Those Mad Men of summer

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

That is the second Amendment to the US Constitution that has been causing all the controversy in America since the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby joined together to argue that the right “to keep and bear arms” means every American can pack a deadly weapon.

James Holmes, the Joker of Denver, Colorado, is the just the latest in a long line of armed mad men,  whose unhealthy minds have led them to start shooting innocent people at random. But, of course, his murderous spree is made for Hollywood, with his choice of a movie theatre as the venue, Joker costume, gas mask and no remorse. A real Tinsel Town villain, even though it took place in a Denver suburb. The New York Post covered the story from go to whoa:

Another academic type turned serial killer was Charles Whitman, the young man who murdered his wife and mother, then ascended to the observation deck of the University of Texas’s tower in Austin, to kill 14 more people, gunning most of them down with sniper skills gained as a former US Marine. I was watching the news story on TV with a mate, who was leaving the next day for his first day with the US Army’s 101st Airborne, soon to be shipped to Vietnam. It was August 1, 1966, and despite the sombre moment, we both had to laugh, when a relative told the reporter in a thick East Texas accent: “He (Charles) didn’t get to meet too many people.”

I didn’t laugh when my brother came home from his stint with the US Marine Corps in the mid- sixties, and showed me the rifle he had brought back. We were in the second floor of our old home in West Philadelphia, and he pointed the rifle at the window, and said: “There are times I come up here and pretend I’m picking off people I don’t like.” “That’s not funny, Jack,” I said. “If the police see you, they’ll arrest you.”

He looked at me and said in a very serious voice: “This country was built by the gun. The Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms.”  I didn’t argue with him, because I knew how deep-seated his views were – I had heard them many times before, not just from him, but from many of my high school friends. I wonder how many of them are now members of the NRA. And I hasten to add, my brother did not shoot any of our neighbours or the regulars at the pub across the street. I have written about Jack in a previous blog and how he offered a respectful toast to the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jnr in that pub to the dismay of some patrons ( ).

If President Barack Obama took a stand against the gun lobby, he might not get elected (I still think he would), but it would be a position which would be praised in the US and around the world, but not in the boardroom of the NRA. It was good to see the President travel to the stricken suburb of Aurora, Colorado to comfort the survivors and the families of the victims, but I wish he had taken the opportunity to support gun control laws. (The photo above by Ted Warren of the Associated Press shows grieving families at a prayer vigil.) Prime Minister John Howard advocated a ban on semi-automatic rifles after the Port Arthur massacre when Martin Bryant killed 35 people in 1996. He also helped tighten state gun laws, and I believe it was the best thing Mr Howard did in his eleven and a half years as PM.

Denver police managed to arrest James Holmes as he was still wearing his mask in his car. His apartment was booby-trapped and he had purchased 6000 rounds of ammunition online, as well as four guns. Surely American authorities could have prevented that. He makes his first court appearance tonight Australian time, and all eyes will be on him. We learned a lot about Martin Bryant, but not why he committed his crime, and I fear it will be the same with Holmes. The best piece on Holmes I’ve read so far was from James Harlow of the Sunday Times and reprinted in The Australian today (  Holmes was studying for a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Colorado, a subject he excelled in at the University of California in Riverside. The university chancellor Timothy White said he was a distinguished scholar, studying “chemistry and physics, but also brain anatomy and physiology, how we all behave. It is ironic and sad.” Sad and bizarre, indeed. It seems Holmes had one of the biggest brain snaps in modern US history.


On a much lighter note, here’s my take on The Shire, Channel Ten’s new reality show based on the Sutherland Shire in Sydney’s south.

The highlight of the program for me came when one of the main “real” characters, Vernesa, was lying on Cronulla beach with her friend, Sophie, and said: “If someone told me that I’d have to live without my lips, I think I’d wanna die.”

Her lips were as big as were her breasts and both reminded me of Snooki in Jersey Shore, an American reality program on MTV based on that particular area on the Northeast US. The New Jersey shore was 90 (Atlantic City) km to 140 (Wildwood) km from Philadelphia, so we used to drive down for the weekend or work there during the summer holidays.

There were many Snookis in Wildwood, where I spent my summers during my university years working as a fudge beater on the boardwalk. They were the same young ladies who used to clack their gum on American Bandstand and say: “My name is Snooki (or choose your favourite) from Saint Maria Goretti High School, and I give that song a C because you can’t dance to it.”

But the few times I watched Jersey Shore on MTV on Foxtel were enough for me – it was just nostalgia for those “lazy hazy crazy days of summer,” as Nat King Cole used to sing, those days of “soda and pretzels and beer.” I lasted 15 minutes with The Shire, as it was déjà vu all over again!

The best review of The Shire was written by Michael Idato in the Sydney Morning Herald which was very funny. In his column The View today in the SMH, he points out that it’s just a TV show, and I agree.

Everybody bagged the show last week, including the Media Editor of The Australian, Stephen Brook, ( ), who described it as a “very modest piece of television.” Carol Provan, the mayor of Sutherland, claimed Vernesa and Sophie weren’t from the Shire, and upset the Mayor of Burwood by saying they were from his suburb. Nine’s A Current Affair took up the sham claim, and did a hatchet job, as any self-respecting tabloid program on another channel would.

But what really happened was a classic mistake. The critics of The Shire gave it more publicity than it deserved, and probably ensured that the show will last another 12 weeks. If they just ignored it, it would have died a natural death.

And The Shire is bound to get better. If it doesn’t, it might just be one of those shows that people watch because it’s so awful, it’s good. The Shire is on the Ten Network tonight at 8. I won’t be watching, but I suspect a lot of others will.

2 thoughts on “Those Mad Men of summer

  1. Hi Tom,
    It is a pity that you did not address the real issue that once again has presented itself in the USA.
    As you stated, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
    One presumes that a well regulated militia refers to an incorruptible police force within society. Or does it refer to (according to the Latin meaning) a military involvement within society to keep law and order?
    Considering when the constitution was enacted, the question could be asked: Is it relevant in today’s society? To keep and bear arms infers a threat to a country, not to individuals. Again, is this relevant in today’s society?

    I believe that America has done more than its fair share in the protection of the democratic process around the world. However, perhaps it should look at itself and reflect, that a nipple shown on TV or in public, or a show of personal admiration of the human form, is a far greater sin in the US than bearing and having the capacity to kill another human.

    How can a country allow a bank to offer a free pistol if people sign on?

    We have had our own killers, Martin Bryant comes to mind. But does Australia have the same double standards as the USA?

    If I bought 100 bullets over the internet I would have the police all over me. 6000 rounds, five guns and all the explosives in his home. And all because of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
    I thought there was a fight against terrorism. Please define terrorism. Isn’t James Holmes just a terrorist? Are the suicide bombers all terrorists? Or are they just all mad.
    Your brother stated ” This country was built by the gun”. Perhaps you should have said “No it was not.” It is time that America, and President Barack Obama, take a stand and reflect on an outdated constitution that allows people take up arms.

    And remember, in New England they once burnt witches. I do not think they do it now.

    How many more innocent people are to die? Give them access to the means, gives them access to the result. Why make it so easy?

    Steve McQueen

    • Thanks, Steve. I agree with you. This law enacted by America’s Founding Fathers is no longer relevant to today’s society, but try telling that to the National Rifle Association and the powerful gun lobby in the United States. They aren’t listening. My brother was the same way. People who believe in guns believe the country was built by the gun. Hollywood has been guilty of promoting the gun culture for decades. Thanks for taking the time to offer a reasoned, cogent argument. I really appreciate it. Cheers.

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