Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My Two Cents... not that anybody asked.

[Captain’s Note: Not long ago I was lamenting that it seems blogging has run its course. Many of my friends who blog have been posting less, a few have quit altogether. And as I write this, I realize my last post was on January 3rd, almost three weeks ago. The reason for that is not because I’ve lost interest, but because I have been writing and re-writing today’s blog for the last three weeks. Apologies.]

With the presidential election but a vague memory – although only a mere two months ago – the nation continues to manifest its great divide, this time through a debate about gun control.

The December shooting of 20 school children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School (not to mention the shooter’s mother and the suicide of the shooter himself) has once again raised an emotional plea from the country that someone needs to do something to stop the senseless killing.

The more immediate response to the Sandy Hook tragedy was from anti-gun lobbies – among them the James Brady Center and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords – you know, public figures who have actually been shot! 

They aren’t opposed to Bubba’s hunting rifle per se, but they want to remove the more extreme weapons from public access.

Is there a reason a person needs an assault rifle? A high-capacity magazine? Hollow-point bullets? I can’t think of a reason, unless they plan to go on a public shooting rampage.

But then again, I own a broadsword, and I don’t plan on laying siege to a castle anytime soon! I just think it’s cool!

The anti-gun people also want to tighten controls on who can buy guns. Currently, the National Rifle Association, a very active pro-gun lobbying organization in America, vocally opposes background checks on gun purchasers and other means of identifying who owns such weapons.

As one woman recently lamented, “It’s easier for me to buy bullets than birth control!”

Indeed, my own wife tried to buy Sudafed recently to fight her cold and had to go through a lengthy process of registration and identification at the pharmacy counter. Yet a gun enthusiast – or even a nut-job, as the case may be – is free to buy a high-powered assault weapon at a gun show without even giving his name!

On the other side of the debate is the NRA, which remained quiet for a week after the shooting, then publicly declared that the answer to the problem is more guns: arm the teachers and administrators of our schools. In the words of Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the NRA, The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Point of interest here: While the NRA claims a membership of 4 million Americans, some 65 million Americans own guns; thus, the NRA only represents a small fraction of all gun owners. And while claiming to represent the gun owners of America, its Board of Directors is stacked with owners of gun manufacturers and suppliers – Steve Hornady of Hornady Ammunition (maker of an armor-piercing bullet); Ronnie Barrett of Barrett Firearms (designer of the .50 caliber sniper rifle); Pete Brownell of Brownells Inc. (world’s largest supplier of firearm parts and accessories) – just to name a few.

And as my carpenter/father taught me, “If your only tool is a hammer, all of your problems will be nails.”

I recall from my own high school days – a kinder, gentler time – when a new student arrived from Louisville, telling tales of National Guardsmen regularly patrolling the hallways of his former high school with loaded M-16s on their shoulders. I can’t think of a less-conducive environment for learning.

Following the shootings at Heath High (1997) and Columbine High (1999), public schools have been locked down as tight as prisons; exterior doors are locked with only one entrance by which to gain access; students wear ID tags and must walk through metal detectors each morning; bags are inspected at the door; no one is allowed to leave campus; and “All visitors must first sign in at the office.” In most cases however, the staff is not (officially) armed.

But what are all of these safety precautions actually doing to our children? Douglas Anthony Cooper, writing for “Huffington Post”, opposes the NRA’s idea:
“To preserve freedom in America, we’ll place children in a learning environment that would have been considered oppressive under Stalin. We’ll lock them in buildings that are – I guarantee it – more heavily guarded than any kindergarten in North Korea.”

“And why?” Cooper asks.
“So that the grownups can be free to stockpile weapons against tyranny. I mean, good lord, you don’t want tyrants. So let’s have our children spend their best, most carefree years under the watchful eyes of crack mercenaries…”

I don’t buy into the currently popular paranoia of the emergence of a tyrannical government. For one, even a fully armed populace would not stand before the awesome might of the U.S. military. You might own an AR-47, but the U.S. military uses tanks… and un-piloted aircraft… not to mention the piloted aircraft! My nephew, who is in the Army currently deployed to Afghanistan, operates a cannon that can throw a projectile more than 2 miles! 

So don’t let anyone fool you into thinking your  guns are going to protect you from the government.

Besides, I believe Democracy still works in America. We, the people, are blessed to get to vote on who we want to lead us. And if our candidate doesn’t win this time, we get another chance to vote in a few years. Furthermore, there are numerous checks and balances in our government that would make such a takeover next to impossible.

And frankly, I feel less of a threat from the government now than I did when President Reagan was shot and Secretary of State Alexander Haig, a former Army general, proclaimed to the world, “As of now, I am in control here.”

But I do accept the maxim that goes, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have them.” In fact, during the Roarin’ 20s, Al Capone’s gang always carried more (illegal) firepower than the local police. One of the circumstances that makes schools easy targets is that they are (officially) gun-free zones. No one will shoot back until the police arrive, which gives the shooter plenty of time to wreak havoc.

And then there are the “Crazies”. Some of these are readily identified by their tin foil caps which protect them from the government reading their thoughts. Others have dug bunkers and are stock-piling weapons and ammo for… well… whatever. Those types are easy to sort out (although perhaps not so easy to disarm).

Unfortunately, some of the “Crazies” are normal looking people holding normal jobs who just suddenly snap one day, take up a gun, and go on a rampage. The phrase “going postal” was coined after a number of incidents where harried postal workers snapped and shot up their places of employment.

All of that is to simply say, there is no easy solution to this problem.

Having considered both sides of the argument for quite some time now (remember, the Heath High shooting was 15 years ago), I have come to the conclusion that the problem of gun violence is not about the number and availability of guns. It is not a legislative issue. The problem lies far deeper than the bunker where some tin foil-capped conspiracy-theorist is stock-piling weapons.

The problem of gun violence lies in the depths of the human heart. At some point – I suspect during my lifetime…
   ...we have lost all respect for the value of human life, and respect for one another.
   ...we have lost the ability to think and to examine the consequences of our actions – either before or after we act.
   ...we have become angry, an anger fostered by religious and political dogmatism.
   ...we have become selfish – taking to heart the trite bumper sticker motto of previous years, “The one who dies with the most toys wins!"
   ...we want power without accountability.
   ...we want our “rights” without responsibility.

That is not the America I grew up in. That is not the America I want to live in. And the truth is, that America is not sustainable.

Instead of reading the anti-communist fear-mongering of Ayn Rand, we should be re-reading William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”, about how a will to power causes a group of civilized boys to regress to savagery.

Until we have a change of heart toward one another – until we can turn around the list above – the problem of gun violence in America will continue.

Until then, here’s my suggestion for dealing with gun violence in America:

When I was in college, when a member of a fraternity got into trouble – either on campus or out in public – the school administration referred the matter to the fraternity leadership. Sometimes, if the infraction was serious enough, the entire fraternity was disciplined for the actions of the one. It didn’t matter if the violation was a sanctioned fraternity activity or just one idiot misbehaving – he was a member of the fraternity, and therefore he was their responsibility.

So the next time someone goes on a killing rampage, let’s refer the matter to the NRA and other organizations who think gun ownership is a divine right. Make them responsible for the irresponsible actions of the shooter. Make them responsible for burying the bodies, and for comforting the grieving families. Make them financially responsible for the damages done. Make them responsible for counseling the shocked survivors, and make them explain yet again why the Second Amendment is so vitally important to our society.

*     *     *
Since the Sandy Hook shooting in December, there have been five other school shootings.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What Do Women Really Want?

It’s a little-known fact, but the Captain knows how to read!

And does so occasionally!

But unlike many of my clergy colleagues, most of what I read today is not the ancient tomes of the Church. In the same way that many church members want to recapture the Church of the 1950s, many of my colleagues want to recapture the Church of the 1460s.

No, rather than reading the dusty theological treatises of the Enlightenment, I prefer to be enlightened about the present generation – what people today are thinking and feeling. And not just church people.

While I do occasionally pick up the writings of one of today’s hip new generation of pastors – wow, is it ever easy to get published today! – what I read most often is what others in the general public are reading.

My reading list, of recent, has included “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” by Tucker Max; several books by or about Hunter Thompson; I revisited “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72” right before the 2012 election. And just before Christmas I completed “50 Shades of Grey”, E.L. James’ suddenly “must-read” book of 2012.

[Spoiler alert: if you’re thinking about reading this book, stop reading this blog now.]

I know, “50 Shades” has been widely described as “mommy-porn”; so why would the Captain read it?

The reviews and conversations about the book intrigued me. Kind of like the Freak Show at the county fair, some things you just have to see for yourself!

The book is about an otherwise intelligent college student falling in love with an older man. The man happens to be both handsome and stinking rich. The conflict is that he wants her to sign a contract to engage in three months of BDSM activities with him at his demand.

For those unfamiliar with BDSM – no, it’s not like “LOL” – the letters stand for a combination of sexual activities: Bondage & Discipline / Domination & Submission / Sadism & Masochism.

If you don’t know the meaning of these words, Google them. The Captain will only go so far with your sex education.

Apparently Christian Grey, the rich guy in the novel, can only be sexually satisfied when his female companion submits to his “peculiarities”.

When we meet the book’s heroine, Anastasia Steele, she is a 22-year-old college senior, a literature major about to graduate and go out into the real world. She appears to be smart, but not very self-confident.

And she is a virgin, a condition which Mr. Grey quickly remedies in a not-so-romantic moment.

“Let’s get this over with.”

For the most part, the book reads like a typical romance novel, only with more graphic sex scenes thrown in to keep women reading.

Early on, Mr. Grey determines he must possess Miss Steele. He gives her expensive gifts, and impresses her with a helicopter ride to his apartment atop a skyscraper in Seattle. He makes her sign a confidentiality agreement, and later presents her with his offer: she will commit to an exclusive relationship, and be his submissive from Thursday through Sunday of each week for a period of three months. She must wear only what he specifies, eat what he determines, and work out with his private trainer. He even sends her to a gynecologist (apparently on his payroll) for birth control.

And for three months, he is allowed to tie her up, “discipline” her when she is disobedient (yes, with whips and canes), and have sexual intercourse with her at will.

In exchange, she will be treated like a fairy princess the rest of the week, showered with expensive clothing and gifts.

As I read this tripe, I was truly confused. Yes, Christian Grey is rich and handsome… but he wants to have a short-term sexual relationship with Anastasia that involves whips and chains and no commitment on his part! What modern woman wants that?

You’d almost think it was a fantasy novel written for guys!

“Dear Penthouse Letters, …”

And the part that really boggles my mind is that Anastasia falls for it! Well, she doesn’t actually sign the “contract”, but she willingly submits to his jealousy and possessiveness, she readily submits to his sexual excesses (apparently he’s really good at it!), and she reluctantly submits to the emotional rollercoaster ride that accompanies this type of relationship.

Oh, at first she protests the expensive gifts (rightly so), interpreting them as payment for sexual favors. “They make me feel like a prostitute," she tells him.

That reminds me of an old joke…

Him: Would you have sex with me for $1 million?
Her: Sure I would!
Him: Would you have sex with me for $10?
Her: No way! What kind of woman do you think I am?
Him: I think we’ve already determined that. Now we’re just haggling over the price!

But eventually Anastasia submits to even this.

Wanting to be fair to this book and its author, I ran the scenario past the First Mate. She hasn’t read the book – has no interest in reading it either – but her immediate response was, “She’s just in it for the money!”

And she may have a point. If some poor, ugly guy wanted to tie you up and beat you and have sex with you on demand, would you submit to that? I don’t think so. In fact, I think there are laws against it!

Oh, wait. This just in: The U.S. House of Representatives has refused to reauthorize the “Violence Against Women Act”. So I suppose the ugly guy can tie you up and beat you after all!

But I digress.

So I asked myself, if not simply for the money, why would an intelligent woman submit to this? And I confess, I don’t understand. Even as a child, when reading the old fairy tales, I always wondered why the beautiful princess needed a handsome prince on a white stallion to sweep her off her feet. After all, she’s a princess! She could very well be queen in her own right some day!

Later in the book, Miss Steele realizes that Mr. Grey is emotionally damaged (childhood issues), but instead of fleeing, she determines she is going to change him.

Oy vay!

Finally, at least for this book, when Mr. Grey convinces Anastasia that BDSM is the only way their relationship will work for him, she asks him to give her the worst of it so she can decide if she wants to stay around. He does, beating her severely with a strap – which really gets him off! – and she (rightly) determines she doesn’t need this sh*t, and walks out of the relationship.

And I rejoiced that Anastasia finally woke up to reality… until I realized that there are two more books in this series!

You know she’s going back for more. Sigh.

Perhaps I have been completely indoctrinated in the Women’s Liberation Movement, but I just don’t understand why an otherwise intelligent woman would submit to being abused and degraded like this.

But I have noticed a disturbing trend in society today, especially among evangelical Christians; a seemingly large number of women want nothing more than to be stay-at-home moms. They want to embrace the “wives submit to your husband” stuff in the Bible. They want to “love, honor, and obey”.

At least they say they do…

And that’s okay, if that’s what you want to do. I just don’t know why you would want to.

And what is missing in a man’s psyche that he would need such submission and degradation from a woman in order to feel sexually satisfied? superior… in control…

Yes, I know there are people like this in the real world. That doesn’t mean I understand it.

No, I won’t be reading the other two books in the series. Once you’ve seen the dog-faced boy and the bearded lady, you don’t have to go back again.