Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Guns Without Roses

There are many examples of the rapacious nature of capitalism — its democratic trappings notwithstanding — but none so blatant as the so-called gun debate. I use the term “so-called” because it isn't really a debate; it's inhumanity vs. humanity.

To begin with, no one advocating greater control over the manufacture and distribution of firearms is calling for repeal — or even modification — of the Second Amendment. I'd like to note, however, the historical context in which that amendment was written. It was post-revolution, a still fragile time for our new nation. That's why the amendment begins, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” and then follows with, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

So let's leave the Second Amendment out of this “debate,” and consider why the National Rifle Association, gun manufacturers and their mouthpieces in Congress want to keep the doors to gun sales wide open. It has nothing to do with self-defense, or the right “to bear arms.” It has everything to do with sales. With profits. In the case of members of Congress — mostly Republicans — it's called “reelection.”

Weapons that fire many bullets in a matter of seconds were intended for military and police use, not for bringing down a burglar in the middle of the night. If those weapons were outlawed for civilian purchase, and if background checks were more strict before anyone could buy a gun, no one could argue that it wouldn't have made a difference in the number of mass slaughters which have plagued this country over the last few years.

As long as there are lethal weapons — whether they be guns or knives — there will be killings. No one disputes that. But neither could anyone dispute the obvious truth that greater control over manufacture, sales and background checks would minimize such horrific events as the slaughter of 20 school children and six teachers in Newtown or 49 people in Orlando.

Yes, Mr. La Pierre, people kill people. But need they be so efficient at it?  

Monday, June 27, 2016

‘Is the wall here yet?'

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently published a report on the “profoundly negative effect” that Donald Trump's candidacy is having on our nation's schools and children. The report was based on an online survey by Teaching Tolerance. While it notes that the survey of approximately 2,000 K-12 teachers was not scientific, it shows “a disturbing nationwide problem, one that is particularly acute in schools with high concentrations of minority children.”

The report says that more than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students, “mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims,” expressed concerns about “what might happen to them or their families after the election.”

“My students are terrified of Donald Trump,” says one teacher from a middle school with a large population of African-American Muslims. “They think that if he's elected, all black people will get sent back to Africa.”

In Tennessee, a kindergarten teacher says a Latino child — told by classmates that he will be deported and trapped behind a wall — asks every day, “Is the wall here yet?”

The other side of the coin is equally disturbing. One teacher reported that a fifth-grader told a Muslim student he was supporting Donald Trump because “he was going to kill all of the Muslims if he became president.”

In Merrillville, Indiana, students began chanting “Build a wall!” during a basketball game against a rival team made up mostly of Latino players.

At this writing, Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. There is a movement within the GOP, however, to prevent that from happening at its convention in late July. But that movement is based more on embarrassment than conviction. Despite denials by GOP leaders that Trump's behavior doesn't reflect their own views, an examination of their positions reveals otherwise — albeit in subtler form.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A word from our sponsor…

First, a word of praise. The imagination and computerization that goes into the creation of today’s commercials hawking skin creams or peanuts is astounding. Despite my distaste for commercials generally, I’m often mesmerized by the incredible productions involved. That being said…

According to Section 5 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, there are limits on how much time may be spent for commercials. Depending on the time of day, it ranges from 13 to 16 minutes per hour. That’s one-quarter of the show. And who do you think pays for those very expensive commercials? We do, in the price we pay for the advertised products.

Excuse me?

Frequently, when I select a column in the Internet edition of the Washington Post, a video commercial would appear before the column does. It either gives me the option to click onto an “X” in the upper right-hand corner, thereby cancelling the commercial, or it informs me that the commercial will end in 15-or-so seconds. I grit my teeth and wait to read the column.

Bad enough. But one morning, while reading a Post column, a video commercial popped up in mid-sentence. For a split-second I thought a virus had taken over. It’s one thing to have commercials at the top, on the side, and sometimes right in the middle of the column, but to be reading when, without warning, a video pops up is the last straw.

I suppose it’s legal, and that a lot of money is involved, but while we tolerate commercials as the price we pay for watching “CSI” or “Survivor,” the intrusiveness of commercials has gotten out of hand.

Now hear this

There is an act called the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act — the CALM Act. This act ostensibly prohibits advertisers from raising the decibel level of their ads higher than that of the program. This is as useless as prohibition was.

First of all, decibel levels rise and fall with the type of sound being delivered. An actress letting out a scream is far different than the sound of two lovers whispering sweet nothings to one another. It’s the same with commercials. I’m hard of hearing, so I watch TV with headphones. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to take them off when a blaring commercial comes on. The ad agencies that create those commercials know how to get your attention, both with sound and content, even while staying within the rules of the CALM act.

What’s this about?

Something strange has happened to commercials. Time was when a commercial would introduce a product, tell you how good it is, and urge you to buy it. They were straightforward: “Pepsi-Cola hits the spot, twelve full ounces, that’s a lot…” Today the expensive scenarios of most commercials have little or nothing to do with the product; their aim is to get you to remember the product’s name, which is flashed on the screen at the end of the commercial. Example: one of the many different GEICO commercials features a hobo chicken. The chicken has left the farm and is seen first in a photograph held by the farmer, and then aboard a train heading for who knows where. Nothing to do with insurance. On TV these days a product’s logo is not necessarily an abstract design, it’s a duck, a gecko — or a chicken.

Wanna buy a warplane?

Then there are a bunch of commericals with no product for sale. Well, not the kinds of products on store shelves. “My mom works at GE,” says the cute girl after screen images of airplane engines and other contrivances made by GE. What’s this all about, I wondered. Why, of course, invest in the company!

The airplane manufacturer Northrup-Grumman has come out with a number of mysterious-looking commercials featuring sleek military aircraft, with ominous percussive sound effects accompanied by imaginative lighting. Anyone in the market for an enormous deadly airplane? I didn’t think so. Again, investment is the aim.

This tirade is over. But, like Howard Beale in the film “Network,” I’m mad as hell. Until there’s a successful movement against all this nonsense, I guess I’ll have to take those tedious, barely comprehensible commercials — plus two Aleves…or should I stay with six Tylenols?