Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Outrage II: The Unredeemed

We have discussed elsewhere the theory of outrage, as well as that of moral panic. Today, however, we have the ugly privilege of witnessing both in action, as the world turns its ungenerous back on the Duggar family.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

From Feivel to Faisal

Occasionally one is freshly overtaken by gratitude for the internet –more specifically, for the wonderfully strange things that one can find out about – and then see for oneself – under its auspices. The knowledge that beloved animator Don Bluth made a 2009 propaganda short for the nationalized Saudi oil company, Aramco, is one of these cases. (Is “gratitude” really the right word?  Yes – it is. I am in fact grateful for this knowledge, in spite of myself.) Allow me to fill in some background, and the means by which I came to learn this.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

They Decided to Kill Him

Dzhokar Tsarnaev planted a bomb behind an eight-year-old boy, Martin Richard, which killed him and tore his body to pieces. He murdered a Chinese graduate student, Lu Lingxi, who was 23 years old. He killed a 29-year-old woman, Krystle Marie Campbell, who managed a restaurant in Medford. He shot a police officer, Sean Collier, who was 27, while he was sitting in a parked patrol car. As far as his intentions went, he evidently meant to kill a great many others as well – the radius of the explosions was so large that the Tsarnaevs' bombs injured more than 260 people.

Dzhokar did these things at 19—one year over the age of majority set by our law. He was a teenager. If his sentence is not reduced or overturned by some process of appeal or clemency, he will be killed by the state. How they will specifically manage to do this is a matter of some debate. If they can find the usual lethal injection drugs, they will put him under general anesthetic, then paralyze his body, then stop his heart from beating. Given the increasing difficulty of obtaining these drugs, however, due to the global revulsion against the American use of the death penalty and the refusal of many companies to supply chemicals that will enable it or be associated with it, Tsarnaev may instead be knocked out by a less effective painkiller, midazolam, which may cause him to wake into consciousness at a later stage of the process—perhaps after he has been paralyzed, meaning that he would experience the incomprehensible hell of feeling himself dying of poison without being able to fill his lungs to call out, or move any part of his body. To die while awake and conscious from potassium chloride – the last, fully lethal component of the executioner’s cocktail – has been compared by members of the US Supreme Court to being “burned alive from the inside.”

Friday, May 15, 2015


NPR had a story on today that jogged my memory about a social media fiasco from last year I had since forgotten: the fate of Justine Sacco. If the name is not familiar to you, the story will be. She was the woman who posted an immensely ill-judged Tweet about AIDS, from one side of a transatlantic flight to Africa, and emerged on the other side of it to realize that her entire life had been upended as a result. The original remark-- which was stupid, as she confessed time and again afterward -- was meant to be parody of what a bigoted and foolish person might say upon going to Africa, and it ended with a notorious line implying that white people can't get AIDS. (Do you remember Justine now?) This joke landed on the web about as rudely and uncomfortably as Sacco did on the tarmac in South Africa, where she abruptly learned, once she was allowed to reboot her personal electronic devices, that in the past few hours people all over the world had come to despise her -- that she had been fired from her job -- and that nothing would ever be the same.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Debt

“This is the debt I pay / Just for one riotous day / Years of regret and grief, / Sorrow without relief.”
Such is the opening stanza of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “The Debt.” Reading this short cry of the heart, first published in 1903, one does not know what the crime is for which the narrator bears this guilt, nor the nature of the penalty he must endure – an unwanted pregnancy? A jail term? A financial obligation in a more literal sense? All we know is that the guilt is real -- the narrator does not entirely exculpate himself, and the mistake of that one “riotous day” seems to have been a genuine one. But the last small protest of his self-compassion is to insist that this crime, whatever it was, ought not to be entirely inexpiable. The debt ought eventually to be forgiven. That it has accumulated instead past all proportion, past all reasoning, is a violation of justice. “Slight was the thing I bought, / Small was the debt I thought, / Poor was the loan at best — / God! but the interest!”