Saturday, October 31, 2015

Opinion — The Right To Bear Arms, And The Right To Regulate Them

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The following folks aren’t my favorite people, but I wanted to show what others, who couldn’t be called wild-eyed liberals, think about the second amendment.

Ronald Reagan: “I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.” 1978 “Certain forms of ammunition have no legitimate sporting, recreational, or self-defense use and thus should be prohibited.” 1986

 “The Second Amendment was designed to allow states to defend themselves against a possibly tyrannical national government,” Judge Robert Bork, the highly conservative Supreme Court nominee and devout constitutional originalist wrote, “Now that the federal government has stealth bombers and nuclear weapons, it is hard to imagine what people would need to keep in the garage to serve that purpose.”

Warren E. Burger, the conservative former Chief Justice of the United States (1969-86), said, as have others, that the second amendment was a clear reference to a time when there were militias. He does not question a citizen’s right to own a firearm, but sees no reason they can’t be regulated.  He says, “The Constitution does not mention automobiles or motorboats, but the right to keep and own an automobile is beyond question; equally beyond question is the power of the state to regulate the purchase or the transfer of such a vehicle and the right to license the vehicle and the driver with reasonable standards. In some places, even a bicycle must be registered, as must some household dogs.”

He goes on to say in an essay he wrote for Parade Magazine, January 14, 1990:  “If we are to stop this mindless homicidal carnage, is it unreasonable:
1. to provide that, to acquire a firearm, an application be made reciting age, residence, employment and any prior criminal convictions?
2. to require that this application lie on the table for 10 days (absent a showing for urgent need) before the license would be issued?
3. that the transfer of a firearm be made essentially as with that of a motor vehicle?
4. to have a "ballistic fingerprint" of the firearm made by the manufacturer and filed with the license record so that, if a bullet is found in a victim's body, law enforcement might be helped in finding the culprit?

These are the kind of questions the American people must answer if we are to preserve the "domestic tranquility" promised in the Constitution.”

I would add a number:
5. that gun permits only be issued to those who have had training in gun safety?

Dr. Ben Carson says the founders were fully aware there would be advances in weaponry when they wrote the second amendment. They anticipated the mega ammo magazine, assault rifles, and they are embodied in the principle, which was put in place at the time of muskets and canon balls, he says. Does that principle embody missile launchers?  Armed drones?  Dirty bombs?  Dr. Carson, pardon the expression, needs his head examined. (I’d recommend he not consult himself.)

Ultra conservative Anton Scalia said in the last Supreme Court 5-4 (2008) decision on the topic, “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

But nowhere in the court statements was there any mention that reasonable regulations may not be placed on gun ownership.

Yet the NRA, its lobbyists and the politicians who fear them or who are bought by them, scream that any attempt to regulate the industry is a violation of the Constitution.  Perhaps the most sacred of the Amendments is the first. Yet even free speech isn’t unfettered.  You may not cry “’fire” in a crowded theatre when there is no fire. You may not libel another.  And you may not make false claims about the product you sell, or lie under oath.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Film Pairings — Recent Mysteries You Probably Haven’t Seen

There are crime fiction movies and there are mysteries. They are not necessarily the same.  Few films released in the last couple of years are truly mysteries. We watch chases, slashes, special effects, but we are rarely allowed to gather the clues and try to solve the puzzle as the movie progresses. Here are two recent films that have attempted to put real mysteries on screen.  They remained under the radar.  Both deserved better.

Joseph Fiennes And Nicole Kidman
Strangerland – Seems like many films shot in Australia have a kind of surrealistic, dreamy atmosphere. Strangerland doesn’t quite reach the spiritual or visual power of Australia-set The LastWave, for example, but it maintains an other-worldliness while remaining grounded in the real world with human foibles. Directed by Kim Farrant and released earlier this year, the film stars Nicole Kidman as the mother of two children who disappear in the desert.  Did they runaway?  Were they kidnapped?  Was there something else, something not of this earth?  Kidman’s angry, controlling husband  (Joseph Fiennes) tries to hold the family and himself together the only way he knows how.  It’s not easy. Actor Hugo Weaving gives a fine, understated performance as the local law. Maddison Brown portrays the Lolita-like daughter.

Kazuki Kitamura
Man From Reno — This is my favorite of the two and a very pleasant surprise.  As a long-time San Francisco resident, I’ve gotten used to films shot here taking liberties with the geography — a character running from one street through an alley and ending up on the other side of town. But it happens all the time and it doesn’t distract from this clever, original movie.  The central characters are Japanese, living or visiting the city by the bay, particularly a young woman who also happens to be a best-selling mystery writer on an American book tour.

In the midst of trying to lose her self, he finds a handsome, charming, young and mysterious Japanese fellow with whom she can be herself.  Irresponsibly and uncharacteristically, she abandons her tour. Soon, he abandons her.  She is left to deal with a few undesirables and a lawman from Reno. Something about money and murder. All of them want to find the object of her brief affair. She does too.  Directed by Dave Boyle, Man From Reno features talented Ayako Fujitani as the writer and devilishly handsome and charming Kazuki Kitamura as the questionable lover. Pepe Serna gives a solid, award-worthy performance as the out-of-town sheriff. The film was released in 2014.

As accompaniments to the evening’s double feature, go for the Saki.  If it’s warm where you are, have it cold.  If autumn has already set in, have it warm. Otherwise, maybe some plum soda.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

On Writing – Pay For Play: Selling Out

One of the benefits of being a writer is setting your own schedule. That means that if you want to watch Rachel Ray make white bean chili in the middle of the afternoon you may. By chance, I did just that the other day.  In the midst of the chili instruction, Rachel specified a certain brand of white beans. She showed the can to the camera.  I said to myself, “okay.” Maybe that’s her favorite. Or maybe that’s what they had on hand. As the demonstration continued there were several beauty shots of cans of beans arranged artfully with the same brand name clearly readable, clearly an ad.  Now it irritated me.  I was still going to get all the regular commercials— far too many if you ask me, plus those in the body of the show in quite possibly the most blatant manner possible. This was product placement beyond product placement. They were trying to get one over on me and it was clumsily done.  Movies have been doing this for years, usually with a higher degree of subtlety. The most egregious was in a recent Bond film where the studio replaced Bond’s Aston Martin with a BMW.  All this made me curious about books. The blog, Crimezine, posted an interesting James Bond book spoof of product placement at its most ridiculous — and humorous. But are there writers who accept additional fees for mentioning a product by name?

As a general rule, I’d advise writers against the practice. But I do mention brand names in my books.  Often.  Let me explain. First I’ve never accepted any money to mention a product.  Second, nobody’s offered.  However, as a means to make the scene real and to describe a character, I have no problem letting an established brand name help me define someone.  If I say ‘”she wore a yellow scarf,’ I have not conveyed the same sense as “she wore an Hermes scarf.”  I might say, “He drove a luxury car.” That may be enough; but what if if he drove a Mercedes sedan, a Ferrari or, a Tesla? They are all luxury cars, but each choice defines the driver specifically and differently.  Isn’t that what a writer is supposed to do? In the good old, days, a tough private eye wouldn’t smoke a dainty Parliament with a recessed filter or a Newport.  He would smoke a Camel or a Lucky Strike. Clearly identifying a weapon may be important in a murder mystery. The point is: brand names might help us tell a better story or, if not wisely used, spoil it.

I would also say that to the extent our fiction is also recorded history, the added detail gives the story lasting value. On the other hand, if you are trying to make your story timeless, using brand names may be counter productive.

Unfortunately if you let a product placement have a say in the TV show, movie or book, you are letting the tail wag the dog.  This is never a good idea.

I hope readers will let me know how they feel about product placement.  I am most curious if any writers engage in the practice and how they feel about it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

On TV — Sunday Night Morality Tales On Broadcast TV

I look forward to Sunday night TV.  It’s launched by the venerable “60 Minutes,” but “Madame Secretary” and “The Good Wife” not only provide decent drama, but also bring current issues to the public with all the ethical complexities of real life.  They ask us under what circumstances would you compromise your character to achieve what you believe to be the greater good. Would you be unfair to make things fair?  Recognizing that justice and the law are often at odds, where do you come down?

“Madame Secretary” does this mostly on a macro scale.  The fate of the world depends on the actions of a modified Hillary Clinton–style Secretary of State.  We have international political intrigue, party political intrigue and within-the-party battles — all with less cynicism and less wit than “House of Cards.” How they put the drama together in such a timely way in a rapidly changing world is admirable.  Good writers.  Téa Leoni and Tim Daly lead a cadre of well-cast, highly talented actors, including Bebe Neuwirth and Keith Carradine.  Barbara Hall created the series.

“The Good Wife” plays out in micro scale by comparison.  We still have the intricacies of politics, the dilemma of lawyers in battle with justice bartered and battered by the interests of the moneyed and the powerful, but it is more local, more intimately focused. Even more than “Madame Secretary,” in “The Good Wife,” the good are not always good. Affairs of the heart are not always smart. And, as in life, and in our many elections, we find ourselves rooting for the lesser of the two evils. There is no Sunday dinner here, unlike the Reagan family on “Blue Bloods,” where serious hour-long dilemmas are brought to a satisfactory and usually optimistic close in a ‘50s redux.  If “Madame Secretary” boasts a lot of writing, acting and directing talent, that goes double for ‘The Good Wife.” Produced by Ridley Scott, the good wife, brilliantly portrayed by Julianna Margulies, struggles with honesty versus ambition in every aspect of her life. Her character is more complex than Madame Secretary’s. The stellar cast includes Chris Noth, Christine Baranski, Matt Czuchry and Alan Cumming. Archie Panjabi took the role of a major law firm’s investigator, Kalinda Sharma.  She was outstanding. My hope was that when she left the show, she was headed for a spin-off — a private eye with her own show.   So far, no news on that front.   Even so, the new season of “The Good Wife” remains as great as ever.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Five Least Arrogant Celebrities In My Lifetime

A few weeks ago, I ranted about the five most arrogant people in the world — Putin, Cheney, Trump, Scalia and Netanyahu. It seemed only fair to recognize those individuals who have achieved world celebrity, yet seem to keep their egos in check. Instead of leading us off to war, encouraging hate, bullying and exclusion, the following people spent their lives seeking peace and have been dedicated to the alleviation of suffering.

Nelson Mandela — It’s very difficult, I suspect, for most of us to understand how a person could suffer not only as a member of an oppressed people, but to endure decades of sometimes brutal imprisonment and emerge a leader who attempts no retribution when he gains the power to do so.  Instead, this man sought to forgive despite the clear and long-standing injustice. As a leader, he was temperate, thoughtful and wise. He brought at least some peace and justice to a deeply troubled land.

Jimmy Carter — Whether or not you believe he was effective during his term as U.S. President, Jimmy Carter is a model of public service, a doer of good deeds without seeking credit for what he and his wife, Rosalind, have done. A Nobel Prize winner, prolific writer and humanitarian, the former president has used his influence for peace, health and human rights, as well as a regular Sunday school teacher and hard working advocate for affordable housing. 

Aung San Suu Kyi  — ‘”It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”  A steady but unpopular force with the rulers of her country, she works to bring democracy to what used to be called Burma (now Mayamar), a country isolated in many ways from the rest of the world.  Aung San Suu Kyi was harassed and arrested before finally being allowed to take her elected seat in the government. Like the others on this list, this leader attempts to make the world a better place through peaceful means, though she could easily excite and cultivate a violent revolution giving her greater personal gain.

Dalai  Lama– Even though there are fairy tale origins to his position as religious leader — aren’t they all, really? — the Dalai Lama exemplifies the  concept of living a good life: empathetic common sense as the means by which we make choices in our lives and the way we govern. I can’t help but believe that there should be a place on a world court where such a calm reasoned approach would be valued, where such an incorruptible spirit would bring trust to the idea of justice. Unfortunately, the road to freedom for Tibet has been long and despairing. Even so, the current (14th) Dalai Lama is an effective proponent of optimism, dismissing the material rewards that come with fame.  Like Christianity, Buddhism still struggles with issues surrounding women, and sexual orientation. And like the Pope, the Dalai Lama seems uncomfortable trying to reconcile his overall message of inclusiveness with the early dogma of his religion.

Pope Francis — I don’t subscribe to any spiritual doctrine and I have serious moral/ethical philosophical differences with the pontiff.  However, with all the pomp and ceremony and public accolades, the former nightclub bouncer and chemist seems to be trying to operate openly. He has brought important issues out into the open for genuine public debate in a way that polarization might be avoided. Despite the Catholic Church’s continued backward stance, virtual blind spots on women’s and LGBT rights, Pope Francis has chosen to deal with previously ignored injustice to challenge the status quo regarding the inequality of wealth and health throughout the world. He does this by example and with honesty and compassion. He also understands the disastrous impact of climate change on humanity.  If God is Nature, Francis is a breath of fresh air from a stodgy, nearly mummified, but inordinately influential institution. Regardless of the flaws some of us ascribe to him, he continually shows himself to be man of the people.