Loose Cannon on Deck

The term, loose cannon, has been around a long time. Cannons used on sailing vessels were large, typically weighing several tons. To avoid damage from the recoil when they were fired, they were mounted on rollers and secured with rope. The cannon jumped backwards when fired. If you have ever fired a weapon, you are familiar with recoil. The cannons get hot when they are used in battle, and each time a cannon is fired, it jumps higher and rolls farther. If the ropes holding the cannon secure were to break, a loose cannon would roll backwards and crush anything—or anyone—behind it. A loose cannon was a serious situation, especially for the unlucky sailors caught in its path.

A long time ago I was fortunate enough to be able to tour the U.S.S. Constitution The guide told us that the gun decks on old warships were painted red so that blood and gore would be less visible. I was standing next to one of the large cannons at the time, so it was easy for me to imagine the jump of the cannon when it was fired and what it would be like to be caught between it and another hard object. War has, of course, never been a risk-free proposition. Many of the metaphors we use today have their origins in war and battle. From the days of muzzleloaders. we get flash in the pan, shooting one’s wad, and half-cocked. Many metaphors based on war are firmly entrenched in our everyday language. You may have crossed swords with someone, or perhaps you know someone who has a “short fuse.”

Most metaphors have their origins in something that was once literal and tangible. A bomb with a short fuse, for example, goes off before the one who lights it has a chance to get away. Some of us have had that experience with Fourth of July fireworks. Over the years, the loose cannon metaphor has come to represent anyone or anything that is out of control and capable of damaging those in its wake. Another very old metaphor is ship of state, which equates countries (or, in Plato’s time, City-States) to sailing vessels, which require a steady hand at the helm to avoid seafaring disasters. And, of course, we know from history, that even those ships that set sail with competent commanders often encounter difficulties that sink the ship.

My sense is that the ship of state that is the United States currently has a loose cannon on deck. To make matters worse, the USA is not the only country with a loose cannon on deck. In fact, world-wide we probably have more countries with loose cannons than we have those with a steady hand at the helm. In The Hollow Men, T.S. Eliot says that the world will end “Not with a bang, but a whimper.” Robert Frost would have us think about the world ending with either fire or ice:

                Some say the world will end in fire,
                Some say in ice.
                From what I’ve tasted of desire
                I hold with those who favor fire.
                But if it had to perish twice,
                I think I know enough of hate
                To say that for destruction ice
                Is also great
                And would suffice.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready for either fire or ice. I have some idea about how we have reached this point in history. I was, after all, born during World War II, and I am old enough to remember the assassination of JFK and Richard Nixon’s impeachment. I am well-familiar with the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s, and I’m a veteran of the Vietnam War.

Although I know that it is probably just a matter of perspective, the current state of the world seems much more precarious to me than it has in previous times. Will we somehow muddle through in spite of the loose cannon on deck? It’s not as though the loose cannon we have on deck in the States is the only loose cannon out there. I would have thought that we’d learned at least some of the lessons from World War II and Vietnam that we would not be so willing (and, in some cases, eager) to repeat them. When the Allies were victorious over the Nazis that should have been the end of military adventuring in the name of “blood and soil” and war profiteering. At the end of that war, we instituted the the Marshall Plan. What did we (the U.S.) want when we went into Korea and Vietnam? Korea, at least. was a partial victory, although now that North Korea has nuclear weapons, the “game” has certainly changed. It hasn’t been that long ago since “we” were going to pay for the war in Iraq with Iraqi oil, and, following that “adventure,” look at what’s happened in the Mid-East.

One of the problems with a loose cannon on deck is that the cannon rolls with the rise and fall of the sea. Whether we can stop the cannon from rolling before the world situation gets worse remains to be seen.

We Will All Go Down Together

Shakespeare’s original use of what has become a common saying, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” was about differences between the families of Vietnam War protests. Even the Charlottsesville, Virginia illustrate just how crazy political life in the States has become.

The hostilities seem to have expanded, with election of Donald Trump seems to be proving my cousin right. One of the recent news stories says that the Vietnam War.

I was one of those caught up in both the Vietnam War protests and the Civil Rights movement. Many of those I . . . → Read More: We Will All Go Down Together

The Fire This Time

With apologies to James Baldwin for appropriating his title: If people could actually “spin in their graves,” my guess is that he would be doing a very rapid rotation at this time, as would, I think, Abraham Lincoln and many others who have done their best to make the United States a better country than it has been in the past. We have taken at least one big step backwards with the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am both angry and sad that “white nationalism” is on the march, and that the Ku Klux Klan is crawling out from . . . → Read More: The Fire This Time

The Faces of Humanity

All major human conflicts are essentially what Jonathan Swift called the war between the “Big Endians” and the “Little Endians” in Gulliver’s Travels. In Swift’s novel, Lilliput and Blefuscu are island nations ruled by emperors. Those from Lilliput broke boiled eggs on the larger end, while those from Blefuscu broke their’s on the smaller end. Swift’s readers at the time would have recognized that his metaphor suggested that the British political parties at the time, the Whigs and Torys, were fighting a war based on minuscule and inconsequential differences. That appears to be a common theme in human history: Most . . . → Read More: The Faces of Humanity

Gaining Perspective

You may know the old saying, the darkest hour is just before dawn. While the saying isn’t literally true, it serves metaphorical purpose. First Light precedes astronomical dawn and provides the first proof that night is coming to an end. “Political night” has descended in the States, leading many to wonder whether “first light” is right around the corner. Many are hopeful. I’m not so sure. I think we (all of us) need to gain some perspective based on history. The history of humanity has been primarily wars and exploitation.

War, of course, is not new. Tribes went . . . → Read More: Gaining Perspective

Dumbfounded, Discouraged, and Dismayed

I haven’t posted anything new in a while. I’ve been too busy reading the political news and wringing my hands. My sense is that the world situation is getting worse. We have, of course, had “dark days” in times past. I’m not sure there has ever been a time the planet was without at least one war going on. Most recently, in the States we experienced the World Wars (I and II), the Korean War, the “conflict” in Vietnam, and whatever is currently going on in the Mid-East. We’ve also had Civil Rights challenges, and various other conflicts and difficulties . . . → Read More: Dumbfounded, Discouraged, and Dismayed

Video or Text-Based Web Pages?

In previous blog entries, I have written about the way different communication channels influence the message received. We have known for a long time that the medium is the message. (See also Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Massage). One of the principal concepts behind the message inherent in the titles of books (including McLuhan’s) is that communication channels are themselves “messages.” The original discussion about this concept focused on the differences being communicated by print media and television. the movie, Medium Cool, was based on McLuhan’s concept that video was a “cool” medium, one that forced viewers to think . . . → Read More: Video or Text-Based Web Pages?

When the Mode of the Music Changes

You can tell a lot about people based on their musical preferences. I borrow my title from a radical group from the ’60s, the Fugs, and one of their old songs:

It would be pretty hard to know me well without knowing when and where I grew up and how I had been influenced by the music of my youth. I assume that the same is true for everyone. The concept has been most fully explored by Morris Massey, who wrote about the three main periods in a person’s maturation process:

The Imprint Period. From birth . . . → Read More: When the Mode of the Music Changes

Stuff That’s On My Mind

The original impetus for this article was the North Carolina Bathroom Bill. I am writing this from the perspective of a male who has been sharing bathrooms with women all my life—not always at the same time, of course, but most of the time, people use bathrooms one at a time. There are exceptions, of course. Public bathrooms (airports, highway rest stops, restaurants, and other public places). If you have ever flown anywhere with a woman, you know that when people exit the plane, men enter the men’s room, take care of business, and exit. In all likelihood, the female . . . → Read More: Stuff That’s On My Mind

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

The title of this blog comes from a Pete Seeger song:

The lyrics contain a number of metaphors that apply to the current political situation in the States: First, times and circumstances change. What was once safe doesn’t necessarily remain that way. Second, having a “big fool” set direction may not turn out well. Third (and one of my favorite quotations), “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” which was doubtless based on George Santayana’s original: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Remembering history by itself isn’t sufficient. . . . → Read More: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy