Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Norm Maleng gets it Right

I'm no fan of King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng.  I still hold his conduct in the Steven Farmer case against him.  Farmer used to get loaded on booze, hire underage male prostitutes, bind them, sexually assault them, and take pictures of them.  He wasn't a great guy.  Like all criminal types, he was a psychopath.  His pathology was much intensified by alcohol.  I met Farmer in A.A. in Seattle.  He impressed me with his physical beauty and his star quality.  He was always a bit of a whiner, though, and found it difficult to accept his own responsibility for his actions.

Farmer was young, attractive, and photogenic.  He had a number of friends and acquaintences drawn to him for that reason.  It also made for great TV news.  Not much of the Farmer case remains on the web, but you can find a little information here.

Maleng's misuse of the extraordinary power of the State against Farmer for his HIV status has forever tainted my perception of the prosecutor.  Steven Farmer has since passed away, released from confinement in the final few months of his life by the Governor of Washington, who at the time, was Mike Lowry.

I tend to be sangfroid about capital punishment.  I think Washington State does it right.  We've had four executions in the past 15 years: Westley Alan Dodd, Charles Campbell, Jeremy Sagastegui, and James Elledge.  Three were "volunteers" who chose not to pursue appeals.  Contrast that with Texas which has hundreds of executions per year.  I don't think that's right.  But it's their state and their society.  I prefer the way we do it here.

I've also lived in states which have no death penalty and that's fine with me.  I'm not for it--I'm just not always against it.

This past week Maleng announced that his office would seek death in the case of Connor Schiermann, a 25 year old self-described alcoholic who is accused of murdering the entire family next door, then setting the house ablaze in order to cover his tracks.  Maleng's actions in the Gary Ridgway case has thrown capital punishment in Washington into doubt.  Can anyone be justly condemned to death if the Green River Killer was able to elude it?

It is a valid question.  The law must always weigh the rights of the accused against the needs of society.  And while the law must apply equally to all, each case must be decided on its own merits.  Whether this or that defendant deserves death is a question no judge or prosecutor can answer.  Only a jury can impose that price.  Since Gary Ridgway never faced a jury, he was able to avoid that form of punishment. 

We're dealing with the law.  The law is about procedures and rules.  Justice can only be done by the firm and universal application of rules of evidence and procedure.  Schierman has plead not guilty.  He will be required to go before a jury and risk his life.  Schiermann's alleged crime meets my minimum standards, the standards I would personally employ as a juror in order to recommended a death sentence: multiple murder, murder of children, depraved motive. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Fabulous! For a good clean feeling, no matter what!

Today is Wednesday and I'm sick as a dog with the flu.  I'm so sick I can't even watch tv for very long before I become light-headed and have to nap.  So we'll see how long I can blog!  In any event, I did happen to catch one of my favorite spokespersons on the tube today--the Orbit Gum Lady.  You know the one--she appears dressed in prim white duds while people get very, very filthy, but have brilliant white smiles.  What is it about British spokespeople that tickles my fancy?  I also like Tony Sinclair, the spokesperson for Tanqueray.  You don't get to see Tony unless you watch cable.  My understanding is that hard liquor ads don't air on network tv, which I never watch.  At any rate, the Orbit Gum Lady is Vanessa Branch, an actress/model who holds dual UK/American citizenship.  Although it's nice to have a moment or two to check out the Orbit Gum Lady when one has a notion to do so, I'd rather be well.  Hot flash coming!  Gotta go.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Philosophy of Life

I was watching Dead Like Me the other day.  I enjoy that show in the same way I enjoy other acquired tastes: there's something bitter about it.  The theme of that episode is that you had to grab as much experience while you could while you were alive.  I don't know what that means.  Strike that--I know what it means, but what are the implications?  I do not want to live my life like a pinball--bumping into and rebounding from collisions with solid objects!  Am I a vampire?  Do I have to suck the marrow out of every bone in my path?  Or can I make choices? 

My philosophy:  What I can't do is make choices based solely on fear.  Sure I'd rather be a writer.  I'd rather work at home all day long and get up at noon.  I'd like to work from 1 p.m. until 10 p.m. and never see another person as long as I live.  But that would be living my life based on fear.  So always doing what I want is hardly the best path to a fulfilling life.  I have to employ wisdom, too.  But I don't have to feel guilty because I'm not doing something that someone else chooses to do. 

I don't have to feel shame and guilt about the way I'm living my life.  I don't have to question whether or not my life is fulfilled (or whether or not someone else might consider it fulfilling).  It is fulfilled.  I've lived an incredible life.  Sure I've missed out on some things--but I've had other adventures.  And the value I'll take to my grave is that I tried to do my best.  If fear ever got in the way of that--well, I ask forgiveness. 

So, this is a little later, and I've re-read the above, and made myself sick.  What an effete, privileged, bourgeois set of principles.  I want to vomit.  Didn't Sartre say that the first stage of existential crisis was nausea? 

I've created a little cocoon of video pleasure in my living room, with LCD tv, media center pc, and all the bells and whistles.  All on credit.  Well, the PC is paid for, as is the software.  The colors, the sounds, the imagery, all of it massages a little pleasure center in my brain.  Like an alcoholic, I want more more more!  More until I feel normal! 

So, the first half of this entry is what?  Is it my higher self--or is it an excuse?  Will I, as my spiritual guide Dr. Vicktor Frankl suggests, have the ability to take responsibility for my own meaning?

"It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual." p.122

Friday, January 12, 2007

Decline and Fall

I'm an emotional wreck over my friend Janice, who may be dying.  She was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor two weeks ago.  She had surgery Tuesday, there was a complication, and now she may be paralyzed on her left side.  I've known Janice since 2002, when we took a writing class together.  She's in my thoughts constantly now that she's in the hospital.  Before her surgery she told me that she would fight the disease and that she wanted to finish her novel.  It is her dream to see it in print.  Her experience has made me reflect on my own mortality.  We all must die.  We all owe God a death.  We all will eventually lay down.  The good part is we get to lay down our burdens.  The hard part is that we have to lay down our dreams as well. 

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Fear of Being Possessed

Continuing on the Dr. Mabuse riff from yesterday, I searched the internet for a specific phobia that dealt with the fear of being possessed, of losing self-control or of insanity, but was unable to find one.  That seems very strange to me.  Of all fears, I think fear of losing one's mind ought to be in the list!  But apparently, that fear is so generalized that it doesn't.  Rather, it falls under the umbrella term "depersonalization."  Depersonalization is the state of being divorced from your own self--that your body and sensations seem to be apart from your mind, and everything seems dreamy. 

Still, what I'm after is not this--which is yet another example of loss of free will--but of the fear of it, the anxiety that it may happen to me, whether or not it already has.

Lear's line, "O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven/
Keep me in temper: I would not be mad!"  (1:5) seems to get right at what I am trying to describe.  A fear of mental dissolution, of loss of will, of being possessed by a demonic force that subverts the will.

This also could be an anxiety response to a conflict between conscious and unconscious motives.  Perhaps when the conscious mind becomes aware of the intrusion of an unconscious desire or motive, consciousness regards this as a foreign assault and reacts with fear: the emotion of self-preservation. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Doctor Mabuse

Saw The Testiment of Dr. Mabuse from Netflix the other day.  Interesting film for its time (1933) dealing with an incorporeal evil that shifts bodies, but always has as its goal the destruction of society (and the world at large), through terrorism, anarchy and subterfuge.  This evil genius, and here we use genius in the sense that it is a spirit, incarnate or not, plots and ferments his strategy of crime but uses henchmen to actually perform these anarchic works.  He controls his henchmen through conditioning, a code of omerta (each are sworn to secrecy and make a pledge of loyalty), and a species of telepathic hypnosis.

The Dr. Mabuse figure is a cross between Svengali and Charles Manson, a cultish leader who through personal magnetism is able to control others' minds and compromise their free will.  Is there a specific fear of being possessed?  There certainly is a fear of insanity, but is there a specific fear of being inhabited by a foreign force, of losing one's self-control to the control of another?  If so, that's the fear the Dr. Mabuse stories exploit.

The body-hopping spirit of Dr. Mabuse may not be unique, but it is unsettling.  It's still unsetting to audiences today.  The theme brings to mind the theme of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, wherein the evil genius/spirit "Bob" takes control of Leland Palmer and forces Palmer to commit acts of murder, including that of his own daughter, Laura.  As Twin Peaks was extremely derivative, it's not incredible that Dr. Mabuse figured as a direct inspiration.

Dr. Mabuse is primarily a German boogeyman.  Fritz Lang directed three films that included meditations on the Doctor.  The most poigniant being The Testiment of Dr. Mabuse, wherein Mabuse is an idiot, senile, catatonic, except for his automatic writing, in which he fills page after page with details for criminal enterprises dedicated to the destruction of society.  For example, he counterfeits money not to use its value, but to cause inflation and devalue all money. 

In The Testiment, Mabuse is referred to as "the Man Behind The Curtain" which echoes the wonderful line in The Wizard of Oz, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."  He gives issues orders from behind a translucent curtain hung across a filthy tenement room.  All his henchmen can see is a shadowy figure and a gravely voice.  Once the curtain is stripped away, the figure is revealed to be cardboard, and an intercom has been responsible for the voice.  The real evil is elswhere, ephemeral, elusive.  Perhaps within.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Suicide Club

Last night saw "Suicide Club" a 2002 film by Sion Sono.  What a fascinating mix of satire and horror.  The film begins with 54 cheerful Japanese schoolgirls throwing themselves in front of a commuter train.  Their crushings, severings, and splatterings horrify astounded spectators.  And let me say that the splatter in this case is not in any way understated.  This is as though someone took a firehose and sprayed stage blood over the set.  In scene two a night guard and two nurses hear about the event in a news broadcast, but it's something that doesn't really affect them, being far away.  The nurses, mindlessly cheery and polite, soon off themselves.  A catchy song by a strawberry lemonade hello kitty group of 14-year-old girl pop singers plays on the radio just before the two cases of mass suicide.  Is there a connection?  The police can't believe it, but soon they're wondering if maybe there's some kind of mass hypnosis turning Japanese children into lemmings.

The film suffers actually from trying only half-heartedly to connect the dots.  There really is no connection.  It's not entirely in David Lynch land, but the satiric hyperbole is instantly recognizable.  When Genesis, a Dr. Frank-N-Furter clone, stamps a puppy (it's underneath a cloth) to death with his rhinestone covered pumps, and calls it a sissy as it wimpers, you know that this is no longer a strict attempt at realism. 

There is a message, but it's ambivalent.  It's about the vapidity of popular culture, of the deathwish of the young who want to live dangerously, of the inability to understand death as final, and the inability to feel anything except banal cheerfulness in the absence of impending death.  It is about trying to achieve a permanent state of pleasure, and the horror that that quest engenders.

It is about a society so sick that it has no values, makes no sense, in which even the eternal human values, love of family, of self, and community have fallen apart and nothing remains except marketing, preferably in primary colors and happy slogans that promise eternal joy through pleasure.  We have lost our faith to Madison Avenue, to merchandizing, to packaging.  A recurrent image in the film is of rectangular strips of human skin stitched together and rolled up. I knew it instantly for what it looked like--a roll of movie tickets--from the old days when they came in a roll and the box office person would tear one off when you bought a ticket.

In many ways, this was the most accessible Japanese film I've ever seen.  I understood it, enjoyed it and was totally entertained.  But I'm degenerate, so you can't trust my opinion on these matters.  See it for yourself.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

At Last....

At last, a progressive voice I can understand.  Last night, driving home, I happened to tune into KOUW, our local NPR station.  They were broadcasting a lecture by someone who managed, in the space of a paragraph or two, to completely frame the political debate in this country in terms I instantly recognized and understood.  In the space of fifteen minutes, he explained conservative values, illuminated why they think the way they do, and made me cherish my progressive leanings.  (Though I will occasionally dip into the well of conservatism from time to time).

That person is George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at Berkeley.  In 1995 he published an essay entitled Metaphor, Morality and Politics which states the philosophical underpinnings of Conservative (neo-conservative) versus Liberal (progressive) thought.  Lakoff has made me see that politics is about shared metaphors.  Liberals simply cannot understand the metaphors that unite Conservatives.  They might as well be speaking Greek.  But Liberals have been unable to counter conservative messages because we take them literally--rather than as metaphors.  We need to understand why Conservatives think the way they do.  Believe me, once you get a dose of Lakoff, you will have no doubts about it.  Lakoff speaks the TRUTH.  Which is not to say the only truth, but a truth.  And it's a truth that matters to the progressive soul.  Take heart--our values are good.  And he manages to speak to the mind, rather than the emotions--he doesn't throw bombs like Noam Chomsky does--Lakoff doesn't irritate or annoy--he speaks to the mind and to the values we share.

More of my take on Lakoff's specific philosophy later.