Saturday, December 15, 2012

When Will We Wake Up


Will Newtown be our wake-up call?  

Let me rephrase that: will Superstorm Sandy be our wake-up call? 

OK, one more try: will Lehman Brothers be our wake-up call?
Sorry.  Last time: will 9/11 be our wake-up call?

Yes!  But only to the last question.

When it comes to fighting international terrorism, we get it.   We’re ready to fight back overseas with rockets, tanks and soldiers.  Here, domestically, we’re ready to tackle the al-Qaeda operatives and their fellow travelers by hiring more armed guards, purchasing more metal detectors, and letting those bad guys know that we’re going to kick their butts if they try anything, ANYTHING, to disturb the peace.   Yep, we have indeed learned something from 9/11.  And that’s a good thing.

But what about Lehman Brothers?  Have we as a society heard our wake-up call about corporate fraud and abuse?  Are we ready to change our culture to ensure that movies like “Wall Street” will forever look dated?  And are we prepared to take on the more subtle, yet common, types of rapacious white collar conduct?    I have my doubts.  You see, our expectations when it comes to business ethics are so low that a corporate crook must practically act like a caricature in order to shock our conscience.

And what about Superstorm Sandy?  Will that wake us up to the proliferation of crazy weather patterns?  Or the consequences of global warming and climate change?   Will that cause us to stem our addiction to fossil fuels, or otherwise change our lifestyles in order to protect our environment?   It sure doesn’t look that way, now does it?   In fact, who doesn’t love a nice warm winter day?

And finally, what about the events at the Sandy Hood Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut?  Will they inspire us to strike back against gun violence?  Will they give us the resolve we need to ensure that Americans are no more likely to die from gun violence than are the citizens of other developed nations?  Because of Sandy Hood, will Americans stop being outliers when it comes to the number of guns we purchase or the number of people we shoot?    I hope I’m wrong, but color me a skeptic.  

We got the message from 9/11 precisely because it was such an easy message for our culture to swallow.  Some group of lunatics kicked our asses, so we’ve got to go kick theirs right back, and harder!   And we knew we could get the job done, because that’s what we do:  we kick ass!  We make movies like Die Hard, Rambo, and the Terminator flicks.  In these films, our heroes don’t just shoot people, they UNLOAD on people.    

For some, the guns in these movies have become almost as recognizable as the actors.  Take, for example, the James Bond movie “The Living Daylights.” In that one movie, the following firearms can be spotted:  Walter PPK, Beretta Cheetah, CZ 83, Browning BDA, Colt Detective Special, Beretta 418, Heckler & Koch P9S, Smith & Wesson Model 36, Smith & Wesson 4th Model, Star Model B, Walther WA 2000, Winchester Model 70, AK-47, AKMS, Colt Commando M733, Karabiner 98k, Mosin Nagant M91/30, M14, Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE), Nock Gun, AR-15 pistol, Crossman Ratcatcher Air Rifle, Anschutz LG275 air rifle, Berett PM12S, Heckler & Koch MP5A3, Heckler & Koch MP5K, Walther MPL, Sa.Vz. 61 Skorpion, MAT-48, Mini Uzi, MG3, Maxim MG08 Machine Gun, KPV (mocked up Browning M2HB).  And those are just the guns – I didn’t even mention the hand grenades and other deadly weapons.

That movie also gave us the immortal line:  “You’ve had your eight; I’ll have my eighty.”  And indeed, in Hollywood movies, firing 80 bullets has become commonplace.  Apparently, American film viewers get off on rounds of bullets the way they used to get off on Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe.  

Of course, our celebration of guns is only part of what caused the Newtown disaster.  The other part is our broken health care system -- in particular, the way it deals with mental illness.   Most of us know mentally sick people.  Their illnesses are tragic, but no more so than the way we as a society ignore their problems.  If you sprain an ankle, you can expect to receive compassionate care.  But if you are mentally ill, you are lucky if you receive ANY care, compassionate or otherwise.

Combine our romance with guns with our desire to ignore the scourge of mental illness, and what do you have?   Mass murders in shopping malls, colleges, high schools, and now, finally, first grade classes.  The question is: are we prepared to do anything about this?

Hopefully, yesterday’s incident in Connecticut will hit home in every house in America.  It has sure hit hard in mine.  My wife is an elementary school media specialist.  Thanks to her, even though our own children are many years removed from elementary school, we all can picture such an environment very clearly.  To fire 100 rounds there is to epitomize insanity.  My wife compared it to opening fire on a pack of puppies.  In both cases, the victims are as innocent as can be.  And yet, when you consider the lethal combo of semi-automatic weapons and mental illness, it’s a wonder this kind of mayhem doesn’t happen more often.

Prior to Newtown, I was going to write about NFL football.  And I don’t mean the game itself.  I was going to write about recent incidents involving: (a) one NFL player who shot himself and the mother of his child, (b) another player who drove drunk and killed his teammate, (c) the laissez-faire attitude about the NFL players’ union when it comes to performance enhancing drugs (which are increasingly leading to suicide and other manifestations of brain damage), and (d) the former commissioner who ruled that players shouldn’t be held responsible for putting a bounty on other players’ health so long as their coach encouraged them to do it.

But hey, I guess there’s no reason to talk about the culture of permissiveness that is destroying American football -- not when we have young Americans on both coasts in the same week unloading their magazines at a shopping mall and an elementary school, respectively.

Do you remember when it was that a “magazine” was something you used to read and not something you used to fire?  It was a different America then.  Let’s see if we can summon the will to get it back.   Oh, and by the way: Mr. President – it’s time for some leadership on the issue.  I know that you’re a parent, and that you feel the pain of scores of parents, and that you don’t want to politicize this event on day one.  I’m fine with that.  But today is day two.  And you have been sitting on the sidelines on this issue for more than 1000 days.   I say that’s enough time to show empathy.  I say it’s now time to show some resolve. 

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