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.  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Confederacy: Guardian of a Crime Against Humanity

It could be that America has never truly cared about its slaves, except for how bad those slaves made America look. That’s why we can have this debate about monuments to Confederate generals, (when there should be no need for debate, at all).

America has consistently sought to portray the antebellum South in romantic terms – with its genteel aristocracy, southern belles… oh, and “soft laughter from the negro quarters.” It was all a veneer – an affectatious delicacy beneath which rolled the total dehumanization of an entire race of people. We know this. Yet, we, enlightened people, succumb over and over to the romance that gives high priority to the imagination, and little to reason. How else to explain a nation that will revile the infamous Revolutionary, Benedict Arnold, yet revere his traitorous Confederate cousins?

There are over 700 Confederate monuments, most of which are dispersed throughout the former Confederate states. These are not monuments to heroism, as most Confederate sympathizers would have us believe.  They are the face of America’s crime against humanity. 

For the Neo-Nazi, the White Supremacist, the KKK, the Confederacy is a shield. It is the symbol of their America – defiant white men standing up to a federal government that dare be inclusive at their expense; that dare put blacks and Jews on a plane meant to be the sole inheritance of white people.

The other night, on Fox News, Dr. Charles Krauthammer lauded a monument to Confederate soldiers for their valor against overwhelming odds. But, did those soldiers fight any more valiantly that did Hitler’s Wehrmacht, who were outnumbered by the Allies 5-to-1, and still nearly won the day?

The Nazi cause was no less ignoble than the Confederate cause. Yet, there are no monuments to Erwin Rommel, Heinz Guderian, or Eric von Manstein, arguably three of the greatest military generals that ever lived.  Why is that? Because no one is allowed – and rightfully so – to romanticize what the Nazis did to the Jewish people. Yet, it is okay to romanticize a Confederacy that propagated evils against an innocent race of people America is yet to admit to:  unspeakable acts beneath that veneer of Southern gentility – rampant pedophilia – visited upon chained black children; crimes chained mothers and fathers could not protect against. Erect a Confederate monument to that!

History exists. It cannot be changed, nor erased. Memory, on the other hand, can be formed and re-formed. Robert E Lee, as the military arm of the Confederacy, sought to defeat the United States of America so that slavery could survive and, ideally, spread. That is historical fact. Today, many American’s, nonetheless, memorialize Lee – call him “America’s most beloved general”; (even more “beloved” than Ulysses S. Grant, the Union general who defeated Lee and literally saved this country!) Reconcile that. 
Now, people across this nation – many young people who have already cast off their fathers’ prejudices – tear at these Confederate statues with their bare hands, as though they instinctively know it is their future they fight for; as though they know in their gut that for the future to be realized, all of the colors of America must be fully enfranchised. That can only happen absent the Confederate shadow that looms over this nation – a presence that has been elevated to honor when all it deserves is infamy.

Take down the Confederate monuments, now. Put them in museums. Then, let us all visit those museums, and show our children the truth of this nation – how it once condoned evil, and then fought mightily to vanquish it. Put the Confederacy behind shatterproof glass, and pray that the hate it represents never rises again. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Knowledge of Good and Evil

America does not want North Korea to have a nuclear weapon. Hell, North Korea does not want America to have nuclear weapons. What does that matter? This isn't Augusta, where gentlemen Confederates could bar the door against men of color. This isn't a gentlemen's club at all.

America did not let Russia into the nuclear club; it did not let Red China in. Those two behemoths barged in. Same for the rest of them. Do you think America would have agreed to India and Pakistan joining the club? Not on your life. They, too, had to kick the door in. North Korea has kicked like mad at that same door. For them, as for the other nuclear-armed states, it is an existential matter. Such matters cannot be decided by other men and other nations. Nations must decide that for themselves. Either way, there will be consequences.  

America opened this Pandora's Box in 1945 and immediately proceeded to drop her calamity upon the Japanese people. Since then, nations big and small have yearned for such power. Power. That's what it is. Of course, we do not want anyone else to have that power. But, it is not up to us. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil exists. America first plucked its deadly fruit, (but could neither fence it off or cut it down.) Others were bound to follow.  

Nothing is so coveted by the world's militaries as a nuclear weapon. The ultimate deterrent - it is the equalizer, like the Colt .45 of the Old West that made little men the equal of big men. Yet, nothing is so evil as a single bomb whose sole purpose is to incinerate millions, and make shambles of nations for generations, and beyond. 

That door will not hold. More nations will get this great and evil weapon. One nation will use it. Only God knows what awful chain of events that will unleash.  

Friday, August 4, 2017

No Such Thing as "Hot Justice"

They say “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Perhaps, no better example of that is “Victims' Rights” – the politically correct practice of granting victims of crime influence over a prisoner’s fate.

Some say I remain imprisoned beyond my release date – August 8, 2013 – in part because the victim’s family so desires. I am aware of the practice. It is, nonetheless, a stunning suggestion: A modern criminal justice system turning the fate of a prisoner over to civilians. (Is that not a sterilized version of turning suspects over to a lynch mob?)

Nothing so corrupts the pursuit of justice as emotions. All people hold soft spots for the victims of a tragedy. But they do not owe special favors to these dear people. Victims of crimes are no more entitled than are victims of disease, or natural disasters. They are to be shown empathy and respect, but dispensing justice cannot become part of their repertoire. Society must never feel compelled to assuage a victim’s grief with a breach of justice, no matter how good such a breach might make us feel about ourselves.

A victim’s heart is immoderately skewed. As harsh as it may sound, the only role victims should play in the criminal justice process is as witnesses sworn to the truth, like everyone else. 

Justice is no popularity contest. It is a hard-earned virtue, fragile as man’s vanity – the cornerstone of societies everywhere. It is man’s earnest attempt to define guilt, and then levy the responsible consequences. “Victims’ Rights” inclusion into the mix is a capricious and fundamentally contradictory act – fancying-up with emotions what must strenuously be kept emotion-free.