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A part of the uniform, or a sign of a sick society?

The World Series is special. That awesome Game 5, with the vast pendulum swings of lead changes. And Game 7, with starting pitchers thrown into relief roles as if there’s no tomorrow, which there isn’t. We even had one of the victorious Houston Astros ending his post-series television interview by asking his girlfriend to marry him.

And at the opening ceremony of the final game, we were presented with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem by four members of the Los Angeles Police Department. Except why were those officers wearing sidearms? And I tweeted out that question. Then, on with the game.

And this morning, I’m thinking I’m bothered by more than just the hypocrisy of armed police officers creating beautiful music. It’s a piece of a much-larger picture.

If I were in the position of needing a gun for self defense, I’m sure I’d be happy to have it. But few difficult questions have just one answer. There are usually 30,000 gun deaths in the United States each year. Very few of those victims were criminals shot while committing a home invasion. Most committed suicide, were killed in an accident or were murdered, either by a stranger or, more likely, someone they knew.

Thirty-thousand deaths is an epidemic.

Guns are not only tools for killing people, they are political tools. Politicians use fear to move forward their agendas. We have one such politician/carnival barker in the White House right now. We’re being encouraged to fear anyone who is not a white Christian American. Left unsaid: Trust only straight, rich men. That’s also a part of their equation. Everyone else is either a potential terrorist or someone who wants a free ride on your tax dollars. And the answer is point a gun at them, or build a wall.

It’s a fact that, in this country, most victims of terror attacks were killed by a socially disconnected white American male with a pile of automatic rifles on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel (58 dead), or who invaded a Connecticut elementary school (26 dead), or brought a gun to Bible study in a Charleston church (nine dead) or parked a truck rigged as a fertilizer bomb in front of an Oklahoma City federal building (168 dead).

Any threat, be it terrorism or the faulty maintenance of amusement-park rides, should be taken seriously. But fear is used to cloud perspective. One of seven Americans will die of heart disease. It’s the same numbers for cancer. Those numbers are of no concern to Congress or the president  as they work to disembowel the Affordable Care Act.

Nor do our leaders react to a list being compiled by The Washington Post, which says 813 citizens have been killed this year by police. Killedbypolice.net places the number at 994. The National Safety Council, The National Center For Health Statistics and the Cato Institute calculate that over your lifetime you have a one in 8,359 chance of dying in an incident involving a police officer. But those odds can go up, depending on circumstances. The most-frequent victims are white males armed with a gun or some other weapon. One in four people killed are mentally ill. Black males represent one-fourth of the people killed each year.

Of that average of 1,000 people killed each year in recent years by police, how many were unarmed? The Washington Post says it was about one in 10 in 2015. That percentage has dropped slightly each of the last two years. So we’re getting better? It depends on your reaction to one of those videos where it appears clear that a pissed-off cop executed an unarmed black man.

Numbers are easy to dismiss. Those same charts also reveal that over our lifetime, we have a one in 1,600,000 chance of dying from an asteroid hitting the Earth. I’ve never even heard of anyone being killed by a space rock. That number is simply an actuarial calculation based on the knowledge that humongous meteors are out there and the planet has been struck in the past. And if one the size that wiped out the dinosaurs hits us again, civilization is done.

Unlike meteor strikes, we see terrorist attacks frequently. Yet the Cato Institute calculates your chance of dying at the hands of a foreign-born terrorist as one in 3.6 million, and that includes the 3,000 people who died in 9/11.

So a story’s not told simply in numbers. In the just-completed World Series, was the excellence of the games, and the home-run record, a matter of great hitting or lousy pitching? It’s your perspective. We cheer when Air Force fighter jets fly low over a sports stadium. If you’re a shepherd in Afghanistan and you see a low-flying jet, you run. At a football game, people stand for the National Anthem. But when athletes kneel in protest of police violence against black people, outrage follows. Both are political messages. But one is allowed, one frowned upon.

One respondent to my pre-game tweet about the LA police quartet insisted guns are “part of the uniform.”

No, comfortable trousers are a part of the uniform. Guns are a whole other, and very ill-fitting, accessory in civil society.

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The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: June 3

Rain: It’s a deluge this morning. The dog refuses to go out. She’d better not crap by the door. The coffee is from the island of Java. First music of the day: Jimmy Smith’s jazz organ.

1, The National Rifle Association always remains quiet whenever a gun crime leads the day’s newscasts, and last week’s killings in Seattle were no exception. A guy who’d been ejected from a coffee shop for erratic behavior returned with a .45 automatic, shot two people dead, both klezmer musicians, then murdered three people in a carjacking before killing himself. Seattle has had 21 gun homicides in the first five months of 2012, equal to all of last year. “If you look back to the shootings we’ve had this year and the prior year,” says Mayor Mike McGinn, “you can see many of them are related to the belief that it’s OK to carry a gun somewhere to solve a dispute.”

2, A debate simmers over the September 11 Memorial Museum, taking shape at the site of Ground Zero. “Everyone agrees that it is the museum’s job to tell the truth,” The Times writes. “The question, though, is how much truth. The museum has more than 4,000 artifacts, from a wedding band to a 15-ton composite of several floors that collapsed into a stack, like pancakes, and then fused together. There are photographs of men and women jumping out of the windows, burned and mutilated bodies, scattered and blood-soaked limbs, images so awful they tested the bounds of taste and appropriateness.” Also, the cockpit recorder from Flight 93, the jet that crashed into a Pennsylvania field, which “captured the hijackers’ last words and a flight attendant begging for her life.” As a museum exec says, “We have to transmit the truth without being absolutely crushed by it.” And, the museum’s initial plan to display photos of the 19 hijackers has been questioned. But as the site’s chief executive says, “You don’t create a museum about the Holocaust and not say it was the Nazis who did it.”

3, “What explains the ongoing literary bloodbath?” asks Jill LePore, musing in The Sunday Review over all of the vampire films and literature of the day. Evidently, there’s yet another film on the way, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. LePore explains it as “basically, Buffy in a stovepipe hat.” The film is based on a book by Seth Grahame-Smith, whose first book, LePore notes, was The Big Book of Porn. He followed up with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. So it looks like this genre is a fusion of sex and refusing to let a good thing die a dignified death. LePore notes that the average age when Lincoln was president was 16, and life expectancy was under 40. Now, you have a fine chance of living past 80. “Dread of death, not love of sex, is why the dead keep rising,” LePore concludes.

4, Twenty-thousand species are considered a high risk for extinction. If that story unfolds, it would be a mass extinction rivaled only five times in the planet’s fossil record (Intelligent Design proponents may stop reading here). The last time was 65 million years ago, with the demise of the dinosaurs. Does it matter if we lose a frog here and there? “It is often forgotten,” writes scientist Richard Pearson, “how dependent we are on other species. Ecosystems of multiple species that interact with one another and their physical environments are essential for human societies. These systems provide food, fresh water and the raw materials for construction and fuel; they regulate climate and air quality; buffer against natural hazards like floods and storms; maintain soil fertility; and pollinate crops. The genetic diversity of the planet’s myriad different life forms provides he raw ingredients for new medicines and new commercial crops and livestock, including those that are better suited to conditions under a changed climate.”

5, From the Department of I Take It All Back: Gary Taubes, who has researched the question for decades writes, “the evidence published from studies published over the past two years actually suggests that restricting how much salt we eat can increase our likelihood of dying early.”

6, Two psychologists – one from the University of Washington, one from Cornell – have determined that “Gaydar,” the ability to detect whether a person is gay, “is indeed real and that its accuracy is driven by sensitivity to individual facial features as well as the spatial relationships among facial features.”

7, In the Travel section, “Wi-Fi and Amtrak: Missed Connections” headlines a whiny story with rail passengers complaining about poor Internet connections on the train. They don’t know what to do with themselves! Should they, like, talk to each other?  “It’s a mandatory break from work, since I can’t connect,” concedes one passenger. “Maybe they are doing me a favor.”

8, Oh, no! It’s The Summer Reading edition of The Book Review! I don’t have time for this. I’ll set it aside and read, at my leisure, reviews of books on the New York Yankees, the making of Animal House and a comic book called Best of Enemies: A History of U.S.and Middle East Relations, Part One: 1783-1953. But I’ll peak at a review of two new books on Dylan and Springsteen, musicians who, reviewer Robin Finn writes, “outwitted the hype.” Finn points to a description drawn from Who is that Man? In Search of the Real Bob Dylan, in which author David Dolan describes Dylan as “some great galleon encrusted with barnacles, seaweed, old shoes, tin cans, condoms,” before conceding “the authentic American genius is a synthetic personality. They’re all hybrids, hence, inevitably charlatans.”

The Critical Mass

Dad’s ‘Piece on Earth’ looks like a semi-automatic

If there's a War on Christmas, this North Carolina clan is ready.

If there's a War on Christmas, this North Carolina clan is ready.

This awesome family Christmas portrait arrives courtesy of my friend Claire, a magnet for other people’s self-oblivious moments (she also collects bad art). We’ll keep this family’s name secret – there is no reason to embarrass them – but I can confirm that this is from a real Christmas card, as it came to Claire from a friend of hers who said he grew up with these folks in the Bible Belt of North Carolina. The card arrived with the sentiment “praying for peace, but prepared til it comes.”

I look at a photo like this and I wonder: What are these people preparing for? Who do they fear is coming to take away their chosen way of life? Gay people? Black people? Muslims? Planned Parenthood? Their neighbors? National Public Radio?

The government? It seems as though so many of these backwoods family militias harbor a fantasy that they’ll be called upon to defend their loved ones from some Obama-directed assault on their homeland. Unfortunately for these folks, grandma’s personal-sized handgun won’t be of much use when the North Carolina Army National Guard drives an M1 Abrams tank through the front door.

Here’s something else that these brave Christian defenders of the frontier may want to consider. Add up all of the Americans who have died at the business end of a gun in America since 1968 – start with Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, then a teenager who comitted suicide, then a kid who accidentally shot a playmate because they found daddy’s gun in the closet – and you’re over 1,000,000. More than one million Americans killed by guns since 1968. That’s more Americans than were killed in World War II. More Americans have been killed by terrorists during this country’s entire history.

That’s an epidemic. But it looks like they’re ready for it  in North Carolina.

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