Thursday, December 31, 2009

Keeping score

Domestic terror scorecard, 2009:

April 4 - Responding to a domestic disturbance call at the home of Richard Poplawski, Pittsburgh police officers Paul Sciullo, Stephen Mayhle and Eric Kelly are shot and killed. The heavily-armed Poplawski says he fears "the Obama gun ban that's on the way."

May 31 - Dr. George Tiller is killed in the vestibule of his church in Wichita, Kansas. The gunman is Scott Roeder, who has ties to radical Christian clerics and the terrorist organization Operation Rescue.

June 10 - White supremacist James von Brunn opens fire at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., killing security guard Stephen T. Johns.

December 25 - Umar Abdulmutallab attempts to set off an explosion on a Delta plane landing in Detroit. The al-Qaeda wannabe succeeds only in setting his underpants on fire.

We're winning the war on terror.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Eyes not shot

It's December 24, and that cable channel has already begun its marathon showing of A Christmas Story, the film which has become our Official Holiday Classic in the twenty-odd years since its unheralded release. I am always a little surprised that the National Rifle Association doesn't protest its subtly anti-gun message, pointing to twelve showings in twenty-four hours as proof of sinister socialist-liberal indoctrination. Maybe it's too subtle for the gun lobby, which tends to see the world in primary colors, like a target. But their stated belief that only private gun ownership will keep us safe and free is embodied in Ralphie Parker's fantasy of protecting his family from burglars with a Red Ryder BB gun. Of course, he gets the gun at last, and the first time he pulls the trigger, he manages to shoot himself in the face. He also breaks his glasses and has to pacify his mother with phony tears and an outrageous lie. Far from making him safe or free, the gun has made him Glenn Beck.

Ralphie is the fictional version of Jean Shepherd, the writer and radio genius who died in 1999. (That's him in the department store sequence, directing Ralphie to the end of the Santa line.) Shepherd cultivated the image of a man's man -- amateur pilot, car expert, sport fisherman, ham radio enthusiast, and a proud member of the Playboy family of writers. But I cannot remember hearing him talk about hunting or target shooting. All his stories of guns and fireworks are set in the Indiana of his childhood. It is not clear what Shepherd's army experiences were, or why he was discharged in 1944, but he seems to have lost his taste for shooting things and blowing things up.

Part of A Christmas Story's appeal is its ruefulness about getting what you want, only to have it bring you within an inch, literally, of irreversible disaster. In a few hours, all over America, real Ralphies will unwrap real guns under the tree. A small percentage of them may be tempted to aim them at bullies, or girls, or the teacher who gives too much homework. So perhaps it's not a bad things if, while they open their gifts, the TV in the corner chants, "You'll shoot your eye out, you'll shoot your eye out."

Merry Christmas, gang.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tiger, by the tail

Don't worry, this won't be another series of dumb jokes about Tiger Woods and his putts/putz. Here at the Sky, we take the sober, historical view. And we haven't noticed anyone else even suggesting that there is a racial component to America's latest obsession. (Maybe on the right bank of Blogenheim, but who goes there?) In America, race is what the sociologists call a "master status," an immutable category of definition, and there are only two races, white and not-white. Mr. Woods, for all his rainbow ancestry, is distinctly not-white, and every day his name is linked with another woman of the sort the media describe as "Nordic blondes," including, of course, his wife. Deep beneath the surface, unheard but felt like the pedal tone of an organ, is the ancient theme of "oversexed black man coming for 'our' white women." Even worse, the white women are clearly meeting him better than halfway. We're back at the turn of the twentieth century with Jack Johnson, who was blacker than Woods and far scarier -- a heavyweight boxer instead of a golfer. Johnson was eventually prosecuted under the Mann Act, which, like all sexual-transgression laws, is applied selectively to Enemies of the Establishment (like Charlie Chaplin). Tiger Woods will not meet a similar fate; eventually, he will be forgiven, especially if he returns to pre-surgery form and resumes winning major tournaments. His fate in the meantime will be more like that of Sammy Davis, Jr., who married a Swedish actress in the 1960s -- lost professional opportunities and the occasional death threat. After all, we can't impeach him.

And having drawn Bill Clinton into the mix, I will go ahead and suggest that Tiger Woods is feeling extra heat because he is a stand-in for Barack Obama, another not-white man of mixed ancestry. Obama has all the personal discipline that Clinton conspicuously lacked, cigarettes being the only vice he permits himself. Clinton was called "the first black president," not because he had African ancestors but because the unbelievable shit-storm of hate he experienced from the day of his election was indistinguishable from racism. Many Americans recognized that he was being accused of all the traditional black crimes -- rape, murder, drug dealing -- and that his impeachment was a political lynching. (Lynchings almost always involved a sexual crime, real or imaginary.) Obama attracts similar hate just by being not-white -- he knows what would happen if he ever did anything besides look. The Democrats in the House would be standing in line to impeach him, their customary spinelessness remedied by the rigidity of righteous outrage.

A man can look, though...