Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Exception

Mistake number-one was assuming I had outsmarted my fellow man by embarking on an early-morning trip to the supermarket the Sunday before Thanksgiving. If not packed, the store was aflutter with shoppers guilty of the same ill-considered thinking as I.

Long lines emanated from the few registers the store thought it suitable to open. And being twenty-first century Americans, we were, of course, suitably distressed.

With a miniature cart barely contaminated by groceries, I opted for the express check-out lanes, which were easy to find owing to the sizeable signs proclaiming '15 Items Or Less'. In my naivete, I assumed that a line of small purchases would move faster than a line of large ones.

(At least my first mistake wouldn't be lonely.)

When it became apparent that I had been eying the racks of impulse items and gossip magazines for an unduly long time, I looked to the front of the line.

There, a stylish middle-aged woman in black boots, sporting a modern, asymmetrical bob was stuffing the tiny counter with what seemed to be an approximation of the magician who pulls out unending yards of handkerchiefs from a breast pocket. Or the dozens of circus clowns who emerge from a single, tiny car.

The stream of groceries did not end.

I attempted to stare a hole in her, but my corneal lasers were in the shop undergoing recalibration. Unbelievably, her illiteracy (to be kind) was compounded by a desire to pay with a highly-unusual form of debit card which apparently originated in eastern Europe.

When the debit card problem was at last rectified, the harried cashier loaded three full-sized bags into her cart. With no acknowledgment that she had caused anyone any inconvenience whatsoever, the woman zipped up her tailored jacket, adjusted her scarf, pulled on her gloves and sauntered out of the store.

I issued a silent prayer, thankful that I wouldn't be late for work Monday morning. 

And that no one else felt the need to demonstrate their holiday shopping self-importance.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Drawing a Bead on the NRA

Ask an NRA member about mass killings, or going way out on a limb, impending gun control legislation and they'll invariably respond the way you or I do when confronted with a rate hike from our car insurer: but I didn't have any accidents! I didn't get any tickets!

There's a dynamic at work which effects a giant portion of our society: a careless or irresponsible minority can have a profound impact on the rest of us. It's just how it is. Nothing more, nothing less.

Because so many of us find it impossible to drive without texting, the rest of us pay higher insurance premiums based on the rising number of collisions and damage claims that are submitted.

Other examples stretch across the entire spectrum of consumerism.

Because some of us believe that immunizing our children actually harms them, the rest of us cough up more for health care as a result of higher rates of hospitalization and treatment.

Because some of us find it necessary to trash a rental property after the landlord refuses to fetch us mocha double-lattes every morning, the rest of us spring for larger security deposits when we decide to move in.

Because cold medicine contains pseudoephedrine and is easily re-purposed as an ingredient for methamphetamine, the rest of us encounter a raft of speed bumps en route to purchasing the formerly over-the-counter medicine that keeps our nose from running.

And on and on and on it goes. As the enlightened reader of The Square Peg, please say it again: the many pay for the few.

But in an occurrence almost as startling as the repeal of gravity, gun owners remain exempt from this dynamic. They are cloistered in a pretty little bubble because they're, well, special.

Despite the fact that a disturbing proportion of gun owners adhere to the production-for-use aesthetic and fire their guns as often as possible, there is never any blow-back for remaining owners in the manner of increased license fees, scrutiny, etc.

Like gun manufacturers, gun owners exist on a plane completely removed from the rest of us, immune to the rules, consequences and dynamics of our society.

And this is as accidental as sunrise.

The National Rifle Association has labored valiantly to protect all aspects of firearm manufacture, distribution, sale, ownership and use and keep them as consequence-free as fundraising ceilings and finite numbers of lobbyists will allow.

Which, come to think of it, is as it should be. Guns are rarely labeled as organic because they contain preservatives. The kind that ensures that through the purchase of said gun, you will remain a saintly individual for the duration of that ownership.

Because you own a gun, you will forever be immune to the indignities and stresses of life, be it impending homelessness, joblessness, divorce, custody battles or the detritus from a neighbor's tree which maddeningly and inexplicably falls on your side of the property line.

Gun ownership virtually guarantees you won't ever go off half-cocked (so to speak).

This also applies to any and all residents who share the address with the gun.

Your kids will never be tempted to kill you for some perceived social embarrassment you inflicted on them in front of their peers, or for actual social embarrassment in the manner of a week-long grounding or the denial of their cell phone privileges for a weekend.

Ditto your wife when she finds out that instead of looking for a job, you've been having extramarital sex with the twenty-nine year-old divorcee across the street for the past six months while she has been working two jobs to keep things together in the interim.

Kindly ignore statistics which confirm that the gun you keep at home is more likely to be used on you than by you. They're compiled by libtards who, for some unfathomable reason, want to keep you safe.

Let's be perfectly clear: no one should ever exonerate the likes of Adam Lanza or Stephen Paddock for their selfish and gruesome carnage. But taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, we shouldn't be greasing the skids to EZ gun ownership, either.

Which is exactly what the NRA seeks to do.

You are free to disagree or deny, but even in the wake of the recent mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Congress has before it legislation which will make it easier for gun owners to buy silencers—ostensibly to protect a hunter's hearing.

You can look it up. It's House bill H.R. 367 The Hearing Protection Act of 2017.

(Like you, I wonder if these shitheads have ever tried their hand at stand-up.)

Another seeks to gift gun-owners residing in states with Concealed Carry laws with the ability to take that protection with them—even in states with no provision for Concealed Carry.

You can look that up, too. It's H.R. 38 The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017.

(Ironic coming from a Republican-led Congress renown for trumpeting state's rights, don't you think? Can a woman carry her reproductive rights across state lines, too? Oh—didn't think so.)

Saddest of all, there is a piece of legislation which seeks to protect schmucks like you and me. It's H.R. 4168 and is called the Closing the Bump-Stock Loophole Act.

Like its title, it reeks of common sense. Which is likely why in a Congress as obedient to the NRA as a sixteenth-century wife was to her husband, it is estimated to have but a six-percent chance of ever being enacted.

Now we know what the NRA does. We know what the NRA wants to do. And we know what the NRA doesn't want to do. In order to diminish them and shrink their poisonous influence, a new approach is called for.

Here's one idea:

Being that one of the most-powerful aspects of gun ownership is the implied machismo, we start by creating a public-awareness campaign that suggests that owning a gun is something less than the ultimate expression of manliness. We then mandate that guns be cast in pink.

We repeatedly reinforce the idea that only pussies use guns. That real men carry knives and engage in hand-to-hand combat when they get the urge to kill because their favorite cartoon got cancelled or they can't get laid.

That killing people with guns is just too easy. Any peevish, self-pitying slob can squeeze a trigger. The real shining lights of the mass murder community are constantly challenging themselves. Pushing the mass murder envelope. And they embrace the old-school aesthetic of mano a mano struggle.

Cutting-edge killers get blood on themselves. They hear the labored breathing of their victims. They feel the resistance of their cartilage and ligaments. They know when a knife encounters bone, forcing an on-the-spot rethink of strategy. 

None of this nonsense of spraying of automatic gun-fire from the upper stories of a luxury resort hotel!

In all seriousness, we did it with cigarettes. We did it with drunken driving. We can do it with guns.

Providing, of course, that we want to.


Monday, November 6, 2017

The United States of Stupid

So. Who's next?

You?

Me?

Our parents?

Our siblings?

Our spouses?

Our kids?

Who will be the next sacrifice to this thing, this out-moded idea that has been protected beyond any and all reason? Is Stephen Paddock's and Scott Ostrem's and Devin Kelley's right to keep and bear arms really worth the carnage that is quickly becoming our indelible national symbol?

While our freedom of speech must allow voice to white supremacists and due process must guarantee a fair trial and other legal protections even to the worst of us, neither of these require the slaughter of innocents to remain viable.

We have enough guns. The psychotic and the paranoid and the hateful are not the “well-regulated militia” the founding fathers envisioned when they drafted the second amendment.

We know what we must do. It starts with the entity holding open the doors to unfettered and unregulated gun ownership. In other words, the NRA.

We must dismantle it.

Now.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Random Thoughts, Vol. 10

There is no more American sport than golf. Players are ranked not by tournament victories or a cumulative under or over par score, but by earnings. He who makes the most is the best.

Isn't the labeling of any Friday as 'Good Friday' like, really redundant?

Once upon a time, we paid for cable TV because doing so meant it would remain commercial-free. In perhaps the greatest marketing scam ever foisted upon the American consumer, we now pay to watch commercials. Wow.

When it comes to sausage, brats are the wurst.

If everyone is shopping online, shouldn't traffic be lighter?

How ironic is it that while millions of living-wage jobs go unfilled because tight-fisted businesses don't want to train people, we have a president learning on the job?

Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder. 

When I was young, I would pay to watch horror movies in the hopes of receiving a good scare. In 2017 America, I need only get out of bed.

The most beautiful women in the world are on boxes of hair color.

Marriage has a ring to it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Sanctity of Life Test

There is very little talk of it, and with good reason. With fifty-nine people slaughtered within seconds at the hands of a psychopath firing an automatic weapon from the thirty-second floor of a Las Vegas hotel, we're still trying to come to terms with a world changing faster than we can cope with.

But what about the wounded? What about those left alive to face a life impaired and diminished by Stephen Paddock's selfish and petulant rage? Who's going to pay the medical bills for those facing months or even years of highly specialized care and intensive physical therapy?

If this were a plane crash or a train wreck, victims would have an obvious alternative: sue the operator of said conveyance. But things become a bit thornier when guns are involved. That's because gun manufacturers can't be held liable for the carnage they enable.

Thanks to a 2005 bill called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, gun manufacturers are allowed to go about their business unconcerned and unhindered by bothersome law suits, even as their products place an inordinate demand on public services at great public expense.

Why? Because, to quote Dana Carvey's Church Lady character from Saturday Night Live, gun manufacturers are special.

No municipal, county, state or even federal unit of government can sue gun manufacturers to recover the costs incurred by firearms. In other words, despite the fact that alcohol, cigarettes and guns place an exorbitant amount of people at risk because of the very nature of their products, only the manufacturers of alcohol and cigarettes can be held responsible.

Gun manufacturers get off scot-free.

Lest I overstate their immunity to prosecution, the following scenario should clarify things: say the man raping your wife takes exception to her efforts to free herself and attempts to shoot her, only to have the gun misfire and injure him.

He is fully entitled to sue to manufacturer of the gun in question.

But if some cretin is disappointed by the contents of your daughter's purse and blows a hole in her head? Well, tough luck, bro. Sorry for your loss.

This twisted dynamic exists because we the people have mostly allowed it. Aided and abetted by our so-called elected representation, we have empowered the NRA's well-funded lobbyists to eliminate virtually everything standing in the way of unfettered and unlimited gun ownership.

Does anyone really believe the founding fathers could have imagined Stephen Paddock and his ilk when they created the Second Amendment nearly a quarter of a millennia ago? Does anyone really believe that a nation flooded with firearms was their intent? 

Besides the NRA, I mean.

The NRA is evil. It is an industry trade group bent on protecting and advancing market opportunities for the manufacturers of guns. Nothing more, nothing less. Feel free to laugh at their stated purpose of promoting gun safety.

They have been spectacularly successful at acquiring power and wield it like a police truncheon. Their heavy-handed efforts have yielded a congress too terrified to even suggest moderate gun reform.

Have you ever considered the similarities between ISIS and the National Rifle Association? Both are fear-mongers. Both prey upon the ignorant and manipulate them until they're foaming-at-the-mouth angry. Neither will brook even the slightest, most miniscule bit of reform or compromise.

(But I will credit the NRA with having a slick, well-oiled public relations staff.)

Their only distinguishing feature is that while ISIS likes to take credit for its members acts of terrorism, the NRA keeps an official distance even as it provides an umbrella of protection under which the darkest and most-destructive forces in American society can exist.

The NRA is the mother of all enablers. Make no mistake: Stephen Paddock, Omar Mateen, Dylann Roof and Adam Lanza were all enabled by the NRA and its ceaseless, unswerving mission to make the greatest number of guns available to the greatest number of people.

But the NRA's most-lethal threat lies in its ability to fund raise and consequently, its ability to influence legislation. Without the NRA, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act doesn't happen. Along with several dozen other pieces of self-serving legislation that enables the gun trade while essentially flushing public safety down the toilet.

Again, in the eyes of NRA leadership, compromise is tantamount to heresy. It has drummed out members of its own leadership for merely hinting that compromise might be the best way forward. Again, it's the NRA's way or no way.

That being the case, we the people need to figure out a way to shrink it. Neuter it. Or better yet, bring in the wrecking ball and destroy it. The NRA is antithetical to the very notion of democracy (a word Republicans continue to use despite their obvious contempt for it).

Write. Text. Phone. E-mail. Make it clear to your elected representation—on every level—that you are not okay with the unrestricted avalanche of guns flooding our country thanks to the relentless efforts of the NRA.

Tell them you're not okay with 559 people having their lives ended or irreparably damaged because they attended a country music festival in the same zip code a U.S. citizen decided to validate his existence by ending theirs.

Left unacted upon, ask them what we will one day have left to protect.

Our government and the leaders we elect routinely claim to loathe terrorism and seek the path to end it.

Physician, heal thyself. End the NRA's influence. Now.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Late Arrival to the ER

I was young, and in my youthful arrogance thought that I knew everything.

But there is only one direction to go from the top of the mountain, and in the ensuing years I have steadily and faithfully regressed to the point where I hardly know anything at all. It is in a state of intellectual inadequacy and general feebleness that I issue this post.

In a very specific sense, this is about a TV show. But in a more general one, it applies to so much more.

As an all-knowing snot I dismissed much. My three favorite things (movies, books and music), received the brunt of my critical attention. My tastes were unassailable. I was a genius. For confirmation, all you needed to do was ask.

This included television, of which I was frequently critical. And when ER took off in the late-nineties, I wrinkled my nose and said no thanks. Any prime-time hospital drama fueled by a male heartthrob just had to be defective.

I reasoned that if I were going to waste an hour of my life watching ER, why not listen to N-Sync, too? Why not read Ann Coulter? Eat deep-fried candy bars at state fairs? Consume red meat with abandon, drink too much and chain-smoke?

What difference did it make if I were going to sink to the depths of a celebrity-driven hospital drama like ER?

OK. Deep breath.

Thanks to my reduced circumstances and being firmly entrenched in my dotage, I have finally come 'round to ER.

And you know what? It's pretty good.

Yes, there are the standard plot conventions and requisite romantic entanglements (although I confess to hoping a budding relationship between Drs. Carter and del Amico would bloom into a romance), but the series regularly confronts the issues facing healthcare and a public city hospital and the grueling ordeal of emergency room work with a steadfast and unblinking eye.

It doesn't offer easy answers, and the casting and acting are uniformly high. As is the all-important writing. 

At the heart of creating a great story is drawing characters the viewer connects with. Pulls for. And identifies with. And ER has them in spades.

Who can't root for Mark Greene, an earnest and committed ER physician who somewhere down the line becomes married to his job and is divorced by his wife? Or Doug Ross, a pediatrician torn between an urgent desire to practice 'pure ' medicine and an intricate web of protocols that seems to stifle that as often as it promotes it?

Or nurse manager Carol Hathaway, the series' heart and emotional center? An old soul, she can be counted on to hit the right note just as it seems the entire performance is about to careen off the rails even as her personal life is frequently a one-step-forward, two-steps-back struggle.

I would love to work with her. You would, too.

Episodes are stuffed with dozens of others, good, bad and in-between. They remind me of the inscription to a novel I once read: No one is as good—or as bad—as they first appear. Whatever their make-up, they're never boring. And if that doesn't make for great drama, what does?

ER also possesses a highly unique visual style, which is no small thing in television. And this is its signature move.

When a script transitions from one sub-plot to another, it usually happens in a bustling corridor with a backtracking camera framing one set of characters as they sign-off of the segment by briskly departing down a side hallway (lab coats flying) while a second group enters the just-vacated space from another hallway, introducing another sub-plot with lab coats again trailing in their wake.

(If nothing else, the cast of ER certainly got a nice cardio workout in during filming.)

It is intense and dynamic and as perfectly choreographed as anything Welles or Huston or Hitchcock ever did, and just as effective. It is the visual manifestation of the urgency that surrounds their work.

Last but not least, the series was filmed in my hometown. And thankfully, it gets beyond the skyline-from-the-lake or skyline-from-the-Lincoln-Park-lagoon shots to reveal the city and its neighborhoods. It's been said that a locale is often another character, and on ER that certainly holds true.

I should add that like another favorite program of mine, ER possessed a sublime sense of humor. Its humor sneaks up, taps you on the shoulder and is gone almost before you know what's happening.

Given the often weighty nature of the scripts, it is a welcome relief.   

So there it is. A television series overflowing with memorable characters. Bursting with compelling scripts. And convincingly shot in a gritty, real-life locale that underscores its storylines. And when you least expect it, it provokes a laugh.

It has made me grateful that I no longer know everything. To think what I would have missed.



Monday, October 2, 2017

Las Vegas

I don't want to hear a single one.

Not a single Republican-issued condolence or apology or any other communique expressing sorrow or remorse or regret at what happened in Las Vegas yesterday.

Through their abject refusal to enact even the slightest and most common-sense gun control legislation whatsoever (does an assault weapons ban ring a bell?), they have not only allowed this to happen they have practically begged for it.

In a better world, having chosen to live by the sword Republicans would die by it as well.

The NRA and their servants in Washington DC are despicable. To hell with them!