05 December 2010


FORESTS. From The Nature Conservancy, one of the largest and most effective conservation groups, here are the Top 10 Reasons Why Forests Matter (summary below, click on the link for a fuller description, click on any image to enlarge) --
  1. Absorbing and storing carbon.
  2. Home to people.
  3. Source of jobs and livelihoods.
  4. Wood for furniture, lumber, firewood and other products.
  5. Habitat for animals, birds, insects.
  6. Preventing flooding.
  7. Conserving soil and water.
  8. Regulating regional climate.
  9. Natural beauty.
  10. Recreation / spiritual renewal.

MISS TSA. It was inevitable, given the current controversy over TSA's instrusive radiation scanning and manual body searches, that someone would find a way to satirize the situation. So without further comment, here is The Miss TSA Pinup Calendar. Yeah, baby.

KNIVES. I love Arizona. Twenty vivid years of my life were spent in or near Tucson, a liberal enclave in an otherwise rabidly conservative state. If you can ignore the politics, the people are friendly and the pristine desert, forested mountains and rimrock regions of the state are gorgeous. Alas, politics do have a way of intruding.

In previous posts I've commented at some length on Arizona's racist stance on immigration. Today the NYTimes featured an article titled Pushing a Right to Bear Arms, the Sharp Kind. Earlier this year the state "made its legislature the sole arbiter of knife regulations. And because of loose restrictions on weapons here, Arizona is now considered a knife carrier's dream, a place where everything from a samurai sword to a switchblade can be carried without a quibble."

When it comes to any weapon -- guns, knives, pepper spray, a Taser -- the only person I trust to carry and use it responsibly is me. That's a healthy attitude. I was brought up in the gun culture of rural Montana, where firearms are treated with respect as deadly tools. I took hunter safety classes as a youth, and was further trained in the safe and responsible use of both guns and knives in the military. But not everyone shares that respect for the injury or death which personal weapons can cause, including law enforcement officers. There are too many documented instances of trigger-happy cops pulling a sidearm when verbal skills are called for.

With that in mind, I was a bit surprised to find that I can find virtue in both sides of the Arizona knife debate. It's quite true that a knife is only as deadly as the person carrying it. During my year in Vietnam, I constantly wore a bayonet (see image below) on my belt, and my M14 was never more than a few steps away. In a landscape where everyone is armed, that's the norm. It is also a recipe for disaster, since accidents become that much more likely, even when not under attack by the enemy.

Similarly, during my four years working as a nature preserve caretaker at Canelo Hills Cienega, I carried a bayonet at my side daily. It was a versatile tool -- screwdriver, wood carver, slicer of rope or wire.

But both circumstances -- war and wilderness -- are far removed from the concerns of urban residents and police, who view the proliferation of knives as a real threat to their sense of safety. Justifiably so. While I would rather face an assailant armed with a knife than one armed with a gun, I'm trained in how to defend myself and hopefully disarm an opponent wielding either weapon. Most people are not trained. I possess a Montana concealed carry permit, but don't feel the need to carry either my Glock .45 or a knife for self-defense in public. Perhaps if I lived in a larger city, that might change. Perhaps not.

An interesting thought experiment -- what if firearms were banned entirely in public, but edged weapons (knives) were allowed? Compared to gun users, knife users given to violent solutions to disagreements would find themselves much more vulnerable to injury -- you have to get up close and personal with a blade. In the 17th and 18th centuries, this was social reality. Firearms didn't really proliferate until the late 19th and throughout the 20th century.

I invite you to check out the Times article, and form your own opinions. I also invite you to share those opinions here, by clicking on "comments" at the end of this post.


  1. Firearms are superior to knives for self-defense because they don't depend on the physical size and hand-to-hand combat prowess of the person holding them.

    A little old lady with a revolver is a dangerous target for a rapist/murderer. A little old lady with a knife, not so much.

  2. In principle I agree with you regarding firearms, with these two thoughts -- (1) all owners should be licensed [just as we do with cars] and take periodic refresher safety courses. This would help prevent (2) the reality that firearms are more lethal not only toward an attacker, but also to innocent bystanders, up to several blocks away. A blade has no such potential for collateral damage. But hey, give me a choice between a dagger and my Glock .45 semi-auto, and I'll take the Glock. Or maybe both.