Fri, Jun

Terror Becomes the New Normal


GELFAND’S WORLD--One or two mass shootings ago, the Commander in Chief responded to a reporter's question by stating that it wasn't the time to talk about gun control. Well, he's had weeks and weeks to talk about it since then and doesn't seem to have gotten around to it. I guess it just slipped his mind. What will the Republican congress do in light of yesterday's massacre? Do we even need to ask? 

Perhaps today is another one of those day's where it's just not the right time to talk about gun control. After all, how could it be the right time to talk about children dying from gunshot wounds on a day when  a large number of children died of gunshot wounds? 

The prize for hypocrisy goes to Florida's governor. From the LA Times story we have the following quote: 

"Florida Gov. Rick Scott said the investigation would attempt to determine how a former high school student came to be armed with such a powerful weapon. "You come to the conclusion that this is just absolutely pure evil," he said." 

Here is the answer. It's legal to buy a powerful semiautomatic rifle and it's easy to load yourself up with multishot magazines. The governor's political comrades and his political party have defended this as a legal right. To my mind, the absolute evil rests with the politicians and voters who insist on the right to own semiautomatic rifles without limit or regulation. 

The Republicans and other gun worshippers, lacking a rational strategy for dealing with gun violence, have now settled on a long term tactic: Blame everything on mental illness. From this same article: 

"As reactions poured in Thursday, President Donald Trump focused on the young man’s mental health, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he wants the Justice Department to study how mental illness and gun violence intersect, to better understand how law enforcement can better use existing laws to intervene before these school shootings happen." 

The 21st Anniversary of a Difficult Evening 

January 17, 1997 was the night that Laurence Austin was murdered in the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax Blvd. He was responsible for bringing back in most exemplary fashion an artform that had largely been forgotten. Yes, there were other places that showed films from the beginning of the age of cinema -- the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, UCLA, and college film history classes to name three. But only Austin introduced his shows with the words, "Good evening, and welcome to the world's only silent movie theatre." What Austin meant was that unlike other repertory houses, the SMT was exclusively dedicated to movies from the pre-sound era. 

The marvelous part of Austin's screenings was that the films were shown with live organ accompaniment. It is hard to describe in words how wonderful this was, but Buster Keaton's film The General accompanied by Dean Mora on the organ was like nothing else I've experienced. I think the closest analogy would be the operatic stage, where music and visual drama are combined. 

And then one night it was ended by three shots from a high powered pistol. Besides Laurence Austin, there was a non-lethal casualty and, in addition, the shooter fired two more rounds at and over the audience. 

What is germane about this reminiscence is that the witnesses and survivors of a shooting event are affected in a way that is unlike anything else in life. Even now -- after a length of time in which babies were born, grew to adulthood, and are eligible to drink legally -- I still remember the events of that night. Such things are hard to put aside, much less forget. It's difficult for me to even begin to imagine what it's like for the classmates of the dead children, much less their parents. 

So I'm (as usual) annoyed and offended by the words of those who defend uncontrolled gun ownership. Remember when it was "Guns don't kill people, people kill people"? Now it's the excuse that we haven't done enough about mental illness -- this coming from the side that has done everything it can to abolish social services. 

The mass shootings seem to be increasing in prevalence. What's to come in the near and far future? 

It seems to me that there are two possible outcomes. One possibility, unlikely but still conceivable, is that enough people will begin to feel that we are all unsafe, and out of that realization will come the political environment in which this country will take action. It may require a Constitutional amendment. At the least it will require a turnover in the makeup of the Supreme Court. This is obviously fairly long term. 

The other possibility is that the fad of mass shootings will slowly die away. Then, perhaps in another half-century, the U.S. will look back on this era as strange and nearly inconceivable. 

A New York Times article discusses how the public feels about various approaches ranging from universal checks on buyers to mental health treatment. Buried in the fine print is the idea that gun owners would have to demonstrate the need for a gun, a sentiment which is agreed to by slightly less than half the public. This is of course the real solution -- keep guns out of the hands of most people so that the angry, vindictive ones and the people lacking self control will have to find some other way of expressing their rage. 

A Final Thought until the Next Mass Murder 

The shooter in the Silent Movie Theatre that long ago night was a nineteen year old. The trial record shows that he wasn't very bright. He was just trying to make a little money. Actually, he was promised twenty-five thousand dollars from the man who planned and organized the murder, but he only received one thousand dollars before his arrest. That arrest came six weeks after the shooting and he has been in custody every since. He has spent his twentieth, thirtieth, and fortieth birthdays behind bars, the latter milestone just recently. 

Those Skating Announcers 

In previous Winter Olympics, the television announcers who called the skating competitions were more of an intrusion than a spotlight. Consider that you have some of the world's best athletes turning leaps and swivels into a balletic art. While this was going on, the announcers would keep interrupting the aesthetic enjoyment of the event by constantly calling out the names for the various leaps and then, during the interludes between leaps, the announcers would blather on about how the previous leap had gone. We heard -- endlessly -- toe loop, axel, and lutz and some other jump that I can't spell. 

This year, we seem to have an improved situation. The announcers are still treating the skating routines as an athletic competition, but they are beginning to show a decent respect for the spectacle itself. In the pairs event, the Chinese couple skated to excerpts from Puccini's Turandot, the music that many of us remember for Luciano Pavarotti's rendition of the aria Nessun Dorma. Their routine ended with a romantic dance to that aria. It was a remarkable achievement for television that the announcers allowed the show to proceed without constantly interrupting. 

The announcers were a bit too "inside baseball" when they referred to the skaters as "selling it." That's a term that I connect with the job a professional wrestler has in convincing his audience that he is actually in pain. Would we use the term "selling it" to refer to Kenneth Branagh rousing his troops in Henry V, or would we more correctly refer to it as great acting? There should be another term besides "selling it" for a skater turning an athletic act into an artistic creation. 

A Final Word about Florida 

The L.A. Times article linked to (above) had a quote which struck me as an accurate summary of survivors' feelings: 

"Christina added: 'I don't want to go back to this school. I can't go up the stairs. There's blood on the stairs." 

What she is saying, if I may offer a little interpretation, doesn't refer to mere squeamishness. It refers to the fact that the blood represents the dead kids that she knew as being completely alive only a few minutes earlier.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch.)