The story of the Sequester is the story of Al Gore’s frog in the pot of boiling water. When you allow yourself too much time to think about the unthinkable, you inure yourself to it. The Sequester is like an Adjustable Rate Mortgage in reverse–instead of the looming possibility of having to pay more, it holds out the prospect of having to do with less. If you don’t flip or refinance in two years you’ll have to get rid of your car. Or maybe you have to stop feeding your pets. But as the months go by, you start to think that maybe Zip Car makes more sense for your needs. And the pets can fend for themselves–it would be better for them, more natural, if they started hunting again. Besides, how else are you ever going to get such deep cuts in the military?
Back when the Budget Control Act of 2011 was written and signed, the Republicans figured that they’d be back in the drivers’ seat by 2013–and the Democrats, I suspect, most likely figured the same thing. Do you remember how weak Obama seemed back in August of 2011? I do. What I don’t think either party anticipated was the possibility that Obama could be reelected by as decisive a margin as he was in 2012 but still not have the upper hand in 2013–that as he begins his fifth year in office, Republican Job One is still to hold him to one term. What’s truly frightening is how used we’re all getting to the idea that this country is genuinely ungovernable.
When I got up this morning, I Googled “Sequester” and clicked on the first page that came up, which was a CBS News site. The headline was “Sequester Lands Today as Obama, Congressional Leaders Meet.” Off on the right of the page, there was a sidebar with the five most popular stories. They tell a story themselves.
Man trapped in 100-foot-wide sinkhole near Tampa 40975 views
4 possible silver linings in the sequester 21741 views
Sequester: What was the point? 13253 views
Sequestration looms – but when will the pain feel real? 10158 views
Chavez fighting for his life, Venezuela VP says
Number One is about a Florida man who was swallowed alive when a 100-foot sinkhole opened up beneath his bedroom. It’s the stuff of nightmares: a catastrophe that no one could imagine or prepare themselves for. And then you have the Sequester. Number Two reflects the thoughts of the frog in the pot of boiling water–it’s really not that bad. Maybe it’s even good. Number Three asks the question that we all are asking–and that Washington should have asked itself two years ago. Number Four reflects the frog’s incredulity; he can’t believe that its doom is as painless as it seems to be. And then Five reminds all of us–but especially politicians–that sic transit gloria mundi.
So here we are on this first day of March, 2013. The Pope is a Pope Emeritus. Bob Woodward is a self-aggrandizing liar. The dreaded dictator is dying. The world gets hotter every day. The Sequester has landed and all that is solid is melting into air.
Here are Marx and Engel’s words in context: “All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away; all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind.”
Face with sober senses his real conditions of life. Wouldn’t that be something?
After Hurricane Sandy, we saw the hellish world that the gun prohibitionists see as their utopia. Looters ran wild in south Brooklyn. There was no food, water or electricity. And if you wanted to walk several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark, or you might not get home at all.
Anti-gun New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had already done everything he could to prevent law-abiding New Yorkers from owning guns, and he has made sure that no ordinary citizen will ever be allowed to carry a gun. He even refused to allow the National Guard into the city to restore civil order because Guardsmen carry guns!–Wayne LaPierre, Stand and Fight
Wayne LaPierre’s newest op ed piece lays it on the line–America is already a Hobbesian hell under the Obama/Soros regime and things will only get worse. Al Qaeda and drug gangs are pouring over the borders; after the fiscal collapse, the police will go out of business. Every law abiding American needs to arm themselves now.
Yes, there was some looting and lawlessness in the immediate wake of Sandy in Coney Island, damaged homes in Breezy Point and Staten Island were burgled, there were hardships and suffering all over, but there was nothing like the wholesale breakdown of civil order that LaPierre describes. That was a different city and a different hurricane (and as I remember, the problem in New Orleans wasn’t a lack of guns). But to the Americans that Wayne LaPierre and the NRA are directing their increasingly unhinged appeals to, all cities are the same.
Debunking a propagandist like LaPierre point by point is a bit like trying to change Alex Jones’s mind about the Bilderbergs. But as a Brooklynite, I couldn’t let those paragraphs stand unchallenged. Even if you think the police cook the statistics, New York City’s crime rates are quite low in comparison to other large cities. And even if the hurricane meant that some crimes weren’t reported, the official figures suggest that there was something less than a tsunami of lawlessness. There were 86 percent less murders in New York City the week after Sandy than in the same calendar period a year before; grand larcenies were down 48%, auto thefts were down 24%, and felony assaults dropped 31%. As for the armed hordes pouring over our southern border, it’s interesting to note that El Paso was just rated the US’s safest large city for the third year in a row. New York came in third, after San Diego.
When you read something like this, you realize what’s really behind the gun movement’s extremism. It isn’t abstract rights at all. It’s concrete hatreds, and its objects are the things that right wing populists have always fixated on: minorities, immigrants, cities. It is The New Hate writ large.
And to say that isn’t to demonize gun owners. It’s to make the point that the NRA is an extremist right wing organization, a fringe group that speaks for a tiny (and dangerous) minority.
Both have been famous and highly-compensated since they were ridiculously young; both hold extremely high opinions of themselves. And both of them were in the spotlight yesterday.
Lehrer gave a speech about journalistic ethics in Miami for a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation-sponsored Media Learning Seminar. He spoke frankly about the errors he’d made–plagiarizing, inventing quotations, repurposing old material for pay, misrepresenting scientific research–that precipitated his abrupt fall from grace last summer, and about the Standard Operating Procedures he would put in place in the future to prevent himself from giving into the temptations that, as he put it, his high IQ and busy schedule had left him prey to. When word leaked out that he’d been paid $20,000 for his act of contrition, the Twittersphere was predictably irate. “Jonah Lehrer’s $20,000 apology,” Slate tweeted, “was conniving, misleading, and arrogant.” Forbes said he was trying to “humblebrag himself back into journalism’s good graces.”
The WND columnist and rock star Ted Nugent, who calls himself “Rosa Parks with a loud guitar” (the quote is from his 2001 volume, Gods, Guns, & Rock’n'Roll ), got a lot of media attention when Texas Representative Steve Stockman invited him to attend the president’s State of the Union address as his guest.
Gun control advocates predicted that the gambit would backfire. Looking at the headlines and Twitter trends this morning, it doesn’t seem to have made anywhere near as much noise as Marco Rubio’s ill-timed gulp. Nugent was surrounded by reporters after the speech, but his comments (“every time he is done speaking he either does just the opposite or nothing at all…My favorite part was when I couldn’t hear clearly…I didn’t have to get angry”) have gotten less play than a newly resurrected interview he gave to High Times magazine in 1977, in which the super-patriotic rocker bragged about how he’d evaded the draft (“Do you think I was going to lay down my guitar and go play army? Give me a break!…..I had a career Jack…..I wasn’t a gutter dog”). Nugent told the interviewer a long story (which he has since denied) about how he didn’t wash or brush his teeth for a month, shitted his pants, and loaded up on meth before his exam. Rich stuff from a guy who gives the finger to hippies everywhere, saying “You Talk Sunshine, I Shit Napalm” (also from his book).
Except he seems completely oblivious to the irony. “I’d make an incredible army man,” he said in that same interview. “I’d be a colonel before you knew what hit you, and I’d have the baddest bunch of motherfucking killers you’d ever seen in my platoon. But I just wasn’t into it. I was too busy doing my own thing, you know?”
For all the contempt he has for soldiers and other public servants, Nugent is certain that they love him back; he told the Wall Street Journal that Secret Service men and capital policemen had assured him of as much last night. “A lot of the guys in various law enforcement departments tonight said thanks for saying what we’re not allowed to say….That’s some pretty powerful encouragement — and I’m scary when I’m encouraged that much.”
That policemen–who find themselves at the wrong ends of guns more than just about anyone but gutter dog soldiers–would give Ted Nugent the love seems as incongruous as Jonah Lehrer lecturing a roomful of journalists about the importance of fact checking. Nugent and Lehrer probably wouldn’t have a lot to say to each other if they ever shared a green room, but it’s funny how much alike they are when it comes to self-knowledge–or the lack thereof.
In October, 1970, just two years after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and six months after the Weather Underground issued its Declaration of War Against the United States (“Guns and grass are united in the youth underground,” Bernadine Dohrn declared in a July communique, “Freaks are revolutionaries and revolutionaries are freaks….kids are making love, smoking dope and loading guns”), American Heritage magazine ran a thoughtful essay by the great historian Richard Hofstadter entitled America as a Gun Culture. Hofstadter died that same month, at the tragically young age of 54.
To read him 40-something years later is to be reminded of the dictum plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose–the more things change, the more they stay the same. “In the twentieth century alone,” he wrote, “we have suffered more than 740,000 deaths from firearms, embracing over 265,000 homicides, over 330,000 suicides, and over 139,000 gun accidents. This figure is considerably higher than all the battle deaths (that is, deaths sustained under arms but excluding those from disease) suffered by American forces in all the wars in our history.”
The US, he continued, is the “only nation so attached to the supposed ‘right’ to bear arms that its laws abet assassins, professional criminals, berserk murderers, and political terrorists at the expense of the orderly population—and yet it remains, and is apparently determined to remain, the most passive of all the major countries in the matter of gun control.”
To listen to the right wingers in the NRA–or for that matter, to the left wing Sandy Hook Truthers who turned out in force at Truth Out this week, to write blistering comments about my piece on the backlash gun culture (“Stop calling for disarming citizens you fool or worse….WAKE. THE. F. UP. ARTHUR….When the imperialist governments of the world disarm, then I’ll seriously consider it, not before”)–you’d think that privately owned guns are our greatest bulwark of freedom, our last recourse against tyranny.
Hofstadter addresses this line of unreason too, in words that can’t but give one a sense of déjà vu:
While the notion that “the right to bear arms” is inconsistent with state or federal gun regulation is largely confined to the obstinate lobbyists of the National Rifle Association, another belief of American gun enthusiasts enjoys a very wide currency in the United States, extending to a good many liberals, civil libertarians, and even radicals. It is the idea that popular access to arms is an important counterpoise to tyranny. A historian, recently remonstrating against our gun policies, was asked by a sympathetic liberal listener whether it was not true, for example, that one of the first acts of the Nazis had been to make it impossible for the nonparty, nonmilitary citizen to have a gun—the assumption being that the German people had thus lost their last barrier to tyranny. In fact Nazi gun policies were of no basic consequence: the democratic game had been lost long before, when legitimate authorities under the Weimar Republic would not or could not stop uniformed groups of Nazi terrorists from intimidating other citizens on the streets and in their meetings and when the courts and the Reich Ministry of Justice did not act firmly and consistently to punish the makers of any Nazi Putsch according to law. It is not strong and firm governments but weak ones, incapable of exerting their regulatory and punitive powers, that are overthrown by tyrannies. Nonetheless, the American historical mythology about the protective value of guns has survived the modern technological era in all the glory of its naïveté, and it has been taken over from the whites by some young blacks, notably the Panthers, whose accumulations of arms have thus far proved more lethal to themselves than to anyone else. In all societies the presence of small groups of uncontrolled and unauthorized men in unregulated possession of arms is recognized to be dangerous. A query therefore must ring in our heads: Why is it that in all other modern democratic societies those endangered ask to have such men disarmed, while in the United States alone they insist on arming themselves?
It’s ringing in my head still… And the only answers I come up with bode badly for the health of the polity.
I have been thinking a lot about guns and the gun culture these days, as I suppose most of us have. All of that NRA talk at the Senate hearings about how mothers require not just maximal firepower but the scariest-looking weapons if they are going to protect their children; all of those visions of home-invading hordes….
Second Amendment extremists hate the government, the supposed upholder of the rule of law, but at the same time they’re terrified of the break-down of civilization that occurs when governments are too weak to maintain order–something that they associate with cities, those places where only bad guys and the police have guns and citizens are at the mercy of both. “I think,” Senator Lindsey Graham mused, “I would be better off protecting my business or my family if there was law and order breakdown in my community, people roaming around my neighborhood, to have the AR-15.”
On a whim, I Googled the phrase “Cities and guns.” The first item that popped up was this comment in the Glock Talk forum, from Frank 4570 (Feral Human):
Clearly our biggest problem is that city people are not familiar with guns. And as a result, it’s pretty easy to convince them guns are bad. The only time they see a gun is when the thug down the street shoots somebody.
It’s not like the the neighborhood kids get together and go shoot guns at the end of the street like we do out in the country.
Short of building about a million indoor shooting ranges, I really don’t know how to change this problem. And unfortunately, the city people outnumber the country people, and it is getting worse every year.
I have all kinds of ideas.
First, I agree that many city people have no appreciation at all of the “good” side of guns, whereas for many in the rural gun culture, a gun is not just a tool for hunting or self-defense, but in an almost mystical sense, a guarantor of civility.
Writing in The New Republic this week, Walter Kirn tried to bridge the divide between gun culture insiders and “certain purists among the unarmed” who regard guns with indiscriminate loathing. His first hands-on experience with a gun, he related, was when he was a teenager. His father had gone off on a business trip, leaving him and his mother and his younger brother alone on their isolated Minnesota farm. When word came that an escaped convict was in the neighborhood, Kirn sat up all night pointing his father’s loaded shotgun at the door, an image that to me recalls Atticus Finch–the civilized man par excellence–guarding the prisoner from the lynch mob in To Kill a Mockingbird. Years later, when Kirn was with his young children, he was menaced by a meth head on the streets of Livingston, Montana. He staved off a confrontation when he pulled out a target pistol that was providentially in his pick up truck’s glove compartment.
Kirn doesn’t say that guns are good in and of themselves, but he believes that they can inculcate an awesome and salutary sense of responsibility among those who wield them. Gun ownership, he says, is all about regulation–about being the custodian of an awesome force, “a successful disciplinarian of something radically alien and potent.” As I remember, Obi-Wan Kenobi said something much like that about The Force; there are probably all sorts of similar sayings about Samurai swords.
To civilize, I think, is the key verb. It’s a crossover word, with a cultural legacy and a practical, specific meaning—to order; to, yes, “regulate”—that the gun-owning mind responds to and respects. In westerns, the gun (the gun in the right hands; and the gun owner thinks of his own hands as the right ones, which all who wish to engage him in conversation would be wise not to forget) is a tool of civilization, not a totem. It tames, the gun, but only if it’s first tamed. Those who won’t tame it, or can’t—because they’re unable to tame themselves—must face being disarmed. Especially hard-to-tame types of guns, moreover, must be closely, vigilantly watched.
Guns for Kirn are a little like what sex is in D.H. Lawrence novels–a channel for a cosmic force that is as much dishonored by Puritanism as it is by a thoughtless hedonism.
I might not relate to that, but how could I? Like Josh Marshall, who wrote eloquently about the separate tribes of gun owners and non-gun owners, when I see a gun, I see an artifact that is specifically designed for the taking of life. Cars and chainsaws can kill, hammers can kill, even a butter knife. But fatality is something contingent, an accidental property of those tools, which were designed to do other things. All of the human ingenuity, craft, and intention that goes into a gun is directed to killing; the destruction of life is its sole purpose, its telos, as Aristotle would have had it.
Like the Feral Human said on the Glock forum, city people, who live close together, work indoors, and don’t do a lot of hunting in their own backyards, tend to experience guns as bad things. I know I have. I have only handled a gun once, when I was 10 or 12 years old, at a Skeet range at Boy Scout camp. Like President Obama (see the photo above) I enjoyed the experience immensely, but it ended in humiliation, when I turned around without thinking and pointed the business end of my shotgun in the instructor’s face. It was a complete accident, but to make an example of me, he expelled me from the range; he might have even banned me.
Flash forward twenty years or so, when I was unlocking the front door of my apartment building in Brooklyn and a man pushed in behind me and showed me his gun. It was a silver automatic pistol–so small and yet so unimaginably terrifying. He lashed the muzzle across my temple, drawing blood, then he pressed it against my head and shouted “I’m going to shoot you, motherfucker!” He took my leather jacket, my wedding ring, and my wallet; eventually he clubbed me unconscious. When I came to, I was astounded that he hadn’t shot me. He’d said he would, after all.
For weeks, months, even years after, I fantasized about what I might have done if I’d had a gun myself. The answer, I knew, was absolutely nothing. I’m not trained in self-defense and I’ve never played aggressive sports; I’m non-violent, but not so much out of principle as my innate constitution. Fear paralyzes me; the only thing that’s ever pushed me towards violence is rage. And alcohol. Once, when I was a teenager and I’d had too much to drink, I punched a friend in the mouth. I can’t remember doing it, but he never forgave me.
Walter Kirn’s high-minded ethos of responsible force or not, I have a feeling I’m not that different than a lot of other people when it comes to anger and alcohol. I don’t know how to parse the Second Amendment, but I do know that I hate guns: They’re just too lethal. And people (me, anyway) are just too flawed.