Disunited States

American NationsOne scenario that might preserve the status quo for the United States would be for its nations to follow the Canadian example and compromise on their respective cultural agendas for the sake of unity. Unfortunately, neither the Dixie bloc nor the Northern alliance is likely to agree to major concessions to the other. The majority of Yankees, New Netherlanders, and Left Coasters simply aren’t going to accept living in an evangelical Christian theocracy with weak or nonexistent social, labor, or environmental protections, public schools systems, and checks on corporate power in politics. Most Deep Southerners will resist paying higher taxes to underwrite the creation of a public health insurance system; a universal network of well-resourced, unionized, and avowedly secular public schools; tuition-free public universities where science—not the King James Bible—guides inquiry; taxpayer-subsidized public transportation, high-speed railroad networks, and renewable energy projects; or vigorous regulatory bodies to ensure compliance with strict financial, food safety, environmental, and campaign finance laws. Instead, the “red” and “blue” nations will continue to wrestle with one another for control over federal policy, each doing what it can to woo the “purple” ones to their cause, just as they have since they gathered at the First Continental Congress.

—Colin Woodard
American Nations

See also: Regional Violence and American Nations

Prison, Dentists, and the Least Among Us

Injustice SystemThe worst thing about society is our tendency to want to see justice done. The problem with this is that the universe is unjust and our society is even more so. I have heard a number of supposed feminists gloat about the idea of a rapist going to prison and being raped himself. Even apart from that not being an example of justice, the fact is that rapists who go to prison are far more likely to be rapists there than they are to be the victims of rape. That’s the way things work in our “justice” system.

Our prisons exist to meed out retribution, not justice. Right now, there is a continuing over-crowding and healthcare crisis going on in California prisons. But the question is how did this come to pass? The people wanted to get “tough on crime,” but they didn’t want to pay for it. Because people in jail just don’t matter. Addicts are left to detox in great pain in prison with nothing but a couple of Advil every four hours and a private cell if they are lucky. Others are allowed to die because their healthcare needs are not taken seriously. As a society, we just don’t care about these people. They are “bad” even though most would be better defined as simply “unlucky.”

An amusing story regarding this comes to us from Sweden. A 51-year old prisoner at the Ostragard facility was at the end of a one month sentence for an undisclosed offense. He was having a problem with what appears to have been an abscessed tooth. That’s no joking matter. It can kill. The prisoner said, “My whole face was swollen. I just couldn’t stand it anymore.” So he broke out of jail. Then he made his way to the nearest dentist and had the tooth removed.

After the procedure was completed, he called the prison and had them pick him up. The authorities decided to increase his sentence by just the one day that he was gone. He’s since been released. He joked, “Now I only have to pay the dentist bill.” That’s a great story and I’m glad it all worked out. But it gets at a very important point about how we treat prisoners and other marginalized people. In his case, it was clearly more important to keep him locked up than to take care of his needs. He was a product not a human being.

There are many people in my life—Good people who I love!—who are much too caught up in seeing justice done. And certainly, I’m not immune. I think we should try to create some justice in our society. But there are great limits. Mostly what we get is the appearance of justice applied to people who have lived lives that are the result of a deeply unjust society. I know this is the case of the Swedish man. First, he was in jail for a month. In general, only the poor and weak go to jail and that short term must indicate that he didn’t do much. Second, he got his tooth pulled—not saved; and he’s worried about how he will pay for it.

In our society, justice is something that is applied to the poor. It is rarely something done for the poor. In a world where that’s what passes for justice, we would be better off with less justice.

Lots of Great Music and Comedy

Woody AllenThere are a lot of great birthdays today and I’m afraid that many of them get short shrift, especially the older ones, many of which could have won the day. But we have lots of great musicians that I just didn’t want to miss out on adding some music here. And then, of course, the day goes to one of the greatest comedians, probably of all time. So onto the birthdays!

On this day in 1933, the great singer Lou Rawls was born. In the end, his most important work was the fundraising and consciousness raising for the United Negro College Fund, which he was highly involved in for the last 25 years of his life. But most people remember him for his gorgeous baritone voice, which is well on display in “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”:

The great Philadelphia soul singer Billy Paul is 79 today. I mostly know him for his mega-hit “Me and Mrs Jones.” I was quite old when I figured out what the song was about. I was having an affair with a married woman when the song came on the radio and I thought, “Oh!” I can be slow. Anyway, I’ve always thought that “Me and Mrs Jones” would go together really well with “You’re Still a Young Man.” Regardless, Tower of Power does a great version of “Mrs Jones”; they’ve just never put them together. Anyway, here’s Billy Paul:

The great comedian Richard Pryor was born in 1940. It’s hard for people to appreciate today what a comedic innovator he was; I think he was the successor of Lenny Bruce. Here is a good compilation of his stand-up work:

Bette Midler is 68 today. With all of her work as an actor, I think people forget what a great singer she is. Here she is doing the best version of “Beast Of Burden”:

Singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan is 67. He’s kind of the Irish Harry Nilsson. Here’s his mega-hit “Alone Again (Naturally).” It’s another one of those songs I didn’t get until I was older:

The actor Jeremy Northam is 52 today. I’m a big fan of his. But it isn’t like he’s better than other English actors. As I point out all the time, the English train their actors better than we do here. But mostly I just think that Northam is one of the ideals of male beauty. (Antonio Banderas is another.) Here he is as Mr Knightley very cross about Emma’s interference in Harriet’s relationship with Robert Martin in Emma:

The comedican Sarah Silverman is 43. I’m not a huge far of her comedy. It tends to make me uncomfortable. But I really like her political videos like the following one, “Let My People Vote”:

Other birthdays: early Classical composer Franz Xaver Richter (1709); Rococo sculptor Etienne Maurice Falconet (1716); chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth (1743); wax sculptor Marie Tussaud (1761); mathematician Nikolai Lobachevsky (1792); expressionist painter Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884); detective novelist Rex Stout (1886); actor Mary Martin (1913); and actor Emily Mortimer (42).

The day, however, belongs to the man of my childhood, Woody Allen, who is 78 today. When I was a kid, all three of his stand-up albums had been combined into a single double-album Standup Comic. I had it on a cassette and I listened to one side of it every night for at least a year. I think I had it pretty much memorized. Such was my devotion to this man. I also loved his short stories. I learned a lot from those—in particular, what I ought to read to be the intellectual that I considered myself to be. And, of course, there were the movies, which were and still are great. To this day, I still like his little films like Broadway Danny Rose and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion and even September. There isn’t anything he’s done that’s bad. But more important: there is nothing he’s done that wasn’t worth doing. Even when he fails, it is an honest artistic attempt. Allen and Martin Scorsese are the two great American filmmakers—men who never waste the audience’s time and never just go through the motions. Our culture is so much richer for both men. And in the field of comedy, I don’t know that anyone has compared to Allen. He is as funny as Chaplin with the technical prowess of Keaton. Here he is doing some of his best stand-up comedy:

Alright, that’s not enough. Check out this clip from Broadway Danny Rose. This is a single shot. The three of them are walking toward the camera. It’s a long shot and Danny (Allen’s character) stops right in a close-up when Lou says, “Like management.” That whole ending still makes me cry, “Acceptance, forgiveness, and love.”

Happy birthday Woody Allen!