Proudly Choosing Irrelevance

There is such a thing as a sense of place. Paris just feels like Paris – even if you were blindfolded you’d know you were there – and the same holds true for New Orleans, or what’s left of it, and Manhattan too. It’s more than the smells and the ambient sounds and the way the light falls, or it’s all of that. Maybe it’s the same for Cleveland and Pittsburgh too – but it doesn’t seem to be true for Los Angeles or for Hollywood in particular. Here everything seems like a movie set, representing someplace else in the wrold, and, with all the location shoots here are there, that may be so. Exteriors and action shots for CSI Miami are done in Long Beach, and the mean docks and warehouses in many a gritty east coast crime movie are shot down in San Pedro. It’s cheaper. And if you need a sleepy and leafy New England town, Claremont will do nicely – just keep the palm trees out of the frame. So this place is no place, and it’s every place. It doesn’t have a center, which is why people like to say Los Angeles is a hundred suburbs in search of a city – something you might hear in a Woody Allen film. It’s a silly place, you see. That’s why all the tourists come. Baby boomers think of Gidget when they pass Surfrider Beach out in Malibu, and they crank up a Beach Boys tune. The generation that followed, stuck in traffic in Sherman Oaks, sees that mall on their right and think of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Hidden behind Beverly Hills is sleepy Franklin Canyon Park with its little lake – the fishing hole in the opening of the Andy Griffin Show each week and, curiously, the alien planet in a few episodes of the original Star Trek series. The list could go on and on. Here isn’t here. It’s someplace else.

The irony is that there really is a city here, with tall buildings and sidewalks and everything – even if it empties out at night as everyone heads for the suburbs. Still it’s real enough, and like Manhattan, it even has a jewelry district – Hill Street and Olive and Broadway between 5th and 8th – with Hasidic diamond merchants and all, and not a surfer or palm tree in sight. It’s like that warren of streets in the south side of the Empire State Building in Manhattan, but without the shootouts. There, last summer, the cops confronted a mad gunman and they took the guy out – but nine bystanders were shot too which upset people no end. We’ve got to stop these madmen. People were, however, more upset when it turned out that the highly-trained and heroic cops, not being terribly careful about crowd safety, were the ones who accidently shot those bystanders. The bad guy got off only one initial shot, the one that killed his intended victim, and never fired another round. The rain of gunfire came from the cops.

Oops – but that’s the difference between Hollywood and real life. In Hollywood movies the good guys take out the bad guy and save the day, and everyone’s safe. In real life it’s always messier. Say what you will about shallow and silly Los Angeles, and even sillier Hollywood, the crap we produce out here is about a world where solving problems with gunfire works just fine. This has been going on since the first crude western. Every day is High Noon in a way. Righteous gunfire does save the day. Yes, this has nothing to do with reality, but the NRA should thank Hollywood for such narratives. It keeps a myth alive.

Ah, but it seems the NRA has other ideas:

National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre blamed Hollywood, video games music, the courts and more on Friday for creating a culture of violence in the United States.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he said at a Washington press event, adding, “With all the money in the federal budget can’t we afford to put a police officer in every single school?”

LaPierre made his lengthy statement to the press one week after the shooting that killed twenty children and six adults at a school in Newtown, Conn.

No, no, no – he shouldn’t blame Hollywood. He should thank Hollywood for his key idea, the myth of the good guy with a gun, and Wayne LaPierre does dream of good guys and bad guys:

“We must speak for the safety of our nation’s children,” said LaPierre. “We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, courthouses, even sports stadiums, are all protected by armed security. We care about our president, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress works in offices surrounded by Capitol police officers, yet when it comes to our most beloved innocent and vulnerable members of the American family – our children – we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless. And the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it.”

“That must change now,” argued LaPierre, moments before being interrupted by a protester carrying a large pink sign proclaiming that the “NRA is killing our kids.” “The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters – people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?”

In short, the answer is more guns, now, not fewer guns, and an army of reluctant Gary Coopers doing the right thing. Maybe a few of those NYPD cops, relieved of duty for their enthusiasm, could do the job. It’s just that the devil is in the details:

LaPierre called on Congress to put a police officer in every school in America, which according to a Slate analysis would cost the nation at least $5.4 billion. LaPierre recognized that local budgets are “strained,” but urged lawmakers “to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school.” He offered up the NRA’s unique “knowledge, dedication, and resources” to assist in efforts to train those forces, but made no mention of a fiscal contribution.

Columbine High School employed an armed guard, Neil Gardner, at the time of the 1999 school shootings. According to CNN, Gardner was eating lunch in his car when violence broke out in the school, and 13 people were killed.

Nothing is ever as neat and easy as the Hollywood movies he says he hates but obviously loves, and then the guy from real life spoke out:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the press conference a “shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country.”

“Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe,” he said. “Leadership is about taking responsibility, especially in times of crisis. Today the NRA’s lobbyists blamed everyone but themselves for the crisis of gun violence.”

Yeah, well, what did you expect? The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explains it all:

Keep in mind that all of this is deliberately designed to serve an overarching strategic goal – distraction. The NRA absolutely must keep the focus off of the problem of easy gun availability, and what can be done about it, for as long as possible.

The media narrative the NRA hopes for out of this presser is twofold: NRA criticizes media for maligning gun owners; and NRA calls for armed security guards in schools. This is standard obfuscation from the NRA, which always tries to distract from the discussion about the need for reform by characterizing the push for it as driven by elite cultural disdain for gun culture and ordinary gun owners. And focusing only on schools is about diverting the conversation away from the broader epidemic of gun violence.

After all, the question of whether we respond to the shooting with increased security in schools is entirely separate from whether we also respond to it – and the broader epidemic of gun deaths – with sensible gun law reform. These are not mutually exclusive topics. And today LaPierre said nothing to signal a willingness to even consider any change in its opposition to many of the sensible gun law reforms that have been proposed.

The odd thing is this:

LaPierre revealed again that the NRA does not speak for the majority of rank and file gun owners. CNN’s latest poll shows very broad support for specific gun law reforms, such as background checks on every would-be gun purchaser and bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Even majorities of Republicans favor these.

The idea was to keep any of that from being discussed as long as possible, and maybe it worked. See Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog:

We can laugh, we can be appalled, but all over America the response of the usual noisy minority of gun extremists is: Yes, exactly. Here’s what that means: it means that, in many school districts in America, LaPierre and the NRA have created another school-shooting scapegoat: any parent who questions the NRA’s approach. In many cities and towns, pro-gun people are going to demand that skeptics accept this approach. They’re going to say that skeptics are literally putting children at lethal risk. …

I don’t think this means the NRA is going to pay the armed para-cops, buy the weapons, buy the ammo, or pay to insure and indemnify the armed personnel. Nevertheless, I guarantee that, all over Red America, there’ll soon be schools sporting some snazzy new NRA National School Shield Program logo somewhere on the building or grounds. And if any mass shooting takes place in any school or mall or hospital or church in America (in the world, really) that hasn’t adopted this NRA program, the smugness from program participants is going to be insufferable. (If a shooting happens at an NRA-program location, well, that fact will be swept under the rug.)

We’re talking, of course, about either (a) a volunteer George Zimmerman in every school or (b) a paid cop in every school.

Then there’s reality. See this sly comment from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – “I don’t necessarily think having an armed guard outside every classroom is conducive to a positive learning environment.”

Anna Marie Cox runs with that:

That statement may come to mark a Nixon-to-China shift in the American gun control debate. We bleeding-heart liberals have plenty of statistics to use against the NRA’s proposal at our disposal, but only the most no-nonsense Republican in the country can successfully make an anti-gun argument based entirely on sentiment: it just doesn’t feel right.

I want to make a joke about how, next, he’ll be having us hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but holding hands and singing Kumbaya is exactly what we do in these situations. Liberal or conservative, parent or child, journalist or politician, flyover or coastal, when a tragedy of this scale strikes, we hold each other up, we engage in the traditions of community that otherwise seem foreign or old-fashioned. We relearn why it is we argue so passionately – because we care so much.

That recalibration of moral compasses that has been on vivid display elsewhere in the political sphere has not taken place inside the NRA.

There’s also this:

LaPierre began his remarks petulantly, claiming that “because [of] all the noise and anger directed at us over the past week,” an important part of the debate had been missed. “No one,” he said, sputtering emphatically, “nobody – has addressed the most important, pressing and immediate question we face: how do we protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we know works?”

Consider the level of conceit involved in claiming that merely criticizing the NRA could blind people to other aspects of the debate, and then consider what he’s saying: that “no one – nobody” addressed the “most important” question of protecting our children. This is exactly what everyone has turned over in their minds. Sometimes awkwardly, sometimes with not all the facts at hand, often ruled more by heart than head, but if there’s a person who saw the news about Sandy Hook and didn’t think, “How can we protect our children right now, starting today?”

Well, I would guess those people were in the bunker at the NRA…

They’re watching old Hollywood movies down in that bunker too. That’ll keep you out of touch with the real world, and Slate’s John Dickerson starts to connect the dots:

The night before, a committed band of Republicans defeated House Speaker John Boehner. The Republican leader had offered legislation designed to give his party political cover in the fiscal cliff negotiations and increase his leverage in talks with the president. The gambit failed because enough Republicans refused to bend on their anti-tax principles. Boehner wound up looking foolish, and the House Republicans looked unable to perform the most basic functions.

The Republican Party is in a rebuilding mode after its 2012 election loss. These two events – a defiant NRA and an incompetent leadership – cannot be the face of confrontation the GOP wants to show the public on high-profile issues. Tea Party activists and gun owners are a key part of the party base. But these public acts are out of sync with the moment and completely at odds with party’s need to widen its membership.

The NRA and Tea Party conservatives would simply say that they are sticking to their principles. That presents two questions: whether their principles are wrong at this time in history and whether the way in which they stick to their principles damages the party.

The answers are yes and yes. Dickerson explains why in detail, although everyone already knows why this conflicted conservative crew is in trouble in general:

Right now its leaders are trying to send the message of inclusiveness in all forms. The Republican Party has lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections. Something has to change. The precise road back to the majority is not clear. But as a matter of basic math, it’s pretty clear that the party must show that it is open: open to ideas, new people (i.e., minorities who are growing as a larger share of the voting population), and the new challenges of our daily lives.

Holding more firmly to your views despite new circumstances can offer stability, but it also opens you up to looking remote, unconcerned, and out of touch. To those who might think you hail from another planet it helps to speak to them in their language. That language requires a conversation, not an argument.

That’s why you probably shouldn’t open your press conference with this – “This is the beginning of a serious conversation. We won’t be taking questions today.”

What? Who writes this guy’s speeches? And as for having a serious conversation, there’s a conceptual issue here too. Firmin Debrabander explains the problem:

Guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name – that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the NRA’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly – not make any sudden, unexpected moves – and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

There is that, but Andrew Sullivan zeroes in on the bigger issue here:

Between the humiliating and chaotic collapse of Speaker Boehner’s already ludicrously extreme Plan B and Wayne La Pierre’s deranged proposal to put government agents in schools with guns, the Republican slide into total epistemic closure and political marginalization has now become a free-fall. This party, not to mince words, is unfit for government. There is no conservative party in the West – except for minor anti-immigrant neo-fascist ones in Europe – anywhere close to this level of far right extremism. And now the damage these fanatics can do is not just to their own country – was the debt ceiling debacle of 2011 not enough for them? – but to the entire world.

Those of us who have warned for years about this disturbing trend toward ever more extreme measures – backing torture, pre-emptive un-budgeted wars, out-of-control spending followed, like a frantic mood swing, by anti-spending absolutism of the most insane variety in a steep recession, vicious hostility to illegal immigrants, contempt for gay couples, hostility even to contraception, let alone a middle ground on abortion … well, you know it all by now.

But the current constitutional and economic vandalism removes any shred of doubt that this party and its lucrative media bubble is in any way conservative.

Sullivan considers himself a conservative, in the tradition of Edmund Burke and so on, and considers this crowd something else entirely:

They’re ideological zealots, indifferent to the consequences of their actions, contemptuous of the very to-and-fro essential for the American system to work, gerrymandering to thwart the popular will, filibustering in a way that all but wrecks the core mechanics of American democracy, and now willing to acquiesce to the biggest tax increase imaginable because they cannot even accept Obama’s compromise from his clear campaign promise to raise rates for those earning over $250,000 to $400,000 a year.

Sullivan also has a list of how nasty this crowd has become:

On abortion, the party proposes that it be made illegal in every state by amending the Constitution. Torture? More, please. Iran? It should be attacked if it merely develops the technological skill to make a nuclear bomb, let alone actually make one. Israel? Leading Republicans don’t just support new settlements on the West Bank. They show up for the opening ceremonies!

Gun control? A massacre of children leads to a proposal for more guns in elementary schools and no concession on assault weapons. Immigration? Romney represented the party base – favoring a brutal regime of persecution of illegal immigrants until they are forced to “self-deport” – or rounding as many up as they can. Climate change? It’s a hoax – and we should respond by shrieking “Drill, Baby, Drill!” Gay marriage? The federal constitution should be amended to bar any legal recognition of any gay relationships, including civil partnerships. Their legislative agenda in this Congress? To “make Obama a one-term president.” Not saving the economy, not pursuing new policies, not cooperating to make Democratic legislation better – just destroying a president of the opposite party. And, of course, failing.

Then there is the rhetoric. In just the last fortnight, House Republicans have asserted that secretary of state Clinton faked her recent fall and concussion at home in order to get out of testifying on the Benghazi consulate attack…

And so on and so forth. Sullivan wants them gone:

This faction and its unhinged fanaticism have no place in any advanced democracy. They must be broken. But the current irony is that no one has managed to expose their extremism more clearly than their own Speaker. His career is over. As is the current Republican Party. We need a new governing coalition in the House – Democrats and those few sane Republicans willing to put country before ideology. But even that may be impossible.

Other than that things are just fine.

Actually these guys should be out here in the Hollywood that they say they so despise. Here the hard and taciturn hero, who never compromises ever, finally settles things with his gun – and he never hits nine bystanders. He always shoots straight. It’s a great myth from the land of shallow fakery, the nowhere place that can pretend to be anyplace. Let them come out here and make movies. They shouldn’t be in government. Let them proudly choose irrelevancy.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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