Gun Control: A Modest Proposal

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Here’s how I’d characterize the American gun control debate in a nutshell: (1) Gun control advocates say unrestricted ownership of firearms, especially military-style assault weapons, makes us demonstrably less safe. As evidence, witness an unending string of mass shootings. (2) Gun supporters, led by the National Rifle Association and manufacturer industry organizations, say “Tough shit.” The 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution gives us the right to own whatever we please.

There are a lot of people – and I’ve heard too many of them on radio, speaking in response to the Newtown massacre – who believe the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment means Americans can own any sort of firearm they feel like without restriction. That’s a position of no little controversy. Looking at the text of the 2nd Amendment (above), I would disagree. I believe it’s plain the Congress wanted to provide some specific context to the 2nd Amendment that gun fanatics conveniently ignore.

Specifically, the amendment opens with this insight into the Congress’ frame of reference:

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…”

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So, a few things from that. First, the Congress thought of private ownership of firearms as within the framework of a “well regulated militia,” like these guys (see above). I don’t believe they intended gun ownership to be separate from that framework, or they would not have included that specification in the text of the amendment.

Second, think about their frame of reference as to firearms.

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Yeah, like the one this guy is holding (above). This is the kind of gun the Congress knew of and had in mind, the kind of gun that’s now romanticized and even fetishized in rallies and collateral for pro-gun organizations. I’ve heard too often these last few days how personal and unregulated gun ownership is all that stands between we citizens and the rise of totalitarian government control.

As if.

Two things pro-gun spokespeople seem to hold sacrosanct: (1) their reverence for the original intent of the writers of the 2nd Amendment, and (2) their belief that the 2nd Amendment guarantees them the unregulated right to own whatever firearms they want.

So, I hereby offer a compromise proposal.

Let American citizens buy as many guns as they want, as long as they look like the guns the founding fathers had in mind when they drafted gun supporters’ most holy 2nd Amendment.

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I feel safer already, don’t you?

Final Goodbyes of 2012

As the year comes to a close, it’s fitting to remember those who’ve gone but can’t, or shouldn’t be, forgotten.

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Daniel Inouye – Like many Japanese-Americans of his generation, he was reviled, discriminated against, locked away into concentration camps, looked down upon. And like many, to prove his loyalty to his country, he went to war. In Inouye’s case, he suffered, soldiered on and became an honest-to-God American, Medal-of-Honor-winning hero. The story goes that he went into a San Francisco barber shop on his way home, still wearing the uniform of an Army captain (with one sleeve pinned up because he’d lost an arm in the Italian campaign) and the barber refused to cut his hair because he was Japanese. A mark of shame on my hometown. Inouye became the first Asian-American member of the House, and first in the Senate. He died as the most senior member of Congress. He was steadfast in his principles and admired for his humanity.

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Johnny Otis – Brilliant and revolutionary bandleader, showman, musician, developer of talent. ‘Hand Jive’ anyone?

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Etta James – A singer who can get you up dancing and break your heart at the same time. Coincidentally, one of Johnny Otis’ great discoveries.

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Joe Paterno – His players practically worshiped him but his reputation will be forever linked and, therefore, sullied by his connection to a sexual abuse scandal centered around a former assistant.

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Earl Scruggs – A giant. A legend. A pioneer. A person who, defying all odds, brought soulfulness to the banjo.

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Dick Clark – Forget the new year’s eve caricature he became. He broke ground and he sincerely loved teenagers and their music.

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Levon Helm – Listen to him sing. Read his lyrics. You can’t mistake him for anybody else.

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Mike Wallace – The number-one case in point for this axiom: fearless journalists piss powerful people off.

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Maurice Sendak – He turned a very uncertain and unhappy childhood into art adored by millions of children and adults alike.

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Carlos Fuentes – Great writer of brutally honest fiction.

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Doc Watson – Changed the lives of thousands of musicians and maybe millions of fans with his clear and honest singing about the lives of real people.

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Rodney King – Beaten by LA cops, who were filmed doing it. All holy hell broke loose when they were acquitted. Then, in all sincerity, Rodney King asked his townsfolk to get along and stop killing each other. For his efforts, he was turned into a national joke. He deserved better.

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Andy Griffith – On popular TV shows for, like, 50 years but he still died an underestimated and underappreciated actor.

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Ernest Borgnine – Played honest-to-God working-class American men with gravity and honesty. They don’t make guys like him or movies like that anymore, to our great loss.

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Kitty Wells – Raw and honest voice. A trailblazer for women in music. Ran her own life and her own career her way. Also a beautiful, generous and gracious human being.

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Sally Ride – Terms like “role model” and “hero” get thrown around like nickels these days. I just wish kids knew less about people like Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan and a whole lot more about people like Sally Ride.

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Neil Armstrong – The first line of every single obituary of Neil Armstrong? He was the first man to set foot on the moon. Do you need a second sentence? Every one my age or older remembers the precise moment.

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George McGovern – A war hero who wanted to end the useless and wasteful Vietnam War. As a result, he was chewed up by the Nixon campaign machine and made to look weak, unmanly. He told the truth.

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Margaret DuPont – Graceful, smart, tough as nails. Was she the first American female sports star? Many owe her a great debt of gratitude for making the model many now trade upon.

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Marvin Miller – Created major league baseball as we now know it. Helped players stand up to the organized servitude that was baseball. Hated by many. Hated.

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Hector Camacho – Grew up tough in Spanish Harlem. Became successful, rich, famous. Never lost the chip on his shoulder or need to live wild. Ended bad, as it had to, by a bullet to the head.

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Dave Brubeck – His iconic ‘Take Five’ may be the most recognized jazz song of all time. His bands were tight. His piano was beautiful. He represented his era well.

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Ravi Shankar – Classically-trained. Spiritual. A bridge between very different cultures.

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Bars I’ve Known

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I’m not much of a drinker anymore, but at one point in life, my social world orbited elliptically around bars. Here, a remembrance of some.

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Gil & Frank’s Mayflower (the site, above), Potrero Hill, San Francisco: This was a bar of working-class regulars who would arrive after work, mostly in and around the then-active docks, and stay until closing almost every weeknight. “Happy birthday to you” was on the jukebox. I once saw Art, the regular bartender, slap a guy for ordering a blender drink. Yeah, that kind of bar. Gone now.

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Murphy’s Tavern (site, above), Philadelphia: I lived a block away. Rolling Rocks were $1. Bring a five and have quite an evening. Bring a twenty and be a king. One of the bartenders, Murphy’s son-in-law, used his shiny steel hand/hook to open bottles. Murphy, whom everyone called Murph, used expressions like “See ya’ in church, boss,” as he slugged guys on the shoulder. He would walk all young ladies out of the bar when they left to make sure no one lurked outside intending to do them harm. A must in my West Philly neighborhood. Now a burger joint, I hear.

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The Dubliner (above), 24th Street, San Francisco: A good joint. They sponsored our softball team for many years and we more than repaid the investment by making it our post-game clubhouse. Still going strong, with a new generation of bad softball players.

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Tosca (above), Columbus Avenue, San Francisco: One of San Francisco’s most beloved institutions. There is always a great mix of people here, businesspeople, actors, musicians, politicians. I urinated next to San Francisco’s former mayor, and now California’s lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom, there. Funny man. But a highlight for me was one night when Lauren Hutton, who really is radiantly beautiful, sat between me and my friend Fish and talked with us for hours. The jukebox has a beautiful selection of arias. Still very much open, thank God.

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Lefty O’Doul’s (above), Geary Street, near Union Square, San Francisco: They used to have a guy named Al Rik playing goofy old tunes on the piano in the front. Corny and old-fashioned, even 35 years ago, when I first ventured inside. The hof brau will slice you up some fresh turkey, roast beef or ham any hour they’re open. A must-stop. Open right this minute. Go.

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The Mauna Loa (above), Fillmore Street, near Union Street, San Francisco: Owned by an old high school teacher. When some of my friends visit, it’s still a place we always stop, out of respect if nothing else.

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Satisfaction (above), Durham, North Carolina: The bar was brand new when they sponsored our summer softball team, which tells you something about its longevity. I can still remember some of the songs we’d regularly play on the jukebox after games. You don’t want to know. My hand to God, a teammate used to light potato chips with her cigarette lighter, then put them out on her tongue. Not saying it was smart but it was, you know, something to do. Smoking very much allowed in tobacco country. Open and, I hear, thriving.

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The Irish Pub (above), Philadelphia: I have very fond memories of this place. I’d invariably meet or run into wonderfully fun people there. I remember laughing all the time amidst happy and boisterous crowds. Sadly, I don’t know the fate of this place.

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Savoy Tivoli (above), North Beach, San Francisco: A classic North Beach hangout on upper Grant. Pool tables. Outdoor tables. Good bar. A great mix of people, some reading books they’ve just purchased at City Lights, couples on dates, groups of guys getting together after work to hang out and tell each other lies, some people just stopping to smell the roses. Open.

The Christmas Season(s)

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How lucky we Americans are, especially at this time of year. We have two significant holidays happening simultaneously and, by strange coincidence, they both have the same name, Christmas.

One Christmas is a mass-market, secular holiday designed to stimulate the economy, ushered in by a nationally-televised parade on Thanksgiving. We gather, as family and friends, feast, give each other gifts, travel, buy things, see the Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol. We dress up, go out, have company parties. This version of the Christmas holiday is centered around the mall as temple, with Santa Claus (above, with the special Christmas holiday communion beverage) our patron saint, shopping our national ritual.

Secular Christmas is open to people of all faiths, given adequate creditworthiness.

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Observe (above) the liturgy at the famed Chapel of Toys ‘R Us. Note the blue-vested vergers keeping order. Jesus Pitt (below) offers salvation in a Chanel bottle at Macy’s.

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All this, of course, happens at the same time in a calendar year as religious Christmas.

Here’s (below) what religious Christmas is about, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The season of the religious Christmas is quiet, contemplative, musical.

Both Christmases can be joyous but they are, in fact, completely different in purpose, in focus and in execution.

The confusion we often seem to have in our national dialog is, I believe, the result of conflating these two, distinctly separate holidays, which happen at the same time of the year and happen, unfortunately, to have exactly the same name.

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