Friday, December 28, 2012

The Violence Epidemic

The recent shootings in Newtown, CT and Rochester, NY have created new calls for gun control legislation.  The issue is much more complicated than restricting the sale of assault weapons.  A recent Gallup Poll found that 58% of Americans surveyed now favor tougher laws on the sale of firearms.  In this blog I suggest some solutions to this complex problem.  In my view the solution should be focused on reducing violence and the means to deliver this violence. 

Our society has become more violent over the last quarter of a century and this and other issues have produced the cancer of mass murder. There are many contributors to the spread of this disease: the entertainment media, gun manufacturers and distributors, state and  Federal government, and lobbying organizations.

Quentin Tarantino
Entertainment Media - Movies have become increasingly violent and mindless led by the current master of gore, Quentin Tarantino.  His current contribution to film gore is Django Unchained was called "the most violent movie of the year" by film critic Chris Vognar.   I recently watched Expendables 2, arguably one one of the worse action flicks ever made.  It featured a who's-who of action stars who have profited from the public's taste for blood-drenched entertainment: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Stratham, Jean Claude van Damme, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, etc. Other stars have gained their riches from high-body count productions.  These stars have been deathly quiet in their response to the recent murders. The Hollywood Reporter said that "Hollywood's January Violence Spree: Half of Films Show Guns Amid NRA Criticism." I would suggest a new movie rating of  "V" for this category of films and a $2.00 Federal tax on tickets.  The tax revenue could be used for enforcement and victim relief.  Video games have an equivalent rating of A which covers content suitable only for adults ages 18 and up and "prolonged scenes of intense violence." 

Gun Manufacturers - The merchants of death should be a prime target for Federal regulation.  No automatic weapons should be manufactured or imported for the consumer market. The Federal government, by virtue of its military contracts, can "influence" manufacturers to stop producing these weapons. Firms unwilling to conform to "suggestions" will have their contracts cancelled and, in the worse case, have their plants closed.  Hand-slap monetary penalties won't work.  Remington Arms Company tops the list of US manufacturers. The Freedom Group owns several gun makers, including Remington®, Bushmaster® Firearms, DPMS/Panther Arms™, Marlin, H&R, The Parker Gun, Advanced Armament Corp. , Dakota Arms®, and Para™ USA. To that list you can add Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Colt, Browning, Beretta USA, Savage, Mossberg and US Repeating Arms- manufacturer of guns under the Winchester brand. For more on this subject see Arms Industry.

Gun Distributors - Mass merchandisers of firearms should be restricted from selling automatic and semi-automatic weapons.  Companies that fail to adequately perform background checks should have all their weapon and ammunition inventory seized by the ATF.  As with the manufacturers, fines are not effective.  The top three distributors, as reported by Articlesbase are Walmart, Kmart, and Sports Authority.

Congress - An editorial in the December 30, 2012 Dallas Morning News said that "Congress, which let the assault-weapons ban expire in 2004, remains the weak link in gun-control legislation."  The paper said that a new and improved assault-weapons ban is "a common -sense approach to restrict access to the most deadly weaponry, high-calibre magazines and perhaps even high-calibre ammunition that can take dozens of lives in a matter of seconds."  The Editorial also asked Congress to "insist on tough enforcement of laws to hold straw purchasers liable for guns used in crimes."

State and Federal Law Enforcement -  Gaps in law enforcement agency data banks should be closed immediately.  Sellers who fail to perform background checks should have all of their weapons and ammunition seized.  Funding should be increased to insure adequate enforcement of existing laws.

National Rifle Association - The recent response from the NRA indicates an unwillingness to work to address this issue.  Providing armed guards in schools increases the proliferation of guns and in conjunction the manufacture of "defensive" assault weapons and, of course, NRA membership. Calling for immediate action is appropriate, but leaving to Congress and financially-poor school districts to pick up the bill.  The NRA's answer to the funding issue is to use volunteers.  This could result in numerous legal problems for school districts.  Comparing the Secret Service's role of protecting the President to the protecting children is a ridiculous attempt to demean the Office of the President while playing politics with children's lives. If the NRA truly thinks that this is the best plan, they should put their money where their mouth is and help fund it.  A spokesperson from the national Education Association put it best: "It's a school it's not a place where guns should be."   This leaves many other potential targets "unprotected:" churches, day care centers, theaters, museums, health insurance companies, etc.  Do these places need their own guards?  All of these armed sentinels need to be trained to deal with a crazed gunman or gunmen firing automatic weapons at them.  Who will pay for this cost?  The NRA has programs is firearm management.  Again let them provide this training for free. The NRA has hard copy training material, but I couldn't find any on-site training courses.  In fact most of the site seem to be selling hats and shirts. Taken to the extreme, the NRA would have all of us carrying side arms perhaps ushering a return to the lawlessness of the wild west.  The American public need to stop being held hostage by the NRA and its paid mouthpieces in Washington.

Educational Institutions - Instead of arming to the teeth, I suggest educating students in how to deal with conflict.  This program should consist of the following topics: Anger Management, Bullying, Ethnic Sensitivity, and Conflict Resolution.  School districts should have a zero tolerance for acts of violence and bullying.  This code should apply equally to students, parents, faculty, and staff.  Administrators and faculty who violate these rules should be dismissed and subject to criminal charges.  School districts must be more receptive to student and parent complaints and not dismiss them as troublemakers.  Providing a listening, action-taking environment will help curb students and parents who resort to guns to settle their grievances.

Personal Perspectives - I am not against the right to bear arms!  I am against the uncontrolled distribution of automatic weapons.  I am not at all sure that we need more regulations especially those that are impossible to enforce. I do think that gun manufactures, distributors, and the NRA need to be proactive in working with law enforcement agencies to find solutions to this epidemic.  I am not for censorship of the media, but I think we must recognize the role that "blood and guts" movies play in encouraging violence.  We owe it to the past and future victims of gun violence.

I am not so naive as to think that anything will be done in this matter.  The public's interest will move onto other subjects, Congress will cave in to gun lobbyists, and more children will become the victims of greed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Room 1515 by Bill Wetterman

Room 1515 is a complex spy thriller in which the author, Bill Wetterman, follows the format popular in many Robert Ludlum novels.  At stake here is world domination by the World Financial Corporation (WFC).

The centerpiece of the story is the struggle of Agent Peacock, Laverna Smythe, who falls in love with the head of  WFC, Arthur Pendleton.   Pendelton is an enigma.  Is he a caring person who wants to end war and poverty or a ruthless monster who wants to rule the world?    There is little doubt about Ms. Smythe, who describes herself as "an adultress, a murderess, and pawn in a dangerous political game." 

The story is a  muddled with WFC's conspiracy with Great Britain and her PM, Ms. Claymore, planning to end the spread of Islam into Europe by assassinating the American President,  seizing control of  US missiles to attack Iran and Israel, and arranging for Russia to attack Iran. 

Meanwhile Agent Peacock, who works for an organization called Hercules, gets orders via a transmitter in her head and oversees a group of spies/prostitutes in her office, Room 1515 at the Emerald Hotel.  Peacock's ladies use their charms to gain information and arrange liasons between elected officials and lobbyists.  Peacock is assigned to get cozy with Pendelton, who falls for her like a school boy's first love, to learn what his organization is planning in the arena of world domination.  She gets close all right to the extent of becoming Mrs. Pendelton.  It is a strange relationship where the two jet setters have sex in mansions in Europe and the United States while Pendelton plans the make the world a better place regardless of the means and Laverna or Lovely, don't know where she picked up that nickname, escapes from and/or kills enemy agents. 

A plethora of the usual bad guys - sleazy Congressmen, devious executives, and thugs -  populate  the book.  They are dispatched, as ordered by her boss, Ursa, with relative ease by the cold- blooded killer Peacock.  Somehow her desire to listen to her biological clock and breed super offspring with Pendelton doesn't seem to mesh with her amoral persona.  I just can't see her playing the dutiful wife and joining the PTA.  Soccer/cheerleader mom is a possibility, though.  

In spite of her proper upbringing, there is little to like in Laverna Smythe and that is the novel's biggest problem.  Without redeeming values or an explanation of what messed he up, we are left with trying to bond with a thoroughly dislikeable character.  Pendelton comes off better in the "guy who I'd like to have a beer with category."  Still he is the brains behind the whole criminal enterprise. 

Bill Wetterman is a retired vice president from Wolters Search Firm. He has been writing for four years and has published short stories. In May 2011, Room 1515 won first place in the Mystery, Suspense, Thriller category at the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Conference

We were provided with a pdf copy of this book.

We give Room 1515,

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Skyfall - New Bond Film

Only sketchy deatils available for new James Bond film Skyfall due out in November 2012. 

James Bond's loyalty to M is challenged over secrets from her past. When MI6 is attacked, it falls to Bond to seek out and eliminate the threat regardless of the cost to himself.

Watch the Skyfall Trailer on YouTube.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Executive Action by Gary Grossman

Executive Action by Gary Grossman is the classic political thriller.  Democratic candidate Teddy Lodge's wife is assassinated during a political speech in a small New York town on the eve of the state's primary.  The mysterious killer disappears but his actions have dramatically changed the election.  Lodge uses the sympathy vote to become the leading contender and eventual nominee.  Lodge's candidacy threatens the incumbent President, Morgan Taylor. Under secret orders from the President, Special Service Agent Scott Roarke investigates the case and begins to unravel a deadly plot  designed to alter America's allegiances in the Middle East. 

The story, which might be titled "The Libyan Candidate," has some interesting plot turns.  Roarke is the usual macho hero who enlists the aid of an attractive Boston attorney.  She is very likable and her constitutional discovery is one the best parts of the novel.  I immediately checked on this amendment. The investigation takes a long time to develop and Lodge is elected President.  The climax comes at the inauguration where Roarke seems more a bystander than the story's protagonist.  The raid in Libya, complete with embedded journalist, seems hokey.  At times, Roarke's investigation seems to drag on without direction.  I had problems with the Libyan connection especially in light of the nation's post-Gaddaf status.  

In spite of these criticisms, I enjoyed Executive Action.  The dialogue is crisp and the characters interesting although at times formulaic. 

We rate Executive Action       

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Oldman, Guinness

I just finished watching the 1979 BBC mini-series "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy."  It has aged rather well.  The cast is first-rate.  The six-part series follows the exploits of George Smiley (Alec Guinness) in uncovering a mole in MI6.  The made-for-TV series moves slower than the recent version staring Gary Oldman as Smiley.  The faster-pace has its pluses and minuses.  The TV version is sometimes to slow but the pace gives viewers an opportunity to keep pace with the plot intricacies.  The pace of the movie is good, but you better put the DVD on pause if you leave the room.  I liked both, but I would give a slight edge to the newer production and a similar nod to Guinness over Oldman as Smiley.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Safe House

Safe House is a fast-paced spy thriller that deals with the CIA's efforts to retrieve damaging information from a renegade agent.

Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), is the ex-CIA agent who became an international criminal. Frost acquires a file detailing the criminal activities of several worldwide intelligence agents from a MI6 agent. After receiving the file, the MI6 informer is killed and Frost is relentlessly pursued by an unidentified group of men. Frost decides to flee his pursuers by going to the American embassy in South Africa.

After his arrival at the embassy he is escorted to a CIA safe house in Cape Town. The "housekeeper" is low-level agent, Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds). The CIA interrogation of Frost is interrupted by an attack by the men who have been pursuing Frost. Weston escapes with Frost captive and contacts his mentor, David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), at CIA headquarters.

The story then turns into a cat and mouse game in which Frost tries to escape, and Weston and the unknown attackers try to capture him. Imposed on this game of hide and seek is the obvious question of who in the CIA is tipping off the attackers.

The plot is a rehash of the the renegade agent and the evil government agency trying to hide its past sins. What makes it work here is the combination of Washington and Reynolds who make this "buddy movie" fun to watch.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

John le Carré's spy thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy comes to the big screen in the 2011 release.  The story is set in 1973 at the height of the Cold War. The aptly named Control (played by John Hurt),  head of British Intelligence (MI6), sends agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Hungary to meet a  general who wishes to sell information about a double agent at the highest level of MI6 (the "Circus").  The operation is a disaster and Prideaux is shot.  The failure allows the Circus to force Control and his right hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), into retirement.  Control dies soon after he leaves and, Smiley faces an uneasy future without his wife who has left him.

A new group takes control of the Circus headed by Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), with Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) as his deputy and Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) as part of the inner circle.  The basis of their success is due to apparently high-grade Soviet intelligence gathered under a program named "Witchcraft." "Witchcraft" provides an opportunity for the British Intelligence Service to gain access to US intelligence.

Smiley is brought out of retirement by Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), the British official in charge of overseeing the Circus, to investigate new information about a molein a senior role in British Intelligence.  Lacon has received information from agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) confirming the suspicions of Smiley's old boss concerning a double agent. 

Smiley assembles a team to investigate the accusations.  When Smiley visits Control's home he discovers chess pieces with Control had codenamed the suspects "Tinker" (Alleline), "Tailor" (Haydon), "Soldier" (Bland), "Poorman" (Esterhase) and "Beggarman" (Smiley himself).

From this beginning the le Carré drama moves through a devious web of concealment to find the double agent. 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is true to the espionage genre.  It is a methodical search for a traitor who has dishonored his country and friends.   The slow pace of the movie may put some people off who are used to the fast-paced Mission Impossible series (see review of Ghost Protocol).  Gary Oldman is excellent in the role of George Smiley and could garner an Academy Award nominination.  The film and Mr. Oldman have been nominated for British film awards.  The supporting cast of British actors completes the ensemble cast.

I rank the movie

Please see the following links to John le Carré's books and films:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

The Mission Impossible team has done it again.  I'm referring to Tom Cruise and his team not Ethan Hunt and IMF team.  In the latest installment of the Mission Impossible series, Ethan Hunt and his team are racing against time to stop a terrorist named Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist of The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo series), who is planning to begin a nuclear war.  Hendricks believes such a nuclear holocaust will be the cleansing that the earth needs.  To carry out his insane scheme, he hired Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux) to steal the Russian nuclear launch codes.  The IMF team of Hunt (Tom Cruise), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and smoking-hot Jane Carter (Paula Patton) try to break into the Kremlin to steal information on Hendricks. They are a step too late and Hendricks steals the files and detonates an explosion in the Kremlin. The Russians believe the US was responsible and the IMF is selected to be the rogue operation responsible.  The President is forced to invoke Ghost Protocol, under which the IMF is disavowed, and will be offered no help or backup.  Hunt's team is joined by "analyst" William Brandt (Jeremy Renner).  The fast-paced adventure takes us to Dubai and where the team tries to retrieve the codes.  Hendricks escapes with the codes and the team pursues him to Mumbai where he links up with a satellite to launch a missile at the US.  The action is non-stop with amazing stunts by Hunt as he scales the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  The film features two locations where I have traveled on business --- Dubai and Mumbai --- which added to my enjoyment.  Visit the official site for more information and previews.

This film is rated a

Your assignment, should you accept it, is to see this  latest  installment in the series.