PITTSFIELD >> Now that the Iranians are starting their part in defusing the atomic crisis, it would seem a good time to do something they would like as thanks beyond just the money and sabre-rattling that accompanies political dealings. Why not add something to encourage a nation to do what is right because it is pleasant for them and helps calm bad behavior?
Stop laughing. It happened recently, in 2008, to be exact, and the fractious country was North Korea! The gift was a concert by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Pyongyang, actually requested by North Korea!
The program started with "The Star-Spangled Banner," followed by the North Korean national anthem. The atmosphere in the concert hall was, well, OK. But as the magnificent music progressed, the warmth became palpable and the applause began getting longer and longer.
For an encore, the orchestra played an old native North Korean song, "Arirang." This brought tears to the audience. As the orchestra left the stage the audience waved and sniffled, and many members of the orchestra waved back and sniffled, too!
Music is sometimes called a conversation between people, and as an art it might be used more often to ease tensions between countries. Ballet companies and symphony orchestras have been, as have jazz bands.
Wouldn't it be possible to arrange more university student swaps in art and languages? Better to enlarge the outlook of a lot of bright kids whose parents can barely afford college and who will be voting and running governments in the future. Does the US government already sponsor lots of foreign kids to come here as students? Oops, I forgot. They might end up as immigrants.
And how would the government pay all that college tuition? Here's a doozy of an idea that kills two birds with one stone. Just triple the sales tax on guns and ammunition! You are not forbidding people to own guns, or making ammunition unavailable (which I still think is the best solution of all). The gun manufacturers can't complain that you are stomping on the Constitution. It might discourage some nutcases for whom seeing a psychiatrist is not an option. Then add a yearly tax on people who already own guns, payable every year along with their real estate taxes. I can't think of a better way to spend taxes than to save 33,000 lives per year.
Of course the National Rifle Association would have a conniption. But there is even an easy solution to its super influence in our lives. Forbid a private citizen to contribute any money to a political campaign. Then have an earmarked sum of money available to any genuine candidate, with varying amounts from president to dog catcher. Since candidates already have to list all campaign expenses, it can't be very hard to nail a cheater who is using forbidden money. If every individual running for office had to plan and finance his campaign with the same amount of money, we could tell a smart one from — well, a nitwit.
In one fell swoop, we could make America safer without spending an extra dime. Judicious use of our funds might even calm down some of the world's religious fanatics who are at the base of almost all of the dreadful madness that is making such a mess. How about one beautiful concert for the Sunnis and another for the Shiites? All financed by gun money! I love it.