Firing Squads

Utah is phasing out firing squads because of the media attention and bad image they cause, legislators and corrections officials said. NY Times, April 25, 2010

Seriously?  Because they don’t want America to think that they are killing anybody?

How about that– an unusually naked moment for America. Because of the “bad image” they cause! We wouldn’t want anybody to think we’re cold-hearted killers, oh no– so no firing squads.

One of the more outrageous perversities of current American politics is the violent determination of many people to have it both ways. We are kind, decent human beings. We admire Mark Twain and Martin Luther King Jr. We read the Bible and go to church. And we like to kill people.

But shooting someone with a firing squad– well, that makes it look like we’re killing people.

Lethal injection– now that looks nice and peaceful and humane!

That looks like the way a kind, compassionate society deals with murderers.  We murder them quietly.

That’s the way a civilized society behaves.

Just Sentencing: 35 Years

Why is there no discussion about criminal sentencing in the U.S., other than the usual nut cases advocating even more and more of it?

Is there a single politician in the U.S. who doesn’t run on a platform of “getting touch on crime”. Those criminals! They commit crimes. Next thing you know, they’re out there just walking the streets and committing even more crimes, right after their 30 year sentence is up!

There is a logical absurdity at work here, of course. Ever since Nixon in 1972, every American politician, including Democrats Clinton and Carter, have pledged to get tough on crime, just like the Republicans do. But if every new generation of leaders gets tougher on crime than the previous generation, we must have long ago reached maximum toughness. In fact, I think we’re at a level of insanity that approaches the very high standards set by Salem, Massachusetts in the 17th Century, and Spain during the Inquisition.

So, how would you react if someone said, “you know what– I think we need to start showing some compassion, and we need to reduce prison time, improve prison conditions, and concentrate more on rehabilitation? How would you react? I’m not sure. Polls suggest that most people will react with sneering and laughter. Are you nuts? Do you know how easy criminals have it? Man, I wish I could sit around all day in my comfy prison cell just watching TV and stuffing my face all at taxpayer expense! No worries! No bills! Did you know how often they weasel out any sentence at all?

I would challenge anyone who thinks like that to spend a day in one of our lavish, over–crowded prisons.

What we have is a society that has become vicious, heartless, vindictive, and irrational. Yes, that’s us. We’re nuts. We have been increasing sentences– in the U.S., at least– and Harper wants to do it in Canada– and we have reached a level of absurdity: 20, 30, 40 years for property and drug crimes!

How does anyone know what the right sentence is? I just read about a first-time offender in the U.S. who got 33 years– I’m not making this up– for hiding a video camera in a women’s locker room. How do you know 33 years is “right”? What is 33 years? What pleasure does the judge get when he looks into this man’s face and decides his life should be destroyed. It was his first mistake– enough. Destroy him. Crush his spirit. Erase his existence. Annihilate his soul.

You could argue that it likely wasn’t his first mistake: it was the first time he was caught.  But you could also argue that most of us have sinned at one time or another and never been caught.

That is the kind of human being the judge is: he will deny it until he is blue in the face, but it’s true– he takes pleasure in doing it. It gratifies him. He should admit it, so we can have an honest discussion of crime and punishment in America.

And America needs to look at itself and ask: if what we believe about crime and punishment was true, how come we’re not the most crime-free society on earth, because almost nobody punishes as harshly and ruthlessly as we do.

On Obama:

Tommy Barnett, 56, an independent of Cullman, Ala., said: “Somebody told me he’s not from here. I said I never heard of Barack Obama, that’s not American, then we find out he’s Muslim. What they got somebody like that running our country for?” (NY Times, April 21, 2010)

He doesn’t. You do.

Tiger Woods

You have to give it to Tiger Woods– his “strategy” for dealing with his scandal was flawless. Controlled disclosure. Hide. Pro-forma confession and penitence. Chill. “Treatment”. Resurrection and resumption of endorsements. It’s all as if nothing had happened except– guess what– he’s now even more famous and thus worth even more than he was before. Even PBS Newshour had to do a story on him. That’s depressing.

I personally thought the Nike ad was brilliant. It was, of course, entirely manufactured by a pr firm (which at one time even included Ari Fleischer, press secretary to George W. Bush for a few years), but you have to consider the fact that a good pr firm would certainly advise Tiger not to undermine his own very expensive strategy by carrying on as if nothing had happened. I imagine they might have asked him– what do you want to do? Do you want to continue to philander as if there was no tomorrow? No problem– we can do that. We can do the George Clooney approach. Stay single and make no commitments to anybody. Choose carefully. Don’t, for God’s sake, promise anything.

The Nike ad was bold, brilliant, and moving. Don’t listen to the critics who claim–as if this was a revelation–that Tiger’s father was actually describing Tiger’s mother, not Tiger. That is irrelevant. It’s a work of art, not a documentary. The important thing is that it appears to confront the issue in a tasteful, dignified tone. What would you say to Tiger: what were you thinking? And the beautiful thing about it is that Tiger doesn’t give an answer. He doesn’t say anything at all. It’s as if he was above that sort of pedestrian give and take, the kind of thing the tabloids suck on. It’s as if a mere apology would be inadequate and demeaning. It’s as if no scandal, no matter how salacious, can touch the real Tiger Woods. It’s as if he took the paradox at the heart of the question– do you mean, about my behaviour or about the consequences of getting caught— and raised it, in his mind, to the level of poetry and religion. What is “is”? What is morality and ethics and principle when you make enough money to buy and sell entire nations? When you spend your spare time in a darkened casino in Las Vegas betting you can have even more money, instead of travelling, or reading, or supporting a charity– I mean, really supporting a charity, not that token foundation crap– No, Tiger says nothing. He might just be thinking, I had no idea how the media would try to cash in on the destruction of my family, with such self-righteous glee. I had no idea that the public would project themselves into my story except that would have had the luxury of pretending they really deserved it. He had no idea of how entitled the public feels to your soul, your dignity, your privacy, once they have bought into the image you fabricated just for them to substitute for the emptiness at the core of your talent.

Don’t forget– none of the scandalous stuff was anybody’s damn business in the first place. I heard a golfer state that he used to think of Tiger Woods as a role model and now he is so, so disappointed, and I wanted to slap him on the side of the head and scream: Tiger Woods was never a role model. He was a manufactured plastic robot intended to manipulate you into buying extravagantly worthless trinkets with his face or name on them. Then he took your money and gambled with it, alone, in Las Vegas, with his body guards to keep smelly, unimportant people like you out of his life; he spent it on nannies and maids and gardeners and publicists and lawyers and pr consultants, and the women… Anyone who would see Tiger Woods as a role model in the first place was always a fool.

But anyone who buys the repentance shtick, and the phony reconciliation, and the phony therapy– is even more deluded.

You want a role model? Go down the street and watch somebody work hard to support his family. Read about Bethany Maclean or Brooksley Born or Bernhard Schmidt. Never heard of them? Of course not.