Breaking The Leg – “Ain’t Misbehavin'” By Theatre Tuscaloosa

This is what happens when I let myself get super behind on posts. I thought I posted this on Sunday. Now I feel awful because I missed informing people about this show for two performances. Boo me. And my apologies.

“Ain’t Misbehavin'” ain’t exactly your standard musical fare.

Produced by Theatre Tuscaloosa, and directed by Tina F. Turley, “Ain’t Misbehavin'” is set up during what seems to be the Harlem Renaissance. Set up like a big band show, it’s less of a musical and more of what’s advertized (finally, truth in advertizement), a “musical show.” Specifically, it’s the “Fats Waller musical show,” Waller being a jazz musician in the early 1900s. The show is a musical revue that, unlike a jukebox musical, doesn’t try to tell a story. Instead, it’s simply two acts of swingin’ song and dance.

That’s not to say there’s no acting involved. This isn’t your “American Idol,” stand at the microphone and sing affair (though it happens a few times, often for comedic effect). The actors in the show, Erika Evans, Alyssa Grubbs, Myiesha J. Duff, Will Travis and Willie Williams, play no characters, instead coming out to sing and dance to Waller tunes. In those tunes, however, they often take on certain characteristics, acting out the lyrics, which often leads to the women being competitive divas and the men being your stereotypical tail chasers.

The set, designed by Jameson Sanford, is simple and effective, capable of glamor and setting the mood while leaving enough room for the actors to dance the intense and what looks to be sometimes quite difficult choreography by Nick Rashad Burroughs. All the actors make it look simple, though, floating through their songs with power, grace and ease.

Again, there’s no plot to describe, no characters to really judge… it’s simply a couple of hours of good, fun song and dance. From fast-stepping jazz to slower, somber emotional harmonies. If you like music and dance, I’d say it’s worth your while.

The show runs Wednesday and Sunday at 2 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Bean-Brown Theatre at Shelton State Community College. Go watch it and let yourself fall back into a time and place too many have forgotten through some very nice musical numbers.

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Spice Up Your Life – Tuscaloosa Chili Cookoff

I can’t believe I’ve lived in Tuscaloosa for nearly 7 years and didn’t know about the annual chili cookoff. Well, this year, I plan to make a big splash.

Today is the 12th annual Asses of Fire chili cookoff, sponsored by WellThat’ and hosted by Egan’s Bar, located on the Strip. Registration starts at 2 p.m. and ends at 3:45, with judging to begin at 4:15. Now, in my opinion, if you haven’t already made your chili, you’re a bit late for that… though I suppose you might have time to squeeze out a fresh pot before then. I like to let mine sit. I finished cooking my two chilies on Tuesday and am reheating them now to do final taste tests and manipulations. You can enter as many chilies as you like, but can only win once, and I think most that know how I cook chili know which two I’ll be entering… with some slight twists.

Anyway, even if you don’t have a chili to submit for the contest itself, you can still come and partake of the eating of it. Those that submit chili eat for free, but for only $5, you can have all the chili you can eat/all the chili that’s actually there, though chili is a thick, filling food so I don’t expect people to come back for fifths and sixths. Egan’s will also be running drink specials all day… which might be helpful for downing some of the more intensely spicy chilies.

If you’d like to try out some chili or have your own to throw in the pot, come to Egan’s. But be warned… I plan on my chilies doing rather well. Hopefully. …it’d certainly be nice, at least. And I plan on bringing some extra hot sauce if anyone really wants their tongues to be yowling in pain.

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Breaking The Leg – “Design For Living” By UATD

A threesome never really seemed like a British affair to me. I suppose after hearing about the love triangles of Shakespeare, both in real life and suggested in plays, I assumed they all would end in sadness, regret and very often violent death. But Noël Coward has another answer.

“Design for Living” is a three-act play written by Coward in his style of very witty and sharp dialogue and quick comedy… but it doesn’t start off that way. Instead of ending with the tragedy, Coward proposes to begin with it. The play, put on by the University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance at the Allen Bales Theatre in the Rowand-Johnson Building and directed by Jimmy Kontos, runs for two more showings: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $10.

The play starts with Gilda (Bridget Winder) at home in Paris, having a discussion with her art dealer friend Ernest (Jeff Horger). During their conversation, she tells Ernest that her partner Otto (Thaddeus Fitzpatrick) is asleep and not to be disturbed. He tells her that a former good friend of hers, and former lover of Otto, Leo (Adam Vanek) has come to Paris, riding on the coattails of success. Gilda’s tale unravels slightly when Otto walks in through the door. Ernest, adding things up, leaves Otto to discuss things with Gilda. When she convinces him to go and visit Leo at the Ritz, Leo exits from her bedroom and they discuss how they should break news of this affair to him, as they both love him. When he returns and the truth of the matter is laid out, Otto storms out in anger, denouncing both.

A year later, in London, a familiar scene plays out, but with different players. This time, Leo and Gilda are living together. Leo is quite successful writing plays, but the success is wearing on both of them somewhat. When Leo ends up going away for a weekend and Otto arrives unexpectedly, history decides to repeat itself, though with a slightly more amicable ending for Otto and Leo. Gilda, however, abandons them both, only to be found two years later married to Ernest and living in New York.

First, I’ll go ahead and warn that the play is a bit long. This is the first play that I can recall, particularly at UA, that has two intermissions. It runs, with the intermissions, at about 2 and a half hours. And it is perhaps a bit slow to warm up into the comedy, particularly. The first act is mostly quite dramatic, and a bit heartbreaking and sad if you let it be. But it sets up the second act well. The second act also sees the inclusion of a maid, Miss Hodge (Brittany Steelhammer), who quite easily steals most of the comedy for herself.

By the third act, however, the play has firmly settled into its comic elements. Not to say comedy was entirely absent before, it simply comes out full-force in the ending. And the casting certainly helps. Fitzpatrick is one of the most entertaining people I have ever seen on stage, and I mean that completely in earnest and without hyperbole. And the ease with which each of the three primary actors work together and against one another leads to some very good drama and some even better comedy, particularly when Fitzpatrick and Vanek are onstage by themselves.

It is, I think, a solid play with excellent performances all around and humorous details that are just as entertaining as the punchlines. (Benjamin Mitchell’s stint as the servant Matthew, for example, has a particularly wonderful moment when serving coffee.) And the reactions from Gilda’s company in the third act, Henry Carver (Jay Jurden), Helen Carver (Kelly Barberito) and Grace Torrence (Tara Lynn Steele) were fantastic and clearly not skimped over, which too many productions tend to do. The set by Ian Mangum was simple yet quite effective, and the costumes, designed by Randy Hozian, very clearly helped identify the successes and comforts of the characters.

If you have the time, and enjoy being worked from giggle to guffaw, go see the show. It’s quite worth it.

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Breaking The Leg – “Coriolanus” By Improbable Fictions

Theatre season in Tuscaloosa is kicking into high gear in February, with several shows opening quite close to one another. I’ll try to see and write about all the shows that I know of, but today, I’m just going to talk about one show I won’t be able to see. Mostly because I’m in it.

Improbable Fictions is putting on a free staged reading of one of Shakespeare’s perhaps lesser known plays, “Coriolanus.” The Facebook event can be found here, and tickets can be reserved on this website. We’re having people get tickets since seating is limited.

“Coriolanus” focuses on a Roman soldier, Caius Martius. Martius is very stubborn and proud, and strongly supports the order of governance: Nobility, via senators and consul, rule the commoners. After a victorious battle in the city of Corioli, won almost single-handedly by Martius, he is given the name Coriolanus to mark his victory. Still, as a soldier and a brash man that refuses to play politics or not speak his mind, Coriolanus finds himself with many enemies.

I like to think of this play as almost in complete opposite to “Hamlet.” In “Hamlet,” Prince Hamlet is fighting conflicts internally throughout the entire show, constantly soliloquizing to the audience and revealing his mind to them. Externally, he often commits to non-action. Coriolanus, on the other hand, very rarely speaks to the audience, closing his mind to them. He is a soldier and fights his wars physically, refusing to even do the sneaky underhanded shadowy games political success requires. He speaks his mind without filter, though the inner thoughts are often closed away.

I really like this play. Not just because I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to play as Coriolanus, my first definitively leading role… I think the play has a surprising amount of emotion attached, surprising because you don’t expect it when it hits you. Politically, it has some interesting ideas presented as well.

Anyway, it’s a totally free show, and I think it’s good to support art when possible. If you’re in Tuscaloosa or Northport, come see us perform “Coriolanus” tonight and tomorrow night at the Kentuck Georgine Clarke Building at 7:30 both nights. Please don’t forget to reserve a ticket, too. I hope to see you there.

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Big Screen Ballyhoo – “The Pirates! Band Of Misfits”

As I continue to watch movies in my efforts to see at least 50 percent of the Oscars list, I suppose I was bound to eventually find a movie that was only just okay. Not bad, sorta fun, but nothing special.

This time, that movie is “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.” Nominated for Best Animated Film, this is one of the two films, along with “ParaNorman,” nominated for the Oscar that wasn’t also nominated for the equivalent Golden Globe. Take that as you will. The movie was directed by Peter Lord, which makes sense since he’s the co-founder of the production company, Aardman Animations, the company that brought you “Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” “Chicken Run” and “Flushed Away.”

The movie focuses on a ragtag group of misfit pirates lead by The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant). While they’re not really particularly good at pirating, the crew absolutely adores their captain. After being embarrassed by other more monetarily successful pirates when attempting to enter the Pirate of the Year competition, The Pirate Captain and his crew go on a frenzy of unfortunately unsuccessful attempt to raid ships for their gold. Just when he was about to lose hope, he raids the ship of none other than Charles Darwin (David Tennant). Darwin, rightly recognizing The Pirate Captain’s “parrot” Polly as a once extinct dodo bird, attempts to convince The Pirate Captain to let him present it at the Scientist of the Year award. The Pirate Captain, intent on doing it himself and using the rewards he believes a victory would bring him to win the Pirate of the Year award.

This brings The Pirate Captain and his crew sailing into Victorian London, something that is immensely risky for the pirates as Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) has a nearly irrational vicious hatred for pirates. The crew goes anyway, staying at Darwin’s place. Darwin continues attempting to steal Polly with his trained chimp Mr. Bobo, but finds himself unable to do so, and only The Pirate Captain’s second in command Number Two (Martin Freeman) seems to notice what Darwin was up to.

As you should probably be able to guess, there are hijinks and laughs and people being gotten the better of. It’s not really anything new or exciting for a film, animated or otherwise. The story is pretty standard, though some of the jokes included are humorous the first go ’round, such as The Pirate Captain’s thought that the monsters drawn on maps actually exist in those spots.

The animation is just like the animation this studio has always done, a bit of choppy claymation that’s not bad, but nothing to really write home about either. I still think “The Nightmare Before Christmas” had some of the best claymation I’ve ever seen in film. The movie does star several well known voices other than the ones I’ve already mentioned, including Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Brian Blessed, Al Roker and Anton Yelchin. It does have some good scenery and some well-done animation in the gags, but the story is kind of weak and predictable. Still, it’s great as a family or kids movie. You could definitely do a lot worse.

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On Boy Scouts And Equality

I was a Boy Scout, once upon a long time ago. I did Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Made it to Second Class… failed the swim test twice. Not because I can’t swim, but the first time was in a lake where I couldn’t touch the ground and that always freaks me out and the second time I ate too much for breakfast. …feel I have to defend myself there. Anyway, when I switched high schools, I basically just stopped doing Boy Scouts, though I probably could have made it to Eagle without much of a problem. I had most of the requirements done.

Anyway, Boy Scouts was intended to help young boys become men with a certain set of skills and traits. A Boy Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

Nice traits to have, right? Not bad things, I think, and entirely independent of any religion or dogma. Unfortunately, despite those traits being independent of dogma, most of the Boy Scouts have aligned themselves with a conservative Christian viewpoint. What this has come to mean is, openly homosexual males are not allowed to be involved in the organization at all.

Well, the times, they are a’changin’, maybe.

Recently, with gay rights taking some big steps in both reality, such as the new states that have legalized gay marriage and the ending of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and symbolism, via President Barack Obama’s reference to gay rights in his inaugural address, things seem to have a bit of a forward momentum. Recently, that forward momentum hit the Boy Scouts of America and they’ve started considering dropping their ban on homosexuals.

But it’s not all good news for equality, of course. See, a large portion of Boy Scout Troops are sponsored by churches. Christian churches. Many of which have particular views about homosexuals and homosexuality. Views that are frankly often contrary both to Christianity and reality, but that’s a topic to rehash another time. Anyway, many of those churches are threatening to pull their sponsorship and funding if the Boy Scouts change their stance on homosexuals.

I just don’t get it. If you can show me once, just once, where Christ turned away a sinner and said, “No, I can’t be seen around you, I disapprove of the things you do,” I’ll eat my hat. Did he rebuke some sinners, like the Pharisees? Sure. But he also ate with sinners, mingled with them, talked to them, treated them as equals. Not as a separate species to be treated with disdain and derision.

If Christ walked among us today, it’s the conservative Christians that would have him crucified this go round. The Pharisees are back, and they just don’t like gay people.

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Sing, Sang, Sung – “I Miss You” By Blink-182

Well, it’s a one month “anniversary” for me. I say “anniversary” because an anniversary is by definition an annual thing. I’ve never understood why people started using it to just mark a passing amount of time. Just say, “It’s been ____ days/weeks/months.” It’s not too hard.

So, it’s been one month as of today. If I’m cryptic about what today marks a month of, well, I’m allowed to be so nyah. Anyway, because of this demarcation of time (which the dictionary tells me is an okay use of that word, so double nyah), I’ve ended up listening to an old mix CD someone gave me years ago. Yes, I know the hot new thing is apparently giving people playlists or something, but I like mix CDs. They’re much easier to make than mix tapes and more permanent than playlists or whatever. And super way easier than cutting a vinyl record, but would that be neat?

Well, songs and memories and blah blah emotional stuff trudged through… it’s really unfortunate to take a hindsight look at a time in your life and see more clearly what was going on… especially if you were happy at that time of your life. My suggestion: Don’t do it to yourself. Leave the past behind you, not just to move on from the crappy things but also to not overthink and perhaps ruin the good things. But, yeah, mix CDs are very often given for one of two reasons. One, you want someone to listen to this awesome music you think they’ll like. Genuinely, that’s what you want to do. Two, you’re sharing emotions with that person that the songs are meant to subtly suggest. Usually, they’re emotions about that person. Usually, it’s a way to discretely say you like them, a la “Mix Tape” from “Avenue Q” or most every mix tape in “High Fidelity.” Those tend to be the main reasons that I can think of.

So it sucks when you go back to a mix CD/tape/whatever and realize the person that gave it to you was talking about someone else.

Anyway… I still like some of the songs. This one brought me back to the CD… I can’t remember how, but I heard it somewhere in real life recently. I’m not exactly a Blink-182 fan, though I don’t necessarily dislike them. Either way, I think it’s a good song. Take what emotions from it you will.

“I Miss You” – Blink-182

(I miss you, I miss you)

Hello there, the angel from my nightmare
The shadow in the background of the morgue
The unsuspecting victim of darkness in the valley
We can live like Jack and Sally if we want
Where you can always find me
We’ll have Halloween on Christmas
And in the night we’ll wish this never ends
We’ll wish this never ends

(I miss you, I miss you)
(I miss you, I miss you)

Where are you and I’m so sorry
I cannot sleep I cannot dream tonight
I need somebody and always
This sick strange darkness
Comes creeping on so haunting every time
And as I stared I counted
Webs from all the spiders
Catching things and eating their insides
Like indecision to call you
And hear your voice of treason
Will you come home and stop this pain tonight
Stop this pain tonight

Don’t waste your time on me you’re already
The voice inside my head (I miss you, I miss you)
Don’t waste your time on me you’re already
The voice inside my head (I miss you, I miss you)

Don’t waste your time on me you’re already
The voice inside my head (I miss you, I miss you)
Don’t waste your time on me you’re already
The voice inside my head (I miss you, I miss you)

Don’t waste your time on me you’re already
The voice inside my head (I miss you, I miss you)
Don’t waste your time on me you’re already
The voice inside my head (I miss you, I miss you)

(I miss you, I miss you)
(I miss you, I miss you)
(I miss you, I miss you)
(I miss you, I miss you)

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Since When Did Graduation Require An Oath?

Do you remember graduating from high school?

I do, vaguely. I remember standing in a long line, then sitting for what seemed like forever while I waited for the “R” section of a graduating class of some 600-plus students to start up. Then I walked some more, shook a hand, grabbed a thing, walked, sat, and done. Oh, and I sang a couple times before all that.

What I don’t remember is having to take an oath. The only “oath” or “pledge” I recall being even remotely involved in high school was the Pledge of Allegiance, and I stopped saying that my senior year based on the fact that the pledge is false. We’re not a nation indivisible, under God, or one with liberty and justice for all. But the pledge wasn’t compulsory. My choice to not say it was perfectly within my rights.

So I admit I’m a little bit confused when I see that Arizona Republicans have apparently proposed a bill that would require high school graduates to take an oath in order to graduate.

The Loyalty Oath reads:

I, _______, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; So help me God.

So, not only is it compelling students to invoke God, clearly a Judeo-Christian reference that not every high school student will actually agree with, it’s also compelling students to, you know, take an oath. While stating in the oath, “I take this obligation freely.”

Except, no… no you don’t. You’re pretty much being blackmailed into taking the oath. You either take the oath or you don’t graduate. With 13 years of education leading you to that moment, a moment that’s practically required to actually get even close to a decent paycheck in America, there’s no way that’s not blackmail. Perhaps it’s not as blatantly malicious as most cases of blackmail, but it’s pretty bad.

And what’s the point of this oath anyway? To force kids to say something they may or may not actually be agreeing with because they really just want their diploma? This doesn’t help education in the least. Arizona remains on my list of worst legislations, continuing to throw education into the crapper and walk all over women’s rights. What a regrettable state.

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Copyright Law Needs To Change

Copyright law is one of the most convoluted, confusing and backwards things I can think of after the Alabama State Constitution and the United States Tax Code. Honestly, it makes little to no sense to me by and large. So, I’m going to end up talking in analogies and about what should be right/wrong.

If you haven’t heard, recently, musician Jonathan Coulton found himself unknowingly being featured on an episode of the inexplicable Fox TV hit “Glee.” Honestly, I’ve tried to watch the show and I just don’t get the appeal. Some of the songs are okay, but they’re always very obviously doctored, which is generally a big disappointment. Though I guess that’s what kids are into these days.

Anyway, when I say Coulton was unknowingly featured on an episode of “Glee,” specifically the episode called “Sadie Hawkins,” I mean that “Glee” yanked his arrangement of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s hit “Baby Got Back” without informing him or even crediting him at all. The song appeared on iTunes before it was shown on the episode, which is when this all started.

You can read Coulton’s story, as well as some Fox response, on “Wired.” For those that don’t want to read it, here’s the short story on what Fox said, according to Coulton: We’re within our legal rights to do this, this is our policy when it comes to covers of covers and you should be glad for the exposure (which is a load of bull because they’ve given no indication in any fashion that Coulton was involved in anything).

Now, here are the songs in question: First, listen to Coulton’s cover, which he did purchase a compulsory license to create. Interesting and very unique, right? Okay, now listen to “Glee”‘s version. Pretty much identical, right? They didn’t even change the lyrics that Coulton changed, such as “Johnny C’s in trouble.”

Now, according to Coulton and others, the law is very much a grey area when it comes to this sort of thing. And the law is already confusing enough in my opinion when it comes to creative works and copyright, so I’m going to invent a hypothetical similar situation.

Let’s say I’m part of some sketch comedy troupe, and I become very famous for a specific sketch. It’s an original sketch, people pretty much know me by it. Now, let’s say two people, Kid A and Kid B, decide to both do the sketch. Kid A asks me for permission to use and potentially alter the sketch, which I grant him, which was a nice thing for him to do for sure, potential legality aside. He then alters the sketch to fit his own personal humor, the audience and the place he’s performing the sketch at. He credits me whenever people unaware of the original sketch ask about it. He makes money off of this sketch.

Kid B was in the audience of one of Kid A’s performances. Kid B thinks it was great, so Kid B decides to do the same thing. And when I say the same thing, I mean almost exactly the same thing. He changes none of the words, none of the pacing and extremely little of the physical movements. He doesn’t ask Kid A, or even myself, for permission to do this.  He tells people unaware of the original sketch that I’m the originator, of course, but never mentions Kid A at all, in spite of much of Kid A’s material being original and unique. Kid B makes money off of this sketch.

Now, in that situation, Kid B might be legally within his rights. I don’t know, to be frank. But he shouldn’t be. No one should be allowed that type of blatant theft, be it from music or otherwise. To be honest, “Glee,” which was Kid B for those having trouble following along, may have payed for the rights to the original song to do a cover. But this isn’t a case of eerie similarities between two covers. This is intellectual theft, and unashamed theft at that. And it shouldn’t be allowed.

But while it is allowed, Coulton has made a cover of “Glee”‘s cover of his cover… If you buy Coulton’s “Baby Got Back (In the Style of Glee)” between now and the end of February, proceeds will go to charity. So, not only can you stick it to the megacoporation practically taking a dump on artists like Coulton, you can also do some good. I suggest looking into it.

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I Don’t Know That A Gun Ban Will Do Much Good

So, if you’ve read anything else I’ve written about gun control and gun control laws, you’ll know that I’m in favor of regulated gun ownership. Anything else simply doesn’t make any sort of sense to me at all. I can’t comprehend how people seem to support the idea of unadulterated gun ownership based simply on the idea that the Second Amendment says there’s a right to bear arms. The other rights are interpreted and regulated, why wouldn’t the Second Amendment be?

Anyway, that’s my opinion. The way to regulate guns sensibly and in a way to lessen gun violence is, admittedly, a sticky wicket with many several factors that exist beyond gun control. Education, poverty, the war on drugs, mental health… they’re all factors. But I do also think that there are sensible things, sensible limitations that can be made, sensible and simple steps that can be put into place to continue to help lessen gun violence and more easily apprehend those that commit crimes.

If you haven’t heard, Senator Dianne Feinstein has just introduced a new gun ban, an “assault weapons” ban, to Congress. It’s basically a rehash of the one from the 1990s that expired in the past 10 years or so, only it has more guns on it. But not to worry. The ban’s not going to take away anyone’s guns, even if they’re on the list. It’s just going to make the selling and manufacturing of those guns illegal. Not that you’d know from the hullabaloo upraised by gun rights people.

Still, if I’m going to be honest here, I don’t know that a gun ban will actually do much. While I do think that there are many guns and armaments that have absolutely no right being in the hands of a civilian population, nor any reason, a gun ban isn’t going to work well. Especially if it’s the only thing that’s going up to bat to lessen gun violence.

Gun violence is a sticky wicket, like I said. It has myriad sources and ways to wiggle around and survive. It’s an unkillable problem, sadly. Only in a world where guns didn’t exist would gun violence not exist, and we will almost surely never be in that world again.

While I can appreciate Sen. Feinstein’s efforts and the intentions behind her bringing the gun ban to the floor, reform cannot end there. It may possibly begin there, but I have a feeling the only beginning it will truly initiate is a conversation. That’s a good start, to be sure. But we need the conversation to be given by people with much calmer heads that won’t instantly jump to slippery slope analogies of Stalin and Hitler any time any law potentially curtailing someone’s ability to own a chainsaw slingshot is introduced into the conversation. And maybe we can stop dodging the problem by saying there are bigger ones and let’s forget this one. Yes. There are bigger problems, people dying more and more in other ways. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to fix this one as well. And who knows? If we can start doing damage to this problem, we may find some other problems (poverty, crime, drug trafficking, education) start to fix themselves.

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