Thursday, October 13, 2011

Whose job is it anyway?

Anyone who knows me will certainly agree that I can be a bit, how shall I put it, pedantic. People using words incorrectly drive me up a wall. (Having just written that I've virtually guaranteed that there will be a heavy sprinkling of typos, grammar mistakes and misspellings in this poost(sic)). 

Like most other politically-aware people I've been watching the growing protests around the country with interest and fascination. Never mind that the genesis point is, literally, at the other end of my subway stop on the way to work. And while it's hard to disagree with aims of a stronger economy, more fair wealth distribution and a better life for all Americans I do have a bone to pick with some of the key talking points of many of the spokeshumans. Do me a favor and read to the end of the post before reacting. I think you'll be surprised. 

I keep hearing complaints that corporations aren't looking out for the people or that they don't have the interests of the population in mind. (First of all, Citizens United notwithstanding, corporations don't have minds, but I digress.) The speakers there are absolutely correct. Because corporations aren't supposed to care about people, or the environment, or goodness or even cute and fuzzy bunnies. Corporations sole purpose in existence (I almost wrote "purpose in life". Curse you Citizens United!) is profit. End of story. Businesses are a money-making entity. That's it. They're not supposed to do anything but reward their owners with a shower of cash. 

So, whose job is it to watch out for citizens? It's ok. I'll wait for you to come up with your answer.

No. No I won't. If you don't know this you're not paying attention. 

That's the job of the government. It's even in the charter, otherwise known as the Constitution. Read it, if you dare, especially the part about protecting us from enemies "foreign and domestic". Asking corporations to keep you safe is like expecting a gun to heal a paper cut. Can't do it. Won't do it. Shouldn't do it. That's why we have the FDA, EPA, FAA, NIH, ATF, etc. They protect you. 

So stop shouting about the big bad companies who aren't playing nicely. They're not supposed to. That's not their job. Find the ones who are asleep at the wheel and kick them awake. 

Using the wrong tool for the job is a dumb thing to do: it's counterproductive, wasteful and just makes you look absurdly silly.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I used to be a supporter of the death penalty.  Not an ardent fan (who is, really?  Wait, after the recent GOP debates please don't answer that.) but in egregious cases I thought it was the fair thing to do.  You take a life, yours gets taken.

Then I met my wife who, while she doesn't practice criminal law, did some research into capital punishment in law school. It took her a little while but she helped me understand the utter injustice in the way many death penalty cases are prosecuted.  There have been countless examples of defense attorneys falling asleep in court, mishandled evidence, and simple legal malpractice which have lead to death sentences.  But worse, it's clear that we, the American people, have consciously and willingly ended the lives of innocent people.

Cameron Todd Willingham was put death in Texas in 2004 for the death of his three young daughters.  Since then several investigations have concluded that there was no real evidence against him and he was almost certainly not guilty.  But he is still dead.

This evening Georgia executed Troy Davis despite the mounting evidence that he wasn't guilty of the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced.  The US Supreme Court delayed the execution a few hours but eventually let it proceed.  Troy David is now dead and nothing can ever change that.

And therein lies my biggest problem with the death penalty: It's the one punishment that can't be reversed.  Sure, no one wants to be locked up for 20 years only to be released with a slap on the back, an "Oops! Our bad!" and maybe a check.  But at least you have the rest of your life.  These two men, and plenty of others like them, never will.  They're dead.

And we killed them.

There are very bad people in this world and many are behind bars where they belong.  But sometimes we make mistakes.  We're human.  Judges are human.  Jury are humans.  Humans fuck up.  And the best part of a mistake is making it right, learning from it.  How do we learn from this?  What is the lesson?  And who needs to learn it?

My brother, a surgeon, and I had a discussion on this topic a few years ago and his response was "Accidents happen.  People die in the ER all the time. So what?"  This wasn't an accident.  It was more meticulously and carefully planned down to the second.  Some would call that first degree murder.

We can't always prevent accidents.  So you take precautions.  You wear a seat belt.  A helmet.  Nomex.  Kevlar.  And you don't kill people.  Keeping them alive is the precaution to make sure you *don't* make the ultimate mistake.

How would you feel, my beloved brother, if that mistake happened to me?   Due to legal incompetence or something else beyond my control I was falsely convicted of murder and sentenced to die at the hands of my government?  How would you feel then about accidents?  About mistakes?

I'm not saying we should coddle criminals or let them roam the streets.  Far from it. We are a (mostly) just nation and we need to mete out punishment.  Dangerous people need to be kept away from the rest of us. Crime can't go unanswered.

But that's just it.  Capital punishment isn't justice.

It's murder.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

... and I feel fine

It's now 1am EST so things are going to get pretty hairy about 17 hours from now, right?.  (Apparently the end of the world is going to start promptly at 6pm local time as the rapture rolls round the world.  Who knew total devastation was so punctual?

By now you've no-doubt heard about this craziness. The only part of this story that grabs my attention, though, is how much people are talking about it - even ordinarily-sane friends of mine. As a New Yorker I'm used to running int oone of these end days loons every couple of weeks but, for some reason, this time it's gone viral.  Maybe it's twitter's fault.  Or sun spots.  Or maybe some old, rich lunatic is dumping a ton of gullible money into advertising it and with Bin Laden dead what else is there left to talk about?

Come Sunday the "true believers" should feel absolute shame and embarrassment at still being alive.   But they won't.  You'll see.  They'll use the lack of the apocalypse as a sign of their god's love, mercy and patience rather than what it really is: just another day where we don't get to lock them up for spouting their nonsense simply because it involves a 2000 year-old, dead hippie rather than three-headed monsters or alien abductions.  (When you think about it, doesn't religion sound an awful lot like aliens? powerful creatures we don't understand, tremendous powers, people vanishing into thin air, genital mutilation, etc.)

In fact, on the subway this evening there was a man ranting on this subject for the full half hour I shared a car with him.  Even through my noise blocking headphones (try commuting in NYC for a month and you'll want them too) some of his words slipped through especially the part about God not punishing people for being wrong or for making wrong predictions. What a *convenient* piece of scripture, huh? "The world is ending!  God says so!  But if not, well, uhm, God is still awesome and loves me for being a panicky liar."

As I've often said you can't argue logic against magic.  Magic will win every time because it's bullshit and therefore infinitely flexible. I didn't even bother trying.  I was too tired for a good argument anyway.

If this is the end, well, it's been fun.  If not I'll just chalk this up to another batch of collective absurdity.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Guns don't kill people... Seals do.

A good hunter has a process: He chooses his weapon with the utmost care, learning it inside and out and practices with it until it's almost an extension of his own being.  When it's time to hunt he waits patiently for his prey to come into view, using all information available, and when it does he fires his weapon hoping that all of the preparation and diligence pay off.  The hunter and the weapon both deserve credit when all goes well.

Last Sunday night President Obama ordered an attack on Osama Bin Laden which resulted in the death of the world's most wanted criminal after almost 10 years of searching.  Obama was the hunter.  Seal Team 6 (the same titanic bad-asses who killed the Somali pirates just over two years ago) was the weapon - probably the most lethal, accurate, surgical-strike weapon on the planet.  The majority of Earthlings rejoiced at the news but there were some American right-wingers who insisted he deserved no credit, instead laying it at the feet of George Bush (who famously said he wasn't too concerned about Bin Laden or his whereabouts only SIX MONTHS after the brutal attack) or anyone else who happens not to be named Barack Obama.  Even former President Bush himself had the grace and basic dose of clue to applaud Obama's move, but many on his side said otherwise, showing them to be not just unpatriotic but antipatriotic.

As the (rabidly right wing) NRA likes to say "Guns don't kill people.  People kill people."  In this case "people" covers both the person giving the order as well as the boots on the ground.

There's plenty of credit to go around and I'm not saying that the President deserves all of it - far from it. But he was the one who made the decision to proceed and it would have fallen on his shoulders had there been another Blackhawk Down moment, or a replay of Jimmy Carter's failed attempt to Iranian hostages which permanently stained his presidency, virtually ensuring his loss to Ronald Reagan.  The buck stops in the oval office and to deny Obama the credit he earned by showing off his huge brass balls is to lose all grasp on reality.

I used to say that President Obama could walk into the Rose Garden with the head of Osama Bin Laden on a pike and the GOP would bitch that he'd bloodied the Whitehouse carpet.  I thought I was exaggerating to the point of absurdity but it turns out I wasn't as far off as I should have been.  Most of the GOP either was able to drop their partisan slant for a little while or they read the political winds and realized that criticizing the President here would be a career-limiting move, but the remaining craven idiots?  They're beyond all hope.  And don't get me started on those who claim that torture provided actionable information that happened to take SEVEN YEARS to unfold (I'm looking at you Steve King).

"Absurd" is too good for them.  They're just, plain sick.

The chess master strikes again

In my last post I said that six months from now I'd look back and better understand why President Obama released his long-form birth certificate when he did.  (Go ahead and check - I'll wait.)

Six months?  It wasn't even six half-days.  As he released his birth certificate, toured storm-ravaged areas in the south and cracked wise at the Whitehouse Correspondent's Dinner he knew there'd be the mother of all news stories coming in a few days that would wipe everything else off the front page for weeks.  Imagine the thoughts running through his head during those events!

So after demonstrating what a publicity-hounding jackass The Donald (who the hell gives themselves such a pompous nickname??) really is, and making sure the birthers looked as stupid as humanly possible President Obama grabbed the headlines with both hands and made sure that their 15 minutes was over.  Birthers and Trump's presidential ambitions: relegated to already-forgotten footnotes.  If we see either again it will be purely for comic relief.

The entire choreography was nothing short of brilliant.  As I've said, this is easily the smartest man we've had in the Whitehouse during my lifetime and I'm proud to have helped put him there in my own, small way.

Absurd?  Naaa.  Not this time.


PS: Camera in-hand, I went down to the World Trade Center Monday night after the announcement of Bin Laden's death.  If you'd like to see the pictures I took you'll find them here.  If you'd like a higher resolution shot just e-mail me.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Winning through whining... Or not

[Hello again.  I can't believe it's been almost six months since my last post.  Life has been, well... life.  There's been ample absurdity just not enough time to point it out.  But now I'm back.  Hey, don't run away now!]

As many of you know I have a preschool-aged son and one of the lessons we're working to instill in him is that whining doesn't work.  When he whines we make a concerted effort to make sure he doesn't get what he's whining about.  (Heaven help us if when he gets wise to this and starts fussing that he wants more air, or gravity or something like that.  Watch for exploding heads.)  So far that strategy seems to be working and he whines much less for us than he does for others (*cough* grandparents *cough*).

Unfortunately a bad example of rewarding whining was set this week when President Obama released his long-form birth certificate after almost three years of bitching, moaning and.... well, let's just call it what it is: lying, from the rabid right wing and even some of the previously-saner members of the GOP.  Whining worked.  What a great lesson for my son.  They got what they wanted.

Or did they?

Does anyone think the birthers *really* wanted to see the birth certificate? Anyone sane, I mean.

Of course not.  They wanted an excuse to trot out their latent (and sometimes overt) racism under the guise of a Constitutional challenge to his legitimacy, giving it the faintest patina of possibility.  ("Patina Of Possibility"?  Sounds like a Yanni album.)  These buffoons never questioned John McCain's legitimacy to run for the presidency despite his admitting that he was born in the Panama Canal zone.  Was it ok with them because he's a Republican?  Hell no.  It was ok because he's white.

This week President Obama didn't give in to whiners.  He called their bluff.  They're not the kids who cry that they want another cookie for desert.  They're the ones trying to hold their breath forever until Daddy buys them a pony.  (A white pony, of course.)

My preference would be to have let them hold their breath longer, releasing the long form closer to the election but, as I've mentioned here before, Barack Obama is probably the smartest man we've ever had in the Whitehouse.  Six months from now I suspect I'll look back and understand his timing better.

Until then, I'm going to pop some corn and watch the birthers foam at the mouth trying to dispute the paperwork they've "wanted" for years all the while coming up with new "challenges" each more absurd than the last.  This should be good.

Sometimes it's good to be the absurdist.