Can’t shoot straight?

中国日报网 2013-10-18 11:39



Can’t shoot straight?

Reader question:

Please explain “he can’t shoot straight” in this:

Why should we listen to Dick Cheney? Everyone knows he can’t shoot straight.

My comments:

Dick Cheney was the former Vice President to the George W. Bush. Without delving into his politics, we can safely infer that whoever makes the above remark didn’t like Cheney’s politics.

Because “everyone knows he can’t shoot straight.”

And this is a figure of speech because obviously he’s not talking about Cheney firing a pistol or rifle or some similar weapon. Rather he’s talking about what Cheney has to say in Congress or on television or somewhere.

And by “he can’t shoot straight”, the speaker perhaps means to say that Cheney political views and criticisms of other politicians are not very good or accurate, to the point, or effective.

Alright, literally, someone who can’t shoot straight is a person who misses the mark in target shooting. Shooters aim straight and directly at the target in order to score. If you consistently miss the mark, they people say you can’t shoot straight.

This disparaging remark is American in origin and is another example of good American idioms which are simple and straight forward, easy to understand.

Metaphorically speaking, if someone can’t shoot straight with something they say, then they don’t know what they’re talking about. Or if this is a remark about someone’s general level of performance at a job, it simply means they’re not very good at it.

In Robert De Niro’s formative years as an actor, he played in a movie titled The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971), a comedy about a group of Italian gangsters who always messed up everything they were involved in – including when they aimed to kill someone, they always managed to miss, as you can imagine how it is in a movie with that kind of title.

The movie itself is hilarious. It seems all the gangsters ever say, be it greeting each other, arguing or when they’re angry, is: “Hey… Hey… Hey….” And whatever they attempt to do, something always goes wrong. I watched this movie a few years ago but I was particularly marveled by the fact that the great Robert De Niro – who went on to claim world renown with great performances in innumerable good movies – played a role in this little known movie.

Relatively speaking, that is. Little known here at any rate. The movie was based on a novel of the same title – The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight by Jim Breslin, published in 1969. It must have been a very popular book then, because otherwise it wouldn’t have been made into a movie two years later.

All this points to show that “can’t shoot straight” must be a popular saying in America.

It is, and here are a few media examples:

1. It was an absolutely dreadful shooting performance by the Mountaineers in a 58-42 defeat to Monmouth on Saturday night at Knott Arena.

Predictably, the ineptitude of shooting just 29.1 percent from the field, including 4-of-19 inaccuracy from 3-point range, took its collective toll. It was the lowest point total this season for the Mount (7-10, 2-6 in Northeast Conference play), its worst shooting percentage of the season on its own campus.

In terms of reaction, Mount coach Jim Phelan framed the worthiness of his players' showing upon entering his press conference unaccompanied by any Mountaineers. He muttered that none of them were worth bringing along to the interview room.

Who could argue with Phelan?

We’re like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight,” Phelan said. “You’ve got to be able to score. This is a terrible exhibition of shooting.... We’re missing and some of them are forced, I suppose. They can’t shoot straight.”

- Mount can't 'shoot straight',, February 1, 2003.

2. The fiasco some people call the “war on drugs” is proof positive that most people learn nothing from history. What happened when the government outlawed the sale of alcohol? It created organized crime, vast organizations that smuggled booze into the country and set up wholesale and retail distribution of it. Since criminal organizations are denied the benefit of the law for settling disputes, you got gang wars for turf and distribution rights.

Prohibition, as it was called, was supported by the same barnyard-style rhetoric that you hear about drugs. Enormous government organizations were formed to fight illegal alcohol. Corruption became rampant. It became a standard joke that the big supporters of prohibition were the cops and bootleggers. The American public finally got fed up with corruption and hypocrisy, and repealed the amendment that had created Prohibition.

The politicians were smarter the next time. They didn’t use a constitutional amendment for outlawing drugs, which would give the people a choice to reject it. They outlawed them by statute, and it is a well-known fact that the group with the least influence on the legislative process is the American people.

The exact same thing happened that had happened with prohibition. Organizations were formed that smuggled drugs into the U.S. and set up wholesale and retail distribution systems. Law enforcement expanded, and so did corruption. Illicit money in vast quantities always breeds corruption.

The illegal drug business boils down to a retail industry. There are suppliers and wholesalers, but in the end the money comes from the individual users. Therefore, if your local gendarmes tell you there are a lot of drugs in the area, but they can’t find them, you need to ask this question: How is it the customers can find them, but you can’t? You need to look closely at drug arrests. If they are all street sellers, then you’ve got a problem. Chances are, the suppliers are paying somebody off.

Never underestimate the power of money to corrupt, especially when it’s untraceable and tax-free.

Like the earlier gangs in Prohibition days, drug gangs can’t go to court to settle disputes, so you have killings. As long as one drug dealer is killing only another drug dealer, the cops shouldn’t even bother to investigate. A lot of today’s criminals, however, can’t shoot straight and often hit innocent people. Those criminals should be caught and executed.

- Drug War Hogwash,, July 19, 2008.

3. US Senator John McCain published a response to the Vladimir Putin’s NYT op-ed in the Internet news outlet Pravda.Ru. In his article, Republican Senator, who regularly criticizes Russia and Russian officials, said that he is not an active anti-Russian politician. The VoR discussed this issue with Stephen Lendman, a writer, syndicated columnist and activist.

Stephen, thank you very much for joining us! What do you think of this latest sort of exchange between Vladimir Putin and Senator McCain?

On the one hand, I can only say thanks to Vladimir Putin. John McCain is not only a blunder buss. He does this sort of things all the time. He’s also a dumbo. He is one of the most incompetent senators in Congress. Many of his own party members despise him. When he ran for presidency in 2008, he dissociated himself from his campaign. And even McCain had to admit that he really isn't the brightest guy in Washington. He admitted that when he was in Naples, he graduated near the bottom of his class, he picked grades nearly good enough to graduate. I mean, the guy is not only incompetent. He’s stupid. I’m surprised he can read and write. And what he says about Russia and Vladimir Putin is exactly the opposite of what the facts are. As far as McCain is concerned, he would like the Pentagon to be al-Qaeda’s air force against the Syrian people, against Syrian civilians, which is what it amounts to in the Syrian conflict. McCain is a disgrace.

Why do you think McCain chose to publish his article?

Oh, I honestly don’t know. I thought that was very interesting. I also find it interesting that the Pravda would give someone like him a chance to voice his opinion. It is ludicrous and offensive as it is. I mean, it’s extremely unusual to the New York Times to let someone like Vladimir Putin have a legitimate op-ed with very important things that he said. I wrote about his opinion. I praised him for it. I said he discussed things going on in Syria responsibly. It’s not what the New York Times does. It certainly is not what John McCain and his buddy in the Senate Lindsey Graham – two very extreme hawks, they want war, they want more war, they want Syria besides ravage to destroy that already is, they want entirely ravage, and the things they suppose is lawlessness – lawless aggression, the worse kind of policy. McCain, again I say, is a disgrace.

So, now, what do you think about Putin's assessment of McCain? He feels that McCain has little knowledge of Russia. Do you think that’s correct?

Oh, absolutely. McCain has little knowledge of America, let alone Russia. Again, I mean, this guy, you read the comments that he makes – occasionally, he’ll write something – every member of Congress has a web page, so they put up information on it – it couldn’t be his own comments, and you read some of the stuff that he writes, I mean, he is a guy who sounds like someone who just can’t shoot straight, it is only talking about the Times, he literally gets things upside down.

- ‘What McCain says about Russia and Vladimir Putin is exactly the opposite of what facts are’ – expert,, September 20, 2013.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



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