Sunday, June 29, 2008

Credit Given

The post on the Death Penalty of June 28 did not credit the source of the video from The Mission. Here is the link from imdb, the International Movie Database. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

When Simon Raised an Eyebrow

I never thought raising an eyebrow could get you into trouble. Not so. Simon Cowell, the vitriolic judge of American Idol known for skewering less talented contestants, got into a flap over just such an offense. After a competitor finished a song, he made an expression of tenderness to the families of Virginia Tech shooting victims. It seems that, while this was happening, Simon tapped the desk in impatience, rolled his eyes, and raised an eyebrow.

Cowell explained that he never meant to disrespect victims' families. He was, as video bears out, commenting to Paula Abdul on that contestant's use of a nasal tone while singing 'Mayberry.' That shuts that case.

Is anyone else disturbed by this? Even if Simon had been raising the eyebrow in question (It would probably be to sneer at the contestant's motivation behind the comment, such as to win sympathy votes), is it anyone's business on what we do with our eyebrows? He was not vocalizing disdain for this man, or thowing up his arms in displeasure.

In this age of surveillance we don't even have the right to our expressions any more. Everything is now up for public scrutiny. We live without privacy when we are in public. By that I mean what was once the private realm, such as our expressions, gestures, and movements have become public rights.

I read an article that seems to turn something called facial coding into something like a science. The piece describes the trustworthiness of various C.E.O.'s, such as Warren Buffet, based on their smirks, pursed lips, fixed gazes, and the dreaded "wandering eye."

Facial coding is used at a few airports with the idea that terrorists are angry people, and study of their faces would reveal minute but tell-tale signs of that anger. I know many other people who are angry at the airport. guess why. But, if the practice is working, let it be.

The above investigation into our facial ticks, scrunched eyes, and crinkled noses has spilled over into aspects of life completely unconnected with the Pakistan/Afghan border. Simon is a prime case.

There are now books instructing us how to decode body language.

The book The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara and Allan Pease (Bantam Books, 2006) claims that "It is a scientific fact that people's gestures give away their true intentions." Maybe it is true, but I don't think we can connect every gesticulation or expression of the face to what is happening at that moment. What do we do about the "bad day"? you know the bad day, those days when we wake up as if we're ready for trench warfare. That mood will come out in a person's face and body, but it may have nothing to do with the conversation in the copy room. Facial coding and body language decoding can detect feelings but not reasons. People have internal motivations. I knew a woman who often entered a room with daggers in her eyes. When you asked her simple questions, she looked contemptuous, as if she wanted to kill you. It turns out she was molested as a child and carried this anger with her all the time. Using the science of facial or body language, I might hypothesize that she was lying to me when she answered questions with a snarl. I know better, however.

I've known fractious, jumpy people who actually have hearts of gold. You can't judge a book by its cover (unless it's the one to the above right). We had a relative who was all smiles all the time, until there was money involved. Then she stabbed us in the backs. You couldn't tell her true nature from her face.

Michelangelo was given to fits of rage and lunacy. Should we have deduced, if we were living in his day, that he was a malefactor? No, because he also created art for the benefit of humanity.

Look at Bob Dylan's kisser. It looks moody, sarcastic, and disrespectful. That's part of his charm. His music is ironic to expose the corruption and duplicity in the world. If we judged Dylan by his face and body language, we wouldn't see the underpinnings of love in his heart.

If we want to define people by every non-verbal cue, we might be shutting off the full dimensions of those people.

And what of the quote they always throw at you in interviewing seminars: "First impressions are last impressions." I have not found it in my experience that that is the case. I've talked to people who were cold at first who then softened over the conversations. I've known people who showed all the facial expressions and body language of being congenial and fully engaged with me but who never called me back to honor favors.

This transparency is not about greater freedom to interpret eachother. It's about limiting freedom so that we don't see the true nature of people, their full dimensions.

Simon can raise his eyebrow any time he wants in my estimation.
Stuart Kurtz
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Fools on Parade

Foolish Quote of the week:

While my aunt, her friends, and I were talking about the heightened sense of security due to terrorism, her friend looked at me and said, "He's suspect too. Look, he's got black hair."

My hair is dark brown, by the by. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Fools on Parade

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Deeper into the Death Penalty

Some concepts from a panoply of sources can aid us in further discussions of Capital Punishment. Consider the view of the Society of Friends, the Quakers and the Quaker view of the Death Penalty. John Wilmerding's treatise called "Equity-Restorative Justice vs. Capital Punishment", published in THE QUAKER ABOLITIONISTS, spring, 1997 issue (found by clicking Quaker View on the Death Penalty in above link) is about the concept of Shalom. It is about restorative justice, which is in the Bible. The peace of Shalom, as Mr. Wilmerding explains, is the "presence of all creative powers." It contains wholeness, integrity, and other human virtues. "Shalom Justice" places a premium on human relationships, and only then mentions acts of individuals.

The Death Penalty fails to restore Shalom. What can restore it after murder is that the guilty may rectify crimes. Incarceration can certainly be a part of that, but more can occur between perpetrators and victims. Mr. Wilmerding writes of Victim-Offender Mediation. Family members thus derive benefits from meeting killers of their loved ones. In addition, the murderers may receive grace through transformation by way of the intervention of victims' families. In these transformative experiences, seldom though they may be, a small number of killers may become penitent for their crimes and then seek to restore Shalom. Putting criminals to death prevents that small number to find remorse and Shalom. There are no second chances.

The 1986 film, The Mission, by Roland Joffe follows Robert de Niro's character, a vial slave trader, also guilty of fratricide, finds redemption under the tutelage of a Jesuit priest (watch clip embedded below). He then repents in one of Mr. de Niro's best acting scenes. His redemption takes the form of serving the Guarani people in South America. When the church asks the priests to abandon their work and take up arms against the natives, de Niro's character becomes a freedom fighter for the natives. Out of his expiation comes a much greater good. He will try to defend more natives than the victims he created.

To draw out a religious view of justice further consider that, in a higher system of justice, a religious one, Heaven and Hell are fixed and timeless concepts. Why do we commit to Hell (or to oblivion in a secular view) a person who has committed a murder in a single point in time? What happens regarding the good deeds he has done in life or will potentially later do? Looking back in time, we might take into account that he was once an infant with no concept of right and wrong. Now that scientists are postulating as many as eleven parallel universes, we may consider the flaw of condemning persons in one place, in one time. Multiple universes suggest multiple perspectives.

Then there is the question of the legitimacy of our concepts of justice. The teenager who sports black clothing and claims to worship the devil might warrant a call to a psychiatrist. But in the fourteenth through eighteenth centuries, he would have been burned as a witch. This example shows the lack of stability and constancy of criteria by which we execute.

Don't we all have the potential to viciously kill? Consider those photos of towns in the U.S. from Reconstruction times right into the 1930's of towns people posing in front of lynching victims. (Warning: the preceding link contains very graphic and upsetting images of lynchings).

Are we to capture the few, albeit very old, surviving members of lynch mobs and arraign them with capital punishment being the ultimate goal? We won't. They were protected by the regnant and current system of justice at the time. It was not on the books to permit lynchings, but they were tolerated nevertheless.Yet it is alright for certain states to uphold the Death Penalty. This denies the Fourteenth Amendment of equal protection under the law.

Truth depends on what is currently held to be true, on the vagaries of fashion. Aspects of our justice system today will primitive in a twenty or thirty years. By then it will look barbaric to legally kill. If we perpetuate Capital Punishment, we deny the guilty the chance to receive stays of execution in the next few decades. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Monday, June 9, 2008

Red Sox Brawl - what would you and I get?

Fan outrage over the suspensions in the fallout from the Red Sox - Rays brawl runs pretty deep.
The devoted on both sides are licking their wounds over the decisions: Coco Crisp = out 7 games; John Lester = 5; Sean Casey = 3; 5 Rays suspensions. All tolled there were eight suspensions totaling 38 games. "Where's the justice?," ask some fans. Has anyone considered what you and I would get for taking swings at people in public? Huh? Hello, they call it assault and battery, and it often carries jail time.

Let's take another infamous donnybrook in sports: the 2004 Pacers - Pistons brawl. To summarize: Piston forward/center Ben Wallace was fouled by Pacer forward, Ron Artest. Wallace shoved Artest. An altercation ensued between several players. After shenanigans by Artest, fans got involved. One, John Green, threw a cup at Artest, and Artest took it to the stands. Other fans threw beer and soda; one threw a chair. Pacers attacked spectators, nine of whom were injured. The players got suspended totaling 143 games. A few got charged with assault and battery, out of which Bryant Jackson got two years probation. But John Green? Well, he was acquitted of throwing the cup but charged with punching Artest in the stands. He got 30 days in jail and 2 years probation.

I don't know, readers. Does something seem amiss here? Maybe you are spotting a trend when sports stars/movie stars/pop stars break the law. We should be asking ourselves about the double standard thing.

Take, for instance, the Russell Crowe arrest at the Mercer Hotel in New York City in 2005. The Aussie bad boy got into a lather because the hotel reception clerk could not connect him to his wife Down Under by phone. Crowe chucked a desk phone at the clerk, causing a nasty gash in his head. He was sentenced to conditional release and to pay $100,000 to settle the civil suit out of court. Jail time? Nope.

Leggy supermodel, Naomi Campbell's arrest for assault and battery against two London police officers made quite a stir this year. When hearing her bag did not make it on the flight to the U.S., Campbell kicked and spat at the police and had to be removed from the plane. Her sentence was 200 hours community service, 200 pound fines to each officer, and 150 pound to the captain. She might have gotten 6 months in jail. But she didn't. She's a celebrity.

The incident broaches another bone to stick in our throats. This is a case of Air Rage. Yes, Air Rage, that very unfunny bout of hysterics that is a little unsettling in this age of airtight security. One passenger was jailed for 12 months for assaults on a plane bound to the U.K. from Turkey. Campbell took off a few pounds - 950 to be exact - and has to dole out the cookies on Guy Fawkes Day. But, hey, she still looks terrific!

D.U.I., once earning a night in the slammer or stern warnings by the Highway Patrol, has become more crushing in the last twenty years or so. In California for first offense, non-injury, you could get 48 hours to 6 months in jail, fines of up to $1000, license suspension of 4 months, and 3 years probation. For the second offense jail time can be 90 - 120 days, fines same, and suspension of a year. That is, unless you are a celeb.

Lindsay Lohan's arrests for D.U.I. and hit and run in May of 2007 entailed a plea by the actress. The sentence was one day in the slammer, 10 days community service, and mandatory drug treatment (the last has become very fashionable). She was sentenced to 96 hours but had to serve only 48 of them. She lucked out with credit for time served and ended up with only one day more.

The plot thickens. Lohan was later that year charged with chasing her assistant's mother in her car, drunk driving, possession of Cocaine, and driving on a suspended license stemming from the May charges. She was earlier booked with the May charges. Wearing a SCRAM ankle bracelet and getting routine drug tests was part of the deal. Her jail stay from the May charges was 45 minutes long. What does M.A.D. think of her? I wonder.

In this time of Christian moralism at a high water mark, let's look at the embarrassments of Indecent Exposure. It may have gone over in the '70's on Broadway with Oh! Calcutta! and on a few California beaches, but it you are more likely to cool your body parts in a holding tank these days. Not so Janet Jackson. Her 'wardrobe malfunction', whatever that is, got her bosses at CBS appealing a $550,000 fine. The Superbowl half-time performance also featured Nelly and a crotch-grabbing performance. Jackson and Nelly get nuthin', but check this out: A court sentenced a Montana man to 225 years for indecent exposure. His three counts will run consecutively, not concurrently. He's locked up where he can do no more malice. Jackson is probably preparing her costume designers for the next 'malfunction'. And Justin Timberlake doesn't even get a dishonorable mention award for his 'shagadilic' behavior.

Where would American culture be without its pinnacle? I don't mean Moby Dick. I mean The Jerry Springer Show. Midget transvestites and a guy bragging about his relationship with his pet horse are protected under the First. But when it came to dust ups and chairs flying, the Chicago City Council took action. A 1999 hearing statement was to the effect that, if the violence were real, guests could be arrested for fighting. If it were fake, the producers should be exposed as frauds. The prod's toned it down after that. God forbid the Jerry Springer show should look like The Palace of Auburn Hills (see Pacers v. Pistons).

There goes that little question mark over my head. I mean there are still shoving matches and simple assaults on the Jerry Springer set, albeit minus the chair-throwing. Why is it that any time big money is involved the parties involved don't see or see for only a few days the beams of the jailhouse spotlights?

To be fair, I'll have you know Wesley Snipes was sentenced to 3 years for income tax evasion. Sure, but here's the diff.: The guvment wasn't getting its money. When Janet Jackson and the Red Sox do naughty, the cash registers are cranking.

Stuart Kurtz
June 22, 2008

The previously published photo in this blog was courtesy of > The photo was taken by the Associated Press.

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