Thursday, April 30, 2009

My First Handgun Lesson

I fired 200 rounds of single-shot ammunition today, during the handgun safety lesson I got from my colleague the retired Marine who’s also a certified NRA safety instructor. This was the first time I’ve ever fired any handguns or pistols (serious question: is there a difference?) and I am pleased to discover I’m actually a pretty decent shot (at least when I’m wearing glasses and can take my sweet time lining up the target with the gun sights). The very first time I ever emptied a handgun – five shots out of a little .22 – I landed all five shots in the scoring zone on the target paper, and a one or two within the black center circle.

I lost count of how many different .22s and .45s I fired, but the guy only had one .30, a laser-sighted model I didn’t like at all because the kickback actually hurt my hand every time I fired it. I also don’t like the Army .45 Beretta because the damn thing kept jamming on me; I could fire one shot but not a second. The gut said this is my fault for not holding my wrist straight enough or something. I say it’s the Army’s fault for making their gun so damned heavy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In Honor Of Earth Day

Let us all embrace Mother Gaia. Tightly. Around her neck. Until the bitch stops breathing.

No, I'm not kidding. You'd be cynical too, if you were professionally obligated to attend Earth Day celebrations in a badly overheated building, but nobody knew how to turn the heat down, so the windows were open to let the excess BTUs escape.

Mmmm. Them's some damned fine conservation of scarce resources, there.

Monday, April 20, 2009

All Along The Clocktower

So I heard that a gun-rights group at a local university was participating in this week's Empty Holster protests, where students wore empty holsters to class to point out their inability to legally carry a gun. Since said local university is part of my beat at my job, I naturally attended the event and filed the expected story about it. But there's one detail I wasn't expecting:
[The group]met in the Student Center’s Clock Tower Room (on the ground floor of a building with no clock tower).

The phrase “clock tower” has unfortunate connotations in the guns-on-campus debate; in 1966, a University of Texas student named Charles Whitman took a rifle to the top of that school’s clock tower, killed 14 people and wounded 32 others before a police sharpshooter took him down.

“We didn’t pick this room,” Adler said when asked about it. “This is the room the administration assigned us.”

Worthless Wealth

Things got out of hand this Saturday – what started as a simple attempt to move my winter snow boots out of the kitchen and into summer storage turned into a full-blown spring-cleaning orgy, which is like a regular orgy except it’s a) not sexy; b) not decadent; and c) not cocaine snorted off somebody’s hot ass in the back room of Studio 54 that’s making your nose run, but the common household dust you inhaled while moving storage boxes that had lain undisturbed for years.

Achoo. But I digress. When I finished stashing my winter gear in an out-of-the-way closet, I counted no less than 15 winter coats and capes in my collection.

One woman owning 15 coats sounds like a ridiculous extravagance, and perhaps it is. In medieval times, and up through the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, I could sell fifteen coats and make enough money to retire. (True anecdote: in medieval days, a single velvet cloak of the sort you might find in the modern closet of a former Goth chick cost seven years’ wages for an ordinary servant.)

So my winter wardrobe would’ve made me wildly wealthy, once upon a time. But that time’s not today. As I’ve mentioned before, I bought the coats at various thrift shops and secondhand stores, for as little as $5. Altogether, those 15 coats cost me about $110, spread out over eight or nine years.

They’re not so extravagant after all. And they’re certainly useful here in my corner of New England, if you want to avoid winter hypothermia. I can handle a wide variety of temperatures and levels of dressiness, though the coats don’t make me “wealthy” in any contemporary sense of the word (though they help me dress well enough to maybe pass for rich, before people who don’t know any better).

I have no idea where I’m going with this, except to say that if anyone out there has invented a time machine and plans to visit the Middle Ages please let me know, because I own several nice coats and nearly half a pound of whole black peppercorns, and if I could just trade it all for gold in an ancient Florentine market, I could retire.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

No More Nuremburgs

“I was just following orders” wasn’t a good enough excuse to get folks off the hook at Nuremburg; the theory behind those prosecutions was that some things are just too monstrous for decent people to do, no matter what some misguided authority might say.

Of course, the things that have been happening in secret CIA prisons these past few years are considerably less evil that than attempted genocide, so maybe it's all right that today, President Obama said [absolutely nothing about “just following orders,” but he did announce] that “relying on good faith” is a good enough reason not to prosecute torturers in the CIA:
Central Intelligence Agency interrogators who tortured detainees during the administration of George W. Bush will not be prosecuted, President Barack Obama said on Thursday as his administration released legal memos that Mr Bush used to justify harsh techniques such as waterboarding.

In releasing the documents, which underpinned the Bush administration’s “war on terror” detention and interrogation policies, Mr Obama said CIA employees should not be punished for “relying in good faith” on legal authorisations provided by the Bush-era justice department.

“The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world,” said Mr Obama. “We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.”
And if they’re not allowed to commit occasional acts of sadism, how the devil can they do that?
The memos provided detailed accounts of how interrogators would use waterboarding, a technique that the Obama administration has deemed “torture” and banned, in which interrogators pour water on to a cloth covering a detainee’s mouth and nose to simulate drowning…. The memos permitted the use of numerous “enhanced interrogation techniques”, including sleep deprivation, “facial slap”, putting insects inside confinement boxes and “cramped confinement.”
And the people who did such things won’t be prosecuted or even identified, since they were only following orders upon which they relied in good faith. There's no accountability here, nobody's being punished and we've set a scary precedent: government agents who obey illegal orders won't face prosecution so long as they claim they're “relying in good faith.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bugger Them Beggars

Have you heard the one about the Vegas beggar who asks each person passing by for money to feed his family? One woman reaches into her pocket for some cash, but before she hands it over she says, “How do I know you won’t waste this on gambling?”

“Not to worry,” the beggar reassures her. “Gambling money, I’ve already got.”

Of course, this little joke about misplaced priorities has nothing to do with the beggars governing our country in real life.




Sorry. Failed attempt at sarcasm there. Forget about the beggar, while I tell you about priorities here in my glorious state of Connecticut, currently facing a deficit of nearly $9 billion. So our taxes are going up, on the theory that Connecticut’s budget problems are caused by our having only the third highest tax burden in America. If only we could say “We’re number one!” we wouldn’t have a deficit.

Meanwhile, our state Commission on Culture and Tourism – this is true – paid out grant money so a local university could hire a New Age jazz musician to perform this week as part of some save-the-earth college festival. And the state still gives expensive (and sellable) tax credits to Hollywood types who agree to film movies here. (We might have high taxes here, but by-God we also get to say “I live in the same state where Tom Cruise filmed some scenes in the ‘War of the Worlds’ remake a couple years ago!”)

My own city’s contemplating spending a half-million to replace a clock on the outside of the concrete slab we call City Hall. Maybe you can’t afford a watch, but you can drive downtown and read the time there.

In personal news, I've gone over four weeks without a cigarette, and in addition to the money the federal government isn't getting, the state has already lost about $56 they’d been counting on to get from me this year. Ha ha ha.

Ha ha.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sin On Easter = Guys Who Can’t Get It Up

I spent Easter weekend giving my Inner Geek free reign to gorge herself on some of the history and science documentaries my cable company offers On Demand. The shows are free, but you have to sit through commercials from each show’s Corporate Sponsor. There’s generally one sponsor per episode, and a 30-second commercial at the show’s beginning, aired again during a couple of breaks.

Side note: when I referred to my “Inner Geek” I was merely indulging in some gently self-deprecating humor, but the ads for each show suggest a certain disdain for the perceived Coolness Factor of the viewers of the shows I prefer.

Consider the History Channel’s series on “The Seven Deadly Sins,” which delves into the historical, religious and scientific facts behind each of the seven deadly sins listed by the Catholic church. Only four of the seven episodes are currently available; I watched “Envy” and “Sloth.”

The series is sponsored by Viagra. Who does History Channel’s advertisers think would be most interested in a series about the Seven Deadly sins? Guys with get-it-up problems.

Tragically, “Lust” wasn’t one of the episodes offered On Demand. Which is a shame, because a world whose television offerings include “Lust, a Seven Deadly Sin, brought to you by Viagra” would be a slight improvement over the world we’ve got now.

So I learned all about envy and sloth, and involuntarily got that damned “Viva Viagra” commercial song stuck in my memory. Eventually, I lost interest in sin and turned my attention to “How The Earth Was Made,” a series focusing on geographic history of specific spots on Earth; for example, how Manhattan Island came to have the thick bedrock foundation that anchors its giant skyscrapers.

How the Earth Was Made was sponsored the Oreo cookie company’s 100-Calorie “Cakesters” product, and the commercial showed an entire city full of women who have image issues and no sense of personal dignity, because when a supply truck filled with the little low-calorie cakes drove through the streets they all started screaming and eventually that all mobbed the truck.

I felt no lust for chocolate, though I did pause the show long enough to make myself a slice of ghetto cinnamon toast (plain cheap margarined toast with cinnamon-sugar sprinkled on top).

Next I decided opted for some lighter television fare, and browsed through the allegedly egdy cartoons offered by Adult Swim on demand. Specifically, I watched an episode of Home Movies and a King of the Hill rerun, both brought to me by “The Men and Women of the Navy Reserve.” The Navy had a pretty clever ad campaign, featuring a fake commercial for an action figure called “Assistant Manager Man,” which contrasted the dull nature of most office jobs to the exciting adventures enjoyed by Navy pilots and Navy missile commanders and other Navy personnel who have jobs much, much cooler than the average Navy Reservist. Still, it was a kickass commercial.

So that was what I saw On Demand Easter Sunday. Since I worked Saturday before I had today (Monday) off, and after running some errands and doing some useful-domestic tasks decided to watch another documentary On Demand. This time I picked the disaster-porn afterglow epic “Life After People,” which shows the back-to-nature decay that would occur if all human beings suddenly vanished.

This fine tale was sponsored by the Covergirl cosmetics company, specifically their brand of special age-defying face makeup designed to appeal to women Of A Certain Age who don’t want their faces to show it. The spokesmodel is Ellen DeGeneres.

Thus we see this show’s target audience is aging women who feel so insecure about this, they’ll turn to Ellen DeGeneres for beauty advice.

I also decided to watch another Deadly Sin episode, this one about greed. No Viagra commercials this time; instead, there was an ad for Lexus. (“The Sin of Greed brought to you by Lexus” isn’t quite as cool as “The Sin of Lust Brought to you by Viagra,” but it’s good enough for free.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Clipfile Catchup

Ooooops. Forgot to point y'all in the direction of last Sunday's column. I blame the oversight on the economy, the source from which all bad things flow. Why is my desk such a mess? The economy. Why is a pimple threatening to erupt on my cheek? The economy. Why didn't I link to my column when it was new? The stupid economy which, coincidentally, is also the column's subject matter. Funny how these things work, huh?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Continuing To Protect And Serve

Thirteen are dead in America’s latest mass shooting, which happened last Friday at the American Civic Association center in Binghamton, New York. I don’t know for a fact that the civic association was a gun-free zone; since the victims were mostly immigrants taking how-to-be-American classes, I rather doubt any of them would’ve been allowed to possess a defensive weapon anyway. It does appear that the shooter died from a self-inflicted wound. And check out this particular excerpt from the news story:
The first officers arrived at the American Civic Association about three minutes after the first emergency calls were made Friday, according to a timeline by the Binghamton Police Department.

Officers did not enter the building for about 40 minutes, police said.
“Hmm,” I thought upon reading this. “Kind of blows a hole in the gun-control argument about not needing a gun to protect yourself since you can just call the police instead, doesn’t it?” Naturally, I based that on the assumption the cops were outside while gunshots went off within. Turns out that wasn’t the case:
"No one was shot after police arrival, and none of the people who had been shot could have been saved, even if the police had walked in the door within [the] first minute," [County District Attorney Jerry] Mollen said. "The injuries were that severe."
Ah. So the cops didn’t do anything for 40 minutes, but that’s okay since they could not have made a difference anyway. (These are the guys who insist their job makes them heroes.)

The moral of the story is: if you’re in a crowded place where a gunman’s mowing everybody down and you want some cops to come in and Do Something, do NOT call with any complaints of a violent and dangerous crime in progress. The way to get a SWAT team breaking into your place is to tell them someone’s selling drugs there.
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