April 2017
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Mallet Theory

I can't say I have fully elucidated this concept, but I propose a "mallet" test for evaluating death penalty policy in the United States. Whenever we try to choose a less torturous means of execution as a way of simultaneously killing malefactors while maintaining our humanity, I ask several related questions. The first is, Why not just hit him in the head with a mallet? The first teaching moment is the millions of Americans eagerly rising from their chairs: "Yeah, why?" --a response which illustrates the fragility of our choices of pharmaceutical solutions to killing. A closely related question is which approach would serve our actual underlying goals better, an administration of three drugs by injection or hitting the defendant five or seven times in the head with a mallet? The latter would clearly have a more deterrent effect. Finally, as we witness some bungled executions, in which a vein cannot be found and the supposed anesthetizing injection does not seem to protect against terrible pain, I ask my third question: Was that really more merciful than hitting him in the head with a mallet?

"Justice" Gorsuch

He is youngish but for as long as he lives, I want the cloud to hang over his head that he took another man's seat on the court, Merrick Garland; that to approve him the Republicans had to change the rule of a sixty vote majority; that as a result he is a permanent light weight, an embarassment, the most illegitimate appointment to the Court in its history. Was it really worth it? I would have had tremendous respect had he declined and said, "As much as I dreamed of this, I do not want it under these circumstances".


It was a tremendous relief that he was removed from the NSC but I still want him to drop off the tree entirely, to return to obscurity, to cease standing for the proposition that hatred is mainstream. He doubly deserves humiliation and oblivion for comparing himself to Satan and Darth Vader, something which I think proves better than anything how marginal, unimportant, foolish he really is.


Apropos of gross anti-Semitism in the Trump administration, Sean Spicer's statement that Hitler didn't use chemical weapons on anyone is perfectly comprehensible, and even horribly funny, if you amend it "anyone important".


I am starting to see myself as old, which never happened before (I am 62). I am comfortable with my gray hair and lined face; I worked hard to earn them. But slights which would have been incomprehensible or invisible to me before are starting to rankle: in a bagel store I wanted to give a cashier exact change, and he wouldn't wait for me to count quarters and dimes, but tossed the change I didn't want towards me. In a bar in East Hampton in the summer, some years ago already, a bartender who only wanted twenty and thirty somethings on the stools threw a coaster towards me instead of placing it. I have become perfectly telepathic and neither misapprehend, nor resent, the wide smiles of young female joggers who pass me on my weekly run: "Look at Grandpa! Hope I'll be that spry!"

Trump world

I saw an editorial which placed the weird, upsetting story of the doctor beaten senseless and removed from a United Airlines flight in perfect context: this is Donald Trump's world of billionairism and monopoly power, in which we are all subjects, Kantian means not ends. Of course in such a world, companies would feel quite free to beat their customers.

"False flag"

Some parents of children murdered at Newtown have been terribly tormented since by Internet and telephone trolls who believe that Newtown was a "false flag" incident, in other words, a staged event to advance gun control, in which no children actually died. I have been aware of the false flag subculture almost since 9/11, but filed it away as a remote chattering minority of extreme right wing loons. However, the advent of Donald Trump seems to have had a world-transforming effect, in that you find out all sorts of people are not exactly who you thought. In recent weeks, left wing people I know and respect, are copying me on emails about the Syrian sarin gas attack being a "false flag", and forwarding photographs which purport to show cheerful men with headsets directing actors, smiling children posed as dead, a laughing woman boarding an ambulance and being carried off it, etc. The deep irrationality of this seems evident: who in the Syrian or almost any wartime scene, values human life so much that they would fake an incident rather than just killing people and blaming someone else? Many of the postings seem to contradict themselves anyway by allowing for both, the actual use of sarin and for some completely inexplicable reason, the faking of victims along the actual dead.

The sociopathy of Facebook Live

People have been using Facebook for a year or so to livestream rapes and murders, and Facebook public relations is trying to reassure everyone at least that these will be taken down in minutes rather than hours or days. But in reality the question that is being asked, and not answered, is one we really already solved in the 1980's, which is whether you can have unmoderated interaction on the Internet? Mailing lists of a few hundred people without active leadership all washed out within a few months with trolling and insults. Facebook and Twitter are unmoderated Internet mailing lists of billions of people. Obviously they will be used to threaten your child with rape, send you pictures of yourself in Auschwitz, and live-stream horrific violence. There are only two choices: either we recognize what we already learned, that you can't have unmoderated lists (but that interferes with Zuckerberg making his next billion dollars); or we just suck it up (metaphorically allow ourselves all to be beaten senseless, like the doctor on the United flight, for the good of the billionaires).

The hapless Pentagon

For much of my life I somehow continued to believe the propaganda that we had a culturally superior military that loved democracy and didn't seek power; but the military shines by the reflected light of its Commander in Chief's morality and culture. Either that or there has been some bizarre transformation in Pentagon culture in a few short months, from Obama to Trump, though the personnel are the same. The intense quality of excuse-making when civilians are harmed has intensified, and the off-the-record rhetoric about the use of massive bombs is just embarassing. As was the experience of no one knowing where an aircraft carrier was. I remember having an epiphany when I was sixteen, listening to my high school principal rant about anti-war protest, and noticing that the gym teacher was his toady AND wearing a Mickey Mouse watch, that adults were children. I have that same feeling now.

Fox News

We could debate endlessly whether it is a news organization or a propaganda machine, but can anyone seriously now disagree it had a vicious, sex-obsessed, vain and monstrous male-dominated culture? Doesn't that answer the other question also: or can bad people ever do good work?

Democrats and abortion

No! The Democratic party can't support "pro-life" candidates, any more than it can support pro-segregation candidates, because it is the same damn issue: equality. It is not a private moral matter: women who don't have autonomy, control of their own bodies, cannot function as equals in work, career, politics, or at any social level, even if there are some women who don't see it that way. I keep obsessively returning to the "Stand Your Ground" laws, which mandate that men (mostly men resort to them) can kill an innocent person legally if they had a reasonable fear of being physically interfered with. It is a huge, grotesque, murderous double standard to say that women alone have a duty to allow interference. You actually cannot reconcile an abortion ban with "Stand Your Ground": why can't a woman stand her ground against a pregnancy she does not want?