Dabendan’s thoughts on the Newtown Massacre

I’ve been sick all day since waking up this morning to hear about the murders of children and teachers in Connecticut yesterday. Usually stories like this sadden me but then I become preoccupied by something in my daily life and it moves into the background noise of my day, before exiting my mind more or less completely.

This one however, like many other people I suspect, has really hit home, casting a pall over everything I did today. Was it the age of the victims? Probably. Going to the gym this morning I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful weather, parents walking by me hand in hand with their kids. This was a beautiful day that those murdered boys and girls will never get to experience. They also won’t get to play in the sunshine tomorrow. They will never have another Christmas. Or birthday. It sounds asinine to say this in our jaded age, but it isn’t fair.

Online, many have been calling for stricter gun control laws. Predictably, others have taken up the banner for the second amendment. Here are a few tweets that captured my attention, from a Yahoo! news story:

SamEwinks (@SamEwinks), for instance, wrote, “The only gun reform we need is to allow people the ability to defend themselves, not provide nut jobs with easy targets #nra.”

josefsmith2011 (@josefsmith2011) posted, “Guns don’t kill people people do! Practice the 2nd amendment—keep your gun loaded with you at all times—the younger you are the better.”

And Cutty (@LilCutty) tweeted, “Changing the 2nd Amendment wont stop ppl from doin foolishness.”

(Source: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/gun-control-debate-erupts-twitter-195914529.html)

Josefsmith2011’s tweet really got to me. His argument, that more guns in responsible hands would save lives in these situations, is a 2nd amendment fundamentalist’s go-to response to these situations. However, the logic escapes me, especially in this instance. Is josefsmith2011 actually advocating that 5 year olds and kindergarten teachers pack heat on a daily basis? Surely that’s one of the craziest things you’ve ever heard, regardless of your political beliefs. I can’t recall offhand a single instance of gun ownership stopping this kind of random violent act. Since these shooting sprees are by definition perpetrated by the insane, making them impossible to prepare for or predict, even carrying around your own AK-47 and dressing your kids up in Kevlar every day wouldn’t be effective as a preventative.

Do I think that gun control is the answer? No, not by itself. America is in love with guns. It is a part of our culture, like driving on the right and saying the pledge of allegiance in school. Many say that just changing the laws will do nothing. That is true. The American government must have the will to enforce those laws. Think back at all the most negative episodes in our history. Many said that slavery could never be eradicated, because laws wouldn’t change human nature. Admittedly, a war was fought over the issue, but I’d say that the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, both laws, had quite a bit to do with changing the situation. Segregation in our schools and other Civil Rights abuses against African Americans also changed, thanks to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Laws must be enacted before effective cultural change can take place. All that is missing to end the ease psychopaths have of finding guns in the US is the political will to act.

Some countries, China and Japan both spring to mind, have strict gun control laws, yet still occasionally have attacks on children and the general public perpetrated by the insane. One attack on Chinese children happened recently in Hunan. However, those gun control laws mean that these attacks necessarily involved knives, not guns, so the casualties were relatively few. In the Hunan attack, four children were killed, 12 children and 4 teachers were injured. (Source: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-10/07/content_380142.htm) Most experts chalk up these attacks to a failure by the Chinese and Japanese health systems to care for their dangerous mentally ill. Looking at what happened yesterday, though, I think America’s track record of containing and caring for the mentally unhinged is in even greater need of improvement than the Chinese and Japanese systems. But that is an issue for another post.

Frankly, all I want is to not have to wake up in the morning and not have my heart broken. As a teacher of young children myself, I can’t imagine what the boys, girls and teachers at that school went through in their final moments, nor what the survivors are experiencing in its aftermath. Not to mention the mothers and fathers who have lost the most precious things in their lives. I’ve always considered myself a libertarian. Live and let live. Freedoms inviolate excepting when they impinge on the liberties of others. However, I can’t reconcile the right to gun ownership to what transpired in Newton 30 odd hours ago. I don’t think the right to bear arms is worth another human life. Especially not the lives of twenty five- and six-year olds. It’s got to stop. We have to change.

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Australia 2011 (Part II: Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and SA)

I really liked Adelaide. The sunshine and relative dryness was a welcome change from soggy Victoria, and Adelaide has a  special charm of its own. It’s much smaller than Melbourne, so that it manages to combine the community feeling of a small town with the convenience of a much larger city. Best of both worlds.

The drive towards Adelaide was striking. Lots of small towns scattered throughout Canunda National Park. Here’s me fighting a giant lobster, the claim to fame of one small hamlet:

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Giant things are sort of an Australian national pastime. This one’s in Kingston, SA.

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These signs amused me no end on the long drive.

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Adelaide, finally. Why do I feel so at home here?

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Adelaide is surrounded by hills, each of which sports its own little village. This one, called Hahndorf, was founded by German shipwreck survivors in the 1830s. Just added to the very pleasant but deeply surreal quality of Australia.

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I laughed for ages at this sign. (Hahndorf).

Amanda and I then splurged for a package tour to Kangaroo Island, because we would soon be heading up north, where chances to see (wild) South Australian fauna would be few and far between. I’m very happy we did.

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An Australian sea lion pup having a roll.

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Kookaburra!

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New Zealand Fur Seal pup having a doze.

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Does my butt look big in this?

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A koala, awake for once.

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And this is Remarkable Rocks, the last bit of land before you come to Antarctica.

And they’re truly remarkable, by the way.

That’s it for this edition of Dabendan’s Aussie adventure. Join us next time for Coober Pedy, where they filmed Mad Max and Pitch Black. See you tomorrow!

Dabendan

Two Heroes of the Written Word (And Damn Funny, Too)

When I was younger and didn’t know anything, my favorite writer was Joseph Conrad and my favorite book was ‘Heart of Darkness’. I looked up to Conrad as a writer because his language was simple, but his imagery and themes were complex. You could always get a good grade on an essay for English class when the topic even tangentially referenced his work, and his books were always mercifully short. Back in school, I thought that to be a good writer, you had to be in some ways inscrutable, like the Delphic Oracle making pronouncements upon the human condition, leaving most of us benighted savages none the wiser. Just try reading Finnegan’s Wake if you don’t see what I mean.

Then I got older, moved to another country, and decided to read whatever I damn well pleased. It wasn’t long before I discovered the works of two authors that would change my life completely.

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P.G. Wodehouse was a giant of 20th century English prose, but as far as I can tell, he isn’t taught at either high school (Sixth Form for you Britishers) or university level in either Britain or the US. He wrote mainly comedic novels and short stories, the most famous of which are the Jeeves and Wooster series, about an upper-middle class Londoner of the Edwardian era and his omniscient valet (butler) Jeeves. Wodehouse was a master of comedic simile and metaphor. In his first Jeeves and Wooster book, ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ (1923), he describes a possible fiancée of Bertie Wooster’s  in this way:

“Honoria… is one of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welter-weight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging on a tin bridge.”

In the same book, he once again describes Honoria:

“I once got engaged to his daughter Honoria, a ghastly dynamic exhibit who read Nietzsche and had a laugh like waves breaking on a stern and rockbound coast.”

That gives you a pretty good idea of what you’re in for. Wodehouse was a master of pace and rhythm, and as any comedian will tell you, telling a good joke is like playing Jazz well: it’s all in the rhythm and the notes you don’t play.

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My second paragon of literary buffoonery came from the pen of George MacDonald Fraser, a Scottish former journalist and soldier of the Second World War in the Burma campaign. After his service Fraser came home and wrote for the Glasgow Herald. In his spare time, he took a throwaway character from a Victorian novel for boys, ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ by Thomas Hughes, and created in my opinion the finest comedic character of the 20th century. Sir Harry Paget Flashman is a coward, a lecher, and an all-round horrible human being. He’s basically the Dirk Dastardly of the Victorian Age, except that his countrymen believe him to be one of the greatest soldiers of the age, rivaling Chinese Gordon and the Earl of Cardigan for military accomplishments. Fraser’s Flashman series of novels combine razor-sharp wit with impeccable historical research that will (if you’re anything like me, and you must be if you’re reading this far) leave you on the floor dry heaving with laughter while simultaneously gifting you with an intimate knowledge of the major historical events of the 19th century. Flashman ran away from every major engagement that the British Army faced from the First British-Afghan War of 1830 (which has scary parallels with the American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan today, read the first Flashman book for more) to the Boxer Rebellion in BeiJing in 1900 (Flashman and the Dragon). In between, Fraser’s Flashman meets every major historical figure of the era, including (after helping escaped slaves in the Underground Railroad, completely against his will) Abraham Lincoln (Flash for Freedom) and even Our Little Vicky (that’s Queen Victoria to you) in multiple volumes of the series.

I’ve gotten so much from these writers that it’s impossible to fully explain my debt and gratitude to them, but I’ll attempt it anyway. While some may say that Wodehouse and Fraser won’t do anything to enrich your soul (I disagree completely, but that would make this already long post unwieldy), I don’t believe that there is anyone that would differ with me in that their writing makes an already dark world much more bearable. Although I do believe that the world needs writers like Conrad and Joyce who hold a mirror up to some aspects of society and show it in all its horror, I do think that Fraser and Wodehouse perform an even more valuable public service in allowing us to forget those same horrors, at least for a small portion of our day. I’ll take Jeeves pulling Bertie Wooster out of the clutches of matrimony or Flashman running from a fight or an outraged husband over any ‘serious’ writer any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

For more info on Wodehouse, you couldn’t go wrong with fellow comedy genius Steven Fry’s take at http://www.pgwodehousebooks.com/fry.htm. There’s much less available on the web for Fraser, especially as concerns serious literary criticism, but there are a few fan sites out there, although the Flashman Society seems to have gone out of business since Fraser’s death in 2008 (a dark day indeed). Just go get the first book, and never look back.

Dabendan

Well met, fellow wanderers of the internets…

To those of you who’ve made it here on purpose, I salute your dogged determination. For those of you who’ve made a slight detour in your search for internet based naughty pictures, I am ashamed to say that there isn’t one to be found on this page… yet. In the best traditions of Luddism, I’m embracing blogging, one of 1999’s cutting edge technologies here in 2012. The reason I broke down and began this blog are several, and with your kind forbearance I will enumerate them here.

1. I live in Asia, and most of my family and friends live on other continents. Sometimes a simple Facebook rant isn’t enough to truly let them know how disappointed I am with them. (For family members and friends with an underdeveloped sense of humor, that was a joke.)

2. I live in Asia, and crazy sh*t happens on a fairly routine basis. I have been documenting the absurdity quite regularly on Facebook, but this will allow me to more easily chronicle Asia’s Fellini-esque quality of life.

3. Last but not least, I spend a lot of time communicating in a language other than English (Chinese, in case the title of my blog wasn’t a big enough hint), and I like to write stories in my free time, mainly to amuse myself and give myself some ‘English time’. These stories have been left forgotten in some godforsaken folder of my Mac long enough. It’s time for them to be let loose upon the world, where they can be ignored by a much wider audience.

So those are the reasons I began this blog. I intend to update this page frequently, and since I’ve got quite a few stories already written I think I’ll be able to at least release one new story a week. But then again, you know that good intentions were used to pave the road to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks. It’ll be interesting to see whether my natural laziness or  my Irish guilt in not fulfilling my promise to you will win out. (Personally, I’m betting on my laziness.) See you in the funny pages,

Dabendan