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Friday, February 16, 2018

Parkland Shooting

Three brief, narrow points on this week’s mass shooting in Florida:
1.    Since the assault weapons Congressional ban was allowed to expire in 2004, the number of mass murders using these war weapons has mushroomed. Yes, there were school shootings prior to 2004, but not as many, not as deadly, and not increasing every month infrequency and intensity. And the only one of the “top five” school shootings that occurred during the decade of the ban on assault weapons was Columbine HS in 1999. Since 2004 there have been at least four “major” school shootings, including Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Rancho Tehama prior to last week’s Florida carnage.  And even greater loss of life occurred in non-school venues such as the nightclub in Orlando and the festival in Las Vegas.  
2.    A number of defenders of “freedoms to have and use AR-15s” seem to protest too much when arguing that gun opponents are exaggerating statistics by citing the “18 already in ‘18” mantra. They seem to love to use “slippery slope” arguments in opposing all discussions of sound gun control but will brook no taking of liberties with stat citations on how badly the trend looks to some people.

3.    Since 1996 there have been no school shootings in Great Britain. Main difference? GB banned handguns in 1996. Coincidence?  Then what about France? Germany? Japan? et al other countries with restrictions on owning and using “weapons of mass and minor destruction”? Can we be the only nation whose potential killers are so equipped and able that they would inevitably outwit any and all restrictions and regulations on guns in order to carry out their nefarious intentions?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Living Biblically?

Maybe I'm misjudging the teaser trailers I've seen for the new "comedy" series coming later this month on that ole stalwart standard broadcast TV network, CBS.  Maybe they don't intend to ridicule and rip on the slim majority of Americans who claim Christianity as their religion. Maybe they won't be going to the lunatic fringes of various Christian denominations for their stereotypical cliches to seek a laugh.  Maybe.

But I, for one, have no intention of seeing for myself this latest effort by an anachronistic media form to grab the elusive brass ring and stop their decades long ratings slide.  If they are still around Season Two I'll tune in and see what clever, original humor they have to offer.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Oklahoma high school football

I jotted down these notes three years ago and may have put them on a Facebook status. Can't remember for sure. Nevertheless, I know I never transferred it to my Blog. The Metro band director mentioned, Joe, is now a bigshot in Fine Arts for Tulsa Public Schools. Otherwise, the memories are fairly accurate. Amazing that three years ago was a simpler, peaceful time.

For a change of pace, I took in a high school football game last night here in Tulsa. With no “dog in the fight” anywhere locally, I went to the home game for the school right across our back fence, Metro Christian Academy.  This was Metro's first home game of the season since last week had been cancelled due to lightning and thunderstorms.  They were playing Stillwell HS, a little town east of Tulsa almost on the Arkansas border.
Metro (MCA for short) has its own stadium and the game was played there. MCA had a decent crowd of parents, students and supporters.  It looked like several dozen Stillwellians? had   come over along with their marching band.
MCA was never seriously challenged during the game. They scored the first 17 pts, and led by that at halftime after a couple of nice long passes from the senior quarterback, Abe Anderson to senior wide receiver, Jake Koenig.  Each time the MCA band lustily played their fight song, courtesy of U. of Notre Dame. (The band director, Joe Metzer, plays in Tulsa First Baptist orchestra with me).
Halftime provided the opportunity for the parents and fans to meet and see the elementary age cheer and yell squads and the 2nd grade football team - “the future of MCA football”.
Also at halftime the Stillwell uniformed marching band performed. This was noteworthy in that they had the smallest marching band I have ever seen perform, and I've seen many. They fielded eleven band members, including one sousaphone and two drummers. They offered a rousing rendition of the theme song from Mission Impossible.  I found this hopeful, though not predictive, as the team went on to allow another 20 points in the second half without scoring themselves.
But, alas, the weather was perfect, if not still a touch warm for the end of September. The crowds were polite and appreciative. And all in all, I had a terrific time.  May go back in a few weeks and catch a game on a cooler Fall evening.

Friday, October 20, 2017

National Public Radio

They've just not given this sufficient thought. Sometimes a communications shortcut that is arguably reasonable in one medium becomes much less so in others. Abbreviations and acronyms make sense in written communications, especially when the acronyms are clearly identified early in a news story or editorial. One shouldn't have to write out National Collegiate Athletic Association multiple times in an article when it can be identified as such initially and then referred to as NCAA following times. But what's true in print does not necessarily hold for use on the radio or TV.
But rather than lay additional groundwork, let me go straight to the specific example that prompted my screed. Today I was listening to National Public Radio (NPR). The reporter on the program commented on an email to the program complaining about this very issue. The listener declared she was annoyed when “they used acronyms and abbreviations without ever clarifying and identifying what some of the letters represented.” . The specific abbreviation that piqued her was BBC-OS. In this case she was not objecting to the BBC. Everybody hearing the program and everybody on NPR knows that BBC stands for the British Broadcasting Corporation or Company. The caller was pretty sure, though, that the “OS” was seldom or never explained. This gave the NPR person the opening to answer the question at some length. Seems “OS” is short for “Outside Sources”. As painfully explained, this meant virtually all sources since BBC doesn't internally create much news. But other than providing this definition, the NPR person never adequately responded to the complainer's complaint. Why couldn't they refer to this little news niche program as “Outside Sources” every time instead of the “OS” abbreviation? When speaking it, two syllables are required to say “O” and “S”. Only four syllables are expended in mouthing “Outside Sources”. The time savings orally fails to match the economy of abbreviating in writing.
It was mentioned in the excuses offered up by NPR that the habit of using abbreviations internally within all organizations, be they broadcasting corporations or government bureaucracies, at times represented merely “insider lingo”. They do allow those in the know to freeze out the unwashed.
I could wrap this up admitting that some acronyms can provide the same useful time savings orally that they do on the paper. This is especially true where the acronym does not dictate each letter being voiced if the acronym is also a recognizable word. It made sense for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties of the 70s and 80s to be referred to both in writing and on television as START treaties. But, having said that, I stand with the e-mailer that “inside baseball” abbreviations are often lazily used at the expense of clarity.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Rather than write another blog on a current political topic or the latest media outrage I think I'll go to modern society and language.

Recall, if you will, the time when one difference between the person on the street  and the one trained in public speaking was that the average person would often be caught beginning a sentence or thought or response to a question with some innocuous utterance such as “Uh” or “you know”. They might also continue to pepper their conversation with additional “uhs” and “you know”s, apparently believing that any sound was preferable to silence.
Though not totally eradicated, superfluous words are significantly reduced in most TV and radio interviews and conversations in recent years. The occasional athlete may still include a number of “you know”s and “uhs” in answers to painfully inane questions about how he felt sinking the winning shot or putt. But for the most part, one can listen to interviews without wincing as much.
There is a new trend, however, in public utterances. And this tends to hold both for politicians, scientists, and scholarly trained persons being interviewed concerning topics of their area of expertise.  The new trend is that after being asked a nice open-ended question designed to allow the respondent to wax eloquent the first word spoken in the answer well be, “So”. 
“How does the new MOAB bomb change the way we deal with ISIS”?
“So, it was designed and is intended to not only do effective damage such as reaching tunnel or underground targets but it also serves as a psychological weapon.”  [Hypothetical example]
What purpose does the introductory “So” serve in the answer?  It acknowledges the legitimacy of the question in the first place.  It seems to declare that what follows is indeed responsive to the question. 
“So” can exist in language as an adjective, adverb or conjunction. (Some dictionaries even include pronoun and noun uses.) The “so” I am addressing is the conjuction designed to introduce subsequent thought or information.

Listen to NPR or one of the TV news interview shows over the course of several programs and days and you’ll discover that “So” is so common an introduction to an answer that it is used more than half the time.  It has not yet become such a cliched use that it is distracting. Typically a responder will use it only at the beginning of an answer, not repeatedly throughout the explanation. This keeps it from becoming as annoying as “uh” and “you know” were for a number of years.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Supreme Court games

The actions by Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate securing Justice Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court, while disappointing, was entirely predictable and one could even justify as within the realms of “politics as usual”.  The Democrats would have taken pretty much the same course given a chance. In fact, the Democrats had performed a precursor of this with their moves several years earlier cutting back the “super majority” requirements on judicial nominations below the Supreme Court level.
What’s exceedingly more egregious and should have resulted in a different reaction was the prior year’s abdication of Senate responsibility to consider and vote on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for that same seat immediately upon the death of Antonin Scalia.  President Obama and the Democrats should have challenged the Republican blocking action.  The Constitution offers no such exception to the requirement in Article 2, Section 2 that the Senate provide its “advice and consent” to the president’s selections for potential replacement members to the Supreme Court.  Article 2, Sec. 2 does not say that the Senate can ignore such a nomination. True it offers no established deadline or timetable for this Senatorial duty to be accomplished.  But the clear implication is that the appointment is indeed an Executive Branch power, and agreement with or objection to the appointment by the Senate is a secondary ratification. That is why it is provided for in Article 2 rather than in Article 1 (Legislative) describing the powers of the Congress.
This being the case, President Obama and the Democrats in the Senate in 2016 should have challenged the Republican Senate.  After an appropriate length of time and following several published demands that the Senate perform its constitutional duty, the president should have declared that the Senate’s inaction amounted to acquiescence and that that lack of any negative declaration amounted to “consent”.  He then could have sworn Garland in and instructed to take his seat on the court.  Had the Republicans appealed this to the Supreme Court, and even if Garland recused himself, the Court would have split 4 to 4, leaving the accomplished action as the status quo.

This would have settled once and for all the fact that like it or not, the Congress must do what the Constitution says it must do.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Presidential election system

There are those who offer defenses of the current system of presidential elections that they believe disclose some kind of deep, pure motivation by the drafters of the Constitution.  And the centerpiece of their disclosure is that those putting together the first workable version of a democratic republic wanted to guard against certain dangers.  The claim is that a truly, pure democratic election needed to be protected from itself.  While people claimed to desire democratically elected leaders, they really only wanted only certain types of truly democratically elected leaders, those who agreed with them.
The earliest cited fears were that the power office of the total nation could be captured by those beholden to “regional factionalism”.  And where would such factionalism arise? It would be in the cities, the urban centers of the more populous states.  The gentlemen farmers like Jefferson and Washington could count. They knew that there were more people, and thus more voters
packed into the crowded neighborhoods of Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Richmond than resided on the plantations and farms of Maryland and New Hampshire.  And yet when they studied maps they could see (as do today’s patriots) that our vast nation covered much, much more landmass than the actual acreage that housed those cities of the day.  And this realization produced the initial fear and desire that those city people not be allowed to render judgments which might be different than what the plantation owners knew was best policy for the new land.  Rural people did not want to be dictated to by city folk. 
And the Great Compromise which had shaped the bicameral Congress with the small states having equal representation in the Senate ended up bleeding over into a similar small state advantage (read that “rural” advantage)   for presidential elections. And in the early years the agrarian advantage was even more pronounced since there wasn’t that great a difference between the electoral votes of larger states to the smaller ones. But added together the smaller states totaled quite a few more votes in proportion when the votes counted in the Electoral College.
All of this brings us to contemporary times. Defenders of the status quo electoral system still love to point to the map, color every county that had a Republican plurality red and counties with Democratic pluralities blue and smugly declare that any idiot can see how much red covers the nation. And that seems to fuel their belief and assertion that hordes of voters packed into urban areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle did not possess votes as worthy as voters from smaller towns and rural areas. So even though Mr. Trump lost the overall popular vote, those in charge of current rules are quite comfortable allowing Republicans to believe and claim legitimacy since the existing rules declared them the winner.
There is another, separate issue that most citizens and observers simply don’t understand or don’t credit with enough importance.  That is the fact that the Constitution and the Electoral College do NOT require states to employ the “unit rule” whereby states seek to maximize the impact of their votes by assigning all their electoral votes to the winner of the mere plurality in their state.  This allowed all 38 electoral votes available in Texas to go to Republican Trump even though 47.4% of Texas voters picked other candidates. Such an inequity exists for 48 of the nation’s 50 states. On both sides. A more egregious example of the distortion for Trump would be Pennsylvania where a mere 68,000 voters out of 6 million, little over one percent, threw all 20 PA electoral votes to the president elect. And, of course, similar corresponding examples of Democrat Clinton winning a closely contested state could be cited, but this isn’t a lengthy grad school treatise on the topic, merely a lament.  And it is noteworthy that the two states that do allow their electoral vote to be divided (NE and ME) are small and pretty inconsequential, at least in the presidential election arena. 
But this whole side issue merely avoids the bigger point. Elections using the Electoral College, with or without the “unit rule”, are simply undemocratic, pure and simple.  The idea that a person’s vote is devalued for choosing to reside in an urban area is wrong. All votes should be of relatively equal value. Owners of broad swatches of countryside should not have weightier votes than those living in a four story walkup tenement. Newer voters, be they recent immigrants or young people attaining voting age, should not be discounted merely because they happen to live in cities.
This, I believe, is closer to the democratic ideal and understanding that infused the work of our nation’s framers than an approach that denies equal voice to some based on where they live and work.  
I do believe Donald Trump’s assertions that had the rules been different, had he needed to win the popular vote in order to win the presidency, that he would have run a significantly different campaign and might have indeed pulled off a popular vote win. I have no idea why this is true or possible. But I don’t discount it. Had Trump done campaign rallies in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston in addition to where he did rallies, he well might have pulled some disinterested voters his way and eaten into Clinton’s urban advantage.  But regardless, I do wish we simply used the popular vote to settle on our national leader. We deserve to be assured that the winner, the leader for four years indeed has a mandate.