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Gun Control is for Wimps March 29, 2012

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Essays.
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Author’s Note: I wrote this last year, after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Tucson. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I believe it is again relevant.

Well, I’m not going to sit and tolerate this. I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me. Having failed to take the guns out of my warm, living hands, Congress is now coming after my bullets.

Indeed, if Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) gets her way, I won’t be able to use high-capacity magazines in my firearms anymore. For those of you who aren’t gun nuts like me (Though we prefer the term “badasses”), this means I won’t be able to buy ammunition clips that hold more than ten rounds. Now, I know that the guy who allegedly shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson allegedly used a 31-round clip and a 9 mm Glock to do so, and that he was contained only when he stopped to reload, but are we going to let this guy ruin the party for the rest of us?

To Rep. McCarthy, I must pose the question, Haven’t you ever shot ten bad guys and still had one more coming at you? Eleven-man squads of bad guys used to come at Americans all the time in Revolutionary days, and if you don’t believe me, I suggest you watch The Patriot a few more times. (Kids can read My Brother Sam Is Dead if they’re turned off by the R-rating.)

What on earth, Congresswoman McCarthy, am I supposed to do when a force like this invades my private home? Even in modern times, it’s not so far-fetched. Let’s look at another—better—movie for documentary evidence. In Die Hard, those German terrorists formed an army of a baker’s dozen to take control of the skyscraper. With his NYPD standard-issue weapon, Bruce Willis had to pick them off one-by-one. It was only when he commandeered a machine gun that the tide started to turn. Clearly, Rep. McCarthy and her Eastern, bow-and-arrow-shooting, yoga-practicing co-sponsors haven’t considered the possibility that Willis might have finished things off a whole lot earlier had he been privy to the machine gun before the terrorists took over.

This cinematic evidence is overwhelming, but I’ll go further. The ten-round ceiling is discrimination. If I’m limited to just ten bullets in my magazine, that means I’ll have to become thrice as good of a shot as I currently am with my 31-shot clip. A trebling of skill means a lot of time at the gun club, especially when you’ve got a family to feed. So Uncle Sam is forcing me to go to the gun club to practice wielding my firearm, effectively asking me to choose between protecting my family and feeding my family. This is nanny-state nonsense and a waste of my American time. Just as you’d expect from those fatcats in Washington, though, it gets worse.

I’m extremely nearsighted—I have a note from my doctor attesting to this—and if I’m not wearing my glasses, I can’t see a damned thing, let alone a damned thing that’s coming after me and my back forty in the dark. As my fellow badasses at the NRA say, “Law-abiding private citizens choose [high-capacity clips] for many reasons, including the same reason police officers do: to improve their odds in defensive situations.” Well, I double down on ten in Vegas, so you can bet that I triple down on a ten-shot magazine at home. I play the odds, and combined with my myopia, that demands I stock thirty-one rounds in my weapon.

Consider the following scenario. When an intruder barges into my castle while I’m sleeping, there’s no question that without glasses, I’ll to have to respond to this transgression by waving my piece around and shooting wildly. Clearly, a badass with 20/20 would be able to calmly dispatch his adversary(ies) with ten or fewer rounds (Unless he’s attacked, Die Hard-style, by thirteen guys). A badass like me, though, with 20/400 vision—twenty times worse than perfection–can be expected to shoot twenty times fewer bad guys. Thirteen divided by twenty means that, with my vision, I don’t even get to shoot a whole guy. More like sixty-five percent, and what, then, is 65 percent of a man you’ve just shot or are about to shoot?  Where do you even aim in that situation? And who gets to choose which 65 percent is actually embodied in bad-guy flesh in this situation?

But targeting and corporeal dilemmas notwithstanding, is the McCarthy alternative for me to lay in bed and be burgled—or worse—merely because my ocular disability precludes me from the straight shooting necessitated by a ten-round clip? This McCarthy bill is, not to put too fine a point on it, discrimination against glasses-wearing badasses like me, pure and simple.

It was bad enough when New Jersey enacted a one-gun-per-month law in 2008—you should have seen the frown I got from a gundealer in Bayonne when I tried to buy my thirteenth piece back in ’09—but this is just overkill. It used to be a comedic scene in a movie when someone ran out of bullets and had to throw his weapon at his adversary; if McCarthy gets her way, that scene will become, well, a god damn shame. Seriously. I’ve been having nightmares about those eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth aggressors ever since the ridiculous bill was introduced last month and Die Hard was on FX a week later.

It’s almost as if these gun-control nuts (Though we prefer the term “pussies”) haven’t read the Constitution. The Second Amendment means we get to have guns, shoot guns, and—most importantly—love guns. It’s the second amendment, the silver-medalist change that the founding fathers thought of when they realized how much they’d screwed up the original document. Free speech and the right to assemble peaceably—well, those, of course, are First Amendment issues, and their prominence of place clearly implies their superiority to the Second Amendment rights that I’m discussing here. But nevertheless, it would seem that the only rights more important than my Second Amendment rights would by definition need to appear in Amendment One. And I don’t see “right to not have your idiot neighbors walk around with loaded weapons” anywhere near free speech and free press.

When we let pussies take the lead from badasses in interpreting our Constitution, this is what happens. I’m putting my glasses on and my foot down.

 

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Who Invited Onan? The Continental Conundrum of Brahmacharya November 3, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Essays.
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While preparing his monologue for a roast of Mr. Burns, Homer Simpson writes, “Now I’m not saying Mr. Burns is incontinent…” To which Bart laughs and responds, “Incontinent. Too rich!” Ever sensible, Lisa comments from the peanut gallery, “Does either of you know what ‘incontinent’ means?” And Homer retorts, “Lisa, don’t spoil our fun.”

Most of us don’t know what ‘incontinent’ means. I know I don’t. I’m not sure where the line lies — for any activity — between continent and incontinent. For example, as disgusting as they are to the touch, smell, and taste, I love Moon Pies (chocolate- and vanilla-flavored only; no banana, please). Moon pies being as objectionable as they are, though, should a one-time indulgence be considered incontinent? Four times out of five, I’ll feel sick enough to regret having eaten the Moon Pie, so eighty percent of the time, my body tells me that, indeed, 1 Moon Pie represents incontinence. But that still implies that it’s not incontinent twenty percent of the time. Might there be a sliding scale, then, that governs the concept of continence depending on a given time and place — especially since, as far as Moon Pies are concerned, I won’t know if it’s an “eighty” or a “twenty” until after the act of potential incontinence has been perpetrated?

Patanjali’s fourth yama is brahmacharya, which is roughly interpreted as sexual continence. According to the Yoga Sutras, one who practices brahmacharya finds vitality and vigor (“By one established in continence, vigor is gained.”)

As a yama, brahmacharya isn’t parallel to the other four. It’s the only one that’s not self-evident; that is, to understand and to practice brahmacharya, one first needs to grasp the intellectual concept of “continence.” Not harming, not lying, and not stealing are simple notions to understand and behaviors to prosecute; you either engage in them or you don’t. Greedlessness, though a bit more subjective, is also a fairly straightforward idea; if you’re not using everything you have, then you have more than you need.

But continence? This one requires a very human touch, because determining when you’ve behaved incontinently is an intellectual construct. It demands that we stand in judgment, evaluating evidence in order to determine the difference between much and too much. And that adverb “too” is a tricky one. One man’s violence is every man’s violence, but incontinence varies from being to being. And sexual incontinence is even more confusing.

In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, men are advised to conserve their semen: “A man’s semen can be controlled by the mind and control of semen is lifegiving. Therefore, his semen and mind should be controlled and conserved.” Now, in the twenty-first century, it seems quite archaic and ignorant to conflate semen with sexual energy, something along the lines of advising a man to consume milk after sex in order to “replace what he’s lost.” A man produces 1,500 spermatozoa per second. When a man ejaculates, he releases 280 million sperm, give or take — about two days’ work for the gamete manufacturers in the testes. So for most men, semen and sperm are not exactly in short supply, and one is never in danger of squandering his “seed” in the Biblical, Onan sense of the word.

While I understand the danger of interpreting yogic texts literally — indeed, Sri Swami Satchidananda advises against just that in his translation of the Yoga Sutras — the HYP’s almost mathematical connection between one’s sperm count and one’s vitality begs for scientific exegesis. It’s bizarre to use something as grossly physical as one’s semen reserves as an “index” for something so esoterically spiritual like vitality. It’s like divining one’s morality by measuring the length of his hair. Rarely is yogic philosophy so unilaterally directed towards physiology, and therefore so open to scientific skepticism. Prana, for example, is far removed from the realm of scientific inquiry; “life force” can’t be measured — unit by unit, cell by cell — in a lab. I’d accept an explanation that connected sexual energy to something intangible like prana, but that’s not the one I’m given in shastra.

So how do I practice brahmacharya? In my day-to-day life, I try to fold brahmacharya into my practice of ahimsa. In my conception of the yamas, sexual abuse and sexual assault fall under the jurisdiction of ahimsa, the salient feature of a sex crime being the sex crime itself, not its correlative ejaculation. And adultery can be seen (to the more chauvinistic among us) as an asteya issue or again, (to the more equality-oriented) a question of ahimsa.

Unlike the other yamas, I approach brahmacharya from a positive standpoint. In my practice of asteya, I choose not to steal. But for brahmacharya, since I know my sexual energy cannot be “squandered,” I strive to employ it constructively. Brahmacharya, then, encourages mindfulness, because while one can practically sleepwalk through not harming, cheating, stealing, or coveting, one must be attentive when determining where to best place his sexual energy.

Sexual energy represents our creative impulse, but that “creativity” isn’t just the capacity to reproduce. Instead, brahmacharya asks that we be creative in our application of that energy, that we don’t just “hold it in,” but rather find a constructive, beneficial outlet for it. Indeed, we can use brahmacharya not to construct things anew, but to reconstruct our actions for the better. Brahmacharya brings out our internal editor; listen to her and spread your love.

Satya: The Inherent Truth of Existence October 25, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Essays.
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Satya – truthfulness – is the second of the five yamas, or restrictions, outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Shri Brahmananda Saraswati translates, “When the yogi is firmly established in satya… he or she obtains the fruit of actions without effort” (2.36).

New Mexicans call places the darndest things.

Patanjali seems to define truth-telling as some kind of get-rich-quick scheme: accomplishment without effort. It’s a couch potato’s – or stoner’s — greatest dream. Telling the truth, after all, isn’t really all that difficult – it requires much more energy to invent and perpetuate a lie than it does to report that which you’ve observed as truth – and if the end result is satisfaction without effort, well, how is that not a practical no-brainer? Yet still, people lie and cheat, fabricate and obfuscate. So it can’t really be that simple.

For an explanation, I turned (as I have before) to Walt Whitman. “Great is the quality of truth in man;” he writes.

The quality of truth in man supports itself through all changes,
It is inevitably in the man – he and it are in love, and never leave each other.

The truth in man is no dictum, it is vital as eyesight;
If there be any Soul, there is truth – if there be man or woman there is truth – if there be physical or moral, there is truth;
If there be equilibrium or volition, there is truth – if there be things at all upon the earth, there is truth

O truth of the earth! I am determin’d to press my way toward you;
Sound your voice! I scale mountains, or dive in the sea after you.

Whitman doesn’t even conceive of a universe in which nontruth exists. After all, how could it? How could something be – and not be truthful? A lying politician is still, by nature and by definition, a politician. He is still alive, still human, still practicing politics; his words and actions cannot change the true fundamentality of what he is. It’s on this point that nineteenth century American poet and 2,000-year-old Indian sage intersect.

For Patanjali and Whitman, language doesn’t represent an act separate from existing; that is, saying and being are the same thing. I may be spouting a lie with my lips, but I – as a human being, as an object on this planet – still exist as me in my most fundamental state. I’m saying words that don’t represent the temporal reality of things, but the collection of cells and molecules and atoms that form my (lying) being still represent the reality of me. The “truth” of Simon at the moment during which I lie is that I’m a person who happens to be lying. In other words, the fact that I am a liar is just that – a fact, regardless of what I happen to actually be lying about.

Satya, then, is inescapable. You can’t lie your way out of truth. Short of suicide, it’s impossible to choose to not exist. And since one’s existence is inherently truthful, then the only effort one should ever expend while existing occurs when one is not being truthful to himself, or to his fundamental nature. Work, or effort, enters the equation not when we tell lies, then, but when we stray from our true identities.

So if you believe the yogic teaching, then, that divinity comprises all beings, then you’re only untruthful when you’re not divine. Since yoga teaches that the identities of all things are interwoven together into one divine essence, then it is only when one turns his back on this essence that one actually expends any effort in his existence. The pursuit of yoga – union – is thus a divine, effortless existence; and when one reaches samadhi, of course, everything – the fruits of existence — becomes available. You find your truth within your practice.

Your sadhana will, as Patanjali promises, bear you fruit without effort.

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