Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sunday Reading

Gun Shots — Hendrik Herzberg on getting reasonable people to talk about guns.

It was hard, in the massacre’s immediate aftermath, to find a presentable advocate for the view that the No. 1 cause of gun violence is a shortage of guns. (The No. 2 cause, presumably, is a surplus of people, since people, not guns, kill people.) “Fox News Sunday” and its host, Chris Wallace, had to settle for Representative Louie Gohmert, of Texas. Representative Gohmert, a birther and a climate-change denier, is normally dismissible as an amusing eccentric, a self-lampooning clown. Not this time. His chilling advice for Sandy Hook’s murdered principal—“I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up, so when she heard gunfire she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off, before he can kill those precious kids”—has been widely quoted and widely deplored. What Gohmert said next has received less notice. Wallace pressed him further on why he thinks civilians should possess weapons like the M-4 (the Congressman’s choice) and the AR-15 (the school shooter’s choice and the top-selling rifle in the nation, notably in the past two weeks). “Well,” Gohmert replied,

for the reason George Washington said: a free people should be an armed people. It insures against the tyranny of the government. If they know that the biggest army is the American people, then you don’t have the tyranny that came from King George. That is why it was put in there. That’s why, once you start drawing the line, where do you stop?

After Sandy Hook, as after the Columbine horror, in 1999, and the dozens of mass shootings since, many Americans, gun owners among them, wondered why any sane person would require a rapid-fire killing machine with a foot-long banana clip to feel safe in his or her home or person, let alone to take target practice, shoot skeet, or hunt rabbits. But, for Hobbesian gun nuts of Gohmert’s ilk, the essence of the Second Amendment, when all is said and done, is not about any of that. Its real, irreducible purpose is to enable some self-designated fraction of the American people, in a pinch, to make war against the American government—to overthrow it by force and violence, if that is deemed necessary. If that’s the line you draw, then where, logically, do you stop? In Georgian times, when the amendment was ratified, the most fearsome weapon anyone, soldier or civilian, could carry was a single-shot musket. And today? “Shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles don’t shoot down black helicopters, people with shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles shoot down black helicopters”? Gohmert is a fringe figure, but the fringe is as long as an AR-15’s barrel. His seditious fantasies of freelance insurrection are shared by a nontrivial portion of the N.R.A. membership and board, by the N.R.A.’s feral kid brother, the Gun Owners of America, and by a gaggle of locked-and-loaded politicians who, not long ago, were threatening “Second Amendment remedies” for policy offenses like the Affordable Care Act.

Second Acts — Actor Reed Birney comes back to Broadway in the revival of Picnic.

Winning a Tony was a childhood dream of Mr. Birney’s ever since he began fantasizing about Broadway from his rural hometown, Seaford, Del. But at 58, after landing his second job on Broadway, he is quick to say that he’d be getting ahead of himself to imagine winning Tonys.

“Right now I just feel like I’m the poster boy for perseverance,” Mr. Birney said during a recent interview in the shabby-chic living room of his boxy Upper West Side apartment, where the bookcases hold part of his 7,000-film collection and board games like Life and Battleship that he plays with his wife, the actress Constance Shulman, and their two teenagers.

“When I was young and cute, I thought I had to really get rich and famous,” he continued. “And I was getting older and my looks were going, and I wasn’t getting famous, or even a little bit famous, I thought — oh dear, what a sad thing. I was just wildly frustrated. I felt like I had something more to give, but no one was buying for the longest time.”

Now, it seems, no one can get enough of Mr. Birney, at least among downtown theater artists, many of whom are half his age. “Blasted” hit at the same time that a new crowd of cool kids was emerging Off Broadway, which included the ubiquitous director Sam Gold and his frequent muse, the playwright Annie Baker. The two recruited Mr. Birney and other actors to develop Ms. Baker’s play “Circle Mirror Transformation,” which became a major critical and audience hit Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 2009.

Mr. Birney’s character, the heartbroken carpenter Schultz, became his stock in trade: Charles Isherwood began his review in The New York Times of a later production, David West Read’s “Dream of the Burning Boy,” by writing, “Reed Birney is quickly becoming New York’s foremost actor in a particular subspecialty, communicating the grief of average men facing extraordinary loss.”

Yard Sale — Want some slightly used rocket launching equipment?

On July 20, 2011, at 5:57 a.m. EDT, the space shuttle Atlantis made its final touchdown on the runway of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s storied shuttle program wasn’t the only thing that came to its official end that day; the intervening year-and-a-half has also seen the slow obsolescence of the tools that allowed the program to be what it was: the rocket launch pads and the equipment hangers and the buildings of Cape Canaveral.

Now, it seems, those items — those relics of a program past — will be slowly sold off. Or, perhaps, rented off. NASA, the Orlando Sentinel reports, has been advertising — quietly — a long inventory of the facilities and equipment at the Kennedy Space Center, “listing them as available for use, lease or, in some cases, outright purchase by the right business.”

Among the items in that inventory:

• launchpad 39A, where shuttles were launched;
• space in the Vehicle Assembly Building, the 526-foot-tall structure first used to assemble Saturn V-Apollo rockets;
• Orbiter Processing Facilities — essentially large garages where shuttles were once maintained;
• Hangar N (including its high-tech test equipment);
• the launch-control center;
• a 15,000-foot landing strip;
• a parachute-packing plant;
• an array of aerospace tracking antennas;
• and various other buildings and sections of undeveloped property.

NASA’s little enormous yard sale, if it does take place, may also be something of a fire sale — no rocket-fuel pun intended. The equipment in question requires careful (and expensive) maintenance; and federal funding for that maintenance is scheduled to expire by the end of 2013. The swampy environment of Cape Canaveral’s particular stretch of Florida coast is harsh on metal and other materials; if the transferrable equipment isn’t transferred within that timeframe — and if buildings aren’t used and maintained — they’ll start to rust and otherwise deteriorate in their inhospitable environment.

Doonesbury — One size fits none.

2 barks and woofs on “Sunday Reading

  1. for the reason George Washington said: a free people should be an armed people. It insures against the tyranny of the government. If they know that the biggest army is the American people, then you don’t have the tyranny that came from King George. That is why it was put in there.

    And yet, ask these same wingnuts for Universal Service, or suggest reintroducing the Draft, and they suddenly go all “personal liberty” on you and demand that these things never be allowed. Because nothing punctures these 2nd Amendment dingbats’ rhetoric like suggesting they actually serve the nation they insist they love – but only as long as it’s governed by people they agree with.

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