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02 December 2005

human beings killing human beings for killing other human beings and for this, that and the other


It has been a very busy and stressful last several days for me; like a good illusionist, I hope I have kept my woes invisible to all who read this blog.

Perhaps in childhood, but certainly most heavily engraved on my personality in the Army is the lifelong habit -- good habit, bad habit, you tell me -- of not complaining very much about my personal woes. On Vleeptron I enjoy making jokes of faux complaints, faux whining ... I suppose I am trying to make fun of Other Blogs I have read which seem to be Nothing But Complaining about their personal woes, my iPod is broken, I really hate the way my mom did my bedroom, Ronny still hasn't asked me to the prom, etc. But also it is a subtrafuge, a smokescreen, to hide my personal emotional roller coaster plummets.

Not that Bob's Woes this week were teenage iPod chopped liver or clashing bedroom curtains. Things came out of Left Field to me and S.W.M.B.O. this week that would divert anyone's attention, disturb anyone's sleep patterns, cause nightmares, the screaming meemies, etc. They don't make Buddhists tough enough not to be made dizzy and cranky by a week like mine.

It is a Miracle of Modern Blogging that I obsessively demanded of myself that I keep posting, no matter what. It was a Pride Thing -- I wasn't going to let RealityLand have the extra laugh of knocking me to my knees so badly that I couldn't keep writing, telling jokes, making silly cartoons, giving RealityLand the finger. The World decided this week to Knock The Silliness Out Of Me, Make Me Completely Serious, Make Me Pay Strict Attention, and Stop Having Any Fun.

I'm just a contrary psycho, so I wouldn't do it.

And it turned out the World was just bluffing. The gun it waved in my face had no bullets in it. The threats it threatened me with were hollow. The Worst That Could Happen ... didn't. (Oh, I think I'm out U$288, that was the final Penalty the Big Bully Cruel World was able to forceably extract from me.) I will survive. The American Economy will survive.

I am so very sad to say that one thing that kept me Barely Vertical during the last few days were the stories from Google News that first caught the corner of my eye about a 25-year-old "South Vietnamese" [more about this nuance later] refugee to Australia, an Australian citizen, and what appeared were going to be the last few days of his life in a prison called Changi, in the city-nation of Singapore.

Barring some Miracle -- which did not happen -- on Friday the government of Singapore was going to hang Nguyen Tuong Van by the neck until he was dead. (A physician or medical technician must listen to the hanged person's chest with a stethoscope to certify this, and from drop to death can sometimes take ten minutes.)

Even my clashing bedroom curtains failed to overwhelm and destroy my emotional life in a world where a young man, with an identical twin brother, and a mother, and good friends, and a lawyer who wept to tell strangers about his client's final hours, was, while more and more of the world watched, experiencing his final hours of Life. The lawyer wept.

Singapore was not threatening to hang an innocent young saint who had been unjustly framed and railroaded corruptly through the justice system. When I say that they had condemned a human being to death, I mean that both literally, and in that other sense of being human I so sincerely hope all of us are intimately familiar with and fully recognize. To be human is to Fuck Up, Large, and Regularly.

To rub it into the corpse of the dead young man one more time amongst the thousands of stories, blogs and websites which have spelled it out this week: He flew from Cambodia to Changi Airport, Singapore, and there the customs guards found .9 pounds / 400 grams of heroin on his person. He seems to have never made an effort to claim that he was framed, or the heroin was unknowingly planted on him (sometimes this indeed happens), and when charged with the death penalty offense of smuggling drugs into Singapore, told a story. As the amount suggests, the heroin was not for personal use, but was to sell for profit. Hopefully a lot of money.

There is more to the story; I would prefer others characterize it or critique it; right now all I feel like doing is telling it, in case someone may have missed it. I assume it's true, the Singapore criminal prosecutor never bothered to attack the accuracy of it.
Nguyen Tuong Van wanted to make a lot of money by smuggling heroin into Singapore because his twin brother had fallen badly in debt to loan sharks, and he had hoped he could come back to Australia with enough money to get his brother out of his jam.

So, if all true, this was a Celebration of Being Human (at least as I personally over 58 years have come to understand Being Human). One idiot, with gambling and ridiculous purchasing, needs money so badly he borrows more money from gangsters and criminals who loan money to desperate idiots to make profits far beyond what the law allows. Then his identical twin brother idiot -- and he was not an idiot to love his brother and want to bail his brother out of his troubles -- hatched a scheme based on his best understanding of how someone could take a little money and buy something cheaply and then smuggle it somewhere where he could sell it at an explosive profit.

I have read only the barest details about this story. My version may be wrong by a wide margin. Please Leave A Comment if you know more about this.

He never made it to the taxi stand outside the airport. The next thing he knew, he was in prison, and then in court listening to a judge pronounce sentence of death on him.

Singapore has executed a True Human Being. I know this just by going into the bathroom and looking in the mirror. There (but for the Grace Of God) I see Nguyen Tuong Van. When I look into the bedroom mirror and survey my memory (and I am cursed with an acute and detailed one), I see A Real Idiot.

Not every day of my life, certainly not; I have gone long stretches of time -- perhaps even two, maybe three years -- without pulling some Epic Bonehead Idiot Stunt. One fairly recent year perhaps I was more an Upstanding Civic Notable Worthy of Community Admiration than I was a Bonehead Idiot.

But I know this much about the Idiot I see in my mirror: If I am foolish enough to believe that my Bonehead Stunts are all long behind me, I am just kidding myself. I am going to die an Idiot. An idiot slightly sprinkled with Positive Achievements. An idiot with good friends. An idiot with more than friendship, but Love.

But I am, au fonde, a Human Being, and that means I am au fonde, an Idiot, and unless I hire a Keeper to keep me locked in my house or on a Short Leash, I am going to keep doing Idiot Things.

And if My Personal Judgment Day had come when I was 25 ... O Lord, Idiot Bonehead Stunts were the commonplace and mother's milk of what passed for my Human Life at that age.

Fortunately for my Clueless Ass, I got through 25, and 26, and 27, and a few more years usually described as Young, without encountering an Angry Judge in a Felony Court. Or a very angry man or woman with a loaded gun. Or the Laws of Physics as I drove my suicidally fast English motorcycle. (The Laws of Physics are stricter and more unforgiving than the Laws of Singapore. Physics skips the indictment and trial entirely; punishment, often the Death Penalty, is meted out instantly. There is No Appeal.)

"Dance with a Stranger" is a motion picture about Ruth Ellis, the last woman England ever hanged. (And not long after, England stopped hanging men, too; Vleeptron heartily approves.) I urge all of you to rent and set aside a quiet hour to watch this film.

I will not also urge you to watch it closely; the movie itself will take care of that, Ruth Ellis and what she did and what happened to her, and the superb way the writer, director and the actors tell her story, will have no trouble commanding your complete and horrified attention.

She had bad eyesight, but was hopelessly, superficially vain about her appearance (this was in the days before contact lenses), and refused ever to wear her glasses in public. But she made one exception in her adult life. As she waited one night in the street outside the pub where her ex-lover was drinking, she put her glasses on. She had a loaded revolver in her hand, and at that instant wanted to make absolutely certain that she could see perfectly. She was perfectly sober.

Here is the Utter Horror of the story of Ruth Ellis. She was not a drug dealer. She was not a serial killer or a cannibal or a child molester.

She was a schmuck just like me. Just like me, she Loved. Just like me in Younger Days, she chose an Object To Love who was also a schmuck. Just like me she experienced wild fits of jealousy, monstrous feelings of Betrayal and Abandonment and Injustice.

As I watch "Dance with a Stranger," every five minutes I hear myself mutter: "Oh, shit, I did that." "Oh Christ, I did that very same thing once."

(Or twice.)

And finally, I mutter: "Oh God, they are going to hang her for ten dumb mistakes in a row -- and I did every one of the first nine of them at one time or another."

(Ruth Ellis did not even dream and scheme to make a penny of profit from the act for which England hanged her; she did not empty her revolver into her ex-lover because he had stolen a single pound from her. Money, profit, greed were Not Involved.)

Many governments, many of them the federal and state governments in my own United States, keep executing Human Beings. They kill Depraved and Unimaginably Cruel people. They kill killers. They kill Idiots and Schmucks. They kill retarded people. They execute Insane People.

The government of Uganda at this moment is dicking around with using its Sovereign Right to Kill People to consider trying and condemning to death a fellow with a peculiar distinction. Whatever else he may or may not have done, by sheer coincidence he is also the only Ugandan who has ever stood a chance at defeating the 19-year President of Uganda in a reasonably fair democratic election. It is the Uganda version of President George W. Bush arresting, trying and executing Senator John Kerry in October 2004.

But many other governments around the world Do Not Ever, under Any Circumstances, kill human beings. Oh, they all used to, of course -- that's just the way Poor Old Earth used to be, and nothing I can do about that now. But at various times, mostly in the Twentieth Century, many nations just stopped killing human beings.

I don't know of any nation which stopped capital punishment and then, some years later, decided to start killing human beings again. [See Vleeptron Note below.] Historically, ending capital punishment has proven to be a One-Way Street without U-Turns. Australia stopped killing human beings in 1984. Canada stopped in 1976.

France -- where a physician invented the Guillotine to kill people humanely -- stopped in 1981, and has had ugly diplomatic fracas with the USA over extradicting fugitives. France demands that, as a condition of returning the fugitive to the USA, the USA guarantee that the fugitive, no matter what acts he may have committed, not be subject to execution. The USA, defending the Brand of Fatal Vengeance its political system still sanctions, screams diplomatically back that what we do with our criminals when we get our hands on them is America's Goddam Business and nobody else's. (France will not back down and will not return the fugitive.)

In my rant to the Australian "Tell Us Your Thoughts" site, I called upon God's Rights and Reasons not to kill any of His Children, I wrote that Life is exclusively a Gift from God, and thus only God has a right to extinguish the Gift of Life.

But let's get Real: I haven't a clue if there exists any such God.

Australian aborigines commonly worship or acknowledge a God who, their theology believes, is There But Doesn't Care -- a God who says only: "Don't bother me. Work it out down there amongst yourselves. I made the World, but now just leave me alone. I don't care about you or Earth."

The God I was dragging into my anti-death-penalty argument must surely Care about all the living creatures He created. He must surely be deeply concerned -- some claim that no sparrow falls without His knowing. And He makes it clear that He judges everything we Idiots down below, whether riding a motorcycle or pronouncing a death sentence, do, and keeps accounts, and one way or another, if we Fuck Up Too Large, we are Going To Get It From Him.

I haven't the foggiest idea if there's any Entity remotely resembling such a God. If I want to drag all my sincerity and honesty out of the deepest parts of me to persuade anyone to want to end Capital Punishment, then my deepest arguments must, pathetically, depend entirely on The Worldwide Universal International Community of Ordinary Human Idiots. Because I have no Proof that there exists anything else who could overrule or trump or threaten us any worse than we so regularly threaten and punish and kill each other.

I am tired now. And I have a Big Mouth and have been ranting on and on. I just returned a few hours ago, coincidentally, from a Large Prison, where I was privileged to have been asked to teach a class to about twenty-five men prisoners. A wonderful experience for me, apparently a very nice, perhaps even valuable experience for the prisoners -- and all this lovely fellowship, education and mirth taking place in one of the thousands of American prisons that have made my Land of the Free the world's largest Prison System: my 25 gentlemen, and about 2,300,000 other children, women and men. We're Number One! So a bittersweet -- bitterestsweetest -- of nights for me: Good, Enjoyable Things Happening in Ghastly Shameful Hell.

I know who can end this post quickly for me. In the last years of his life, the novelist and philosopher -- really, he was far more than a novelist, I'm just clumsy at accurately finding words for the other remarkable things he was -- Aldous Huxley grappled with the Sum Total of What He Had Learned.

The Great Man was trying to leave an Answer behind: What Is The Meaning Of Life? What's It All About? What Sense Have I, with my Great Heart, Brain and Soul, made of the Riddle of Human Existence?

Here was his answer:

"It is a bit embarrassing
to have been concerned

with the human problem all one's life
and find
at the end that one has
no more to offer
by way of advice
than 'try to be a little kinder.'"




Nuance and Note maybe tomorrow.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jim Olson said...

Bob:

It is a telling thing of the character of a person who is able to grieve so eloquently for a condemned man one has never met. I would not be so hard on yourself...I am sure that you have committed some Class A mistakes; we all have. But I've also seen you spend all night up with homeless people at the expense of your own health.

As for the miserable Government Tyrrany that is the Death Penalty, I fear we shall all have to answer for that one some day. The rank hypocrisy of the conservative Republican view that abortion and physician assisted suicide is bad, and the death penalty is good continues to baffle the mind. The one thing I liked about Pope John Paul II, and I suspect about B16 is their unwavering committment to life; no abortion, no physician-assisted suicide, no executions. While I may not agree with the substance of that moral reasoning, I do honor the consistency. Americans would do well to learn from the rest of the world that we need to evolve as a culture away from this final retributive justice model. Is it more just to put someone to death, and, as we believe as Christians, send them to a forgiving and just God, or would it be better for us to put persons who committ Truly Heinous Crimes into little cells for the rest of their natural lives so that they can think about what they have done?

America (and the world for that matter) will never mature to the next level of social development until we as human beings get over the need to kill one another, either through war or the death penalty. And I fear that America in particular is degenerating at a rate that soon will produce a Point Of No Return.

09:27  
Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Oh, well ... I think you and anyone patient enough to have slogged thru last night's confusing rant will have picked up the point I was trying to make: When I look in the Mirror and see a Clueless Idiot, that is the universal property of all Mirrors everywhere on Planet Earth.

If there are people in bathrooms who look into their Mirrors and see a 100% Obvious Certified Upstanding Fine Mistake-Proof Lady or Fellow ... they are hallucinating. Or believing their own Mythology. Or suffering from a sad kind of Forgetfulness ... the kind of adult who looks back on those four years in college and can remember only the dignified Graduation Ceremony.

The Mirror is perfectly fine. The Human is just experiencing some temporary difficulty with his own Vision or Cognitive Recognition or Memory.

There is a reason Yale's Skull and Bones fraternity is a super-secret oath-swearing secret society. No 50 year old wealthy, male corporation executive (or President of the USA, or the Other Guy trying to be President) wants to turn on the TV and see videos of him wearing a jockstrap on his head or lighting another guy's farts with a cigarette lighter. Such oaths help us Humans reach adulthood with the kind of crappy memory that allows us to maintain the illusion of lifelong Dignity.

A lot of people very properly go apeshit and ballistic about Drunk Driving. In America, courthouse professionals used to call some of the tragedies of drunk driving: "The murder you walk away from." It was very typical for a drunk driver who killed someone to go through the entire criminal justice process and never serve a day in jail (except the night he killed the person). There were always serious laws against drunk driving homicides, and they carried very serious jail/prison sentences.

So how did so many drunk drivers manage to escape jail time? Because as the Judge looked down on this miserable, dangerous clown, a Voice in the Judge's Head remembered the night after the last Christmas party when the Judge careened his Oldsmobile home from the Country Club dead drunk. (But didn't kill anyone or get pulled over by a cop.) And as the Judge reaches for the Sentencing Gavel, the Voice whispers: "There but for the Grace of God go I."

Judges and their nations kill other human beings at personal and political moments when large numbers of the mirrors aren't working very clearly. Oh yes oh yes thank goodness it is always pretty easy to hose up Very Excellent Neighbors off the sidewalk at random. But all of us have Our Inner Idiot. I don't know if I'd trust someone who was totally convinced that his or hers had been a Spotless Life Free of Bonehead Idiot Stunts -- so Excellent a Life that he or she was truly worthy to pass the Death Sentence upon that Idiot standing below the bench. Such people are Just Asking For It.

12:52  

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