February 28, 2013

Meteors Fired Across the Russian Bow

By Gene Owens

Heaven seems to be firing a few shots across the Russian bow. How else would you explain the series of meteor explosions – or whatever they are – that have rattled windows and injured hundreds over the space of a century or so.

The latest was the explosion over Chelyabinsk, a city of a million people just east of the Urals. The area was rocked Feb. 15 by an intense shock wave following the appearance of a mysterious light.

Russia’s Interior Ministry estimated that 1,200 people, including 200 children, were injured, as windows imploded in schools and other buildings.

It was reminiscent of the Tunguska event of 1908, when a powerful force shattered the stillness near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia. For years, the cause of the devastation was a mystery.

Some speculated that either a comet or an asteroid had struck the earth. Others figured that some deuterium from outer space hit with an impact great enough to create a natural thermonuclear explosion – the natural H-bomb theory.

Someone else speculated that a small black hole had passed through the earth.

Now, it’s generally accepted that the 1908 event, like the 2013 event, was the result of a meteor’s explosion as it hit earth’s atmosphere. The meteor of 2013 appears to have been composed of hard metal, which fragmented as it entered our world, sending meteorites all over the place, like an ICBM with multiple-targeted warheads. Estimates of its diameter range from 10 feet to 50 feet, and its weight from 10 tons to 7,000 tons.

What struck me about the latest event was the reaction of many of the people. They thought it might be the end of the world.

The idea of an end of the world in our time is a religious concept, and many are convinced that the end is at hand.

The events at Chelyabinsk and Tunguska certainly provide evidence that the heavens contain an arsenal perfectly capable of terminating life on our planet if a supreme being were inclined to use them for that purpose.

However, what struck me was this: People nurtured on communist atheism were willing to entertain the thought that this was a god-sent catastrophe.

Atheism was drilled into Russian heads for 75 years, but a cruel and authoritarian state was unable to drum God out of their minds.

“God forbid you should ever have to experience anything like this,” wrote one Russian blogger.

During a trip across the old Soviet Union in 1983, I visited several Russian Orthodox churches in Siberia, and found them oases of color in a drab, monochrome landscape. I remember the shabbily-dressed babushkas – “little grandmothers” – who thronged the churches to absorb the beauty of the interiors and, presumably, to assure themselves that God was still there.

During their 75 years of hegemony over Russia, the Soviet communists had reached a modus vivendi with the Orthodox church. A priest explained it to me and a group of journalistic colleagues during our visit to the monastery at Zagorsk near Moscow: The government allowed them to achieve their religious education and to practice their faith in exchange for total loyalty. During our visit, the priests lectured us on the American government’s insistence on building up its nuclear armament and threatening the peace-loving Soviet government.

At a Baptist church in Moscow, I got another look at religion under an atheistic Marxist state. The congregation there was allowed to conduct its services in an unpretentious building that it occupied by the permission of the state.

“We have freedom of worship,” one clergyman told me, but not true freedom of religion. They could not educate their children in church-supported schools and they could not – perish the thought – proselyte.

Both the Orthodox priests and the Baptist clergymen – as well as the Moslem clerics I met in Soviet Asia – acknowledged that you could not belong to a religious organization and be a member of the Communist Party.

That meant that to hold any position of responsibility in politics and society, you had to sever your religious affiliations.

It occurred to me that the people worshiping at that Moscow church had to be doing so for one reason: a belief in and a love for God.

That love had survived decades of repression, and it was ready to bounce back once communism lost its hold.

Religious freedom is still a precarious thing in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. When Soviet armies overran Eastern Europe, many worshipers were shipped off to Siberia, into the system of prison camps that Alexandr Solzhenitzyn called the Gulag Archipelago. Out of the gulags came thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses, determined to continue the proselytizing they had carried on surreptitiously under state ban. The Russian state has tried to cap their activity, and the European Court of Human Rights has delivered a number of opinions in their favor. Still the state hangs tough, and still the Witnesses proselyte.

Maybe I’m reading too much into some impromptu comments from those who experienced the latest heavenly event that came through Russian skies.

But I’ve seen the gray and wrinkled babushkas go to their knees and rise without even touching their hands to the floor. They weren’t doing that for Yuri Andropov, the Soviet leader of their day. And I’ve seen ragged women lining the sidewalk near an Orthodox church in Novosibirsk, Siberia. An Intourist guide told me they received pensions from the state but were begging for money to buy vodka.

Whatever their motive, they were seeking compassion from people who came to worship God, not from those seeking to expunge him.

Putin should pay attention. There are more meteors where that one came from.

(Readers may e-mail Gene Owens at WadesDixieco@AOL.com)

Editor’s Note: Gene Owens’ columns are published in newspapers and online publications. He is an English and grammar maven to readers of his educational and humorous columns, “Buck’s English,” “Bubba’s English,” and “Grease Pit Grammar.” His feature stories reflect the insight, depth, and, at times, humor of a well-traveled, careful observer of people, places, and the times. Sage Commentary is pleased to publish his contributions.


February 28, 2013

Gun Control Proposals Leave Our Children Unprotected

By Donald G. Mashburn

The frantic demands and numerous proposals for gun control in the wake of the horrific murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. are not new. We’ve heard similar cries before, to “do something,” by banning guns of certain types, or by banning certain features that would make it more difficult for citizens to acquire or own certain guns.

The problem with most of the proposals is that they aren’t effective.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, has introduced legislation that seeks to ban the sale, transfer, manufacturing, and importation of all semiautomatic rifles that can use a detachable magazine and has at least one “military” feature such as a pistol grip, forward grip, a folding, detachable or telescoping stock, grenade or rocket launcher, barrel shroud, or threaded barrel.

The ban would also apply to all semiautomatic rifles and handguns with detachable magazines with the capacity to hold more than 10 rounds. The bill would also limit shotguns to a maximum of 5 rounds, and ban those which can accept a grenade or rocket launcher.

The bill contains a long list of other limitations that generally limit the number of rounds the firearm can be loaded with, and bans certain features that have a “military look,” or can accept military type weaponry such as grenade or rocket launchers, or have stocks that are detachable, or can fold or telescope.

The bill offers a long list of restrictions of the “feel good” variety, that allow its author and supporters to claim – and perhaps sincerely feel – that they have “done something.”

But the problem with nearly all of the proposals to ban guns, magazines, or particular features of certain guns is that if all of them were implemented, our children in school would still be unprotected!

The cries for gun bans are heard every time there is a crime or massacre involving innocent victims. We were sickened by the craziness of the Colorado theater shootings in Aurora, and the senseless shootings in Arizona that killed children and seriously wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

What sticks out about the Aurora, Colo. Theater shootings, where 12 people died, is that the killer passed up several other theaters to target the Cinemark Century 16 Theater, which was the only theater within a 20 minute drive of where he lived that had posted its “no guns allowed” policy.

Also, no Connecticut gun laws could have prevented the Sandy Hook tragedy. No gun or ammunition bans can protect students and teachers against an armed intruder bent on evil.

We were also sickened by the horrific killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 students and teachers died, in addition to the death of the shooter’s own mother and himself.

We hurt to the very depths of our soul trying to imagine the fear, terror, and complete helplessness the young children and their teachers felt at the Sandy Hook school. It’s these images that keep coming to mind and drive us to seek solutions that would protect the children.

But facts and reason lead us to conclude that no ban on “assault rifles,” or limits on magazine cartridge capacity, or any other attempt to restrict gun ownership among law abiding citizens will protect defenseless citizens in public places, or protect completely unprotected students in school.

For if we ban all “assault weapons,” our school children are still unprotected.

Limit cartridge capacity of legally-sold weapons, and our school children are still unprotected.

Ban anything that has a “military look,” or a particular type of handle, stock, shape of function, and out school children are still unprotected.

Ban anything you can name that restricts the rights of lawful citizens to own guns and you still haven’t done anything to protect our defenseless children and teachers in the classroom.

So what are we to do? Sensible choices won’t be found in restricting the rights of lawful citizens, or declaring soft and most vulnerable targets to be “gun free” zones. I’m not a psychologist, but from the Columbine killers to Adam Lantz at Sandy Hook, the killers had a bent for evil that normal people don’t have. They seemed to see themselves, in some warped fashion, as being on a mission, or having a wish to commit a brutal massacre and die in order to become the object of a big news story.

But as evil and warped as the killers seemed to be, the fact is they picked soft, vulnerable targets. We must recognize that we are not dealing with people who will be impressed with the laws made at the state capitol, or in Congress. The only thing that would stop a Columbine or Sandy Hook type of killer would be a force strong enough to stop them before they could be begin their murderous rampage.

Yes, we’re talking about armed security at our schools – good people, armed with guns that could repel an armed invader. The security force, in part, could be in the form of school staff volunteers, trained by the police department in the use of firearms and the proper procedures in case school security is breached.

Part, or all, of it could be fulltime trained and armed campus security personnel if schools and communities can find ways to pay for them.

In schools where funding is a problem, security could be supplemented by volunteers from the ranks of former police officers, military personnel, and citizen-parents with spotless records and adequate training. These could all be implemented, in part or in whole, by school administrators with the courage and will to have their students protected from would-be killers.

These administrators must have the right stuff to protect their schools, the guts to demand that their students be safe, and the gumption to pull down any “Gun-Free Zone” signs and replace them with signs that say, “This School Protected by Armed Security.”

Many liberals and other gun control advocates will recoil at the idea of having armed personnel protecting their children at school. They should realize, however, that our elementary and middle schools are now the softest of targets, and children in school are still unprotected.

They should also be able to see that when warped, would-be fame seekers, or just plain evil-doers, know they will be met with force capable of stopping them, schools will not be likely candidates for their deranged list of prospects for fame.

The main idea would be to let everyone know that schools are protected by armed security personnel. With the added idea, widely advertised, that those trained guardians are capable of stopping armed intruders long before they get near a classroom.

Added layers of feel-good legislation and more political posturing won’t stop attackers, and they will leave our children in school still unprotected.