This tiresome search for a lesson in everything

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The Independent Online
There seems no moral centre to movies about tornadoes. Twister is twisted, teenaged nonsense about terror and trucks, glamorised by an over-use of special effects. But what do you expect when Steven Spielberg's involved? This is a good reason not to see Schindler's List. You go to Spielberg for dinosaurs, not holocausts.

Twister was just an excuse for a whirlwind romance and a lot of steak and eggs; its crassness supposedly justified by the fact that they were chasing tornadoes in the aid of "science" (to find out how to predict tornado behaviour). The theory is that whatever mess the world gets itself into, there is always something to be learnt. I thought the heroic couple should have been stripped bare by the wind at the end, rising to look about them at a new world like Adam and Eve, naked but more knowledgeable.

"DO you mean this is just a tragic accident and we can learn nothing from it?" asked a perplexed Radio 4 reporter at the scene of the Pyrenean flood. "That's right," was the bold reply from the Spanish spokesman. The story was soon dropped. Reporters want news that teaches us a lesson. They believe in a well-ordered world in which no one dies in vain. What's a natural disaster therefore when you can excite the public about train crashes, gun laws and dilemmas about other people's foetuses?

Silly season stories can be quite profound. When the politicians have emptied the old sandwiches out of their briefcases and wandered off to sun spas and sex parlours, we're left with nitty-gritty life and death issues, from the defrosting of unclaimed embryos to the murder of priests. But it's all turned into soap opera by that longing for happy endings, platitudes and lessons to be learnt. They won't let the children of Dunblane rest until they have taught us something. People cannot accept that no equivalent good can ever come out of such an awful incident, however many murals you paint.

I met someone this week who sweetly believes in yin-yang principles, and that every negative is equalled by something positive. I don't buy this. How come life lasts at most about 70 years and death an eternity? Seems a pretty lop-sided arrangement. Similarly, people say you learn from bad expe- riences and they make you stronger. I am living proof that distress produces no perceptible improvement in a person at all.

I'VE been reading Gun Mart magazine, the publication which enabled killer Richard Humphrey to acquire guns by mail order. What a strange, amateurish, cheap-paper-and-black-and-white-photo affair it is. Most of the articles seem to be written by the same guy, Michael Yardley, who was on television this week denouncing talk of gun bans. His magazine bursts at the seams with pure fetishistic love of weaponry. There are endless lists of guns for sale, classified ads selling anything from machine-gun accoutrements to hand-cuffs, and even gun reviews. "The silver polished action is a little brilliant for my taste, but nevertheless handsome." I never realised before now that there could be, and is, a Vietnam Re-Enactment Society, somewhere in the Midlands.

But it's all a lot more innocent than the American Guns & Ammo (also available at John Menzies), which is vehemently defensive, pro-Waco, anti- federal government, and scarily glossy. The amount of money being poured into protecting the constitutional right of every citizen to clutch a pistol, could probably pay for several British general elections. In an ideal world, gun-lovers, their telescopic lenses and their deer whistles would have been sent to America where they seem to belong, but I can't help thinking that a total ban on handguns would not be fair to law-abiding "shooters". A civilised society ought to be able to accommodate a few mild weirdos and their anti-social hobbies. After all, there are giant vegetable growers whom you wouldn't want to meet down a dark alley either.

It would be preferable to ban all guns, not just hand-guns, but failing that, vetting procedures should be much tougher. It should be like getting a driving licence, but harder. A few simple guidelines could help. You don't give guns to people known to abuse positions of power, ie child- molesters, wife-beaters and water industry fat-cats. You don't give guns to anyone who has a criminal record. You don't give guns to anyone who has ever exhibited signs of severe depression, erratic behaviour or bad temper. And you continue to monitor anyone who owns a gun. (If the rules were applied to car driving, there'd be a lot less road rage too.)

RESEARCH at Cornell University, into the effects of walking into a crowded room wearing a Barry Manilow T-shirt, is quite disconcerting. Are we meant to feel comforted by the news that fewer people would notice the Barry Manilow T-shirt than we think? Surely, even if it means being rejected, despised and ridiculed, one wants to be noticed. What else are they failing to notice? All one's good points, no doubt. All Barry Manilow's good points too.

"THE trouble is, Popeye is a parrot with an attitude. The other day I walked past his cage holding a tomato and he let out this silly cry, 'What do you want then?' " Okay, the parrot was rude, but what was the woman doing with that tomato? This was the silly story par excellence, the man who had to choose between his wife and their parrot. "The worst moment comes when we have one of our rare tiffs. The parrot always takes my husband's side. It's awful having to quarrel with two people - and one of them a parrot." Popeye apparently cannot pronounce his p's. When riled, he shouts 'Hiss off!' "It's one of those eternal love triangles," said the husband. "It was either the wife goes or the parrot and I suppose it's got to be the parrot." Wrong, wrong. A good parrot is hard to find.

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