An immodest proposal

This is a piece I wrote about fifteen years ago, meaning it as over-the-top social satire. I read it again a couple days ago, and it seemed in today’s world to be not as unrealistic as I meant it to be. Your call.



Let’s look at capital punishment. You know, legalized murder, as carried out by the government. The topic arises every so often, then just as often fades away with no true resolution. One reason, perhaps a determinant, is that there is no suitable machinery for carrying it out, none that meets universal approval. I have a plan which will clarify the issue, revolutionize the criminal code, and very likely make me rich.

First, let’s agree on one simple fact. Capital punishment provides a unique benefit for the criminal, and that is knowing the exact time, place, and method of his death. It is more than a benefit. It is a privilege which is beyond the reach of almost every other citizen.

We can finagle and negotiate with taxes, but not with death. A heart attack at 95 or a stray bullet at 15. A lightning bolt tomorrow or liver failure in fifty years. We are at the mercy of unpredictable and unmeasurable fate. Healthy, careful people are hit by cars racing through stop signs. Prodigal, self-ruinous people drag their wasting bodies through decades of artificial haze.

In short, we do not, can not know. But we give that enormous and otherwise-unattainable favor to those whom we, as a society, most despise. Is this the behavior of rational people?

I think not.

Let us, instead, be realistic.

Scenario: the condemned man — forgive gender specificity, as this is largely a masculine enterprise — need not, should not, be sent back to prison. Send him instead to, oh, maybe a luxury hotel in Orlando, or an apartment in San Francisco, or a desert island. There will be little difference. In fact, as you study my proposal, you may believe that the luxury hotel would be the best choice.

That’s because whatever else it is, it is the execution chamber. The distinctive quality of this one is that the condemned man has no idea how or where or when the blow will fall.

And there’s one other feature of this execution chamber, the one you all will have been waiting for.

TV cameras everywhere. Because (drum roll, please, and a few somber minor-key chords on the organ) This Is Your Death.

Yes, This Is Your Death, the new reality TV program everyone will be watching and talking about. Watching what, you ask? That case of beer in the refrigerator holds 22 normal bottles, and two whose caps are sealed with an explosive plastic. If he opens either of those, he may or may not be killed, but surely he will be severely injured. If he picks one with a normal cap, no explosion. He’ll drink happily, and perhaps discover the beer is laced with poison. Or a virulent laxative.

Wires are attached to his bathtub, leading to a box marked “High Explosives.” He may examine the box and find it empty. But if he takes a bath, he could be electrocuted. Or perhaps only discover his trick soap turns blood red when wet.

This tantalizing will make punishment far more punishing. Is there a sniper atop the next building, a cobra under the bedsheet, ground glass in the chicken Parmesan? Why destroy only the body when it would be so easy to destroy the mind and soul as well? With cameras everywhere, watching every increasingly-anguished move the condemned man makes.

Sound macabre? Bizarre? Outrageous? Well of course. But it’s no worse than any other program. It simply has the courage to complete the cycle which other programs only hint at. Face it. The American public is fascinated with reality programs. All of us have a touch of the voyeur in us. We want to peek through the keyhole at someone else’s life. (Well, you know what I mean.)

But it’s more than that. It’s the unpredictability of the outcome. The producers and the crew may know what’s coming, but the people do not. It is, in a word, theatrical. Look. Suppose you go to a theatre, where an actor comes out on stage and says, “Hamlet’s father is dead, his uncle Claudius is the villain, and Hamlet himself dies at the end. Details at eleven.

This is drama? Come on. We want to see the whole thing played out. Show us the close-ups. Let us hear the agony. Leave us in suspense at least for a little while.

This Is Your Death will have all America watching. We will monitor the condemned man’s every move. Shudder as he opens the beer bottle, breathing a sigh of relief — or disappointment — when it does not explode, and watching — or perhaps not — as the laxative kicks in.

We’ll watch the trick soap turn blood red, and be as confused as the condemned. We’ll see him step into an elevator that plunges fifteen stories without braking. Or perhaps it drops only a few feet. This sort of thing could induce a heart attack. Suppose it does. Will he be left alone, to live or die, on his own? No, here come the paramedics. They will save him. Wait… is that an oxygen mask they’re putting over his face, or a plastic bag ?

Imagine the office pools keyed to the actual time of death, with a trifecta for picking time and place and method.

Setting up the program should be a snap. Knowledgeable and experienced people are already in place. All that’s needed is an OK from the authorities.

And considering the possibilities for advertising and tie-in merchandising, we are talking really big money here. I’m just waiting for the networks to call. My hunch is, Fox will be first.

Our contribution to Irish food

If you’ve never been to Dublin — or any Irish city, Dublin just happens to be prime in my memory — never been there in the morning, say, just off a flight from Newark, about 5:30 AM, and you’re wandering the streets looking for a place to grab some breakfast and then you see one of the many neat little places which will be open, never gone in and feasted yourself on the magnificent range of food available, little or perhaps none of it falling into the “bakery goods” category but all marvelous and maybe strange and perhaps liable to modify your idea of just what “breakfast” really is, if you’ve never done that, you might not be startled to learn that an altogether different sort of… let’s call it a morning confection is now available there.

Having spent quite a few glorious mornings breakfasting in various Dublin eateries, I was a bit startled. Perhaps I ought not to have been. Anyway, here ’tis. Take a quick look. Preen just a bit at the knowledge that your very own — those of you in the USA — culture is spreading across the globe.

“Ten Typical Days in Trump’s America”

I’m not sure it will be generally available, but try anyway. Try getting at and reading the London Review of Books article cited in the title of this mini-post. It’s pretty deep, and much of it will not be new, but this is the most comprehensive summary I’ve seen about the situation we have to call Modern Day USA.

If you click on it and can’t access the site, leave a comment. I’ll try to get permission to re-run the whole thing, but at 5000+ words, that’s not likely.

Why not, you ask…?

Let’s focus on the key issue. Set aside, for a moment at least, the urge to hammer on less-immediate, less-critical ones — the possibility of sexual aggression, the political division of the Supreme Court, the dissimulative ranting of elderly political hacks who do or do not agree with the extant Executive.

The key issue is this: should a man (or a woman) of such fragile ego, capable of such heedless ranting  and such harsh discourtesy to Senators (or anyone else), should that person be installed as key factor in determining the propriety and honesty and accuracy of the Law of the Land?

And on that scale, I have no trouble arguing that Kavanaugh did not deserve elevation to the Supreme Court, did not in fact deserve to keep his previous lower-court appointment.

As to lesser issues:

  • Sexual aggression would be decisive, but can not be inferred from the information available to us. The fault here lay primarily with GOP refusal to allow a serious investigation — which might or might not have been enough to convict Kavanaugh — and Democrats’ delay in presenting the accusation.
  • Political division of the Supreme Court is, obviously, a political decision. Executive choice, Legislative approval. To argue for some sort of rational accommodation here is futile. The villain in this instance is Mitch McConnell (who also ranks among those in the next category).
  • Rantings of elderly political hacks we will always have with us. Lindsey Graham could be a minor figure in a Dickens novel, a background barrister in Bleak House, perhaps. Susan Collins, milder but no better. Our only sane and legitimate recourse with them is laugh now, vote out tomorrow.

No, for me the key issue, the deciding factor, was the hyper-emotive scenery-clawing performance of the nominee himself. No surprise that he had been coached — programmed, I might say — by apparatchiks in a back room of the White House. And I will argue that any person who goes that far off the track in a public legislative setting is not fit for judicial appointment, and that to do so at the bidding — and in the manner — of the present White House is de facto unfit for public office.

ARE WE TOO CRITICAL OF TRUMP?

No. We are too tolerant. We encounter the latest insult to decency and the ideals of democracy and wave it off with “Well, that’s how he is.”

But. . . is that how we are?

If we do not criticize and challenge, that’s the way we will be.

Do not, however, take overt action — or complain vigorously without vast mounds of evidence — unless you have comfortable dacha in, say, Tula Oblast. And wishing for or even thinking about some debilitating circumstance affecting supreme leader could make things still worse. I recall that about fifteen years ago, when we were killing and being killed in Iraq, every evening I said a small and sincer prayer for G W Bush. Had anything happened to him, we would have had Dick Cheney in the White House.

Take a close look at Veep sometime, say, when he’s applauding a Presidetial bon mot. I am reminded of the old folk wisdom, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” As you watch Pense in his beatific moments — he seems to have many — you might believe the original was “Better the devil you know than the angel you don’t know.”

Which was, in my recollection, the original.

They’re everywhere, they’re everwhere

Annoying phone calls. The robozos zeroed in on me a few months ago. Not too heavy at first, one or two calls a week. “Our records show that the exyemded service on your automobile is about to expire. We can add a four years extension on it with a simple call. Press one to contact a service expert who will….”

Really? An extended service contract on my eighteen-year-old CRV? What a deal!
Then there was help paying off the student loan, the one that cleared about fifty years ago. A new credit card, with rates as low as one-point-three percent. Et al.

For a while I let the voice go on to the first referent point, then hung up, and cited the calling number in my contacts as B S 01. Then B S 02. Etc. Was sort of a game at first, watching for repeats. When the B S count got up into the twenties, I blocked each one. Haven’t had any robo calls in nearly a week.

[NOTE: It’s now early October. The BS list is in the nineties.]

For a more detailed look at this suddenly-blossoming mercantile phenomenon, check this article in the Sunday New York Times. The most interesting — and discouraging — part of the story:

The federal Do Not Call List, which is supposed to help consumers avoid robocalls, instead resembles a tennis net trying to stop a flood. The list may prevent some (but not all) legitimate companies from calling people on the list, but it does little to deter fraudsters and marketers, some of them overseas, who are willing to take their chances and flout the law.