.

The NRA generally opposes legislation mandating universal background checks and disputes gun control groups’ claims that 40 percent of purchases happen without such checks. NRA officials question whether background checks could be done effectively in a way that makes a difference and doesn’t disrupt legitimate sales.

The NRA’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, is to testify Wednesday before Leahy’s committee.

Democrats, especially those from gun-rights states, will be weighing whether to side with the NRA or follow the president, or how best to split the difference.

“We’re a Second-Amendment state. I support the rights of sportsmen and target shooters and collectors to own firearms. It’s an important part of our culture and tradition,” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said in an interview. “But I just hear there’s such grave concern given the experiences we’ve had with Aurora, Columbine … people all over Colorado want to prevent these massacres.”

Jackson Williams.

Of Course I’m Afraid of Nuclear Fallout

J.W.

Nonsense Party

I’ve been having weird dreams lately. And sleeping kinda restlessly. Sleep is literally my favorite thing to do, so it makes me a little bit cranky when it doesn’t work out quite the way I want it to. A lot of things make me cranky, though. Like:

  • Bathrooms that don’t have toilet seat covers
  • When you think you have another mango in the fridge, but discover you don’t
  • (Related) Starting a recipe and discovering half way through that you’re missing a key ingredient
  • People that don’t signal
  • Anything sticky

I could go on for some time in this fashion, because I’m essentially an 84-year-old woman in a 33-year-old’s body. I’m fine with that.

Aaaanyway…so yes, I’ve been having cranky-making sleep as of late. And the weird dreams always linger in the morning, so I spend the first couple hours of the day trying to get over the yelling match I…

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Teaching With Tentacles

J.W.

streetsofsalem

I’m back at school for the Spring semester with the typical four-course teaching load, including a modern world history course that I have not taught for some time. So it is time to refresh my arsenal of Powerpoint presentations and maps. An interesting map can quickly catch a college student’s attention as easily as it does a blog reader, and after perusing my various digital collections a bit, I realized that I might be able to teach world history almost exclusively through octopus maps! Or at least nineteenth- and twentieth-century history: the creature does not seem to have been used as a metaphorical device before 1870. I searched in vain for a map or caricature depicting Napoleon as an octopus but could not find one, which is incredulous:  few rulers deserve an octopus map to represent their regimes more than the little Corsican!  There’s nothing too terribly original about…

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Until the Casket Drops (Two Years)

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I have not lived. — HENRY DAVID THOREAU

this is a typewriter

Although it was difficult for me to pull off, tonight I am writing to you without snark or pretense, my two greatest weapons as a writer; and, for the short time that I am able to pull off this lucid sincerity, I wish to speak a bit about what it is like to lose a friend too young, especially when those friends, by all accounts, are superior to you in every way — in life, in spirit, in ambition, in grace, and in love. This is not a matter of my low (and mostly self-deprecating) opinion of myself. It is instead how I feel about Collin and Ellis, two friends I lost in a car crash exactly two years ago today, and the effect they had on me not only in life but in death, far after the casket has dropped on the world they made better when they were alive, and far after the casket has dropped on the world that in death they have made feel strange and empty, like a song missing its strongest, captivating notes.

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news: it was late in the evening and my then-girlfriend was over, nagging at me to get ready to go to the movies. We were going to be late to Black Swan, which to me didn’t seem like much of a tragedy anyways, and somehow she never got the message that the Bijou was never crowded, even on weekends — especially cold, depressing weekends in January where no one in their right minds wants to go outside, let alone go see Black Swan at an art-house cinema. It smells like a funeral home in there, which makes total sense since it happened to be a funeral home at one time point, way, way back in the foggy, marijuana-glazed past of Eugene. She was as amped up and naggy as ever because of me, her flaky boyfriend, and I was as low as could be from painkillers to kill the dull and yet somehow roaring pain of a few jagged stones running through and cutting up my kidneys, and in those few moments, unaware that in a minute or so tragedy would strike, it felt as if the world was slowly becoming trapped in a dark amber. By all accounts, this evening was going to be hell.

And then, like prophecy, my ringtone began to go off — “A Beautiful Mine,” the theme song from Mad Men, the same ringtone I still have two years later — and when I looked down at my phone it was my buddy Ethan, who rarely calls (this being before he moved to Vancouver). I call this is a red flag if there ever was one. I answered, and before I even spoke a word I knew something was wrong. Have you ever answered the phone and before any words have been spoken you can tell the person on the other end of the line has been crying profusely, you can just feel the tears over the phone like a strong mist that doesn’t show itself until you’ve stepped right in to the middle of it.

“Ethan? Dude? What’s the matter?”

I asked him this, scared out of my wits. You can always tell when tragedy has struck, as if people don’t realize how easy it is for someone to notice that you are in pain. We’re all just wounded animals making our way across the Savannah.

“They’re dead, dude. They’re dead.”

“What the fuck are you trying to say?”

“DEAD. Collin and Ellis. There’s been an accident.”

“If you’re lying to me, Ethan…if this is some kind of sick joke, I’m going to fucking kill you,” I yell at him over the phone, the shock of what I’ve just heard now rapidly turning in to tears calmly streaming down my face. As you could imagine, my then-girlfriend was looking at me like I had antlers suddenly sprouting out of the top of my head.

What I learned, as much as it pains me to write, the replay of the event in my head that drives me to a solemn silence whenever I picture it: early that morning, on their way south to go snowboarding at Mt. Bachelor, Collin, Ellis, and my other buddy Nick, who admittedly I did not know as well as Collin and Ellis, the late-80’s BMW that they were in had hit a patch of ice and after spinning they rolled down an embankment in to a small patch of woods, the car slamming in to and wrapping itself around a tree on the passenger side, which was the side that Collin and Ellis happened to be on. Nick was driving the car that awful morning and escaped with a broken leg and some lacerations to the face, the poor man somehow managing to crawl away from the wreckage just before the car caught fire.

If I can believe soothing words, which I always choose to do as a rule, my friends died immediately upon impact with that tree, instantaneously peaceful in death, forever-youthful in their steel cocoon, already in the presence of a place called Heaven before the fire began on the side of that snow-covered highway. Sometimes at night, when I dream in my warm bed, I can see that highway, that horrible place where the casket dropped forever and ever amen, and though sometimes in those dreams I see the fire that swallowed the car whole, my friends are never in pain. Not one of those dreams has ever been filled with pain. They stand by peacefully, smiling and watchful, like I always knew them to be, and I do not feel sad. Not even the loss of those wonderful spirits can shake my feeling that they are sleeping peacefully. I feel the turning wheels of the universe bringing us all in and spitting us all back out, treating us all one and the same and without prejudice. What’s the point of making people hurt when we all die equally anyways?

…although it was difficult for me to pull off, tonight I am writing to you without snark or pretense, my two greatest weapons as a writer; and, for the short time that I am able to pull off this lucid sincerity, I wish to speak a bit about what it is like to lose a friend too young, especially when those friends, by all accounts, are superior to you in every way — in life, in spirit, in ambition, in grace, and in love…

At twenty-three years old I have already been to seven funerals in my life. This is the first time I’ve ever really noticed just how many that is at such a relatively young age. Seven times I have stood under some solitary tree remembering the dead, seven times I have walked a walked through a cemetery lane alongside the dead, and seven times I have listened to words spoken by a preacher under unmistakable silence, the dead inhabiting that silence just as much as our own hushed voices do. These seven trips to the land of the dead have taught me nothing about what it means to be alive, as much as I ask for wisdom out of their ethereal silence. From the first to the last, all I’ve understood is that what separates me from them is not much more than fleeting air in the lungs and little electrical explosions in the brain, somehow giving me consciousness. Or, those seven occasions were trying to teach me something this whole time and maybe I just wasn’t listening.

I believe that part of the problem is that I see no point in learning from something only because it has disappeared — why wait for knowledge that way when you can just as easily learn a lot from those who are living, and not just come to cherish their words when they have passed on from this world to the next? Does Death, that cold bastard, suddenly make normal words become words of infinite love with one sweep of his black robe? Does death make a saint out of all of us in the end? Does everything become mysteriously, I don’t know…illuminated, in the end? Is that how love and wisdom are brought to the world?

I think not.

I believe deep down that the goodness in people can be seen well before they are taken from us, unfairly and far, far too young. Angels, like their mortal counterparts, can never keep themselves and their angelic nature a secret because, like we mortals, their goodness shines through all attempts to be secretly wonderful. It is like some holy white light that you try to cover up, but good luck — you’re just too wonderful for us not to notice. And, when that light is suddenly extinguished without warning, we feel that part of ourselves has been doused with water too. The winds calm down, the smoke becomes nacreous, and that wonderful white light that filled us with joy is nowhere to be found. Rest in peace, little light.

But, my dear friends and readers, do not worry yourselves, for that light will never go out. For a moment it appears extinguished and then, in a flash that can’t help but gift you with tears of joy, it reignites, sometimes brighter than ever. Anyone who tells you differently is absolutely full of shit. When those we find wonderful and special are taken from us, that light is left there in their place. It was there when you knew them, and it stays after they are gone. Collin had wanted to be a neurosurgeon and do good for people, to make them neurally whole again. Ellis was studying eastern medicine in hopes of trying to better the lives of others. I look back on my two dear friends and I know that the world has lost two good men too early. I know that if they had lived just a few more years they would have found a way to better the world, both on a micro and macro level. They, out of all of us lowly and scared spirits, were the ones who were truly going to make a difference. The world was going to have a future with them being alive, this I am sure of, and though they are gone the world still beats on like an engine; it will keep on turning, regardless of much I want to the world to stop and let me just mourn for two of my best friends, now lost.

Summer of 2009: me and a few friends, Collin and Ellis among them, watch the fireworks after a baseball game at Civic Stadium (which would be closed down by the end of summer). The feelings I have about this memory almost seem cliche now when I look back. You know the old song-and-memory dance: the future is bright ahead of us, our youthful faces lit up by flashes of red, green, blue, phosphorous white; beers are in our hands, we cheer the explosions over the old baseball stadium; we will live for today and not for tomorrow, since it won’t be here, so you might as well drink that Coors and finish off that freshly-rolled joint in the parking lot. We were just kids in college, we had no idea that tragedy could find us just like everybody else. I wasn’t as close to them then as I would eventually become, but love and friendship always have to have a beginning, if they even begin and end at all!

I miss them dearly, forever and ever. I love you, Collin and Ellis, and I will always miss you.

Sincerely,

Jackson Williams.

My Friend Dramane is Volunteering for the War

Great, great read. Outstanding piece of writing. — J.W.

The View Abroad

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This is a story about a man named Dramane – a story that has a beginning but no end – at least I don’t know how it is going to end…so let’s start at the beginning.

Dramane was my first friend that I made after my family arrived in Spain. In the second week of September the sun still screams at anyone who dares venture outside in Zaragoza, but the calendar calls all the kids to school anyway, so I took my daughter’s hand and walked her through the park and into the schoolyard of what would be her first real school.  I forced a big smile and said encouraging things, but my daughter just stared back at me with a look of “But dad, you never taught me any Spanish” on her face.  I gave her a hug, and took a big breath and swallowed hard as she walked…

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