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Ask Dr. Salvo

February 8, 1994

Dr. Salvo and Tim

Ask Dr. Salvo

Dear Dr. Salvo,

Once again, Jesse Bailey has attempted to defile and degrade US. As I stated in a previous column, US refers to those who believe in a Supreme Being, a Creator, A Savior, or in a more definitive term, God.

In my years of exposure to the almost always close-minded views of Jesse Bailey, I have come to believe that he actually revels in the sparring that he receives in retort to his asinine perceptions. This belief is evidenced by his continuous provoking of others with his sometimes profane writing. The sad (or rather, delightful) truth is that Jesse Bailey has ceased to insult US with new material. His claim "that anyone who believes in anything supernatural was insane and should be confined to a mental institution" is not an original one. He made the same observation in a fairly recent column that was a true attempt to completely debase religion (to which I replied, of course). His opinions seem morally degenerative and one ponders whether Jesse Bailey isn't the one who belongs in an insane asylum.

I am given to open-mindedness and to freedom of belief (for I know that different people have different thoughts and opinions), but that sense of freedom of thought and opinion wavers when I am opposite an individual who does not hold the same respect for others. In essence, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

It is from my personal experience that an individual has the ability to make clear his/her viewpoints and thoughts without attacking and/or belittling the beliefs of others. In fact, I have found that to attack another's opinion only undermines the effectiveness of my own message. Attack only causes anger and belittling only causes resentment. When these two emotions are present, the viewpoint and message being conveyed never reach their appointed destination (which would be the mind and its thoughts).

As for Mr. Bailey's agreement "that not a single intelligent person has believed in God for over a hundred years" -- he has unjustly offended and closed his mind to nearly 85% of the entire world. To base an individual's intelligence on whether he/she believes in God is inconceivable and is, in itself, an incompetent notion.

Ellen Gilchrist

Dear Ellen,

It is very gratifying to have letters to Salvo from a professional writer of your calibre. I apologize for not acknowledging your previous letter. Since your name is quite familiar to me, I must have been in a not unusual state of hurry and confusion. (Now that I'm becoming a Taoist such errors won't recur.) I'm afraid I must agree with you about Jesse. I imagine his predicament to be not unlike that of the mastodon frozen forever inside a limitless glacier. It is cold and comfortless in there, he can see a world of warmth, light, and colorful life outside -- but he can't move out of his prison into the world of the living present. His solution? To be dead to the world except to scoff at it, in petulant tones.

Quietistic atheism, I think, is appropriate to calm, stoical, philosophical types. Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Billy Graham, secular saints like them. But the unquiet, strident, atheist can't bear for others to be happy in their faith. Especially intelligent others, e.g., Pascal. Since he can't enjoy it he tries to spoil it. So, sock it to him, Ellen, while there's life, etc. Keep writing!


Dear Doctor Salvo,

As this congressional session shudders to a halt we come closer to some Orwellian nightmare than the promised Great Society of the sixties. Prohibitions and property confiscation laws appear to be multiplying, as evidenced by the passage of the Brady Bill and all it implies.

Almost a year into America's Second Reconstruction (or Deconstruction if you wish), I'd like to cheer us all up with a little homily. Like many of my stories it rambles and has many possible meanings, but perhaps your reader can winnow its few grains of truth.

My great uncle George, a Mississippi state senator for many years, had a favorite story about his struggle to get school tax funds. He had hit upon the idea of legalizing liquor then taxing it (those were times when one could still get away with the idea that sins could and should be taxed) but ran into unexpected opposition at home. He'd fully anticipated the ire of the community preachers, but had not dreamed of the hostility and even death threats from some of his cousins and nephews who seldom bathed, much less had seen the inside of a church.

Uncle George was both kind and concerned so he went to visit each one of the men who'd threatened him. He talked with them and made his peace and in the end the liquor tax bill was passed and became law and he wasn't killed nor was his house burned. His wry observation was "I never knew, until this came up, how many of my kin folk were bootleggers. They were all afraid it would cut into their business."

Most of these bootleggers had been timber workers and farmers before WW I but in north Mississippi the depression that followed the war had not abated before the Great Depression of the thirties had come. (Here we can thank ninety cumulative years of radical Reconstruction...after forty more years it remains a major contributor to our southern poverty.) With Prohibition they had seen a means for not just mere survival but actual wealth, at least the sort of wealth that meant a few month's extra food should they take ill or their farm be repossessed.

For some it was wealth beyond all dreams. Perhaps it was comparable to the sort of money now available only to the educated classes and Old Mobilians (and pimps, whores, lawyers, gamblers and drug dealers). It was natural for them to want to prolong Prohibition any way possible as to assure themselves of an inflated market and perpetual source of income.

By the time Uncle George was starting to look for ways to fund the junior colleges, many of these small time criminals (by now some were well into the second generation) were well enough established to anticipate loss but diversified enough for that loss to not be total. They didn't know until he talked to them but they were looking toward new horizons, moving toward legitimate business as surely as had the Yankee bootleggers who founded the great Boston families of the past. (Uncle George had a way with words; it's probably apocryphal, the rumor that he learned it as a door to door anvil salesman, back in the twenties.)

He never said what arguments he used to convince them, but he might not have had to say very much. The opportunity toward advancement that high school and junior college education would give their children was plain for most to see. In those simpler times all he really had to do was point out how much money the bankers, shopkeepers, and sawmill superintendent made with their educations, and wouldn't it be nice for "the rest of us" to know enough to earn as much.

Most of the community quickly came over to Uncle George's viewpoint, particularly when they started seeing the liquor tax money. But there were a few die hards, Cousin D__ being the most locally famous.

My Cousin D__, whose name I dare not print even now, was not just a bootlegger, he was what we now call a career criminal. In his day he was probably the most dangerous man in Itawamba County. He was feared as far away as the Freedom Hills area over in Alabama and for one of his numerous arrests it took four federal Revenue agents to subdue him. (His exploits are many, but even dead he probably has outstanding warrants, so we'll not repeat them here. I'd hate for the family to get wind of who told if he was exhumed and made to stand trial.)

He'd kept stills going from the dawn of Prohibition to when legal whiskey finally made it just too unprofitable. Toward the end of his life he would make just one or two runs a year bringing bonded stuff into the (dry) county, mostly for his oldest customers.

Now, family history confirms that Cousin D__ had always done a little gun running, petty larceny, extortion and the like, but around the same time that alcohol was legalized some of the larger southern cities started tightening up their gun laws.

By the mid sixties he was making more from guns than he'd ever made from shinty. He would buy up old guns, some converted from black powder and I suspect some even home made. He would then disappear for a weekend to "the city" (he never told which city), returning with wads of cash.

Around the time I met him (This takes a bit of explaining. He was a third cousin, twice removed but we claimed kin to keep on his good side. I was a friend of his grandson's and spent nearly a summer there looking for arrowheads in the soon-to-be-flooded Tombigbee swamp) he was at the height of his weapons dealing.

When he found I didn't have a pistol he hounded me to buy one of his. I spent the summer politely refusing one deal after another on one ancient gun after another. Every visit was an experience in demurral until I was as skilled at saying 'no' as a virgin at a fraternity party.

There are times, like the aging virgin now turned spinster, I wish I'd not been quite so chaste. I recall particularly the brass pistol which I found out too late must have been a Civil War relic. Well it is gone now and he is long dead so I'll never find out whether it found its rightful museum place or some other fate.

I once naively asked him where he would get the guns when all the old widows' and farmers' supplies ran out. His answer was one I've pondered for many years. "What do you mean, boy, when they run out? That's what I'm praying for. If they run out or if the government takes them up I'll get them from the same place I used to get the shinty from...and then I'll be rich again."

"The same place I used to get the shinty from"...doesn't sound as farfetched when you've lived a few more years and met a few more desperate men.

Once I heard a Mobile County jail guard describe some of the weapons made by the prisoners. He said he'd seen guns made from ball point pens, radio antennae, pipe, even wood wrapped with tape. He assured him they were quite deadly even with bullets made from scraps of metal and match heads. He said they could make gunpowder from stale urine and burnt strips of paper and it was rumored to be more powerful than that legally obtainable.

Which leads in a roundabout way to my point. I'm afraid of this Second Reconstruction so close on the heels of the first. There are so few opportunities for the poor to advance that they will jump at any chances they can, legal or not. The further behind they fall, the more reasons they will find to fight among themselves and the more arms markets will open for criminals. (Even now the street gangs operating out of California are reported to have fully operational illicit arms factories. These gangs, incidentally, meet the entire U.S. Army definition of 'guerrilla armies.')

Gun control laws such as the Brady Bill open wide windows of opportunity for the wicked, wider even than welfare fraud or the recent drug prohibition/boom; and I for one don't want men like Cousin D__ to profit.

With apprehension,

P.S. What's wrong with word processors? If they can make me readable, imagine what they'd do for you.

Dear Possum,

Thanks for your news from the Yoknapatawpha country. I knew you could write, if you kept on scrawling. You have a head full of ancient lore as well as ultramodern arcana from the arctic wastes of physics and mathematics -- not to mention the lost wax method of metal casting. And, you have original views.

It is certainly curious that new laws create new crimes and recruit criminals, soon to be followed by new industries, all illegal of course, and leading to more nutty legislation. Prohibition certainly worked that way, and even created a royal family or so along the way. But why cavil and pick nits? It was ever the toughest brigands and mercenaries who became the royalty and nobility of England, Europe, Asia, and any well established slum.

Prohibition did not encourage temperance, but inflated the liquor industry and created major gangs of organized criminals (interesting, that the Mafia followed the ancient pattern and titled their boss "Don"). Illicit distilling boomed, as did bootlegging and smuggling of booze. People drank bathtubs of gin!

The attempted prohibition of recreational drugs has had the same results -- only worse, with the difference that the CIA et al have gotten into the industry. This makes it more difficult for the federal government to see the obvious advantages in abandoning the holy war against drugs. Thousands of harmless people have also been criminalized (which Prohibition did not do) and we can't build prisons fast enough to house them. Also, Prohibition did not involve our government with all sorts of riffraff in Central and South America, Turkey, Thailand, the Near and Middle East. The war against drugs, a puerile notion at the beginning, has become a serious threat to the stability and decency of American life. It should be abandoned.

As to the gun control argument, I can only say, as H.L. Mencken used to reply to eccentric writers, "You may be right." I have not really thought this through, but perhaps as I write I will discover what I think: First of all, gun control will not have any effect on "crimes of passion," the chief source of homicides outside of the relatively few professional contract killing or gang wars. I am not au courant with the statistics, but I suspect the crimes that are committed at home, only once, against a loved/hated intimate are still the most numerous. These crimes are not premeditated nor preventable mostly, and do not require handguns. Knives, poison, ropes, razors, and blunt objects will serve.

The professional killer will not be affected, as handguns are easily bought on the black market, stolen, borrowed, or even rented! The forces of law and order would face an impossible task in attempting house to house confiscation of weapons and would start a revolution for sure.

Would there be a huge blossoming of traffic and industry in guns as there was in liquor and drugs? I doubt it. Guns, unlike booze and dope, are not rapidly used up, so the market will remain slow. We might do better, as in frontier days, to have everybody wear sidearms openly. I believe that everybody's manner would improve!

Cheers to you, Possum

February 8, 1994

The Harbinger