Thoughts on the Camel’s nose…gun control…and a proposed dog ban in Broward County

Awhile back, I came across an old Arab proverb. I didn’t know what to do with it at the time, but I liked it, so I wrote it down in my blog-notebook for future reference. I filed it under the heading “Camel’s nose proverb”. It goes like this:

“If the camel gets his nose in your tent, his body will soon follow.”

The gist of this quote, of course, being the old saying,”give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile.” Gun control opponents are quite familiar with this chain of thought. It goes like this: “If they outlaw my AR-15 with its 55 round clip, then next they’ll come for my AK-47 with its 30 round clip, then they’ll want my Remington 12 gauge goose gun, and then they’ll want the .22 single shot, and after that Granddad’s antique muzzle loader…soon we’ll be left with a slingshot and a sharpened spoon to defend ourselves against the marauding gangs that will be roaming the streets in the wake of the inevitable upcoming  economic collapse…, and since marauding gangs will be armed to the teeth with illegally hoarded guns, the shit will have truly hit the proverbial fan…”

This is the oh-so-familiar ‘slippery slope’ argument. Once you begin to slide, there is no turning back. You have to tumble all the way to the bottom.

Personally, I have never (until recently) bought into the slippery slope line, at least when it comes to gun control. I have always thought that certain types of firearms, especially those that can be fired very rapidly and without reloading are too dangerous for the general public. Maybe we don’t really need armor piercing ammunition either – at least not in the hands of anyone with a wad of cash or a few bucks of credit left on their MasterCard. I have always held that the law and the legitimate ownership of guns could coexist. I mean…can’t we all just get along?

Obama’s proposed ban on ammunition clips in excess of 10 rounds sounds sensible to me, but who the  hell am I? I’m not a really big gun guy. But should this become law, and somewhere down the line you could ask the eleventh potential victim in a crazed maniac’s line of fire what they think of such a law, he or she will probably say that it was a very good law indeed. But now we are going down the road of why a crazed maniac has access to any weapon, and that is not where I want to go here.

What I want to say is this. I was perfectly comfortable with my opposition to slippery slope arguments, then that camel pushed its nose into my home turf, Broward County, Florida.

We have a big problem down here with dogs. Not just any dogs, but specifically the pit-bull breed. In the past 2 years, there have been 225 pit-bull attacks in Broward County. That is a lot of dog attacks. Couple that with the 269 calls to the county authorities (over the same 2 year period), to report pit-bulls roaming ‘at large’, then you can see why some people around here are upset. That’s why today, February 26, a hearing is being conducted at County Hall in Ft. Lauderdale to consider a ban on the pit-bull breed in Broward County. Don’t think folks are taking this lying down. Nothing gets the public more politically engaged that issues related to animals. Emotions are running high on both sides of this proposed pit-bull ban. A Facebook page has been set up to help save the breed, and a crowd of people on both sides of the pit-bull issue are expected to descend upon County Hall to make themselves heard in the democratic process — as they should.

So I was discussing this pit-bull issue yesterday, with my friend Patrick who works at the same place I do, the place where I go to write stuff and get paid for it. Patrick knows that I am a huge dog lover, and dog owner. He also knows that I am not the biggest fan of the pit-bull breed. He cornered me at the water cooler yesterday.

“Where do you come down on this pit-bull ban,” he asked. Then before I could answer, he went on to say, “it’s high time if you’d ask me.”

“Well,” I said after thinking a bit. “I’m opposed to it. It makes absolutely no sense to ban a breed of dog, just because some owners are irresponsible. I mean, people who are going to abuse animals and teach them to fight aren’t going to be deterred by the law. What we need are laws to hit irresponsible dog owners where it hurts – in the wallet. If we ban pit-bulls, then next it’s going to be Rottweilers, then German Shepards, and maybe Labrador Retrievers – who knows where it could end. Wait until they ban your Yorkie, Patrick.”

“I see,” said Patrick. “It’s kind of like the slippery slope argument. Once you ban one breed, then it becomes easier to ban another breed.”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s sort of like that.”

“It sounds a bit hypocritical,” he said, “especially after you said that the slippery-slope argument made no sense when it came to gun control, remember?”

I did remember saying that…I confess to some hypocrisy. But nobody is perfect. I still believe that guns can be effectively regulated with well thought out legislation, and I still believe that pit-bulls should not be banned in Broward County, Florida.

If you believe that the President’s gun control proposal is sound policy, then contact your Congressional representative and make your voice heard. If you believe pit-bulls should not be banned in Broward County, then make your way down to County Hall at 11:30 AM today and join the fray

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Remembering Hunter S. Thompson

February 20th marks eight years since the death of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (HST). On that date in 2005, HST dropped the hammer on his .357 magnum revolver for the last time, thus ending his life at Owl Farm, his ‘fortified compound’ near Aspen, Colorado.

[NOTE TO READERS: Gonzo journalism can be defined as a journalistic style that does not claim objectivity. Fact and fiction are often blurred, as the reporter becomes part of the story…or that’s what I make of it anyway…]

I was shocked by the news of HST’s death.  I had followed his career for many years, my first exposure to gonzo journalism being the pop-culture, balls-to-the-wall saga of the 1972 Presidential campaign: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, 1972. HST’s alcohol fueled account of this historic campaign was, and still is, the best book about the Nixon/McGovern presidential campaign of 1972 ever written. His interview with George McGovern at the end of the book is priceless, as is the dialog between Hunter and Nixon as they spar on the only common ground they would ever share: professional football.

I went on to read the often emulated, but never equaled, Hells Angels, The Strange And Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Books about motorcycle gangs abound today, but most are written by law enforcement officers who infiltrate gangs as undercover officers. HST went straight in as a journalist, and captured dialog and feeling for subject that you won’t find in any of the cop’s books. Read today, this classic is also as much a testament to the sixties in San Francisco, as it is to the Angels.

So for me, it was inevitable that I would become a fan of HST, as we had much in common. We both shared a passion for writing, a keen interest in politics and current events, contempt and hatred for Richard M. Nixon and the Vietnam War, distain for the military industrial complex, a healthy distrust of the U.S. Government, and admiration for writer Ernest Hemingway. Also, inexplicably we both shared a somewhat bizarre interest in the inner workings of outlaw motorcycle gangs.

I think it is HST’s interest in Hemingway that is of most interest to me. Hunter was said to be so impressed with Hemingway’s work that back in the 50’s he once typed A Farewell to Arms in its entirety, just to try to capture Hemingway’s style — now that’s some serious stuff.

It is no wonder that HST travelled to Ketchum, Idaho in 1964, three years after Hemingway’s suicide to research a piece that he was writing about the death of the famous author. HST wrote the following about Hemingway:

“He was an old, sick, and very troubled man, and the illusion of peace and contentment was not enough for him – not even when his friends came up from Cuba and played bullfight with him in the Tram. So finally, and for what he must have thought the best of reasons, he ended it with a shotgun.”

Once someone asked me to name my favorite first and last chapters of any book I have ever read. I didn’t have to think about that one. My favorite first chapter would be Chapter 1 of Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms.

My favorite last chapter of any book I have ever read is the last chapter of Hell’s Angels (chapter 22).

Coincidence – I think not…

With that, I close with one of my favorite HST quotes:

“Maybe there is no Heaven. Or maybe this is all pure gibberish—a product of the demented imagination of a lazy drunken hillbilly with a heart full of hate who has found a way to live out where the real winds blow—to sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whisky, and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested . . . Res ipsa loquitur. Let the good times roll.”

Hunter S. Thompson – Generation of Swine:  Tales of Shame and Degradation in the 80’s

No more Saturday mail delivery…is this the beginning of the end of the USPS?

When I heard that the United States Postal Service had decided to pull the plug on Saturday mail delivery I barely raised an eyebrow. Anyone who has been paying attention knew that this was bound to happen sooner or later. Ostensibly, this action will save the taxpayers 2 billion dollars annually. And why not…think about it!

Nobody writes letters anymore. Even my own mother, who is well into her eighties, sends me email instead of letters. And those credit card offers that I used to get three or four of every day —  the ones that offered me a MasterCard or Visa with a limit five times my annual salary — those aren’t nearly as plentiful in this post-housing-market-crash era (due to the fact that consumers have lost the ability to pay off large balances by taking equity out of their homes, but that is the fodder for another blog). Then my Newsweek magazine went into steady decline, soon to be eclipsed in content by my local Pennysaver. Finally, last October it breathed its last and was laid to rest, replaced by its online counterpart, Newsweek Global, an online magazine perhaps soon to be rivaled in readership by Ed’s end of the planet books. Of course everyone pays their bills online these days, and when was the last time you received a postcard from a vacationing relative — why mail a card from the Grand Canyon when you can just take a digital picture and plant it on Facebook.

And that my friend, is why the United States Post Office is stopping Saturday delivery — there is not enough mail to keep them busy. And it only follows, that if there is no work, why pay to keep those shiftless postal workers loafing around the mail rooms and napping in their mini-vans on the taxpayer’s dime, right…

I am not so sure. Like the right to bear arms, which we hear so much about these days, the Post Office is a Constitutionally mandated institution. But that may be where the similarities end. Don’t forget, the Post Office is staffed by those villainous American Postal Workers Union members, and we all know about the evils of unions don’t we.

“Oh come on,” you may say to me. “It’s only one day. These guys have five other days to deliver the mail. Go ahead and give them Saturdays off and save a buck or two.” To this I would answer — first, you are obviously someone who does not receive checks regularly in the mail as do many small business people, and second, that there is far more behind this than meets the eye.  I believe that the death knell of the Post Office may well begin on August 5, 2013, when Saturday delivery ceases, and its death will not be due to natural causes.

I think that there is a well orchestrated plot to shut down the USPS, a plot that began back in 2006. In that year, the Republican controlled Congress passed a law requiring the USPS to fund the retirement of future retirees for the next 75 years. And it required the  funding to be completed within ten years. This is the first and only time that a Federal Agency has ever been issued such an unreasonable requirement. The USPS is actually funding retirement accounts for employees that haven’t been hired! So I must ask myself: Could this requirement (enacted by a lame-duck Congress), be in any way tied to a movement to privatize mail service in the United States? Like most other privatization movements, like the current ones to privatize schools and prisons, and even the military, begin with dismantling organized labor.

So if you are thinking that you can live without mail on Saturdays, you are probably right. But if you see something more sinister afoot, I suggest you do as I plan to do and make your feelings known to your Congressman.

Remembering Edgar Guest and some thoughts on the state of poetry today

When I was a child we had a small, slim, blue, book of poetry in our house. The title of the book was It takes A Heap o’ Livin’, and it was written by Edgar A. Guest. The book, published in 1916, was one of Guest’s most popular. If you have not heard of Guest, here’s the brief bio: He was born in England in 1881 and died in Detroit, Michigan in 1959 – in the course of his 77 years, he would hammer out over 11,000 poems which would eventually be collected into over 20 poetic volumes.

Guest started out as a newspaperman, first working for the Detroit Free Press where he would quickly rise through the ranks from copy boy to reporter. Somewhere along the way he started writing poems and published his first in the aforementioned newspaper on December 11, 1892. Guest would go on to become a naturalized American citizen in 1902, and he quickly developed an earthy poetic voice, steeped in local dialect that would captivate rural America.

Guest’s poems were usually sentimental, sometimes inspiring, always rhyming, and most often corny, but they were written for mass consumption, and Guest certainly knew his demographic. Guest published almost all of his work in newspapers – the internet of the day. You needn’t be an MFA grad student, or an ivory tower English professor to understand his verse. He was a simple hard working poet, writing for a simple hard working audience, in what were, undoubtedly, simpler times.

Not to say that Edgar A. did not have his detractors. Dorothy Parker said of Edgar:  “I’d rather flunk my Wasserman test than read the poetry of Edgar Guest.” But we all have our naysayers don’t we. I will leave the link in place for those of you who might not know what the Wasserman test entails — enough said.

I mention Guest only because he authored the first poetry book that I remember reading from cover to cover. It was not the most sophisticated verse, but I believe exposure to poetry at an early age instilled a desire in me to play with words and put them together in an order that would make people want to read them – or maybe not…

Later in life I would go on to discover poets with a different voice, particularly the beat poets, Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg and my all time favorite (quasi-beat) poet, Charles Bukowski – a gentleman who is perhaps the anti-Edgar A. Guest of poetry (more on Bukowski in another post).

So why write about Edgar A. Guest and old folksy poetry? It is probably because I have been reading more poetry lately, thanks to the many new friends that I have made on Twitter and Facebook. Over the past few weeks, many of you have passed along links to your websites and I have been looking at as many as I can, with the limited time I have. What I am discovering is some really high quality work. Some people have sent me links to some masterfully produced websites, with truly professional content. Thanks to all!!

An acquaintance of mine, a gentleman who has been fortunate enough to have a couple of publishing credits under his belt, growled to me in an email the other day that the internet was filled “with rubbish”.

He went on to repeat a line in his email that I have read somewhere else, although I can’t remember where, that ‘when everyone becomes a writer, no one is a reader’. Now my acquaintance can be a bit condescending when it comes to writing, not because he has a graduate degree from a very well known East Coast Ivy League university hanging on the wall of his study, and not because he has a publicist that calls him to schedule signings at distant Barnes and Noble bookstores, no — he was quite like that before he’d published a line. I do not entirely agree with him.

I fired an email back saying: “reading a great poem online right now”. I sent along the link…so far no reply.

Frankly, I am seeing some really good work on the internet by some very talented writers. So, if you have anything you’d like me to link to from my little blog, please just ask and I will be more than happy to do so. Just don’t be surprised if I ask you to link back, and maybe in some small way we can all help each other.

So that’s it for this Tuesday. I think I will close with one of the greatest (undeniably corn ball, but nonetheless uplifting) motivational poems ever written:

You can do as much as you think you can,
But you’ll never accomplish more;
If you’re afraid of yourself, young man,
There’s little for you in store.
For failure comes from the inside first,
It’s there if we only knew it,
And you can win, though you face the worst,
If you feel that you’re going to do it.

— Edgar A. Guest (from Secret of the Ages; 1926)