Archive for July, 2012

DO GUNS KILL PEOPLE?

Kids play at war. I did. When I was ten, friends and I made wooden rifles for mock combat. We took apart fruit and vegetable crates, did some sawing and hammered a few nails. But we knew the difference between make believe and reality. If only that were true of the National Rifle Association.

I have no brief against guns, either for hunting or self-defense. As long as weapons are licensed. And as long as they’re appropriate. Which rules out assault-type weapons good only for causing mayhem. Like the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and .40-caliber Glock handgun a man allegedly used to kill 12 people in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater a week ago.

Not that the NRA agrees. They keep reciting the same old mantra: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” As if Americans armed to the teeth don’t drive up the murder rate and body count.

Yes, even with stricter gun control, murders would occur. And yes, you can kill people with legal hunting rifles, shotguns and basic handguns. But the more lethal the weapon—and the more such weapons are made available—the greater the killing. One thing I learned in the army—the closer you get to your enemy, the greater the risk he may kill you. Bayonets? Knives? Bare hands? You take your chances. But give someone an AR-15 at ten meters (33 feet) and he can tear apart another human being—many human beings—without getting his hands dirty.

Many murderers use guns—and assault-type weapons—precisely because they make killing so easy. You stand apart—or drive by—and simply pull the trigger. Your target can outrun a knife in the hand but not a bullet. The more rounds you carry, and the more rounds your weapon can spit out, the more deadly and out of control you can be.

After the Aurora savagery, a friend posted a question on Facebook: “When is the President, Congress and the Supreme Court ever going to stand up to the National Rifle Association?” The answer is, “never.” The NRA accentuates its far-right paranoia with tons of cash targeting politicians who want to change our gun laws. Not abolish guns. Just rid us of assault-type weapons that have no place in our homes and on our streets.

While the President and many in Congress may be sympathetic to strengthening our gun laws, their overriding concerns are election and re-election. This presents Americans with a real conundrum. Politicians tell us they want to make the nation safer. But they can’t help us if NRA money boots them out of office. So they kick the can down the road and don’t help us at all.

You want courage? Watch John Wayne battle the Japanese in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). Of course, his real name was Marion Morrison, and he never served in the military during World War Two. But John Wayne remains America’s symbol of courage. And he may as well until more politicians exhibit some spine and do battle against the perversion of freedom represented by NRA rhetoric.

Although the NRA has it half right. Guns don’t kill people. People abetted by the NRA’s undue political influence kill people.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES

Some people believe that outrage in the name of religion—or religious hatred—only happens “there.” Not quite. But along with the bad news, there’s also good news.

In Cologne, Germany, a regional court banned circumcision for children stating that the procedure does bodily harm without consent. German Jews and Muslims—along with co-religionists worldwide—protested vociferously. For Jews, the Torah (Genesis 17:12) commands circumcision on the eighth day of life. The Qu’ran does not mention circumcision for Muslims, but circumcision remains a long-standing tradition carried out at different ages—often as young as seven days—depending on geographic, religious and cultural factors.

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee—thirty miles from Nashville—American Muslims sued to be able to open a new Mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in time for the holy month of Ramadan, which began last night. In September 2010, four residents of Rutherford County filed suit to block the mosque citing a “risk of terrorism generated by proselytizing for Islam and inciting the practices of Sharia law.” They insisted that the Islamic center not be approved until it demonstrated it was not interested in “the overthrow of the American system of government, laws and freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.”

Ignorance begets hatred. Religious majorities often know little or nothing about the minorities among them. And I’m not referring only to people in the “hinterlands.” I’ve found this to be true here in San Francisco. Anti-Semites around the world still condemn Jews as threats to the national order. And let’s not be naïve. Islam has generated a significant number of zealots who seek to impose their own religious views and practices. Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, have suffered. But restricting legitimate religious practices offers no answer.

So, all this being stated, let’s give credit where it’s due. The German federal government opposes the circumcision ban. Prime Minister Angela Merkel stated, “I do not want Germany to be the only country in the world where Jews cannot practice their rituals. Otherwise we will become a laughing stock.” Ms. Merkel might have stated, “I do not want Germany to be morally offensive to the world,” but she made her point. Yesterday, the lower house of parliament passed a resolution protecting circumcision for religious reasons.

In the U.S. this week, the Justice Department and the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro filed lawsuits. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell ruled that a final building inspection must be conducted to enable the mosque to open.

We frequently hear religious bodies in the U.S.—usually conservative—decry Washington’s restrictions on religious freedom. Concerns should be addressed. For example, discussions regarding providing insurance for abortions to employees at religious institutions opposed to abortion merit consideration. The issues are complex. But I would state that our government favors religious freedom—not for any particular group but for all. And it manages to act quite admirably to uphold religious thought and action provided believers do not impose their views on others.

That’s my take on the matter. Of course, when you’re part of a religious minority, you tend to view our Constitution as a document that does more than provide religious freedom on a selective basis.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

SMILING FACES

Life seems awfully confusing these days. So it’s only natural to believe that things were better “then”—when everyone (or so it seemed) liked Ike, watched “Ozzie and Harriet” and wore suits and hats (with gloves for the women) downtown. I have my doubts.

I call to witness the American Conservatory Theater’s production of the Kander and Ebb musical, “The Scottsboro Boys.” Being a lover of satire, I liked that the musical was written as a minstrel show, in which whites historically donned blackface and followed a formal pattern of presentation. Except that all the actors but Hal Linden were black and often played whites. The music was good, the cast and staging great, and the character of the Interlocutor, who runs the minstrel show (Linden), thought provoking.

A brief history lesson: In 1931, police arrested nine Negro teenagers getting off a freight train in Scottsboro, Alabama on a trumped-up rape charge. The musical takes us into their initial trial and the appeals that followed. The Scottsboro Boys avoided lynching and the electric chair but were all imprisoned for varying lengths of time—years, not months—and gravely wounded by the legal process given that the charges were untrue and one of the two plaintiffs recanted.

And the Interlocutor? Representing the powers that be in the Jim Crow South (and costumed as Colonel Sanders), he is unfailingly polite and cheerful in his encounters with the “boys.” The Interlocutor makes clear that in Alabama, whites and Negroes have their places, and the natural order is benign. When confronted by one of the “boys’” desire to go north, he is stunned. “We’ve always taken care of you,” he states, “and we always will.” Proving that fact and fiction (or drama) go hand in hand, Edward Glaeser (Triumph of the City) cites the mayor of Baltimore, who after a 1910 law prevented African-Americans from buying homes in affluent white neighborhoods, “announced that the law’s supporters were ‘the best friends that the colored people have.’”

The portrait of kindly white society acting as caretaker for “its” Negroes is not new. And it couldn’t have seemed particularly valid if you were a Negro confined to “colored” neighborhoods, restaurants, drinking fountains, waiting rooms and the back of the bus. By the way, one of the show’s numbers, “Jew Money”—the Scottsboro Boys’ appeals lawyer was Jewish—also informs us of attitudes many southerners held regarding “their Jews:” know your place.

But why the Interlocutor’s constant smile, the patter, the jokes? Because the worst aspects of prejudice and injustice come in sugarcoated packages to distort reality. “We love you. We only want the best for you. Just trust us!” provides a handy cover for behavior that’s the opposite. And such remarks are so easy to make.

As we approach the presidential nominating conventions (orgies of self-congratulations during which delegates wield no influence) and the traditional Labor Day start of the campaign (which started last Labor Day, and I’m being generous), it’s worth noting that voters will be offered plenty of smiles and words of good cheer. But unless citizens demand more, the nation’s wellbeing is still likely to be shuffled off, if ever so amiably, and most Americans gently herded to the back of the bus.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM

Many people believe that baseball represents a microcosm of life. I agree. And that goes for fans, too. They have lots to teach us about this nation, including the health-care arena.

I went to AT&T Park as a spur-of-the-moment thing after the Supreme Court’s June 28 decision on Obamacare. As the first inning began, I settled in for a relaxing day at the ballpark. But I couldn’t get quite as relaxed as I’d planned. A guy sat down next to me carrying nachos, two hot dogs and a beer. He must have weighed 250 while appearing to be no taller than me. “Sorry,” he said as his girth spread over our common elbow rest. “They don’t make the seats as big as they used to.” I wasn’t sure about seats in newer ballparks, but people seem to have grown larger.

I glanced at my neighbor. “No problem.” I noticed that he wore a ROMNEY 2012 pin on his Giants cap. I then took note of the sea of black Giants caps throughout the ballpark. Giants shirts, too. Not only players wear uniforms.

An inning or two later, the home-plate umpire made a disputed call on a strike. “What are you,” my neighbor bellowed at the ump, “John Roberts?” I turned to him. “Didn’t like the Supreme Court’s ruling, I take it.” He turned to me. “Roberts might as well be working for Obama. Not much of a president. But what do you expect when the country elects a guy who used to be a community organizer. I mean, America was built by rugged individualists.“

The organist started playing the four-note “Let’s go Giants” theme. Concurrently, the scoreboard urged everyone to “make some noise.” My neighbor started applauding while chanting along with much of the crowd. A Giants out quieted everyone.

He turned to me. “Remember John Wayne? It’s guys like that who built this country. Men, who only wanted to be left alone by the government and everyone else to live the way they wanted.” I mulled that over right up to the seventh-inning stretch. The P.A. announcer asked the audience to rise for “God Bless America” and remove their caps as well. Most did. Some didn’t. “I hate it when people leave their hats on,” my neighbor complained. “Well,” I said, “it’s not the National Anthem.” “Maybe not,” he answered, “but it shows disrespect for the country. You can’t have people taking their hats off or not just because that’s what they want to do.”

I reflected on Justice Roberts and his supportive position on the Affordable Care Act. Some Americans took their hats off to him for his decision. Others did not. That’s the way democracy works. And we’re a stronger nation because we can all be individuals and at the same time be part of a greater community even when we disagree.

I’d write more about the game, but my train of thought was disrupted when my neighbor stood as the wave approached our section and treated my lap to half his garlic fries.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.