Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wayne LaPierre Got One Thing Right.

This is an open letter to “The Media.” You know who you are.

This is a semi-automatic squirt gun.
If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I favor greater restrictions on firearm ownership. As one of my gun-toting friends recently observed, I am a (expletive) liberal anti-Second Amendment commie dickwad—or words to that effect. I’ll own that. But when I listened to NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre speak at the press conference yesterday, I had to agree with him on one point: The liberal media, as a class, is astonishingly, embarrassingly, unforgivably ignorant when it comes to guns.

Again and again, I read anti-gun articles written by people who know NOTHING about guns. They don’t know the difference between auto and semi-auto weapons. They don’t know what the word “caliber” means. They use and misuse buzzwords like, “assault weapon,” and “high power,” and “military grade.” They don’t know the difference between a shotgun and a rifle. They don’t understand the meaning of the words “cartridge” and “bullet” and “round” and “magazine.”

Just this morning on Gawker I read an article about a guy stealing a .50 caliber AR-15 from a gun shop. Seriously? That’s like saying a restaurant served you a five pound shrimp.

This is a full-auto Grokozoidian Skrink Blaster
Do these reporters know how to use Google? Have they ever heard of Wikipedia? Have they ever talked to someone who owns a firearm? Is anyone editing these articles?

Okay, I can hear some of you saying, “Guns kill. I don’t need to know every eldritch detail of their manufacture and deployment to speak out against them.” That’s fine. You don’t. Unless you are writing an opinion piece for the public. Or are reporting on an event for a news outlet. Or hoping influence a pro-gun reader to consider your views. Here’s why:

This stuff is important to gun people. When you argue for gun control (or anything else), and you call a shotgun a rifle, every reader who knows anything about guns immediately dismisses you as an ignorant moron, and anything you say after that is just noise.

If you want to argue that high-capacity, military-style weapons should be tightly regulated and have no place in the hands of civilians, I’m with you. But please, if you are writing for publication, if you are reading a news item for television or radio, if you want your words to have power, please do your homework. Don’t give the Wayne LaPierres of this world another reason to discredit you.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Why I Got Rid of My Handgun

This is a true story.

When I was in my twenties, I was living in on the second floor of a duplex in a not-nice part of Minneapolis. I owned a handgun, which I kept loaded in a drawer next to my bed. Having that gun made me feel powerful, and safe.

One night, after an evening of drinking too much scotch, I was awakened by someone pounding at the door. It was two o’clock in the morning. I got up and grabbed my revolver.

I was still quite drunk. Hey, I was in my twenties—these things happen.

Revolver in hand, I went to the door. Whoever was there was really banging hard—I could see the door panels flexing as he pounded on it, and he was shouting. It sounding like he was saying “Bam! Bam! Bam!”

“Who is it?” I yelled back.

He yelled something. His words were slurred, and I could hardly make sense of them. I thought he was saying, “You’re bad!”

Clearly, a maniac was trying to break into my home.

“Go away!” I shouted.

He started pounding again. “Brian!” he yelled. “Open the door, dammit!”

Brian? A moment of clarity penetrated my drunken thought processes, and I realized my visitor was at the wrong door. A young couple, Brian and Pam, lived on the floor above me. One month earlier, I had swapped apartments with Brian and Pam. The man hadn’t been yelling “Bam,” he’d been saying “Pam.”

“You have the wrong apartment!” I said. “Brian and Pam live upstairs now.”

I heard shuffling, a mumble that might have been an apology, then the sound of unsteady footsteps climbing the stairs. I went back to bed and, after about three hours of tossing and turning, slept.

The next day, I asked Pam about our visitor.

“Oh,” she said with an embarrassed laugh, “that was my dad. Sorry. He had a little too much to drink and he knew he couldn’t drive, so he walked here all the way from his office downtown. I’m amazed he even got here. He was pretty wasted.”

I realized then that when I had heard the man shout “You’re bad!” he had been trying to say, “Your dad!”

I went back to my bedroom and took the gun from my bedside table and unloaded it and sat staring at it, feeling nauseated.

Why was I feeling sick? Nothing bad had happened. It was kind of funny—two drunks trying to have a conversation through a locked door, arguing over a trivial misunderstanding. It would make for an amusing anecdote, and nobody got hurt.

I had been glad to have the gun in my hand when the drunken maniac was trying to break my door down. But I kept revisiting the event, and imagining possible scenarios. Suppose I had been twice as drunk? Suppose the man had punched his hand through the door panel? Suppose Pam had given her father a key for some reason—a key to her old apartment? Suppose he had let himself in and come stumbling into my bedroom?

I came up with about a dozen different ways the situation could have turned deadly, and it scared the shit out of me. A few weeks later I gave my gun to the police, who were having a “buy-back” program. They gave me fifty dollars. At that point, I would have given them fifty bucks to take it.

I don't drink like that anymore, but the episode taught me something, and that is that fear, human error, and unpredictable sets of circumstances are unavoidable, but there are things we can do to reduce the chances that an unfortunate situation might turn deadly. My personal choice, in this case, was to remove the loaded gun from the mix.

One more thing: While I was talking with Pam that next day, I found out that I knew her father! He was my uncle’s law partner, a good, smart, gentle man in his seventies who occasionally drank too much. A few months later I ran into him. He and I laughed over the incident.

I never told him about the gun.

Friday, December 14, 2012

After the Events at Sandy Hook Elementary...

...I find myself unable to think about anything else. Hence, this post.

I enjoy shooting guns. I have owned handguns, shotguns, and rifles. I know that most gun owners are good, responsible people. I believe that hunting wild animals for food is moral, so long as it is done safely and the animal population is not endangered. I believe that target shooting in its many fascinating variations is an honorable sport.

Furthermore, I’m certain I would enjoy firing a .50 caliber machine gun, a bazooka, an RPG, or a MAC-10. I would also enjoy driving a Bugatti Veyron 250 miles per hour down Interstate 94, and it would be a rare thrill to drive an M1 Abrams tank through, say, the wall of a K-Mart store. But these activities are illegal in our country, and nearly everyone thinks that’s a good thing.

Back in my Ayn Rand-tainted youth, I believed that individual freedom trumped all other concerns. I no longer believe this. I believe that the greater good can sometimes be achieved by curtailing the rights of individuals, and that our “rights” are not immutable. I do not trust individuals to wield great power wisely. This is why we thrive as a democracy, and why our politicians are subject to term limits. It is why monopolies are not tolerated, and why it is illegal for me to possess a nuclear weapon.

Fully automatic guns (“machine guns”) were outlawed in the U.S. back in 1934. An automatic weapon in the hands of an individual was deemed an unacceptable risk to the safety and well-being of our citizens and law enforcement personnel.

The relatively bulky and inaccurate Thompson submachine gun that triggered that 1934 legislation is, by today’s standards, no more dangerous than the smaller, lighter, faster, and more accurate semi-automatic weapons available over the counter—legally—at any gun shop today.

You and I cannot legally own or operate a functional machine gun. However, we can buy and fire semi-automatic rifles and handguns with large capacity magazines. The Glock and Sig Sauer handguns used by the Sandy Hook shooter are capable of firing 10 rounds per second, and will hold 17 and 15 rounds respectively. The .223 Bushmaster assault rifle will accept a sixty round clip. And all three of those weapons can be reloaded in seconds.

The NRA and its supporters want to keep such high-capacity semi-auto weapons legal. Their argument, based on the Second Amendment, is that Americans have the “right to bear arms.” But despite the Second Amendment, the NRA does not advocate for individual ownership of RPGs or tactical nukes, so I have to believe there is room for discussion.

In the U.S. there are hundreds of millions of guns in private hands. That will change slowly—but in what direction? But isn’t there a point at which the number of guns becomes excessive? And do we really need or want guns that have firepower far beyond what is required for hunting or personal defense? I don’t think so. We didn’t need them in 1791, and I don’t think need them now.

The shootings in Connecticut are the most recent in a long list of similar massacres. It seems clear that the shooter was deranged, and even if more restrictive gun laws had been in place, he might still have killed a number of innocent people.

But I bet it wouldn’t have been quite so many.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Thanksgiving Mashed Potato Secret

This will be a quiet country Thanksgiving for the Logue/Hautman household. We will be enjoying our feast in Stockholm, Wisconsin with my brother Bob and Mary’s sister Dodie (who are married to each other), our new Stockholm neighbors Lisa and Carlos, and friends Tom and Lynn. Bob is cooking elk; I’m cooking a small turkey and making the mashed potatoes. We are using two kitchens. Everyone is contributing something to eat. Everyone is bringing wine. There will be no vegans.

Speaking of mashed potatoes, I have a "secret" technique for you. I thought I invented this several years ago, but I have since learned that it is an old technique of (possibly) French origin.

The usual additions to mashed potatoes are butter and milk. I throw in a few egg yolks as well. Properly deployed, egg yolks can transform your mashed potatoes from “Yummy” to “Oh. My. God.” Here’s how you do it:

Potatoes for eight.
Say you are making mashed potatoes for eight adults. You peel and cook as many potatoes as you think they can eat (I like a combination of russets and Yukon golds), then increase the amount by 50%. There is no excuse for running out of mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, and if you find yourself with leftovers, so much the better.

When the potatoes are done (overcooking is better than undercooking in this case), drain them, saving some of the cooking water, and mash them well. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Soften one stick of butter* (1/4 lb). Don’t melt it, just make sure it is a soft as it would be sitting out on a warm summer day—droopy, but not liquefied.

Mix three or four egg yolks into the butter with a whisk, then whisk in some warm (not hot) milk—say half a cup. Stir the mixture into the mashed potatoes. Don't go nuts with the stirring, just mix it with a rubber spatula until the color is homogenous. If they seem too stiff and dry, add a bit of the cooking water you saved.

Serve with giblet gravy made from the fresh $130 Narragansett heritage turkey you had FedExed in last week. (You didn't forget to reserve your heritage turkey last July, did you? Yeah, me too. I got my non-heritage bird at Costco.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

*If you are using salted butter, go easy when you salt the potatoes.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Why Minnesota?

Minnesota did well at this year’s National Book Awards, with two winners: Louise Erdrich and William Alexander. To put that in perspective, until this year only five Minnesota authors had won an NBA in the past seventy-five years.

Naturally, the 2012 NBA results have people asking, “Why Minnesota? Why now? Is there something in the water?”

Well, we have a lot of water here in Minnesota—11,842 lakes worth, to be precise. And we have a similarly impressive number of writers. In my little universe of Minnesota kidlit I can name 126 living, published writers of children’s literature, and I suspect there are a few dozen I missed.

And that’s just kidlit writers. There are similar numbers of published writers in literary fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, drama, and poetry. I would guess that there are well over a thousand published writers in this state, and probably twenty times that many who are working on as yet unpublished works.

That makes Minnesota, a state that has a mere ten electoral votes and contains only about 1.7% of the U.S. population, relatively saturated with writers. How and why this has come to be is a long story which I may address in a future post. For now, I’ll just say that the writer population in Minnesota seems to have reached the point of self-sustainability. Writers come to Minnesota, and they stay in Minnesota, because there are a lot of writers here.

You know that image of Doctor Zhivago huddled alone in his freezing garret scribbling out his love poems by candlelight? That is not reality. It never was. Writers need other writers. They need other writers who understand that what they do matters, and who understand how challenging it can be. They need other writers to compete against, to offer criticism and encouragement, to set an example, to raise the bar. They need other writers to applaud them when they succeed and curse them jealously for that same success. They need mirroring, they need to witness the triumphs and failures of their peers, they need community.

We have community in Minnesota. Many of us are quite active within it, others mostly keep to themselves. But even the most solitary of us benefit, I believe, from living in a place where we do not have to be alone. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book News: Mary Logue

The multi-talented and otherwise splendiferous Mary Logue (yes, my Mary Logue) has two new books out this fall.

For many years, I listened to Mary talk about an idea she had for a children’s picture book: the story of a little girl who is not sleepy, and of the kind, patient, and wise parents who coax her into bed. After many starts and stops, the story came together.

Told in economical and graceful prose, Sleep Like a Tiger is sweetly and stunningly illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. It is one of those children’s books that can be read again and again, with each reading revealing something new.

Here is a spread from the book:

And a detail from that spread:

And a detail of the detail:

Mary’s other fall book, written under the nom de plume Mary Lou Kirwin, is quite different. Killer Librarian (available November 27th) is a mystery featuring the delightful Karen Nash, a librarian who is dumped by her boyfriend on the eve of their planned trip to London. Karen decides to go to London by herself, and discovers to her horror that her ex is on the plane as well—with his new honey. Murderous thoughts ensue, with surprising results. A must late-night respite for those who have just read Sleep Like a Tiger to their three-year-old for the umpteenth time.