/* Added by TWP, 10/12/2012 */ /* End of addition */

One of the live oaks that bless my home

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fear U.S.A.

Yesterday, I inadvertently looked at the TV screen in my house.  MSNBC was on, and Brian Williams said something funny about how stupid and empty TV news has become.  He aged very well.  The last time I saw him, he was 5-7 years younger.  Now you know how much TV I consume.

After about 5 minutes, the 10 o'clock news was on.  The news started from giving us an overview of the deadly Nile virus that has been truly decimating us poor Texans.  We were told how we should fear the virus, mosquitoes, walking outdoors, wearing shorts and short sleeves, and being near water - especially stagnant water.  A 90-year old woman in Dallas was reported to have died of the virus. Next, they showed a guy, who was younger than my wife or me. The guy told us how concerned he was for his life.  An older woman followed and spouted out how she too feared for her little old life.

Being an eager student of Edward Bernays, and other younger experts in propaganda and manipulating the little people, I sat on the edge of my sofa, trying to divine what would they start selling us?

And thus the sales pitch started. The local crew first showed us aerial spraying of Dallas, with a mosquito bomber circling above. They assured us that the chemicals drizzling upon our heads were absolutely harmless and the whole metropolitan area would be sprayed with DEET.

DEET is N,N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide, developed by the United States Army, after the harrowing experience of mosquitoes and other bugs in jungle warfare during World War II. It was originally tested as a pesticide on farm fields, and entered military use in 1946 and civilian use in 1957.  Canada, for example, is not as eager to use DEET on its population as the U.S. is.

Camera moved on swiftly to a well stocked drug store, where a sales woman with a grave face told the viewers that they should be stocking up on DEET.   In healthy people, the Nile virus causes flu-like symptoms that go away in a couple of days.  Perhaps today I am suffering from the Nile virus, because as sure as hell I have a flu after flying for 15 hours from Brisbane.

But how would I know, which one is it: A plain old American flu virus or the deadly Nile virus?  No problem, the TV newsters told us.  There are walk-in clinics, where the whole family can test their blood for this stealthy, foreign intruder. At, say, $60 a pop (my estimate), seven days later you could learn if you were infected by the Nile virus, a seriously looking walk-in doctor person told us.  Now, in seven days I should be either dead or healthy again.  So why waste my hard-earned money?

Come to think of it, may be we should send our troops to teach those Nilesians a lesson.  How dare they invade us with their virus?  Now wait a second.  May be the Nile is, like, err, a river? In, like, err, err, Africa?

Nile is the 4,130 miles long river that runs through ten countries:, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya,  Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Egypt. Luckily, we already have Special Forces in at least five of those countries. If we only could name them... Wait:  Kenya!  Is that where President Obama was born?  Or his dad?... Or, whatever... How would we ever know such things in America? Sarah Palin surely didn't, and she almost became a VP of these United States. I guess, her local TV news in Alaska did not show her them Africans, like President Obama.

At that moment I exhausted my capacity to endure this well-calculated fear mongering fiesta, designed to scare the public enough to get them in line, spend money on unnecessary stuff and medical tests, and stay at home or a mall.  So I switched to Jon Stewart and - to my great relief - observed a training session for his field correspondents before the Republican Party Convention.  Jon Stewart will be covering that fear-mongering mega show.  It should be quite funny.  And scary, too.  Perhaps I'll turn on TV again?

P.S. That crazy Fort Hood shooter in 2009, and the Texas A&M shooter in 2012, together killed 15 people (the A&M shooter was killed too) and wounded 32, some gravely.  So in 30 minutes (equal to 0.00006 year), these two individuals killed and maimed more young and healthy Texans than the Nile virus in 13 years.  And the Nile virus only kills old and sick Texans.

Wow!  These two shooters alone were 200,000 times faster in killing Texans than the Nile virus! As my ex-marine friend from Nevada would inevitably say: "Why fight with mosquitoes, when one can use bullets?"

Perhaps we should be spraying Texas for guns?  Or, better yet, for those crazy, trigger-happy gun owners? Nah. Way too many people would have to drop dead to eliminate the only real deadly epidemic in Texas. So, instead, let's keep on blabbing about the imaginary epidemics.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Of Guns and Us

We live in the Big Country Ranch neighborhood, south of the Austin City boundary, and five miles from a major road. It is safe to say that we live in the middle of nowhere.  The southwest side of our 15-acre property touches at least 500 acres of undamaged ("undeveloped") land that is one of the last refuges of wild life in this part of Texas.  We can hear coyotes, many coyotes, howling in the evening next to our home, and we get visits from the numerous wild turkeys, quails, armadillos, racoons, deer, lizards, tarantulas, scorpions, and snakes.  In fact, an armadillo family lives in a small cave next to our house, and a family of six or so racoons lives in the attic of a small utility house nearby. The smart racoons scoured a 7 inch round hole in the siding under the roof and adopted the attic as their family residence. We hear about sightings of mountain lions.

I own three guns: a handgun, a hunting rifle, and a pump shotgun.  I bought the handgun after my house was burglarized in Houston.  A police officer, who came to investigate, asked me if I had a gun.  When I replied no, he said: "Mister, you must be crazy."  He then told me that I could shoot anyone invading my house and if I shot a potential burglar in the backyard, I needed to drag him into the house and "the police promise not to notice."

OK, so I bought my first gun out of fear.  Having a gun, created a problem with my three small children, 2-4 years of age at the time.  I taught all of my children how to handle the gun, check if it is loaded, and never pull the trigger for fun. Then I taught my little children how to run away from a friend's house if another child gets hold of daddy's gun. By the age of 8, my son was quite a good shooter.  My powerful hunting rifle is used to hunt deer, and everybody in my family but my wife has practiced shooting it.  The shotgun has even more fear embodied in it, and we do not like to shoot it.

Cars kill a little more than twice as many American children as guns.  In 2007, 3,000 American children, ages 0-19 were killed with guns.  Also in 2007, drownings, poisoning, burning, and suffocation/ strangulation  - together - killed 3,800 children in the U.S.  (Source: National Center for Health Statistics.).  Thus, cars and guns are the two major causes of accidental deaths of children in the U.S.  I was very lucky that my children learned to avoid touching my gun and other guns on their own, and survived.

Our widely scattered neighbors are a diverse group, from avid liberal environmentalists to ultra-conservative Christians.  Guns are a big element of our lives, so we talk about them occasionally.  A recent lively exchange in the neighborhood chat-group was precipitated by shots fired on someone's property, and quickly evolved into a discussion under what circumstances it is OK to shoot a stray dog, a coyote, and so on.

Coyotes, stray dogs, snakes, and deer do not appear to me as a mortal danger to the welfare of my family. Being around these animals is what life on the Big Country Ranch is. In addition, my peaceful and safe neighborhood definitely is not a war zone, and I do not need to keep my guns on the table at the ready.

I have lived in the Big Country neighborhood for four years.  I run and walk a lot, and I work outside on the trees.  I have seen a shadow of a coyote once at dusk, and for one second.  But I hear them often not more than 50 yards from the house.  It turns out that only a few our neighbors observed a coyote.  Here are three typical stories:
I have seen a coyote twice in the last 9 months. It was moving too fast both times - didn't make it back outside with my gun fast enough.
On our far back edge of Big Country we can always hear what seems to be dozens of coyotes in the vacant land between Big Country and the Polo Club, but in 28 years I’ve never actually seen one. Seeing foxes is common, and we’ve lost at least four cats in the last 28 years to coyotes, but I never seen one on our land or in the surrounding neighborhood. “Stealth” should be part of their Latin name.
About 6:30 one morning a coyote attacked our pet cat who was sitting in our driveway. My husband saw it, grabbed a gun and shot at it as it ran into our pasture. He missed the coyote who dropped the cat, but the cat was already dead.
Obviously, coyotes are not vegetarians and do kill other small animals. We live in their country, so occasionally they kill our careless pets. My wife and I always admonish our beloved cat, Zabka, to watch out for these stealthy scoundrels.

What still eludes me is why our natural reaction is to grab a gun and attempt to kill a coyote we were lucky to see? Even if we kill one, what would it accomplish? Should we also shoot at thunder clouds or the burning Texas sun? In addition, I do not know answers to these questions:
  • Why do we need to keep guns loaded and ready to use in a second?
  • Why do we think that it is OK to shoot at anything we fear or merely do not like?
A recent incident in Canada provides an insight: A Kalamazoo, Michigan, police officer by the name of Wawra, was vacationing in Canada. He felt threatened by two unarmed Canadians, who asked him to buy tickets to a rodeo in Calgary. The officer was frightened enough to want to pull his service gun he could not have in Canada. Officer Wawra later wrote a letter to the editor of the Calgary Herald describing his view of the encounter.  He lamented the unsafe feeling of being unarmed:
“Many would say I have no need to carry (a gun) in Canada,” Wawra wrote. “Yet the police cannot protect everyone all the time. A man should be allowed to protect himself if the need arises.”
Protect himself by pulling a gun on two unarmed people asking a question?! The officer's letter caused a storm of heated replies from the disgusted Canadians, who did not share his paranoia and addiction to guns.

Fear is what drives us to buy guns.  More fear justifies buying more guns.  Guns give us a sense of security and power.  We often use this power to kill animals we do not like or fear.  Sometimes, yet all too often, we use this power to kill people we do not like or fear.  In the U.S., dozens of people are killed each year, or month, by gunmen with fuzzy grudges and semiautomatic weapons. We, the targets, feel ever more threatened, so we buy more guns and delude ourselves that we would be able to defend our lives when suddenly attacked.

Fear is an ugly feeling.  A society built on fear can only become uglier with time.  Unfortunately, in the U.S., we are becoming a more suspicious, fearful, and brutal society.  Somehow I cannot feel good about all of this, even if I buy myself a new, sexy semi-automatic AR-14 rifle, and cuddle it every day. But wouldn't I also need a thousand shiny yellow bullets to keep this particular addiction going?

P.S. On the day I published this blog, the Texas A&M Campus was locked down for a couple of hours because a shootout in the adjacent neighborhood left one constable, the shooter, and an unarmed civilian dead.  An unarmed civilian?!  Why do we use military terminology to describe a guy walking down the street in his own neighborhood? What was that man supposed to do? Wear full-body armor and a military helmet to feel safe during a morning walk?

A day earlier, three policemen in New York fired 12 shots at a man wielding a kitchen knife on a street.  Reliable sources confirm that the man dropped his knife when seven of the 12 bullets killed him.

If 3,000 children are killed with guns each year, and we value their unfulfilled lives at $10 million a pop (no pun intended), the annual cost of our love affair with guns is $3 billion per year, just for our shot-to-death children. Who's going to pay for all of this?  (As a mental exercise, please add the complete costs of shooting 70 young people in Aurora, Co, and killing 12 of them.  My answer: $400 million at the minimum for compensation and medical treatment.)  

And how many children are wounded?  How many adults are killed and wounded by gunfire? (A hint: In 2007 alone, 31,000 people died in the U.S. because of gun-related causes. Source: CDC.  In 2007, you were roughly 60 times more likely to die as a combat soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan than to be shot to death in Happy Town, U.S.A.)