Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Day - Are You Kidding Me?

If I'd awakened 50 years ago and you'd told me that Martin Luther King's birthday was a national holiday I'd have thought you daft.

During the 1960's, when King continued doing what he was doing despite his belief that he'd likely be killed for it, the FBI was obsessed not with protecting him but with trying to establish that he was an adulterer and should not be so well regarded by people.  Law enforcement folks in some of the states were even less benign.

You could say he changed my life.  It was the Selma to Montgomery march in March 1965, and the violent reaction to it, that led me to go South that summer as a civil rights volunteer.  Whatever we did or did not accomplish for the folks we worked with, the experience opened my eyes.

That summer of 1965, we feared state law enforcement.  The previous summer three civil right workers in Mississippi had been killed, with the assistance of local law enforcement personnel.  I was in Fayette County, Tennessee, on the Mississippi border, in country so indistinguishable from Mississippi that we sometimes wandered across state lines on rural dirt roads.  (We reassured each other that if anything really bad happened, the FBI would step in -- a faith that seems a bit naive in retrospect.

On my second or third day there, a state trooper stopped me and told me that if I planned to be in Tennessee for more than a few days I must get a Tennessee Drivers' License.  We knew he meant it.  They didn't want us there, and used or misused any available laws to discourage us.  Another civil rights worker had had a flat tire driving an old car some folks up North had donated.  It lacked a jack or a spare tire, so he pulled off the road and left it.  He was charged with "Leaving the Scene of an Accident" and fined $90 and $60 court costs -- a significant chunk of cash from our limited treasury.

Therefore a few days later I went with two others to Memphis, figuring that we'd have no problem getting our licenses in the big city.   Of course, we had to surrender our New York licenses.  After putting mine on the desk, I suddenly realized what was going to happen: they knew what we were in Tennessee for, and they would deny us licenses.  That would effectively trap us where we were, since without valid New York or Tennessee licenses, we couldn't drive back to Fayette County, or even to a hotel.  I said politely that actually I wasn't sure how long I'd be in Tennessee, so maybe I'd wait.  The official looked at me, and hesitated -- and I quickly scooped up my license and retreated.  Mike, a college classmate of mine who had grown up driving in New York's much more hectic traffic, went for his road test.  The tester looked at Mike and asked, "Does this car belong to a Nigger?"  "This car belongs to a Negro," Mike replied.  Immediately the man checked several boxes at random, indicating a plethora of driving mistakes, and Mike was left with no drivers' license.   (I later drove to some county seat - Jackson, Tennesee, I think - and went in with some horseshit story about being in state to visit an aunt, and got my Tennessee license.)

Of course Martin Luther King eventually spoke out also against the War in Viet Nam.  Despite fears that doing so would undermine his credibility with mainstream whites, he saw and said that that war was part of the same racist mind-set of U.S. leaders.  I believed so too.

Our leaders saw Viet Nam as a domino, and thought many countries would "fall to Communism" if Viet Nam won its independence.

My research suggested otherwise.  Throughout the 20th Century the U.S. spoke in favor of national self-determination.  It was a major principle articulated at the end of World War I.  Then young, Ho Chi Minh actually went to the peace conference in Versailles and suggested the principle ought to apply to his country, then a French colony.  He got nowhere, of course.  During World War II he and the Vietnamese resistance fought the Japanese, in alliance with the U.S.; but at the end of that war we stiffed him again, and backed the French efforts to assert continued dominance of Viet Nam.  Then when the Vietnamese kicked the French out, we replaced them, for another two decades of war.

One must mourn both the young men from the U.S. who fought there and the Vietnamese who suffered through decades of war to win freedom.   One must also wonder: if Viet Nam had been Poland or some other European country, and had fought for self-determination as vigorously as Viet Nam did against Chinese, Japanese, French, and U.S. soldiers, would our leaders have noticed the overwhelming evidence that the rebels wanted, above all, an independent country, without undue influence by any other country, regardless of ideology?

But my point is how distant MLK's times (and my own childhood and youth) seem.   Nor was the deep racism limited to the South.  When I was in high school in New York, the Dean would write or call the mothers of white girls who dated black boys -- and I later learned that the NMSU authorities did much the same thing during that era.   After Tennessee, one day after a softball game, when I sat in a bar drinking beer with my teammates, a black man walked into the bar to buy cigarettes, and one of my teammates muttered "Nigger!" under his breath, too softly for the intruder to hear.  When the black man left, I called my teammate on it -- and found out that everyone else on the team either shared his views or kept silent.  Mainstream newspapers around the U.S. made "colored people" jokes well past the mid-century mark, apparently without concern that maybe they'd offend anyone.

Nor is that racism gone.  There are still places you can get beaten up for walking into if you're black -- and others where the same response is quite possible if you're white.  Some folks are still threatened by the idea that we're all equal, and that "all" has a broader and more literal meaning than the white men gave it in founding our country.

But that degree of racism, in which blacks in the South received wholly separate and inferior educations, even well after Brown v. Board of Education (1953), in which blacks could be killed or beaten up for trying to register to vote, in which a majority of states still outlawed miscegenation, or in which the wider culture's main portrayal of black folks was Amos 'n' Andy -- that's gone.  The battle to eradicate racism has proceeded with a great deal less violence than might have been the case.  Martin Luther King was obviously a courageous and seminal figure both in the struggle and in our commitment, most of us, to waging that struggle non-violently.

In 1968 I was working with troubled kids from New York's worst neighborhoods.  On the evening of April 4, I heard the news while attending a New School class on emotionally disturbed kids and the art they create.  Afterward, I walked home, in a daze, thinking about it.  At some point I passed some black youths sitting on a stoop or standing nearby, smoking.  Our eyes met, I nodded a greeting, and one of them beckoned for me to approach them, which I did.  He put out his hand, and I put out mine to shake it, and then saw a burning cigarette and thought he was about to put it out on my palm, so I snatched my hand back -- and watched the joint he'd been trying to hand me fall to the sidewalk, almost in a sort of slow motion.  Thinking about King's assassination, I had misread his action as a hostile reaction to my whiteness.  I picked up the joint, smoked with them for a while, then continued walking.

I wish someone could have told MLK, with sufficient authority to compel belief, that less than half a century not only would there be a national holiday in his memory but on that day a President of mixed race would be inaugurated for a second term.  But perhaps he dreamed even that.

Of course, King also said that "A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily only the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth."  Had he lived, he'd have gotten to watch that contrast, which had grown a bit less glaring over several decades, widen again in our country.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Getting More Specific about Gun Laws

Rep. Miguel Garcia (D-Alb.) plans to introduce a measure designed to keep criminals and the insane from purchasing firearms undetected in New Mexico.

I have some suggestions.

The bill should also require secure storage of guns, particularly in homes where minors live, and impose serious civil and criminal liability for damage resulting from insecure storage.  The law should also proscribe giving minors unsupervised access to firearms.

Just as we are liable for damage when our kids or friends drive our vehicles, we should be liable for damage caused by careless or malicious use of our guns.

Arguably, failure to store firearms securely constitutes negligence under U.S. tort law. Negligence is conduct that creates an “unreasonable risk” of harm.  Examples include driving a car too fast for conditions, firing a gun in the air in a crowded area, or failing to meet accepted standards in practicing law or medicine.   Even the NRA warns gun owners to “store guns so that they are inaccessible to children and other unauthorized users.”

So why bother to include this?

Laws that set specific standards make it much easier to recover damages for harm caused by negligence.  Assume someone drives at 55 mph through a neighborhood where kids are playing and accidentally hits someone.  That’s probably negligence.  If there’s a posted speed-limit of 20, it’s negligence per se.  That makes things much clearer for a jury.  It’s particularly helpful if the car was going 35 instead of 55.  S/he’s clearly on notice that the conduct is illegal, and s/he’s liable if it harms someone.

New Mexico should require that gun owners store their weapons locked and unloaded, or locked with an essential part of the gun stored separately from the locked weapon.

Do I think everyone will immediately start storing guns safely?  No.  A few will.

If folks whose kids get hold of their guns (or folks whose unsafely stored guns are taken and used to harm others) pay some high-dollar judgments for their negligence, more gun owners will get the idea.

These are not radical ideas. Three-quarters of the states have laws against unsecured storage of guns around minors and/or letting kids have access to guns.  Arizona and California make parents liable for civil damages from a minor’s use of a firearm under certain circumstances.   In California a person is criminally liable for keeping a loaded firearm where s/he reasonably should know a minor could gain access to it – but only if someone is injured or the child brandishes the gun in a public place.  S/he’s also liable for damages.  Colorado imposes criminal liability for providing a gun to someone under 18, or even knowing a juvenile has a gun and failing to make reasonable efforts to prevent the juvenile’s conduct.

In New Hampshire “negligent storing of firearms” is a criminal offense, if the firearm is used in a reckless or threatening manner or in commission of a crime.  In North Carolina you’re criminally liable if a minor misuses a firearm you’ve stored “in a condition in which it can be discharged” where you should have known the minor might gain access to it.   Even Texas makes you criminally liable (with reasonable exceptions) if you leave a dischargeable firearm where a kid under 17 could gain access to it and s/he does.

Are weak gun laws and gun violence related?  You betcha!

One group grades states A through F for the strength of their gun laws.  Nine of the ten states with the highest rates of gun deaths are graded F for their weak laws, while the tenth gets a D.  On the other hand, the ten states where gun rate deaths are lowest include two grades of A- (California and Connecticut), three B’s, three C/C+’s, a D, and an F (Maine).  When you list the states with the strongest gun laws and the states with the lowest gun death rates, seven states appear on both lists.  That ain’t coincidence.

The group ranks New Mexico’s laws 40th among the 50th states, giving us an F.  New Mexico ranks 9th in gun deaths per capita.  (In 2009, 289 people died from firearm-related injuries in New Mexico.)  My blog post today will include the URL for a site summarizing all 50 states’ laws on secure gun-storage and kids.

Other provisions that make sense (and are constitutional) include: licensing, regulation, and inspection of firearms dealers; banning assault weapons; and licensing handguns.  A recent poll shows that a big majority of gun owners support universal background checks (86%), while there’s almost an even split among gun owners on banning assault weapons.

I have good friends who own and use guns.  Some also have children.  New Mexico has vast ranches and unpopulated areas where hunting and target-shooting are popular.  I’m not suggesting that New Mexico enact an overly broad statute that would preclude responsible use of guns or the teaching of kids to use guns responsibly, or would destroy anyone’s right to self-defense.  The law would impose liability where damage was caused, negligently – not authorize anti-gun brigades to inspect people’s storage methods or keep them from taking their sons out hunting.

In New Mexico, we ought to have the wit to write a law that’s appropriate for our wonderful state and enhances everyone’s safety without infringing on legitimate activities.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 20 January.]

Below are a couple of URL's I promised in the body of the column; but in this morning's paper I also saw a letter making the obvious analogy to Prohibition -- constitutional and legislative prohibition of all alcohol in the U.S. -- and using that as a basis to suggest that strengthening gun-control laws would be equally disastrous.  Since I happen to have read at least three books on prohibition recently, I should address that, because it's sensible-sounding nonsense.

First of all, no one is or reasonably could be talking complete prohibition of guns.  Wouldn't be wise or practical.  Legally, would require either a constitutional amendment (which ain't gonna happen) or the sudden death of nine supreme court justices and their replacement with people dedicated solely to rooting out all guns, even at the cost of ignoring all legal precedent.  Also ain't gonna happen.  Couldn't.

Secondly, National Prohibition was enacted despite the fact that Maine and other states, going back to about 1849, had enacted and undone alcohol prohibition laws that were disastrous.  That is, in the national frenzy to outlaw booze, legislators and voters ignored a long list of state experiences warning that prohibition would be disastrous, in pretty much the ways it ultimately was.  Here, stronger gun laws would be enacted in the context of state experience showing, as noted in the column, that stronger gun laws do have a strong relationship to decreased per capita gun fatalities.  There are questions one could reasonably raise about those statistics (or about possible side-effects of the stronger gun laws) but no one could reasonably just ignore them.

Finally, an assault weapon doesn't fit in a hip flask.  Using one isn't near as quiet as sipping a drink from that hip flask while watching a football game or driving to a club, nor would there be many indoor speakeasies in big cities in which to go shoot 'em.  Further, while most folks in the 1920's laughed or cheered or looked the other way when they saw someone drinking in public, a significant majority of the populace doesn't think people should be carrying assault weapons around in public.

Meanwhile, the NRA seems to be getting desperate -- and embarrassing the gun-owners who could and would make reasonable arguments against or suggest reasonable amendments to proposed statutes.

The NRA reached a new level of tastelessness this week with its commercial calling President Obama a hypocrite for accepting secret-service protection for his kids while opposing the NRA call for more guns in schools.

The NRA must really suppose people are stupid.

First of all, Secret Service protection for the President’s immediate family is a legal requirement enacted well before Obama ever thought of running for the office.   He didn’t choose it, and perhaps could not legally refuse it.

Secondly, any fool can see that he and his kids are targets for madmen in a way that you and I are not.

In fact, in answer to the NRA’s rhetorical question “Are his kids more important than yours?” the  nation’s answer, given long before 2008, is that, well, yes, the government should spend a bunch of money protecting Chelsea Clinton or Bush’s daughters or Obama’s daughters that it doesn’t spend protecting the average kid.  Not because those kids are inherently of more value and not because Obama is selfish, but because the nation does not wish to have its leader vulnerable to the pressure of a kidnaper’s demand to free a terrorist in return for return of the President’s daughter.  Kind of makes sense.

I notice that others, including New Jersey governor Christie, have been equally sickened and disgusted by the NRA ad.  Sadly, this sort of thing represents the NRA's contributions to what should be a meaningful national discussion.  Gun owners have a reasonable point of view, often some knowledge the rest of us lack, in that they like guns, know guns, and try to protect their kids from gun abuse by teaching those kids respect for firearms.  They have some useful points to make.  The NRA, which apparently doesn't, undermines their credibility.

A week ago I ran into a friend who complimented my initial column on gun issues and said that although he was an NRA member who owned several guns, he was so disgusted with the NRA that he wanted to resign.  When I asked why he hadn't (perhaps sending the local paper an explanation of his reasons), he shrugged and said that he did so many other things with the NRA (such as getting his insurance through it) that quitting would be inconvenient, so he was procrastinating.

Meanwhile, in the column I promised links to a couple of sources:

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence has a list and summary of State Child Gun Access Prevention Statutes.

I wrote that there was a relationship between strong gun laws and minimizing per capita firearm deaths -- and between lax gun laws and higher death rates.  Check out: Gun Laws Matter.   There’s an interesting map in which it’s easy to note that:nine of the top ten states with highest gun rate deaths are graded F for their weak laws, and the tenth gets a D; the ten states where gun rate deaths are lowest include two grades of A- (California and Connecticut) for strong gun laws, three B’s, three C’s or C+’s, a D, and an F (Maine); and when you list the states with the strongest gun laws and the states with the fewest gun death rates, seven states appear on both lists.

A couple of days after writing the column I noticed the New York Times citing the same study.

I don't think that study should be ignored in the discussion of what New Mexico should do.  There may be reasonable questions about how much the study means, and people should ask them; but we shouldn't ignore the extensive experience of other states.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

    We got our first and perhaps only real snowfall of 2013 early.  It amounted to three inches, I'm told.

We thoroughly enjoyed it.  The cat was a lot less charmed by it, though he finally ventured out into it.  It snowed Thursday night fairly heavily.   We watched it snow all day Friday, huge but comically infrequent flakes, but a thick blanket of grey clouds made photography unpromising.

When the sun finally peeked out through a narrow horizontal firing window between clouds and horizon, we drove out to take advantage of it.   (Then we drove into town for the First Friday Art Ramble, and found we had the downtown nearly to ourselves
because of the cold -- and next morning the Farmers' Market was nearly as sparsely populated.)

Saturday morning I ventured out as soon as the sun climbed high enough to shine over the mountains onto the desert, its plants still cheerfully carrying their allotted burdens of snow.  Even the windmill blades at one windmill has snow on 'em.

We went out again in late afternoon.  Even though fog still covered the town and even our place, there was plenty of sun on the Organ Mountains.  Unfortunately, most of the snow had melted.   Anyway, here are some shots from the occasion.  (For additional images from Las Cruces and the Organ Mountains under snow, see Snow in the OrgansSnow Days, a column on Las Cruces in the snow, and Snow Country.).

According to Wikipedia, Aermotor Windmill Company, established in 1888, is the only windmill manufacturer in the U.S.   Engineer Thomas O. Perry developed the all-metal windpump through extensive experimentation.
Company founder La Verne Noyes hired engineer Thomas O. Perry for a different job, but recognized the windmills’ potential.  The company sold 45 the first year, and was considered a joke by its competitors, but it sold more than 20,000 windmills by 1892, despite substantial competition.  During the three decades that followed, Aermoter expanded considerably.  Aermotors became by far the most popular windmills during the 20th Century, and have been called the Cadillac of windmills because of their design and quality workmanship.  That so many survive tends to confirm that opinion.
Throughout my decades of wandering around the Southwest, Aermotors have been the brand I’ve seen most often.  Most are probably the 702 self-oiling models, which have been on sale since 1933.  In any case, in a host of isolated locations, often at sunset with no one around but a cow or two,  I’ve looked up, seen Aermotor’s name on the windmill, and smiled as if at a familiar face.
The company currently operates from a 40,000 square-foot facility in San Angelo, Texas.

    Sunday night, two huge, healthy coyotes stood around awhile in our backyard at sunset.  The sunset was unrealistically red, as if God had been using Photoshop somewhat tastelessly, and the coyotes had interesting marking son them and didn't run off the moment we paused by the window to gawk at them.  Fine animals, though I was glad the cat was in for the night already.  Didn't grab the camera either for the sunset or the visitors, but thoroughly enjoyed both.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Visit to the Bosque -- December 2012

  We spent our customary couple of days in and around the Bosque del Apache 27-29 December, to videotape the cranes and snow geese and eagles and hawks -- and the full moon.

   It's becoming second-nature: the day before Full Moon we spend the late afternoon and early evening in one or more of several good viewing spots, and if the clouds permit we shoot the moon as it first peers from behind the horizon.  On a good evening, the moon appears while the setting sun is still painting the pond and birds and foliage and hills that rich red color.   The next morning before dawn we're back, usually at the ponds just North of the loop and just west of the road.  The moon disappears behind the mountains before the sun rises, and before the cranes and snow geese show much energy, but then the fine, strong light of the rising sun bathes everything in sight.  When the sun is higher and the light less interesting(and the vast majority of the birds have gone off to forage in nearby fields for the day) we retreat to the coffee house on Manzanres Street in Socorro for avocado and green childe omelettes and good coffee, then nap or download photographs or wander out in one direction or another, only to be back in the Bosque by mid-afternoon.  The sun sets before the moon rises, but sometimes we hang around long enough to videotape moonrise anyway.  Then we go back up to Socorro to eat, process photographs, and sleep.  The second morning we're up even earlier, to pack all our stuff before heading down to visit with the birds; and the falling moon lingers above the mountains for photo-ops with the cranes, while the mountains turn red again with dawnlight.
   This time: a bunch of the birds were hanging out along the North Loop, so we wandered around up there somewhat more;  thick clouds turned the usually vibrant ponds and birds a dull, sad grey in late afternoon Thursday, then obscured the moonrise; extra cold temperatures (including a 10 degree reading they told us was the lowest in 2012) not only froze my fingers but froze much of the water in the ponds, appeared to make the birds shiver, and caused them to bed down further from shore, lest a coyote or bobcat venture across the ice in search of a midnight snack; stiff winds made the birds' feathers dance and caused interesting complications for birds trying to land for the night; and there were more eagles around.    Another difference: whether because of the holidays or the deep freeze, there were dramatically fewer photographers around.
   Again, since I shot mostly video and haven't yet figured out a way of adding decent quality video to this post, I can only offer stills, and didn't shoot many of them.  [Note: previous Bosque posts . . . ]

Cranes Crossing Full Moon


Truck - Shannon's Place

"Broken Dreams"

We saw more eagles than usual this time.  This fellow we saw the first evening -- and just before sunset the sun broke through below a sky full of grey clouds, lighting him nicely.

Ironically, he was being ignored by all the folks with the expensive long lenses a hundred yards north of here, where the cranes and snow geese were showing off.

The next morning the same snag was eagle-occupied.  You'd hardly know him from a pigeon in this shot, but I liked the composition.

In fact, as I was putting together this post I experimented a little with the image.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


I don’t much want to write about the school shootings in Connecticut, except to express sadness and deep sympathy.

Yet the issues are important and much of the public commentary is silly.

I don’t claim to have The Answer, or perhaps even any answers.

But I doubt that you solve any problem by listening closely to a lobbyist organization dedicated solely to maximizing sales of a line of products.  If I were tasked with combating the obesity epidemic, I’d listen politely but skeptically to lobbyists for the fast-food or soft-drink industry.  I wouldn’t expect the tobacco industry to devise the best plan to keep smokers from dying unnecessarily from cancer.

Even so, I thought the NRA might say something reasonable, when it promised a major contribution to the discussion.  There should be a sensible middle ground between banning all guns (unconstitutional and probably unwise) and avoiding any serious regulation.  Predictably (though I’d been too dumb to predict it) the NRA contribution was a plan that would increase gun sales without in any way decreasing the odds that nut cases will obtain assault weapons and try to massacre people.

The NRA says we should post armed guards in schools.  I’m not sure whether that would help or hurt, but it might be worth discussing, in combination with other actions.  But that was all the NRA suggested.

A retired high school principal I know in Vermont posted this response: “Columbine had an armed guard on duty; Virginia Tech had an armed police force on campus; and Fort Hood is an army camp.”

One local letter-writer recently pointed out that you can’t keep these things from happening, so that the best course is to trust in “the One who loves us.”  I’m all for faith; but if I were mourning a child killed at random, I’d be a little insulted by the suggestion that I could have avoided the tragedy by having more faith.  (Reminds me of the victorious athletes who credit God for their win – as if the Seattle Seahawks were somehow more Godly than the San Francisco 49ers.).

Others have suggested that if school days still started with prayers, the problem wouldn’t exist. But the shooter in Connecticut wasn’t in grade school.

Another letter suggested arming school principals.  I thought back to my mischievous childhood.  Most of what the school authorities locked up we got into.  The school principals I knew?  I shudder at the thought of them trying to fire guns with any accuracy.

I can’t see it. If the principal carried a gun all the time, s/he’d spend more time preventing some angry kid from grabbing it than s/he would on education.  Kids who resent overbearing authority might be less truculent around a gun-toting principal, but the gun wouldn’t make them more listen to listen to him or her with receptive hearts.  Besides, kids can drive you crazy.  I’m glad I didn’t have a gun when I was working with tough kids from Harlem, because they or I might have used it.

Driving my cab one night in New York, when a bunch of people in the cab were robbing each other, I noticed that the most nervous guys in the cab were the three with the guns.  The next most nervous were the two who’d just had their guns taken away from them.   I was the calmest, and gunless.  If I’d had a gun I’d have pulled it.  Maybe I’d have managed to kill someone before getting killed.  Whoopee!

I know people who own many guns and are calm, knowledgeable, and prudent.  Riding in a pickup truck near the Mexican border with a friend who had a holstered gun on his hip, I asked what kind of gun he had – to which he replied “Which one?” and itemized the seven or eight he had in the truck, and what each was for.  I can’t imagine him misusing a gun, or being careless.

I don’t think Prohibition is the answer, even if it didn’t implicate U.S. Constitutional issues..  Prohibition might make sense if we’d started that way, and could limit guns as effectively as Japan does; but it just ain’t gonna happen.  Guns are everywhere.  Also,  I’ve occasionally had my life threatened.  I would feel less comfortable if I could not buy a gun if I decided to.

On the other hand, I’m tired of seeing powerful lobbyists tie our hands in regulating industries and activities that need regulation, whether those are Wall Street banks, polluting industries, or gun manufacturers.
Friends who hunt say the NRA was once useful but is now just an industry mouthpiece.  If the NRA interprets the 2nd Amendment to preclude any meaningful regulation, .maybe the popular majority should not only make sensible regulations but introduce a constitutional amendment.  Not to ban all guns, but to give us elbow room to try to correct a crazy situation.
Passage of an amendment seems unlikely, because of the powerful lobbyists against it; but people once laughed at proposed amendments to let women vote and prohibit alcohol.


[ The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 6 January, 2013. ]

         After writing the foregoing column, but before its publication, I had several interesting conversations with friends on the subject.
         One asked me about "originalism" -- the fetish of particularly conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justices such as Scalia for determining what the framers had in mind in the late 18th Century.  My friend opined that if constitutional provisions could properly be read in that way, then the Second Amendment simply protects the right of each and every citizen to own . . . a musket or flintlock.  The framers of Amendment No 2 surely did not contemplate assault weapons.
          Another noted that when folks wanted to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City, many Republican leaders, such as Speaker of the House John Boehner, stated that although perhaps there might be a First Amendment right to do so, it was not "the right thing to do" to insist on that right.   My friend suggested asking Mr. Boehner whether, under current circumstances, insistence on the Second Amendment might be "not the right thing to do."
           A third -- a Viet Nam veteran and a gun-owner -- commented: 
 "A rational set of regulations would make owners fully responsible for the use and the security or their firearms.  You are responsible if a crazy person uses your gun.  Except for the hunters and those who have actually shot people, our culture has lost appreciation of the killing power of firearms and the lack of effective regulation helps to perpetuate the problem.  My experience in the armed services leads me to believe that they do not have this problem because their training, discipline, and strict regulations reflect, more fully, the danger involved in using firearms.  But the mass murders we have experienced in recent years are fundamentally a social problem, greatly magnified by the lethality of the weapons used.

"The right to bear arms and gun regulation are not mutually exclusive and the Supreme Court cannot make them so.  I believe the courts' decision was intended to assert the individual right; and having done so, completely failed to establish any standard of review.  Scalia is an ass, but let's face it, the D.C. gun law had fatal flaws -- basically you could have a gun, but you couldn't use it for self-defense -- and rather than trying to improve the law after the courts' decision; they just gave up.  I would like to see morelegislation before burdening the constitution with what may be unnecessary clarification of the 2nd amendment.  Put the effort, rather, into making better law and doing it aall levels of government.  For instance, I see no reason why Las Cruces should not ban possession of firearms outside the home.  It wouldn't be the first time a western town had done so.  If the populace wants to argue about whether or not they should be allowed to carry guns in town; let's have that argument.  If the courts say that our ordinance is unconstitutional then clarification of the constitutional right is needed.

"I have read a good deal about gun control in the Sun News lately that is sensible and useful.  Personally, I believe semi-automatic weapons are dangerous to public safety and are totally unnecessary, even for personal defense, and that if they are not banned outright, ownership should carry a very heavy burden of responsibility including training, certification, and registration as well as regular re-certification.  Law making, alone, is not sufficient to remedy our problem with gun violence, but it is necessary, and it should include the repeal of laws contrary to the  promotion of public safety such as stand-your-ground immunity anywhere but in the home.  

"We have too many very deadly weapons available to anyone who wants them.  Our culture permits the conditions that make it possible for the kind of mass murders we are suffering, and it is going to take a long time for that to change.  . . .  I do hope serious discussion will continue and that effective national legislation will be passed soon.  At the least, assault weapons should be banned and all the loopholes to registration of firearms should be closed, not because it would solve the problem, but because it would show support for sensible changes that need to be made."

My own thoughts on the subject are evolving.  It's easier to see the absurdity of extreme positions on both sides than it is to outline with full confidence a course of action that would be lawful, wise,  practical, and effective. 


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Upcoming Events

I might as well mention here four upcoming events I'll be involved in.

I have two photography shows scheduled in 2013, and I'll be involved in two poetry readings in the first five weeks of 2013.

There's a poetry reading 6-8 p.m. Friday, 18 January, at MVS Gallery on Main Street.  Featured reader is my friend Joe Somoza, whose poetry is a source of continual delight to us.  He asked three others of us to read as well.  The occasion is a small book Joe's coming out with, collaborating with an artist . . .
Then on 2 February, ten of us will be reading at the Branigan Cultural Center as part of "For Love of Art" month here.  Again Joe's a major part of that, but Dael and I will also be reading.  The reading will be from noon to 1:30, conveniently right after Farmers' Market.

By the way, if you're interested in poetry and don't know about the monthly readings at Palacio's in Mesilla, they're on the third Tuesday evening of each month, starting at around 7:45.  There's a small regular group.  Readings occur in a spacious back room of the bar, in a very relaxed atmosphere.  There's a small regular group, and new folks who want to read or just listen are always welcome.

The two photo shows will be in April and June.

During April's Friday evening's Art Ramble (5-7 p.m. on 5 April) I'll be at the Aralia Gallery at 224 North Campo Street for the show's opening.   These photographs are primarily from a visit to Japan, and some are accompanied by tanka poems.  The blog page "Ten Tanka" contains some of the same material, but there will be photos there that aren't on that blog page.  If you like that sort of thing, the opening will be a chance to see the photos blown up, talk about them or Japan or anything else, and have a glass of wine with us.  Aralia is a relatively new and relatively enjoyable gallery just South of the intersection of Campo and Las Cruces Avenue -- catty-corner to the main post office.  It's open Friday and Saturday afternoons, generally, or by appointment.

Then during 7-29 June the Branigan Cultural Center will be showing some of my 2008 photographs from Perú.  I wandered around Perú for more than six months that year.  I wanted to travel to remote areas, stopping at will, but obviously couldn't afford to rent a car.  Solution?  Scrounge up enough money to buy a used four-wheel-drive car, which held up wonderfully and which I eventually sold to my landlord and friend Aurelio in Arequipa just before returning to the U.S.

I can't say enough about Perú.  (Actually I have said probably more than enough, on the blog I kept during the journey, with photographs, reflections, and travel tips for visiting obscure villages.  There's no reason to read much of it unless you're planning a trip there, but the home-page has a slide show that's probably worth a look.  A few of those images will be in the show here.)  Again, the First Friday Art Ramble, 5-7 p.m., will be an opportunity not only to see those but to talk about Perú if you feel like it.  I'll be there, instead of wandering around from gallery to gallery as we usually do.

The show will be up the whole month.  The cultural center is open daily, Tuesday through Saturday, until 4:30 p.m.

For those who live in Las Cruces and haven't participated, I should mention that Dael and I have thoroughly enjoyed the Art Ramble the first Friday of each month.  There are several galleries, and it's interesting to wander through them looking at the work and sometimes talking with the artists.  It's also kind of a party.  We have a hard time making it to all the galleries, because we end up talking intensely with friends here or there, in galleries or on Main Street -- or meeting new friends.