Zurich Reflections #1: I Think I’m in Love

I didn’t think I could fall in love with a city, but I’m falling in love with Zürich.

Right now, I’m sitting at a local coffee shop, and I can hear the church bells ringing close by. I got here by bus (we have two bus stops within easy walking distance from our house) and a short walk. The coffee, of course, is excellent.

While I sit here, I can look across the street at an older apartment building that has old European style architecture. I look left and there’s a very modern looking building, and when I look right there’s a small intersection of narrow streets and more tall buildings. Some of the buildings are residential, some are commercial, and like the building across the street, it’s mixed, with stores on the ground floor and apartments above.

Space isn’t wasted here.

Our apartment is actually large by Zürich standards. We have a large balcony off our living room facing a courtyard area overlooking several other apartment buildings, and we have a smaller balcony off our kitchen where you can look down at the front door. From our back porch, you can also look up into the hills around Zürich. Most mornings, in this season, we have fog in the morning until it burns off around noon time.

Most places here have lots of large windows so that you can maximize the light. Some of the windows here also do what I call the “magic trick” of opening two ways! You turn the handle one way, and you open the window (or door) fully, you turn the handle the other way and the window opens from the top to let in enough air for ventilation. The windows are big enough that there are times when I’m in my office where I open my street-side window, pull up my chair, and just watch the world go by. It’s generally very quiet in our neighborhood (although, we do have construction going on down the street until the end of the month), even with the bus and the train going by at all hours.

It’s pretty spectacular when storms come through. I tell the wife that we have excellent storm watching windows!

It’s not just my neighborhood that’s winning me over, either. (Side note: Our neighborhood has a Berkeley kind of vibe, so we’ve occasionally called our part of Zürich “Zerkeley”.)

When I walk through the city, doing errands or whatever, I notice a lot of little things. Like I said earlier, there’s a mix of the old and modern. One minute you’re walking on regular pavement, the next you’re climbing up a cobblestone street. There’s also little details of the city that you notice if you’re open to finding them.

There are water fountains everywhere, and nearly all of them are potable. You can always see people taking a drink or filling up their water bottles. Some are just small little spigots in a corner, and some are large fountains with old statuary.

Speaking of water, there are canals, rivers, and the Zürichsee (Lake Zürich). I am really looking forward to swimming in the lake come Spring! The city even hosts several open water swimming events over the summer, including one that is similar in length to the Tiburon Mile. There are also lots of pools, both indoor and outdoor, maintained by the city, so I’m excited to start swimming again soon!

The architecture here is amazing! Both the modern and the old. What’s really fascinating is that if you walk some of the side streets, you’ll find strange little murals from the 1800s, or odd old statues, or suddenly come upon a green space. I even found an old well from the Middle Ages that was preserved by the local historical society!

Food is excellent here. In fact, all the meals I’ve had here that have all been excellent. The quality of the food here is just amazing, even the groceries! While it is true that it’s expensive to eat out here, groceries are pretty comparable to SF Bay Area prices. The biggest thing I’m getting used to here, though, is that you don’t rush your food here, especially when you eat out. You’re expected to take your time and savor your meal.

And once you’ve had proper Swiss fondue, you’re spoiled for fondue anywhere else.

I could expound on a lot of things about here that I love, but the best thing is that it’s comfortable here, both in our lives and the city itself. The energy here is old, with the energetic sense of old warding to protect the city and country. (Given Switzerland’s history, that makes complete sense.)

To put it another way: I feel more welcome and comfortable in Zürich than I have in any other city in the US.

Und das ist sehr gut!

Guns, Entitlement, and the 2nd Amendment

Yesterday, the Washington Post, which I believe most of us can agree to being a fairly decent and legit news source, posted the following statistics:

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Do you see the numbers in the first row? Believe me, these are not statistics where it’s good that USA is #1. Also, do you see who’s #2? Yemen? They have a quarter of the guns in their population than the US. See the homicides by guns by the rest of the top ten? The ones that are listed total to just under 300 homicides. That’s around 2.5% of the total homicides that happen in US. In other words, about 97.5% of homicides that happen in the top gun owning countries in the world happen here, in the United States of America.

Is that not good enough to show you how bad our gun problem is? How about these statistics from Pew Research:

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Protection as the reason to own a gun jumped 22% in 2013 from 1999. Basically, gun ownership by most people right now are for “protection” i.e.: to use against people.

Still not enough? Afraid of “those people” (which usually means People of Color) breaking into your house or whatever? OK, here’s some more from Pew Research:

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37% of the people polled lived in a house that had a gun in it, and 24% actually own them. Out of those people, it’s primarily men, and primarily white people. So, really, if you’re going to worry about someone shooting you, it’s more likely to be a white person, and most likely male. (Gallup has a similar poll you can read here.)

Groups like the NRA, and a lot of our media, are quick to say that these shooters are somehow “mentally disturbed” or whatnot. That, actually, is crap. Don’t believe me? Ok, here’s what an NIH study concluded:

“Our brief review suggests that connections between mental illness and gun violence are less causal and more complex than current US public opinion and legislative action allow. US gun rights advocates are fond of the phrase “guns don’t kill people, people do.” The findings cited earlier in this article suggest that neither guns nor people exist in isolation from social or historical influences. A growing body of data reveals that US gun crime happens when guns and people come together in particular, destructive ways. That is to say, gun violence in all its forms has a social context, and that context is not something that “mental illness” can describe nor that mental health practitioners can be expected to address in isolation.”

Now, let’s look at the 2nd Amendment shall we?

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Like any other historical document, it’s necessary to consider the context in which this was written, which, if you know your history, was 1789, six years after the end of the Revolutionary War. 50,000 Americans died trying to create this new country, and they wanted to make sure that they would be able to defend themselves in our country’s infancy. This amendment was, at it’s heart, a way the Founding Fathers believed they could ensure what was written in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

There was a need at the time to keep a civilian militia because, until the Declaration of Independence, the war, and the institution of the the Constitution, the United States of America didn’t have the actual authority to keep the military together (and, really, the population wasn’t big enough at the time to maintain a fully standing army until Constitution said they could get the cash to make one). The 2nd Amendment was to clarify that the government could create such a military, which is what I, and some scholars, believe they were actually doing with the amendment. But, what’s unfortunate, is that it was poorly worded, and like all historical documents became a victim of interpretation (aka the worst game of telephone ever).

Now, the funny thing is, we don’t need that type Militia anymore, since we have a standing military and our needs have changed. The United States is 239 years old and has become something much different than the Founding Fathers ever dreamed. The funny thing is, the Constitution has provisions for this:

“The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution…”

The Constitution has never meant to be a static document. We are meant to change it with the times. We are meant to adapt and change the Constitution as our country changes. We are clinging to a document that, while still functionally useful, needs to change to reflect the times we live in. We cling to certain aspects of the Constitution, like the 2nd Amendment, as if it was Holy Writ. As if the Bill of Rights was, like the Gospels, Divine Decree.

It’s not. It’s a document, written by men, who believed that we could have freedoms while treating people equally (well, at the time, just white men, but that’s another long post). There is nothing denying us the ability to change and pass gun regulation that will save lives. There’s nothing saying we can’t rewrite parts of the Constitution to keep up with the times. We have the ability to change things. It’s what the Founding Fathers wanted us to do.

My Dad, who’s a Vietnam Veteran and a hunter, had hunting rifles in our house (safely) and taught me how to shoot a hunting rifle when I was a teenager. Granted, I was pretty crap at it, but I know what it feels like and I know how to be safe around guns. My Dad was in the military, so I know that he knows how to safely deal with and store guns. My wife knows how to use a bear rifle from when she went to the Arctic for NASA. Most of the rest of my family, particularly most of the men, are either in (or have been in) the military and/or hunt. I actually watch the biathlon in the Winter Olympics because I think it’s a interesting sport to watch (and dude, shooting in the cold and snow on skis? Hardcore).

I’m ok that guns exist. I’m not interested in owning one. If I had to use one to hunt, I’d do it (although, I’d probably have my wife do that, since I’m a pretty crap shot). I’m not against people owning guns.

What I am against is the lack of gun control and the fact that guns are pretty easy to get in this country. I’m also against the fact that an organization has such a hold on lawmakers that any reasonable gun control laws can never be passed. I’m against using the Constitution as an instrument of entitlement and a way to not take responsibility for the epidemic of gun violence in America.

I mean, seriously, the UK, where my wife is from, has strict gun control laws and yet there isn’t a lack of ownership or hunting there. Also note, that the UK is not in the top 10 gun owning countries and they’re doing just fine. The sky hasn’t fallen. Anarchy isn’t happening there. Oh, and, hey, gun violence is a rarity in the UK! Heck, it’s rare in pretty much every other country in the world.

Except the United States of America.

The sad thing is, we are quite capable of fixing it within the bounds of our Constitution, including the 2nd Amendment.