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One May afternoon, my son Evio and I played with a red rubber ball in the public park at Russell Sage College. We kicked the ball toward one another over the spring green grass. At some point, I kicked the ball too hard and it rolled past him, stopping at the foot of the park’s war memorial. With his two-year-old trot, Evio chased the ball and, just before retrieving it, glanced up at the monument. High on a granite pedestal stood the bronze soldier, holding a rifle low across his hips. On our previous visits to this park, I had invited Evio to view, not this one, but the grounds’ other statue: a woman sitting in an armchair and holding a book. As I approached Evio, who was now staring at the statue, I regretted my careless kick.

When he noticed me behind him, Evio pointed up and asked exactly what I feared he might. He wanted to know what it was the man held. Real guns had remained invisible to Evio, made easy by living in an environment mostly free of unconcealed guns, war, and gang rivalry. We’d be exposed to a pistol only occasionally, holstered against the hip of a police officer. And in these instances, Evio would express interest in the officers’ hats or vehicles. He never seemed to notice the gun. Even though the statue’s rifle wasn’t real, I didn’t want to talk about guns with my child, not when he was so young, and not when I knew more than I would wish to share.

For eight years I had studied armed conflicts, gunrunning, and the prevalence of firearms after war. Even before starting this research, I felt outraged by armed violence as it obstructed peace and security for so many people across the world. As I gathered data over time, outrage settled into despondency. And then I became pregnant. When almost nine months into expecting Evio, my body could no longer carry the weight of both a growing baby and firearms research. As my attention shifted to mothering, I wished I could erase the many images that my research had imprinted on my mind, images that represented the opposite of love and nurture. Famished child soldiers in Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. Mayan children coerced by army soldiers to watch the execution of their parents. And closer to home, numerous children caught in the cross fire of gang violence. I wanted to keep those images far away from the experiences of my child. Before giving birth, I boxed my books and data, and I said goodbye forever to the topic of guns.

Or so I thought. More… “I Would be Scared, Too”

Camar Díaz is a social scientist and writer whose work focuses on armed violence in postwar societies. She received her PhD in science and technology studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. To read more of her work on postwar violence in Guatemala, see “La Violencia After War

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Politicians, stop saying mass shootings are tragedies unless you’re going to do what literary critics do with tragedies: actually interpret them.

“This was a horrible tragedy:” perhaps the most common thing we hear after each new incident that adds to the alarming trend of mass shootings in the United States. Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Umpqua, Las Vegas, and Parkland are only the most notable communities whose names have come to symbolize the phenomenon. Their “tragic” quality is the reason, some politicians say, we shouldn’t “politicize the tragedy” – we shouldn’t refer to it in arguments about policies for the good of the nation. More… “Something Is Rotten in the United States of America”

Jeffrey R. Wilson is a faculty member in the Writing Program at Harvard University, where he teaches the Why Shakespeare? section of the university’s first-year writing course. Focused on intersections of Renaissance literature and modern sociology, his work has appeared in academic journals such as ShakespeareLaw and the Humanities, and Crime, Media, Cultureas well as public venues such as National Public RadioThe Chronicle of Higher EducationAcademe, CounterPunch, and Shakespeare and Contemporary TheoryHe is on Twitter @DrJeffreyWilson.

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Tamale pistol
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Arriving from the North, the airplane reached Valle de la Ermita, the vast valley that nestles Guatemala City. Looking out the window, I marveled at four volcanoes that guarded the valley’s southwest. The conical colossi stood calm, mythical. Furthest west stood Acatenango, whose peak, though it belonged to la tierra, cohabited with el cielo as it surpassed an elevation of 13,000 feet. Next to Acatenango was Fuego, an active volcano whose typical eruptions only decorate the sky with a small ash plume, but whose eruption in June 2018 reminds us of the mysterious power of volcanoes. Then came Agua, earning this name after its 1541 eruption caused a great flood, though its older name Hunapú, “place of flowers,” continues to be used by the local Kaqchikel Mayans. Closest to the valley was Pacaya, the shortest and most active of the four volcanoes. After a century-long sleep, Pacaya erupted in 1965, during the early years of Guatemala’s armed conflict, as if to protest the war’s course. Although the war is now over, Pacaya has yet to return to dormancy.
More… “Tamales and Pistolas”

Camar Díaz is a social scientist and writer whose work focuses on armed violence in postwar societies. She received her PhD in science and technology studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. To read more of her work on postwar violence in Guatemala, see “La Violencia After War

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Norman Rockwell’s depiction of a bustling small-town journalism office (a nearly extinct species) is being sold by its owner, the National Press Club. More than half a century after the painting was donated by the artist, the organization has decided to sell it in order to fund future endeavors. Oh, the irony. (Washington Post)

In the wake of the 11th mass shooting since President Obama took office, officials and media near Umpqua Community College and across the country have abstained from naming the shooter unless absolutely necessary. Their hope: If his name doesn’t go down in infamy, maybe other would-be copycats won’t follow in his footsteps. (The Christian Science Monitor)

Try to think about yourself in four dimensions. What form does your path through space-time take? The answer may take you all the way to the source of human consciousness. (Nautilus) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

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Among the displays of assault rifles at the Mikhail Kalashnikov Museum in Izhevsk is a small lawnmower Kalashnikov designed to push about the grounds of his summer cottage. It is said that Mikhail Kalashnikov loved to care for his grass. Kalashnikov gave the lawnmower the same sensible qualities he gave the gun that bears his name. The lawnmower is light, simple, cheap to construct and easy to hold — something a child could use.

Kalashnikov didn’t regret inventing the Kalashnikov rifle. “I invented it for the protection of the Motherland,” he said.  Still, he once mused that he would like to have been known as a man who helped farmers and gardeners. “I wanted to invent an engine that could run forever,” Kalashnikov once said. “I could have developed a new train, had I stayed in the railway.” But this was not to be.

Every morning for the past 10 years I have chatted with the retired police chief who sells bus tickets from his truck in a commuter parking lot. Then I board the coach for my trip from Cape Cod to Boston where I teach poetry writing. Ernie is an impressive man, sitting there from 4 a.m. until 9, the window open and his shirt unbuttoned even in winter, when I huddle near his door in a hat and scarf. He advises me on what snow blower to buy, and the proportion of bleach to use when spraying mold off shingles. Growing up in a Queens apartment, and now living a rural life, I welcome his counsel.

Over the years, he’s described his family vacations. In some stories, he’s met an aggressive panhandler in a parking garage, or heard a suspicious knock on his motel door late at night. When he recalls… More…