Infiltrate the Right and Take Away the Big Guns

Yesterday was a proud day in America: Christina-Taylor Green was buried, and a Springfield, Massachusetts, jury acquitted a former police chief on involuntary manslaughter charges for the death of Christopher Bizilj. If you’re a typical American, you’ll need your oh-so-short memories refreshed. Green was the nine-year-old who was among the six murder victims of Jared Loughner’s rampage in Arizona; Bizilj was an eight-year-old who was allowed to fire an Uzi at a gun show, lost control of it, and blew off the top of his own head.

Unlike many Americans, I didn’t cry over either of these events. Cold-hearted? Nope; just weary. I’ve seen it all before and just as sure as the earth revolves around the sun, I’ll see it again--soon and often. Spare the tears. Until Americans have the collective guts to take back the nation from rightwing nut jobs and alter the second amendment, we’ll see lots of these tragedies.

Back in the 1960s virtually every group even remotely critical of the government--from the violent Weathermen to the pacifist American Friends Service Committee--was infiltrated by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. Most were broken up. So why do we continue to drag out Bill Ayres, Ray Luc Levesseur and the forty-plus-year-old crimes of the left and ignore those of the right? Why is it that every crime committed by the right is--as the Tea Party, the Palin Shiites, and Beck’s Bombers insist--the actions of single deranged individuals? Horseshit! There’s a discernible pattern here for anyone with the guts to call it.

How about infiltrating Operation Rescue? Since 1983 anti-choice fanatics have murdered eight people at clinics, have issued 383 death threats, have been charged in 17 attempted murders, have committed 153 assaults, and have kidnapped three people. Another two hundred bombings and arsons were thwarted. Should I go on? Let’s mention a few other rightwing atrocities: Unabomber Ted Kaczynski (1985-95), Timothy McVeigh and Oklahoma City massacre (1995), Columbine (1999), James von Brunn and the murder at the Holocaust Museum (2009)…. Since 1995 there have been seventy-five major incidents of rightwing violence in the USA. So spare me all the pious crap about 60s radicals, wake up, look at the calendar, and demand that current domestic terrorist groups come under scrutiny.

And get real. Does hate-laced speech play a role in promoting violence? Of course it does! Were some of those who took the bait unbalanced? Probably. But that makes a case for not inciting them, not excusing the irresponsible behavior of fools like Sarah Palin. It’s pretty simple. If you talk trash about taking somebody out, print a map with his or her location, and plaster a target over it, somebody’s going to take you seriously. The pious denials of the right remind me of King Henry II who, in a drunken rage, demanded to know if there was no one in his kingdom who would rid him of Thomas a Beckett. It was too late to say you didn’t mean it after the deed was done in the 12rth century, and it has been ever since.

Now let’s get totally real. If you want the violence to abate--and only dreamers think we can eliminate all of it--there’s just one way: take away the guns. Or, at the very least, put severe restrictions on them. The second amendment gets treated like it’s one of the Ten Commandments. Some times it seems as if the only parts of the Constitution that ever get read by the right are the second amendment and the tenth (states’ rights). There is no other amendment that is treated with such a literal reading as the second, and no other part of the Constitution that’s viewed as similarly unalterable. We, for example, put all manner of limitations on the first amendment: libel and slander laws, public safety restrictions, licensing requirements for public assemblies, laws against distributing certain types of material, movie ratings, anti-pornography laws….

How about similar restrictions on the second, and please don’t insult me by saying that pathetic background checks are “restrictions.” I’m not upset that the police chief supervising the gun show was acquitted, as I don’t for a moment believe he wanted Christopher Bizlij to die, but can we ask a different question? Why in hell does any American need an Uzi in his hands, let alone an eight-year-old? Let’s ask a few more. Why does any person not in law enforcement or the military need a clip gun? Shoot Bambi with one of those and all you’ll put on the table in mince and bone. Why not restrict weapons to a single shot per trigger pull? If Loughner had to take time to re-aim each time, someone could have tackled him before he sprayed the area with bullets.

Those are your choices folks: investigate the crazies and take away their most destructive toys. The only other one is to pretend (once again) that every future tragedy is an isolated and unpreventable anomaly. That, I suspect, is what we’ll do. When the next Arizona spree happens, don’t ask me to shed tears for that one either.

Listen to this wonderful cut-through-the-crap song from Cheryl Wheeler. She says it better than I.


Heidi Talbot Release Evokes Kate Rusby (Too Much)


The Last Star

Compass Records 7-4545-2

* *

John McCusker produced several of ex-wife Kate Rusby’s albums. He’s now done another Kate Rusby album, but the problem is that he’s done it with his new bride, Heidi Talbot. It’s all very pretty but Talbot is, simply, no Kate Rusby. Talbot, the former lead singer of Cherish the Ladies, has a sweet voice and whispery tones, but has little bottom or grit. Thus, when an old saw such as “Willie Taylor” could use a forceful roar, the best Talbot can manage is a gentle huff. There are several moving moments, such as the Talbot-McCusker original “The Last Straw” and the emotional “Start It All Over Again.” “Beeker Street” is also bouncy fun and the musicianship throughout is strong, as one might expect from players drawn from Capercaillie, Rusby’s old band, and Phil Cunningham’s studio lineup. But when the vocals that impress most come from backup singers (the sublime Karine Polwart, the powerful Eddi Reader, and the reedy Kris Drever), it’s time to rethink the repertoire. I’m a huge fan of John McCusker as a human being, a musician, and as a producer, but I am compelled to conclude that he misfired on this project. Ms. Talbot needs to find her own voice, not be handcuffed by styling that worked in a different time with a different singer.--LV


The King's Speech Has a Royally Good Script

The King’s Speech

Directed by Tom Hooper

118 minutes, Rated R (lest some one somewhere has never heard a swear)

* * * *

The King’s Speech is a rhetorical pas de deux between Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush that restores one’s faith in what can happen when you put a strong script in front of two superb actors. Can you imagine? Two hours and nothing blows up, nobody drops trou, and there are no action figures to save half the world by slaughtering the other half. It’s amazing that this film plays at the local mall!

Colin Firth plays England’s Duke of York, the man who never really wanted to be a monarch, but was forced to become King George VI when his brother David (Edward VIII) took up with the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson and was forced to abdicate. (British law forbids a monarch to marry a divorced person if the ex-spouse is still alive.) Poor Prince Albert (“Bertie”) wasn’t even comfortable being a duke because it demanded public appearances and he stuttered like a woodpecker snacking on an insect-laden log. He’s tried everything to tame a stammer made even worse by the unspeakably awful family he was born into. Were it not for his kind wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), he’d have given up trying long ago. When all else fails, Elizabeth steers him to the shabby basement office/home of Lionel Logue (Rush), a failed Australian actor living in London and (barely) eking out a living giving elocution lessons and treating vocal impairments.

It’s a story of how Bertie and Lionel connect, despite considerable odds and seemingly insurmountable social barriers. This film is being touted as an Oscar favorite and its already gotten won awards and seven Golden Globe nominations. This is due more to the disappointing quality of the competition than the strength of this one. This is a very enjoyable film, but it’s no masterpiece. It is a testament to David Seidler’s screenplay that we care at all. On the face of it, nothing really happens in the film. It’s one big strip tease as to whether or not Bertie can make a 1939 radio speech committing England to war against Germany. That’s pretty thin stuff, and of course he does or there’s no bloody movie. (In truth, Bertie had worked with Logue for twelve years by then and had grown more comfortable with public speaking.)

It’s the witty and wicked exchange between Firth and Rush that make this film worth viewing. The two are delightful together, especially in moments in which Firth seeks to maintain royal composure and Rush seeks to annihilate it. Firth is a strong candidate to win the Best Actor Oscar this year. That would not be a travesty, though he should have gotten the statue last year for A Single Man, a superior film and performance. For my money, though, I can’t imagine a better Supporting Actor role than Rush as Lionel Logue. See this film. Don’t expect gold, but it does pack the delight of hitting the jackpot on the quarter slots.

A big “Booo! Hiss!” to the idiots who rated this film R. Did it get that rating because some fire-breathing fundamentalist objected to the word “shit?” If you need more evidence on the irrelevancy of MPAA ratings, this is it.