Sunday, July 29, 2012

It Ain't Me Babe / Big Girl Now

I've been doing new videos of some of the tunes I've posted to YouTube, hoping for recordings where the guitar is less distorted. My voice may seem a little distant here, but I think it's still better than the first posting.

Some reason, I think these two songs go together. They seems to tell a story, though they were written about ten years apart: "It Ain't Me Babe" appeared on Another Side of Bob Dylan, released in 1964; "You're A Big Girl Now" appeared on Blood on the Tracks, releaed in 1975.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Gun Control: Another View

This comes from Brother Dave:

Jac —
While I have a different view regarding particulars, in general I agree. Having said that, I am not sure the problem of US citizens killing each other, all at once or one by one, would be reduced as much as many would hope should either of our prescriptions be adopted...

There is, I firmly think, such a thing as “national traits” or a “national character.” Those things are, in my view, simply extensions of that which defines a society; its traits and shared beliefs. As such, this country has certain very deeply entrenched, very dysfunctional national traits. Our national immersion in violence has fed on itself for many generations and it does not seem to me that those traits can be up-rooted by more rational training and qualification requirements for firearm ownership (obviously, it would seem, they have effectively mitigated against such requirements be adopted). Such measures would most likely greatly reduce accidental homicide with firearms – a non-trivial accomplishment, to be sure.

It seems to me all but certain that we will not be able to test my assertion as the chance that this event, any more than all the other headline-grabbing, sensationalized similar events in the very recent or even more distant past, will lead to any meaningful and rational changes in firearms ownership requirements.

I responded:

America may not have invented the gun, but we certainly have perfected it and use it more (per capita) than any other developed nation. You may be right about extreme violence, particularly of the gun, being a part of our national identity.

I read an editorial this morning which essentially argued that these violent events can be traced to our greater immersion in our screens (which separates us from our fellow humans), and "shooter games" in particular. As you probably know, some studies demonstrate that our mind makes no distinction between killing a virtual person and an actual person, with the result that we become as desensitized to killing humans as a recruit fresh from boot camp.

Does Pop Culture Inspire Murder? by Owen Glieberman

Brother Dave's response:
While I doubt the assertion that our minds do not make such a distinction, I am persuaded that interactive video games, most importantly that class referred to as “first shooter” games, do play a role in desensitizing the individual to acts of violence as the “victims” return to “life” with the next playing of the game. The game also can instill a reflexive “pulling of the trigger.” I was much influenced in my views on this particular matter by the academic work of a retired US Army Lt. Colonel named David Grossman. He published his academic work in a popularly-accessible book titled On Killing. His research centered on his discovery that, prior to the American War in Viet Nam, the rate at which combat troops actually took part in killing had been quite low. He began to inquiry with WW I where he found rates as low as 5-10%. The “non-killers” might not fire their weapons at all or might fain taking part by firing in the air or the general direction of the enemy. He then traced the incremental change through WW II, the Korea to Viet Nam by which time the rate of participation had increased to 85%. His analysis turned to the training methods employed across those decades and he found the increase in killing participation rates tracked very closely to the increasing use of operant conditioning techniques in military training. The final chapter of the book turns to the role of certain of the techniques used in that training in entertainment, with special concern for the the violent video game. One of his more compelling observations was that while in a military context those trained to kill (over coming the strong, deeply instilled taboo) were under “adult” supervision and that violence directed toward approved targets (no commentary on the morality of that target selection), no such supervision was available for those young folks, many of exactly the same age as the military recruit.

I am going to append the comments of a man I know in Austin, Alan Pogue.... whom I respect tremendously. Alan has been a professional photographer, living in Austin, since his return from Viet Nam where he served as a field medic. Like me, almost as soon as he got back home he signed on with VVAW. Unlike me, ever since he has committed his time, his energies and his considerable talent as a photographer in the fight for social and economic justice and against wars of aggression. He has produced a body of artistic documentation of the lives and trials of others around the world engaged in such struggles to survive, rather than as a matter of moral conviction. With that context, Alan's thoughts on the latest mass shooting:

The shooter picked the best media moment to commit his crime insuring the maximum media coverage. He could simply have placed bombs in the theater and escaped undetected. He wanted public recognition. He picked the most public media moment. He allowed himself to be arrested. He placed himself at the vortex of violence idolatry and he called his shot at public recognition with precision. Our violent culture gave him the recognition he wanted. Our President has a kill list. Romney will have an even more refined eugenics plan. Why should a freelancer pass up his chance at fame? If he were only a Blackwater mercenary nobody would know his name. Now he has a shot at joining Charles Manson ad a household word. All because we worship violence.

Drones kill people every day. If our outrage was real we would be calling for an end to drone murder....

He could have planted a bomb and walked away, never gotten caught, but he didn't want that. He carefully chose the best media moment and dressed for the part, still has his Joker orange hair for court appearances. He stepped into America's love affair with violence and obtained the recognition he craved. The AR15 is far from the crucial element. It jammed anyway. The 12 gauge shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot is the better close quarters weapon and it will never be banned. He was a Ph.D. student in neuroscience. He could have used nerve gas. The whole point for him was to be caught and achieve fame. Now the media is his servant as is the whole culture. When there is a call for a ban on drones let me know. Our president has a "kill list" in his pocket. Where is the outrage? I'm sure Mitt Romney has a eugenics plan for us. The guy in Aurora was channeling the moral tone of the country. Blackwater/Ze/Academi kills more people every day but not in middle class white neighborhoods. Nathan Van Wilkins shot 17 people in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on July 18th. Did anyone notice? Since he didn't manage to kill anyone, used an unexciting weapon (the AP story did not bother to mention the type or brand), and it was at a bar and not opening night for a Batman movie the media didn't care. Not a good production and no body count.

Meanwhile back in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia the Predators drone on. Will Obama and Romney call a halt to them? They are saner than the man in Aurora, right?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gun Control

Here's my 2¢ on gun control: there should be an exam for gun ownership. We have exams and driver's tests to legally drive cars. And god knows, we love our cars almost as much as we love our guns. And one gun can kill a lot more people than the average car can.

A gun is an elegant machine made for one purpose: to kill. It is a machine that demands at least as much respect as a car.

Ideally, the exams would demonstrate a knowledge of gun care, and proficiency in their use; a psychological exam seems warranted, as well.

It's human to want to blame; it's related to our desire to prevent future tragedies. We want to blame the NRA. We want to blame violence in media. Some will blame it on our nation's loss of “Christian Values” (as defined by one Republican Senator & the Westboro Baptist Church). Some will say tragedies such as the one in Aurora, CO, is the price the nation pays to maintain the freedom to bear arms.

I believe the NRA's excessive influence, and radical position on gun ownership plays a part in gun-related tragedies. At one time, the NRA had the reputation as an organization that promoted responsible gun ownership. It now has the reputation as an organization that refuses to consider any restriction on gun ownership.

The most troubling element of this latest tragedy is the fact that all the weapons and ammo were bought legally.

I know my proposal will not end gun-related violence. I know dedicated people will still find ways to buy guns outside the legal system. I only hope we can reduce the incidence of gun-related violence by raising the bar to ownership a bit higher.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Poetry on the Radio

You may recall I told the story of how I sent a poem to The Story a month ago.  It seemed appropriate; a story had aired about a Chinese poet, Liu Xiaobo, and his translator, Jeffery Yang, which had really touched me.  I wrote about it here.

My poem has now broadcast nationally; it appears in the last five minutes of the program (the play button follows the text). I'm very honored, and quite thrilled, that they aired my poem.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Soar on the Wind, Part Two

If my words be true, they would swirl off the page and surround you. If my words be true, they would catch you up like a feather on the storm. If my words be true they would open the sky to reveal the stars dancing across the great dome; they would bring the clouds, and invoke the storm.

My words are only hints. They are almost false; they are at best well-intentioned lies.

My words try to catch the wind, but the wind blows them away.

When the whirlwind speaks, it is not gentle. It confronts. It challenges. It does not distinguish between good and bad, dark and light.

My words are only hints, and bad hints at that. Do not ask me directions; I am most times lost myself. The wirlwind blew the map away.

If my words be true, if the wind could be conjured within this rectangular confine, the letters would dance over the page. They would lose their meaning and change partners. The alpha and omega would do-se-do. The f & the s would do a grapevine step. The r & the y would bow to each other, and waltz.

When the whirlwind speaks, it requires no translation.

I can only make shadow puppets. Mere puppets, to be blown away by the wind.

How shall I catch the wind? It will not be caught. I may struggle with the wind; I may seek to harness it; or I may join it.

Breath in: I welcome the wind to my small walking home. Breath out: I join the wind in its travels.
Breath in: I invite the Spirit to renew me. Breath out: I release all that separates me from the divine.
Breath in: divine light breaks into the wounded places. Breath out: all fear departs.

This I pray in the name of the Eternal One: the Creator, the Companion, the Comforter.
So be it.