Our regularly scheduled installments of In the Penny Press have been drastically thrown off by the catastrophic technical problems that have beset Stevereads all through this horrible, horrible spring and summer, and the main problem with such an imbalance is that it can only grow greater with every passing day. As the great Seinfeld character Newman said when asked why the U.S. Postal Service spawns so many psychos, “The mail Never Stops ...”
An full and accurate catching-up therefore won't be possible, but I thought I'd re-establish things with a couple of quick notes about some more or less current issues.
Like the latest Vanity Fair, for instance, which boasts not only a creepy photo of Angelina Jolie on the cover but also a creepy photo of Bradley Cooper on the inside (Cooper has got to be the creepiest-looking extremely handsome Hollywood star since Tony Perkins, and probably for the same reason: he never blinks). In other thought-provoking photos, this issue features a curious little juxtaposition: there's a very expensive two-page spread for the new Pillars of the Earth mini-series on cable TV, which bespeaks a flush and active publicity department. But then a few pages later, there's one of those little sidebar-interviews the magazine uses to spotlight up-and-coming young stars; this one features Eddie Redmayne, the pouty-mouthed British starling who's the only thing Pillars of the Earth has in the way of male cutie-patooties (now that Rufus Sewell has ripened into respectability) and who's lately been the toast of New York for his performance in “Red,” in which he manages to hold his own against the full-gale force of Alfred Molina in scenery-chewing mode. So what does young Eddie have to say for himself? Nothing. The space is given over to the usual hyperventilating prose, but no interview – not even a single quote. Young Eddie agreed to do the photo shoot in Brooklyn, showed up dressed in his best Bohemian casual, and then said not one word worth James Wolcott's taking down. Which bespeaks a publicity department of an entirely different description.
Much deeper contradictions lurk in the centerpiece of the latest Harper's, in which Dan Baum writes a gripping, very engaging piece on the gamut of his feelings about buying, registering, training for, and carrying a loaded handgun. This is Harper's, and its demographic slant is fairly predictable, so Baum's piece is window-dressed with quite a bit of moral ambivalence. Moral ambivalence on the subject of so-called 'gun control' always irks me, I'll admit, since the very idea of an armed populace is insane and entirely unsanctioned by the U.S. Constitution, but it bothers me even more when the writer doing the hand-wringing is such a bald-faced hypocrite as Baum is. He spends a great deal of his article agonizing over just how he feels about carrying a loaded weapon bought and designed to kill human beings, but one of his concluding paragraphs gives the game away for anybody who still needed a clue:
I will draw my gun from its holster if I reasonably believe myself or another person to be in imminent danger of death or grievous bodily injury. I will fire two bullets into the center of the attacker's chest. My 125-grain hollowpoints will not only carve permanent cavities through his body, they'll also send out pressure waves that might rupture his solid organs – his liver, spleen, and kidneys. If he's going to die, he'll likely die on the spot or within a day. I will be sure to have my hands empty and raised by the time the police show up, because they'll be scared and liable to shoot anyone holding a gun. The only way to win a gunfight, goes the saying, is not to be there when it happens. I can expect the police to arrest, handcuff, and jail me. I'm I'm not charged, or I'm acquitted, the attacker or his family will probably sue me. I used hollowpoints, I will say on the stand, because they deliver more energy to the target and are therefore more likely to stop the attack – and the shooting – quickly. Also, being more likely to stay in the attacker's body or embed themselves in walls without passing through, hollowpoints are less dangerous to bystanders, which is why police use them. I didn't cock the revolver, yell “Freeze,” or shoot to wound, because if I'd had the time to think about doing any of that I'd have had time to run away. But the poor guy only had a knife, the plaintiff's lawyer might say, to which I'll respond that a man with a knife can close twenty-one feet in a second and a half – less time than it takes to draw and fire. Then it will up to a jury to decide my fate. The gun carrier's ethic holds that it's better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.
As usual when dealing with gun nuts, there's so much wrong with this paragraph, this seedy little justification, that you hardly know where to start picking it apart. With the jailhouse-lawyerese of 'grievous bodily harm,' when Baum neither knows what that means in a courtroom nor is qualified in any way to determine it in the field? How the 'The situation left me no choice' tone is utterly contradicted by the 8-year-old's relish in those 'permanent' cavities? The patronization of excusing the panic of the police on grounds that they'll be scared, whereas the narrator certainly isn't at all (“I will fire two bullets into the center of the attacker's chest ...”)? The smarmy two-faced concern of using hollowpoints because they'll stop the shooting quickly, when the fastest way to do that would be not to start shooting in the first place? Or that unbelievable business of pleading to the jury that if he'd had time to warn – or wound – his attacker, he'd have had time to run … painting for us a scenario in which the poor SOB had time for one and only one course of action: to shoot his 'target' dead (two shots, mind you – there simply isn't time for only one)? We're told that a man with a knife can close the distance of twenty-one feet in less time than it takes to draw and fire – which means the poor SOB has no choice but to open fire while the 'attacker' is still fifty, sixty, maybe even a hundred feet away. Maybe even across the street, but looking really menacing .. painting for us a scenario in which a jumpy citizen unempowered by law enforcement is carrying a lethal weapon that he admits he will only ever use Entirely without thinking. Lovely.
But it's that final line that bugs me the most, because it so stinks of gun-nut sloganeering. Yeah, man: better to be tried by twelve than carried by six. Yeah. Totally. Probably what the guy you shot and killed was thinking, while he was approaching you, yelling because you side-swiped his car, taking out a pen with which to jot down your insurance information. Bet he didn't like being carried by six at all, but hey, you're the victim here.