Friday, September 23, 2011

Capital Games

Some interesting developments and strange juxtapositions in the death penalty arena the last couple weeks (duh).

On the one hand, you have the case of Troy Davis, who may or may not have committed the crime for which he was executed in Georgia Wednesday night. Regardless, after reviewing the salient facts of the case (no DNA or physical evidence, 7 of 9 eyewitnesses recanting, an associate who was known to be at the scene openly bragging about actually pulling the trigger), even the most ardent death penatly advocate has to honestly acknowledge that such punishment should only be carried out under conditions of zero (or damn near zero) doubt. There was not only enough doubt raised in Davis' case to not warrant the ultimate penalty, but to question his guilt in the first place. And of course, it's now too late.

On the other hand, you have Lawrence Brewer, executed in Texas the same night as Davis. Brewer was one of the three white-power knuckle-draggers who beat James Byrd unconscious, then dragged him behind a pickup truck until his head hit a concrete culvert and popped off. There was never a second of doubt about the guilt of Brewer and his two accomplices, one of whom is also on death row pending appeal. Brewer had ceased his appeals, and in fact had said he preferred death to rotting away in a cell for another thirty or forty years. Even the staunchest anti-capital punishment person has to at least reasonably ask themselves if Brewer's crime does not warrant the ultimate punishment, does anything? If not, why not?

As a long-time (really lifelong) member of the decidedly "pro" side of the argument, I can only speak for myself. It is sort of a mantra for me (here and in daily life) that you cannot use rational responses with irrational people; almost by definition it will not work. That doesn't necessarily mean that you should try irrational methods for dealing with irrational people. It is simply an acknowledgement of the basic fact that it is nearly impossible to have a successful outcome by expecting the irrational person to respond rationally to your rationality. I mean, duh, that's why they're irrational.

Similarly, I would stipulate that there are crimes that are so transgressive in nature and scope, that the person who commits those actions is essentially irredeemable. It is a waste of time to try to rehabilitate, say, Richard Ramirez, or John Wayne Gacy, to pick more extreme examples. I would say these fucking animals fall into that category as well.

There's just no walking them back from the things they did. Such a person is capable of just about anything. Warehousing them for the next several decades, in attempt to be "humane", simply gives them absolutely nothing to lose, in essence making them a danger to anyone and everyone they come into contact with, guards, prisoners. The world is simply better off without someone whose pastime is inflicting misery and torture on his fellow humans.

Now, usually you hear the sound bite from victims' families, talking about "closure" or some such. Or you see the garden-variety meathead "hangin's too good fer 'im" comments from the rabble, taking perverse joy in the opportunity to inflict the same punishment on the perpetrator; i.e., dragging Larry Brewer and his friends behind a truck until they disintegrate like putrefied hunks of meat in the broiling Texas sun.

For me it's simply a utilitarian argument, there is no joy or pleasure or revenge fantasy in it. Some people, as the prophet John Cougar Mellencamp once pointed out, are simply no damned good, and warehousing them indefinitely to assuage your conscience (as if your tax dollars don't kill innocent people around the world every fucking day already) does nobody any true favors. But it should never be anything but a solemn undertaking, after exhaustive efforts to ensure truth.

Perhaps that's cold and dispassionate, but actually I think that's how such a process needs to be if it is to be done. You're simply deciding that the crime is transgressive in the extreme, and this person made a conscious decision to no longer act like a fucking human being. Deriving actual pleasure from executing even a John Wayne Gacy is a sure sign of yahooism.

Which takes us back a bit further, to the Republitard debate a couple weeks ago, when Gubnor Dubya Junior bragged about his kill rate -- which almost assuredly includes an innocent man -- and was received with cheers and applause. Even if all 234 notches on Perry's belt are clearly and irrefutably red-handed guilty, this is fucking disgusting, this chimp-like hooting at a death tally. (Christians all of them, no doubt.) This is no longer about the administration of justice, this is a lynch mob, the baying of hounds at a trapped, miserable fox, waiting to tear it to shreds, sating its bloodlust for a minute, before looking for the next kill.

So it seems with Davis' execution; despite the demonstrably flawed evidence of Davis' guilt, the family could not achieve "closure" until they knew Davis was dead. I do not think it will happen for them quite like that; if they could not move past their grief after 22 years, the demise of an abstract figure they presumably had never seen or met outside of the literal and figurative distance of courtroom proceedings is not likely to have the permanent effect they seek, more anodyne really.

I dunno. I do still seriously feel that some things, some people are simply too awful to let stand, that a serial killer or a child rapist is simply irredeemable, and in principle should be dispatched the second the burden of proof is sufficiently addressed. But it's not a conclusion easily arrived at; as with the abortion debate, I don't think this should be a conclusion easily reached on either side, both sides need to listen to one another, and quit shouting and rending garments.

All that said, between the tragically flawed mechanics of the system, the ruthless politicking of players who are all too willing to further their careers on the blood of poor people (notice that people who can afford decent representation never get executed), and the toxic yahooism undergirding that side of the issue, it makes me sick to my stomach to even be in the same philosophical house as those people, much less the same room.

I don't think that life without parole is necessarily as humane (and certainly not as cost-effective or safe) as opponents think it is. If the state of Connecticut decides it would rather shell out sixty grand or so a year to warehouse Joshua Komisarjevsky for the next several decades, while he takes metal shop classes and cyberstalks lonely women in between dodging sharpened toothbrushes and the threat of gang-rape, then okey-doke. Most rational people would rather die, you'd think. But then rational people don't do what Komisarjevsky and his scumbag sidekick did. And if they decide to ice their worthless asses after all, I can't imagine who'd fucking miss them.

But if leaving them to rot steals a cheap thrill from the vicarious switch-thrower, maybe it's for the better.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Wish I Was Taller, I Wish I Was A Baller; Or, Drill Baby Drill

Hilarious. Not damning -- if there's a less surprising thing in this world than a 23-year-old sports reporter hooking up with a college basketball star, I have no clue what it would be -- but from our Patron Saint of Abstinence, at least as hilarious as her first two progeny becoming parents before marriage.

Even the allegations of drug use -- our last three presidents, including the current one, have at least tacitly admitted to occasional use. (Which one might think would at least in principle undermine the validity of the massively failed War on Some Drugs, but that's another post.) This will only endear her further to her base, who must be growing tired of defending her manifold stupidities by now, but which is also their raisin-detree. Without a perfidious librul booga-booga to rail against, they wouldn't know what to do with themselves.

This, however, is just weird:

But for the Chicago Tribune and Newsday and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to drop
DOONESBURY for a full week because the strip contained quotes from THE ROGUE?


Has Sarah become the Blessed Virgin, and the USA a new Vatican City?

Major newspapers in Chicago, New York, and Atlanta refuse to run–for a full week or more–a comic strip that refers to excerpts from a book that dares to criticize a woman who once ran for vice president and then quit as governor of her state and has subsequently made millions of dollars by doing reality shows and appearing as a highly-paid political commentator on a right-wing TV channel?

Funny, Faux News has never worried for a hot second about Saint Sarah's slanderous calumniations, but these shit-scared media dinosaurs can't scramble fast enough to appease the threat of a slander suit. Over a comic strip.

Gutless, but like the story itself, not a bit surprising. For all its First Amendment pretensions, the vaunted fourth estate rarely misses opportunities to cave to corporate misgivings and apprehensions.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Decade of Decadence

Xan had always known the importance of giving people a choice in matters where choice was unimportant. -- P.D. James, The Children of Men

All the commemorations, benedictions, genuflections, invocations, pronunciamentos, and various ceremonial prostrations are fine and/or dandy, and entirely in keeping with the usual expectations. No surprises there; really, there are very few surprises to be had anymore, when it comes to the political realm.

And this is nothing if not a chiefly political issue, tribal identifiers binding with solemn rituals. The key rule for any political issue is that it is infinitely more important to be seen and perceived as Doing Something, than it is to actually do something. It has always been thus, bizarrely symbols frequently become far more important and protected than the actual ideals and values they symbolize.

These sorts of things, candlelight vigils and solemn public liturgies, rote speechifying, have never done anything for me, regardless of the occasion. It's not that I don't think or care about what happened ten years ago -- I did and do care very deeply, and scarcely a week goes by that I don't think about it, the event, its repercussions, still unfolding, still metastasizing.

It's incomprehensible to me that anyone needs to be reminded of it, or feels the urge to display and share their grief. Unless it's completely spontaneous, an extemporaneous situation, frankly I don't trust people who grieve with complete strangers. And I sure as hell don't trust individuals who get weird and insistent about, say, the supposed divine meaning of intersecting I-beams, in the wreckage of a building that had countless such pairings. I don't discount the value of such anodyne objects in the wake of tragedy, it's just that people seem to think it absolves them from anything and everything else. It doesn't; after any tragedy, large or small, we move on, or we wallow and die a little more inside every day.

And there need to be concrete sentiments bolstering the sacred rites. Without actual commitment -- to finding a better way to do things and resolve problems, to planning for an increasingly dismal future for the seething majority of 'murkins -- and acknowledgement -- of using grief and rage to inadvertently carve a lost decade into history, blood for blood a hundred times over (and the wrong blood at that), of chucking every principle we once stood for right out the window because of some psychopathic asshole in a cave halfway around the world -- nothing will change, at least not for the better. The question is whether that has been a flaw or a feature in the first place.

So we should definitely take a moment and reflect on that awful day, and spare something for all the awful days since then, what we might have done or not done if we knew then what we know now. The resilience of a country lies in its ability to come away from catastrophes with ideas about things, lessons learned, ideals to strive for. There is more to be done, and more that we're capable of, than lighting candles, wearing ribbons, and chanting "USA! USA!" at the Jets game, until same time next year.

Friday, September 09, 2011

A Man, A Plan, A Canal; Or, Hope Floats

The Post commentariat work on their next round of bons mots and fnords for the plebes to digest and regurgitate.

Maybe it's Hopey-Changey's increasing dithering, or the limitless antics of the 'publitools, but it's genuinely tough to say with absolute certainty whether Milhouse (channelling his inner MoDo) is in his Beltway polemicist/satirist mode, or if the slithering fucktards on the right-hand side of the proverbial aisle really did tweet and giggle and moon each other throughout The Big Speech.

Here's the thing, though -- nobody fucking watched it anyway. I seriously do not think the twitterati (said coinage had greater clarity of meaning before the inane-ovation of Biz Stone pervaded the mass of semi-literate self-marketing goobers) quite get it. For all their follies and fatuity, for all their deep-fried sticks of butter and craving for dancing has-beens and never-weres, the 'murkin people are canny in one key area -- they're too smart to waste one sweet second on this televised kabuki. Even without it being NFL opening day. If they wanted to watch these State of the Union-type circle-jerks, C-Span would have higher (or indeed, any) ratings.

If Obama cares about preserving his own job, not to mention producing some for millions of others, he had best stop with these half-hearted calculations, and find his inner Rick Perry already. People will vote emphatically for a swingin' pair over diffident posturing every day of the week.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Rule of Dumb

Ed nails it. Once again, your intrepid corporate media manages to create and encourage a teabagger movement where there was none. Outside of fringe church book giveaways and conservatard book club specials, Christine O'Donnell will probably not sell, in the honest meaning of the term, more than a dozen books. Count on it.

There are a multitude of reasons for that, not the least of which are that O'Donnell has nothing whatsoever new or interesting to say about anything at all, nor is anyone who is actually enamored with her by definition a reader. I say this not just to be insulting (though that is an important part of it), but to point out an obvious and simple fact: people like O'Donnell, and Palin, Perry, Bachmann, etc., gain notoriety not for anything they've done, have the ability to do, or even intend to do. People like that are popular because they ventriloquize the antagonism, the endless butthurt of a claque of marginalized chumps.

In fact, even going back to the more successful movementarian jeremiads of yore (Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter), it would be surprising if most or even many of the people who obtained their books actually read them. And even if they did read them, it would not be to add to their arsenal of factual information, and certainly not to actually learn anything, or even to gain something resembling a meaningful intellectual perspective on the notions they routinely parrot. No, if they read the books, it would be to simply affirm what they already "knew".

So it is with fifteen journamalists hanging around a book signing with only five customers, and having nothing to say about the actual book in question. It is this sort of just-show-up coverage that has allowed the teabagger "movement" to metastasize far beyond where it would have landed normally, and to have a disproportionate effect on American politics. (And, it should be noted, to become a convenient scapegoat for the self-inflicted woes of the Democrats.)

I swear it's true -- when it comes to the media, there really used to be a time when both we and they understood the distinction between actual news and Jerry Springer reruns.

In Other News

I have a couple of projects that I've been working on, that I may decide to do some self-publishing through Amazon's DIY Kindle program. So I have a few questions for all of you (okay, both of you) out there. Have any of you had experience with that program? If so, what was the outcome? Are there any issues with setup, publishing, etc. that I should consider going in?

Mind you, I am not looking at this as some life-changing career move, and no, I am not feverishly cranking out some basement rendition of the Twilight/Game of Thrones canon. But I do have some ideas that I think some might find useful and/or entertaining, and wouldn't mind pulling a modest supplemental income from, if possible.

Anyway, if you've tried the Kindle program, or something similar, and have some observations to share, please add in comments below, or email the Gmail. Thanks.

Graphic Violence

The next time someone asks for a nice visual of the banana-republic wealth/income disparity this nation continues to endure, show 'em this:
[Via Decline of the Empire]

I'm not even sure what to say anymore, hence the almost non-existent posting level these days. For a long time I attributed my dwindling output to the rigors of school and work, and to a great extent those things did and do occupy a great deal of my time.

But it's also a lack of knowing what to say anymore. When I started this little thing back in 2005, I figured there was a niche for this sort of parodying and lampooning of public figures, especially politicians. And there still is, though The Daily Show handles much of the heavy lifting, in terms of knocking out the easy meat most reliably. (Maybe I should have become a writer for TDS, if I had any clue how; at least once a week I'll know what Stewart's going to say before he says it, or predict the comic headline.)

Everything about this nation has simply become impossible to parody at this point -- our political choices and sentiments; our pop-culture touchstones; our propensity to put up with the viciousness and abuse of a corporate media structure that runs interference for the robber barons who have burgled this country's future for themselves. The media is such an easy target, over and over again, because it is the correct one. They engage, in the aggregate, of polishing corporate turds, and presenting them to you, gentle viewer, as something worthy of attention.

Anything and everything, from the interchangeable chlamydia-ridden Joisey Shore mooks, to the daily "missing attractive white woman" updates on The Today Show, to the sculpting of whatever manufactured crisis crops up next on the nightly news radar, is presented as equally important, equally meaningful, equally impactful to our lives, when in fact very little of it is. Maybe our (and by "our", I mean the majority of 'murkins) critical faculties have just been irreparably dulled, worn down by attrition, from the daily -- hell, hourly pummeling of this contrived nonsense.

Next week, media-wise, will especially suck -- starting with the tenth anniversary 9/11 remembrances, that day where everything changed, but we all went right back to doing what we were doing, and changed nothing about ourselves, certainly not in the collective sense. Nevertheless there will be interminable, mawkish plaints to the sky, and any number of other modes of emotional manipulation.

Then on Thursday we get Obama trying to compete with the opening of football season with yet another proposal that will require fruitless negotiation with the Boehner gang. Assuming that Obama even has "good" (meaning those he campaigned on) intentions anymore, or if he's even permitted by the rentier class to retain them, it is all for naught if he does not learn to negotiate with even a modest amount of skill.

Again, giving Obama some small benefit of the doubt that he has not a completely owned tool of Wall Street at this point, let us sketch out a reasonable metaphor for his pattern of negotiating things. I've probably used this one before, but whatever.

Let's say you are dealing with somebody who insists that 2+2=6, and they will brook no disagreement, will not discuss the issue, will not listen to entreaties of empirical reason and cold rationality. You know that 2+2=4, and no amount of magickal thinking on the part of you or them or anyone else is going to change that. However, you also have to figure out a way to work something out with your idiot opponent. What do you do?

Well, whatever you decide to do, one thing you most definitely don't do is open with, "Well, what if we compromise and say 2+2=5, and work from there?". You may, after long and hard-fought debate, eventually be forced to concede something along this line to move things along and get something done, but only an asshole does this as an opening gambit.

Yet this is what Obama has done and continues to do with every major economic initiative. He doesn't just punt on first down, he routinely concedes before the ball has even been kicked and the clock has started ticking. I would not at all be surprised if he fucks over the entire next generation (or more) on Social Security and Medicare, and grants yet more bullshit "job creating" tax cuts (because the ones he's given up have created so many already) just to get some hopelessly-compromised "job bill" going.

This is how the man does every blessed thing. It does not seem to occur to him that granting upfront concessions to an irrational opponent does not defuse the antagonism of the negotiating scenario, it emboldens the opponent. If you give up that much without even so much as a fight, before the bell has even rung, how much more will you give up when you take a right cross to the nose. Over and over, again and again, Boehner and Cantor and their merry little friends delight in playing Lucy to Obama's Charlie Brown, getting that sadistic frisson every damned time he lands on his back, not knowing or caring why he can't ever seem to believe his own lyin' eyes.

And of course the Thankralphers are already scuttling out of the woodwork, reminding us all of the burn-at-the-stake heresy of even murmurs of dissent at how Mister Man has chosen to make good on any of his campaign promises. You're getting a shit sandwich either way; Rick Perry's will probably come with one slab of stale crust, but other than that, essentially identical.

It's not that that isn't true and correct, mind you, that as awful as Obama has been and continues to be, and his inability and unwillingness to fight has wrought his current stature, he's still preferable to an unrepentant knuckle-dragger like Perry. But it should beg the question of why this is our "choice", why this is always our choice, why it is we, every bit as much as Obama, who plays the Charlie Brown sucker role, whatever and ever, amen.

Friends 'n' neighbors, that helpful little graph at the top of your screen is the answer to all of those questions, why your politics, culture, news, economy, and so much more is just a big box o' turds. It is that, and absolutely nothing more, I promise you. And it is never, ever going to change until we do something about it.