The NRA Lies and Americans Die

Before you call him a liberal weenie, this is Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City calling for gun control!

Okay, I promised I’d not say anything more about the Aurora shooting, but the pro-gun cult has been so vociferous they provoked me into another rant.  Let me take you back to 1993, folks, when the Brady Bill was passed, a bill the NRA tried its best to sandbag, but couldn’t. Civics lesson: The Brady Bill is a pathetic and mostly symbolic gun control bill named for Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, who suffered permanent brain damage when Reagan was shot in 1981. It’s the bill that requires a background check before buying a gun. How horrible! Reality check: It’s way harder to register to vote or get a Social Security card than it is to buy a gun in America.

The Brady Bill was the last time Congress seriously discussed gun control, but let’s put that aside for a math lesson. Can you add these figures? Below is a list of mass killings since the passage of the Brady Bill. The first figure beside each mass shooting is the number of dead, the second the number of wounded. Can you add these figures?

1994            Fairchild Air Force Base, Ark.         5/23
1994            Jonesboro, Ark                                 5/20
1999            Columbine, CO                                 13/21
2002            Beltway sniper                                   11/6
2004            Columbus, OH                                     4/7
2004            Fresno, CA                                           9/0
2005            Red Lake, MN                                    10/5
2006            Univ. of Northern Illinois                     6/21
2006            Amish school, Lancaster Cty.            6/5
2006            Golita, CA Post Office                         5/23
2006            Seattle                                                 7/12
2007            Salt Lake City                                       6/4
2007            Crandon, WI                                          6/11
2007            Westroads Mall, Omaha                      9/4
2007            Virginia Tech                                       32/17
2008            Kirkwood, MO                                        6/2
2008            Covina, CA                                          10/3
2009            Binghamton, NY                                  14/4
2009            Kinston, AL                                           11/6
2009            Carthage, NC                                         8/3
2009            Fort Hood, TX                                       13/29
2010            Appomattox, VA                                     8/0
2011            Carson City, NV                                     5/7
2011            Tuscon, AZ                                             6/13 
2011            Cooley Twp., OH                                   8/1
2012            Oikos Univ. Oakland                             7/3
2012            Aurora, CO                                            12/58

While you’re punching numbers into your calculator, I’ll save you some research. How many of the above incidents saw an alert NRA member jump into the fray and take out the assassin, thereby averting greater carnage? Answer: zero, as in not a damn one of them. If there is a bigger load of hooey than the argument that a gun-packing citizenry making the streets safer, I’ll be hornswoggled if I know what it is. As a historian, though, I recall that the same argument was advanced long ago in places like Tombstone, Arizona and Dodge City. I’ve yet to unearth a document proclaiming them as great places to raise a family.

My take away message from the above list of blood and tragedy is simple. The last time we tried gun control, there was a short period (1995-99) where the mass murder rate declined. But now the NRA is back in the saddle and the blood flows faster than Mitt Romney’s assets to the Cayman Islands. Each time we bury the dead, the NRA tells us to resist gun control because guns make us safer. How’s your math coming along? There’s more evidence to support the theory that Casanova was a virgin than the NRA’s assertion that guns protect us.

So why do we fall for this canard time and time again? What about the old adage that if you keep trying the same old thing and getting the same old result, there’s little likelihood that trying it again will yield a different one? We’ve tried the NRA way and it yields death. If your math looks anything like mine, you might conclude that taking away the guns can’t make it much worse than it already is. The NRA says gun control doesn’t work. I call that hypothetical BS because we’ve never seriously tried it. Fragmentary evidence suggests than even minimal efforts, like the Brady Bill, make some difference. Look, I can’t guarantee you that gun control would make Americans safer, but isn’t it worth testing? If it fails, we can always go back to the way it was and I’ll personally write an apology letter to the NRA and promise never again to refer to it as the Nazi Rifle Association. 


Andra Kouyate Release Too Much of the Same Groove

Studio Mali

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Malian music covers a lot of turf. Some of it is so bluesy that American artists such as Taj Mahal find instant affinity with it; some of it unfolds with dancers in mind and is heavy on percussive backbeats. Still more showcases Malian guitarists and their cascading riffs. Andra Kouyaté represents the Saharan north and its desert griot traditions. Alas, his new 16-track release is a bit like the desert for my tastes–too expansive and short on variety.

The good news is that he’s nurturing a new generation; Séké Chi is a youthful ensemble that supplements his ngoni playing with its hand drums, bass, balafon, voices, additional ngoni, and hand claps. There’s no denying Kouyaté’s skill as an instrumentalist; in his hands the ngoni­ sizzles. (The ngoni is a West African instrument that’s akin to a cross between a banjo and a small guitar.) The ngoni is a perfect instrument for laying down quick tempos, or for fading into the background like a ukulele backing hula singers. Kouyaté is an undisputed master of the instrument, and he extends its boundaries to draw upon funk, reggae, jazz, and slack key influences. He’s also a soulful singer. More good news: The younger players backing Kouyaté are quite talented.

So why only two stars? The album cuts big pieces from the same cloth and calls it a quilt. Even when Kouyaté crosses genres, as in the reggae-influenced title track, the album’s tones, moods, and melody lines all have the same hypnotic feel and groove. It’s like a jazz composition building up to something it never gets around to developing. You’ll probably find yourself swaying meditatively for a time, but after a while you’ll snap out of it and wonder, “Is this all there is?” In the end, it's all hooks but the same groove. The problem is compounded by the fact that the album is at least four tracks too long. It would have been wiser to pare the tracks and intersperse the few changes of pace–the dancey “Aye Anfle,” the keening vocals of “Maningaken,” and the joyful “Den Massa Lou”–amidst the trance tempos of most of the pieces. (It would have been an even better idea to turn loose the young players and let them rock out a bit.) Overall the album is too quiet and monochromatic. Call it a good idea, but a missed opportunity.--Rob Weir

Check out the 9-minute "Yankalou" on YouYube. If it doesn't seem too much of the same to you, ignore my review! 


Former F-Bomb Hardly a Firecracker Anymore

A book title unfathomable not so long ago!

I was walking downtown a few days ago when I overheard two men engaged in casual conversation. “How’s it going?” asked the first. “Not so good,” replied the second. “I spent all day looking for work but there’s nothing out there.” “Yeah, that’s fucked up,” responded the first. I agree that the economy is pretty awful, but my eavesdropping actually made me think about George Carlin.

Back in 1972 Carlin had a funny routine about “the seven words you can’t say on television.” Avert your eyes if you’re sensitive, but they were: piss, shit, tits, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, and motherfucker.  Things have changed a lot since 1972. It’s for sure that only five of those words are problematic and only the last three are real shockers any more. Like British English speakers, the word “piss” has come to mean just about anything except urine. It can piss rain, one can piss and moan, get pissed or pissed off, or expose a phony by taking the piss out them. Shit still causes some alarm on TV, but it slips in, and hearing it upsets hardly anyone, even if it comes from the mouths of youngsters. Ditto “tits,” which I’ve (surprisingly) overheard college-age women use to refer to their own breasts.

Of Carlin’s list, the only words I ever use with regularity are the first two and I never use the last three. But it’s the word formerly known as the “F-bomb” that got me thinking about how language and culture change. Frankly I marvel at how easily and casually the word pours from people’s tongues these days. I don’t say that as a way of decrying the decline of Western morality; it’s more about me. I recall a time in which the F-bomb wasn’t a small firecracker; it was the nuke of the English language. Detonating it, even by accident, meant–depending on where you were–an instant trip to the principal’s office, a backhand across the mouth, ostracism from everyone within hearing distance, or a close encounter of the worst kind between soap dish and mouth. No more. It’s become like piss–a word that means just about anything except what it meant a generation ago. The word is now used to convey personal misfortune (I was fucked.); anger (Fuck you!); being beaten up by another, drugs, or alcohol  (I was really fucked up.); or astonishment. (Fuck!) We drop to register anger or disinterest (Fuck that!); confusion (Things were fucked up.); communicate that something doesn’t work (It’s fucked.); or adjectively enhance the power of another ex-swear (He’s a fucking shithead.). We even use it as gentle jibe, (Who are you, fucking Einstein?), to express admiration for the mighty feats of others (He knocked the fuck out of the ball.), or to register complete agreement or disagreement (Fuck, yes/no!). These days I suspect that only porno sites still use the word to reference sexual intercourse. Heck, look up the word on Google Images and you'll get 16 pages that any toddler could access!

I wonder what Carlin would say about this if he were around today? I pass no judgments one way or another. You folks need to make up your own minds if it’s a good thing or a bad one that language is losing its sting. I’m just fucking saying….