Thursday, February 21, 2013

Arms and the Man, and the Boy

  "Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face—not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival." 

That's an excerpt from a fund-raising letter by Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, which received wide and wide-eyed attention last week.  The organization's response to the whispered phrase "gun control" is to scream "Guns compulsory!"  Anyway, they've never been accused of subtlety.

I'm confused.  On the one hand, the Government is huge, powerful, intrusive, and bent on controlling every aspect of our lives.  Paratroopers, Navy SEALs, UN helicopters and ATF agents are just over the horizon, awaiting Obama's order to haul us all off to FEMA camps for re-education and a punitive diet of organic broccoli and Dreams From My Father.  On the other hand, we are one bad storm away from hunkering down in our homes, fending off gangs of heavily armed "Latin American" zombie drug gangs.  Oh, and Hamas.

Well, which is it?  Tyranny or anarchy?  A two-minute flip through the dictionary tells us it can't be both.  Are we living in Airstrip One or some post-apocalyptic Weimar Republic?  Is Wayne ThePeter too dumb to see this giant contradiction?  Or is he hoping the recipients of his mail are too dumb?

Last week the world was stunned when Oskar Pistorius was arrested in South Africa for murdering his girlfriend.  Also last week, a four-year-old boy in the city of Memphis, Tennessee, got hold of his mother's  gun and killed himself.  His story was not reported nationally.  He was not a famous athlete or the son of a celebrity.  He was not part of a group of twenty.  He had not performed at the Inauguration.  He was just an ordinary little boy who is now a statistic.  There is a lot of crime in South Africa, and in Memphis.  In fact, just about anywhere there is poverty, there is crime.  Perhaps a loaded gun in the bedside table is not the answer to either problem.  Nobody is even talking about restricting access to handguns.  What would be the point?  So a child will not celebrate his fifth birthday, and a man the world admired has very likely thrown his life away.  "It's not paranoia to buy a gun.  It's survival."

For who?     


Monday, February 11, 2013

This is my rifle, this is my gun...

The US has some of the toughest laws in the world when it comes to child pornography.  Production, distribution or simple possession can be punished by years in prison followed by additional years of (probably unlawful) "civil commitment," until a psychiatrist deems the offender "cured" -- and all this in the event no other offense has been committed.  The Supreme Court has ruled that child pornography is not protected speech under the First Amendment, and I concur.  This society is so determined to protect children from exploitation that we deny them even basic sex education until relatively late in life, to preserve their supposed innocence. 

Which makes me wonder why it is so hard to pass laws which will reduce, even slightly, the likelihood of children being murdered.  No one dies from sexual exploitation, or even rape as such, but almost everyone dies from being shot in the head.  Is it a case of "better dead than violated"?  Or is it something much deeper, our cultural inability to cope with sexuality?  Which I happen to believe goes all the way back to our inheritance of monotheism.

Think about ancient Greece, and its polytheistic mythology.  The gods were just like people but more so -- generous, impulsive, sadistic, cruel, chaste, lascivious, merciful, vengeful, wise, silly, immensely powerful and immortal.  Zeus was proof that men are not naturally monogamous -- he would transform into a bull, a swan, whatever it took to couple with comely human maidens.  Apollo, Aphrodite, and others interacted with humanity, despite having official spouses on Mt. Olympus.  Then monotheism came along, offering a single deity who was perfect, male but sexless.  Yahweh was not permitted a consort, and now myth had no way to describe sexuality except to denounce it.  With Allah, things only got worse.  As for Jesus, remember the official outrage when that awful novel The DaVinci Code suggested he had married?  And unlike the others, he had a fully functional human body.

I apologize for being pretentious, but are we not the heirs of all this?  Lacking a divinely ordered outlet for sex, what are we left with but violence?  We have never really escaped the shadow of the Puritans, with their distilled hatred of the body and their inability to recognize "savages" as fully human.  Malcolm was right:  Violence is as American as cherry pie.  Sex is European (the new right-wing pejorative).

We adore violence.  It informs our language.  Someone who recently said we have "a shot" at restricting assault weapons was scolded for his choice of words, but I understood.  The American idiom is awash with ordnance.  "That big-shot from the home office is gunning for me, but I dodged a bullet.  The guy's a real loose cannon."  "I invited her to see that blockbuster movie, and she shot me down."  "Lincecum got shelled, but that new right-fielder has a rifle for an arm."  Violence informs our entertainment, our music, our literature, our thinking.  The iconic Christmas movie is no longer about a miser who learns charity, or an angel who gets his wings, but a nine-year-old who wants a BB gun.  And of course, our sports.

Remember the Super Bowl a few years ago?  In the middle of the half-time show, there was a momentary glimpse of a female nipple.  I thought the Republic would never recover.  Was it deliberate?  Was it a "wardrobe malfunction"?  Did the children see this terrible thing?  How can we talk to them about it?  Are they ruined forever?  Should someone go to prison?  How can we, as a nation, go on?  All right, back to the game.  Back to big men slamming into each other, sustaining brain injuries which will kill them before they're fifty.  Aaahhhhhhhh......And there you have it.  America, the nation of perpetual childhood and perpetual childishness.  A President is impeached over sex (and not very much of it).  A Vice-President shoots his friend in the face and it's just good fun, coupla guys confirming their manhood by blasting away at flightless quail bred to be slaughtered by gutless chicken-hawks. 

Maybe we deserve the numbing daily statistics, the drive-by shootings, the four-year-old who played with a gun, the scuffle at a party that turned into a killing, punctuated by the mass murders that bring out the solemn faces on the anchormen and cause gun sales to spike ("Obama's comin' to take yer guns!").  The truth is, we're nowhere near a "tipping point" yet, nor will we be as long as even liberals have to start every sentence by stating their devotion to the Second Amendment.  I say it's time that amendment went the way of "three-fifths of a man" and Prohibition.  People wrote it, and people can get rid of it.

Put up your guns, or shut up.  



Looking for Richards

This old Shakespeare hand got two nasty surprises last week.  First the dishonored remains of Richard III were discovered in a grave -- a hole really -- under what is now a parking lot.  The curvature of the spine was confirmed; the gaudy crimes attributed by Shakespeare could not be proved or disproved, of course.
I seem to recall a touching story about local monks taking charge of the dead king and giving him proper rites.  Well, brothers?  Anything to say? 

A few days later, on a PBS/BBC program called Shakespeare Uncovered, Derek Jacobi stated his belief that Richard II and other plays were written by Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford.  Say it ain't so, Derek!  Or to quote another play, "Et tu?"  Sir Derek echoed the familiar Victorian line that a Warwickshire bumpkin with a grammar school education "could not have" written these works.  But "could not have" is not an argument, it's an emotional response.  One might say the illegitimate son of a small-town notary "could not have" painted The Last Supper, or the son of a second-rate musician who spent his childhood traipsing around Europe instead of going to school "could not have" composed Don Giovanni, or an obscure German who didn't talk until he was six "could not have" changed the way we look at the universe.  Genius is ineffable.  It happens when and where it happens.  You of all people should know that, Derek. 

Goodness, I'm in a short-tempered mood this year.  If it was anyone but Jacobi, whom I've admired since I, Claudius...



I don't know which is more bizarre, the pope quitting or the pope giving two weeks' notice like any junior accountant in the Receivables Department.  Today's announcement comes only days after the abdication of the Queen of the Netherlands.  Whatever happened to leaving the job feet first, with a band playing Chopin's Funeral March?  I love a state funeral.  Anyway, there isn't much chance the new Dutch king or the new pope will represent much of a change in policy.  One will reign powerlessly over a liberal democracy and the other will continue trying to return to the Middle Ages.  I'm willing to be surprised.