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The Charleston massacre

Victims, clockwise from top left: Rev Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson,  Rev Sharonda Singleton, Depayne Middleton, Rev Daniel Simmons Sr, Tywanza Sanders  (Image credit: BBC News)

Victims, clockwise from top left: Rev Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson,
Rev Sharonda Singleton, Depayne Middleton, Rev Daniel Simmons Sr, Tywanza Sanders
(Image credit: BBC News)

[update below] [2nd update below]

As usual in the aftermath of such horrific events, I have nothing in particular to add to what has already been said by others, except to observe that while there are psychos and homicidally-inclined racists everywhere, such a massacre is, in the Western world at least, one of those only-in-America happenings. The issue in this one is not the persistence of racism in America—racism and hatred of the Other are present everywhere—but that the 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, who’s the same age as my daughter and a sizable number of my students over the years, was in legal possession of a .45 caliber handgun, and which was apparently given to him as a birthday present by his father no less. Needless to say, such a gift from father to son in France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan etc—and who are not in a mafia family—would be totally inconceivable. And illegal. In France—or in Britain, Germany, etc—there is no way a young man his age not associated with a criminal gang could come into possession of such a weapon. If Dylann Storm Roof had not had that gun—if America’s gun laws were akin to those where I live—the nine parishioners of Charleston SC’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church would be alive today.

Can Dylann Storm Roof’s father be made liable for the massacre, as an accessory to the crime? He should be, morally if not legally.

On the centrality of the gun question here, Vox staff writer German Lopez has a piece on that fine website—with statistics and videos—saying that “Obama is right: gun violence is much worse in the US than other advanced countries.”

Also on Vox is a post by Max Fisher in which he has a quote by The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik—a passage I’ve no doubt quoted myself—saying that “This is the best paragraph I’ve ever read on gun control and mass shootings.”

The most intelligent reflection I’ve read on the massacre so far is David Remnick’s in The New Yorker, “Charleston and the age of Obama.”

For the moment at least, that’s as much as I have to say.

UPDATE: I wrote above that the Charleston massacre is “in the Western world at least, one of those only-in-America happenings.” I should modify the bit about “the Western world” to read “in any society not in the throes of a civil war or riven by communal conflict.”

2nd UPDATE: Vox has a short video (3:45) on how “The Charleston shooting is part of a long history of anti-black terrorism.” Watch it.

The second most popular article on The New Yorker website at the present moment (June 20th) is a commentary by Adam Gopnik dated December 19th 2012—which I linked to back then—on “The simple truth about gun control.”

Making the rounds on social media this weekend is the video of a 16-minute stand-up act by Australian comedian Jim Jefferies, who “perfectly sums up why other countries think US gun laws are crazy,” and which I linked to three months ago.

TNR senior editor Jeet Heer, weighing in on right-wing media coverage of the Charleston massacre, has a commentary on “National Review magazine’s racism denial, then and now.” I have also mentioned NR’s treatment of race, in a post four years ago.

And here’s a hard-hitting SFGate.com blog post (June 19th) by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford, on “The myth of America’s awesomeness.” Morford’s comment, which is driven by the Charleston massacre, veers somewhat off the topic but not entirely.

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Killed by police

150408_POL_WalterScottShot.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge

[update below] [2nd update below]

Killed by Police.net: This website, established in May 2013, documents, via news reports—as there are no official statistics on the question—all persons killed in the United States by the police, whatever the reason. In 2014, an average of 92 persons per month were killed by the police somewhere in the US. From May through December 2013, the average monthly number was 96. Some of those killed were allegedly armed—and “allegedly” must be underscored here—a few of whom allegedly shot at the police first. But reading the news dispatches at random, it is clear that most of those who were allegedly armed did not initiate fire. The cops shot first. And then there were all those shot and killed who were not armed—and who were, of course, disproportionately black.

Contrast this with France, where some 10 to 15 persons a year are killed by the police. That’s a year, not per month. From 2000 to 2014—over a 15-year period—a total of 127 persons were killed by the police in France. N.B. These figures are not official—as with the US, there are no official statistics in France on the question—but were collected by left-wing associations—which have no wish to minimize police brutality, it may be mentioned.

On this score, France is actually a violent country compared to Great Britain, where, in 2013, zero persons were killed by police gunfire. In 2012, one person was killed by a bobby in all of GB.

Statistically speaking, one is 25 times more likely to be killed by a cop in America than in France. And 100 times more likely than in Britain.

There’s something very wrong with America: With the American police and in American society (all those guns).

On the April 4th murder of citizen Walter Scott by police officer Michael Slager in North Charleston SC, I will recommend just two articles of the many I’ve read. One is “Seeing Walter Scott,” by Cardozo School of Law professor Ekow N. Yankah, in The New Yorker (April 12th). This one is particularly good.

The other is “When cops cry wolf,” by Frank Serpico, a man who knows of what he speaks, in Politico Magazine (April 10th). The lede: “Police have been setting up suspects with false testimony for decades. Is anyone going to believe them now when they tell the truth?”

While I’m at it, here is something I just came across in WaPo: “Cop accused of brutally torturing black suspects costs Chicago $5.5 million.” Wow, I had no idea. A Paul Aussaresses wannabe with the gégène and in my home town, and while I lived there…

And here’s a Special Investigation in the upcoming May-June issue of Mother Jones, “What does gun violence really cost?” Cost America, that is.

UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times informs its readers (April 9th) that “Nearly 9% of Americans are angry, impulsive – and have a gun…” The article reports on a study—carried out by a team of researchers from Columbia, Duke, and Harvard—just published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law. It begins

Tread lightly, Americans: Nearly 9% of people in the United States have outbursts of anger, break or smash things, or get into physical fights — and have access to a firearm, a new study says. What’s more, 1.5% of people who have these anger issues carry their guns outside the home.

This means that some 430,000 potentially dangerous Americans are legally armed and may be roaming about at any given moment.

BTW, did anyone see the video clips of Wayne LaPierre’s keynote speech the other day at the NRA’s annual meeting? These people make the French Front National look like centrists.

2nd UPDATE: Vox has a spot on post (April 9th) by its race, law, and politics reporter Jenée Desmond-Harris on “Why it’s finally catching on that ‘What about black-on-black crime?’ doesn’t make sense.”

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On America and guns

sandy hook never forget

[update below]

Vox.com has a great, funny, must-watch 16-minute video of a stand-up act by an “Australian comedian [who] perfectly sums up why other countries think US gun laws are crazy.” The comedian is Jim Jefferies, whose act here was in Washington last summer. He completely, totally nails the absurdity of the arguments of the gun lobby and its supporters. Watch the YouTube and enjoy.

And ICYMI, here is Rachel Maddow last week on a “[p]owerful anti-gun ad [that] panics gun rights groups.” The lede

Rachel Maddow reports on an anti-gun publicity stunt that is so powerful in making its point that gun rights groups are freaking out, voicing their objections and attacking States United to Prevent Gun Violence any way they can.

Great stunt. SUPGV is an NGO that merits all the support it can get.

UPDATE: Firmin DeBrabander, a professor of philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art, has a piece in The Atlantic—in which he bends over backward to be polite to the gun lobby and considerate of its arguments—on “How gun rights harm the rule of law.” I wager that NRA members will reject whatever Professor DeBrabander has to say—if they even bother to read him—for the simple fact that he’s a college professor of philosophy (and writing in some librul publication they’ve never heard of…). Pour l’info, DeBrabander has a book coming out in May entitled Do Guns Make Us Free? Democracy and the Armed Society. (April 1st)

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american-sniper-poster-small

[update below]

I saw this three days ago, the day it opened in France. I made it a point to read nothing on the movie beforehand—either reviews or articles—though am aware that it is a big box office hit in the US—beyond all expectations—and particularly among conservatives. And I still haven’t read anything about the movie, though will, after writing this. My verdict: It is a reprehensible film. It is so because it makes a hero out of a man who is, in fact, not a hero and who achieved his heroic status—in the eyes of those who accord him this (and they are numerous in l’Amérique profonde, as one sees at the end)—in fighting and killing in a war that America had no business fighting. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is considered a hero because he killed 160 combatants and other irregulars who were out to kill American soldiers in a war zone. Bully for him. Soldiers protect their own in all wars, no? What else is new in the history of warfare? CPO Kyle, we learn, went beyond the call of duty to protect his buddies. He was a brave man, intrepid even. Bully for him again. One may understand why he was considered a hero within the US military—fellow soldiers called him “the legend”—but there is no rhyme or reason for him to be considered as such by any citizen outside the military.

It would be otherwise, of course, if CPO Kyle had been killing enemy combatants who were at war with America and posed a threat to America inside its borders. Celebrating his feats in the larger society would thus be comprehensible. But this was the Iraq war. The nagging (rhetorical) question that went through my mind throughout the film, in watching Kyle and his fellow soldiers engaged in urban warfare in Fallujah and Ramadi, was WTF were they doing there in the first place? What enemy were they fighting? Now it is established early in the film that Kyle enlisted with the SEALs following 9/11, as a patriotic reflex of an American whose country was attacked. Lots of Americans had that reflex (for the anecdote, in the days after 9/11 I let the US embassy in Paris know that my services were available—including to any intelligence agency—should they want them; I didn’t hear back). After completing SEAL boot camp the film jumps to Kyle in Iraq. But Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Iraq posed no threat to America. Now the US government of the time and all sorts of other Americans intoxicated by nationalist hysteria or Washington groupthink believed that Iraq was indeed a threat to the United States, but those who knew something about the Middle East and, more generally, how to analyze and think coherently—which includes myself, obviously—knew this was preposterous and argued it to all and sundry.

At one point in the film, Kyle tells one of his buddies that “we have to kill the enemy here so they don’t come and kill us in New York or San Diego” (approximate quote). That even an ignorant soldier could believe such bullshit by 2005 is breathtaking. The enemy that Kyle & Co were fighting is clearly identified: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Al-Qaida in Iraq (not once is Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athist regime—the ostensible threat to America in 2003—mentioned in the film). Now Zarqawi and AQI were definitely not nice people. I will even agree with Kyle that they were Evil (capital E) (the notion that America is fighting Evil, and not just in Iraq, is evoked more than once in the film). But here’s the thing: America did not invade Iraq to fight Zarqawi and AQI. AQI, which posed no threat to the American homeland, did not even exist when America launched the Iraq war. The very existence of AQI—and its presence in Iraq’s Sunni triangle—was a direct consequence of America’s invasion. And Fallujah being reduced to rubble and its population driven from the city was directly caused by America being there (the scene in the house that the soldiers have stormed—with Kyle demanding to know what the family is doing there and why they hadn’t evacuated the city—is incredible, as if people should naturally abandon their homes and worldly possessions—to looters, criminals, terrorists, whoever—because a foreign army tells them to). None of this is examined in Eastwood’s film. America is in Iraq fighting the enemy because that’s what it’s doing. America is there because it’s there. Fighting Evil there, before it comes for us here.

Further contributing to the film’s reprehensibility is its backhanded celebration of America’s gun culture—and of militaristic values more generally (American society being the only one in the Western world, as Tony Judt observed in one of his later essays, that continues to exalt the military and its values). In the opening scene we see seven-year-old Chris in rural Texas bagging a deer on his first hunting trip with his father. Kyle père is teaching his son how to handle firearms. Now I can accept that rural people the world over and since time immemorial hunt and have rifles at home. I don’t relate to it but, for rural folk, that’s just the way they live and I pass no judgment on it. But the moral code that daddy Kyle seeks to instill in his sons around the dinner table—which is underpinned with violence and accompanied by stupid ass references to God and the Lord—is another matter. I’m sorry but Chris Kyle’s father—who was ready to whip his sons with a belt—was an asshole. And then there’s the scene toward the end, of Kyle at home with wife and kids—before he drives off in his pick-up and gets murdered—goofing around the living room and kitchen with a six-shooter, which may or may not be loaded (but if the gun’s not loaded, what’s the point of having it in the first place, if, acting with hair-trigger presence of mind, one can’t immediately neutralize a bad guy entering the house uninvited, or some shit like that?). Anyone who keeps a handgun at home, in proximity to children, and plays around with it in front of children to boot is a reprehensible SOB.

On ‘American Sniper’ as cinema, it’s okay. Bradley Cooper puts in an acceptable performance, though hardly deserves an Oscar nomination for it. Sienna Miller is likewise acceptable as Chris’s wife Taya—she’s certainly attractive—but spends too much of the film weeping over her husband going off on yet another tour with his beloved SEALs (for Chris Kyle, Iraq was a war of choice). And the scenes of their lovey dovey satellite phone conversations while he’s picking off enemy fighters from rooftops or heading into combat stretched credulity. One would think that any soldier who chats up his wife or g.f. on the phone while under fire would be reprimanded by his commanding officer, if not subjected to disciplinary action. Generally speaking and in view of its inescapable political parti pris, I don’t see how anyone outside of Jacksonian America—to borrow from Walter Russell Mead—can possibly adhere to the film and its message. But, as it happens, the early reaction in France has been positive, among both critics and Allociné spectateurs. The French love affair with Clint Eastwood continues. Every last Eastwood movie—including his worst and/or schlockiest—receives a rapturous welcome here and ‘American Sniper’ appears to be no exception. Hélas.

ADDENDUM: A further comment. Toward the end of the film Chris Kyle, in dealing with his PTSD, attends rehab sessions with Iraq war vets who have suffered serious injury (limbs blown off, etc). Some 40,000 American soldiers were killed or wounded in Iraq, many of the latter saved thanks to advances in military medicine, who would have died of their wounds in previous wars. What do Jacksonian, Fox News-watching Americans make of this? In fact, they almost have to uncritically accept the thesis of the film—that America was fighting Evil, no questions asked—as if one were to accept that the Iraq war was a catastrophic mistake—the most disastrous foreign policy decision in American history—then there would be no escaping the conclusion that Americans died or had their lives shattered for absolutely nothing. And then there is, of course, the number of Iraqis killed, which, since 2003, is heading upwards of 200,000 (if not more). Now most of those Iraqis were killed by other Iraqis. But if Iraq in 2003 was a Pandora’s Box of simmering sectarian hatred, America came in with a baseball bat and smashed that box open. The catastrophe in Iraq happened on America’s watch. And while there’s a lot of blame to go around, the catastrophic situation in Iraq today is ultimately America’s fault.

2nd ADDENDUM: One bit about the movie that caused me to jolt in my seat, but which slipped my mind while writing this post, was the final battle scene, where CPO Kyle finally terminates AQI sniper Mustafa with the golden bullet. The battle took place in Sadr City, which, as any halfway knowledgeable person knows, is the big Shi’ite quartier populaire of Baghdad. But AQI—which has since mutated into ISIS—is Sunni. AQI was killing Shi’ites when it wasn’t killing Americans. Sadr City at the time was Muqtada al-Sadr’s fiefdom, and he and his followers didn’t like AQI, to put it mildly. So on this level the scene makes no sense. Clint Eastwood and his team betrayed inexcusable ignorance here.

A correction: I wrote above that Kyle enlisted with the SEALs after 9/11. In fact, he did so after the 1998 Nairobi/Dar es Salaam bombings.

UPDATE: I’ve come across an excellent review/commentary on ‘American Sniper’, dated January 10th, by Ross Caputi, a former Marine who, like Chris Kyle, participated in the 2nd Siege of Fallujah. Caputi’s reaction to the film is similar to mine. His review is well worth reading. (February 28th)

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Fruitvale Station

fruitvale station

I’ve been following the events in Ferguson MO over the past week like everyone and, like everyone with a conscience and who knows how to think—and which even includes certain conservatives—, have been appalled by its only-in-America character. In following the events—which, being in the US at present, I’ve been able to do on cable TV—I have been reminded of this pertinent film, directed by the 26-year-old Ryan Coogler, that I saw last January, when it opened in Paris. It’s about the shooting and killing by a police officer of a 22-year-old black male named Oscar Grant III—who did absolutely nothing to invite being shot and killed—in Oakland CA on New Year’s Eve 2008-09, at the Fruitvale BART station, and which led to civil disturbances over the subsequent days (for details of what happened, go here). [UPDATE: Here are mobile phone videos taken of the actual incident by passengers on the BART train (h/t Ellis Goldberg)]. The film, taking some dramatic license, reconstructs the day of Oscar’s life that preceded his killing, of his somewhat unstable life relationship and employment-wise, but depicting him as a basically good guy who strove to lead a normal life and absolutely did not deserve to suffer violent death. It all goes to show that merely being a young black male in America and going about your life can get you shot and killed by the police, and even in the deepest of blue states. So if you want to see a movie that is both good—reviews were tops—and topical, see this one (which should have, by all rights, received Oscar nominations but did not). Trailer is here.

BTW, when I wrote above that the Ferguson events presently underway were “only-in-America,” I did not mean to imply that America is exceptional when it comes to racist cops behaving badly toward members of visible minority groups. This happens in many countries, including France, of course (I’ve had so many posts on this that they need not be linked to). What is only-in-America—among advanced Western democracies, at least—is the trigger-happiness of the police, of the sheer number of unarmed visible minority young men they kill. À propos, here’s a commentary in The Economist magazine I just read on the militarized “Trigger happ[iness]” of the American police, which so contrasts from its counterparts in Great Britain. And contrasting with another major Western democracy, here’s an item from two years ago on how “German police fired just 85 bullets total in 2011,” compared with the

84 shots [that] were fired at one murder suspect in Harlem, and another 90 at an unarmed man in Los Angeles.

In France the police are thoroughly racist and odious. And their behavior regularly provokes riots by youthful members of visible minorities. So how many people do the police kill during such occurrences? In the biggest recent riots of all—over three weeks in October-November 2005—the number of persons killed was exactly two (and neither by bullets). Case closed.

theconcourse.deadspin.comamerica-is-not-for-black-people-1620169913

In the interests of fairness and balance—and not to make the police look all bad—, I saw a quite good indy pic back in late ’12, ‘End of Watch’, directed by David Ayer, of a couple of buddy cops in East L.A. trying to do their job and who have to deal with, entre autres, Mexican criminal gangs whose proclivity for violence far exceeds anything any US police department would be capable of. Roger Ebert’s four-star review thus began

“End of Watch” is one of the best police movies in recent years, a virtuoso fusion of performances and often startling action. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are Taylor and Zavala, two Los Angeles street cops who bend a few rules but must be acknowledged as heroes. After too many police movies about officers who essentially use their badges as licenses to run wild, it’s inspiring to realize that these men take their mission — to serve and protect — with such seriousness they’re willing to risk their lives.

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, who called the pic “An all-time cop-movie classic,” also got it right. It’s a violent film, that’s for sure, but may absolutely be seen. Trailer is here.

UPDATE: My mother has a review (June 30, 2015) of ‘Fruitvale Station’ on her blog here.

end of watch

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Yet one more massacre

The six Isla Vista massacre victims, from top left: Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Cheng-Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang.  (Credit: abc7.com)

The six Isla Vista massacre victims, from top left: Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Cheng-Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang.
(Credit: abc7.com)

[updates below]

Joe Nocera of the NYT has a must read column today on the Second Amendment, “What did the Framers really mean?” For those who are maxed out on their free NYT access or are too lazy to click on the link, here’s the whole thing

Three days after the publication of Michael Waldman’s new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a killing spree, stabbing three people and then shooting another eight, killing four of them, including himself. This was only the latest mass shooting in recent memory, going back to Columbine.

In his rigorous, scholarly, but accessible book, Waldman notes such horrific events but doesn’t dwell on them. He is after something else. He wants to understand how it came to be that the Second Amendment, long assumed to mean one thing, has come to mean something else entirely. To put it another way: Why are we, as a society, willing to put up with mass shootings as the price we must pay for the right to carry a gun?

The Second Amendment begins, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” and that’s where Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, begins, too. He has gone back into the framers’ original arguments and made two essential discoveries, one surprising and the other not surprising at all.

The surprising discovery is that of all the amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights, the Second was probably the least debated. What we know is that the founders were deeply opposed to a standing army, which they viewed as the first step toward tyranny. Instead, their assumption was that the male citizenry would all belong to local militias. As Waldman writes, “They were not allowed to have a musket; they were required to. More than a right, being armed was a duty.”

Thus the unsurprising discovery: Virtually every reference to “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” — the second part of the Second Amendment — was in reference to military defense. Waldman notes the House debate over the Second Amendment in the summer of 1789: “Twelve congressmen joined the debate. None mentioned a private right to bear arms for self-defense, hunting or for any purpose other than joining the militia.”

In time, of course, the militia idea died out, replaced by a professionalized armed service. Most gun regulation took place at the state and city level. The judiciary mostly stayed out of the way. In 1939, the Supreme Court upheld the nation’s first national gun law, the National Firearms Act, which put onerous limits on sawed-off shotguns and machine guns — precisely because the guns had no “reasonable relation” to “a well-regulated militia.”

But then, in 1977, there was a coup at the National Rifle Association, which was taken over by Second Amendment fundamentalists. Over the course of the next 30 years, they set out to do nothing less than change the meaning of the Second Amendment, so that it’s final phrase — “shall not be infringed” — referred to an individual right to keep and bear arms, rather than a collective right for the common defense.

Waldman is scornful of much of this effort. Time and again, he finds the proponents of this new view taking the founders’ words completely out of context, sometimes laughably so. They embrace Thomas Jefferson because he once wrote to George Washington, “One loves to possess arms.” In fact, says Waldman, Jefferson was referring to some old letter he needed “so he could issue a rebuttal in case he got attacked for a decision he made as secretary of state.

Still, as Waldman notes, the effort was wildly successful. In 1972, the Republican platform favored gun control. By 1980, the Republican platform opposed gun registration. That year, the N.R.A. gave its first-ever presidential endorsement to Ronald Reagan.

The critical modern event, however, was the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which tossed aside two centuries of settled law, and ruled that a gun-control law in Washington, D.C., was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The author of the majority opinion was Antonin Scalia, who fancies himself the leading “originalist” on the court — meaning he believes, as Waldman puts it, “that the only legitimate way to interpret the Constitution is to ask what the framers and their generation intended in 1789.”

Waldman is persuasive that a truly originalist decision would have tied the right to keep and bear arms to a well-regulated militia. But the right to own guns had by then become conservative dogma, and it was inevitable that the five conservative members of the Supreme Court would vote that way.

“When the militias evaporated,” concludes Waldman, “so did the original meaning of the Second Amendment.” But, he adds, “What we did not have was a regime of judicially enforced individual rights, able to trump the public good.”

Sadly, that is what we have now, as we saw over the weekend. Elliot Rodger’s individual right to bear arms trumped the public good. Eight people were shot as a result.

Also worth reading is Michael Moore’s reaction to the Isla Vista massacre, posted on his Facebook page (h/t Lisa H.)

With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night’s tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA — I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life. Everything I have to say about this, I said it 12 years ago: We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) “interests.” The gun, not the eagle, is our true national symbol. While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns]), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do — and yet we don’t seem to want to ask ourselves this simple question: “Why us? What is it about US?” Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males. None of them are committed by the majority gender, women. Hmmm, why is that? Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses — and then we the people refuse to remove them from office. So the onus is on us, all of us. We won’t pass the necessary laws, but more importantly we won’t consider why this happens here all the time. When the NRA says, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people,” they’ve got it half-right. Except I would amend it to this: “Guns don’t kill people — Americans kill people.” Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.

Yes, as this is America, it will indeed happen again. Very soon.

UPDATE: Americans get killed by guns every day, by people who are not criminals or “bad guys.” Every last day of the week. If one does not believe me, read the “Holiday Weekend Gun Report: May 23-26, 2014” on Joe Nocera’s NYT blog.

2nd UPDATE: Mother Jones has an interview (June 19th) with Michael Waldman, in which he talks about his book, informing us that “The Second Amendment doesn’t say what you think it does.”

71R1DRJ8pML

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12 Years a Slave

12-years-a-slave-poster

[updates below]

I’m presently in the US on holiday. Seeing a movie a day. And since I don’t feel like writing about politics at the present time, I’ll write about movies. This one I saw last week, catching it at the very last theater in the area where it’s still showing. As it’s at the end of its US run—sortie en France le 22 janvier—presumably everyone who has had any interest in seeing it has done so by now. I don’t have anything original to add to what’s already been said about it. It is quite simply the most powerful film ever made on slavery in the American South. It entirely merits its 97 score on Metacritic—and is the best American movie of the year IMO.

Two things that went through my mind during the film and thinking about and discussing it after. One was the terrorist regime in the American South—where I happen to be at the moment (in a civilized part)—and that persisted for a century after the end of the Civil War. The American South was the most politically reactionary, violent, quasi feudal, and least democratic part of the Western world into the mid 20th century. And the entire white population was complicit. There may have been a few relatively kindly or benign slave owners—and one sees two in the film—but they were still slave owners. During the post Civil War century of Jim Crow, no sector of white society, not even a small minority, challenged the existing order. Practically no Southern whites participated in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s or openly supported it. Cf. South Africa, where a minority of whites did oppose apartheid (some even joining the ANC). And also unlike South Africa, there was no Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the post-Jim Crow South. The federal government imposed the change on the South via legislation, court rulings, and even troops, and that was that. The South had no choice but to acquiesce. Of course there’s been accommodation, some at least, and life for black Americans in the South today bears little resemblance to what it was sixty years ago, but there’s still a direct line between the white Weltanschauung depicted in the film and that of the current Tea Party GOP, which dominates (white) Southern politics. How else to comprehend the GOP’s determination to restrict the suffrage via undermining the Voting Rights Act (America being the only country in the Western world—or even among non-Western democracies—where there is a concerted effort by one of the parties of government to effectively deny eligible citizens the right to vote, or to render it as difficult as possible)?

Second thought. In the scene in the film where the slaves are chopping trees with axes, one can almost feel how tempted they are—and particularly Solomon Northup/Platt—to swing around with those axes and use them on the slave owner and his overseers. White Southerners lived in permanent dread fear of slave revolts, which is one reason the violence meted out to the slaves was so extreme. If one was whipped for not meeting the quota for picked cotton, then the penalty for killing a white man could only be a slow, hideous death following torture and mutilation, and which the slaves knew well (and not even the slave owners had law on their side if they tried to shield their slaves from the wrath of whites of lesser standing; e.g. the scene of Solomon Northup/Platt being told by his first owner that he couldn’t protect him after the altercation with the overseer and the latter’s lynching posse). Thus the Second Amendment and the “right to bear arms,” here the white population forming armed militias to control the slaves. The Second Amendment was demanded by the Southern states to this end, so explicates law professor Carl T. Bogus in his 1998 article “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment,” published in the University of California at Davis Law Review. America and guns: it was all about controlling slaves. Yes, it was.

UPDATE: The Guardian has an interesting and informative article on the film’s director, “Steve McQueen: my hidden shame.” The lede: “His new film 12 Years A Slave is an unflinching look at human brutality. But director Steve McQueen’s childhood contains a painful secret he has never confronted.” (January 4, 2014)

2nd UPDATE: Jonathan Chait has a quite good essay, dated December 4th, “12 Years a Slave and the Obama Era,” on the New York magazine website.

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