White House readies gun-control plan as more children laid to rest

The White House revealed the first steps of a gun-control plan on Wednesday as the United States grieved for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in another wave of funerals.

President Barack Obama's initiative addressed national outrage over the shootings in Connecticut, which prompted longtime gun-rights supporters to reconsider their positions and a major private equity to put its gunmaking business up for sale.

The funerals scheduled for Wednesday included those of four children, a teacher and the principal of the school stormed by 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza on Friday. After killing his mother at home, Lanza drove to the school and used a semi-automatic assault rifle to kill 20 children and six women.

Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead an effort to craft policies to reduce gun violence. Specific steps Biden recommends will be unveiled in Obama's State of the Union address, which is typically given towards the end of January, bu t Obama indicated some priorities.

“We're going to need making access to mental health at least as easy as access to a gun,” Obama told reporters.

He said he hoped the powerful gun-industry lobby, the National Rifle Association, would reflect on the tragedy as it anticipates Biden's recommendations.

“The vast majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war,” Obama said.

Biden's leadership of the task force was applauded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a long-time gun control advocate, who urged immediate steps such as appointing a new director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, a federal crackdown on illegal gun purchases, and the lifting a federal gag order that keeps the public in the dark about gun traffickers.

“The task force must move quickly with its work, as 34 Americans will be murdered with guns every day that passes without common sense reforms to our laws,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

The massacre of so many children in Connecticut, all of whom were just 6 or 7 years old, shocked the United States and the world and renewed debate over gun control in a nation where the right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution and fiercely defended by many.

Around the globe, newspaper editorials from the Philippines to South Africa urged U.S. gun-control efforts and said they were long overdue.

“It takes no great deductive genius to understand the link: a violent individual with a gun will be more able to kill, and can kill more people, than a violent individual without a gun. Elsewhere in the world, tighter gun laws have been shown to save lives,” said an editorial in the Indian newspaper, The Hindu.

After the shooting spree at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, Lanza killed himself.

The family of the school's slain principal, Dawn Hochsprung, invited mourners to visit at a local funeral home on Wednesday afternoon, though her burial was due to be private at an undisclosed time.

Another of the teachers, Victoria Soto, was among those to be buried on Wednesday.

At the funeral of Daniel Barden, 7, a bagpipe played “America the Beautiful” as hundreds of police officers and firefighters, some from New York City and distant towns, lined the driveway outside the service. The little boy loved his family, riding waves at the beach, playing drums, foosball, reading, and making s'mores around a bonfire at his grandfather's house, said an obituary in the Newtown Bee newspaper.

Funerals also were scheduled for Charlotte Bacon and Caroline Previdi, both 6, and Chase Kowalski, 7.

Across the nation, Americans joined Newtown's grieving, one woman traveling from Iowa to bake and deliver apple pies to residents, another woman from outside Albany, New York, posting daily to Facebook the latest of 26 watercolor flower paintings she is creating, each with a different victim's name.

“I wanted to memorialize the victims,” said artist Pamela Hollinde, 60, of Delmar, New York, who also substitute teaches at an elementary school. “In a way, it's therapy for me too. I'm having a difficult time. Our students are our kids too.”

While most students in Newtown were back at school on Wednesday, the surviving children from Sandy Hook Elementary stayed home as school authorities made plans to relocate to a different location – the unused Chalk Hill School in nearby Monroe – when classes resume in January after the winter break.

The impact of the shooting was felt in the business world on Tuesday when private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP said it would sell its investment in the company that makes the AR-15-type Bushmaster rifle that was used by Lanza.

The NRA gun lobby broke its silence on Tuesday for the first time since the shootings, saying it was “prepared to offer meaningful contributions” to prevent such massacres. A news conference was called for Friday.

The massacre prompted some Republican lawmakers to open the door to a national debate about gun control, a small sign of easing in Washington's entrenched reluctance to seriously consider new federal restrictions.

Jamie Sneider’s ‘Jewish Woman’ ain’t your bubbe’s 2009 calendar [VIDEO]

Jamie Sneider's calendar, the video

Cheesecake might be a crowd-pleaser when it comes to desserts, but for calendars the appeal is slightly more limited.

The trend that started with barely there pinups in World War II has become so acceptable in recent years that it's served as a fundraising vehicle for various charities, inspiring the PG-13 film, “Calendar Girls.” These racy, tongue-in-cheek calendars are also an inspiration for Jamie Sneider, whose photos appear on every page of the “Jamie Sneider: Year of the Jewish Woman” calendar for 2009.

Most of the photos feature Sneider, dressed in bikini bottoms, swapping her top for matzah balls, challahs, bagels, black-and-white cookies and other culinary Jewish favorites. In addition to filled champagne flutes for New Year's Day and Chinese takeout boxes and movie popcorn for Christmas, the calendar also takes an irreverent approach to the Jewish holidays, including Tu B'Shevat (two seedlings) and a strategically placed etrog and lulav for Sukkot.

“I wanted to celebrate the Jewish woman in a way that we might not think of her, but to also celebrate the religion in a unique way … and to get a couple chuckles,” Sneider said.

In contrast to Hollywood producer Adam Cohen's “Nice Jewish Guys 2009,” featuring marriageable professionals with their clothes on, Sneider doesn't portray a nice Jewish gal as much as she does a nice Jewish stripper. Still, the for-profit calendar and its more than 60 images were carefully planned to assure the accuracy of each religious reference.

“Even though it's a comedic calendar, it could not be amateur. It had to look professional and beautiful,” she said.

The total cost to produce 1,000 calendars and several posters — $18,000.

The money was a family investment, she said. Her parents were a little surprised but were ultimately happy that Sneider “was getting back into [her] religion in a unique way.”

Unique is definitely the word. The month of March features a classic Purim charm: two groggers and a poppyseed hamantaschen that requires a double-take. April offers Sneider as human seder plate with a sexually provocative question for the second night: “Guess where I hid the afikomen?”

The calendar also includes Hebrew dates, religious holidays (some secular included), a glossary of Jewish terminology and the weekly Torah portion.

A native of Wayland, Mass., Sneider isn't just skin, bones and baked goods. She earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts with honors from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts at the Experimental Theatre Wing, has worked as an actress for “Late Night With Conan O'Brien” and performed solo shows throughout New York City.

Shortly before leaving New York, she started a humor blog, Reluctantly Moving to L.A., which she still maintains, even though she now resides happily in Los Angeles.

The blog was actually the starting point for the calendar, Sneider said. After receiving an overwhelmingly positive response to her photos, she decided to make her idea a reality. Since the release of her calendar in mid-October, Sneider has made a television appearance on the KTLA “Morning Show” and done a radio interview on Sirus' Playboy Radio channel.

Although “Jewish Woman” will undoubtedly offend people, Sneider doesn't think it crosses a sacrilegious line.

“We only used symbols of celebration as opposed to religious items for the photo shoots. If anything, it's an ode to my religion and completely expresses my love of Judaism,” Sneider said. “Hopefully, this calendar can encourage people to express their identity more openly.”

For more information about the “Jamie Sneider: Year of the Jewish Woman,” visit

After 40, it’s all maintenance

The other day at the gym, the teacher sent us to the wall for a set of standing push-ups.

“Place your hands on the wall at breast level,” she instructed.

I placed my hands on the wall at breast level. I saw that my hands were headed for the Gulf of Mexico.

“How did this happen?” I asked, sorrow catching in my throat.

“You know what they say,” said my neighbor. “After 40, it’s all maintenance.”

I gritted my teeth and performed three grueling sets of push-ups, determined to show that my strength and agility were not sliding nearly as fast as some of the rest of me. I did not cheat, exactly. I leveled the playing field, so to speak, by sliding my hands north on the wall closer to California, where the rest of my body lives. This made the push-ups much easier to complete. Besides, the true pain of the exercise was realizing that my 40th birthday had passed a few years ago, which meant I was overdue for some desperately needed deferred maintenance.

Back home, my first corrective measure was fishing out a catalog of women’s sports clothing. This catalog sold bras for every possible shape and fitness need. Sure enough, I found a model designed by a researcher in New Zealand who had a doctorate in Newtonian physics.

This great humanitarian had created a bra for women just like me: past our “best by” date for the cheerleading squad, but far too early for the shuffleboard squad. The researcher had actually attached sensors and electrodes to women as they jogged to determine how much retro-fitting they’d need to stay in their cups.

The bra was called “Stand and Deliver,” and I paid extra to have it shipped to me overnight.

When I heard the telltale diesel-chugging of the UPS truck on my block the following day, I ran to the door.

“Must be something special in there,” our friendly UPS man said, observing my rapid-response signature.

“Uh, yeah, the rat glue traps finally arrived,” I said. “No matter what we do, we just can’t seem to get rid of those rodents. I know this will do the trick.”
“Totally understandable. Well, I hope it works!”

“You and me both!” I waved goodbye.

When I looked at myself in the mirror wearing my new suspension rigging, I was amazed at what a little retrofitting could do for me. And I felt ashamed at my utter disdain for science classes back in high school. Had I only known how much I would benefit from a close study of Newtonian physics and its application to my ability to perform wall push-ups, I would have paid more attention in class.

My new bra was not the sexiest-looking underwire garment to have ever left the shores of Macau. It had an uncanny resemblance to building scaffolding, but I didn’t care. I had found it easily enough, which meant I was not a “problem fit” who would require the services of one of the nation’s leading bra-sizing consultants. (This was not the case for my friend Gerry, who one evening admitted to me, after a few glasses of wine, that she had been measured for a new bra with a carpenter’s level.)

I feel vindicated that Stage 1 of my deferred maintenance program has had such striking results. A neighbor stopped me the other day, looked at me quizzically and said, “Something’s different about you, I can tell. Wait, don’t tell me: I bet you finally got rid of those rodents!”

I admit that my success has had its limitations. Walking past Victoria’s Secret, that bastion of female object glorification, remains a painful experience, but at least now I do so holding my head (and my mammaries) a little higher and feeling younger. I have no doubt that Victoria’s skinny models may look better in a push-up bra than I do, but those scrawny arms of theirs will be their undoing in a contest with me for wall push-ups. With my greater musculature, I will leave them in the dust, and enjoy every thrilling minute of it.

There is more program work to be done, and my next target will be a re-evaluation of my skin care routine. Doing research online, I found a “face bra” that promises anti-aging miracles. However, this requires that I first soak the device in various solutions and pastes and be willing to wear it wrapped around my face like an Egyptian mummy for four hours a day, thereby feeling like an idiot. Fortunately, I am neither so old that I require such desperate measures, nor so young that I will fall for this kind of consumer sucker-punch.

For now, I’m happy to resume my wall push-ups, placing my hands right where they ought to be.

Judy Gruen writes the popular “Off My Noodle” column at judygruen.com. Her next book, “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement,” will be published in May.

Ready, Aim, Birthday!

It’s not every day that I am E-vited to a birthday party promising to feature live ammunition. Excitedly, I E-sponded with a resounding “yes.”

Paula was throwing a Wild West-themed shindig for her husband Bill’s birthday. It was a “BYOF” (Bring Your Own Firearm) affair.

“Don’t worry,” Paula said. “Dale and Pete are bringing extra guns and they’re willing to share.”

After my husband and I signed a long, pesky agreement at the counter, I saw Paula, Bill and our friends firing away. I tried to bolt for the range, but the guy at the counter pointed to a pile of earmuffs and said, “Hey! You’re going to need a pair of these.”

I slapped a set over my head, and when I finally got onto the range I immediately jumped in terror at the sheer decibel level of a dozen guns going off at once.

Our friends greeted us, and the birthday boy, sporting a .38 caliber, was grinning from ear to ear. He seemed to be saying something, but I couldn’t hear anything other than the rat-a-tat-tat of live ammo just a few feet away.

I had never known that Dale and Pete were marksmen, nor that Dale’s wife, Nancy, a sweet mother of two who might weigh 95 pounds wearing a dress of sand, could make Swiss cheese out of a target within 100 feet.

Dale showed me how to hold, load and aim his .38. He clipped a fresh target paper on a reel and sent it back about 15 feet. The target featured a masked gunman holding a hostage.

“OK now, that guy with the gun has just broken into your house,” Dale said. “The hostage is one of your kids. Go get him.”

That was all I needed to hear. I took aim, fired and shot off a hunk of the ceiling. A lot of good I’d do in an emergency.

I aimed again, lower this time, and got about two zip codes closer. By the time my turn was up, I had clipped the dirtbag’s shoulder and right knee. It was progress.

I stepped back to let my husband have a go at it, but I was eager for my next turn so I could focus on my target. In the meantime, Paula sidled over to me.

“I hate guns,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m doing this at all.”

“Love can make you do strange and terrible things,” I yelled, since our earmuffs made normal conversation impossible.

“I’m just waiting for the pizza and beer part. That’ll be a lot more fun,” she promised.

I wasn’t sure about that. I was itching to try Dale’s shotgun, which he soon put into my newly gunpowder-stained hands.

“Geez, this is heavy,” I said. “Someone could really get hurt with this thing.”

“That’s the idea. Now let’s have another go at the bad guy,” Dale said, clipping a new target on the reel and helped me position the gun against my shoulder.

“Watch out for the recoil,” he warned.

I steadied the gun, aimed and fired. The recoil was terrific, instantly bruising my shoulder. Amazingly, I got within the target, and my friends applauded and hollered. I began to turn to take a bow but Dale screamed, “Don’t turn the shotgun! Put that thing down!”

I put the gun down carefully, took my bow and resumed firing.

Our kids joined us at the pizza party after, where I proudly showed off my bullet-ridden target paper to the oldest teens.

“Your mom’s a good shot,” Dale warned them. “Better keep your room clean.”

I’m thinking of going back to the range for a couple shooting classes, to give me that euphoric rush that grocery shopping seldom delivers. Maybe, for my midlife crisis, instead of entering a deep depression, I’ll join the NRA and move to a state that allows you to carry a concealed weapon. No one will know why I will have a smirky “make my day” expression. But I’ll owe it all to Paula and her E-vite to Big Bill’s Birthday Blast.

Judy Gruen is the author of two award-winning humor books. Read more of her columns on www.judygruen.com.