In its second installment, Slate’s new must-read series If It Happened There — which covers US events like our media covers other countries — chronicles the end of Michael Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor. “Bloomberg has made no secret of his ambitions for higher office, though experts believe he has limited appeal in America’s less-developed but politically influential agricultural regions, where powerful armed groups have bristled at his suggestions for limiting their access to advanced weaponry and munitions.”
In a powerful and revealing essay for The New Yorker, college friend and former Mayors Against Illegal Guns manager Arkadi Gerney reveals his own personal gun story. “Every day, an average of thirty-three Americans are murdered with guns. Another fifty or so die in gun suicides and accidents. And another two hundred or so are shot and injured. That’s a lot of stories.”
“On June 26, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court embraced the National Rifle Association’s contention that the Second Amendment provides individuals with the right to take violent action against our government should it become ‘tyrannical.’ The following timeline catalogues incidents of insurrectionist violence (or the promotion of such violence) that have occurred since that decision was issued.“
An isolated incident in Arizona? Um, not so much. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence offers a troubling timeline of “insurrectionist” violence over the past several years. (But remember: It’s just a freak coincidence that this recent tragedy, and all the others listed above, happened after several years of the GOP purposefully stoking the crazy. Really, we’re all equally at fault, etc. etc. Also, damn shame about all the guns around.)
“The court’s five most conservative members have demonstrated that for all of Justice Antonin Scalia’s talk about ‘originalism’ as a coherent constitutional doctrine, those on the judicial right regularly succumb to the temptation to legislate from the bench. They fall in line behind whatever fashions political conservatism is promoting.” In the WP, E.J. Dionne eviscerates the Scalia wing of the Roberts Court for their 5-4 decision in D.C. v. Heller yesterday. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the decision (penned by Scalia) parsed the Second Amendment in such a way as to overturn the handgun ban in the District (and seemed to simply ignore the existing precedent of US v. Miller.) As Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick deadpanned, “today’s decision ‘will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.’“
As it turns out, the Court went 0-for-2 yesterday, also deciding 5-4 (Alito writing the majority opinion) that McCain-Feingold has been prejudicial against the wealthy. In response, Sen. Feingold noted that the millionaire’s amendment was flawed anyway: “I opposed the millionaire’s amendment in its initial form and I never believed it was a core component of campaign finance reform.” Still, the decision here may not bode well for campaign finance opinions down the pike. “‘What’s most significant here is what this means for the future,’ said Rick Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School. ‘It tells us that the long-standing limits on corporate and union campaign spending are in grave danger.’”
“‘The world is a tough place,’ he said with a chuckle. ‘You’re never going to get out of it alive.‘” A damn dirty ape no longer, Charlton Heston, 1923-2008. (Between this and Buckley, it’s been a bad year so far for the patriarchs of conservatism.)
Update: Hmmm. After reading up on him further, it seems Heston (nee John Carter!) was a late-comer to the conservative movement, and even to the NRA philosophy: “In his earlier years, Heston was a liberal Democrat, campaigning for Presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. A civil rights activist, he accompanied Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights march held in Washington, D.C. in 1963…In 1968, following the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Heston…called for public support for President Johnson’s Gun Control Act of 1968…He was also an opponent of McCarthyism and racial segregation, which he saw as only helping the cause of Communism worldwide. He opposed the Vietnam War and considered Richard Nixon a disaster for America. He turned down John Wayne’s offer of a role in The Alamo, because the film was a right-wing allegory for the Cold War.“
“I know I’ve made kind of a half-assed career out of violence, but I abhor violence. I am an ardent supporter of gun control. It seems incredible to me that we are the only civilized nation that does not put some effective control on guns.” Richard Widmark, 1914-2008.
Paging Yuri Orlov: By way of Dangerous Meta, a new Congressional study finds the US atop the leaderboard in terms of selling weaponry to the developing world. “Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia were the top buyers…The study makes clear also that the United States has signed weapons-sales agreements with nations whose records on democracy and human rights are subject to official criticism.“
I’ll grant I have as much morbid curiosity as the next man, probably more, and I’ll admit to have found it interesting that — judging from his ubiquitous Youtube-suicide dump (I’m sure y’all can find it) — the Virginia Tech killer, Cho Seung Hui, also seems to have recently seen Oldboy (and The Killer.) That being said, I’m with the families of the deceased: It was ridiculously offensive on the part of the press scorps to give this murderous chump his much-desired fifteen minutes, even after death, and to plaster his visage all over every media outlet for 18 hours like a two-bit Travis Bickel. CNN’s clearly been trying to rectify by putting the victims on their front page at the moment, but too little, too late. I’m reminded of Sirhan Sirhan’s famous quote: “They can gas me, but I am famous. I have achieved in one day what it took Robert Kennedy all his life to do.” Please, let’s not play into these sick bastards’ games anymore. I’m sorry Cho’s life turned out to be a sad and pathetic one, but let him just be consigned to the ignominious dustbin of psycho killer history, where he belongs. He was a lonely, depressed, raging, and homicidal young man, who lost any claim to sympathy when he started randomly firing at people — We’re not going to understand him any better by throwing up his obscene posthumous vanity portraits in every nook and cranny of the national culture.
That being said, using Cho less as a poster-child for his own sick revenge fantasies and more as one for sensible gun control laws makes a little more sense to me. Now I understand that real gun control is sadly something of a non-starter in this country, and that mandatory gun safety training, for example, is the type of thing that might pay more dividends over time so long as the second amendment remains interpreted as it is. And naturally, the NRA is already ready to push back on any attempt to tie this awful incident to easy access to weaponry. But it seems abundantly clear: Whether we need a new law or just need to enforce the old ones, people who’ve already been declared certifiable by a federal judge should have a little harder time procuring two firearms than did Cho. Can we at least agree on that?
In the deadliest act of school violence in American history, at least 33 people lie dead at Virginia Tech after what was presumably a jilted student’s bloody shooting rampage.”‘It is difficult to comprehend senseless violence on this scale,’ said Virginia’s Governor Timothy M. Kaine in a statement.“
And, as details from this story emerge, I’ve been catching up over at Medley on the recent nightmare befalling blogger Kathy Sierra, who’s been the recipient of sexually repugnant death threats as a result of her posting on, of all things, tech issues. (Not to say that posting on anything else would justify the depraved sexist bile thrown her way, but I’ve sadly come to half-expect that sort of vileness from Freepers, the uglier elements of dKos, and the like.) I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised by the disgusting misogyny pervading this latter incident — it’s sorta like people acting surprised that we’ve found a racist in our midst in Don Imus, as if bigoted old white guys in positions of power were a dwindling species or something. And, true, these two events have little or nothing to do with each other, except that I’m finding out about them at the same time. Still, I have to say, sometimes all the rage, ugliness, and despair that seems to lurk just under the brittle crust of our society is overwhelmingly disheartening. Let’s get it together, people. To go back to Auden again, we must love one another or die.
Update: Exhibit C in today’s litany of horrors, this ghastly assault on a Columbia Journalism grad student, which occurred not more than twenty blocks from here over the weekend. Sweet merciful Jesus, this is a sick, sick world sometimes. Update 2: They got him.
Will these terrorists stop at nothing? As you may have heard, an evildoer tried to jump our Vice-President yesterday deep in the South Texas woods. (Well, either that, or Cheney botched a hit, a la Christopher and Paulie on The Sopranos.) At any rate, both veep and alleged perp/target (Harry Whittington, a millionaire attorney) are doing fine (notwithstanding the whole being shot thing), and, for what it’s worth, Scalia got the message. Update: Dick Cheney, Hunter-Stonewaller.
“They say that ‘evil prevails when good men fail to act.’ It should just be ‘evil prevails.’” Andrew Niccol’s Lord of War, which I saw earlier this week, is basically an angrier, more sardonic kid brother to The Constant Gardener. But, while Gardener is probably a better-made work of cinema, I actually enjoyed myself more at Niccol’s film. At once a character study of an amoral arms dealer, a bitter tirade againt third world exploitation, and a dark comedy that may run too sour for some tastes, Lord of War is an above-average entrant in the satirical muckraking tradition. And its occasional preachiness is leavened by Nicolas Cage’s consistently-amusing and deftly-written performance, most of which is voiceover, at the center of the film.
Cage plays Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian immigrant to Brighton Beach in the 1980s who, after an inadvertent run-in with the Russian mafia at a local cafe, realizes that guns, like the funeral business, is pretty much always a growth industry. Enlisting his more sensitive sibling (Jared Leto) as muscle and back-up (a.k.a. his “brother in arms”), Orlov embarks on a quest to arm the world and make mad bank doing it. Along the way, he woos a trophy wife (Bridget Moynahan), attracts the ire of both a more-established (and ostensibly more “moral” — he has politics as well as money in mind) rival (Ian Holm) and an idealistic, go-getter federal agent (Ethan Hawke), scavenges his former homeland after the fall of the USSR (essentially a free-for-all fire sale of tanks, munitions and ordnance), and finds himself in the company of increasingly more sadistic and unsettling despots (notably Eamonn Walker, doing a variation on Liberia’s Charles Taylor.)
What keeps Lord of War moving at a brisk clip is Cage’s deadpan voiceover, which boasts an impressive arsenal of witty bon mots. Says Orlov of his mission, “There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?” Of his clients in the ’80s: “I never sold to Osama bin Laden. Back then, he was always bouncing checks.” Of his (brief) attempt to go on the up-and-up: “Thank God there are still legal ways to exploit developing countries.” In short, if your sense of humor runs toward the dark and twisted, Niccol’s tightly-written script pays dividends.
Whatsmore, unlike Gardener, which at times seemed to wallow in its piety, Lord of War cleverly juxtaposes its increasing contempt for Orlov’s vulturine livelihood against Cage’s natural amiability and his character’s rising fortunes (a la Richard III.) So, even as the story grows blacker, the audience has no place to go. We’re forced to empathize, at least to some degree, with Orlov’s attempt to achieve his own sick version of the American Dream on the backs of the Third World. Which, in the end, is Niccol’s point — We, too, are complicit in this story. Admittedly, the movie drops the ball somewhat in the last reel and veers too far toward polemic. (Of course, the same can be said of many quality film satires, including Catch-22 and Bamboozled.) But, until then, Lord of War is a disarmingly breezy jaunt through a highly-armed world and proof positive that, occasionally in “message movies,” honey catches more flies than vinegar.
“The Senate put off until fall completing a $491 billion defense bill in order to act this week on the National Rifle Association’s top priority: shielding gun manufacturers and dealers from liability suits stemming from gun crimes.” Well, that sounds much more important than our troops overseas, doesn’t it? Looks like Catkiller Frist is shoring up the freakshow base for 2008 at the expense of the American people again. Where’s the outrage? Update: The bill passes 65-31.
So much for local control. GOP gun-nuts — led by Senator Larry Craig of Idaho — try to force the District of Columbia to rescind its gun ban and “roll back registration requirements.” Republicans, argues DC Mayor Anthony Williams, are ‘using our District as a pawn. It’s an incredible assault on home rule.’”