Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Oregon Mass Shooting: Another Thurber Brigade Sidestep

Did you know that the NRA was founded by a handful of Northern Civil War veterans who wanted to make sure their fellow Yankees could shoot as well as their Southern counterparts?

Believe it.  In fact, their stated purpose was “Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation.” 

I bring this up because every time a madman kills a large number of people in the United States, the gun nuts—excuse me—enthusiasts, rush to the airwaves to stress how it’s every citizen’s 2nd Amendment right to carry a gun. 

But it’s not.

The 2nd Amendment got added to our Bill of Rights because many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves and they feared that the Federal Government would disarm the state militias.  Those state militias were an important tool used by slavers to quell slave rebellions and hunt down runaway slaves. If you took away the guns of the militia, well, as Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained  asks, "Why don't the slaves just rise up and kill the whites?"

Yeah, the slavers feared that.

Individual gun ownership was not really a concern of the founders. I think this is largely because they believed the country was a wild frontier and so it went without saying that people would own guns. Of course, in colonial days running around with guns (open carry) was frowned upon by just about everyone unless absolutely necessary, but that’s a different story.

The NRA changed its tune in the 1970s and grasped the 2nd Amendment as its own useful tool for controlling populations.  Populations of people who wanted to have more strict control on guns. 

It hasn’t really worked.  When I say that, I mean it hasn’t changed peoples’ minds. Most people still want more regulations of firearms. Things like background checks, etc.

The NRA has been very good at impressing congress though. Although the regular populaton supports more gun regulations and there is always a large public outcry after the latest mass killing event, congress refuses to do anything.

To further pound home the reason why congress SHOULD do something, let’s compare the number of deaths caused by firearms versus congress’ big PR fear target—terrorism:
So just in case congress and the president decide to really do something about gun violence, here’s my 2¢ or actually, two ideas that would help.

• Universal background checks.  Admittedly, this is a small step and would only reduce gun deaths a bit, but we have to start someplace. It would need to be a bit more thorough then the current method, and get all the states to buy in by reporting all information that would be useful. Information such as time spent in a mental institution. Right now, that is barely reported and seldom reported if it was voluntary.

• Require liability insurance for all guns. That’s right, just like those other killer machines, cars, we need to require gun owners to be willing to pay to protect us from wrongful use of their weapon. 

This would be a big boon for the insurance companies of course, but the reason this would work is because sooner or later those same companies would have to start paying out massive amounts of money for violent acts. And they’d hate that.

So once insurance companies begin to get really angry about having to pay out all that money, it means they’d also begin to put the hammer down on congress and get them to do even more gun control regulation. Once insurance companies begin lobbying as extensively for gun control as the NRA currently does to stop it, well, I think we might get something done.
So there are solutions out there for America’s penchant to have a mass shooting just about every two weeks. We just need to get Big Money behind the initiatives to actually have those solutions happen.
This picture has nothing to do with the issue of this blog. It's just that I've been to Oregon quite a few times and believe it's a beautiful state.  So although there is no way to forget that horrible incident in Roseburg, OR, I thought I'd leave you a more picturesque image of the state (that's Mt. Hood).

**The Thurber Brigade apologizes for yet again veering off the road of the War Between Men and Women and assures everyone that it will return to the straight and narrow soon. Maybe. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Phoned Out

In ancient times, maybe, oh, 20 years ago, I remember an ad by some company selling this newfangled contraption called a cell phone. A rather large phone receiver device you could carry with you (believe it or not, the first one was developed in 1973).  

In the ad, a woman carrying groceries goes nuts when she hears the phone ring in her house a short distance away. Of course she drops her groceries as she attempts, unsuccessfully, to vault the bushes by her front porch. Her neighbor has a cell phone and easily answers her call while carrying her grocery bags.

In the almost ancient times, oh, 10 years ago, the stereotype of a cell phone user was a teenage girl who basically had the phone to her ear 24/7. Oblivious to all around her she would wander down the street talking to her bff, who also had her phone surgically attached to her ear, about what Jill wore to school that day, what Tony said to Eve before math class, or some other vitally important topic.

Nowadays the stereotype of the cell phone user is just about everyone. Same scenario of course. They are oblivious to their surroundings, have the phone to ear constantly, talking/texting about the daily drivel.  

Well, when I say everyone, I am excluding us old guys.
We old farts hear the cell phone ring and let it go to voicemail. We might return the call after the football game is over. There is a good chance that if a friend calls from down the block we'll just walk down and see him rather than call.

If we wonder if the local store has that new screwdriver we want we'll most likely go there and look around rather than call and ask. We laugh when the phone addicts say they need to have the phone with them 24/7 in case they get an emergency call from their ailing Mother. We know that 99.99% of the calls are about what cheese to buy for a sandwich or whether we like the black or red evening dress the wife wants to buy.
I admit I broke down and bought a smart phone a half year ago (it was a cheap $70 one). Previously I just had an "ancient" flip phone that I used occasionally. I got rid of my landline a long time ago, but still would leave the phone in the other room and eventually answer any voicemail. The smart phone hasn't changed me either. I still don't know how to use most of the apps (and don't use them).

However, I am addicted to my computer and iPad. In fact, I wrote most of this blog on my iPad at Einstein Bros. Bagels and the Blackstar Coop (my favorite brewpub). If I need to find where some store is located I will most likely look on my computer at Google Maps. If I wonder what a word means I am more likely to flip open my iPad rather than go get the dictionary.
Weird right? After all, many smart phones are pretty much mini computers.

I bring up my feelings about phones because I keep running into people who feel the same way—but about eBooks.
Just the other day I noticed a friend who had posted a comment on Facebook (I was using my computer, not phone) stating she absolutely hated eBooks with a passion.  Swore she would only read paper versions. She, of course, is one of those who uses her cell phone for everything from calendar notices to, well, Facebook comments.

I love eBooks.  I have about 50 books on my iPad. You would need a suitcase to carry around that many paper versions. If I'm alone at a dark bar, I might whip out an eBook to while away the time as I sip my favorite IPA. Can't do that with a paperback unless you also use your cell phone as a light. If the font is too small I can enlarge it at will. With a paper version you'd have to get your magnifying glass out. If I don't recognize a word, I just highlight it and get the built-in dictionary to look it up for me. With paper you have to set the book down and go to the other room for your paper dictionary.

Oddly, I got into eBooks because of a TV show about paper.

For the longest time I only read paper books. Then one night I watched an episode of “The Office.”  Mike was droning on about how great paper was, when he mentioned how you could read an eBook on a small device. Darryl (Craig Robinson) overheard him and the next scene we discover he’s hiding in a storage room and is reading a book on an e-reader. I was intrigued.
So I got a free e-reader for my computer and downloaded a free copy of “The Deerslayer.” I think I had read the CliffsNotes version during junior high, and have always felt an obligation to eventually read the whole thing. So I tried the eBook. I was hooked.

Admittedly, there are a lot of eBooks that are just as expensive as paper ones, but for the most part, you can find a book cheaper if it’s electronic. I’m sure students all over the globe wish that all of their text books were eBooks. Paper ones often cost close to $100 (typically those evil chemistry ones), so an eBook would likely be a little less. Plus, they’d love to be able to whip it out on their cell phones and read today’s chapter while riding the bus to class rather than fumbling with that gigantic paper version.

Plus, could you imagine someone reading a paper textbook while in line for those Miley Cyrus tix? No, if not texting their friends they’d be reading an eBook I'm sure.
Okay, I admit I’m a little biased because I have three eBooks I’ve written that are for sale. You can see them listed on the side of this blog. Hey, they’re very inexpensive and a great read, so give one a try.  Oh, and by the way, I published them AFTER I began reading eBooks. I didn't become a fan of eBooks because of them. Did I mention that they are all great? Sorry.
So when those phone-addicted friends of mine chide me and roll their eyes when I tell them about my aversion to phones, I just ask them if they read eBooks. If not, I just roll my eyes and ask if they still use a rotary phone.

If they do read eBooks though, well, I usually just say I’ll get better with phones after I read the eBook version of the phone manual.

(James Thurber would have loved that his writing could be made into a modern reading version:

(some images courtesy of