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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Gun Control Stumbles, a Michael Gerson Column and Sid Makes a "Fashion Statement"

Why Serious Gun Control May Stumble 

Sadly, the impetus for serious gun control, particularly on military style assault weapons and magazines holding more than 10 cartridges, has petered out.  Despite Sandy Hook, Aurora and the other massacres in our recent past, it seems that better background checks and more attention to mental health care are all that we are going to get. Anything more just won’t have the votes in Congress. After all, all of the perpetrators of these shootings were mentally ill, and after all, criminals aren’t going to obey the law anyway.

How did this come to pass?  Urban Easterners and West Coast folks may have grown up with cap pistols playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians, but most of them outgrow such childhood games after a few years.  Not so elsewhere in the country where dads take their young sons out to shoot “varmints” and where folks live in those wide open spaces where responses to 911 calls take much more than a few minutes.  If you are living, or imagining that you’re living, “home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play,” you had better have a weapon handy in your front room.  And it’s not just for playing cops and robbers.

Such feeling is deep-seated in many Americans.    Throughout New England, there are statues of arms-bearing Minutemen, and that spirit lives on throughout the country.  Somehow, it’s nobly patriotic to have a weapon beside you.   

  Also, the gross misinterpretation of the Second Amendment suggesting that citizens must have access to weapons in the event the government becomes oppressive adds to this spirit among those who for one reason or another feel politically or economically disenfranchised.

So when the NRA implies that any gun control legislation is ultimately aimed at “taking your guns away,” regardless of what its sponsors may say, elected legislators in both Houses of Congress run scared. Very scared.  And that is where we stand today, with a pro-gun control President who doesn’t have to run for office again and a lot of Congressmen who do, and therefore, are reluctant to do what is right.

But let’s look at what might happen if a majority in the House and the Senate did have the guts to vote to ban military-type assault weapons and limit magazine size, along with mandatory background checks for all gun sales.  A good thing?  Maybe not! 

Many legislators from both parties, having voted for strict gun controls, would lose the support of the NRA, casual gun owners and strict interpreters of the Second Amendment and as a result, face and possibly lose primary challenges.  And in a general election, where a five percent flip is usually enough to change the result of Congressional elections, the opponents of gun control might prevail resulting in a much more conservative House and Senate than we have today. 

Remember that although repeated polls show a majority of Americans support strong gun controls, that is not the case in a majority of the nation’s Congressional districts. Recognizing that the American electorate has its liberal and socially concerned aspects as well as its conservative and individualistic sides. in a majority of Congressional districts, the voters might choose the latter philosophy.  And in our constitutional democracy, such a result must be accepted by all.

Then, not only would serious gun control risk being repealed, but the kind of legislators put into office as the result of such an election would likely be taking a strong rightward stance on other issues such as budgeting, social issues, health care, the “safety net,” foreign policy and all levels of minority rights as well. Bringing about the election of such legislators is the risk which comes with strong advocacy of gun control.  Are we willing to take it?  Many Representatives and Senators are not.

Keep tuned to CNN (or whatever you watch) for news of the next shooting by a “crazy.” 
Jack Lippman

And here is a very perceptive piece by Michael Gerson which recently appeared nationwide in his syndicated column, just in case you missed it.

A Country Increasingly Polarized by Religion

By Michael Gerson (Published March 28 in the Washington Post)

At the Normandy American Cemetery on the cliff above Omaha Beach, there are rows and rows of crosses and Stars of David. Certainly, many buried there were not religious. But the overwhelming majority of Americans in the mid-20th century identified themselves culturally as Protestants, Catholics or Jews, no matter their personal beliefs.

Normandy American Cemetery

This cultural expectation has begun fading in American life. The fastest-growing religious affiliation today is the lack of religious affiliation — the rise of the “nones," as in “none of the above,” who now constitute nearly 20 percent of the population.  

For some, this is an indication that America is finally on the path of secularization taken by much of Europe, where non-religious funerals have become common and half of Europeans have never attended a religious service. Much of modern sociology has been premised on the notion that modernization and secularization go together.

In America’s case, the hypothesis remains unproved. While Americans have become less attached to religious institutions, there is little evidence they have become less religious. In 1992, according to the indispensable Pew Research Center, 58 percent of Americans described religion as “very important.” In 2012, it was . . . 58 percent. There is a similar stability in the proportion of Americans who regard prayer as an important part of their lives.

It is Europe that remains the global religious outlier. America has about the same level of religious commitment as does Latin America. As Robert Putnam of Harvard University points out, “The average American is slightly more religious than the average Iranian.” 

America is not a secularized country. But the relative decline of institutional religion has public consequences. While the number of the devout has remained steady, fewer of those in the religious middle identify with the organizations and values of the devout. What we are seeing, according to Luis Lugo of Pew, is not “secularization but polarization.” Institutional religion has gained a larger body of critics. 

On the level of politics, this trend aids cultural liberalism and the Democratic Party. About 70 percent of the nones voted for President Obama. They are more liberal than the religiously affiliated on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. In fact, nones are now the largest religious category in the Democratic coalition, comprising 24 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters.
This sets up some possible conflicts within the Democratic Party. Its second-largest religious group is black Protestants, among the most religious of Americans. How included will they — or liberal Catholics or progressive evangelicals — feel as Democratic ideology becomes more secular and secularizing? 

But the main tension is emerging between the parties. Religious conservatives remain the largest constituency within the Republican Party. So America is moving in the direction of having one secular party and one religious party, bringing polarization to a new level of intensity. This is movement in the direction of Europe, which has been cursed by the conflict between anticlerical parties and religious parties. For America, this could be a dangerous source of social division, with each side viewing the other as theocrats or pagans. There is no contempt like the contempt of the true believer or the militant skeptic.  

Those cheering the trend of religious disaffiliation should consider some broader social consequences. The rise of the nones is symptomatic of the decline of many forms of belonging. According to Pew, all of the recent growth in the nones has come among those who are not married.   This indicates a group of people distrustful of institutions, with marriage being the most basic of institutions. The unaffiliated donate less to charity than do the affiliated. They participate in fewer volunteer organizations. Individualism can easily become atomization. Whatever else you may think of the communitarian creeds, they help create community. 

Can these creeds adapt to changed cultural circumstances and renew their appeal? Sociologists such as Roger Finke and Rodney Stark provide evidence that it has happened before. At the time of the American Revolution, institutional religion was ossified and only about one-fifth of Americans were church members. Around the Civil War, it was perhaps a third. Today is it is more than half. Over a period of rapid social and economic change, Methodists, Baptists, then Pentecostals found ways to attract new members. “The churching of America,” Finke and Starke conclude, “was accomplished by aggressive churches committed to vivid otherworldliness.” 

In religion, it is easy to measure what is dying; it is harder to locate the manger where something new is being born. 


Sid's Corner

What Do Women Want
(As retrieved from Sid's personal archives)

  The tribe’s four primary hunters were gathered around the fire after their successful expedition to the forest that spread below their community’s cave dwellings in the rocky outcroppings that thrust skyward in the middle of the trees. Each man was dressed in the skins of animals that they had slain. Their feet were wrapped in skins as well, with the pelts spiraling around their legs up to their knees. Each man’s outfit displayed individual touches of style, material, and decoration according to his status and his personal designs.

“What do our women want?” bemoaned Kirk as he poked his spear into the flames to reharden its tip. “I can’t keep up with my mate’s wanting more and more. Ever since our tribe’s elders honored us four by moving us out from the communal cave to set up our own private caves, she’s been bugging me to do things around our cave to make it special, unique, and pretty. First, I had to paint the walls a special color using the juice of rare berries that I had to trek miles and miles to find. Then she made me chisel out nooks in the walls to display her ever-growing collection of rocks, gourds, and skulls. And now she’s got me whacking a hole through the cave’s roof to let more light shine on the collection so that it looks pretty when you enter the cave. She calls it: making a statement.”

“I know, I know,” agreed Dirk, “mine is the same. She visits the other females, checks out their caves, and comes back with new, better, bigger ideas for our cave. She’s driving me crazy.”

“Me too,” York chimed in. “I’ve had to add pictures of deer to the buffalo that I had already painted on the walls because she saw the ones on your walls, Kirk.”

“And how about the damn jewelry?” grumbled Kirk. “I made mine a nice bracelet out of beaver teeth, and now she whining for a necklace out of bear’s claws because she saw one on a woman we captured from another tribe. Do you know how many bears I’ll have to kill to get enough claws – how many days I’ll have to spend hunting? I get exhausted just thinking about it.”

 day with bear claws around

“Well, we’re all in for more of it, guys.” Zork interrupted. “My mate is sporting a small pouch that she took from one of our captured females. It’s made from animal skin – rabbit, I think. It has a deer’s leg tendon as a drawstring to close it and a rawhide strap that lets her hang it on her shoulder or loop it around her neck. She uses it to carry around trinkets, lip color, face paint and other stuff that she insists she needs to have with her wherever she goes. You can bet that as soon as the other females in our tribe see it, they’ll want one too. And then they’ll want them bigger, smaller, of different material and colors so that each can make her own statement. I’ll bet that they’ll each want a collection of all the different varieties just so that they can say that they have one of each.” 

“You’re probably right”, grumbled Kirk. “And it could get worse. I heard the female that we captured telling our females about her tribe’s custom of gathering regularly with other tribes in her section of the land to show each other the things made by each tribe’s females so that they can swap and trade pouches, foot wraps, leggings, and belts. And also to show off the different style of body wrappings – some long, some short, some over the shoulder, and others without shoulder straps that are held up just by their boobs. My gut wrenched as I watched our females get all twittery and gleeful as they chattered about setting up similar gatherings for our tribes in this area.”

“Hey!” erupted York. “What about their foot covers? Tell ‘em about the foot covers, Zork.”

“Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. My mate started up with me that she had to have another pair with a different color. It seems that another of those captive females told her about dyes made from various clays that will stain the pelts with a variety of colorings. Now she wants more pairs in every shade of the rainbow. When I argued that that the cave would be too small to store all this stuff, she lunged at me with a stick.” 

“Damn!” Dirk exclaimed, “What do they want? Don’t they realize that we’ll have to work twice as hard – maybe even more - to hunt down enough critters to meet their demands? Even the females left in the communal cave are nagging their mates to decorate their living areas in special ways to distinguish them from the other areas -  to make them pretty. They all call it: making a statement. Do they expect us to spend all of our spare time foraging for supplies to satisfy their need to make ‘statements’?”

 “Where will it end?” groaned Zork as he clutched his head between his hands. “Could this become a new way of life where we males are no longer hunting just to stay alive, but foraging longer and longer hours just to make things pretty for our mates. To keep up with the demand we’ll have to breed more males to train as hunters and then more females to mate with the increased number of males. That will mean more living space will be needed, which means we could run out of caves. Then, where will we live? All this just because the females believe that they have to make statements. Where will it all end? Are the pleasures they provide us really worth it? Why can’t they be more like us?”

Sid Bolotin


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