Archive | December, 2012

So can we talk about gun control yet?

16 Dec

Are you kidding me? Shooting in Connecticut leaves at least 27 dead, potentially more, around 20 of whom are children?  If THIS doesn’t get a national dialogue about gun control and lack of access to mental health treatment going, nothing will.

No need to reinvent the wheel. Go ahead and review the Telegraph’s painful tally of mass shootings in the US since the Columbine shootings that emotionally rocked my pre-9/11, naive, coddled, hopeful 18-year-old self. Or Mother Jones’s analysis of the 62 (sixty-two) mass murders committed in the US since 1982. I’ll wait. Try to keep down the bile.

You know what’s sadder than the sheer length of those lists?

I mean, besides the fact that Columbine, with 12 dead, seems like child’s play compared to the 32 dead in Virginia Tech?

That I’d never heard of some of those shootings before opening this Telegraph article?

That I forgot about a February 2008 shooting that left 16 students dead at the University of DeKalb?

That the March 2009 shooting of eight elderly people at a nursing home never even registered has having existed the static of day-to-day bad news?

No, what’s even more tragic is that the list is woefully incomplete. In December alone, four were shot while Christmas shopping at a mall in Portland, Oregon, and today 20-ish babies and 7-ish adults died while attending school.

Now read this poor mother’s accounting of her pre-teen son’s violent struggle with some unidentifiable mental illness, entitled “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.”  (Good luck. It’s touched a nerve with so much of the American public, the site keeps crashing.) That poor baby. That poor family. And if that child doesn’t receive the care he needs before he becomes large enough to out-wrestle his mother or, say, shoot her in the face with her own guns, then that poor community. This is a little boy who has threatened to kill himself, his mother, his siblings, Yet he is not eligible to receive mental health care until he actually commits a crime. WHAT THE FUCK?!?!? I’ve heard of pre-existing conditions before. But since when is a pre-existing body count required to diagnose a mental condition?

Le sigh, as the French say.

After the recent murder-suicide of an NFL football player and his girlfriend (I’ll let you guess who was the murderer and who was the murder-ee), Bob Costas, America’s never-aging sportscaster, attempted to use his national platform on Sunday Night Football to start a dialogue about gun control and the pervasive gun culture in the United States.

He mostly quoted from a Fox Sports Columnist, Jason Whitlock, who wrote: “our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy” and that “if Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.”

And BOY did Fox News get its panties in a bunch, claiming that Sunday Night football was not the correct venue for such a discussion, and that the “bodies aren’t even cool” blah-blah-blah-convenient-false-deference-for-victims-blah. There is so much wrong with this argument, I’m not sure where to begin. No one says it better than Jon Stewart, so I’ll let him doing the saying: Any given gun day

There is no inappropriate time to discuss something this important. It is appropriate for Bob Costas to mention this shooting on Sunday Night Football; for the postman to mention it as he delivers mail; for the Disney tram conductor to mention it between the parking lot and the ferry; for the goddamned gynecologist to mention it while my knees are around my ears. It is always appropriate. Because failure to discuss gun control is not only killing children and old people, it’s infecting our society with a distrust of society (yeah, wrap your mind around that one) that will rot us all to the core.

And let’s get real: the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms was created at time when it took a full minute to reload a gun–and that’s if you were good. (Hence the term “Minutemen” to describe America’s rebel militias during the Revolution.) I’m relatively certain George Mason is turning over in his grave at the thought of crazy people using the Bill of Rights to justify the use of semi-automatic weapons by civilians against civilians.

I understand the origins of the 2nd Amendment. It was intended to allow the people access to the fire power necessary to overthrow a tyrannical government. But who missed the memo that the U.S. has nuclear bombs? That’s bombssss, plural. Not to mention submarines, tanks, black death helicopters, and unmanned drones that can take out an individual from a couple hundred feet. An Uzi is going to do shit to protect you from the U.S. government, and it will turn Bambi into inedible Swiss cheese. What an Uzi IS good for, though, is killing five-year-olds. And old people. And people sitting in malls. And university students walking to class. And high-schoolers in the lunch room. The only thing it is good for is killing people. So unless NRA whacknuts are actually advocating for allowing public purchase and distribution of dirty bombs, this is a completely moot point.

I’m waiting for the first person on FB to say something like “if more sane people had guns, fewer crazy people would use theirs to kill people.” (Whoops, look at that; took less than a day.) If the crux of your argument is that five-year-olds and/or their teachers should be packing heat then You. Have. A. Losing. Argument.

You don’t want to talk about gun control? Fine. Then talk about the machismo that encourages young men — but not women — to commit these crimes year after year, ratcheting up the violence with each incantation. Talk about access to mental health care. But talk about something. You cannot ignore the statistics. You cannot ignore the tiny caskets that are to be buried in Connecticut next week. Reality has an ugly way of making itself known.

Now pardon me while I try not to pop the heads off my children as I hold them very, very tight. Tonight my only hope is that they never have to stare down the receiving end of a 9 mm while learning their ABCs. And that is sad.


The Personal Might Actually Be Political After All

4 Dec

Anne-Marie Slaughter really likes to talk about the private/public divide these days. After her article  on how illusionary it is for women to be both super moms and super careerists (which might be true, I just don’t understand how this is any different for careerists who are both male and fathers), I just read an article by her on the private life of public persons got me thinking.

She started off by wondering whether Petraeus had an obligation to step down because he betrayed his family and the marriage vows he gave to his wife, indicating a betrayal of intrinsic values which the general public believed he stood for.

Now, I find this a very tricky subject. On the one hand, such claims – that a leader did not live up to a perceived set of moral standards opens the door to all forms of hypocrisy and political exploitation. On the other hand, does it really say nothing about you as a human being that you accept that your partner, to whom you owe your family life, upon discovery of the affair, might be exposed to public humiliation and ridicule?* Yes, I know it is a dangerous terrain with the risk of self-righteousness looming nearby.

I talked about the Petreaeus affair with a Hungarian friend over lunch the other day. Or, more precisely, she started talking about it, invoking it as one of the reasons why she found the US such a weird country. ‘It’s not anyone’s business. It is so different. Here (meaning Hungary) or in France, the guy would receive a pat on the back and would be cheered on’ she said (or something along those lines). Yes, he stepped down because he was no longer sustainable in a position in which it is crucial to not make yourself vulnerable to being blackmailed. But still, the fact that he cheated on his wife and what that means for him as a man with values was discussed in the US (the above-cited article may be cited as proof). 

Again, I do think it is generally a good idea not to judge the personal lives of people and their mistakes unless you know all the circumstances. So that is not the point of this post. But this whole affair (no pun intended) got me thinking of the differences in society and in what is considered private/public that contributes to these differences? For I think my friend was right, this discussion would have been totally different in most parts of Europe. Why is it that we very easily refer to something being private, being their own personal business when it comes to how public figures arrange their family lives, even though we know, we accept that by exposing their own personal mistakes in the public forum, someone else’s life achievements (the building and maintaining of a family life) were also reduced to nothing? 

Countless politicians, CEOs, persons holding similar positions of power do work more or less constantly in their waking life to achieve, maintain, foster, or increase something. Most men in such position have a family. Many women in such position, few as they are in the first place, have not. The reason is that when you are such a high-flying power person and you do want to have a family (and you do accept that your day holds merely the 24 hours it has in stock for everyone else), this is virtually impossible if you do not have a partner who stays at home to manage family and household (yes, there are exceptions. But if you chose a career that demanding that it needs your constant attention, you do inevitably accept to cut back in other parts of your life). You need someone who, out of passion, pragmatic consideration or bowing to expectation dedicates their life to your career and your family. Something that – given history, tradition, and societal expectations – women are far more often inclined to do than men. This alone could make us question the admiration for a specific group of public figures and their life achievements, in which it is traditionally forgotten that none of this happened in a private vacuum and none of this would have been possible without the compromise of someone else. Why do we consider someone a role model for undoubtedly morally valuable or even heroic acts without taking into account whether or not they able to live up to the same moral standards with regards to a person at home who enabled them to have some sort of family life in the first place. Someone in the comments section to AMS’ article mentioned JFK as an example, a person you would probably not have wanted for a friend and most certainly not for a husband. Another example I think about is HanneloreKohl, Helmut Kohl’s wife. After she killed herself in 2001, much had been speculated about the reasons for her suicide, which is mainly attributed to a rare photo allergy that had made her a captive in her own house. However, since then, both of the Kohls’ sons also came forward with accounts of how terribly their father failed as a husband and as a father, being constantly absent and, when physically present, uninterested and condescending. In an interview that Hannelore Kohl gave in 1992 she stated that “after four or five hours of real waiting, one can expect only of a dog that he is still looking forward (to seeing someone) (…) I have learned from our dog “.  Does it not have an implication on our judgement of the person as a decent human being if, notwithstanding any public mighty deeds, he fails so miserably in being there for the persons he loves?

So, is it really a sign of a more liberal society of Europe when we refrain from discussing our leaders’ judgements with regards to their private lives? Or is it an indication of some boys-will-be-boys-attitude coupled with an internalisation of traditional gender roles that assign women the role of an auxiliary and make their lives and how they live them matter less than their partner’s. The answer to that question does not mean that a public person who is highly competent and exceptionally skilled and generally amazing at his or her job should step down for any sexual or emotional mishap (unless you are the CIA director, I’m afraid). But it should be clear that they did not get there in a private vacuum and when they depend on the understanding and support of the people close to them in order to climb the career ladder, how they relate to these persons in private cannot be totally disregarded in the evaluation and definition of their success.

* (By the way, family here means people who are a couple, with or without kids. I don’t feel confident making vast assumptions about gay families with kids and high-flying careers and the issues they have to deal with (subtract everyday gender crap and the expectations it brings, insert everyday homophobia its effects), so I won’t write about them. Whether two people are married or not does not matter as I do not believe that any vow makes any relationship more legitimate or stable or sacred).

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