Sunday, 4 June 2017

If Wishes Were Horses

There has been another terror-related incident in the news, and once again there are people pointing at this and saying "This wouldn't have been so bad if the defenceless people had guns".

I'm tired of it.

Bear in mind that the majority of the police forces in the UK (except for Northern Ireland) do not carry firearms; only specially-trained officers have permission to do so.  However officers are armed with non-lethal alternatives such as Tasers or incapacitant sprays which are subject to the same regulations.

I don't hate guns per se.  I have family members who served in the military.  I know people who are responsible gun owners.  What frightens me is the "wild west" mentality, that there are too many people who use their guns as tools of intimidation, or worse.  The notion of open-carry makes me more nervous.

A few months ago I took part in a conversation with a gun enthusiast who, among other things, decried other countries as weak and said that they would no longer exist if the U.S. hadn't been involved in World War II.  He then went further and added, "We can walk right in if we wanted to and take what we want," before posting a photo of his personal sidearm.  I interpreted that action as a threat and immediately blocked him.

Someone I have known for a long time has, in recent years, become extremely pro-gun.  On almost a daily basis he posts gun-related articles and images on his Facebook wall and he fully supports open-carry.  That's his prerogative.  But when he began to encourage his fellow gun-owners to defy state legislations concerning background checks and other gun controls, that's when I had to draw the line and limit my conversations with him.  I eventually unfollowed him with great regret because I just couldn't bear to see his arguments any more.

More guns isn't the answer.  We should have more open dialogue with the disaffected.  There needs to be more services for people struggling with mental illness.  And there must be better controls so that people who are more likely to become violent won't end up hurting so many others.  Sadly, in many countries there isn't the money or the political will to do that.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Cruel Sport

Paul Simon wrote:
In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out, in his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving", but the fighter still remains

I have never liked boxing as a sport.  I don't believe it's even a sport; it's only called such to give a veneer of civility on what otherwise is simply cage fighting with rules.  It's people hitting each other in the hopes of winning large sums of money, for the benefit of bloodthirsty coaches and spectators.

This choice of career leaves both physical and mental scars, no matter how accomplished the fighter might be.  Statistics show that traumatic brain injury associated with boxing occurs in approximately 20% of professional boxers.  The most famous case would be Muhammad Ali, who was a boxing champion and Olympic gold medallist in his prime.  However later in life he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Syndrome which was attributed to boxing-related brain injuries.

Just recently a boxer in Saint John NB was taken to hospital for emergency surgery to treat a bleed in the brain after he was knocked out during a match.  A quick Internet seach reveals that there have been fighters who have died on the mat as a result of a hit.

This sort of carnage isn't limited to the boxing ring.  Hockey, American football, and other sports that involve players hitting each other all contain risks of concussion and injury.  No amount of safety equipment will prevent that; in fact, the more padding a player puts on, the harder they will get tackled.

The reason the fighting continues of course, is that one of the basic human instincts is to compete over something: food, women, land, resources.  In order to present the appearance of civilization we cloak competitions with uniforms and rules, and call it sport.  Unfortunately some sports lend themselves to easily to brutality, and terrible injuries will continue as long as the people watching keep cheering for it.  Even on "The Flintstones" animated show, the two principal male characters would get tremendously excited whenever one of them happened to score tickets for "the fights".

Hockey was once my favourite sport.  Not any more.  I've refused to watch professional hockey for over two decades because of the increasing number of in-game brawls and injuries from hitting.  Too many players have been forced to retire early due to injury.  Some have even killed themselves because they couldn't cope with the physical or mental trauma.

The fighting has to stop, but it won't as long as there remains a demand for it.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Musical Beliefs

This afternoon, a song came into my head that I remember singing way back in grade school with the choir.  After searches on what I could recall of the lyrics turned up very little, I tried keywords instead and came up with my answer.

"The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come" is a Christian allegorical tale written in 1678 by John Bunyan.  The work is considered one of the most important works in English literature, and has been dramatized in film and on stage several times.  It's a story of a man named "Christian" who is guided by "Evangelist" on a very difficult journey toward peace and salvation.

In 1978 a musical based loosely on the book was written by Nick Taylor and Alex Learmont, called simply, "Pilgrim".  It was songs from this musical that the choir I sang in performed on a mini-tour of several local grade schools.

The lyrics of the first song are, in part:

There's a hard time a comin'
When the judgment bell will toll
There's a hard time a comin'
And the testing of the soul

I do not consider myself Christian.  I was raised in a secular household and we celebrated the high holidays in our own manner.  However the school I was attending at the time was an English Protestant school.  The Lord's Prayer was recited at the beginning of each weekly assembly and many of the kids attended church on a regular basis.  A few kids would ask me if I believed in God and I found it difficult to frame an answer that they would not find offensive.

Over the years I have been to many services in several Christian denominations in a personal effort to understand and respect the belief system, but always viewed the rites from an outsider's perspective.  I have sung in choirs that performed masses but the meaning behind the words has meant little.

A friend once asked for advice on behalf of her son: they weren't Christian but the choir her son sang in was going to perform liturgical works that he personally didn't believe in, so how could he in good conscience continue with the choir?  My answer was that he didn't have to believe in what the songs were about; he should simply consider them as a vocal challenge.  After all, I had done the same with all the choirs I sang in.

The actor David Tennant once joked in a skit, "You don't have to BE English to teach it."  So you don't have to be Christian to enjoy or perform Christian-related music.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Celebrating Beauty

The middle-aged white men with their heads stuck in the 1950s who are running the United States right now seem to be waging war on women and their rights.

In January, the current occupant of the White House reinstated a global gag rule that bans U.S.-funded groups around the world from discussing abortion.  In March, the Senate pushed forward a bill that would allow states to withhold funds from Planned Parenthood.  Many individual Senators seem to have no idea how how womens' biology works.  Judges in rape cases are admonishing victims for their clothing, behaviour, and actions.

Even Facebook, a supposed forum of free speech, removes videos that talk about women and their bodies - especially if said video contains nudity.  One such, "Choose Pussy over Pain" from Kundalinikak.com was taken down less than an hour after it was posted.

So murder, radicalization, and violence are okay but celebrating a woman's body is not?

Clearly these men have forgotten that women gave birth to them, nurtured them, and guided them.  If it were up to them, women would exist solely for their own benefit.  Sadly, this is the case in many countries already.

I once knew a family that professed to be Catholic even though they hadn't attended church regularly for years.  However they clung to many outdated beliefs, including that a woman must obey her husband in all things.  To them, if a wife refused to bear children or if a spouse had an affair, that was grounds for disownment.  They didn't care about the reasons, all they cared about was what was "proper".  I felt sorry for them and for the recipients of their wrath.

These things should not happen here, but they do, and women still pay the price for male arrogance and need for control.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Gun Rules or Guns Rule

Stop me if you've heard this before.

One topic of conversation that gets me riled is the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and people insisting that gives them the inalienable right to carry any weapon they choose - either concealed or in plain sight.

What they so conveniently ignore is the first part of that Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..."

The definition of "militia" is "A military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency" or "all able-bodied civilians eligible by law for military service".

Therefore, by that reasoning, a gun owner should be educated and trained in the proper use and storage of a firearm.  On top of that, said owner ideally should be a member of a trained unit of some form, whether it be a militia, the police, the National Guard, or the Army.  All those units are regulated and the types of firearms allowed in each are specified by law.  (Contrary to popular belief, the National Rifle Association is not a military unit even though they like to think they are.)

However that's not how the system in the U.S. works.  Just about anyone can walk into a shop and purchase a gun after going through a rudimentary background check, and sometimes not even that.  Adding to the confusion is that the regulations concerning licensing and registration in each state vary considerably.

What's worse is that many web sites perpetuate myths about guns and how "X would not have happened if someone had been armed".  Studies have clearly shown that if a gunman sees that you also have a gun, you are more likely to be shot and killed than the other way around.

Speaking of gun myths, someone I know who is very pro-gun shared a photo from a Facebook page called Alien Gear Holsters.  That photo and others like it on the page show Fred Rogers of TV fame holding a weapon of some type and saying "Not in my neighbourhood".  I take a huge exception to people using images like that, and I called out the creator of the photo.  Several members of the group told me about how Mr. Rogers had served in the military and was awarded medals for the kills he accomplished in Vietnam, and how he wore long sleeves on TV to cover his tattoos.

All wrong.

Fred Rogers never served in the military.  According to his official biography he studied music and the ministry, and went directly from college into the media.  The reason he wore long sleeves was to maintain formality and convey authority to his audience.  There are statements on official U.S. military web sites that Mr. Rogers never served.  So when I asked the hecklers on Alien Gear Holsters to show me the proof, naturally they shut up.

Here in Canada our gun laws are much more sane.  The statistics on gun-related incidents per annum prove it.  For example, the number of firearm-related deaths in Canada in 2013 was 1.97 per 100,000 people.

In the United States for the same year it was 10.5.

Think about that.