Taming the Second Amendment

Amending the U.S. Constitution is an intentionally difficult process. The probability of repealing the Second Amendment, especially in the current political climate, is on a par with a Trump supporter having a double-digit IQ.

Does that mean that frequent mass shootings are a permanent part of American culture? Maybe not. Let’s look at another possibility.

The year is 2020, a year intent on earning its name through cultural acuity. A hypothetical case of illegal gun possession, call it Joe Derringer vs. The State of New Jersey, winds its way from the lower courts and appeals its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Joe maintains that his Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms” has been violated.

Joe went to court after police found 357 handguns and rifles in his Hoboken efficiency apartment, along with 23 cats, which were the original reason the cops came to his door. Joe had no required permit to carry or firearms purchaser identification card for any of the firearms he had amassed.

Joe is a proactive kind of guy. He does have a card certifying that he is a bona fide member of the Manly Men Militia. To Joe’s way of thinking, that membership underwrites his right to own his firearms collection and supersedes all New Jersey laws to the contrary.

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The problem for Joe is that the SCOTUS which gets this case is not the court of Citizens United. The majority of justices now on the bench are no longer the lapdogs of business. They are neither fond of, nor intimidated by, either the gun industry or the National Rifle Association.

These justices have a keen interest in (gasp) justice. They hear the cries for gun control, not as coming from a vocal minority, but from a rapidly growing number of people whose loved ones have been murdered by individuals who should never have been allowed to touch, let alone, own a firearm.

The court decides to take yet another look at the Second Amendment and determine just what the writers were thinking when they penned this nebulously worded paragraph. Could conditions possibly have changed since 1791?

At the time the Bill of Rights was drafted, Colonists-turned-Americans were understandably skittish. Government and oppression were all too often synonymous. The distinction between citizen soldiers and regular army was blurred.

Granting the people the right to keep guns in their households seemed like a good idea. They could defend themselves and their fledgling nation from outsides threats. They could also, should this new democracy take a turn for the worse, defend themselves from their own government.

Things have a way of changing in more than two centuries. So, SCOTUS takes another hard, long, debate-filled look at the Second Amendment, and guess what? Sanity, at long last, prevails.

In a more than 200-page decision, the court determines that a “well-regulated militia” is as extinct as the Dodo, and that the right to keep a loaded musket by the bedside does not equal the right to amass a personal arsenal. The court further rules that gun ownership must be strictly regulated.

Details are left to the states. However, all laws enacted, the court’s decision mandates, must include certain provisions.

An applicant must show a clear need for gun ownership, as well as undergo a criminal background check, psychological assessment and professional training before being granted a permit. Those who become gun owners will have absolute responsibility for ensuring the security of their weapons, subject to periodic, unannounced inspection.

Failing to comply with any of these stipulations must carry severe fines and mandatory jail sentences. Any gun owner whose weapon is used in a criminal act must be subject to the same charges as the person actually committing the crime.

Noting that many current gun owners might be unable or unwilling to meet the new qualification requirements, the court rules that they may retain their gun collections but only on the condition that all firearms are rendered permanently inoperable. Gun owners will thus remain free to display their disabled weapons and compare whose is bigger as often as they like.

The high court decision further stipulates that gun retailers must, if requested, buy  back their customers’ ammunition supplies. The court wryly notes that owners will also the option of turning their bullets into “fashionable jewelry.”

A year after the ruling, mass shootings in America are so rare they actually become news again. Who saw that coming?

They Shall Not Pass

Canada will not passively wait to be invaded by a horde of American refugees seeking to escape a Donald Trump Presidency.

After Google inquiries about moving from the United States to Canada spiked to nearly 1,500 percent above average at midnight on Super Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for an immediate emergency joint address of Parliament.

The address ran a mere 15 minutes before all senators and members had reached unanimous agreement. Work would begin immediately on a colossal wall protecting Canada from illegal U.S. immigrants.

The wall will go up simultaneously along the nearly 4,000 miles of main Canadian-U.S. border and the more than 1,500 additional miles of border with Alaska. Plans call for the wall to be constructed entirely of solid Canadian ice and tower 700 feet above the rustic Canadian landscape.

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The new wall between Canada and the United States will look very Game of Thronesish

 

The wall will replace the half-dozen “Keep Out” signs the United States had strategically placed along the border, signs which had held law-abiding Canadian would-be emigrants at bay for more than two centuries. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police Nights Watch Division will be created to patrol the wall.

Trudeau said that the plan is not impossible, noting that the Great Wall of China stretches for nearly the same number of miles. That building  process took almost 300 years, but Trudeau set a 30-day deadline for completion of the Canada Wall.

“Summer is coming,” the Prime Minister warned.

Trudeau assured Canadians concerned about the cost of the project that Canada will not pay a dime.

“We did not create this problem,” he said. “We will make Trump pay for the wall.”

Earth to Echo: Not the Movie

My wife presented me with an Amazon Echo for Christmas. The Echo is a black cylinder equipped with microphone, speakers, lights and a cloud-based persona, “Alexa” (only available alternate moniker, the slightly less personable “Amazon”). She is perpetually waiting to hear her name.

It would be an understatement to say we are still getting acquainted.

Alexa lights up at the sound of her name. If you’re fast enough, you can ask her a question or instruct her to perform a task. She quickly reverts to standby mode once she has responded. To continue the conversation, I must again “awaken” her by saying her name.

Alexa is so eager to serve, in fact, that she responds when she is being talked about as well as being directly addressed. Late one night, I was watching Second Chance when the Echo inexplicably started playing music. I solved that mystery when I realized a character on the television show named Alexa had been mentioned, and whatever had been said next sounded like a tune request.

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Alexa has proven most useful, thus far, in assembling my weekly grocery shopping list, which automatically appears on my smartphone. Items can be checked or deleted as I put them in my cart. Handy.

Alexa has also been flawless in providing information on demand, like the current score of a football game, the latest news or the weather forecast. The Echo can act as timer within a 24-hour period. The variety of alarm sound options include several guaranteed to wake anyone from the soundest sleep.

Alexa can add a host of new talents by enabling “skills” in a companion smartphone app. She can now provide movie offerings and times, play Rock, Paper, Scissors, Spock, access music and tell jokes. She can also laugh and fart on demand. Yes, Alexa can be quite entertaining.

The height of Alexa’s entertainment value, however, comes in what she “thinks” she hears. The words are so random, they seem fraught with some type of deep, unfathomable meaning. Strung together, these misinterpretations of what I am certain were my perfectly enunciated requests seem almost poetic.

Hence, I present:

Ode to Alexa

Who is to the ocean hello?

What is due?

Get everything you do with you

Yeah, did you seconds?

Are you gonna call Volvo?

Kocher be mad at you?

Do you one?

Tell me five seconds

Next ball back to school

Tell me e-mail about what I wanted to do it my hours

Hello, damn

Seen inside of me

On plug you please

Yes the bones of the show

Don’t let me let me with do you have to pick up

Play a Doctor Wu song

Give me a boy you laugh

Do you know I’m talking midnight not even plugged in?

Then pause you have the notes from sailing

Knock, knock, knock. I want dancing

Add got pumpkin pie do you nine forty-two a.m. to my to do list

The cool down and you said that thing jackets

Man Seeking Woman

No, that’s not the the heading on a Craig’s List personal ad. It’s show that fans of off-beat TV might want to check out.

This over-the-top comedy, three episodes into its second season on FXX, is absurdist humor at its finest. A few words of warning: this show is rated MA for reasons of language, sexual situations and/or nudity, although not the type of nudity you find on the likes of Game of Thrones

MSW focuses on the oftentimes surrealistic trials and tribulations of Josh Greenberg (Jay Baruchel), whose relationships with women are so disastrous they make the Hindenburg look like a transportation success story. Josh has been turned down by the Last Woman on Earth. He has discovered that 100 percent of women on the planet may be genetically incapable of being sexually attracted to him.

manseekingwomnntroll

Josh has gone on a blind date with an actual troll. Josh and a girlfriend have taken the next logical step in couplehood by becoming surgically conjoined, which made their inevitable breakup more than psychologically painful. His mother (Robin Duke) has held him hostage and tortured him for information about his latest girlfriend.

The show frequently goes beyond the boundaries of good taste, depending on where you might personally draw the line. Last season, both Josh and his best bud, Mike (Eric André) leave a club with women, only to discover that they left their penises back at the club. This season, Josh attempts to find sexual fulfillment with a 1998 Saturn.

MSW is based on The Last Girlfriend on Earth, by Simon Rich, who is the top dog behind the TV version. Adding comedic chops to its pedigree, the show lists Lorne Michaels (Saturday Night Live) is an executive producer, teaming his Broadway Video with FX Productions to make the series.

For me, Man Seeking Woman has been a consistent source of laughs and admiration for the fertile creativity of its writers. Of course, I regularly stray from mainstream television fare. Your reaction might be as different as the show.

Adventures in Writing: (Part 16 of 20?)

Take 20 words chosen at random. Put them in a bowl. Draw one, and write something about it.

Simple? Maybe not.

Dinosaur

Am I a dinosaur?

I only partially match the literal definition of the word.

I am not, to the best of my knowledge, genetically reptilian. I am reasonably warm-blooded, unless I’m dealing with telemarketers or car dealers.

My teeth are not razor sharp. I have no claws.

I am not extinct. I know this because I just, with only minor difficulty, found my pulse. Good to know.

Looking in the mirror, however, I seem to exhibit some characteristics of the big lizards. My skin is a little scaly looking – just a little, not full-blown alligator skin scaly. I possess a diminutive dewlap, which I can make disappear, I think, by looking straight up at the ceiling.

My eyesight is less than 20-20. I can compensate by squinting. Unfortunately that contributes to my overall dinosaur resemblance. Better to keep the world softly blurred.

Overall, I do not look much like a dinosaur. Now, my wife’s cousin, Earl. There’s a guy everyone says is a dinosaur. Not just behind his back. When they see him coming down the street, they actually scream “Dinosaur!”

EarlSinclair
Cousin Earl

I am quite fond of meat. I would not attempt to eat it raw unless it is very lean and has been run through a grinder. Steak tartare. Yum.

I have been known to roar when injured or sufficiently agitated. Keep that in mind, insurance company claim-deniers who send me forms to see if anyone else can pay.

Moving on to the figurative definition of dinosaur – I see myself, and yet I don’t.

I am generally uncomfortable with change. When I come home to find that my wife has again rearranged the living room furniture, I react with all the enthusiasm I generally reserve for discovering my supermarket has moved cold beer from aisle 14 to an undisclosed, super-secret location.

I am, as the dictionary definition of the figurative dinosaur states, “impractically large.” I don’t believe that I have grown dinosaur-large, but large enough to put me in a category size somewhere between normal human and standard dinosaur. I maintain that I’m just “big-boned.”

In other areas, I have been all too readily receptive to change. Take technology. I’m the guy who will buy a shiny, new Blu-ray Disc player for several hundred dollars when the devices make their initial appearance. A dinosaur would have waited a few months and bought a more feature-rich model for less than half what I paid.

True dinosaurs are more frugal and cash-retentive than I. They also have larger bank accounts, many of them in the Cayman Islands.

I see myself as neither out-of-date or obsolete, two other terms used in the dictionary definition of the figurative dinosaur. Despite my Social Security benefit-qualified age, I’m still gainfully employed and working 40 to 60 hours per week.

I am not protected by a union and have signed the mandatory “employed at will” stipulation, meaning they don’t need no stinking reason to kick my mangy ass out the door. My employer of nearly 11 years is not one to keep non-productive employees on board. I therefore assume that I am still seen as adding more than I am subtracting from the company bottom line.

That doesn’t mean that I take my job for granted. I go to work every day thinking that it might be my last. I frequently spin around without warning to see what threats may be lurking behind me – just in case. In contrast, dinosaurs never saw their demise coming.

So, purebred dinosaur, in any form, I am not. These days, though, I often think that it might be nice to be a dinosaur. They ruled the earth for 150 million years. Humans, including all of our apish ancestors, have only been around for about 6 million years.

I don’t see a 150-million-candle birthday cake in the Human Race’s future.

Three Thumbs Up for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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SPOILER ALERT!

Nearly four decades ago, in this very galaxy, I saw a movie called Star Wars.

I was awestruck. I became an instant devotee, an evangelist. Others might have less kindly described me as obsessed.

“Have you seen Star Wars?”

Friends and relatives started to avoid me because they knew I was going to ask that question. If they answered “yes,” a lengthy, often one-sided conversation about the film would be impossible to duck. If they answered “no,” they found themselves being hustled to the nearest theater still showing the movie. If necessary, I would even pay for their tickets.

By the time Star Wars had left the theaters, I had probably seen it a dozen or more times. Certain that I would never be able to own a print of the movie, I had gone so far as to sneak a tape recorder into the theater to capture the soundtrack.

I memorized virtually the entire dialog. I bought the musical soundtrack on LP. I bought a “black market” copy of the original theater poster.

I authored a 100-question Star Wars trivia quiz. I harassed other fans into taking the quiz, grading them and giving them the results. Most were not pleased. I did have an advantage with my bootlegged audio copy.

Relatives stopped alerting me about scheduled family gatherings. Friends made full use of advancing telephone technology to avoid my calls.

As the years passed, I was a release date regular at all of the sequels and prequels. The sequels were good; the prequels, not so much. None of them lived up to the original.

Thus, it was with tremendous anticipation that I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, on Dec. 24. I was nearly a week tardy, but people willing to see a Star Wars movie with me have become sparse. My 7-year-old grandson, Matthew, agreed to become my less than enthusiastic companion after I dangled the 3-D option.

We were not disappointed. I loved it. A tougher critic, he liked it. So, we collectively give it three thumbs up.

My only reservation about the J.J. Abrams offering is how much it shared with the movie that started it all. It’s one thing to be true to an original, but it’s another to be so true that you start to wonder if you’re watching something truly new or a thinly disguised remake. While I reveled immersion in a warm, soothing, 1977 bath of nostalgia, I couldn’t escape the nagging sense of deja vu.

The central character, Rey (Daisy Ridley), is somehow able to harness the Force. She’s living on a desert planet when when she acquires an adorable droid, BB-8. The droid is carrying critical information being sought by both the First Order (bad guy successors to the Empire) and the Resistance (good-guy successors to the Rebel Alliance). So far, Rey seems to be following the Luke Skywalker path.

The chief antagonist is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Darth Vader’s grandson. Kylo wears a voice-altering masked helmet which apparently does not perform the life-support functions of his grandfather’s equipment. He keeps grandpa’s battered helmet on a table and talks to it. He has issues.

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The new film features another Death Star (quickly shown to be much, much bigger than its predecessors), which may be why the First Order decided to go down that unpromising path yet again. Squadrons of X-wing fighters fend off TIE fighters as the Resistance focuses on the Death Star’s weak spot – once the protective force field has been disabled. As the attack continues, the Death Star is recharging and counting down for another round of planet blasting. The Resistance is only seconds away from destruction.

Finally, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, includes the unexpected death of a beloved character. In the original, Obi-Wan Kenobi was cut down by Vader; this time, the victim is Han Solo. Harrison Ford apparently really, really did not want to be included in the next sequel. It was a shocking and emotional scene, as Han appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough with Kylo, who is Han’s and Leia’s wayward, Dark Side-seduced son.

The inclusion of all the original main characters enhanced the connection with the original Star Wars, getting an audience response with each initial star’s appearance. The whole gang was there, at least briefly, including Han, Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke (Mark Hamill), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and the Millennium Falcon (as itself). It was interesting to see how the actors had weathered the decades, but I was happy to see that minimal effort had been made to make them appear as their 1977 selves.

Abrams has, of course, presented new story lines to extend in coming sequels. Fans, myself included, want to get Rey’s backstory. The leading theory is that she is Luke’s daughter, which would explain her ability to use the Force. Also, does any hope of redemption still exist for Kylo?

The new movie’s close kinship to the original is probably best seen as Abrams’ masterful job of making a successful transition for the franchise. After all, he did have the daunting task of overcoming those three lackluster prequels.

I’ll be happily be standing in line when the next sequel is released.