Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gun lobby jumps the shark

I thought I was on the pro-gun side of the ongoing argument over gun control.

I grew up in a house where we hunted and fished and their were always long guns and pistols in the house. I don't have the knee-jerk anti-gun reaction that spurs some of  my friends on the left anytime a gun makes the news.

At the same time, I've thought some of the people on "my side" of the argument presented ridiculous arguments that made anyone willing to say publicly that they believed the 2nd Amendment gave individual Americans the right  to keep and bear arms vaguely ridiculous by association.

The first of those is that more guns equates to fewer gun homicides. That's contrary to the evidence and to common sense and no one really believes it, even the people who make the argument.

Look, here are the facts, our liberty to keep and bear arms comes with a cost, just like all our other liberties. Some of our civil rights mean that guilty criminals will go free, that hateful speech will at times dominate the national chat room and that zealous believers in ancient superstitions will try to contaminate our science and history text books with fairy tales and arrant nonsense.

In the case of our right to bear arms, the cost is that a number of people who would otherwise remain alive will be killed. We've measured that cost and found it worthwhile. Just as we measure the costs of additional traffic fatalities and find that we can justify the number of people who have to die for us to have speed limits in excess of 25 miles-per-hour (Everywhere, except Williamsburg of course).

The other argument that makes me ashamed to be on the pro-gun side is that our Founding Fathers approved the 2nd Amendment so that we would have the option of rebelling and overthrowing our government.

It's a silly argument. First, the Founding Fathers feared nothing more than "the mob." They'd just spend a lot of time setting up a government that avoided empowering the mob. To think they then inserted a provision to allow that government to more easily be overthrown is to cast the Founding Fathers as Founding Fools.

In fact, they inserted the right to bear arms into the Bill of Rights in the context of the need for a strong militia. To uphold the state, not to overthrow it. Our current militia is the National Guard. Does anyone think there's any chance of the Virginia National Guard overthrowing the Commonwealth's government? No, of course not, it's lunacy.  So, by the way, is the idea that a few gun nuts and their AR-15 is going to pose much of a threat to the U,S. Armed Forces. As far as I know not even the most rabid gun proponent is arguing for a tank in every garage and ICBM in every back yard. Get out of your "Red Dawn" fantasy life and come back to reality.

So what of the proposals made by the anti-gun side?

First, let's identify what concerns they are seeking to address. Nobody is trying to ban handguns held for personal protection or rifles and shotguns used for hunting.

The concern is to try to minimize the damage a nut can do when he starts firing at random people in a public setting. Those are what the cases that have brought gun control to the center of the public consciousnesses now are about.

One proposal was to ban the military-style assault rifle that seems to be the weapon of choice for these suicidal sociopaths.

I'm against that. Because it doesn't really do anything. The assault rifle ban would outlaw weapons that are functionally the same as weapons that still remain legal, based entirely on what they look like. It doesn't do anything. I gives the illusion that we've done something and make everyone feel better.

The same is true of a proposal to limit magazine sizes. If you limit the magazine from 30 rounds to 10, it just means the shooter has to change magazines a couple of time, costing him mere seconds. It doesn't really have an affect, except to lull those who've become worried by the recent rash of public shootings back into complacency.

So, although I initially thought it worthwhile, I decided that magazine restriction didn't bear supporting either.

That left the one proposal that -- before the pro-gun movement jumped the shark -- everyone seemed to agree on, universal background checks to keep guns out of the hands of felons and the mentally ill. Everybody, from the greediest gun-grabber to the looniest firearm fetishist, seemed to agree on that.

And we know it works. We've had instant background checks in Virginia for more than 20 years. In that time they have kept thousands of guns out of the hands of felons and whackjobs. That's easy to overlook because the guys who are denied a gun don't make any public impact. And, all to often, guys who slip though the cracks, like the Virginia Tech shooter, become the central figures in yet another nightly news nightmare.

The fact that the system isn't perfect doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Our criminal justice system isn't perfect either. We don't throw up our hands and throw open the prison doors.

Background checks do nothing to limit the rights of "law-abiding American citizens" to own and bear firearms.

But now the pro-gun movement has decided that even background checks are an "infringement" of the right to bear arms. Because that's apparently the only absolute right in the Bill of Rights.

The are fighting against the very idea of taking a vote on background checks.

Well, this is my stop. This is where I get off. I can't agree with that and I don't think much of reasonable America can either. This is the moment when the pro-gun movement has tied its fate to its most radical proponents and decided it doesn't care what mainstream America thinks.

And so, this is probably the high tide of the pro-gun movement.

And I only ask that my former allies do us one favor. If you can't agree to reasonable background checks that would keep guns out of the wrong hand, just dispense with the talking point that you care whose hands they end up in and admit that the net affect of  your lobbying makes us less safe.

And please, in the name of everything decent, just stop the sham and pretense that you give a damn about the victims of random shootings and their families. You should be ashamed to speak their names, which should lay like ashes on your tongues. Because by your actions you are guaranteeing that there will be many, many more just like them.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

If you ain't got HBO, you ain't got no TV!

Okay, so their slogan is "It's not TV, it's HBO."

The title of this post, cribbed from what someone once said  should be the slogan for Duke's mayonnaise, with an expletive deleted, would be just as fitting.

How much HBO has changed the rest of television came to me again last night, as I was watching the "Game of Thrones" season premier.

Younger readers, those who don't remember what it was like before cable, might not understand HBO's importance.

Before cable, children, we had the three network affiliates and PBS. And usually the reception on the PBS channel was horrible.

After cable, we had a couple of dozen stations at first.

But, with the exception of sports on ESPN, music videos on MTV, baseball on TBS and WGN and wrestling on TBS and USA, almost everything on cable was stuff you'd already seen on the three networks.

Most of  basic cable channels' programming was syndicated  reruns of old situation comedies and cop shows.

It was once possible to watch television 24-hours a day and see nothing by "MASH" reruns. While it might still be possible to do the same thing with the various "Law & Order" franchises, basic cable has much more programming now. Old reruns are pretty much contained on TVLand and couple of similar channels.
HBO was the catalyst for the change, showing other cable channels how rewarding original programming could be. And, in the process, upgrading the quality of television.

That wasn't the original idea. Home Box Office was supposed to be the channel that brought you major moves and sporting events, like championship fights, for a premium.

However, as cable evolved, studios and promoters realized that they could make more money by putting their product on pay-per-view than by selling it to HBO.

That left HBO with time to fill.

And boy did they fill it.

Starting with "Sex And The City" and  "The Sopranos," HBO rolled out a series of critically-acclaimed shows  and turned Sunday into "must see TV" night. (NBC had the original "must see' night on Thursday with four sitcom, most prominently "The Cosby Show" and "Cheers" leading into a blockbuster drama -- first "Hill Street Blues," then "L.A. Law" and finally "E.R." ).

Following  "The Sopranos" success came, in no particular order, "Six Feet Under," "Big Love," "Atlantic City," "True Blood" and ""Game of Thrones.'

Even the failures, "Deadwood"  -- which I liked, and which certainly holds the record for the television show with the filthiest language --  and Carnivale, which was cancelled just as I was beginning to figure out what was going on, interesting.

HBO hasn't done as well with comedies, with only "Entourage" standing out. I suppose "Curb Your Enthusiasm" could be considered a success, it's  been on a long time. But to me Larry David is like Jim Carey and Adam Sandler, I can't stand him so I change the channel as soon as I see him, So I've seen maybe  three minutes of  "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in all the years it's been on.

Once HBO had some success with original programing, other cable channels followed.

Showtime, once HBO's rival for movies and sports, became perhaps its biggest rival in original programming, with its best shows also premiering on Sunday nights from "The L Word" to "Dexter" to "Weeds."

Then, even basic cable channels began to get into the act, USA network has had a number of original shows  the best of which are probably "Burn Notice" and "Suits." FX came out with "Sons of Anarchy"  The most praised cable show of the last five years, "Mad Men," is on AMC, a channel originally intended to air old movies.

At this point, we've reached the best -- and the worst -- of all possible television worlds. While there are so many excellent shows on television right now there really isn't time to watch them all -- even with "On Demand" and DVRs -- there's also worse garbage than ever as well. Network television has fallen into a terrible rut of cop shoes, standard sitcoms and reality dreck. (To be fair, cable has its share of bad reality shows too. Bravo, for example is responsible for the whole "Real Housewives of..(fill in the blank)" genre and MTV brought us "Jersey Shore.").

One thing I'm not sure I do like is that cable has redefined a television season as 13 or 14 episodes. Network seasons used to be about 25 episodes long. So you got half a year of new shows, then a round of reruns and maybe a summer replacement show. Now, there's a pretty long wait for your favorites to come back on. You really need that "Previously on...." segment to catch back up to where you were.

"Mad Men" is scheduled to return next week, and for the life of me I can't remember what was going on when the last season ended and it usually skips a  year between seasons.

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