A Better Tribe on New Year’s Eve?

Frank With His TribeInfidel753 offers a thought on this the arbitrary end of the year, A Vague Musing at Year-End. Basically, it is a short love letter for diversity. He mentioned the “dying era of religious and tribal conformity.” I’m with him on that but I’m afraid I’m deeply pessimistic. One of my favorite words — used always as a great compliment — is “idiosyncratic.” But I fear that we are not built to love the idiosyncratic.

I think a great deal about the film Plan 9 From Outer Space. It’s not a film I much like. It was just Ed Wood trying to make a whole feature out of some home movies with his old pal Bela Lugosi. Much better is Glen or Glenda — the full exploration of the pleasures and the pains of being the man he was. But what bothers me is that most people only know these films because they are seen as “bad.” But they aren’t bad. They are just strange — different from what other filmmakers chose to produce. To me, Glen or Glenda will always stand as a great example idiosyncratic art — art that is done for the sake of tickling the brain, not soothing it.

I’m not sure how we get past this whole tribal identity. I agree with Infidel753 that such identity based upon religion is getting less strict. Just the same, we seem to be transferring one kind of tribal conformity for another. Now we have much greater opportunities to find other people who are more consistent with who we are. So we aren’t dependent upon having friends drawn from the neighborhood that we grew up in. Now we can draw from people all over the world. My concern is that this just makes our tribal identities even more rigid. Maybe it just makes our prejudices seem all the more true and unquestionable.

In this regard, I feel fairly safe. This is because I find myself always working the margins. I think of myself like a Puck — disruptive but benign. If people started to properly appreciate Glen or Glenda I’d be right there to point out that it’s a dreadful film! Or maybe not, because in such a world, I would probably just be an accountant. Such a reasonable world would need not Pucks! But the thing about the Puck is that he is, ultimately, a lonely creature — desperate for fellowship but destined to disappointment because of his nature.

Still, I have my friends. And they are an eclectic bunch. The one thing they seem to have in common is that on any issue which we are both passionate, they know that I am wrong. In other words, I am quite blessed. But I see problems. There is a kind of background noise of agreement. And these are things that I really won’t brook disagreement about — things like the death penalty. Or on the positive side, the importance of empathy above all else. And it is based upon these kinds of things that we do have a tribal identity.

So we disagree about my many passions. No one will read Don Quixote — at least all the way to end. No one will watch Glen or Glenda — at least all the way to end. No one treats my ontological theories with anything but scorn. But we all desperately wish for a more humane and just world. And I would really like to believe that we are connected in this way because we are right. But I fear it is just that we are a tribe.

Regardless, I hope the new year moves in the direction preferred by my tribe. Because, you know, we’re right.

Good News About Maryland Death Penalty

Death Penalty - Tom Tomorrow

I almost didn’t notice that it was new year’s eve today. Part of it is that I just don’t like the day. I never do anything for it. Under most circumstances, I won’t even stay up for it. But now I normally do because that’s when I do my birthday posts. Really: the new year has absolutely no relevance to anything. It is an entirely arbitrary dividing line between years. But whatever. I do have a bit of good news on this new year’s eve.

Maryland had the death penalty all the back to when it was a colony — in 1638, they hanged two men for piracy. Since that time, they’ve killed 312 people. Now that may sound like a lot, but actually, in that almost four centuries, the state has managed to kill off many fewer than Texas has killed since people started dancing in the street in 1976 because the Supreme Court allowed them to start legally killing people again. (Texas has killed 508 people in the last four decades.)

But last year, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed a law abolishing the the death penalty. As Huffington Post reported, O’Malley argued that “it wasn’t a deterrent for criminals, could end up being applied to innocent people, and was far more costly to the state than other punishments.” You know: the holy trinity — the reasons that all people would be against the death penalty if they approached the subject with their higher brains. But instead, most people approach it with their lowest brain: they just want to “get” the bad guys.

Let’s go over that list. First, people don’t kill as rational acts. They don’t think, “Now that I only have to spend the rest of my life in prison, I’m going to kill my wife!” People murder for two reasons: they either think they won’t get caught or they aren’t thinking at all. There is no evidence whatsoever that the death penalty reduces the homicide rate.

Second, innocent people get put to death all the time. If the death penalty really was effective at stopping murders from happening, maybe one could argue that innocent people being put to death was an acceptable price to pay. But since we can’t, we are killing these innocent people for no reason whatsoever. But hey, I guess as long as it isn’t happening to you or one of your loved ones, it doesn’t matter. And after all, you do get something from the death penalty: the great feeling that you are “getting” the bad guys.

Third, it is a hell of a lot more expensive to kill a murderer than to just let him rot in jail the rest of his life. It is this argument that gets the most bizarre response from death penalty advocates. Their response is always the same, “But it shouldn’t cost more!” According to them, after a “guilty” verdict, the judge should just pull out a gun and shoot the defendant in the the head. The fact that dozens of people have been proven innocent decades after conviction is just ignored. Nothing can get in the way of the wonderful feeling people get from legally murdering the bad guys.

In getting rid of the death penalty, Maryland had a bit of a problem. They had four people still sitting on death row. The state could still kill them because they were grandfathered in, so to speak — or so some claimed. So as his final act of governor, O’Malley commute their sentences to life without the possibility of parole. That is about the best news that you are going to get from me this year. And it is pretty good news too. I wonder when my home “liberal” state of California will ever outlaw this barbaric practice.

Magic 8 Ball - Don't Count On It

Torture Here at Home

Rebecca GordonThe fact is that torture is still continuing today — both in the so called war on terror and also in plain sight in our own jails and prisons in this country. I mentioned in the piece you were referring to a number of ways that torture is still going on. And one of these involved the forced feeding that’s still happening at Guantanamo. This is what happens twice a day to those people who are on hunger strike. A cell extraction team of six people arrives in their cell and forcibly removes them from the cell. And then, as one of the people who’s suffered this describes, what they do is they actually strap the person down to a feeding chair — which they call a torture chair — but in order to make the process more painful, instead of attaching the prisoner’s arms to the arms of the chair they’re handcuffing them behind the person’s back and then strapping the person into the chair that way so it puts terrible pressure on the shoulder joints. And so there’s pain not only involved in the feeding itself but also in the physical restraint that’s going on when they shove a tube up someone’s nose and pump food into their stomach.

One of the people who wrote about it this for The New York Times said it this way:

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat, and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.

It’s interesting to know that at the very same time this kind of force feeding has been going on — and as far as we know is still happening — exactly the same procedure was being used on prisoners in California in May of 2013 — so only a year and a half ago — when they also went on hunger strike. And they were striking about exactly the same issues. The two issues were indefinite detention — in other words in US prisons having prison sentences that last an undetermined number of years — 15 to life, 25 to life. And secondly, solitary confinement — being held in complete isolation from other human beings. And in May 2013 30,000 prisoners in California went on hunger strike, and when they did it they did it in direct solidarity and awareness that people in Guantanamo were doing the same over exactly the same two issues. So the connection between the US prisons and the war on terror is not a hard one to make — it’s a direct connection.

—Rebecca Gordon
Interview with CounterSpin

Obamacare Ignorance Is Due to Mainstream Media

Mainstream MediaPaul Waldman wrote in interesting if maddening article article yesterday over at The Washington Post, The Substance and Politics of Obamacare, in One Citizen. It tells the story of Kentucky resident Amanda Mayhew who is thrilled with all the needed medical care she is receiving because of Obamacare. But she would give it all away if it would put an end to all the old people who are being killed by the death panels. It’s kind of sweet actually. Ms Mayhew is clearly a very caring person. In fact, she’s the kind of person that Americans flatter themselves as being: willing to put the needs of the less fortunate above their own.

The bad aspect of this is that her very decency is being used against her. She’s been lied to. There are no death panels. No one is deciding if old people deserve cancer treatment. This is just a scare story designed to malign the new healthcare law. Teens are told the story of The Hook to scare them away from making out in their cars and the Death Panel is told to the working poor to make them turn against a healthcare bill that is designed to help them.

Waldman blames politicians and hate radio hosts and Fox News for the problem of all the misinformation about Obamacare. But I don’t. They are just doing their jobs. They are the foot soldiers for their fascist leaders. My problem is with the mainstream media. All the right wing propaganda about a government takeover of healthcare and death panels never would have gotten a foothold in the mainstream consciousness if it hadn’t been for the local news and the big newspapers and the network news reporting it as, “The administration says that the government is not taking over the healthcare system and that there are no such things as death panels; the Republicans claim this is the end of quality healthcare in America and all people over the age of 65 will be forced to kill themselves; as objective reporters we have no way of saying what the truth is.”

Let’s not forget where the whole idea of the death panel came from. Sarah Palin, of course, came up with the name. But the concept came from Betsy McCaughey — the disingenuous health policy “analyst” who pretty much single-handedly destroyed the Clinton healthcare reform plan. And like James O’Keefe, it doesn’t matter how many times she lies and is shown to be totally wrong, the press just can’t manage to apply even the smallest amount of skepticism towards her. Because, you know: that wouldn’t be “objective!”

The best example of this came when McCaughey went on The Daily Show when she brings out a big binder containing the Obamacare law. And Stewart gets her moving from section to section until it is clear that what she’s claiming is nonsense. Nothing in the law says anything about death panels. It’s clearly just about end of life planning — living wills — and Stewart is absolutely right when he calls what McCaughey is doing hyperbolic and dangerous. Also check out the second part of the interview.

But as usual, the mainstream media didn’t do anything near as good as what the comedy show The Daily Show did. So as usual, the problem is our media that has no real interest in informing readers and viewers. Instead, it is a kind of talking point aggregator. And that’s why we can’t have decent governance. Our government is only as good as the media that covers it. And we don’t even have a media that covers the government. We have a media that repeats the government.

So we have poor Amanda Mayhew who would vote to eliminate Obamacare because of the all the old people she thinks the law will kill. “Liberal” Californians vote against GMO food labeling because they think it is going to harm the one remaining small family farm in the state. And Americans consistently vote for politicians who take money from them and give it to the rich because of some weird sense of fairness. And it is all due to a media system that will only take a stand on an issue when it helps the power elite.

Ben Kingsley

Ben KingsleyThe great actor Ben Kingsley is 71 today. He is probably best known for his Academy Award winning role in Gandhi. But that just shows what a crock the Academy awards are. They just love giving out awards to films that are about “important” subject. Leave it to Hollywood to make an important movie not just decades after Gandhi’s death, but also after Martin Luther King’s death. Kingsley was great in the film, but then he always is.

Most recently, he was absolutely great in Iron Man 3 — a film that literally had nothing else to recommend it. In it, he plays the Mandarin — a supposed terrorist who is, in fact, just a down on his luck actor with a weakness for drugs and women. You know: my hero! But don’t watch the film. It’s tiring. But Kingsley is great.

There are so many films where Kingsley shines that it is hard to list them all. I will just mention a few that you really must see. Obviously, Schindler’s List should be seen for a number of reasons, but his role as Itzhak Stern is the heart of the film. Another is Sexy Beast. And for a sweet one, there is Hugo.

One film that I love but bombed (probably because it is great) is War, Inc. Here is a scene, but John Cusack gets the best line, “I signed up to kill the bad ones! Health clinics, trade unionists, journalists, agricultural co-ops, Catholic liberation theologians, impoverished Colombian coffee farmers, these are the barbarians that are brave opponents of civilization. We turned Central America into a f**king graveyard. Whoever momentarily interrupts the accumulation of our wealth, we pulverize. I’m just not feeling good about that anymore, sir.”

But for a limited time only, two of my favorite Ben Kingsley films are complete and on YouTube. The first is Turtle Diary with Glenda Jackson. It’s one of those little gems that the studio can’t even be bothered to release on DVD. (It is available on VHS.) So you can be sure that that before too long, the studio will notice that it’s online and say, “We don’t care enough to sell this title, but we’ll be damned if we’ll let anyone watch it for free!” While it lasts my friends:

The second film is available on DVD (sadly not letterboxed), Without a Clue — I own it and watch it quite a lot. It is a reversal where it is really Watson who is brilliant and he’s hired an actor to play the part of Holmes. It isn’t great, but it’s sweet and very funny. Sadly, I can’t embed it, but you can watch it over on YouTube (but at least it is letterboxed).

Happy birthday Ben Kingsley!