Sunday, April 21, 2013

School of Arms

I've been thinking about how to inject guns into the Pa. governor's race, and I think I've come up with something that may have legs: a proposal that all persons seeking a concealed-carry permit be required to take a firearms training course.

At present the only requirement for a concealed-carry permit is a background check. Pennsylvania is a "shall issue" state, which means the authorities are required to issue a permit to anyone who passes the background check. (If memory serves, New Jersey is a "may issue" state, which means the authorities have some discretion.)

I wouldn't mess with the "shall issue" business -- it appears to be very important to gun lovers. But who can argue with a training course, especially after the George Zimmerman fiasco down in Florida?

Such a course already exists in Pa. If you want to carry a gun in connection with your employment -- for instance, you're a rent-a-cop -- you have to take and pass a 40-hour course.

There are schools -- the whole infrastructure already exists. All we need to do is require all people who want to walk around with a pistol in their pocket to take the course.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rush Hour at the Endorphin Factory

4/11/13.  I had an endorphin rush this morning.  Thursdays are usually an easy day for me.  I don't need to be anywhere until 9:30, and so I can turn the alarm off and wake up when I wake up.  This is usually about 6:30.

It's nice to wake up naturally.  I'm usually relaxed and in a good mood and looking forward to a day where I will probably do some things that matter, but without rushing.

The endorphin rushes are apparently a gift from running, but at this point they don't seem to be connected to running.  They show up when they want to, although I think being well-rested, relaxed, and happy helps.

Sometimes when I'm waking up I sense that I'm feeling particularly good, and as I gain consciousness I recognize that I'm in the middle of a rush.  It's important not to move.  I've found that any movement breaks the rush -- it disappears like a spiderweb, and then I might as well get up and have breakfast.

So I just lie there and have the experience.  It's a little difficult to describe.  The mind is very clear.  The body is very alive.  And coursing through every single fiber of my being is this incredible, palpable supply of wellness.

A gift from the pituitary gland, apparently, or at least that seems to be the primary source.  Or, frankly, it may not even be endorphins.  It may be something called anandamide.

I don't care what you call it.  I just know what happens.  And I'm a firm believer in the link to running.

I'm not convinced that I've ever had an actual runner's high, a euphoric state that occurs during a long run or after you stop.  But I have noticed some interesting things that happen to me at the end of marathons, and occasionally late in a long training run.

The definition of pain shifts.  I don't know if the pain actually becomes less, but it loses the ability to dictate what you do.  And time stops being something you measure with a clock.  It becomes I was back there, now I'm here, soon I will go there.  And sometimes it's just I am here.

If it's not endorphins, it's something that manages pain and reorients me to what matters.

And that's what happens to me every once in a while, on a Thursday morning or at some other random, unexpected time.  I can't summon it.  I can't schedule it.  I don't know when it's coming.  All I can do is pay attention when it shows up, and be grateful.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Send in the Englottogastors

I’ve hated the term wordsmith since I first saw it in a help-wanted ad in the New York Times, probably in the 1960’s.  It wasn’t the reference to craft – I often analogize writing to carpentry.  It was the flatness of the term.  There’s no resonance.

They were defining us – the bosses and their HR lackeys.  All of them with exquisitely shiny tin ears.

So I’ve decided to fight back.  Fond as I am of writer, editor – speaker, even – these times call for stronger stuff.  So, let’s send in the englottogastors.  Let them cleanse us of the wordsmiths, and possibly also the content managers, the repurposers, the people who brought us the squiggly macron (which I believe once again is the tilde).

It’s quite a few years ago now that I first ran across the englottogastors in Aristophanes’ The Birds.  The term made me laugh then, and it still does.

I remember mentioning it at the time to my daughter, Alicia.  But I made a mistake.  I thought they were eglottogastors.  Alicia loved it.  Later, I had doubts, went back and checked the text, and brought her the news.  It didn’t go well.  She preferred eglottogastors.  Ten-year-olds can be like that.  (Alicia says, “I still think eglottogastors sounds better.”  Hey, I’m not arguing.)

Anyway, the englottogastors show up in line 1694 ff., where the chorus is saying mean things about people like Gorgias, who make their living by wagging their tongues, rather than working with their hands.

Gorgias was one of the first practitioners of something called rhetoric, the art of persuasion.  I personally think that Aristophanes felt somewhat threatened by these rhetoric people.  After all, they were muscling in on the territory of the playwrights, who’d had a pretty clear field up until then, when it came to the wordsmith thing.

Aristophanes clearly intended englottogastor as a term of opprobrium.  But the odd thing, if you think about it, is that Aristophanes was himself an englottogastor.  He filled his belly by wagging his tongue – or, more accurately, causing actors’ tongues to wag.

So I say, let’s adopt the term with pride.  Fix bayonets and charge.  The same thing the Obama people have done with Obamacare.

I think it can apply to anyone who makes a living working with words – writers, lawyers, politicians – actors, certainly. 

Let us rejoice in this ridiculous appellation.  I think I may even get some new business cards printed.

Friday, April 5, 2013

It's Not Like Gunsmoke

Dodge City, Kansas, back in the cowboy days.  A tall, big-hatted man walks out into the dusty main street.  In the distance, another man squares off against him.  They draw.  They shoot.  Marshal Dillon wins.

This was the opening of Gunsmoke, a TV show starting back in the 1950's.  Every week, James Arness and the other guy faced one another honorably, according to unwritten but widely accepted rules.  And the best man won.

The Old West gunfight was often a lot messier and less honorable than the opening of Gunsmoke.  But the underlying idea was there:  the duel.

Historically, the duel was an affair of honor between two gentlemen.  Frequently, the gentlemen were quite young, and the dispute often revolved around the affections of a young lady.  But older men were available to make sure that the almost kabuki-like rules were observed.

The culture of dueling was very widespread years ago.  I've just finished reading Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, set in early nineteenth-century Russia.  Onegin flirts with his friend's beloved at a party; the friend challenges him to a duel; and Onegin shoots him dead.  Then he feels bad.  (Pushkin himself, the author, died in a duel in 1837.)

Probably the most famous American duel was between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804.  At the time Burr was vice president of the United States.  Things did not go well for Mr. Hamilton.

During the nineteenth century, the duel petered out among the upper classes.  Nowadays, young men of good family play lacrosse instead.

But the idea, the little mini-movie, is still there.  When Wayne LaPierre of the NRA says the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, he's immediately taking us back to Dodge City.

The problem with this is that the age of chivalry is over.  People don't call you out into the street any more, to fight a fair fight, face to face.  They wait until you're tired, maybe distracted, maybe walking from your car to your front door.  And then they shoot you in the back.

If the other guy gets the drop on you, it doesn't matter whether you have a gun or not.  You're dead.  Bushwhacking 101.