Horton Hears A Boo

As I inch toward earning my masters degree in English, the most instructive portion has not been the critical readings, the research papers or the lectures. It’s been teaching freshman composition.

The classwork has prompted both myself and my students to craft steadier theses, create logical arguments and occasionally concede the other side has a point. That hallmark, known as concession, makes you more credible as I writer, I tell my students. Occasionally, they even listen to me.

But when I glance at the riches of embarrassment that comprised the L.A. Times op-ed page last Sunday, I begin to wonder if I’m misleading all those impressionable 18-year-olds.

How else do you explain the success in landing the anchor article position by Charlotte Allen, a right-wing screedatrix best known for claiming in the Washington Post last year that she doesn’t  understand “why more women don’t relax, enjoy the innate abilities most of us possess (as well as the ones fewer of us possess) and revel in the things most important to life at which nearly all of us excel: tenderness toward children and men and the weak and the ability to make a house a home.”

Instead of bashing women, Allen instead focused on Shepard Fairey, the L. A. artist best known for the multi-hued “Hope” portrait of Barack Obama that became the symbolic centerpiece of his campaign.

Allen makes all the usual points against Fairey: his artwork was based on a photo taken by an Associated Press photographer of Obama in 2006, and he’s been arrested 15 times for creating graffiti, including last year in Boston, where he pled guilty to several charges. True on both counts.

But then Allen goes on a tangent that would have earned demands for a major revision in my class: a claim he’s been protected by leftists. “You have to remember that armchair Marxist intellectuals and others of Fairey’s ilk still look back with longing to the grimy 1970s and 1980s in New York, when graffiti blanketed every car in the subway system. They were appalled by the successful efforts of mayors Ed Koch and Rudolph Giuliani to crack down on the taggers in order to make the city livable for the philistines who had to take the trains to work.”

Indeed, there were a handful of kooks who argued against graffiti abatement, but they lost that argument absolutely and then promptly vanished. And given I haven’t heard anyone stepping up to vigorously defend Fairey in his vandalism cases, it’s not at all relevant.

Moreover, whatever you think of Fairey, you cannot drive a block in L.A. without seeing his work on someone’s car bumper. His reworking of that photo will still be featured in U.S. political histories a century from now, much as the work of cartoonist Thomas Nast is prominent in any book about 19th century politics. This is not the typical fate of taggers who deface apartment buildings and overpasses.

Nowhere did Allen note that it’s troubling a non-profit cooperative like the AP would become copyright money-grubbers. Without Fairey, the photo of Obama is another obscure image among hundreds of thousands typically taken of a prominent politician.

Whatever you might think of Shepard Fairey's conduct, his reworking of the original AP photo will be published in political histories a century from now, much as the cartoons of Thomas Nast regularly appear in histories of 19th century politics.

Whatever you might think of Shepard Fairey's conduct, his reworking of the original AP photo will be published in political histories a century from now, much as the cartoons of Thomas Nast regularly appear in histories of 19th century politics.

Yet photojournalism of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima and a South Vietnamese soldier shooting a suspected Viet Cong in the head have been appropriated for artistic purposes countless times without similar repercussions. And since Allen is an out-of-towner, she is no doubt unaware that the L.A. County Museum of Art permanentely displays Andy Warhol’s depictions of Cornflakes boxes and Campbell’s soup’s cans. Yet the graphic artists who designed those products never insisted there was a copyright infringement of their work.

Get thee to an MRI: L.A. Times Sunday Op-Ed Editor Sue Horton should have her head examined for approving what ran in the Oct. 25 op-ed section.

Get thee to an MRI: L.A. Times Sunday Op-Ed Editor Sue Horton should have her head examined for approving what ran in the Oct. 25 op-ed section.

Allen’s article was also particularly offensive to read in my local newspaper given the flagrant behavior of Southern California advertising companies, who have erected hundreds of billboards and supergraphics on buildings in ways that have flouted local zoning laws far more grievously than Fairey, then bought their way out of trouble with huge campaign contributions to local politicians. No doubt a reliable right-winger like Allen would defend their right to do so, given as big businesses they have no ideology beyond making money.

In sum, the appearance of Allen in this instance – indeed, the entire Oct. 25 opinion section – is a blot on whatever remains of the news judgment of Sunday op-ed editor Sue Horton. This is a woman who made her rep editing the L.A. Weekly, the most progressive and locally-focused news publication in town. And now, she’s publishing the retrograde dreck of someone condemning a prominent local artist, and she doesn’t even live here? Perhaps Horton should have an MRI.

But local issues – or writers – were not something to be seen on last weekend’s Times’ op-ed pages, even though the paper’s management has been vowing to cover more local issues – the consolation prize for relentlessly shrinking the staff. Just below Allen’s piece was a completely unfunny satire mocking a Denver alternative weekly’s decision to hire a writer to critique the local marijuana dispensaries. Pot dispensaries are another big issue in L.A., one that’s been covered superficially by virtually all the local media. When a print publication is actually hiring a writer to cover a burgeoning new sector a few days after the Times laid off another bunch of scribes, it makes me wonder what Horton and her staff smoked to take this particularly clueless angle.

Both Allen and John Kenney, the writer of the pot piece, are based in New York. Ditto for Paul Lieberman, who wrote about cancer. Doyle McManus, who penned a remembrance of his former colleague Jack Nelson, is based in Washington. Only Linsay Rousseau Burnett, who discussed the travails of getting the G.I. bill to pay her grad school tuition, lives in California. Perhaps the fact that she served in the military was enough to mollify Horton et al. about her residing in Berkeley – a seven-hour drive and light-years away from L.A.

So, there you have it: five op-ed articles, two written by current and former Times staffers, only one who lives within 500 miles of town. Among the reasons I vent here is that every op-ed piece I’ve ever submitted to the Spayed Lady has been rejected. Meanwhile they continue to publish diatribes like Allen’s that might get a C+ in my class. Even more troubling, the op-ed page regularly published monologues from Bill Maher’s HBO show “Real Time” before they’re aired later in the week – making it appear they’re shilling for the show. The ethical questions raised by this practice alone should be enough to force the entire op-ed staff to resign.

Yet if even that miraculously happened, I’d still be one of hundreds of people who submit op-eds to the L.A. Times editors daily. But I can write with far more logic and sensitivity than a conservative darling like Allen (perhaps she’s more tender to her male editors than myself). I can also write with helluva lot more humor than Kenney. Yet it makes no difference. They are set in their ways, even as their readership continues to melt away around them.

The one thing that I found amusing and illuminating on Sunday’s op-ed page was a correction: “A cartoon that ran…on Oct. 23 referred to Carmen Trutanich as the Los Angeles District Attorney. Trutanich is the city attorney.”

I don’t have to spend years going through the motions on the Times op-ed desk to misidentify Trutanich, the city’s newest – and biggest – headline-grabbing gasbag. And I can guarantee by each semester’s end there isn’t a single one of my fresh-faced students who would make an error like that, either.


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Rainey’s Precipitation

When I ran the satirical business news blog The Walnut some years ago, I wrote a story about the Wall Street Journal running blank pages to save money on staff.

The Journal had just gone through a round of layoffs (a relatively mild one compared to the blood-letting that goes on now). The absurdity of publishing white space was meant as a jab in the eye at the bottom-line at all costs mentality.

But in the case of James Rainey, who writes the L.A. Times’ “On The Media” column, it may not be a bad idea.

Rainey has been with the paper since 1984, mostly as a cityside reporter. He seems to have been handed a plum column last year as either a reward for lasting so long, or because there’s no one else left standing to do it. Neither is a particularly compelling reason for doing so. As a result, you get – I guess, er, I suppose – what you’re sort of willing to pay for.

Indeed, Rainey expounds with an irritating spinelessness. A recent column began condemning The Washington Post’s ethical lapses in promoting a series of pay-for-access events to its editorial staff. It concluded with him stating newspapers should hold pleasure cruises to promote readership. He came close to pummeling Sandra Tsing Loh for the nauseating hypocrisy of using her family for book and broadcast material while cheating on them, but inevitably pulled his punches and declined to contact her husband for comment.

When Rainey actually did perform a full-body slam of L.A. Weekly News Editor Jill Stewart for allegedly biased coverage in an advocate tabloid, it ran just days before The Weekly beat the Times 5-2 in awards from the L.A. Press Club. It was a competition judged by editors from out-of-town publications, making Rainey’s own judgment on the local talent look particularly foolish.

Stewart is as close to a street brawler in L.A. journalism circles as one gets, but she barely had to pop the switchblade to cut her opponent to shreds. “Rainey did not contact me for his wrongheaded column,” she wrote in a rebuttal published in the Times. That pretty much summed it up: passive-aggressive laziness practiced by someone far more familiar at this stage of his career with burnout than scorched earth.

So it almost makes sense that Rainey switched his sights to someone who really can’t defend herself: local TV personality Jillian Barberie Reynolds. Rainey’s beef: she lacked sufficient empathy for her 95 colleagues at Fox 11 News who recently lost their jobs.

Barberie Reynolds is one of several largely empty-headed pinup-wannabes who have relied far more on sexiness than talent (Sharon Tay, Elita Loresca, et al) to build a career. She’s never profound, mostly harmless, occasionally entertaining and completely self-absorbed. In other words, as predictable as an atomic clock. That’s why she’s been perennially marooned on the tropical island of “Good Day L.A.,” where the audience wants perky and little else.

Yet Rainey sees her as the devil incarnate, calling her the “Medusa-haired, wailing siren who epitomizes the noxious celebrification of what we once called news.” He also was displeased with her talking about her sex life on Howard Stern’s show, and suggested that an abusive past had something to do with her behavior.

L.A. Times media critic James Rainey acted as if Jillian Barberie Reynolds had just been anointed the next Walter Cronkite.

L.A. Times media critic James Rainey acted as if Jillian Barberie Reynolds had just been anointed the next Walter Cronkite.

It would be appropriate for Rainey to have a bug up his ass about Barberie had she been anointed primetime anchor in the wake of such bloodshed. But that’s never going to happen. She will continue to be morning eye candy until her looks hold on, and she may host an occasional dumb sports show or another resurrection of “Blind Date.”

And again, Rainey didn’t try to interview his subject. Instead, he called her”representative,” who predictably declined comment. Doesn’t Reynolds have a phone line at Fox 11, or at least voicemail? Or couldn’t have Rainey gotten out of the office and spent a couple of hours camped out to interview Reynolds when she got to her car? Nor did he bother to interview a mental health professional to try and bolster his amateur(ish) diagnosis.

Instead, he padded out his column with some comments made by one of Reynolds’ colleagues, John Schwada. His blog noted that the layoffs affected young up-and-comers and that seniority rules meant those who “can be seen several times a day playing solitaire in your edit bay, have boozy breath and are operating on autopilot” were retained.

Another irony that sailed by Rainey’s head: Schwada had been the star city hall reporter at the L.A. Herald-Examiner when it folded 20 years ago. The Times immediately snapped him up, then promptly banished him to the bowels of the Valley bureau when some staffers grumbled he hadn’t paid his dues. I can only wonder what role Rainey – then five years into his now way-too-long stint at the Times – played in that decision.

But Schwada’s tenure at the Times is in the past. Rainey’s is not. Someone in charge over there – if there is anyone left – needs to take a closer look at what he’s been doing. And begin the debate as to whether a few column inches of white space a couple of times a week might be more soothing to its ever-diminishing readership.

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It’s Bad…It’s Bad?

When there’s little to look forward to next week than the autopsy photos of Michael Jackson surfacing in the tabloids as inevitably as oil globules from an ambushed battleship, one would conclude we’re in a pretty grim run.

Indeed. I’ve seen little over the past few weeks of encouragement. The media has hung onto to the exploits of a freakish family of 10 where the micromanaging mother is obviously insane and the milquetoast father understandably wants out. A U.S. Senator who cuckolded a member of his own staff. A governor who tried to turn down stimulus money for his beleaguered state but was more than eager to use taxpayer bucks to visit his mistress in Argentina, then lie about it.

The economy bobs a little up one week, but down the next. Pundits have been guessing whether it’s hit bottom for seven months now. It might be going somewhere – in two years. But no one’s taking any bets.

I wonder what Walter Cronkite, the one remaining symbol of post-war rectitude, might make of all this. However, he’s apparently on his deathbed.  Ensconced in the next life, he might have the opportunity to ask Jacko what the hell happened. However, celebrity interviews were never his forte.

We could ask Walter Cronkite what he'd make of this, but it's probably too late.

We could ask Walter Cronkite what he'd make of this, but it's probably too late.

On the microcosmic level, things aren’t much better. I’ve been all but berating clients to pay me so I can keep up. A dear friend, my daughter’s godparent, just underwent surgery for cancer that’s proven to be nearly as tough as he is. Given I am what Southern author Walker Percy would refer to as a lapsed Jew, I’m not buying into the power of prayer pitch. But I am beginning to comprehend why gentiles drink so much.
Yet despite the grimness, I feel there is a spark of optimism. Maybe all this mayhem, Jon & Kate Disintegrates, the King of Pop as Elvis redux, is the beginning of the end of obsession with celebrity, a tacit acknowledgement of how toxic it actually is. The fact that the savings rate is up for the first time in nearly two decades is astonishing to me – an apparent overnight reversal of the spend-now, pay-later culture we’ve been buying into forever.

And the bleak circumstances also forced me to rethink my business. I’m now focused more on publishing than piecework. It’s an odd thing, having spent 20 years as an obscure writer, suddenly doing graphic design, compiling mailing lists, and “dialing for dollars” from potential investors and advertisers. It may not work, but I suspect it will. If it does, it will put my family and myself in decidedly more stable finances in the long run. And like the rest of shell-shocked America, we’re no longer going to be snapping up every bauble that bewitches our vision.

“No man can ever truly be secure until he has been forsaken by fortune.” That’s from Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, the early Medieval work that every English major is forced to read when studying Chaucer. Yet the major themes of the work resonate today: good luck and bad luck comes in cycles. You only have to last long enough for things to change.

The Boethian worldview and changes of fortune was the bulwark of another Southern author, one who wrote in an absurdist/comic vein much like Walker Percy. But he was not nearly as prolific as Percy, primarily because he killed himself when he couldn’t find a publisher for his first novel. Years later, the author’s mother all but stalked Percy to get him to read the dog-eared manuscript. The novel, “A Confederacy Dunces,” brought author John Kennedy Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Price. He should have tried to hang around a bit longer.

My family and I spent today driving out the country, where we picked cherries. They’ll be used tomorrow in the dessert we’re cooking for visiting relatives – the kind of relatives we actually like. They’re little things. But they’re enough to make us want to hang around, knowing that it can’t stay this way forever.

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Chris Brown is Getting Younger by the Paragraph

Despite being only four paragraphs in length, the L.A. Times article about Chris Brown copping a plead to beating up Rihanna says he is both 20 and 19 years old. And it’s already been up on the website for six hours. Great copyediting.

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The Banality of Sandra Tsing Loh

Sandra Tsing Loh first made a name for herself back in 1987 as a special piece of work: she played a concert piano in a flatbed truck on an L.A. Freeway during rush hour. It was a perfect way to draw attention herself and annoy everyone else.

Since then, she’s segued over to the radio, where I have endured the last 15 years hearing her intone in a breathlessly arrogant manner about science and her personal doings. It’s the penance informed Angelenos pay for never pledging enough to their local NPR station.

Over those years I have learned everything and nothing about Sandra’s musician husband, her two little kids, her 1,236-year-old skinny-dipping father. They’re all described only for the purpose of marginalizing them so as to draw ever-more attention to their insatiable narrator.

When Loh’s not on the radio, she recapitulates her life in Atlantic Magazine, no doubt making Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson and other of the Atlantic’s founding editors twirl in their graves like pinwheels. And she also writes the occasional book. I give credit to Loh’s publisher for so deftly packaging those tomes that I have actually purchased two of them. However, once you get past the first few pages you’re caught in the undertow of her self-absorption and thoroughgoing mediocrity as a writer.

In other words, Sandra Tsing Loh is the perfect 21st-Century media tornado. She provides virtually nothing in exchange for the privilege of sucking not only the air out of the room but everything else. Right down to the studs.

I do not write that last sentence lightly. For Loh recently embarked on one of the most nauseating campaigns of self-justification since the Nuremberg Trials. She and her husband of nearly 20 years are calling it quits. Why? She had an affair. And, as she puts it in the most recent issue of Atlantic: “I would not be able to replace the romantic memory of my fellow transgressor with the more suitable image of my husband, which is what it would take in modern-therapy terms to knit our family’s domestic construct back together.” Just like the German functionaries who stood in the Nuremberg dock, she was merely following orders. And just like those gentlemen, those orders had been issued directly by the enormous narcissism cortex in her brain.

My life, one more time – Sandra Tsing Loh has made a career out of sucking everything out of the room. What would Hannah Arendt, right, make of her most recent self-justification?

My life, one more time – Sandra Tsing Loh has made a career out of sucking everything out of the room. What would Hannah Arendt, right, make of her most recent self-justification?

This was among the first missives in a roughly 5,000-word essay where Loh essentially denigrated all husbands who work hard to raise their kids and make a better home. The result: their wives are left sexless and frustrated. The couples who make their marriages last are either delusional, in denial, or so dull that no one else would want their company anyway.

“In any case, here’s my final piece of advice: avoid marriage,” Loh concludes. “Or you too may suffer the emotional pain, the humiliation, and the logistical difficulty, not to mention the expense, of breaking up a long-term union at midlife for something as demonstrably fleeting as love.”

That was an enormous insult to someone like myself, who has managed to make my marriage last 15 years, make myself and my wife happy, and dodge all potential temptations. I made a simple calculus: the few moments of fun would never be worth the years of guilt, agony, recriminations and financial ruin that would invariably follow. Loh crunched the same numbers and lunged for the fun. Of course, if you spend your entire career self-aggrandizing, an affair makes perfect sense. Not only is it all about you, it’s an opportunity to shove everyone else aside.

“There’s so much judgment. It’s going to be horrible,” Loh lamented to L.A. Times media columnist James Rainey. His examination of the situation is interesting but perhaps too even-handed. You can tell he wants to slam Loh, but still enables her to say everything she wants.

The one thing I learned from Rainey’s column is something that would never make its way into one of Loh’s commentaries: her husband “packed up all of Loh’s possessions in neatly labeled boxes, covered them with a tarp and left them stacked in the driveway.” One might sense he’s perturbed. Rainey didn’t try and interview him.

Which of course leaves me back at that Nuremberg dock, amoral men lining up to calmly rationalize away their misdeeds. It took another 20 years and Hannah Arendt to come up with an explanation: such transgressions occur when transgressors believe their actions are perfectly normal and even socially acceptable.

Of course, I’m not going to make any insidious and over-the-top comparisons between Sandra Tsing Loh and Nazi war criminals (she’s only half-German anyway, so it wouldn’t work). She is not evil. But she certainly is banal.


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The Needy Greedy

Greed – for lack of a better word – is good.

Oliver Stone created that phrase for the 1987 film “Wall Street.” That was long before captains of industry commissioned vodka-urinating ice sculptures for $2 million birthday parties (Dennis Kozlowski, now in state prison), owned more than 40 boats and cars (Richard Scrushy, now in federal prison) or posed as mendicants in corporate jets (the Big 3 auto execs, fate yet to be determined). In the two decades since the film was released, those words have morphed from a camp catchphrase to the most significant ones a character concocted by Stone has ever uttered.

When “Wall Street’s” Gordon Gekko lectured the board of Teldar Paper about the virtue of greed, he bragged that his last seven transactions had bagged a pretax profit of $12 billion for shareholders. At a time when trillions of dollars are being shoveled at corporate America in the hopes it won’t falter, $12 billion seems a quaint sum, a reminder of a simpler past when a candy bar cost a dime. It almost makes me feel like I can earn $12 billion if I stopped surfing the Internet so much.

Of course, unless I become extraordinarily fortunate playing the Power Ball (and actually buy tickets), I will never realize such sums. But there are millions of men and women throughout the land itching to become the next Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, and probably even a few who want to be the next Bernie Madoff.

How do I know this? I engage in the rarefied Los Angeles practice of taking long walks in my neighborhood. Like much of the rest of the San Fernando Valley, it had once been farmland, then tracts of modest homes.

Since my family moved in a decade ago, dozens of homes in this solid middle-class redoubt have been tom down and replaced with ponderous McMansions. Such infill campaigns have transformed hundreds of such neighborhoods across the nation since the 1980s.

Although these homes have styles ranging from Bavarian sanitarium to late-period “Sopranos,” they are all essentially the same: 5,000-square-foot-plus homes on lots barely able to contain them. Their walls bulge with mattress-size televisions. Their kitchens gleam with suites of Viking appliances. The McManse I glimpse when I fetch my newspaper every morning has vintage cars cluttering its driveway, as there’s no more room in the neighborhood’s only four-car garage.

These homes were built for two reasons: a contractor wanted to make a lot of money, and its buyer wanted to show off. In other words, greed.

The people inhabiting these nearly $2 million monoliths arise every morning and have to figure out how to hold on to them. The dingbat apartments just to the south, and the liquor stores and bail bondsmen just to the north are a reminder of how far they could fall. Foreclosures have been few and far between here (there have been some short sales among the more modest homes), which suggests their owners are filing more lawsuits or pushing more patients to Botox out their worry lines. Or they’re developing plans to get into solar power, hydrogen filling stations or the next high-risk mortgage that can be repackaged into so many stacks of kindling wood.

Inevitably, many of them will succeed, because we live in the most entrepreneurial nation on Earth, in the most entrepreneurial era in the history of man. If you’re not striving to be rich, who are you exactly?

If the banks won’t give them loans, they’ll mortgage their rambling estates a little more, or resort to credit cards. They’ll scrape by in nouveaux opulence until they no longer need to scrape by again, in which case they’ll sell those McMansions and buy real ones in places like Brentwood and Beverly Hills. Their ambitions will propel them beyond having to live cheek-and-jowl with the common folk who own the ranch homes, although they may throw them some jobs and consulting gigs. That’s when everyone will know the good times will have returned.

As we try to reach the road to prosperity again as surely as we traverse the freeways, one would hope the strivers would yank the Bluetooths from their ears long enough to insert a five-year- or decadelong vision into their grand plans. And that the people they hire to do their bidding in the state and federal corridors of power–the same ones who obtained the easements and variances to not-so-subtly transform my neighborhood–were willing to ponder moral imperatives and hazards before they are actually created.

Greed is good. But it could do better.

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Trigger Mad

Everyone wants to make a mark in America, but few actually get the chance. Yet we’re still the land of opportunity: if you shoot everyone within sight, you’ve got a decent chance of making a front-page exit.

There used to be just one or two insane mass shootings a year. Now they’re every few days. The one that stuck most in my consciousness was at a McDonalds in San Ysidro, California in July 1984. Twenty-two were slaughtered by a loser named James Huberty. He had eaten there earlier in the day with his family, and no doubt decided it would be a great place to go out in a blaze of glory.

The country was shocked; front-page coverage went on for days. McDonalds tore the restaurant down. There were documentaries made about Huberty’s demons.

There have been so many shootings since then that I can only remember locales: churches, nursing homes, schools, etc, The jumping-off point was probably a couple of years after the San Ysidro shooting. A part-time letter carrier named Patrick Sherrill killed 14 of his co-workers in rural Oklahoma. Sherrill’s act inspired the term “going postal.” When it became a joke, people told themselves they no longer needed to pay attention.

When Patrick Sherrill's rampage coined the term "going postal," a lot of people stopped taking gun massacres seriously.

When Patrick Sherrill's rampage coined the term "going postal," a lot of people stopped taking gun massacres seriously.

For last week’s mayhem in Binghampton, N.Y., the New York Times published a tremendous headline: “13 Shot Dead During a Class on Citizenship.” It’s the Gray Lady’s version of “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar.” Welcome to America; prepare to die.

Certainly no one is paying attention to the fact that anybody who is angry or sick enough to see other human beings as mere objects can obtain a gun far easier than counseling. Angry high school students? Columbine. Angry college students? Virginia Tech. Angry politicians? Dick Cheney. Angry immigrants? Binghampton. Hell, an 8-year-old in Arizona killed his father and a neighbor a couple of months ago. He was probably curious to see what would happen when he pulled the trigger.

Yet anytime someone who actually doesn’t need a gun to command attention mentions this insanity, the other set of angry objectifiers who run the National Rifle Association begin their banshee wails about their rights. The day after the Binghampton shooting, the ticker on the NRA Website had the following headline: “Gun control advocates misfire with statistics.” Did some newspaper misreport how many people were killed? No, one of the nation’s most politically powerful lobbies felt it appropriate to put up a link to Rob Port, a far-right blogger whose home page says his favorite television show is “The Sporanos” (sic). I should get Tivo.

Certainly by this point the two or three sports hunters and cops who might stumble across this are rolling their eyes. Another schmuck who wants to take away something he’s never owned himself! Well then. I had my first rifle when I was 6. I scored my first bullseye on a firing range when I was 7. I loved the Beretta .380 I owned in early adulthood not because I could actually hit a target with it, but someone as clumsy as myself could take it apart and reassemble it in only a minute or two. I could have probably been an Army sharpshooter if I had any respect for authority, or bagged a helluva lot of deer if I had less respect for life.

I only gave up guns when my I moved in with my now-wife, a sort of hammer-and-sickle type who didn’t want anything to do with them. In the mayhem of early ‘90s L.A., it was position that was difficult to argue with. I haven’t owned a gun for nearly 20 years now, and I don’t miss them.

Most gun owners are responsible. Yet 30,000 people in the U.S. lose their lives every year to gunfire. That’s still about 15,000 less than what’s claimed by automobile crashes, but close enough to consider regulating them in the same manner. I’m definitely up for it now given that gun sales have soared some 40% since Obama was elected.

So, here’s what I’m proposing:

•    Licensure, including physical and written tests, to own a gun. Annual testing if you’re over the age of 70. A point-based disciplinary system. Score three points in a year, you lose your license. Cheney’s no doubt would have at least been suspended.

•    Mandatory annual registration fees, set by each state Legislature. In California, it costs a minimum $150 a year to register a car; if you’re a gun nut, it would really cost you.

•    Mandatory insurance for every legally-owned firearm. A minimum of $300,000 liability, medical and property damage coverage required. No insurance, you lose your license.

We all hate the cost of car ownership – I probably spend close to $10,000 a year on my vehicles, and I own them outright. But those costs – and the fear of what would happen to my insurance premiums – make me think twice before I consider doing something stupid with them.

My proposal would also create a job bonanza for both state governments and the insurance industry. But no doubt the open-minded souls at the NRA would shoot this down before it even got debated. The only thing that might open them up to debate is if one of those nutcases opened fire at an NRA chapter meeting (or better yet, the national convention). An odd wish, but I’m an odd man. Thank your stars I don’t own a gun.


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