Thoughts on the Sandy Hook tragedy and its aftermath

I’ve said I’m going to weigh in on the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (and the Lone Star College-North Harris shooting which received additional press as a result of its timing), and I am. Instead of citing a news article like I usually do, I’m going to cite Wikipedia’s article about the Sandy Hook shooting since I’m pretty sure it’ll be around long after whatever link rot usually hits the online news articles I cite.

In summary, where we are at two months later: a ban on so-called “assault weapons” has been proposed. For a while, it was impossible to avoid news coverage relating to proposed changes to firearms regulations. Meanwhile, the coverage related to what we’re going to do about mental health issues as a society is near zero.

First, just to be sure we are clear: I vehemently condemn this senseless act of violence. I don’t know what the shooter was thinking, and none of us probably ever will. But I don’t want the Sandy Hook kids to have died in vain, thus the rest of this post.

I believe gun control in general to be a dubious concept. “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” is more true than most people would like to think. There are certainly ways for the next Sandy Hook shooter intent upon causing death and destruction, from my old favorite the potato cannon all the way down to domestic improvised explosive devices (IEDs) made with chemicals purchased at hardware stores and model rocketry supply stores.

Really, you can background check, fingerprint, retina scan, DNA sample, urine sample, and psychologically examine all you want, but in the end, those who want to will still find ways to buy either pre-assembled tools of terror or the components to assemble such a device of disturbance. The hobbyist horticulturists in our society will certainly take a dim view of requiring a background check and another license to buy fertilizer.

I’m also against more ridiculous regulations on the video game industry. Getting rid of violent video games completely wouldn’t stop this (not that anyone is advocating this, of course). If nothing else, violent games can always be released as free software for computers over the Internet, and there are huge First Amendment issues from trying to stop such a release. Other attempts to restrict video games by content have already been ruled as against the First Amendment. (This is another reason I really don’t do proprietary console games anymore, as game console makers such as Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft use Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) in an attempt to maintain control over what games can play on their respective consoles. It is impossible today to release a game to play on an unmodified game console without having it appoved by that console’s manufacturer, and usually “mod chipping” a console voids the warranty at minimum and can cause problems playing legitimate games.)

Mental health shouldn’t have the stigma that it does. This is part of the problem and getting rid of the stigma behind a diagnosis and/or getting help for mental illness needs to be part of the solution. We also need to re-examine mental health care and make sure those who need help can get it.

(I’m sorry this took so long to get written and posted, but I feel the issue is still timely as the debate is still ongoing.)

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and its ticket prices

A recent entry in the Houston Press blog Art Attack takes a very dim view of the admission fees at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The post begins with a commentary about the (mis)adventure of artist Payam Sharifi, originally from Houston but now based in Paris, France:

Recently, when Sharifi arrived at one of the museum’s special exhibitions, he paid $18, a typical fee for one of MFAH’s ticketed shows. When he wanted to see another temporary exhibit, he was asked to fork over an additional $18.

“I said, ‘Are you serious? You don’t offer a combo ticket?’ They said ‘no’ and I had to pay $36, more than the equivalent at the Louvre, MoMA [New York’s Museum of Modern Art] or any other museum that I can recall,” says Sharifi.

The Louvre’s combination ticket, which includes access to permanent collections and temporary exhibits, costs approximately $20. MoMA’s $25 price tag, instituted in September 2011, includes admission to special exhibitions, audio programs, films and gallery talks.

Why would that be? Let’s dig a little deeper.

One reason the Louvre in particular is able to charge a low rate is that the French government, at least as recently as 2008, supplies a little over half of the museum’s budget (US$180 million of US$350 million). New York’s Museum of Modern Art is not dependent on government funding at all, but maintains a budget with around US$155 million in expenses in 2011 with slightly more in revenue (see page 18). MFAH‘s budget is a paltry $52 million.

There’s also visitor count to consider. The Louvre attracts about 5.5 million visitors per year, and is the most visited museum in the world. MoMA gets 2.5 million visitors per year. MFAH gets only 2 million, and it’s unclear how many of those qualify for free general admission: everyone visiting on Thursday (supported by a grant), children under 5, and library card holders aged 6 to 18.

At first glance, I’m surprised the ticket prices aren’t even higher at MFAH; intuition tells me there’s probably more to it, as building upkeep, labor, and general expenses involved in running a museum can’t possibly be more expensive here, in general, than they are in NYC or Paris.

It’s possible MFAH could find a way to lower ticket prices, but it’s a topic on which I’d have to do a lot more research to do for a typical post on this blog. I’d certainly like to see it happen, if only to see fewer posts of this sort from local journalists and bloggers. Houston’s flagship arts museum should not be more expensive than the Louvre and for it to be so jeopardizes Houston’s standing as a regional culture center.

…and back up again

My apologies for the recent downtime and delay of the posts I had planned to make. The blog (along with my other sites) may go down again briefly before the end of the month but I should have everything stable by March.

Hopefully I’ll have time to make at least one or two brief posts tomorrow while I have Internet access. The now overdue wrap-up post about the WordCamp Houston scholarship (which has now been awarded) is still on the agenda, but I may not finish it until the middle of the month.

I had also planned originally to weigh in on the Sandy Hook shooting; since that tragic event, there has been another shooting incident right here in Houston at Lone Star College, which primarily due to its timing also made national headlines. Both the shooting and its resultant press coverage do affect my viewpoint, and indeed the press coverage of what ordinarily would not make national headlines may be worth a separate post in and of itself. I haven’t decided how I’m going to approach this, I may do a multi-part series or something.

I do plan to return to a somewhat regular posting schedule. I’m not happy about the circumstances which have led to not being able to even keep my sites online; indeed, that’s been the least of my problems until recently.