Thursday, May 27, 2010

Son of a Gun

Bang Bang Space Travelers. Keep honking, I'm reloading the rhetorical six-gun. Lock stock and and two smoking rhetorical barrels. Let's chit chat rata tat tat about guns.

I own two guns. I never asked for either. They were gifts. One was a rifle gifted to me by my grandfather. It has a small caliber, but a decent scope. The other is a 38 Chief special, a small 5-shot snub-nosed revolver. You might recall this gun from my Home on the Range vLog. I don't desire the liability of owning either gun so I've asked a family friend to store them in his gun safe. I'm not afraid of guns, I just don't want the responsibility.

I don't object to gun ownership. I don't think that if you own guns you're some nut-job either. That said, there are plenty of gun-nuts, and they aren't relegated to some obscure corner of society; they're everywhere. It's not simply enough to be able to own a firearm, but rather they believe that they should be able to own any number of guns and of any type.

There are two major arguments I hear in regards to the ownership of advanced weaponry. The first is self defense, the second is that it is a form of control to keep the government in check. I'd like to address both of these. I think however now is a good time to talk about some terms.

An assault rifle is defined by it's ability to have selective rate of fire, intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine.

An assault weapon is defined by having both a detachable magazine and a pistol grip, sometimes in conjunction with other features such as a folding stock or a flash suppressor.

There is often some overlap in these terms, but in general these terms refer to legal language as outlined by the laws of the United States. Specifically, the term assault weapon draws a great deal of controversy from gun advocates. They say that any weapon is an assault weapon if used to assault someone. Cute, but hardly the point. The Assault Weapon Ban written in 1994 was allowed to expire under President George W Bush. There has been a great deal of debate on what the effect of that has been. Other than debate, people have enjoyed frothing at the mouth.

The argument of self defense is certainly a justifiable one. I have no objection to a person purchasing and owning a gun for self protection. As an engineer however, I have something to say about what guns are designed to protect and what guns are designed specifically for purposes of attack. Engineering is more than the fabrication of a item. It is the specific tailoring of an item to a specific objective with defined parameters.

E.g. - In formula car racing, the aerodynamic package will be changed each race and tailored for specific tracks. Tracks with long straight lengths will lead a design group to minimize drag, while a track with many tight curves would lead a team to optimize down-force. Either way, asking what type of car is the best is a questoin only answered given a specific context.

Some firearms are certainly well engineered for self-protection. Their engineers clearly understand that the ability to operate a weapon properly and accurately is balanced with the ability to transport or store the weapon. Similarly, engineering a weapon for the purposes of attacking will have different concerns and therefore will drive different design elements. To pretend all firearms are equal or even designed to accomplish the same goals is foolish. I seriously doubt that the creators of the AK-47 or the M-16 market their weapon as anything but the ultimate in attack.

Certainly, a sword is nothing but a large knife, but to pretend it was designed to chop vegetables in your kitchen would be to ignore the sword's proper context. This is the problem. Some groups are arguing that they have the right to chop their vegetables however they like, and when challenged on that front they are hiding behind some strawman argument that they have a right to own knives!

Here's the formula: Take an extreme position. When confronted, hide behind a reasonable position. Then argue there is no difference between your position and the reasonable one. By doing this, the reasonable position is used as some sort of umbrella argument for all positions. Argumentum ad reductio. This is frustrating.

Many argue that assault weapons are simply classifications which are only cosmetic. I'm hard pressed to understand how a flash suppressor is a cosmetic change on a weapon. Flash suppressors have a very specific function, and it is not a defensive feature. It is a feature which tactically aides in concealing your position. If your position is concealed, who are you defending yourself from? What defense fantasy are you in where this is self defense?

The second major argument I hear is that the reason the constitution grants gun ownership is because citizen's reserve the right to defend themselves... from the government itself. This idea is that basically that the central or state government could become out of control and it would be the public's job to take control. No, I'm serious. I hear this one very frequently.

While it is only speculation whether or not we've ever needed such a protection from our own government, it's obvious when inspecting our history that if we ever did need it to fight a police state (Japanese internment camps, Hollywood blacklists, National guard opening fire on students...), we didn't use it. In spite of this, we do NOT have to speculate on the effect gun ownership has had on the household. Perhaps, the recent attempt by the Michigan Christian Hutaree Militia to kill police officers and start an uprising is what the founders meant. I hear plenty of dommsdaying about how Obama is a socialist, Marxist, communist, secret muslim, and eater of babies (Bobs ya uncle!). I hear plenty about the inevitable sky-is-falling end of our republic. So here is my question: Why aren't out proud gun owners storming the capital? Seems like they are the same people complaining about Obama and the creeping red menace. Isn't this exactly what the argument calls for? Aren't we supposed to be putting our government in check? I'm calling the bluff. The Hutarees are the embodiment of this belief, and we can see that this kind of illogic leads only to madness. I say for all the tough guy posturing of the gun lobby, they seem perfectly fine with this argument... as long as it's somebody else.

Plenty of ammo left here, and I know there are additional arguments. I see them however as being closely enough related to the two I choose that I did not feel they demanded direct addressing.

I believe that the 2nd amendment does grant the right to personal gun ownership. I however am not as dumb to think that it grants citizens a carte blanche access to any weaponry they desire. The citizens, state and central government have a real compelling interest in limiting access to this kind of weaponry. Finding the balance of individual and civil interests will not resolve to people owning more and more and more guns.

Americans should additionally know about how our gun laws and access affects the world outside of our borders. Recently in a speech to congress, the Mexican president requested of the USA to better regulate our access to guns. He explained to congress that when the Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, the cartels have become more armed, and they are using American purchased weapons. 80% of the weapons seized from the drug cartels are purchased in the USA. With the body count rising in Mexico, we are accessory to this violence. I defy anyone to explain to me how their desire to own an assault weapon is worth this. Gun apologists that say the cartels would get their weapons elsewhere, sure. However, they choose to get them from us, and it's because it's easier and cheaper. We're their favorite. We arm them, and we buy their drugs.

Dear Space Travelers, we live in a crazy and violent world. I only hope that people realize that no solution is to be found in embracing either madness or violence. I'll close with a story.

Yesterday I went to the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian with my mother. She has been an anthropologist her entire life. She knows a great deal about the native peoples, and as such was able to add quite an enlightening effect on the museum's displays. She told me the origin of the phrase "bury the hatchet." It involves the Iroquois Nation's foundation. There were six tribes in total that came together, but they did not wish to come together peacefully and there was much blood shed. Finally, they met in peace and formed their confederacy. Their confederacy helped protect them from the ever expanding colonial presence in North America (they were not forced West). It began with them meeting in peace. In that meeting, a great pit was dug. Into that pit, the weapons of the six tribes were placed. They covered the pit in soil and planted a tree on top. To this day, the symbol of the Iroquois Nation is that tree.

If you think you are in threat of your government abusing you, think about burying the hatchet. They do not regret their choice. If you think you prize your gun, imagine prizing a weapon you built with your own hands. They still put it into the earth.

We cannot let gun ownership be the practice of Mutually Assured Destruction on the individual level. Such is suicide.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chapter 32, Verse 1: The Ruins

A happy photo treat today Space Travelers! Om nom nom on these cool pics while I muse...

These are some select pictures from my trip to the Capitol Ruins in DC. Yes, the Capitol still stands, but if you (read: me) had not fallen asleep in history class so often you'd know that the Capitol was burnt down in the War of 1812. The rubble from the Capitol was moved to a hill in what is now Rock Creek Park. Deep in the park on an unassuming trail, you'll discover an odd site. Ornate pieces of limestone and marble covered in soft green moss and overgrown by plants.

It seemed like the perfect place for a photo date Space Travelers. It's this kind of thing which makes you fall in love with this city.

I've been going through a great deal of change lately. I feel like I'm in a very exciting and profound stage of
metamorphosis. It was nice to visit somewhere old and in ruin, and yet so beautiful. What ruins will remain of who I was?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Queer Beer"

A bit of a rant today Space Travelers. This has been bothering me as long as I've been aware of it (which is now about a decade): The bear trap.

When I was becoming curious about alcohol in my teenage years, and began experimenting I quickly discovered that some alcoholic drinks were enjoyable, and others tasted like piss. What I also picked up on (like the observant youth I was) is that men and women had different drinking expectations, and whoever the authority on this was remained hidden in the shadows.

Drinking was an experimental endeavor in high school. I understood drunkeness only to the capacity that you'd seen others act
abnormally. Even in the case where I might observe an individual sick or hung over, I had no ability to empathize. Wanting to feel what it was like to drink and be inebriated was far more alien than the more readily understandable media message about drinking: Holding a beer made you look cool, tough, and likable. As a awkward young man who was convinced he was alone in awkwardness, beer seemed like it made sense as a part of the formation of who I'd like to be.

One problem, I couldn't stand it. Beer sucked. Every time. I began looking for a new drink which could offer the exploration outside of sobriety and simultaneously offer me the social reward that I was pretending not to want. Casually. What I found instead was that the rejection of beer seemed to be in part a rejection of manhood. It was as if beer itself was a part of the
blueprint of the modern man. I didn't understand this right of passage.

The next step was trying to find a beer I liked, because the types of beer that I had access to at high school parties (the type of beer that is sold in
30 packs) was scoring pitifully with me (and still does). Once outside of the more commercial hemisphere of the beer landscape, I found it much more difficult to navigate what I was supposed to try and how to even start determining what I liked. In college, I did find a few beers I liked (I remain rather loyal to Delirium Tremens). Despite finding some tolerable candidates, and an exclusive list of beers I moved into the enjoyable column, I started to wonder if I had simply traded one beer trap for another? Had I taken the elitist bait?

Admittedly, the dilemma was significantly smaller at this point. I had made excellent friends with
wine, and had something of a friends with benefits relationship with a gin and tonic made with Hendricks Gin (two limes for me cause I'm fucking special). Still, I wanted to figure out where beer and I stood and if we were more than just frenemies with a common social circle. I began to wonder if there were other men like me who felt like me, that they were staying in this relationship because they didn't know how to get out. Things weren't terrible, but where was the spark?

To recap where I'm at now, let's watch some commercials.

When I was young, I understood that drinking was as much social as it was utilitarian.

As I experimented, I learned that men drink beer, and that it was cool. Damn cool.

Then I learned that not drinking beer, made you less a man. If you wanted to sip on a Zima (do they even make this stuff anymore?) or a Smirnof Ice, you're being made a cuckold by a beverage while you sip your "
queer beer." I believe "bitch beer" as was the popular phrase in the jock strap community (saints, all). It makes me wonder sometimes. How many gallons of the beer consumed in a given day is done in the name of not being a "pussy?" Hell, even drinking the wrong beer is a white flag these days.

I'm a little wiser now. Don't get me wrong here, I still struggle with beer-gender. Typically, it's more about when I'm not drinking beer. There's some sort of artifact thought in the back of my head "should I be drinking a beer instead?" The wiser part of me is the part that reminds me that what I'm experiencing is very
powerful and effective marketing. Rationally, we all know that beer has fuck nothing to do with a person's sexuality, yet it's so simple to get caught up in the meme of beer glory and heaven, owned and operated by the St Pauli's girl.

When I think about beer-media right now, I try to make it into something positive/constructive. As a feature on the gender landscape, I think my struggle with male self image as it relates with beer must in someway be a exercise in empathy for me. The intense media pressure to behave withing certain social norms and obtain degrees of material success is something that is not alien to women. Many women struggle with their
self image and how they square peg the the round hole of main stream media acceptance.

Dear Space Travelers, be conscious of the media you digest and how you digest it. This really isn't about beer. It's about the car we're supposed to have, the job we're supposed to have, and the endless chase after six pack abs. The first message of an ad is that you lack something. I'm here to say, you bought a DVR so you could skip the commercials, so do it. No DVR? You can find something to do for four minutes that won't insult your self worth.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

How Free?

Hello Space Travelers, you're staring at possibly the most terrible offences to Islam: An image of the Prophet Muhammad. I drew it. Me. I'll tell you why.

Recently, the creators of South Park aired an episode which featured (kind of) Muhammad. On screen, he was a stick man, and later a black box that read "censored." The point was simple: Your beliefs can't dictate my life and my speech, or rather that of Matt and Trey. The creators and various staff received death threats for this. Eventually Viacom (parent company of comedy Central) said they would pull the episode. This displeased a lot of people. It wasn't because the episode was particularly good either (it was par for the course if you ask me), but simply the principle that people had successfully leveraged violence to get their way.

I'm not really the type to provoke, and certainly as a I drew this, I was concerned about the Muslims that have nothing to do with this issue. Would drawing this make incense them and send the wrong message? Would it marginalize a group further that has been struggling to fit in? In the end, I decided to draw it and let it be what it will. I admit that I'm not well schooled in the dogma surrounding the rule about recreating the image of Muhammad. Perhaps in the end, what comments will come will serve to open up the dialog that is so terribly absent. Either way, I know that if this is truly an offense, it is not worth my life (or anyone's). I get offended daily. I'm not going to hurt someone. If this is serious enough that people are being threatened, the Muslim world is going to have to do some honest introspection on how they find harmony with the rest of the world outside of their customs. There is one question: Do you value free speech over being offended? I do, even if my blood boils as I listen to cruel bigots like Pat Robertson use it to demoralize the entire gay population or even the people of Haiti.

I've never been a USA USA USA rah rah rah type, so when I say that I value the freedom of free speech, it's not some flag waving crap. Our ability to express ourselves without the fear of the government, and without fear of violent reproach is the foundation of all free societies. On May 20th, many artists (both professional and amateur) will partake in the drawing of the Prophet Muhammad to stand in solidarity with those who have already been threatened with violence. While it inspires a warm feeling inside, I hope it also serves to remind us how fortunate we are to be one of the free societies in the world that we can do this. Plenty cannot claim the same.

I won't use the line that if we don't use our right's we lose them. That's a Tea Party rationale for bringing guns to a protest. Instead, I'll keep it simple, don't do this because it's "cool," or "controversial," it isn't a funny. I'd be just as worried about our freedom of speech if it became nothing more than a punchline, even if it started with a joke.

Closing thoughts from Thunderfoot:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

vLog Unspecial 05: Lullaby

Good evening Space Travelers all timeouts come to an end and when you've got something to say (or sing), you should do it. No sense in dying with your music still inside.

It's not the greatest recording, and the urge to erase and rerecord was very strong, but I'm okay with it not being perfect. Anyone can be impressive, and singing into a desktop mic on a webcam in my gym clothes: Not charming. I guess no matter how I was clothed, I'd still at some level feel naked. shaaring this kind of thing is very personal and intimate.

I feel like many things are changing in me lately, and not just physically. I hope to share many of those things here, and perhaps with a melody at times. This boy has a song.

Sweet Dreams Space Travelers.

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