Monday, April 30, 2007

The Collapse of the High Road (part 2 of 2)

link to part 1

Sometimes news events cross. On Sunday, a middle-aged man opened fire in a Kansas City shopping mall and killed four people. Ironically, the incident apparently ended at a “Target” store. Unlike Cho Seung-Hui, there was no mention of this killer’s race or ethnicity. I still say that one of the more interesting aspects of Cho’s video diatribe was his references to Jesus. Apparently the parents are devout Christians. Instead of people pointing to the number of mass murderers and serial killers who seem to be the product of Christian households, I kept hearing from people insisting that Virginia Tech would never have happened if kids got exposed to the Ten Commandments. No one seems to mention that Cho obviously had gotten plenty of exposure.

Here were two terrifying incidents in America, yet neither involved a Jihadist. A few years ago, it was a bit more common to say “If America can send a man to the moon, then…” The fact is that the last manned-mission to the moon took place with Apollo 17 in 1972, more than a generation ago. Can we actually still do it? Say there happens not only to be life, but intelligent life, on that distant planet orbiting a dim red dwarf star every thirteen days. If they happened to see us too, would they consider us advanced? Being an advanced species or culture is not necessarily technological. The fact that you can build and sell a Glock for four hundred dollars may take staggering technical expertise, but.... when someone who was recently ordered to mental-health counseling by a court can buy one and pass a background check, your culture is pretty freaking stupid.

Many years ago when I was a Big Brother for Big Brothers and Sisters, my Little Brother, Matt, wanted me to take him to a gun show. I’ve never owned one, but it seemed like the sort of guy thing he craved at the time. I took him target shooting one afternoon where the people were very nice, helpful, and safety-oriented and he turned out to be a very good shot. A few weeks later, we went to visit a gun show. The NRA types love to drape their defense of this odd American institution in the flag and the Constitution. They never seem to mention that by far the most popular flags sold at gun shows are the Confederate flag and various Nazi banners and other memorabilia. The only interest in our Constitution was the two lines of the second amendment. He wanted to buy a hunting knife, which his mother had said was “Okay”. I wound up buying a CD of Beethoven’s violin concerto there with Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Reiner. My favorite booth was a guy selling a vacuum-sealing machine, that would allow you to bury your AK47 and thousands of bullets confidently in your backyard in case of invasion by the Guvment, our government. It was pretty obvious to me which flags really mattered to the folks at that gun show.

If I had to do it again, I would have taken my Little Brother target shooting, but I’d never do a gun show. Every time I remember it, all I think was that it was a delivery mechanism for putting some surprisingly sophisticated weapons of medium destruction into the hands of many dozens of scary-stupid people. To be clear, I like a lot of gun owners. I just didn’t see any of the ones I like at that show. About ten percent of the tent space was devoted to hunting or target shooting btw. So what’s happened in the thirty years since we last landed on the moon? Politicians talk more seriously about preserving gun shows than they do about finding other planets that support life. Maybe they know something that we don’t, like maybe in a generation or two, this planet won’t be one of the ones that supports life anyway.

Speaking of politicians and idiocy, what’s with Alberto Gonzales? I know that Rep. and presidential candidate Kucinich dropped the I-bomb in the house several days ago, but that was aimed at Cheney-Bush. I had to look this one up, but Congress does have the power to impeach any civil officer of the United States. Way back in 1876, the House actually did vote articles of impeachment against the then Secretary of War (Defense is a 20th century term), so there is precedent for the impeachment of a member of the President’s cabinet. If the President is going to continue to support the guy and essentially say “Na, na, na”, Congress does have the option of a lower-profile I-bomb.

The Belknap impeachment
happened during an interesting time in U.S. history. It was 1876, the Andrew Johnson impeachment was still relatively fresh. Ulysses Grant was president and the country was engaged in another war on terror back then, a comparison we don’t often make these days. The fact is that the elimination of the Indians was often promoted as a way to make “settlers” safe from acts of random terror by various tribes. If you look at the rhetoric of the time in the west, there are any number of surprisingly convenient analogies.

Looking back, we see more clearly that the Indian wars were more clearly about expansion and the resources that came with it than they were about serious concerns about Native American violence. There were, in fact, real atrocities on both sides, but U.S. policy then was to negotiate only when useful. Occupation and the reservation system that came with it also was often justified as a way to Christianize the Indians, a concept not all that different from current notions of bringing Democratic ways to the Middle East.

In any case, Belknap was caught taking bribes for the rights to sell trading privileges with the Indians. As Secretary of War, he made eight thousand dollars a year. He got twenty four thousand dollars in bribes and chose whom he appointed to the position accordingly. Grant was also extremely loyal at a personal level in the face of rampant corruption across his administration. Congress chose to impeach Belknap. Belknap rushed to DC to resign prior to the House vote, but they voted for impeachment anyway. The senate trial was extremely close and Belknap argued that Congress didn’t have the jurisdiction to impeach someone who had already resigned. He avoided conviction by two votes. Belknap then practiced law (sometimes these little tidbits make me laugh) and ultimately committed suicide in 1890.

I don’t know that Alberto Gonzales committed a “high crime or misdemeanor” in the conventional sense, but what could be a higher crime than having the Attorney General of the United States fire prosecutors for being too even-handed enough in exercising their prosecutorial discretion? When loyalty to party becomes more important than competence or belief in the law itself, the Attorney General has dropped a bigger bomb on America than any terrorist.

The senate has talked about their questioning of the Attorney General as a kind of “reconfirmation” hearing. Like “hymenization” for born again virgins, it’s more theoretical than an actual legal concept. Alberto Gonzales though impeached himself with his own lack of “recall”. Even when the Republicans controlled the house and senate the actual confirmation vote for the guy was only 60-36-4
It would take a simple majority to vote articles of impeachment in the House.

It’s been more than thirty years since Nat Hentoff spoke at my high school. I now have a daughter of my own in high school. A group other than the Best and the Brightest got us into a war which likely won’t be won on a battlefield. I remember too my own parents’ fundamental optimism for the future, my future. In 1969, I thought that we might make it to Mars some time in my lifetime. I used to look up at the stars and imagine what was possible. Now, I think about the Macarthur maze and wonder if we’ll even be able to drive to Oakland in 2007.

The best news of the last few days from the greater world was that the Warriors won two playoff games. It’s not the world I ever meant to leave to my daughter.



At 5/02/2007 02:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The latent beauty of our time is that thoughtful people are asking so many anguished questions. Tho in the short term we're saddled with some gigagreedos in bizarrely tyrannical charge, in a few years (1y8m18d to be more exact) we get to shift psycho-magnetic poles to become more constructive than destructive.

It is the first time in history (& herstory too) that so many people are dawningly beginning to question the costs of militarism and its secret handshakes and ugly flags. I think the grueling questions you're asking are essential for us to face The Shadow, as Jung would have it, and begin to act in collaboration with, as Abe would have it, our better angels.

At 5/02/2007 05:44:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I wonder what Alberto's shadow is like. Oddly, they had George and Laura on American Idol last night and neither of them looked very good, as in healthy.

At 5/04/2007 09:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both Mr. Bush & Mr. Gonzales are lickspittles, sickening slimedrinkers 'n all.

So many people hurt -- mutilated and degraded. These folks have cut a shameful swathe.

At 5/05/2007 09:21:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I'm hard-pressed to think of two people who have publicly "taken responsibility" for so many things and then refused to admit that they did anything wrong at all....

It's a bit strange.


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