Why Not the Guillotine?

Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes, interviewing Ninth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Alex Kozinski about methods of execution for criminals who have been sentenced to death, was appalled.  “The guillotine!?”  She was shocked.

How rude of Judge Kozinski.

The United States, the only developed nation that still has a capital punishment, has a big problem.  Hanging is messy and unreliable.  The electric chair is messy and unreliable.  Firing squads are messy and unreliable.  Cyanide is reliable, but messy.  The gas chamber– apparently– is horrifyingly messy and inefficient.  All the methods are imperfect.   The solution seemed to be drugs.  One to sedate.  One to paralyze.   And then one to stop the heart.   No muss, no fuss.  The death penalty is saved!

The problem is that the drug used to paralyze the victim may have give the deceptive impression that the victim was not suffering.  It has been learned that, in fact, the patient may be suffering tremendously, but we can’t know it because the body has been paralyzed.  There have been patients who were administered this drug for an operation who remained conscious but unable to move or speak during the surgery.  They described the experience as excruciating.

So what Stahl objected to, clearly, was the messiness of it; the repugnance of a murder that looks like murder.  This is precisely the mentality that has led to the disaster of capital punishment in the U.S.  Let’s do it in a tidy, antiseptic way that that doesn’t offend those who like to pretend they are virtuous, decent, morally upright persons but still want to kill.

Let’s find a picturesque way to murder.

Yes, drugs: he will just fall asleep, forever.






Consider a different well-studied scenario: the ultimatum game. In this setup, two players must decide how to divide a resource. One gets to propose a split, the other can accept the offer or reject it. If the offer is accepted, each gets his share specified by the proposal. If the offer is rejected, both parties receive nothing. The economically rational solution to this game is to offer as little as possible, and accept any offers that are made. When humans play this game, however, they frequently make offers that are more equitable and often reject those that are unfair. Such rejections are often interpreted as punishment aimed at enforcing fairness.  From Here.


In my personal experience, people prefer spite.


Trump’s Place in History

This article explores the meaning of Trump’s presidency in terms of a historical cycle of ideologies and their deaths.

Mike Spence tells students at Liberty University that they face oppression and “shunning” because of their Christian beliefs:  you poor privileged white middle-class babies!

He is right about one thing there: smart, educated people will not have much respect for people who willfully embrace a fantasy about the nature of the world, about our physical reality, about angels and demons and evil spirits and floods and miracles.   Yes, he is right.  I am one of those condescending people he is talking about.  I think that if you believe the leaders of the evangelical church in America when they tell you that there are witches and evil spirits and that science is a lie and that Adam and Eve were real, singular human beings who lived 5,000 years ago and ate an apple from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then, yes, I don’t have much respect for your intelligence.

How do you understand this kind of language from the Republicans?

Imagine yourself sitting in your living room with your spouse. You look up from your iPhone and say, “honey, I just want you to know that I fully expect that you’re going to cheat on me. Probably steal my money. You’ve probably already cheated and lied to me. But that’s okay, because I’m pretty happy with who I am. I’m worth it.” And the wife, who has never cheated or lied even once, looks over and thinks, “I think I need to leave this relationship… now.” Because she is pretty sure that he’s laying the ground work for something and it won’t be nice. And he looks over and says, “I’ll bet you’re even thinking about it now, aren’t you?” And she says, “yeah, I kind of am.”

In other words, he is being disingenuous.  He would feel better if she did cheat on him, because his estimation of his own value, his own virtue, depends on his condescending attitude towards his wife.  In the same way, that Mike Pence feels he is a better human being, even though he’s not being mocked for his “virtue”, but for his credulousness.

Dear Evan Hansen

Evan Hansen is bullied at school, particularly by one Conner Murphy. When Evan, at the direction of his therapist, starts writing encouraging letters to himself, Conner finds one in a printer tray and, mocking Evan, takes it. When Conner commits suicide later, his parents find the letter and come to believe that Conner wrote it, to Evan. So he wasn’t such a bully after all. Conner’s hot sister, Zoe, is at first reluctant to believe it but Evan, invited to the Murphy house for dinner, eventually convinces her that her parent’s misunderstanding is true, that Conner really was a friend to Evan. He goes so far as to persuade his friend, Jared, to help him write fake emails to “prove” his story, and helps his friend Alana start a foundation to build a park in memory of Conner. And Evan clearly enjoys being the center of attention, all the while protesting that he doesn’t, really, seriously, not at all. A lot of “oh no– I can’t believe you noticed me. Oh my god, what am I going to do now! I’m so embarrassed.”

The important thing to understand about “Dear Evan Hansen” is, firstly, that Evan is a lying, self-pitying narcissist with whom we are expected to sympathize. He abuses the trust of the Murphy family. He is not so much clueless about the damage he is doing as so self-centred that he doesn’t care. The second is that Evan is obviously gay, though the musical doesn’t acknowledge it, and, in fact, pretends that he really has the hots for Zoe. He clearly talks gay, acts gay, and demonstrates almost no convincing heterosexual interest in Zoe. At one point, Conner’s parents even wonder if he and Conner had a sexual relationship, but this being 2018, that is treated as something not to be embarrassed about. His interest in Zoe is a device to make you feel sorry for him in spite of his self-pitying and his narcissism.

The low point in the trajectory of this story is when his mother blames herself for Evan’s incredibly damaging prevarications: because she didn’t give him enough attention. No heterosexual male relates to his mother this way. There is nothing attractive about this bumbling, self-centered, pathetic whiner. And Zoe is most attractive when she disbelieves him, and becomes progressively weak as a character when she subverts her instincts to provide a convenient plot point for Evan’s complete emasculation.

“Dear Evan Hansen” won six Tony awards.  I can only conclude that the judges were carried away by their enthusiasm for the very predictable message about bullying.  I didn’t find the music very distinguished, or the staging inventive, or the acting, in the Toronto version, all that moving.  The social media angle is fresh, but not particularly deep or provocative: it draws no conclusions about the nature of this massive, sudden explosion of notoriety via the internet.

For the real deal about teen angst, mutating sexual identify, and generational conflict, see the marvelous “Spring Awakening” instead, if you can.

Microsoft’s Requirements

Microsoft: “(Required) We collect required diagnostic data to keep Office secure, up-to-date, and performing as expected on the devices its installed on.”

This is the message that popped up as I tried to open Word on a new installation of Office 365 on my HP laptop.  “Required”.  Sounds powerful, doesn’t it.  It’s “required”, like, you have no choice.  Microsoft has no choice: it just has to have access to your computer to browse around and take whatever it wants while you are online.  They can’t do anything about it: it’s required.

There is nothing “required” at all.  It is pure bullshit.  There is no law or regulation that “requires” Microsoft to collect your data.  It’s Microsoft telling you to bend over and spread your cheeks– it’s “required”.

And “performing as expected”?  Absolutely, like the fat, bulky, cluttered, disordered disaster that, yes, I do expect.

But seriously, Microsoft is telling you that, finally, they are not even going to pretend to give you a choice about allowing them to go onto your computer and ransack your personal data.  Your acceptance of these conditions

The Revisionist’s Doris Day

Oh the inevitable revisionist appreciation! Sometimes what is most obvious is the truth: Doris Day was a boring actress who did not make a single significant movie (other than as examples of pop kitsch). I grew up in the 1960’s and I cannot express what a delight and relief it was when Doris Day and other dreary, sanitized products of the studio system were replaced by more earthy actresses like Candice Bergen, Ali McGraw, Katherine Ross, and Jane Fonda (although I will always have a soft spot for Shirley Jones who really was as sexy as this writer thinks Doris Day was).

Doris should have accepted Mike Nichols’ offer to cast her as Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” (it’s true!). It would have saved her career from an unremitting sequence of trite films.

There is always some idiot out there who will find that Donny Osmond really was deep, that ABBA was really as good as the Beatles, that Elton John wrote meaningful songs, that Queen was original, that Neil Diamond rocked, and that Jerry Lewis was funny.  Don’t give in.  Most of the time, these “artists” really were as insignificant as the more astute critics  always thought they were.