There Oughta Be a Law Against….
- Chokeholds.In 1901, Mark Twain wrote an essay called “The United States of Lyncherdom”—his protest against, and disgust with, the practice of lynching blacks in the U.S. South. When Officer Daniel Pantaleo jumped Eric Garner from behind—a cowardly act belying his clownish behavior, waving to a video camera afterwards!—Pantaleo was executing Garner with a public lynching! According to New York’s 2nd Congressional District US Representative, Peter King, Pantaleo was acting against “police policy,” but he was not breaking the law! Well, there oughta be a law against chokeholds… and another law against New York Representatives saying stupid things!
- “Enhanced interrogation techniques."Innocent, lovely Juliet asked, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Had Shakespeare’s heroine lived in our times, she might have added, “That which we call ‘torture,” by any other name would smell as foul.” There oughta be a law against twisting language until it’s twisted out of shape and words are meaningless. Orwell was one of many seers who warned against such sacrilege.
- War. “War. What Is It Good For?” ponders Ian Morris in his book with that title, and Edwin Starr sings the same question. General Smedley Butler wondered in his post- “war-to-end-all-wars” book. He concluded that war is a “racket”—good for lining the pockets of politicians, bankers, arms manufacturers, industrialists, etc. Every war is a failure of the human species to come to terms with its own contradictions, its love of power and expansion and its fears of the Other and the Self. There oughta be a law against celebrating victories! John Adams was wrong when he called for hoopla and fireworks to mark the victory of the colonialists in our “War of Independence.” Lincoln was more on-mark when he said, after the blood-harvest of Gettysburg: “We cannot consecrate; we cannot hallow this ground.” If we are going to have a Thanksgiving Day, let us have a National Day of Mourning, as well, for all our folly and failures.
- Excess. “Poetry should surprise by a fine excess,” John Keats wrote. Perhaps the best poet of the 19th Century, despite the meagerness of his years, Keats understood instinctively what Lao Tzu and the Taoists knew a couple of millennia before: “Less is more.” Find the right balance and you find the Way. Freud thought our love of materialism was a sign of anal retentiveness! Identify the self with the things of this world and we all become hoarders—like the pathetic types on the TV shows, or the billionaires and mega-millionaires whom we cheer and envy (thus feeding their illness)! “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” the Nazarene taught. “How much does a man need,” Tolstoy asked in one of his short stories. His protagonist learned too late: a 6-foot hole in the ground is enough for any corpse. Is $1,000,000 enough in a world where 1 out of 3 survive on less than $2 per day? Is 10,000,000 or 20,000,000 enough? The TV ad tells our kids, “Bigger is better.” There oughta be a law against such nonsense.
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- Citizens United. John Marshall may have been our last great Supreme Court Justice. John Roberts is a pale joke beside him. Marshall tried to check the expansion on executive and legislative powers/abuses, instituting the concept and practice of “judicial review.” The Roberts’ court, with its decisions on “Citizens United” and McCutcheon, has wildly expanded corporate power; and, in fact, united corporate power with the State—Mussolini’s concise and accurate definition of Fascism. “Freedom of speech,” enshrined in our First Amendment, has nothing to do with the freedom of money to corrupt public officials, lawmakers, media shills, etc.
- The consolidation of our media. When I was a kid in proto “Dark Ages America,” there were a few channels owned by a few major corporations, and my father would bring home 4 or 5 newspapers out of the scores that were available in New York City. There were many points of view: from grisly photos of slain gangster, Albert Anastasia, riddled with bullets in a barbershop (in the New York Post) to the erudite musings and insights of James Reston in the New York Times, or the literary styling of conservative columnist James Kilpatrick. Today, we have hundreds of channels owned, again, by just a few corporations; they pretty much mimic each other with “reality TV” shows or news anchors—male and female—with amazingly coiffed hair! Rupert Murdoch is said to own about 127 newspapers around the world, and, of course, there’s his “Fox” TV station of the plunging necklines (female) and the jocular Bill O’Reilly and earnest, no-longer-boyish wonder, Hannity. Can a nation with such limited choices ever be “free”?
- High school football. We’ve become sportsmanic! Girls form dangerous pyramids—a genital symbol?—to cheer on boys rushing towards concussions, to show their manly prowess. Back in New York, I was a proud product of Jamaica High School—one of the schools in the city. It was a nicely “integrated” school and I met all kinds of kids, of different races and creeds, some brilliant, some dumb, most average. I think the person who had most to do with making it such a fine school was the principal, one Louis Schuker (if I recall the spelling)—a small, graying, balding man, who evinced “presence”: a combination of firmness and gentleness, attentiveness and wisdom—i.e., character. He had lost his son in a high-school football game a few years earlier, and there was no football team at Jamaica High when I was there. One time, Mr. Schuker told a story to our Assembly. It went something like this: a teacher asks a promising, but reticent, student, to assemble the pieces of the world map together so that all the countries fit into place. (The teacher had cut the map into many irregular pieces the night before. There were no names on the pieces; only the jagged outlines of countries.) Thinking the task might take the boy 30 minutes—if at all doable—the teacher retired to his desk to work on his lesson plan. Ten minutes later, the boy stood at the astonished teacher’s desk, all the pieces of the world map taped correctly in place. “But how?” the teacher wondered. “It was easy,” said the boy. “On the other side of the map, there was a picture of a man. I put the man together… and the world came together….”
- There oughta be a law against not thinking out of the box!