Sunday, February 25, 2018

The NRA Con Game

In response to my piece Rebuttals To Gun Lovers In Denial (in which I pointed out that we can have reasonable restrictions on the Second Amendment, just as we do the First Amendment), Steve Blomberg commented:

Excellent points. As it relates to "reasonable restrictions" on Freedom of Speech the basis for the restrictions is largely one of public safety. PUBLIC SAFETY! That's right, PUBLIC SAFETY! That is why the most used example is yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater. You do not want to cause a stampede where people get trampled. However, the NRA will tell America that the sounds of dozens of bullets being fired in under a minute causing children to run out of a school while being shot in the back is not the same because somehow the Right to Bear Arms is more important than the 1st Amendment. The kids [on CNN Wednesday] night were articulate, well mannered, and resolute. That is why I am getting off my lazy ass on March 24 heading to the Mall and supporting these fabulous advocates of change.
Steve is right about the NRA's message. It recognized decades ago that the best way to sell more guns is to create more fear. So, it is fighting back with the same old lie that efforts to end gun violence are really an attempt at repealing the Second Amendment and taking their guns away. It's the identical claim the NRA makes about any politician who won't bow down to the almighty gun lobby.

Don't forget that this is a group that doesn't actually support the rights of gun owners. If it did, it would listen to its own membership, 72% of whom support universal background checks for every gun purchase. But it doesn't, because the NRA's only reason for existence is as the lobbying arm of gun manufacturers, who don't want any of their products made illegal because it would hurt their bottom line, regardless of how many human lives are lost.

The circles in the Venn diagram of gun owners and people with a conscience overlap more than the NRA is willing to admit. Unfortunately, its members haven't yet stood up against Wayne LaPierre and other leadership to demand it support common-sense gun reform by withdrawing their memberships or refusing to renew until it does.

Fortunately, the number of companies that have recently cut ties with the NRA (canceling affiliate relationships and discounts for members) continues to grow. Corporate America played a big role in the marriage equality movement, granting benefits to gay employees and their loved ones long before the courts did. They may prove to be a needle-mover in this debate, as well.

While the NRA claims not to be worried about anything, the vitriol of its attacks on the survivor/activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school and others suggests it is little bit more afraid now than it was after previous such incidents. Not so incidentally, Emma Gonzalez, one of the MSD survivor/activists, has seen the number of people following her on Twitter increase to over 747,000 people, including me. That's in just ten days, and it's more than the NRA has (467,000)!

One last thought for today. Both of my parents were educators. They would never have carried a firearm into a school (or anywhere else). Unless you're just trying to sell more guns, arming teachers is a monstrously wrong-headed idea. If there's enough money lying around, give them instead the kind of weapons they need in the classroom -- more books, desks, computers, tissues, erasers, pencils, glue sticks, maps, construction paper, art supplies, white boards, and dry-erase markers -- so they don't have to pay for them out of their own pockets!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Movie Review: "Annihilation"

Let's start with the obvious: it's great to see a sci-fi/action movie with women in the lead roles. Sure, Gal Gadot and Charlize Theron kicked butt in "Wonder Woman" and "Atomic Blonde" last year, but there wasn't much science in those plots. There have been female cast members in sci-fi movies like Daisy Ridley and Carrie Fisher in the "Star Wars" series, but they weren't the stars. I think you have to go back to Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in the "Alien" series to find a female lead character in this genre.

"Annihilation" stars not one, but five women -- Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, and Tessa Thompson -- as scientists sent in to investigate a weird phenomenon called The Shimmer. It started when something landed from the sky at the base of a lighthouse three years ago. It's been slowly growing ever since and it's on the verge of enveloping large cities. The military has sent several missions inside The Shimmer to try to figure out what the hell's going on, but no one has ever come back.

Portman's character, Lena, is an Army veteran who now teaches cell biology at Johns Hopkins. Her husband, played by Oscar Isaac, disappeared on a mission a year ago, and was presumed dead -- but he suddenly shows up at their house, which leads to her being drafted to join the new excursion. Don't worry about the back-story, as it will be revealed in flashback throughout "Annihilation."

I won't give away too much of what happens inside The Shimmer, other than to say it feels a little bit like a female version of "Predator." There are several jump-scares caused by scary creatures, and a couple of gross scenes of things the women discover en route. There's an old expression that says it's not the destination, it's the voyage, and that's certainly true in "Annihilation." The surreal ending doesn't really pay off what we've been promised during the adventure, but it will definitely kick off discussions after you leave the theater.

Aside from the so-so ending, there's also a flashback sequence to Lena having an affair with someone who has nothing to do with The Shimmer plot. It's a useless distraction that director Alex Garland should have cut.

I was not a fan of Garland's previous movie, "Ex Machina" (listen to my review here), but I was more impressed by his work on "Annihilation." The visuals are stunning, as if Garland had re-watched the last ten minutes of Stanley Kubrick's classic "2001: A Space Odyssey" and set out to update it with modern CGI technology. The sound design is even better -- you can feel it in your bones -- including the music by James Newton Howard. Garland also got good performances out of his leading women, especially Portman.

I didn't love "Annihilation," but I liked it enough to give it a 7 out of 10.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Rebuttals To Gun Lovers In Denial

I haven't had much to say about the mass murder last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, because I didn't think I could offer anything different than what lots of other people have already said. But today I have several rebuttals to the gun-lovers who refuse to admit that it's the weapons that are the problem.

They say that simply owning a gun -- even an assault weapon -- doesn't mean someone is going to kill large numbers of people. It's true that only a very small minority of them will, but the same is true for the violent video games and movies that are again being blamed for turning young people into cold-blooded killers. Yet, despite the fact that they are sold in even larger numbers than guns, only a tiny percentage of people who enjoy that type of entertainment have opened fire on other humans -- and when they did, it was with a gun, not a video game console. I've never heard of anyone being killed by an attack with a Playstation controller.

Another argument you hear from NRA-types is that the Second Amendment is absolute (if you ignore the vagueness of the word "militia," of course). They'll tell you that if you're an American, you can buy as many guns as you want, with no restrictions, because it's in the Bill Of Rights. But apparently their logic only applies to that amendment. We also have a First Amendment that guarantees freedom of speech, but it's certainly not absolute. In all my years in the radio business, there were words I was not allowed to say on the air because of government restrictions. In your workplace, there are consequences to calling the boss an asshole to her face. In a court of law, the judge won't permit you to stand up in the gallery and start reading "The Instant Pot Cookbook" out loud. We have reasonable restrictions on our constitutionally-guaranteed speech, so why can't we have them on guns?

Then there's this argument: if we ban people from buying certain types of weapons, the "bad guys" will still get their hands on them, so why bother? To that, I'd ask why have laws making murder illegal? After all, some "bad guys" will still commit murder, regardless of the law, so why bother? The answer is simple supply and demand: having fewer of those military-style weapons available will make their use less likely.

That's the goal -- reducing the possibility of these mass murders occurring. Think of protecting the stuff in your house. You lock the door on your house when no one's home in order to deter a burglar from getting in. Since they could simply break a window to gain access, the deadbolt doesn't keep them completely out, but it makes them think twice about stealing your things. Similarly, a ban on assault weapons, coupled with universal background checks, will lessen the chances of someone using one to ring up such a high body count in a school, or a post office, or a church.

Since I mentioned a church, I've heard several loudmouths spout the nonsense that all these school shootings are because we took prayer out of schools. That's a cause-and-effect relationship for which there is no actual evidence. It would be like claiming that the teen pregnancy rate in America is at its lowest in 50 years (which it is) because we took prayer out of schools (which it's not). The same goes for our national crime rate. Or the illiteracy rate. Or that people are living longer. The numbers for all of those are better today than they were in 1962, when the Supreme Court ruled that teachers and administrators can't force students to recite a prayer in school -- but there's no correlation, so quit claiming there is!

By the way, even as an atheist, I know there was probably a huge amount of prayer going on among the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when the gunman opened fire. Those prayers, and lots of thoughts, did nothing to save the victims, as they never do, but they were certainly being said.

Speaking of those students, I'm quite impressed with how many of them have turned the horror of that day into a social movement. Their voices are being heard, echoed in other cities, and getting the attention of the media (and some politicians). While I wonder if they'd get as much time on camera if they were not from a seriously upscale white neighborhood (e.g. if they were African-American or Latino), they have me thinking that this time the push for more restrictions on guns might be different, a la the #MeToo movement.

In that case, there were women complaining for years about their mistreatment by men in the workplace, but little attention was paid until something snapped in our culture. Then, in mere months, power shifted, stories were believed, and the accused were scorned. Could this be a similar turning point in the gun control debate? It didn't happen after Newton or San Bernardino or Orlando or Las Vegas, but Parkland seems to have ignited something new, a spark that might make the flame burn a little brighter, longer, and stronger.

If it does, students like these will deserve much of the credit. Here are Carly Novell and Delaney Tarr making the case for reforming gun laws on "The Opposition," a Comedy Central production where Jordan Klepper pretends to be a right-wing TV anchor (in a similar manner to Stephen Colbert's old show). Carly and Delaney are terrific spokeswomen for the cause, batting back any of Klepper's snarky questions with their own readily-quotable talking points.

To read my followup to this piece, The NRA Con Game, click here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

He's Warmed Up, Let's Go!

I'm not a baseball fan. Yes, I see a few games every year, but only because they're on the TVs in the room while I'm playing poker. In fact, I may be the only person in the St. Louis area who couldn't care less about the Cardinals.

I readily admit I don't know the names of the players, how each team is doing or the nuances and subtleties of the rules and strategies. However, this week, when the commissioner of baseball announced a few changes designed to speed up the pace of play, I wondered why he left out one glaringly obvious choice.

Usually, when a manager is considering bringing in a reliever, he'll get a pitcher (or two) to warm up by throwing a bunch of pitches in the bullpen. Then, when he's finally brought into the game, what's the first thing that happens? Everybody waits while that same pitcher throws even more warm-ups!

This is wasted time. The guy's arm is already stretched out and ready to go.

In no other sport does this take place. If an NFL quarterback is knocked out of the game with an injury, they don't halt the proceedings so the backup can come onto the field and throw a dozen or so practice passes to his wide receivers while they run a buttonhook or a post pattern. No NHL player is given a few circuits of unimpeded practice skating around the rink when he's brought into a game. No NBA game is put on pause while the back-up power forward practices his jump shots and free throws.

Ironically, in the last decade, baseball has put an increased emphasis on pitch count. The thinking, as I understand it, is that you don't want your pitcher to wear out his arm by throwing too much. Seems like the first place you could start reducing that risk is by knocking off the unnecessary warm-up pitches.

Major League Baseball has a serious demographic problem, and pace of play is a major stumbling block to getting young people to embrace the game. In our hurry-up, on-demand world, you don't grow a new generation of fans by telling them to just sit there for a few minutes while nothing interesting happens.

If they wanted that, they'd watch soccer.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

True Diner Story

I told the waitress I didn’t want any bread with my spinach omelet, so what could I have on the side instead of toast? Her reply: “How about an English muffin?” Um, no.

Picture Of The Day

If you've ever been in a frustrating meeting with a client making ridiculous demands and management desperate to please them, you'll relate to this...