Live or Let Die

Wednesday, 08 April 2009 04:58 AM Written by

(in which I write my first, and last, death penalty post)

There are minutes and hours, days and weeks and sometimes whole months, when I am deeply opposed to the death penalty, when what I like to think of as my enlightened, civilized self steps coolly away from rage and impulse and passion, turns his back on what is sadistic and savage and easy, and stands firm for what is right and just and moral. Times when I believe that killing is killing, that two wrongs do not make a right, and that, though an eye for an eye may not make the whole world blind, neither does it help the world to see or live more clearly. Times when, deep in my heart and even deeper in my soul, I know that mercy is better than revenge, that gratification is not the same as vindication, and that compassion in the face of cruelty is just about the most noble, graceful gesture we God-fearing humans can muster.

But then there are minutes and hours when I think about Adam Walsh or Polly Klaas or Carlie Brucia or Jamie Bolin, or days and weeks like this one, when I think about Stephen Mayhle and Eric Kelly and Paul Sciullo, shot down and left to die by a young man with a room full of munitions and a soul full of nothing, or the months when all these awful thoughts and real-life horror stories metastisize into my raging, rabid self, when I am greatly, grimly committed to the death penalty. Times when I believe that killers deserve to be killed, that evil, grand or banal or any in between, should be met and punished in its own, awful kind, and that, if a tooth for a tooth is good enough for the Old Testament, then it's good enough for me. Times when I’m sure that revenge feels better than mercy, that turning the other cheek is no substitute for kicking the other ass, and that sympathy and leniency are no substitutes for the sweet satisfaction of sure retribution.

And then there are those awful, disconcerting minutes and hours and days and weeks and months' worth of times when I'm leaving Ethan at school or waiting for Adam to come home from a friend’s house or expecting a call from Wendy that does not come precisely when it should, when I am alone with my wandering thoughts and my sudden, aching loneliness, and I wonder how enlightened I would be, how savage or civilized or homicidally psychotic I would be if some lunatic at a shopping mall, some sick handyman in my neighborhood, some quiet loner with a racist web site and a Zionist conspiracy theory next door decided that one of my loved ones would make a nice snack, an easy mark, a precious little plaything for his own perverse fantasies. Times when, if I can get past the searing pains in my chest and the screaming horrors in my head, I imagine what it would be like to know that fear, to feel that terror, to live and breathe and suffer forever with the knowledge of what had happened to them, and how, without ever knowing or understanding why.

One thing is always certain: that no matter what I said or tried or wanted to believe, that no matter what I felt in my heart or knew in my soul, I would want to find and beat and choke and violate and mutilate the guy who’d done it. I’d want to dismember, disembowel, decapitate, and desecrate his putrid, reeking flesh with my bare and hungry hands, and, if I did not or could not get to him first, I’d want to see him shot, stabbed, hanged, burned, fried, flambéd, fricasseed, drawn-and-quartered, gas-chambered, and lethally injected by any local, state, or federal authority willing to do it for me. I’d want that monster to die a long, slow, excruciating death, and I’d want to savor every last second of it. Even as it sickened me. Even as I knew it was wrong. And even, no matter how pleasantly sadistic and cathartic it felt at the time, as it haunted me for the rest of my life.

This is why, for a long time now and for ever more, I can not take — in part because I can not feel and thus can not know — a firm position on the death penalty. It is an issue I am content to sit out, because even here on the sidelines, it sickens me. I'm appalled to see politicians and activists and actors, people who have not once seen nor sat with nor even spoken to the families of the victims, parade themselves across tv talk shows and hold prayer vigils outside prisons in support of some piece of human detritus about to be executed for mercilessly killing someone's mother or father, someone's son or daughter or husband or wife. But then, the next day, I'm discomfited, and almost as disgusted, to hear the distant, detached new reports, to read the cold, clinical details of how a peaceable government that prohibits both murder and vigilante justice could so methodically and unapologetically commit them.

Don't we want to mete out cold, hard, in-kind justice to someone who took an innocent life? Of course we do. And we should. But once we've done and become no better than the killer we've punished, how do we live with ourselves?

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Discussions of a Dangerous Grind

Tuesday, 07 April 2009 11:15 AM Written by

(sighs of the times)

Last night on the Subway Nightly Sports Call, KDKA’s Bob Pompeani and the Post-Gazette’s Gene Collier spent some time discussing whom the Pirates will send packing at this year’s trading deadline. They agreed that Jack Wilson is the most likely candidate.

That this discussion took place just a few hours after a Pirates victory — one produced, we should note, by a two-out, bases-loaded double off the bat of their consensus pick for July’s annual salary dump — on the opening day of the baseball season seemed to strike neither man as odd or untoward.

That it is not reason enough for the team's paying, rooting public to consign this franchise to the deepest, darkest dustbin of their fandom strikes me as insane.

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Dictions of a Dangerous Mind

Tuesday, 07 April 2009 07:15 AM Written by

(signifiers of the times)

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that people who insist on using one in place of personal pronouns — which are preferred by people who have souls and know how to communicate — end up sounding like a pompous English professor, a constipated attorney, or some frightening combination of the two. To that matrix, we can now add homicidal conspiracy theorist:

One can read the list of significant persons in government and in major corporations and see who is pulling the strings. One can observe the policies and final products and should walk away with little doubt there is Zionist occupation and — after some further research and critical thinking — will discover their insidious intentions.

These words, attributed to the young man accused of killing three Pittsburgh police officers this past Saturday, sound like the construct of a dangerous mind, someone who sees shadowy conspiracies and insidious intentions everywhere he looks and does not see himself or someone just like him. Thus do they also sound — from the repeated use of one to the condescending mentions of research and critical thinking to the zealous certainty of the crackpot conclusion — like some of the worst academic writing and literary theory I’ve read. Substitute patriarchal oppression for Zionist occupation, throw in a few words like frisson and signifier and exigesis, maybe a phrase like the permeability of the skin or the erasure of the self, and you’re well on your way to the opening paragraph of an essay fit for consumption in scholarly journals and graduate school syllabi.

The key components are in place: the revelation of hidden power structures; the inscrutable, vaguely menacing insinuations; the insider tone of elite and noble confederacy; the complete dissociation from any tangible, relevant reality known to or conceived by the uninitiated reader; the lack of substantive proof or coherent argument beyond the certitude of the claims and the brute force of their issuance.

Foucault? Kristeva? Poplawksi?

They all sound the same to me.

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A Song for Stephen, Paul, and Eric

Monday, 06 April 2009 04:36 AM Written by

(and their families and friends)

The more the news of the day sank in, the more one simple, haunting song played round and round in my head on Saturday afternoon. It stayed there yesterday, as I counted the blessings of Ethan’s birthday, of Adam and Wendy and all of our love, of family and friends and health and well-being among us, of all those things we still, no matter how much we tell ourselves we won’t, don’t think about and appreciate often enough. It’s still playing this morning, and I suspect it will be a while before it stops.

Patterson Hood, the songwriter, says it was written as a result of trying to make some kind of peace with an unspeakable tragedy that affected so many people I know and love. I was hoping to help with the healing and closure by trying to provide a beautiful song that dwells on the positives of love and family.

This Monday morning in Pittsburgh, our whole city, and three families in particular, could use a few of those positives...

Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife
Drive-By Truckers

When he reached the gates of heaven
He didn’t understand
He knew that friends were coming over
Was it all a dream?
Was it all a crazy dream?

He saw them playing there before him
What were they doing there?
It felt like home, it must be alright
Or was it all a dream?
Was it all a crazy dream?

Memories replay before him
All the tiny moments of his life
Lying ‘round in bed on a Saturday morning
Two daughters and a wife
Two daughters and a beautiful wife

Meanwhile on Earth his friends come over
Shocked and horrified
Dolls and flowers by the storefront
Everybody cried
Everybody cried and cried

Is there vengeance up in heaven?
Are those things left behind?
Maybe every day is Saturday morning
Two daughters and a wife
Two daughters and a beautiful wife
Two daughters and a beautiful wife

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Son's Gonna Rise

Sunday, 05 April 2009 06:07 AM Written by

(and shine)

On a personal note...

...TRM wishes a blue-sky, golden-sun, good-book, sweet-shot, rocked-out, Wii-play kinda birthday to Ethan Hermann. I love you, pal. 

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