Sunday, June 12, 2016


Prologue: Inspiration

Somewhere, along the way, I forgot why I started this.

It was feeling like a diary, and a not particularly good one, instead of what I'd originally intended, reflected in the name of the blog, a "column". The early archives are a journey of whetting my style against the columns of Jon Carroll, San Francisco editorial writer who retired in December of 2015, after 8,700 articles.

He'd write about television ads. He'd write about the magnolia tree in his yard. His cat, Bucket. Going to a sports game. The homeless.

The point of his articles was that you were interested in his particular take - no matter the content. An excerpt of his prose, from an article in 1996, entitled "The Old Guy at the Wedding":

"NICE WEDDING last weekend. Very fine pizza; always a plus at a wedding. Lovely couple. Sweet music. Chocolate wedding cake -- why doesn't everyone think of that? Fans.
"I don't mean to be immodest, but try and stop me. I am standing there in my extremely lovely Italian suit (the kind that causes people to involuntarily finger the sleeve and say, 'I had no idea that you owned a suit like that, or at all'), eating a nectarine and gazing benignly into the mystic, and people are coming up and saying:
"'I know you hate this, but I really want to say how much I enjoy your column.'
"Why do they think I hate it? Have I ever given the slightest indication that the admiration of strangers would be anathema to me? I suppose it's flattering, this assumption about my innate modesty, but it flies in the face of almost everything we know about human nature.
"People like to hear good things about themselves. You want to make a friend? Say something nice. This is not exactly a state secret.
"So this happens a few times and I'm maybe just a little full of myself. Maybe I'm going, 'These are my people and I shall protect them from need and want.' Maybe it's a movie called 'Mr. Hotshot Goes to a Wedding.'"
It's not amazing social commentary - but you could read it for hours. In 2007 I started archiving his articles, and stopped, after sporadic intervals, in 2010. My initial "columns" that became the kernel of this site were called "Jonish" and numbered. Jonish 50 - Reflections on September 11th. Jonish 07 - On the Purchasing of Pornography. Jonish 69 - Confronting Global Hunger

The first part of this post, then, is a belated au revoir to a writer who got me into all of this in the first place. He taught me something very valuable - it doesn't matter what you're writing so long as the voice is yours, and the voice contributes something.

Part One - Purpose

The other night I bought myself a copy of Watchmen, which I read a long time ago and somehow never ended up owning. So now I own it. And that same night I reread it. And, a day later, I started re-reading Transmetropolitan.

If I have any long-time readers, which is doubtful, they may or may not remember my initial post on the subject back in 2012. For the uninitiated: Transmetropolitan is a comic that tells the story of Spider Jerusalem, the mid-future analogy of Hunter S. Thompson, wreaking journalistic havoc on a City that is the wet-dream of Koch brothers' free-market anarchism. And, analogous to Doc Thompson, Jerusalem cares deeply about politics.

Since I was a kid I wanted to be a politician. I always ran for office. I always wanted to fix things. I figured my contribution - my voice - was worth adding. Eventually I even got elected to student council - my senior year.

It was not until I had some time on my hands, though, wandering around the country, reading the next issue of Transmetropolitan in every library I came across, that I became interested in politics. I'd always wanted the position of politician, and figured whatever the problems of the day were I'd take a principled, moral, stance. But actually engaging politics had hither-to-fore not really crossed my mind.

No coincidence, then, that my initial forays into the serious issues of our generation and our problems were written once I'd just finished Transmet and had also just finished my travels across the country - sleeping on couches from Los Angeles to Brooklyn, Cleveland to Worcester, Portland, OR to Portland, ME. From that time on I've been a political junkie - increasing my understanding, following primary races, studying gerrymandered maps, doing research on super PACs at the Berkeley Law Library, I watched The West Wing and The Newsroom, and on, and on.

My project of a book on campaign finance reform started in 2012. That October I wrote that I admired Jerusalem, but didn't quite want to be him:

"I don’t want to be a hero – yet. I don’t want to change the world just now. Someone else can take it up and deal. Right now I’m busy, though, on the more than off-chance no one will step up to the plate."

And that, gentle readers, is why this blog lost its way. Because for the first time since I became a junkie, I found a hero. And instead of my doing all the talking, someone else could take the mic for a while.

Part Two - Reform

Fourteen months and two weeks ago, to the day, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, announced his Presidential campaign. Now, for all but the delusional, it is over.

A year and more has gone by where I didn't have to be a hero. And that goes a long way in explaining why I've written little of substance.

Six months ago, though, I reminded people why campaign finance was important, and why I supported Sanders. Sanders was going to do my job for me. I wouldn't need to fix the world - he would. He was going to fix the broken political system. He was going to deal with income inequality. He was going to manage an out of control Congress. It was under control.

Last Tuesday he lost. I voted for him, and the final results were 43 - 55, against. I saw him deliver a speech. It said all the things I agree with.


Two months and two days after Sanders announced I posted that my first draft of the book on campaign finance reform was:

"DONE. Clocking in at a slight, but still respectable, 104 pages, with over 30 cited books and scholarly sources, taking three years to write first as blogs, then as a draft of something more, unknown hours and days in libraries tracking stuff down and reading articles, books, and pouring over data, edited three times (undoubtedly still full of mistakes and badly in need of alpha readers) and formatted the way I like it - the manuscript is fucking DONE. Now I need to have other eyes look it over and work with me for the next few months to get it ready for submitting.

soreallyitsabitprematurebutstill... DONE!"

This was when Sanders was a total joke. No hope of winning. Last Tuesday that didn't seem so funny. The year in between had turned him into a serious candidate, and last Fall I began to help his campaign with contributions and phone banking.

...Anyway. He lost.

While I agree with Clinton on quite a lot, I doubt sincerely that we'll have serious campaign finance reform during her term. I know we won't have any if the living troll Trump gets into office.

The book will need to be taken up again. Rewritten, heavily, after this campaign. There's work to do.

Once again, then, I feel the need to act. I've been passive, pleased to be a follower, part of a movement, letting someone else hold the mic. But the ride has returned to the greasy kid with the lever, and it's time to get off. Fun while it lasted - stepping onto the platform you remember the reality of the world around you, the obligations as the sensation returns of ground beneath your feet.

Part Three - Guns

It may be rereading Transmetropolitan.

It may be that I've eaten six pieces of pie for breakfast. (Unlike Spider Jerusalem, I don't need drugs beyond refined sugar.)

It may be Sanders' loss.

But here I am, blasting my 'Pumped Up' mix, and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels were just usurped by the Isley Brothers:

"You know you make me want to shout!"

That's how I feel. It's how all of America should feel.

Fifty people slayed in a nightclub in Florida. Fourteen in San Bernadino last December. Twenty-seven in Newtown, in 2012. Twelve more that same year in Aurora, Colorado. Thirteen in New York in 2009, thirty-two at Virginia Tech in 2007, nine in Minnesota on a reservation in 2005, thirteen - Columbine - 1999, twenty-two - Texas - 1991, twenty-one - California - 1984.

...The fact of the matter is that we cannot continue to have gun ownership in America. And the term "responsible gun owner" is the biggest lie since "clean coal" or "intelligent design".


In 2012 I wrote about guns, but never shared it on here. After this slaughter in Orlando, I decided to revisit the piece, but it's unusable now. So here's my new take.

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Fine. I'll even go a step further and add that some states have a serious hunting culture, and that's something we don't want to infringe upon either.

Nor should we forget the sport. Shooting for fun, gun ranges, all that.

These are the three legitimate uses of guns. You can form a citizen's militia, you can hunt, you can shoot for sport. I mean, if it's an Olympic event, we don't want to stamp out our chance at the gold, right? We got three gold medals in shooting categories in 2012! U!S!A! U!S!A!

And we're even better at shooting ourselves!

Take a look at those numbers of mass shooting deaths up there - those are some of our stats. We are way ahead of any other country in this. 91 people die every day due to guns. But it's spread across thousands of cities, in fifty states, and not located in a single nightclub. So it's not on the news.

Here's how you fix it.

1) Hunting. With proof of a hunting license, obtained courtesy a background check, you get to rent a gun for the season. There is a certain allotment of rounds of ammo. Go kill all the deer you're allowed. Shoot ducks. Then give it back when the season is over. Close watch will be kept in a national registry. In small towns you could claim the same rifle year after year - there's a shelf with masking tape on the edge that says "Sam" with your favorite gun chained to it. This is not too difficult. Failure to return unused guns or ammunition will result in a prison sentence of no less than five years.

2) Heritage pieces. Keeping your great-great-grandaddy's musket from the Civil War? Fine. Keep it. I don't honestly think there's any harm in you holding on to that in your home. The likelihood of you killing anyone with it is practically zilch. Any non-automatic, non-military weapon manufactured prior to 1920 you may keep. Special permits can be allowed for military or automatic weapons owned from before that time - in case you want to keep your WWI Browning, for example. All of these will be registered, of course. And background checks.

3) Shooting for sport. You rent the gun of choice at the shooting range. Safety class mandatory. Failure to return the gun, or if you remove it from the premises - five year prison term. This, by the way, will help out a lot of the gun shops scared of going out of business - they turn themselves into ranges (where applicable) and they rent out weapons instead of selling them. If marksmanship is your deal, this plan has you covered. Just like the hunting, you could even rent a specific gun you liked - effectively yours whenever you wanted to use it.

4) The militia. Even if the Canadians did get uppity and try to cross the border again, I really don't think our civilian militia will be much match for them, compared to what our federal troops will do. But, of course, a number of Americans see the federal troops as the real enemy. For those who see the militia as a means of protecting yourself against the government? You're doomed. Your rifle isn't protection against drones. An automatic weapon is useless against military-grade hardware. If the big bad government actually wanted to impose a king-like tyranny your firearm ownership wouldn't do jack. Unless they legalize civilian drone ownership your argument bears no correlation to reality. Since 1951 the Supreme Court has rejected claims by "insurrection" militias, which cited a mandate to exist to preserve freedoms as a bulwark against the U.S. government - with the Court stating that by providing free elections and trials by jury their rights were sufficiently accounted for.

Still, the Second Amendment stands. So - if you pass the safety class, the background check, and are officially registered as a member of a militia you, too, can own a gun. Most militias require that you swear a military-style oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. In the future all registered militias would be required to do so. Failure to abide by the Constitution while a member of an active militia in possession of a firearm - fifteen years imprisonment. The usual laws about murder would apply - perhaps a little more harsh, due to the compounding of owning a firearm while a militia member.

Could militia members keep the guns in their homes? There are roughly 300 militias in America, and maybe 60,000 members - by comparison there are 1.3 million active military personnel. 120 million Americans are deemed "Fit for military service". Militias, really, wouldn't do much if Ottawa decided to rise again. As for keeping the guns in their home I'd say tentatively... no. In rural areas, perhaps, they could. In urban areas there could be militia-run (and state inspected) armories. You wouldn't need your gun unless involved in an uprising, right? So it would be there, under protected lock and key. You could visit it whenever you wanted. Oil it. Brush it. Stroke it. Suck...


5) Guns in the home. No.

We're done here. This has to end. There are no "responsible gun owners". Because humans aren't static, unchanging things. Let me repeat: HUMANS ARE NOT STATIC UNCHANGING THINGS. We are changing all the time. People get depressed. People get radicalized. People go "temporarily insane" and commit "crimes of passion". Just because you are a responsible gun owner today, and passed your background check, does not mean you will be in five years! Who knows what will happen? No one sets out on life's journey saying "In five years I see myself becoming suicidally depressed." Or, "In five years, after a bad breakup, the loss of my job, and an extended period of 'not acting like myself' I intend to kill a large number of people whom I wouldn't have dreamed of harming six months prior." 

No one plans for this. And, I'm sorry "responsible" gun owners - you can't either. They're like smokers - no one picks up a cigarette with the intent of becoming addicted. "Responsible" gun owners don't intend to have their weapons cause crimes. But, like the smokers, there's no way to tell which ones will end up being deadly

No more guns in homes.

What's the "safe" alternative? Monthly psychological background checks? Can you even imagine? I don't like going to the DMV - picture showing up to such a government bureaucracy monthly. The cost would be enormous. It would be far too impractical.

Here are the statistics, once again, for violence of guns in the home:

43 times more likely to kill a family member, friend, or acquaintance.
22 times more likely to kill yourself than an intruder.

Homicide, suicide, accident - all of these would drop by huge margins if we took guns out of the home. For every story of a home invasion stopped by a gun, there are 22 suicides by gun. For every criminal shot in self-defense, 43 unneeded homicides.

How to implement this ban, then?

It would not be easy. You, the President of the United States, would make an address:

"Good evening. Last night we as a nation experienced a terrible tragedy in [place]. So far the death toll is at [number] - a number which we hope will not rise, but which we must be prepared for in case it does. For the victims our prayers are with your friends and families, and for the wounded, you are in our thoughts, as we collectively hope for a full, and speedy, recovery of everyone who has been touched by this terrible event.

"This shooting was different. While local police authorities are still attempting to determine the killer's motive we must ask ourselves if this is the sort of country we want to live in. Regardless of their motive, there should be no possible reason why we, as citizens, allow this sort of gun violence to continue, and to continue to escalate."

So far: boilerplate. Then:

"That is why I am enacting Executive Order 13,840 - That all guns owned in homes are to be turned over to the United States Government within a period of two weeks from this time. I have taken the liberty and, at 8:35 Eastern Time, federalized the National Guard in all fifty states and territories until this crisis is over. Local military and police units will be helping in these efforts to collect the remaining guns in American homes.

"Over the next two weeks American streets will not look the way we are used to. They will not look the way we want them to. Although we pray for it to be otherwise, there will likely be senseless violence, and good men and women, in the line of duty, may lose their lives in freeing us of this deadly scourge. This is the price we must pay for decades of inaction. By failing to get this crisis - the ongoing national tragedy of gun violence in America - under control, we have reached the brink of disaster. And I would be remiss in my duties as President, in my sworn protection of the people of these United States, if I did not respond, actively and forcefully, to the deadly drumroll of over ninety innocent Americans being shot every day. 

"You may turn your guns in to your local police station or military base if there's one nearby. Special collection points will be devised in urban areas, and mobile units in rural ones. At the end of two weeks, that is June 26, 2017, the possession of a firearm in the home will be illegal, and  you will be guilty of a Class C Felony, of no less than 10 years, and no more than 25 years imprisonment for illegal ownership of a deadly firearm."

At this point the issues of militias, hunting, sport, and heirlooms would be addressed. Gun and ammunition sellers would be categorized as Class B felons if they continue to sell during or after the two-week period. Criminals who possess a gun, even if not on them at the time while they committed a crime, would get an automatic five years added to their sentences. Finally, you close with this:

"Moving forward, America will see a dramatic decrease in violence. A decrease in homicides; suicides; and accidental deaths, like the one that took the life of [recent child victim's name] who was only [age] years old. We can't shrug our shoulders and say 'Oh, well, this is how it is in the United States.' We're better than that. We owe it to the families, not only the thousands who've had their loved ones torn away from them in these devastating mass shootings, but the families of every victim of gun violence, every day. We owe it to the survivors who have had to piece their lives together and make sense of living through one of these horrific tragedies. We owe it to ourselves: so that we never have to face the fear, the uncertainty, the shock sensation of a punch to the gut getting a phone call at three in the morning saying your daughter is in the hospital, she's been shot... This is when America says 'No more. I will not be a victim.' We are taking back our future from gun violence. We are protecting our homes from the madman's bullets. We are vowing that in these United States this will never, ever, happen again! 

"God bless you and God bless America!"

And then, for two weeks, it would be a carnival of horrors. But after a month, say... it would be over.

Humans are not static. There are no responsible gun owners; and so we cannot be permitted to own guns.

Epilogue: Writing

So there you have it. My Spider Jerusalem-esque take on guns in America. A rant into the wind. 

Unlike the fictional protagonist of the future, I do not have circulation. My words are seen by only a very few. More unfortunately, I don't think my little speech, above, will be given anytime so soon. 

Bernie Sanders and I disagreed on gun control. He was from Vermont - and there guns are a big deal. It was virtually the only thing we didn't have in common.

But that didn't matter to me. Because Sanders was fighting for campaign finance reform. 

Wouldn't it be nice if we could have a national discussion, or even better, national action, without the NRA butting in? But we can't because, as of 2014, they spent $974,000 in direct election donations, $3,300,000 in lobbying, and a disgusting $27,000,000 in super PACs, ranking 10th in the nation for contributions.

You want to fix gun violence? Fix campaign finance. It's true of virtually every other issue, as well.

For a year I've been watching and waiting, seeing if Sanders could pull off the nearly impossible and do the heavy lifting for me. But it hasn't happened. And I need to get back to work.


Thus this blog is going to wrap it up for today. Looking to the future: I will endeavor to post only things of value on this site. Instead of lists, commentary. Instead of drivel, editorials. 

Even when there is nothing much to say, though, I will try and post regularly. Even if the topic is only a tulip tree, or television ads, or being the old guy at a wedding. Writing keeps one sharp - and sometimes the walls aren't tumbling down. (Although, I suspect, if you think everything is fine it means you just aren't paying close enough attention.) Instead, sometimes, I may only be able to offer some insight on the homeless, or a cat named Bucket. So be it.

3,900 words. For the time being - I'm done. I will return with more to say.

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