June 27, 2004

In case you've got some spare time

Posted by shonk at 12:45 AM | permalink | comment

Some topics of note:

  • Fahrenheit 9/11 — Michael Moore’s newest movie is out and is, according to most of the reviews I’ve read (and not terribly surprisingly), an unabashed and unapologetic piece of propaganda. Which means, depending on your ideological persuasion, you’ll probably either love it or hate it. Christopher Hitchens hates it, whereas the subtitle of David Edelstein’s review pretty much expresses his sentiment: “Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 is unfair and outrageous. You got a problem with that?”. At some point, I’ll probably watch it and post a review here.

  • Globalization — A topic we’ve discussed here a few times already, but I came across two interesting articles today that explore some new themes. In the first, “Low Taxes Do What?”, Thomas Sowell argues that jobs “exported” from the United States by globalization have been significantly outweighed by jobs “imported” by that same globalization. In the second, “Beggars Can Be Choosers”, Bob Murphy makes the surprisingly controversial case that charity doesn’t hurt people. Both are worth a read.

  • the gravey train — That’s the name of John Graves’ new weblog. John is a quantitative researcher at the Urban Institute, a fellow Sewanee alum and a good personal friend. Check him out.

February 26, 2004

Jesu Cristo!

Posted by Curt at 01:03 PM | permalink | 11 comments

I haven’t seen The Passion of the Christ yet, nor do I plan to, but I think I can fairly safely conclude that any film depiction of the Gospels which insists on playing to American audiences exclusively in Aramaic and Latin for purposes of “authenticity” (evidently even the English subtitles were only grudgingly included) was conceived in a clumsy, enormously literalistic spirit. And yet it is not this species of Renanian pedantry which evidently has provoked the contempt and argument of so many, but this fathomlessly stupid (and endlessly revived) debate about Jewish guilt in the death of Jesus. Of course, I could simply refer everyone once again to Bill Hicks, commenting on the phony controversies surrounding films of dubious merit (“don’t get caught up in the phony hysteria surrounding this piece of shit film”) but this particular debate casts once again into focus the blank denial of realty at the heart of our particular American ideology of victimhood.

What I mean by that is this: whether or not Mel Gibson has it in for the Jews, the contention that the Jews called for the crucifixtion of Christ and essentially forced his execution by threat of rebellion can, by itself, hardly be considered anything other than a literal regurgitation of the Gospels. If Gibson is being condemned for following the Gospels in this respect, then the Gospel writers cannot possibly be exculpated of anti-Semitism and Gibson condemned, because this tacit accusation of the Jews is undeniably present in all of their accounts. Not having seen the film, I cannot say whether he deviates from the Gospels in any important respects, but I get the impression that most of these complaining activists, not having the courage to actually call the Gospels anti-Semitic and illegitimately prejudiced, are simply fixating on this film as a proxy and a scapegoat.

Of course, this activist demand to change the historical record has not been motivated by any actual evidence that Jews were not principally responsible for the death of Jesus, but simply by the unyielding victimist ideology which states that Jews, as a traditionally oppressed and discriminated-against minority, cannot be held guilty of any actions if such judgment could invite further oppression of and discrimination against them. Of course, no moral culpability should connect group actions in the distant past with living members: even if certain Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, Jews living today should no more be held resonsible for that deed than I, despite my ancestral origins in the Rhine valley, should be held responsible for the massacres of the Jews there during the Crusades. Moral responsibility is personal, and is by definition enclosed within a single lifetime.

Were Jewish leaders to acknowledge the possibility of Jewish complicity in the death of Jesus and then demand to know what difference that should make today, I think such a response would expose the basic hollowness and superficiality of any fundamentalist Christian desire to condemn living Jews because of it. And I think more generally that should all of humanity face up to the real truth of the many actions in the past which have led to the current state of the world, neither denying nor hiding the truth, then the injustices of the past could be accepted and learned from without providing incitement to future vengeance. Of course, in the present case, sadly, such openness probably would invite on all Jews a certain degree of malice from at least a few fanatical Christians. But then again, reasonableness is always vulnerable to fundamentalism—that should never be a reason to indulge in an equally irrational dogmatism.

December 27, 2003

And now for a lighter topic-serial killers!

Posted by Curt at 03:52 AM | permalink | 1 comment

Two new movies have just been released about various aspects of the life of the convicted serial killer Aileen Wournos, who was executed in Florida last year, have just been released. One of them, Monster is a fictionalized Hollywood treatment. The other one, Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer, is a documentary about the filmmaker’s ordeal last year while testifying during Wournos’ final appeal. Not having seen either film, I can’t really comment on them as films, but they do raise yet again the legal, social and yes, perhaps moral issue of the death penalty.

I promise this will be my only contribution to the death-penalty debate, but I was spurred to it by the rather perplexing attitude of at least one reviewer of the films, who at least affected to be flabbergasted that Gov. Jeb Bush would have consented to the execution of this clearly insane woman, who apparently in the documentary spouts off an endless litany of psychotic paranoid theories about her situation shortly before her death. Now nobody could be surprised that a governor who was elected partly on a pro-death penalty platform would allow the insane to be executed. But a very large number of people, not just a single movie reviewer, seem to be very appalled by this. I’m no fan of any of the Bushes, but I don’t entirely understand this furor over the execution of the mentally impaired (as opposed to executing the sane).

I have not formulated a firm attitude towards the death penalty myself, but in my mind the only possible justification for it is as the human equivalent of shooting a mad dog, i.e. as the only possible means of dealing with individuals who are simply too psychotic and dangerous to exist in society. Now I am not sure that this is true of anyone, which is why my feelings on the matter remain ambiguous, but in any case, if is true of any person, their relative sanity is pretty irrelevant. In fact, insanity would actually make it more likely that they could not be dealt with in any way other than execution.

But these people that believe that only the mentally capable that are aware of the moral significance of their actions should be eligible for execution clearly have a different conception of the point of the judicial system than I do. I have no faith in the idea of retributive justice, mainly because, as I have said before, I don’t believe that moral concerns have anything to do with the motives of the judicial system (even if they did, I don’t understand what could give judges or juries moral authority over our lives, but that is a different issue). But I can only conclude that those who support the death penalty only for the sane must have a retributive idea of justice. Why else would the relative moral culpability of the perpetrator make any difference?

Well, I suppose there is one other possibility. Some people may believe that all insane people can be cured through psychotherapy, while those who decide to murder calculatedly are beyond redemption. But this seems to me not only stupid but also perserve. Even putting aside what the actual boundary between sanity and insanity is when one is talking about mass murder, isn’t the very concept of sanity, as opposed to insanity, the idea that the sane person is reasonable, i.e. amenable to reason, capable of being reasoned with, while the insane person is not? So who is more likely to be “cured,” the sane person or the insane? It is apparent what a ludicrous debate this would be, and how filled with hubris. Which brings me back to my original premise: judges and juries have no God-like insight into other people’s psyches, hence they have no right or ability to decide upon relative moral goodness and then dispense punishment accordingly. There are some people in the world, like suicide bombers and those who train and prepare them, who I have difficulty imagining as being anything other than enormous menaces to the world for the duration of their lives. For ones such as them, I can at least see a valid argument being made for their execution, though I would not go so far as affirm it at present. But as for this phony, sniveling pseudo-moral sanctimony, enough with it!

November 08, 2003

The Revolution that Wasn't

Posted by shonk at 05:53 AM | permalink | comment

My quick capsule review of "The Matrix: Revolutions": piece of shit. Seriously. Don't bother seeing this movie. If you insist on seeing it, do not pay for it. If you insist on paying for it, don't blame me when you realize you've wasted your money. I was going to rant and rave about how bad it is, but I I'm sure in doing so I'd reveal parts of the plot, pissing off those who haven't seen it yet. Plus, I don't really have the energy to devote to a real critique. All I'll say is that, if they were aiming for accuracy, they would have called it "The Matrix: Temporary Cease Fire".