A Brief Hiatus

Just a note that I will be out of the country from Jan. 12 to Feb. 11. During this time, my Internet access may be limited. This means not only that there will be probably no new posts, but also that there may be a delay in moderating comments. Please be patient. Thanks.

4 Dangerous Beliefs About Guns (1)

obama weeping

Finally, President Obama stood up to Republicans in Congress and the gun lobby that owns them.  And not surprisingly, his announced plans to take action on gun violence triggered a volley of loony objections from the Second Amendment cult: “IT’S UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!! HE’S PLANNING TO TAKE AWAY OUR GUNS!!! IT WON’T STOP GUN VIOLENCE!!! IT’S JUST LIKE HITLER!!!

Media Matters did a good job of addressing most of the negative comments about the president’s specific proposals. But there are certain general attacks that always greet any kind of proposed action to reduce gun violence. They are based on certain beliefs that are not only false but dangerous. The most common are these:

  1. The Second Amendment was intended to ensure that citizens can do battle against their own government.
  2. “Gun Control” is a hallmark of tyranny.
  3. Armed civilians can successfully defend themselves against malicious government forces.
  4. Guns make us safer, and the more guns we have, the safer we are

We’re going to look at each of these in its own separate post. Let’s get started with this one:

Dangerous Belief # 1: The Second Amendment was intended to ensure that citizens can do battle against their own government.

This is actually  a subsidiary myth, with the primary myth being that the Second Amendment was intended to guarantee all citizens a right to be armed. But thoroughly dismantling the immense stack of falsehoods surrounding that claim will take more space than we’ve got here (we’ll get to it in due time).

Yet it should be obvious to anyone who actually reads the Second Amendment and has a basic grasp of the mother tongue that it is, to say the very least, a semantic swamp that leaves a great deal of ambiguity about the supposed right to own firearms for private use; and wherever there is any ambiguity at all, there are no absolutes. Thus, there is no absolute right to own a gun. Which means the notion that there is a right to own a gun to defend yourself against the big bad guvmint is a non-sequitur.

It would behoove the NRA crowd to realize that there is more to the Constitution than just one amendment. If they could only extricate their combat boots from the muck of the Second Amendment, even just long enough to move a few steps back to the original seven articles of the Constitution — the ones written before the Sacred Second or any other amendment was appended–  they might learn that a true “militia”, such as they fancy themselves to be, answers to the President Of The United States, rather than trying to plot his downfall:

(Article 2, Section 2)

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States…

So if they are an actual militia, then President Obama would only have to call them into “actual service”, and they’d be obligated to take orders from him, if they truly are the  “patriots” they style themselves. Doesn’t matter whether or not they like him or his complexion — oops, I mean his policies, of course. Furthermore, if they have the fortitude to read only a little further, they might learn that taking up arms against their country not only is not patriotic, it’s the very definition of treason:

(Article 3, Section 3)

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort…

Treason is a very serious crime. It’s often been punishable by death. And yet you really believe that the Founders went to all the trouble of inserting an amendment into the Constitution so that U.S. citizens would have the opportunity — nay, even the right and duty — to commit such a serious offense?

This myth is particularly dangerous because since the Second Amendment does not mention tyranny, it of course does not define tyranny. That leaves the gun culture to dream up its own definitions, which tend to be deranged and egocentric. Quite often, “tyranny” is anything that happens when they don’t get their way one hundred percent: hence the slogan “if ballots don’t work, bullets will”.  Many of them consider President Obama a tyrant because he wants to make sure they have healthcare.

At this writing, one cringe-worthy example of what often happens when children of white privilege have too much time on their hands and too many toys to play with is taking its course in Oregon, where an armed “””militia””” has taken over an isolated pit stop and threatened violent action if they don’t get themselves excused from the penalties of law that apply to everyone else.

No matter how valid their complaint may have been to begin with, does it really justify this kind of behavior? So far, their actions have not resulted in any violence, but what do you suppose would happen if the big bad guvmint responded to them the same way it responded to UNARMED protesters for Black Lives Matter?

GTY_protest_minnesota3_cf_151223_16x9_992

These “””patriots””” supposedly came to defend a couple of Oregon ranchers who were duly convicted of arson after setting fires on public land to destroy evidence of other crimes, boasting about their deeds and vowing to “light up the whole country on fire”.  Those two, meanwhile, have faced up to their punishment and have said they don’t want the “””militia””” representing them.

Doesn’t matter. The “””patriots”””, led by a couple of other ranchers from Nevada, have decided to take up the gauntlet against the evil guvmint, from whom they receive several forms of assistance to fatten their purses, and have drastically rewritten the nation’s history in the process. And they’ve expanded their narrative to pose as constitutional and legal experts in making the case that the federal government in general has no authority to administer public lands — even though the Constitution and the courts say otherwise.

They have pledged to stay until the death if they are not crowned emperors; yet, while they remembered to bring plenty of weapons and lead, they apparently didn’t think they might also need food during their mission of indefinite duration. Consequently, they have appealed for more handouts — this time from their admirers, but the survival rations are to be delivered by the USPS — another branch of the evil guvmint.

It’s scary enough that people like this are armed at all, much less that they take it upon themselves to decide what kind of “tyranny” needs overthrowing.

(Related Post: “9 Nutty Narratives About the Nevada Standoff”)

 

 

 

 

Reader’s Digest Grows Up

Readers Digest

Like many Americans, and indeed many people around the world, I’ve been exposed to Reader’s Digest my entire life. We were very poor when I was a child, and couldn’t afford much in the way of reading material; but many compact issues of that cheery, wholesome periodical published somewhere in New York, and even some of its hard-cover distillations of recent bestselling books, still managed to find their way into our household (they all tend to get recirculated a lot).

At an early age, I learned to appreciate the magazine’s inspiring real-life stories, amusing real-life anecdotes, upbeat tone, and informative condensed gleanings from many other publications that I’d never seen or even heard of. And I might add that some of the most hilarious moments I ever saw on The Tonight Show were Johnny Carson’s recurring parodies of RD’s helpful-hints articles.

But I also realized at an early age that an intelligent perusal of RD entailed filtering out a lot of crap. Founded in 1922 by a rock-ribbed right-winger, RD catered wholeheartedly to the longstanding dominant narrative that America was founded by and for right-wing fanatics; and that anything except right-wing fanaticism poses a grim threat to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Not only did it extol the untainted bliss of life in the dear old U S of A, it also painted an unstintingly grim picture of life in the evil empire of the Soviet Union. Somewhere around my grandparents’ house, I even recall seeing a Reader’s Digest edition of a piece of sophomoric literary agitprop called… let’s see, was it Atlas Yawned? (Presumably, the naughty parts were expunged in the name of American decency.)

The politically themed features of the magazine often followed a formula that I have come to call the bias sandwich. Suppose it ran an expose of a certain type of corruption or incompetence in Washington. The article would begin by providing three or four examples of Democrats indulging in the behavior, then throw in a Republican offender to provide some semblance of balance, then close with another Democrat or two to create a lasting impression. If the article instead examined admirable activity, the proportions would be the same but the polarities would be reversed.

And religion. God yes, it was steeped to the core  in religion. Not just any religion,  but hardcore fundamentalist namby-pamby WASPish Christianity. There were many accounts of real-life “miracles”, and the true meaning of Christmas, and the power of prayer, and anecdotes recounting how “when I was eleven I fell and scraped my knee and my grandmother bandaged it and made me a cup of hot chocolate and I knew then that God would always be there for me.”

All of which seemed perfectly congruent in an era when everyone was white, judges could order people to attend church, and school children wore military-style dog tags so their bodies could be identified in the rubble left by an impending Russian nuking. But it’s a different world now, a less innocent and more adult world. It’s much harder to ignore the fact that there are many kinds of people in the world, people of different races and creeds and proclivities and lifestyles — and most of them are rather decent people. And Reader’s Digest, fortunately, has evolved to reflect this change.

It didn’t happen overnight, but the watershed seems to have occurred right around the turn of the millennium, as if the magazine’s editorship really took to heart the old belief about how the Twenty-First Century was supposed to be an era of wondrous developments. And there were at least three distinct mileposts that stand out.

First, the Digest became more even-handed in its political coverage. It started discussing Republicans with less gushing adoration and Democrats with more basic respect. During a presidential election cycle, you now can expect to see fairly unbiased and substantial interviews with both major candidates. (It doesn’t devote a lot of ink to candidates outside the two-party system, but who does?)

Second, it started publishing letters (emails) from readers. After all, the magazine was named for them. But for a very long time, it was a one-way mirror rather than a dialogue. And that just didn’t seem right for a periodical that was supposed to be the great American vox populi.

Finally, the ever-entertaining National Review ran a hand-wringing lament about the Digest’s sad demise.  The original article by John J. Miller, alas, is no longer accessible for your entertainment, but you can get a good idea of its contents from an amusing commentary on it in The Washington Post. The premier voice of wingnuttery in America believes the Digest is in a sate of sorry decline and depravity? Higher praise than that, my friends, there is simply not.

RD is, to be sure, still a rather conservative magazine. But it’s conservative in the true sense of the word rather than the Fox/ Limbaugh/ National Review sense.  Recently some of its readers felt that one particular little joke in one issue was a bit too risque, so the editor issued an apology and a promise that it wouldn’t happen again. That kind of conservatism may be silly, but at least it isn’t deranged and vicious.

For many generations, Americans have been able to say that they grew up with Reader’s Digest.  But those of the present generation can also say that Reader’s Digest has grown up with them.