Teresa Lewis

Teresa Lewis apparently has an IQ of about 70, which, according to some definitions, is borderline developmentally delayed. She met a couple of men in a line at Wal-Mart and, in exchange for sex and money, persuaded them to come to her trailer and kill her husband with two shotguns she purchased for the purpose. She also persuaded her daughter to have sex with one of the men.

The NYTimes Account

Within hours of the deed, she had confessed all to the police and was subsequently sentenced to die.

Some people who support the death penalty object to the execution of a woman. Why? If you like to have people killed– don’t fool yourself: that’s what it is– then why should you object to a woman being executed just because she is a woman?

The fact that the authorities want to execute a woman of borderline intelligence is obscene and repulsive.

The fact that the two men who actually pulled the triggers got off with life sentences is unjust.

Her defense lawyers argue, as a mitigating factor, that Lewis is afflicted with “dependent personality disorder”. Hallelujah, thank the Lord, we have a label!

Do the readers of the story in the New York Times and elsewhere automatically believe that this is a real mental illness and that she could be treated and possibly cured of it given time and effort? Why? Just because some two-bit lawyer with the connivance of some amateur psychologist decided that there must be such a thing as “dependent personality disorder”? And that this is not the same thing that we more commonly know as “needy”? Oh no– needy won’t cut it.

“Ladies and gentleman of the jury, we ask you to find her not guilty because, even though it is proven that she hired someone to kill her husband and son, she was, after all, very needy at the time.” No no. It’s, “my client was confused. She had lost control of her life. She could no longer make rational decisions, because she suffered from Dependent Personality Disorder.”

Teresa Lewis should be spared execution because capital punishment is an act of savagery and revenge, not because she is woman.

The Last Christian President

I have long regarded Jimmy Carter as the only real Christian president of the last 50 years. He has recently given a number of interviews with the publication of “White House Diary”, an account of his four years in the White House.

Carter used to carry his own luggage, even as president. He also put a stop to the absolutely inane practice of playing “Hail to the Chief” every time the president enters a room.

Did you you hear that, tea party Republicans? You howl about your politicians being corrupted by Washington. So how did people react when Carter put a stop to paid musicians following him around with idiotic tributes every time he met with the public? They hated him. They hated him when he put solar panels on the White House and Ronald Reagan, in a monumental act of mindless spite, had them removed. They hated him most of all when he preached to America, when he suggested that people learn to postpone gratification, make sacrifices for the greater good, and stop indulging in mindless consumerism.

Frank Capra used to make movies about naive innocents of pleasant virtue suddenly being thrust into corporate or political rats’ nests of corrupt decadence. In the Capra films, virtue triumphed and “the people” came to the rescue. Well, no they didn’t– check out “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. It’s actually one of the most darkly cynical movies about politics ever made.

So Carter kept America out of a war with Iran, and he cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil by substantial amounts, and his conservation policies produced stunning gains in efficiencies. And he was vilified by Republicans for leaving office with a deficit of about $45 billion. Ronald Reagan came in and tackled that deficit problem: he ran it up to $450 billion by the time he left office, but you should hear Republicans wax nostalgic about the “great” Ronald Reagan. It took another “liberal” (by American standards), Bill Clinton, who got the deficit under control.

The closest recent presidential candidate to Jimmy Carter was Al Gore, who, similarly, understood that some self-restraint and sacrifice is good for the country. Gore was smart and fairly virtuous– as politicians go– and he seemed more rueful than disappointed when the Supreme Court paid its debt to the Republican Party and put Bush into office. Gore, like Carter, was a bit of a moralist. He liked to lecture people about social virtue. Americans don’t like that. Gore might well be the best president the U.S. never had.

Since he left office, Carter has made a career out of volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, various peace missions, and living modestly on his farm indulging his grand-children. Everyone calls him the best ex-president there ever was. He may also have been the most responsible president there ever was, but his reward was to be ridiculed by the very people who elect those characterless, corrupt politicians over and over again to undo all the good policies Carter implemented.

The greatest compliment to President Jimmy Carter: the scads of third world dictators, torturers, and murderers who expressed their relief when he was knocked out of office by Ronald Reagan. Thank god! Finally an end to all the hassles about human rights, for heaven’s sake.

The attitude of many European leaders to Carter: I remember reading about it at the time and being rather flabbergasted that they seemed to prefer the worldy and “sophisticated” Nixon. I thought Nixon was the bad guy, bombing Cambodia, rattling the sabres, promoting the nuclear deterrent.

It turns out the Europeans appreciate someone who understands that you have to break a few eggs to make an omelets, as they say. Well, no, let’s say: you have to kill people to get what you want.

It’s complicated.

Decrypt-Kickers: RIM’s Blackberry

I personally find it hard to believe RIM’s assertions that the encryption on the data stored by their Blackberry servers can only be cracked by the user. The spiel given to the media today sounded painfully precise and specious.

India, China, Saudi Arabia, and several other nations have announced that they want RIM to give them access to software that will allow them to read users’ messages and data. For a week or so, it seemed like it was something RIM could do, but didn’t want to. Then they announced that, no, they couldn’t do it. Only the user could unencrypt his own data.

Hmmm. Hmmmmmm.

Silent through all this was the U.S. Government, which, thanks to the Patriot Act, can now lock you up without a warrant, send you to Jordan or Syria to be tortured, then imprison you in Guantanamo for five years, with no consequences whatsoever (thanks, Obama, for tricking us into believing you really thought this was unconstitutional or an affront to human rights in some way). Does RIM want me to believe that the U.S. government was content to be told that they would not be allowed to look at anyone’s data? Tough luck, Mr. Cheney– that is a user’s private information. You have no constitutional authority to look at it without permission.

I believe Obama probably doesn’t really like the Patriot Act. I’ll bet he also really thought he was going to change things. I believe that he doesn’t quite have the guts we thought he had when he was running for president. The American military and intelligence establishment, I figure, confronted him with their juiced-up scenarios of what could happen if one of these guys that they just know is a terrorist were able to blow up a subway station or the Statue of Liberty or something, and I’m sure the Republicans made sure he knew that they would be all over Fox News blaming him– and liberals in general– for the heart-rending deaths of innocent, lovable, happy, employed American citizens.

The essential dynamic here is this: if the intelligence agency really had enough accurate information to justly convict a person of a terrorism-related offense, they could easily do so legally any time they wanted. In fact, American juries fall all over themselves to convict anybody– especially colored or foreign people– of any offense imaginable, given the opportunity to do so, upon even the flimsiest evidence (and even, as recently reported, when the suspect has been exonerated by DNA evidence!).

The Patriot Act only exists so that the government can circumvent the normal, rational requirements of the constitution and lock somebody up just because they just know, in some intangible, irrational, unprovable, way, that the varmint was up to no good.

Chinese Science

I came upon this marvelous item in the New York Times today that made me want to move to China:

“There is really no debate about climate change in China,” said Peggy Liu, chairwoman of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, a nonprofit group working to accelerate the greening of China. “China’s leaders are mostly engineers and scientists, so they don’t waste time questioning scientific data.”

They don’t “waste time” questioning scientific data? Wow. Imagine that. Leaders who make decisions based on science.

So what do our leaders here in Canada and the U.S. base their decisions on?

But let’s not get glib about it. “Men of science” can have creepy overtones.

Getting Paid for Doing Your Job

As a matter of principle, I find it repugnant when governments or corporations “solve” a problem by offering employees and contractors an “incentive” or reward for doing the work they were hired to do– properly.

So we hire teachers, we expect certain credentials when they apply, we pay people to make good judgments about the quality of these applicants, we provide them with extra training and benefits, and we put them into the classroom. And then we say, “tell you what– if you do what we hired you to do, there’s a big fat bonus in it for you.” That’s what it looks like to me when we offer bonuses and incentives to teachers or anyone else to meet certain standards. We are proclaiming, loudly and clearly, that we don’t expect the other people we employ to do their jobs properly.

The U.S. is doing this with teachers, and a columnist with the New York Times recently proposed that they do the same thing with States and Cities that run pension plans: offer them money to do the job they are already paid to do. But this time, succeed.

People rightly question the idea of rewarding young students for getting good marks. Are we training them to expect a gift every time they do something right? What happens when– as is inevitable– the rewards stop coming?

Let your yes be yes and your no be no. I think anyone hired as a teacher or administrator or executive should be told what he is expected to do and how much he will be paid to do it. If he doesn’t do the job, let him or her know that he or she needs to find another job.

Ridiculously, He Won

Palin owes her power to identity politics, pitched with moralistic topspin. She exploits the same populist impulse that fueled the career of William Jennings Bryan—an impulse described by one Bryan biographer as “the yearning for a society run by and for ordinary people who lead virtuous lives.” From Vanity Fair, September 2010

Is it even remotely possible that this dangerous lunatic could end up as President of the United States? The story is that she is preparing a run, setting up fundraising bodies, collecting direct-mail lists, distributing IOU’s to any number of Republican House and Senate candidates. That looks like groundwork. This looks like someone who believes her own (selected) press. I am so smart that even I don’t know how smart I am. Everybody who matters knows how smart I am.

There is something seriously demented about American politics. Americans hate their government. They believe that Washington is full of idiots and liars. These are the people they elected. Okay– so we were a tricked. These people were good when I voted for them, and then they got corrupted by Washington.

So a new guy comes along and says I won’t get corrupted. I’m going to clean out Washington. So they elect him. Two years later they hate him too. They hate him so much that when he spends $30 million smothering the state with ads declaring that his opponent is a child-molester and a heretic, they vote for him again. That’s all it takes, apparently, to fool the American voter. $30 million, supplied by the lobbyists representing the companies that persuaded their representative to do their bidding instead of the voters’.

So ask these voters, what’s ruining this country? Those damn unpatriotic foreigners! Feminists! People who don’t wear American flags in their lapels. Moslems! Mexicans! Homosexuals!

My friends, there isn’t a single Mexican in the country who can pay your Congressman enough money to do his will– but that’s who you’re upset about? You complain about the government wasting money on roads and schools, while they build billions of dollars of weapons for imaginary enemies? You have been driven into massive debts and bankruptcy and you’ve lost your job and your house because of the actions of greedy, dishonest American investment bankers, and you don’t like Obama because he’s smart and thinks he’s better than you?

The Vanity Fair piece on Palin is fascinating if only for a glimpse on that perennial American political paradox: how millionaire white American capitalists inevitably campaign for political office as “just folks” and try — and often succeed in painting their Democrat opponents as “elitists”.

Sarah Palin is America’s Evita in that regard– the poor little aw shucks hockey mom with down home values and divinely inspired common sense. How far that can take you in federal politics if you don’t even know who Margaret Thatcher is (presumably, she does now) is the question to be answered in 2012.

A friend of mine has mused that the Democrats should have lost the last election on purpose– the country was going to hell as a result of George Bush’s incompetence and there would be hell to pay and most people are too stupid to connect policies and consequences and delayed consequences, so whoever was in charge at the moment would get the blame.

My theory is that the Democrats did try to lose the election. They almost nominated a woman, realized she might win, thought better of it, and nominated a black man instead. Ridiculously, he won anyway.

There really, somewhere, should be a picture of John McCain sitting in an easy chair smiling. Smiling away…. Well, he should be smiling– instead, he seems bitter. Does he seriously believe that he could have come up with a plan that would have balanced the budget and reduced unemployment to 7% by now? Sure– by cutting taxes for the richest 1% of the population.


“The Office” Jumps the Shark

What happened? This show was very, very funny for the first two seasons or so. Michael Scott was virtually psychotic, totally narcissistic, and pathologically self-centered. Dwight, a smart fool, was an original creation, by television standards. Jim and Pam were the only sane members of the circus, unrequited, indulgent, graceful.

Then, I suppose, came the market research and the audience response surveys and the feedback and the awards and the popular perception that this was THE show to watch, except that most of these people suddenly tuning in because they were told this was THE show to watch were really not equipped to enjoy the genuinely edgy, original content… So the producers jiggered. They Fonzified it. They took out the guts and the originality and freshness and made it like “I Love Lucy”. I can’t wait for the episode in which everyone forgets Michael’s birthday (until– surprise– they were planning a surprise party all along!).

So they jiggered. So Pam and Jim had to consummate their reciprocal good sense, thereby removing the most interesting relationship in the show. So Jim spends all of his time giving knowing looks to the camera nowadays (aren’t these people wacky!) And so Michael is no less psychotic but we are to understand, from his interactions with other characters, that he is really quite lovable and daffy and– horror of horrors– his hair has turned red, and his voice has become shrill, and the other characters, for reasons that are absolutely incomprehensible and inexplicable and completely implausible, just love him to death, and spend most of their daily lives trying to think of new ways to interact with him, the big lug, even though he clearly makes life hell for anybody in direct contact with him.

Because, after all, his heart is in the right place.

Yes, you can have it both ways. Michael’s outrageous behavior– in real life– would leave him isolated, lonely, and bitter. But in fantasyland, he gets to be both: a idiot who wrecks everybody’s life, and a beloved whacky uncle. Hey, that’s what we all want to be: not only do we want to be forgiven for our lapses in taste and good judgment– by golly, we want to be loved for it.