Enough is Enough

Columbine. Blacksburg. Newtown. Parkland.

The list, incomplete as it is, likely will go on.

We shouldn’t  accept that.

How have we gotten here? How do otherwise well-meaning people get so riled up that they feel compelled to defend their rights, even as people just like them are burying their children?

I don’t question their belief. But their sense of appropriate commentary at this time seems, to be polite, almost entirely lacking.

And while I won’t question that they deeply hold their beliefs, I feel compelled to address some of them,  based solely on the comments I have read across the web and social media.

Stated simply, the facts do not support those beliefs.

Some of my friends who defend gun ownership note that responsible gun owners comply with existing regulations. The say, repeatedly, that criminals, or illegal aliens, or the mentally ill, or any member of any group that can be identified as different from their responsible cohort, will get guns anyway, as if this removes any need to place any restrictions on gun sales.

My friends, you can’t shoot someone dead if you can’t get your hands on a gun.

Some of my friends who defend gun ownership cite the Second Amendment and maintain they are taking a principled stand in favor of strict construction of the Constitution. They say the Second Amendment flatly states that their right to keep and bear arms cannot be infringed.

This is so. Yet it is not absolutely so. A strict reading is not inconsistent with regulation. And, strictly speaking, there is no mention at all of ammunition, which could conceivably be regulated with impunity.

My friends, the right to swing my fist (or have unfettered access to guns) ends where the other man’s nose (or threat to his life) begins.

Some of my friends who defend gun ownership maintain it is a personal safety issue, that they are protecting themselves and their families from violent crime. That they believe this to be true is inarguable. Yet it hardly is. Violent crime is more likely to be encountered by  poor, urban African-American males and rural whites than among solid middle class citizens of the suburbs.

My friends, the world is scary enough without inventing fears, divorced from reality, that require guns for protection.

My beliefs are far more libertarian than those held by most people so I do not easily argue the need to regulate guns. For decades now we have experimented with expanding gun ownership, asserting that more guns will bring more security, and removing sensible restrictions and limits on who may buy what type of weapon.

My friends, we owe it to ourselves, our children and the children of our friends and neighbors, to admit that experiment has failed and try something different.

Otherwise, the list will continue to grow.

 

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The Girl You Want

“What’s in a name?,” the Bard rightly asked.

It’s a question I’ve been pondering once again as I’ve become obsessed with another: Could pop music even exist without songs simply titled by a girl’s name?

There’s no reason they’re required, though. The number of songs about a generic girl dwarfs the Continue reading

Life is In a Spin

Passing
Nella Larsen

Fifteen or so years ago I found myself on Main Street in downtown Flushing, NY at midday. The sidewalks were filled with crowds, some jostling their way between errands, some in search of lunch.

It’s an experience I can recommend because Flushing, which in my childhood had Jewish and Italian enclaves, is nowadays more than 50% Asian. To be in a crowd and be Continue reading

Rat in a Drain Ditch

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Robert C. O’Brien, illustrations by Zena Bernstein

One of the great things about being a parent is revisiting the books you loved when you were a kid. I tell myself  I’m trying to decide whether a given title is age appropriate, but that’s just a rationalization.

The truth is, it’s a blast.

There are plenty of book that cross our threshold bearing Continue reading

Nobody Wants to Hear Him

Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do about It
Richard V. Reeves

You would think, by now, that I’d have learned my lesson . Should I really be surprised when, upon close reading, an author turns out to be engaged in the great game of careerism?

Last July, in writing about a David Brooks column, I mentioned the book pictured nearby, promising to get to Continue reading

In the Largest State of the Union

Tracks Across Alaska: A Dog Sled Journey
Alastair Scott

Obsessive is not a word I typically use to describe myself. Mrs. AHC, though, has been known to voice the belief that,  despite my demonstrated entropic tendencies, I suffer from OCD.

Settling that disagreement will have to wait, at least until I finish talking about the latest Alaska volume to cross my path. You may recall that venturing to Alaska has been a Continue reading

These are the Fables

The Tales of Beedle the Bard
J.K. Rowling

Sometimes the commercial aspects of publishing are more apparent than others. Take the book shown at right. In many ways it’s Exhibit A in making the case that publishers–and authors–will do whatever they can to extract every ounce of profit from a property.

It’s a classic marketing problem. With a successful franchise, people want more of the same. Publishers Continue reading

What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

The Year in  Music:  The Titular Playlist

It’s time for the annual listing of the songs from which I borrowed my post titles. A mixtape fiend back in the  C-90 era, I have once again  provided a Spotify playlist. I’m Continue reading

Every Cell in Chile Will Tell

Maya’s Notebook
Isabel Allende

At the height of the War on Drugs a dramatic television commercial appeared. Perhaps you’ve seen it.

A young woman held a frying pan and spoke about your brain on drugs . Then suddenly, with no warning, she started swinging the pan, destroying everything in the kitchen as she recited a litany of all the destruction drug use would bring.

You might take away any number of messages from the Continue reading

In Your Head, They’re Still Fighting

The Dead Republic
Roddy Doyle

My mother, encouraging my verbal side, stored my first grade writing assignments in the box my school uniform came in.  They’re in my basement now, but one’s missing.

Focusing on the core culture our family was built upon, it Continue reading

Alabama Getaway

Like many another Irishman my spectator sport of choice is politics. So I could not let the results of yesterday’s special election for US Senator in Alabama go unremarked upon.

I’m reasonably certain the usual media channels will undertake what passes for analysis. So I’m going to actually confine Continue reading

A Hungry Yearning Burning

Sontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me
Craig Seligman

If I can avoid it, I’d prefer not to describe myself as confused.  Yet there are vast realms of human endeavor that leave me befuddled.

Which brings me to this short, dense love note to two of the 20th Century’s more accomplished writers. When I stumbled across it in a bargain bin my excitement was Continue reading

Closer to the Danger Zone

These year end holidays are a bear. I should be writing, I have been writing. But I keep being dragged away by commitments.

Yet things keep nagging at me. This week, I’m wondering if our troubles as a nation can be chalked up to Classic Rock.

You decide for yourself. See you next week with a proper post.

 

They’ll be Calling You a Radical

The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics
Mark Lilla

My empathic capacity, evidently, is bigger than I thought because in addition to philosophers and historians I’m beginning to feel sorry for liberals.

I’d be less than honest, though, if I didn’t admit thoroughly enjoying this brief, well-reasoned skewering of current leftish pieties. Although it never quite reaches the level of Stalinist/Trotskyite rancor, Lilla’s book is Continue reading

Do You Find This Happens All the Time?

Roy Moore and the Persistence of Regional Folkways

Every once in a while all the weirdness converges at once.  When it does I reach for my social science toolkit. After all, outrage, too, is a social construct.

This week, the Republican candidate in a special election for US Senator from the state of Alabama, ran into a firestorm. Three women, on the record, attested to dating Judge Roy S. Moore when they were in their late teens. A fourth offered a Continue reading

American History and Practical Math

The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions
Andrew Hacker

Let’s be honest: math can be terrifying. I’m not an engineer because I couldn’t wrap my head around integral calculus.

But I  know some things about myself. One is that when it comes to math–the kind they care about on standardized Continue reading

Goin’ Up the Country

How Right You Are, Jeeves
P.G. Wodehouse

Applesauce. Until now it hadn’t occurred to me that this seasonal comestible could function as a curse word.

That’s why Wodehouse can fill a couple of library shelves and I…well, you can figure that next bit out for yourself. It helps, of course, that he has the perfect delivery Continue reading

And Crossing Off Lists

The 200 Best Songs of the 1970s
Pitchfork Magazine
(Originally published August 22, 2016)

I thought long and hard about taking this week off–I even took out the ingredients to make chocolate croissants. After all, the last thing any of you need is another opinionated epistle that has no external point of reference.

At least with books you get to decide if you want to read it yourself to see if what I’m Continue reading

Know Your Place in our Republic

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis
and How To Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance
Ben Sasse

Some days,  the notion of an open mind seems a relic of an earlier time.  Our cultural moment demands certainty and opposing viewpoints just muddy the waters.

What if it’s not a cultural moment, though?

As I read this book I often found myself wondering if educated people– the sort who read books like this– Continue reading

This is My Quest

The Hobbit
J.R.R. Tolkein

Maybe I felt left out. Maybe I decided a second look was in order. Maybe I just decided that, having spent some pleasurable time with an author, I’d see if a return visit with his best friend proved likewise.

There was, though,  a potential hiccup: broadly speaking, I Continue reading

Some Son of a Bitch Would Die

The Black Box
Michael Connelly

My newly identified problem with crime fiction may start right here.

Even as I wrote that sentence I realized it wasn’t fair. There’s another candidate in the running, but I’m nowhere near feeling certain about it. In this case, though, I know my exasperation led me to set the book aside for Continue reading

Losing My Religion

Neither King nor Prelate: Religion
and the New Nation, 1776-1826
Edwin S.  Gaustad

A while back I lamented the fate of philosophers. Today, I’m expressing my sympathies for historians.

I’ve always loved history; if I had known, or encountered, some of the more recent historiography  I might even have chosen it as my major. The siren song of quantification, though, drew me across campus though the underlying motivation was the same: to help me Continue reading

Heigh Ho Heigh Ho

Labor Day 2017

(C) Walt Disney Company
no infringement intended

And so another summer comes to an end. Around here, the weather gods have jumped early into autumn (58 degrees when I awoke) even as Houston starts to rebuild from a hurricane. September can be puzzling in a continent-spanning country. Continue reading

Livin’ in a Fool’s Paradise

Paradise News
David Lodge

It seems appropriate to finish a book about vacation while on one. Except that the trip at the center of this book is hardly a vacation and the drive just taken to Atlanta and back was made possible by an extended disengagement from the world of work.

But enough carping. Vacation is supposed to be a happy Continue reading

That Vigilante Man

Dead Silence
Randy Wayne White

What happens when the character you originally liked wears out his welcome?

That question has been on my mind lately as I’ve found myself struggling with, of all things, crime fiction. And while I’m not sure if I’m hitting the same wall with every writer who’s giving me trouble, I am sure that the Continue reading

Tunes on the Dunes 2017

The Duke Robillard Band
At Misquamicut Beach, RI, August 9, 2017

Every so often I’m able to deliver on what might otherwise be just a well-intentioned promise.

A short time ago, in the J. Geils post, I mentioned a band and guitar player I’ve been listening to since 1979. That’s when the  self-titled Roomful of Blues album appeared, seeming to land Continue reading

To Believe in this Living

A Patchwork Planet
Anne Tyler

Have you crossed paths with your angel yet?

I’m not talking about your Guardian Angel. I was raised with that comforting idea–that there was always one of God’s helpers ready to steer you from harm. No, I mean the person, perhaps sent by God, whose sole interaction with Continue reading

Them Belly Full

Best Food Writing 2008
Edited by Molly Hughes

It’s a good thing, I suppose, that books about food don’t come with a sell-by date.  If they did I’d ignore it in the case of this volume .

I’ve admitted I’m a sucker for annuals. Sports. Science. Music. They’re one of the great cheats in my reading life. So when  this food annual showed up in the discount bin Continue reading

Bring Your Lawyer

Rumpole Rests his Case
John Mortimer

Most readers, I imagine, turn to the printed word for escape, relaxation, fun.

Me? I’m up to my ears in newspaper columns, academic papers and social science. It’s not as though I don’t enjoy a good yarn and a belly laugh, though. Continue reading

Lunch All by Yourself

Brooking Dissent: The To-Do Over David Brooks’
Latest Column

Allow me to start with a confession: I don’t eat sushi and I am addicted to American cheese. I know, I know, American cheese isn’t even properly cheese. It’s cheese food, whatever that means.

Why does this matter? Because such small Continue reading

A Workin’ Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide
Arlie Russell Hochschild

Welcome to Tea Party America with your host, Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States. Many people find this fête unsettling. I’d rather understand why my worldview differs so much from that of the party throwers.

Luckily, I am not alone in that desire. Continue reading

In Congress, July 4, 1776

(Because it bears repeating.)

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that Continue reading

Watch the Parking Meters

Leadership–It’s a System Not a Person
Barbara Kellerman
Daedalus, Summer 2016

By now it should be apparent I rarely seek information where everyone else does. I don’t even really look for it. I just tend to stumble across things and find a use for them later.

That’s certainly the case with the Summer 2016 issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. In what has to be one of the more fortuitous Continue reading

He Knows all the Chords

J. Geils
1946-2017

Just over two months ago J. (John Warren) Geils passed away at the age of 71.  He was best known as the lead guitarist in the eponymous J. Geils Band, a group that had their heyday in the 1970s and were last heard from, in recorded form, in the 1980’s.

In recent years,  Geils had reinvented himself in a way few aging members of Baby Continue reading

To Try to Save a World

Summerland
Michael Chabon

It had to happen. It happens every time.

I get a few novels and some literature under my belt and start to feel cocky. “See,” I think, “I still know how to do this. Maybe I even learned something since the last time.”

Then reality intrudes. Continue reading

Days of Miracle and Wonder

Goodbye Columbus
Philip Roth

This week I’m revisiting a modern classic. You didn’t think I’d lived this long without reading Roth, did you?

Roth is Philip Roth, the one-time enfant terrible of American letters, a man who long ago crossed the great divide into the land of literary writers. This volume, originally published in 1959, contains the title novella and Continue reading

Time to Sit Back and Unwind: A Six Pack and Playlist

Memorial Day 2017

Rituals are important, they remind us of what is not trivial. So while there will be plenty of sales and BBQs this weekend there will also be parades and moments of remembrance. That’s appropriate given why we have Memorial Day in the first place.

Unofficially, it’s also the start of summer. Last year I kicked off the season with a baker’s half-dozen of Continue reading

In Every Dream Home

The Sense of an Ending
Julian Barnes

Two novels in a row. They’ll pull my union card if this keeps up.

Years ago, I worked for an entrepreneur who favored enigmatic statements. Why, for example, address a staff issue when you can say, “A job is a problem that takes care of itself.”

Unfortunately, I picked up the habit. Here’s a favorite: Continue reading

Hear Me Roar

I Am Charlotte Simmons
Tom Wolfe

Readers of the last post should have seen this coming.

Before the sociologists got to the subject of campus sex, the novelists had gotten there first.  Well, one novelist and because the scrivener in question is Tom Wolfe you get a two-fer. Wolfe the novelist is also Wolfe the Continue reading

Physical Conversations of Different Kinds

American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus
Lisa Wade

As a young social science student  I took a class sure to be easy. A 200-level course, it promised to use popular culture to illustrate major concepts in sociology.

Piece of cake, I thought. I like to read, it’s popular culture. How hard can it be?

Sixteen weeks later I was  dead from the punishing pace of reading 600-page novels, such as Thomas Mann‘s Continue reading

I Hate People When They’re Not Polite

Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness
of Everyday Life
Lynn Truss

I think Lynn Truss might be one of those people who instantly understands what’s wrong in this story:

A little more than a year ago I attended a compulsory ‘training’ session organized by the firm for which I then worked. Thinking people will recognize these as Continue reading

Your Momma’s Gone Away

S is for Silence
Sue Grafton

Editors, I think, are a lot like brand managers. At least the ones striving for commercial success. I don’t envy them that job. Soap doesn’t push back or have an ego that needs tending to.

It also has to be easier to maintain consistency with soap.

Successful mystery writers generate franchises. That Continue reading

Dancin’ in a Ring Around the Sun

Love is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970
Varrious Artists Boxed Set

I hesitate to write about music. In part that’s because I know others do a far better job of it than I ever will. It’s also in large part because I am skeptical of treating commercial products as though they  belonged among the great art works of western Continue reading

Kids Growing Up Too Soon

67 Shots: Kent State and the End
of American Innocence
Howard Means

The first unsupervised business trip I ever went on with a client took me from New York to Tampa, Florida. But I went by way of Ohio to pick up Larry so we could work on the plane.

You’re riveted, aren’t you?

Here’s what I discovered at dinner that night. The mild-mannered man sitting across from me, deacon in his Continue reading

Paranoia Strikes Deep

The Paranoid Style in American Politics
Richard Hofstadter

Americans are a famously ahistorical people. And so, like a bad dream scripted by George Santayana, the same tropes, for better and for worse, keep turning up.

The rhetoric in these parts has been ugly for the past couple of years and its pace seems to have accelerated since the calendar turned. What, I have found myself Continue reading

Too Much Money in Too Few Places

Other People’s Money: The Real Business of Ecance
John Kay

opm_kay“I’m just a banker, doing God’s work.”
Lloyd Blankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs (11/2009)

“The culture of anonymous trading is divorced from economic context, devalues or eliminates personal relationships and fosters the self-aggrandising self.” (p. 269)
John Kay, 2015

American economists don’t make statements like the second  quote above. Doing so could be hazardous to their career health. Thankfully Dr. Kay is British and so is Continue reading

Dig That Jazz Band Ball

Snoopy jazzMusic  gets me through the day and I can be a bit fascistic, especially when it comes to breadth. My kids don’t even get much TV since I think the radio is a better alternative. And the station they listen to most often is WBGO, the jazz station hereabouts.

I might be the most improbable person to listen to jazz since, in musical terms, I don’t know what I’m listening to. I just followed Continue reading

A Whizz of a Wiz

the_producer“Did you know there’s no Academy Award for producing?”-Stanley Moss in Wag the Dog

Years back I’d spend countless hours with a pair of Creative Directors I know trying to make sense of why the Grammy Awards needed to separately recognize the Song of the Year and the  Record of the Year.

The distinction we settled on was that Record of the Year was the producer’s award, which makes little sense once you realize that, unlike the Academy Awards, the Continue reading

Lies Lies Lies Yeah

Tangled Webs
How False Statements are Undermining America
from Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff

James B. Stewart

tangledWe live in an era of truthiness and alternative facts. That makes me wonder if ether the title or the cover image of this book will  be recognized by all but a narrow, possibly aging, swath of the public.

For those who don’t know  the author, James B. Stewart has been found between hard covers for just about 25 Continue reading

Be Fire Next Time

Wildfire
Nelson DeMille

wild_fireWhat should we make of best-selling books bearing  cautionary author’s notes?

Under other circumstances I might not be diverted to pondering such a question. But the 45th President of the United States was sworn in the other day and he pledged to “unite the civilized world” in removing “radical Islamic Continue reading