Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

When I was in high school, I used to cut a lot. Among my favorite destinations during these days away from the madness that was Midwood High School in 1970 were New York's two revival movie theaters, the Elgin and the Thalia. Both now are gone lo, these many years. Every day was a different double feature: The Bicycle Thief and La Strada or The Big Sleep and Murder My Sweet. In retrospect I think I received more of an education there than at Midwood.

In my family, there were two acceptable careers, medicine and law. If I hadn't been so receptive to this way of thinking, so concerned to be as straight as I possibly could be, a few years later, I probably would have gone to film school.

I love movies. I see one or two almost every week without fail. And I usually think I could do a better job than what I'm seeing on the screen.

Movies are the unconscious art of our time, like plays in the Elizabethan era. Because directors are usually not too self-important, not too focused on the fact they are making "Art", they are free to play, improvise and really impress us in a way the latest Really Important Post-Modernist Novel never will. On the other hand, since the Hollywood system bars such play (it involves too much risk) making good movies is much harder than it should be.

I particularly enjoyed writing the Film Noir Construction Kit. Movies have a pattern language of their own; in another essay I mention "bomb with digital readout counting down". Or how about "Let's split up now so the monster can pick us off individually?"

I enjoy your email; you can reach me, as always, at jw@bway.net.

Money as Speech
Dear Jonathan:

Your "speech and money" piece is thoughtful and not what I had expected. Maybe I'll get around to writing a counterpoint someday (which may or may not be printworthy :-). Meanwhile, here's a clever, if not as thoughtful, commentary you might find interesting:


And then Granny D identified the "twin villains" that are laying waste to our political process: "The ideas that money is speech and corporations are people."

"If money is speech, then those with more money have more speech, and that is antithetical to democracy."

Damn if Granny D didn't nail it all down right there. You tell me what's crazier: An 89-year-old woman walking across America or an America where a governor from Texas who's never done much more than get born into the right family is his party's presidential front-runner simply by virtue of the fact that the rich and powerful have showered him with $36 million?

No, I'm not a Reform Party supporter, and yes, I recognize the irony of this being said at a meeting of a party which is only on the political map because it was founded by a man with a few billion dollars who could buy half-hour infomercials in prime time.

Jamie McCarthy jamie@mccarthy.org

Dear Jonathan,

I have hesitated to ask, since you will already be running such a lengthy piece of my writing in the September issue, but would you entertain a response to your thoughts on campaign money as a form of free speech? I will give it to you here in a nutshell, and you can give me the go-ahead or the red light. It's this:

I don't agree that money is equivalent to speech the way that flag burning (for instance) is equivalent to free expression. My rejoinder to your essay would argue that money as speech is a metaphor, not a logical identity, and that a "better" metaphor can dislodge the illusion created by the metaphor of money as speech. The metaphor I propose is Money as Volume. So that it becomes more of a "boom-box on the subway" debate. Does the youngster carrying the boombox have the right to play his music so loud that his fellow passengers on the train can not hear eachother's conversations, or concentrate on their reading? Certainly the music afficionado has a right to enjoy music, but is the issue really so difficult to resolve? And is a resolution that reinforces the right of the boom-box listener to hear his/her music at preferred volume protective of free-speech and expression for the community, or only selectively for the preferred individual?

I think you can get the gist of my argument. It would be not much more lengthy than this synopsis. Or, if you prefer, you may treat my thoughts to your analysis separately, without an essay from me.

Thanks for considering this request, and I look forward to reading more of your engaging writing.

Best always,

Ben G. Price NebecirP@aol.com

The God Debate
Dear Jonathan:

In response to Marcus Johansen's letter in last month's letters column:

Long on name-calling, _short_ on specifics. I could respond by saying "the letter is crap!" -- but that would accomplish nothing more than the letter writer did, namely nothing. I liked both authors in the God series, just as I liked both authors in the gun series, whether or not I ended up exactly where I'd started in both instances. Interesting arguments, the ones that make me think rather than merely emote, rely on more than Mr. Johansson did (and yes, you may print this if you like). If there are specific points Lizard made which are demonstrably wrong, perhaps Mr. Johansson would care to address them?

James M. Ray jray@free-market.net

Marcus Johansson replies:

Dear Mr. Ray:

Your were absolutely right; I was completely out of line. I usually donít write angry letters, but Mr. Lizards articles caused me to make an acception. Name-calling is an ugly thing, so I apologize for my lapse in judgement. I would also like to apologize in advance for the incorrect english which you are very likely to find throughout my letter; english isnít my native language, you see. Now, I would like to point out that I still believe that Mr. Lizard makes some really ugly mistakes in his articles, besides his sarcastic attitude towards christians and their beliefs. Iím not going to adress all the errors in logic, reason and empirical facts that could be found in Mr. Lizards articles (that would take me to much time), so I have chosen a couple of examples. The article Iím refering to below, is his response to Mr. Lee, and also his article "More Fictional Than Thou".

--Given how unhealthy and destructive religious beliefs are,... We can easily rewrite this sentence as "given how healthy and constructive". It all depends on who you ask. Mr Lizards view of religious beliefs seems entirely negative-- if he wishes to argue at a serious level, he must also acknowledge all the great things that has sprung from religions such as christianity; just as christians must acknowledge all the terrible things that christianity has caused.

-About the analogy between believe in God and being a Star Trek-fan: Itís simply not adequate. Sure, IF God didnít exist, and everybody knew it for sure, someone who believed in him would certainly be irrational; maybe even crazy (depending on how we define ícrazyí). In the case with Star Trek, everybody (?) knows it isnít real, or at least thatís the consensus. Thus, someone how expressed a belief that Star Trek is for real would be labeled as crazy. But in the God-case, there is no consensus regarding his existence. Some people says he exist, some says he donít. The point is this-- if Star Trek caused people to burn each other at stake, the goverment could easily forbid Star Trek on TV, Star Trek magazines etc. Why? Beacuse consensus says itís fiction!

The same thing canít be done regarding religion (at least not in a democratic and truth-seeking nation), no matter how many people are killed in the name of God. Why? Beacuse there isnít a consensus that tells us that God doesnít exist. So, finally, telling us that a Star Trek-fan is much more harmless than a religious fanatic serves no point; itís quite obvious. The consequences of a belief doesnít consitute whether or not the person i s crazy-- the consensus regarding if the belief is true or not does.

-About the christian God and Allah: If the two Gods that Mr. Lizard are refering to are the same or not, is a much more complex question than most people can imagin. Mr. Lizards claim that both statements "CANNOT both be true" is highly disputable, if not plain false. To save the situation from total disaster, he troughs in an exception to his claim, which he calls "blather" and say that it "lacks something in terms of religious passion". This is, of course, a argument that wonít work: To call an other persons view "blather" surely isnít a good argument against it. That the view that íAll Gods are just faces of the same thingí lacks religious passion, might be a contingent, but hardly a necessary fact. But if you ask me, I would say that Mr. Lizards claim isnít true-- there are plenty of people that has this belief who (and I promise you) do not lack any religious passion.

--How can it be determined, objectively, WHICH ípersonally trancendantí experiences are valid, and which arenít? The answer is a simple one: It canít."But wait a minute", you might say, "do you agree with Mr. Lizard?". And I will answer you "In a way, yes". This is the situation: You canít objectively KNOW that your experience is true, or ívalidí as Mr. Lizard puts it. But (and this is the point) can you KNOW that scientific facts are true? No, you canít. vIf you soften your criteria for a "true fact", you might say that scientific facts are known to be true, but then you also have to admit that there are evidence for religious experiences. Whether or not religious experiences could be subject for science is a debate that Mr. Lizard certainly would loose. One torn and old argument is that every scientific fact could be tested in some way. This is however not true-- there are plenty of scientific "facts" which are true but canít be tested. To this you might add that the concept ítestí is highly suspect.

-The single largest religion? --isnít Buddhism, thats for sure. I donít know were Mr. Lizard got his numbers from, but they are incorrect. Christianity IS the single largest religion (approx. 1,833,000,000), 33,4 %, with Islam on second place (approx. 971,000,000), 17,7 %.

-No one believes in God? Well, as Mr. Lizards says, thats his belief. Let me just ask one question: If you truly believe that you believe in God, then isnít that a fact that you DO believe in God? Itís the same as with pain; itís impossible to do a mistake regarding whether or not you actually feel pain.

-[God] claims it is a sin to even try to prove its existence. You donít have much experience of various religions, have you? This claim could perhaps be true among the most fanatic religious people, but generally itís simply not true.

-About religion and moral: I wonít go in to that discussion here, but letís just say that Mr. Lizard simplifies thing a little to much.

So. I didnít like Mr. Lizards way of arguing; he ridicules a very important issue, namely religion. But on the other hand, he seems to have made people stop and think for a second, so maybe it wasnít all that bad.

Marcus Johansson, Sweden

An Auschwitz Alphabet

I hope this isnt email #600 trying to explain who God was in the holocausts. I couldn't help but notice that in your section about God, you noted that if God was omnepotent and let the holocausts happen, then he was a monster. Well, it seems to me like your turning your back on Jewish history. As a christian, it seems to me like God was with you in the holocausts. The prayers to God were not in vein, seeing as how the holocausts did end. If God had stepped in, and tried to stop Adolf Hitler before he began his reign of terror, he would have ended free will in the lives of everyone. Who's to say that God hasnt already prevented the birth of a person who could have given more terror to the Jews. Be thankful the holocausts ended when they did. It seems to me like the people of Isreal were enslaved by the Egyptians for 400 years. God heard the cries of his people and delivered them out of the hands of Pharoh. God also heard the cry of his people and delivered them out of the hands of the Nazis. God Bless You.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." --Proverbs 3:5

Brent Lowry brentlowry@yahoo.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I found your site fascinating, elegant and powerful in its own understated way. I am Filipino-American, and the murder of another Filipino-Amercian postal worker in LA recently by a white supremacist (who also shot up the Jewish Community Center) shows me that there is still much work to be done against the forces of hate. As a Catholic, I have also met antagonism from "Christians" who think I'm going to hell anyway. I don't think we're very different.

God bless you, sir, and God help us all.

Pancho Oppus soppus@ix.netcom.com


Mark Barton, a so-called "chemist" who is also a "day-trader" decides to murder (with a gun) all the strangers he can, then shoot himself. When detectives go to Barton's modest apartment, they find his wife and two children laying dead. They were bludgeoned to death, apparently by Barton, days earlier. The media eagerly laps up this new, bizarre story and the anti-gun hype begins anew, refreshed with yet more evidence of the consequences in a society with easy access to guns.

Details in this new mass killing are misleading however. Somehow, in the typical media feeding frenzy there is an interview with an Alabama detective who notices the killer's name tells a story that most of the media will only report as a sidelight, if at all.

It seems, according to the detective, that only six years ago Mark Barton was the prime suspect in the beating death of his first wife (and mother of his newly killed children) and her mother. Their murders appeared to have been committed by someone they knew. Only days prior to their murder, he had taken out a $600,000 insurance policy on his first victim. According to the Alabama detective, who maintains that he was always certain that Barton was the killer, there was not enough "conclusive" physical evidence to prosecute Barton of those crimes.

So, Barton kills two people, collects a fortune for his efforts, and gets custody of the children. He re-marries, moves to Georgia and takes up a life of gambling (accurate synonym for day-trading) in the stock market. Despondent when his ill-gotten "easy money" runs out, he decides to kill everyone he can kill, and go out in flames just like a rash of others in the past few years.

With all these details, easily discovered on the same day of Barton's rampage in Atlanta, it is absolutely astounding that the media could even suggest that this sequence of events, has a causal factor connected to the availability of guns. Five of this deranged killer's victims were bludgeoned to death. That our legal system is so inept and hog-tied with bureaucratic inefficiency a man whom detectives say they knew had savagely murdered two people for insurance money only a short time ago could be walking amongst us with impunity is the real story. It will go largely unreported in the media, yet endless hours will be allocated to reinforce the myth that had it not been for those evil guns, this would have been prevented.

Ah, the lunacy!

Bob Wilson

Hi Jonathan:

Thanks again for reviewing the book. Here's the scoop on publication. I'd really appreciate it if you could pass the word around to your readers.

Calamity's Quilt, my first print collection of poetry, will be released by Newton's Baby Press on December 1st. The book is 90 pages, perfect bound, with cover art by Cheryl Hight Carle and a foreward by Thomas Fortenberry. Topical issues include disability, catharsis, relationships, grief, and social awareness. Newton's Baby is offering a great bargain in terms of a "pre-order" arrangement. Calamity's Quilt will sell for $11.95 plus $3.20 shipping and handling, but if you pre-order, you get the book for $10.00 and no shipping charge. To pre-order, go to:


ISBN: 0966722841

Publisher: John Carle at: jcarle@newtonsbaby.com

***You can also reserve a copy by writing to Newton's Baby at the address below.

Calamity's Quilt Order
Newton's Baby Press
788 Murphey Street
Scottsdale, GA 30079

More often than not, books are written by support, not poets, so this is a good time to thank you for all your encouragement this past year. I'm very grateful.


Janet Buck JBuck22874@aol.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Just read the various articles in "The Ethical Spectacle" from the page "Humans and their Pornography" and just wanted to remark how refreshing it is to hear such intelligent and unassuming discussion! Everyone made good points and exhibited both reason and humanity, a delicate balance. I will have to become more familiar with this website/publication.

Steve steveh@surfree.com