The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Executioner's blues

The state of Oklahoma, where the waving wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain, executed Clayton Lockett, an alleged human being, two weeks ago, an execution the press now almost universally describes as botched. I am not sure I can agree with that characterization. The object of the exercise was to cause Mr. Lockett’s death and now he is dead, albeit in a manner inconsistent with the way these things usually go. Execution by lethal injection begins with the condemned man receiving a large dose of a powerful sedative and then, when he is in a drug-induced sleep, the executioner administers a drug that will stop his heart. This is allegedly a more humane method of execution than hanging, poison gas, electrocution, or firing squad, which are the methods in use in those states that still permit capital punishment and do not use lethal injection.  What happened to Mr. Lockett is that the prison authorities used a new cocktail of lethal drugs, none of which, it appears, was as lethal as the drugs in the old cocktail of lethal drugs. Instead of falling asleep and then dying, Mr. Lockett remained awake and groaning, sometimes thrashing about, sometimes talking to people in the execution chamber, and in a variety of other ways being inconveniently not dead when he should have been. The execution having ground to a halt, our Sooner Sansons manqués puzzled about what to do next when Mr. Lockett saved the day for them by dying of a massive heart attack, a result the Oklahoma justice system could have achieved at considerably less cost to the taxpayers by simply putting Mr. Lockett on a diet high in fat and cholesterol and encouraging him to smoke as many cigarettes as he liked. Not wishing to appear too dumb for words, a fear you’d think they would have gotten over by then, the state of Oklahoma canceled the execution of Charles Warner, another alleged human being, until they could figure out what went wrong with Mr. Lockett’s execution.

Since Mr. Lockett shuffled off this mortal coil in so indecorous a manner, certain segments of the press have been nearly hysterical in their denunciations of the state’s handling of the execution and of the death penalty itself.  I find myself agreeing with their criticisms of how Mr. Lockett died; if a state is going to execute criminals then by all means let us find a way that satisfies the needs of justice and disposes of the wretch in as painless a manner as possible; and I find myself totally disagreeing with their conclusions about the death penalty as a whole. I have never been comfortable with the death penalty; we live in an age in which prosecutors already have way too much power in the criminal justice system and I cannot avoid the feeling that for many a prosecutor a high profile murder case ending in an execution is just the ticket for them to achieve higher office and the interests of justice be damned. All of this is on one side of the scale, and on the other stands Mr. Lockett, who was a walking, talking, living, breathing advertisement for the correctness of the death penalty. Mr. Lockett kidnapped three people; he beat one man senseless, anally, orally, and vaginally raped one young woman, and then murdered the young woman’s friend, nineteen-year old Stephanie Neiman. Mr. Lockett shot Ms. Neiman twice and when that was not enough to kill her, he had his accomplices dig a grave and bury her alive in it, all the while ignoring her screams for help and pleas for mercy. Mr. Lockett admitted to the crime and the video of his confession is one of the most callous and brutal things you will ever see in your life.  A jury convicted Mr. Lockett and he spent fifteen years on Oklahoma’s death row as he and his lawyers explored every legal avenue available to get his sentence reduced. So color me unimpressed with the multiple stories about Mr. Lockett’s botched execution—the bastard got what was coming to him. I remember reading once about someone asking Albert Pierrepoint, for many years Great Britain’s official hangman, about why it was that the death penalty never seemed truly satisfactory, given the enormity of the crimes that the condemned had committed. Mr. Pierrepoint replied that there were no extras with a death sentence, there was no making the condemned man suffer for what he had done. A death sentence meant that the man died; nothing more and nothing less. In Mr. Lockett’s case, the incompetence of the Oklahoma prison authorities meant that, in this case at least, the condemned man felt some of the fear and terror he had visited on his victim. Is that constitutional? Probably not, but in this case I’m not sure I care one way or the other.  The nature of Mr. Lockett’s crime precludes the possibility of any sympathy from me.   May he rot in hell.

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Friday, May 09, 2014

Investment advice from the fifth dimension

I got an email from my sister who’s not really my sister the other day, which is a relationship sufficiently out of the ordinary to call for some explanation. Barbara and her family lived next door to us in the Bronx, back in the days when Ike was the President of this our Great Republic and all was right in the world, except for the usual suspects like the Middle East, which was as intractable then as it is now. Barbara was a teenager then and whenever Mom and Dad had to go out, she’d come across the hall to baby-sit my brothers and me. Her own mother was in the last stages of lymphatic cancer then, so Barbara and my mother became very close during what had to have been an incredibly trying time.  Barbara always called our mother Mommy and we (my brothers and I) always thought of her as our cool older sister. She took us to the park and the playground and to the movies too; I still remember seeing Goldfinger and Thunderball—I was big on James Bond then; I had the action figures and everything—and Barbara took us all to see Mary Poppins when it opened at Radio City Music Hall in 1964, a year, I should point out to the younger readers, when there were no dinosaurs living in the New York City sewers or anywhere else on Earth, except for Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the shock wave from the asteroid hadn’t arrived yet. 

As time passed, Barbara’s fate was the fate of all cool older sisters: she went to college, she got married, and then she moved away and started a family of her own. We stayed in touch, though; she called her Mommy at least once a week, no matter where she was, and when we needed advice, we’d call her and talk to see what she thought. And we would listen to what she had to say, because her advice was always sound and because she was our big sister, and we loved her and her good opinion was important to us. 

So, it shouldn’t have surprised me that I got an email from her the other day advising me to invest in hotels in the greater New Delhi area.  Like my mother, Barbara was always on the lookout for a good deal, although the sudden interest in foreign real estate puzzled me. She’d never shown any interest in the subject before she died last year of the same kind of lymphatic cancer that killed her mother in 1959 and I wondered why she’d developed such an interest now. But I suppose being dead broadens one’s horizons in much the same way that travel does, and getting investment advice from one’s dead relatives via email certainly makes more sense that having to go to séances run by Madame Griselda, who tells her customers that she is a Hungarian Gypsy and who is, in reality, a third generation Italian American from Secaucus, New Jersey, or cracking out the old ouija board and wondering what the spirits are trying to tell you. Email is a much more efficient form of communication than mediums, ouija boards, or even the occasional burning bush, even if burning bushes have a really good spam filter.

And getting investment advice from the dead certainly makes more sense than getting advice from some Wall Street financial type. With the latter you have to spend a good amount of time wondering if they are trying to get you to invest because it’s good for your portfolio or whether they want you to invest in one thing or another because they intend to make a fortune shorting the stock once they’ve gotten enough suckers to take the bait. With your dead relatives, on the other hand, you can rest assured that they have your best interests at heart, assuming, of course, that they weren’t organ donors and their heart is now in some checkout clerk at a Wal-Mart just outside of Boise, Idaho. It’s not like the dead have any interest in earning sales commissions or shorting stocks or have someplace to spend the money once they’ve earned it. There’s a good reason why there are no good delicatessens or Citroen car dealerships in American cemeteries and the steadfast immobility of the deceased labor market probably has something to do with that.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. We live in a cynical age and I know that you’re thinking that the person on the other end of those emails is not my sister who’s not really my sister, but some subcontinental digital goniff who hacked into her account and does not know that I am on to him and his thieving ways. I would be a terrible person if I even considered this idea for even a moment. If I did, then I would be the kind of person who thinks that someone who did something like this is the verminous spawn of a syphilitic latrine cleaner of the Bhangi caste and a leprous sow, a piece of filth who enjoys inserting razor blades into his own penis in order to alleviate the pain of his baseball-sized kidney stones and telling people that if they like their doctor, they can keep them. Well, maybe that last one is an untruth too far, but you get my point. We may live in a cynical age, but I refuse to allow this to affect my happy and joyous outlook on life or to wish my older sister who isn’t my sister all the success in the world in her new career in finance and real estate.

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Sunday, May 04, 2014

Yet another observation...

I think of myself as a fairly well-educated person, if any graduate of the American system of education can actually make that claim, and I like to think that I have a fairly robust vocabulary for a man my age, so it was with no small amount of discomfort that I had to ask what the word spectrophilia meant upon hearing it yesterday for the first time in my life.  Spectrophilia, for those of you who are now as ignorant as I was yesterday, is a sexual attraction to ghosts, goblins, spirits of the decidedly not Scotch variety, and other phenomena of the paranormal. I did not know this was a thing until yesterday, although I suppose I should not be surprised that such an obsession exists.  Kraft-Ebbing was very detailed in its analysis of 19th century sexual obsessions and as time marches on I presume that the need to find new ways to obsess about sex must march on as well.  After all, buggering bunnies, like Putin's foreign policy, is so 1875 that it isn't even funny anymore. And nowadays we have cute vampires for the teenaged girls to thrill to and zombies for the teenaged boys to mow down with their Xboxes, so an attraction to metaphysical phenomena seems only the logical next step in the progression leading to robot sex and Bolshevism. I do, however, wonder why someone needed to coin a new word in order to describe this sort of thing. When I was a boy, back when dinosaurs and Richard Nixon walked the earth, everyone called having sex with someone who wasn't there masturbation. It still seems like a perfectly serviceable word to me, so I wonder why they, whoever they are, had to change it. Spectrophilia sounds more like the name of a lousy 80's glam rock band than an improbable perversion, or at least I think so; your mileage may vary.

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