Friday, January 14, 2011

Vacationing at the Last Resort

The news has been dominated here by the shootings in Arizona, once again laying bare that America no longer has a functioning political system, which is a hugely dangerous, deadly thing. If you think just how hard it was for Obama to pass his incoherent and timid attempt at universal health care, and if you notice how that stupid kid in Arizona, motivated by the laughable thought that the government in the U.S. is somehow "oppressive," murdered all those people, and how the whole affair has settled into "yes, but no one would dream of tightening the laws on guns," then what is Congress for?

At point blank range, the gun man (why do Americans prefer the word 'shooter'?) fired his first shot into the back of Representative Gabrielle Giffords' head. The bullet went straight through her head, and she miraculously survived, but before she had fallen to the ground, the gun man was already murdering others with a Glock 19 hand gun, loaded with a special extra-large magazine of bullets. (If you are in New York City, a Glock 19 is half an inch shorter than the Glock 17, an example of which you can see in a holster on the waist of any police officer).

In the wake of the ghastly killings, commentators have said that regulation of guns is a non-starter. If politics is defined as 'relations involving governing of, and the distribution of, power and authority within a group or society, or between groups and societies,' then there is no politics in America. All of the talking since the Tucson massacre has focused on missing the point: the Wall Street Journal editorialized about the gun man in a way which I feel reveals a sickening absence of humanity which made my head feel light. The editorial sought above all other considerations to distance the gun man from the inflammatory right wing conservative movement of this country, which he was clearly, if incoherently, aware of and influenced by. (The editorial might have simply said: "take your places for the dance"). Some bright spark in Congress wants a law banning concealed weapons within a certain number of feet of elected officials -- except how would you know someone is carrying a concealed weapon?

What has been talked about is the amazingness of the surgeons who have saved the Congresswoman's life, and why the bullet did not kill her: it seems she was lucky, and also, perversely, the point-blank range shooting meant that the bullet was traveling at nearly muzzle velocity, its speed taking it on a swift, nearly clean passage through her skull and brain. A softer-tipped bullet going at a slower speed, or tumbling through the air, would have smashed half of her head off.

Meanwhile, the others are dead, all of them persons whom we might consider as vulnerable members of society: the judge, who undertakes difficult and serious work that might make him many enemies; the senior citizens whose advancing age might make them vulnerable; the girl, Christina Taylor Green, who never made it into her teens. She was born on the day of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the significance of which she understood, and she was at the meet-and-greet with Representative Giffords because she was a bright little girl with an interest in politics and democracy. She is, in a sense, a victim twice over, because she probably did not know just how powerless this country's politicians and seats of power are, from protecting her life. Giffords, a pro-gun Democrat, is the only person left in the debate whose voice has yet to be heard, as it seems she may yet make a miraculous recovery.

Perversely, the only people who will draw any comfort from this incident, are gun nuts, protected by the knowledge that another massacre involving a crazy person and guns has come and gone, without any serious talk about controlling weapons. There is also the additional pleasure of seeing one of their hallowed totems such as the weapon the gun man used, in action, against real, live people, and not just a crummy target at a shooting range. If this had been a law enforcement or war situation, wherein guns are being used to incapacitate (in other words, kill) your enemy, then while Giffords survived the shooting, she certainly wasn't going to get up again and pose any sort of threat to you: that Glock 19 with its 33 bullets did exactly what it says on the label! Bravo for Mr and Mrs. Glock and all their family of Glockettes (they live next door to the Smiths and the Wessons).

So, if in the face of a horrific incident like this one in Arizona we can 'safely' assume that no one anywhere, from the President, to Peggy Noonan, will ask any serious questions about gun control, we arrive back at the brick wall of the question, what is Congress for?

Add this question to the long list of other questions which the Americans are as yet refusing to think about: how can anyone logically or even morally, talk about tax cutting when the governments of the states and the U.S. are all running massive deficits? Yet new Republicans were elected in November to go to Washington to demand tax cuts and to do something about the budget deficits. Congress has only one source of money: taxation. But raise taxes? At best, America's political centers are viewed as barely-tolerated black holes that suck the money out of you, and taxation is viewed as one of those oddities of life which must be grudgingly accepted, like gravity, which one day we might escape from. The whole situation is infantile: in Britain and elsewhere, when the government says, "we have to make massive cuts, raise taxes, it really sucks but the red ink is becoming a flood tide," 100 percent of the population that understands math will agree. I suppose here in America, some part of the population that understands thinking, will discreetly touch their gun if it's on their person, and think: "I got my last resort right here."