Of course, nobody told this guy to shoot a Congressional representative.  Still, when I saw Palin’s graphic, I thought of every first-person shooter game with gory blood spurting graphics, and I thought of JFK.  And I know if I found crosshairs drawn over a map of my classroom, I’d consider that a violent threat, because students have actually threatened me.  It’s different to see an image like that when you know the “target” gets threatened on a regular basis.

This is part of the reason people noticed Palin’s imagery.  Then there’s the fact that she makes such a big damn deal of waving her guns around and talking about how awesome it is to shoot them.  Maybe we liberals are oversensitive, or maybe she set herself up.

Threats from students are one of the few infractions I really go to the mat for.  I’ve never been physically attacked by a student, or had my possessions messed with (that I know of).  But several times kids have threatened me.  “She’s going to be sorry.”  “Something’s gonna happen to her.”

I’ve dragged the threateners down to meetings with our disciplinarian.  I explain that some things you can’t joke about.  For example, having a bomb in your luggage at the airport.  Then, “I know you didn’t mean that you were going to do anything, but you can’t say things like that.”  True or not, now the kid has an out to make peace with me, without losing face.  We also talk about how threats mean you will be the first suspect, even if you don’t do anything wrong.  (Palin’s problem.)  Tomorrow I have a flat tire, and I immediately suspect this kid of puncturing it, rather than assuming I drove over a nail.  Wouldn’t that suck?  Kid agrees.  Apologizes to me.

I don’t think any of my students actually followed through on a threat.  I think they lost their tempers and wanted to show off.  I have taken every threat seriously, though.

Once I had  a student yell to another student, “You’re going to get a bullet in you!”  She had been picked at and picked at.  She was fun to tease because she would easily spaz out in a theatrical way.  I didn’t believe that violence was in her character– in fact, I guessed she was too distractable to follow through with any violent feelings.  She was slow to anger and quick to forget.  I told her to go to the bathroom and calm down, and I meant to have a longer talk with her later.  I never got around to it.  Maybe I shouldn’t have trusted my own judgment so much.  I’m still troubled by that incident.

People with mental illness can get violent, and they don’t necessarily need inspiration.  I’m not comfortable knowing I might have even a tiny, backhanded, accidental part in encouraging violence.  Avoiding the appearance of encouraging lunacy should not be a move to avoid responsibility.  It’s part of a mature commitment to clear and responsible speech.

Paine ‘n’ McCain at the OK Corral

“We have it in our power to begin the world again.” –Thomas Paine

“There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year.” –John McCain

I just got back from the southwest, where I met and insulted a charming cowgirl.  I expected Tombstone, Arizona to be sort of like Frontierland at Disneyland.  Instead, we parked across the street Lefty’s Corner Store, where they offered a wide selection of guns and ammo.

There was even a saloon that looked not like a dusty Hollywood set, but a shiny, functioning, gorgeous Western tavern, complete with pool table and a panoply of intoxicating bottles lounging before a long, blaring mirror.

Tourist souvenir shops did dominate the main street, to be honest.  We wandered into a few.  A pair of baby booties that looked like cowboy boots lured us in.  “Where y’all from?” the clerk asked.  “Kansas City,” we said.

I asked her if she lived in Tombstone, or if anyone actually lived in Tombstone.  “I don’t, but some people do.  I only come here to work one day a week, and to bring my kinfolk when they visit.  But some people move here so they can live full-time like it’s 1880.”   Freaky!

“Do you think these booties are okay for a girl?” my friend asked.  Now this clerk, she wore close-cut white hair, a spanking-ironed pearl-button shirt, arrow-straight jeans, and lovingly polished cowboy boots.  “Girls can wear anything they want,” she snapped cheerfully.  I was a little in love with her.

Looking at the cowboy booties’ packaging, my friend remarked, “Hmm… made in China– isn’t that funny?” Because I’m kind of an idiot, I returned, “Well, people in China need jobs, too.”

I had betrayed myself as a pinko liberal UN Esparanza wacko to the cowgirl I loved.  Conversation had to immediately turn to how awesome American workers are and how awesome the stuff they make is, and at least I was wise enough to not go on my pontificating rant about how much I love Japanese cars.

Back and forth, enemies and allies.  The spitters and Hitler/Obama melders and race-baiters aren’t them.  They’re us.  Much as you might try to maintain strong enemy relationships, the world is a slippery place.  Enemies to allies.  Allies to enemies.

The health care reform plan is market-based, largely runs through the private sector, and maintains our position in the world as a right-leaning democracy.  Still, John McCain is so angry that he’s taking his toys and going home, when his job is to cooperate.  Unless you get elected supreme dictator, that is your job.

John McCain won’t always be an enemy.  He’s resolutely anti-torture, and I admired and respected his stand.  He didn’t cave to his party for political gain.

Thomas Paine was also a strong-willed man.  Towards the end of his life, people constantly approached him with pleas for conversion.  Paine called himself a Deist, and said things like “My own mind is my own church,” which lit a fire under many evangelically-minded Christians.  He died slowly, and ignored all the begging to accept Jesus.  He stuck to his guns the whole way.  Religious symbolism rings peaceful and true in my ears, but I respect his stand and his faith in himself.  His idea about recreating the world is, in Christian terms, “resurrection.”

I like old women who have never given a shit what people think of them.  I’d guess my cowgirl grew up in the 1940s or 1950s, and thinking of her wearing what she wanted and living free through those stifling times made me happy.  On the other hand, I also do sincerely believe that Chinese people are no less deserving of jobs than Americans, and that there can be enough work for everyone.  Allies to enemies.  Enemies to allies.