Monday, February 5, 2018

Kill! Kill! Kill!

Back in the days of the gladiators in the Colosseum, there was no fun in "thumbs up". The fun was in "thumbs-down" - patrons exhorting their emperor to command an execution. 

That's how the criminal justice system does it in America - no fun in leniency, or mercy. The people want blood; give it to them.

This past week, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, in the sex abuse trial of gymnastics' doctor, Larry Nasser, sentenced Nasser to 40 to 175 years in prison. Then, she said to him, with a gloating that was unseemly for an officer of the court: "I just signed your death warrant." The courtroom erupted in applause. Thumbs-down.

Welcome back to the Colosseum, or "America," as it is called today.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Sexual Harassment: Taking the Bull by the Horn

The problem with sexual harassment crisis sweeping this country is the infinite number of subtleties in the male-female dynamic. Rather than tackle it full-bore, let us take one bite out of this unfolding drama:

A woman has accused Senator Al Franken of groping her backside at the Minnesota State Fair as her husband took their photo. After the incident, the woman says she “felt humiliated, and quickly walked away.”

Wait. This is a grown woman. Could she not have turned on Franken and declared, “How dare you touch me like that!” She told her husband what Franken had done. He is grown, too, I presume. If he is too “civilized” to punch the “perv” in the mouth, at least he should have confronted the senator, and commanded, “Don’t you ever put your hands on my wife!” Neither of them did anything; both ran from an old, fat senator like two cowards.

Must others fight these most fundamental of battles that aggrieved men and women should be fighting for themselves?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Evil Exists, But Not Within Our Grasp

“Evil” is easy to say, but it is hard to do. (It may be impossible.)

Humans act out of emotions. Many killers kill out of a sense of pride, not evil. They feel wronged; they want to avenge that wrong. Ever hear President Trump boast, “if you hit me, I will hit back ten times harder.” That is the persons a mass killer projects. It is his delusion that, not only must he strike back at the world, but he must inflict a hundredfold grief upon any world that would treat him cruelly.

When President Trump heard about the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas (besides calling the man “evil” and “deranged”, and assuring the world that America does not have a gun problem), he brushed it off as “a mental health problem.” In a way, he is right, except that he sees mental health only in the extreme. (All sins are a mental health problem.)

People suffer mental illnesses on a scale similar to how they suffer physical illnesses from colds to cancer. We all get a touch of madness from time to time. It is called anger and lust and pride and greed. We will do what it takes to satisfy that madness. (Having guns at the ready does not help.) Most of us, once we are done, return to our good and former selves, similar to how we overcome the sniffles. We are not evil. We are simply weak – slaves to emotions we think must be satisfied. 

We are quick to label people “evil” when they commit acts we abhor. By our standards, the senator who votes to pull the rug of healthcare from beneath the poor is evil; presidents who levy economic sanctions against poor nations in a deliberate attempt to starve that nation’s people are evil; the child who pulls the wings off of houseflies is evil. 

I lack the theological background to put into words the true concept of evil as mankind imagines it. In any case, true knowledge of evil is as unattainable as true knowledge of the divine.

These people who commit mass killings are not evil. They are simply selfish and terribly mean. We make statements attributing evil to them, we are merely satisfying our need to assert control, and display a moral authority we do not have. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Mother of Messiah

There is a 23-year-old woman, a corporal, serving as a damage control officer aboard a U.S. naval carrier in the Pacific. She has left behind a three-year-old son named "Messiah." When asked by CNN's Brooke Baldwin, who interviewed her aboard the carrier, how often she sees her son, the corporal answered, "twice a year." Ms. Baldwin then asked how she felt about her decision to leave her child and join the navy. The woman replied, "Someone has to do this job." Well, mother of Messiah, someone has to care for your child, too.  

The corporal might want to consider whether another sailor among the 5,000 aboard that ship can do her job there better than another woman back in the States can do her job here.  

There are other questions, like: "Should America's navy be recruiting young mothers and encouraging them to seek adventures on the high seas half a world away from their children?" And...

"In a land of 300 million people, is the mother-of-a-small-child's defense of a large ship more efficacious to the security of that nation than her defense of her child's emotional stability?" And.... (this to Messiah's mom:)

"Is physical damage to that aircraft carrier more compelling to you than the emotional damage you surely inflict upon your son each time you abandon him for a stint overseas?" 

Simply put, mother of Messiah: Though you may need the navy, the navy does not need you as much as does your small child. For better, or for worse, Messiah will always be proof that there is no greater patriot than a good mother.  

Saturday, November 11, 2017

In the Land of Exceptionalism, Boorishness Reigns

Trump is obviously a boor. So, what? America has a history of such behavior. Ever hear of “The Ugly American”? Trump is the embodiment of that concept. It’s what we get. (I hear there are people around the world who pity American to have landed such a leader as Trump. Not. They gloat.)

Hillary poses in her new book, “What Happened?” Perhaps she wonders how boorishness could have made such an outlandish entrance at her juncture in history. Madame, this boorishness we suffer came with Columbus. But it was only when a rupture in the political landscape created such a breach as to allow the abominable to rear its head, that we saw its face. 

That breach was created when an advanced society of 300 million people forced its electorate to choose between two imminent septuagenarians whom polls showed fully 60% of the populace did not trust. It may well have been the greatest compromise of this nation’s values in U.S. electoral history. We pulled back the covers on ourselves.

Trust is the foundation of all good relationships. If America will entrust its precious democracy to the least trustworthy among us, then what does that say about each of us and our relationship with the truth?

Neither Trump nor Hillary promised honesty. They promised money and power. America was keen to hear it. And wherefrom all of this money and power? From all other things, and all other peoples, on this good Earth.

Boorishness flexes its muscles, indifferent to the damage such express musculature leaves in its wake. Trump is America’s consummate boor. He exposes us all. Our enemies, and our allies, gawk at the sight. Yet, there is something fated about Trump – like karma; like chickens coming home to roost.  

Friday, November 3, 2017

"Morons", and Misfit Moments

Who among us has not, at one time or another, looked into a mirror and said to himself, “You’re an idiot.”  Furthermore, who has not, at one time or another, said the same to a friend, or family member? Certainly, each of us has, at some time or another, said of one boss, or another, “What a moron!” It happens. 

So, when Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, called his boss, President Trump, “a moron,” why would anyone be surprised? Gillien Turner, a Fox News contributor, said Tillerson’s “moron” remark never happened. Trump calls it “fake news.” The State Department’s press secretary assured the nation, “Secretary Tillerson does not talk like that.” Let me assure the nation:  We all talk like that. 

In the wake of Stephen Paddock’s killing of 58 concern-goers in Las Vegas, former president, Bill Clinton, said, “This should be unimaginable in America.” Is he serious? America sets the table for such carnage: Freedom of movement, guns galore, bullets-a-billion – (what’s it all for except to kill one another!) – and a history of violence unparalleled among modern societies. There is no nation on Earth where such a heinous act is more imaginable than the good ol’ U.S. of A. 

Remember September, when Senator Jon McCain voted down the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal Obamacare? Much of the attention seemed focused on McCain letting his good friend, Lindsey Graham, down. The focus should have been on Senator Graham “letting his good friend,” McCain down by pushing a partisan bill in the face of McCain’s (dying) request for a return to bipartisanship, and “regular order” to the Senate. 

In 2016, the age of 66, I will be up for parole again. If parole is granted, the fullness of my joy, (and my surprise), may stop my heart. If denied, the depth of my despair will surely break it. Either way, it’s hare to see how I’ll ever see home again. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Brando, von Blixen, and "Balmy John"

I had run out of things to do. So, I made a list of the top five male movie characters and mailed it to my brother, Tony, to see what he thought. He didn’t seem to have much of a problem with it. So, I thought I’d follow that up with a parallel list of the top five female characters. That list didn’t happen.

We experience our lives through the prism that is our childhood, and that culture that shapes us. The predominant characters in my family – in my community – were nearly all men; their renown gained from their ability to fight, or poke a baseball. They were two-fisted men, as prodigious at wielding an ax as at hefting a fifth of whiskey. We admired their stamina, their humor, their oratorical skills – men like Uncle Big Boy, a charismatic storyteller who might, at any moment, break into a rousing rendition of “Face Upon the Barroom Floor.” They went to calling him “Balmy John.” 

These were natural heroes, like the great women we knew whose talents were ensconced in their kindness, and in their willingness to cook great meals and nourish large families. We did not care about law degrees and certificates of excellence. It was the raw force of these people, like the purity of purpose in typhoons and tornadoes that awed us and awe us still.

Movies are a mere extension of what we already believe. Treatments of historical icons like Catherine the Great and Harriet Tubman are appreciated. But they languish alongside the “sturm and drang” of characters like George C. Scott’s “Patton” who assured his men that he was going to Berlin to “personally shoot that paper-hanging son-of-a-bitch!” 

Tolstoy gave us “Anna Karenina,” but it was when Gregory Peck’s Ahab declared, “I’d smite the sun if it insulted me!” that our imaginations soared.

I admire the lioness, but we are riveted upon the maned lion, the bull elephant, the “silverback.” Isak Dinesen's “Out of Africa” gave a Meryl Streep and her flawless performance as the provocative Baroness von Blixen. In her cropped Danish accent, she said to us, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills…” She was exquisite, one of the finest storytellers in all the cinemas; a rival to “Forrest Gump,” himself. Yet, she is not nearly so remembered. (“And that’s all I have to say about that.”)

Glenn Close came close as Alex Forrest in “Fatal Attraction,” vowing with absolute certitude, “I will not be ignored.” Came the ostentatious Gary Oldman as “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”:  “Be careful how you cut yourself,” he warned in a whispering Romanian brogue, “it is more dangerous than you teenk.” I believed him. 

We are convinced of Forrest Gump in all of his absurdity, but can’t quite buy “Columbiana,” Angelina Jolie, or Scarlet Johannson. “Skyfall’s” Dame Judy Dench, better known as “M” – raised the bar when she flat-out told James Bond, “You’re bloody well not sleeping here.” She’s got it; just not enough to stand the winds of Brando’s Don “Make-him-an-offer-he-can’t-refuse” Corleone. 

Can the fairer sex bring it to the silver screen on a par with Anthony Hopkin’s Hannibal Lechter, who ate a man’s liver “with some fava beans and a nice chianti…”? It think not.... not yet.  I don’t believe we are ready – or even able, just now – to suspend that much belief.