Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A wisdom

"The truth of the matter is that, except for the occasional shark landed on a fishing boat or jostled by a depth charge, sharks are practically indestructible. Always moving, always hunting, like evil they assure the randomness and uncontrollability of life itself."

--John Bart Gerald, "Conventional Wisdoms," Harper's magazine, July 1971

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My 'Bourne' addiction

Why am I unable to resist watching any of the Matt Damon "Bourne" movies? I'm sure I've seen each of them at least a dozen times. But whenever I go scrolling through the cable channel guide and see one of them listed, I find myself tuning it in.

I love the exotic locales--I can never see too much Paris. I love the fight sequences--has there ever been one better than that between Bourne and Desh in the third film? And I love the individual-vs.-the system theme.

Long live Bourne!

Apologies in advance: "In my day..."

Even though I'm now officially a senior citizen--I'm 66, full Social Security age--I try to avoid being one of those old farts who talks incessantly about how much better things were "in my day." However, two things happened today that force me to do so.

I just returned from the supermarket--a Meijer's, a major Midwestern chain not unlike Walmart. My wife had asked me to pick up several things, including a watermelon. I went to the produce section and there found a big cardboard bin topped with a sign: "Watermelon. $4.99." In smaller letters was the word "seedless." I looked into the box and there they were: a couple of dozen striped melons, all of about the same circumference and all, I have learned from experience, of the same passably sweet taste and with those little white would-be seeds that you can eat right along with the meat.

What ever happened to--dare I say it--real watermelons? I mean the dark green ones that came in an assortment of sizes, with big black seeds that you had to spit out as you ate and that, if you picked the right one, could have a sweetness that would make you want to cry. Or the long, light-green ones that could taste just as good?

I think back to my youth, when my brothers and sisters and I used to spend summers with my grandparents on their farm in East Texas. Grandpa always planted watermelons, not just because he and we liked to eat them but also so we children could sell some and make a little spending money. Every few days we would harvest a batch of melons, load them onto his trailer, hook it up to his little orange Allis-Chalmers tractor and drive down the country roads, selling melons to folks taking the evening air on their front porches. There was no one-price-fits-all. Prices might range from 50 cents for one of the small ones (about the size of what I paid $4.99 for today) to $2 for a great big one, family size.

What I remember most vividly about those melons was the way a good one would pop--thunk!--when you first punctured it with a knife, and how thin was the rind as compared with the rich, red, juicy meat. Now those were good watermelons! Do they exist still anywhere?

The other noteworthy thing today involved our neighbors' dog. He was sitting on their front lawn as I returned from the grocery, and he had that forlorn look that never seems to leave him. You see, the neighbors have one of those electronic fences and the dog has gotten used to the fact that he is going to get some sort of painful shock if he tries to leave the yard.

His appearance brought to mind a line from a favorite essayist of mine: "A dog without a broken spirit is no dog at all." Our neighbors have an honest-to-God real dog. His spirit is broken.

My wife and I were driving somewhere recently and a thought hit me: When was the last time I saw a dog chase a car? I can't remember when it was. Can it be that all dogs reside now behind electronic fences? Or has all the spunk been bred or trained out of them?

When I was a kid, you saw dogs chase cars all the time. We briefly had a dog that would bolt out of our front yard to chase vehicles on the highway that ran in front of our house. We had him briefly because he ran out one day and got himself run over by a truck.

There's a deep philosophical dilemma in this dog thing. Do you breed or train or shock all the spunk our of your dog, leaving him with a broken spirit, so that he'll live longer? Or do you leave him to live life free and unfettered, and risk that he'll meet the same end our old Spiegel did while chasing a truck? It's pretty clear which way the majority in our society have answered that question. When was the last time you saw a dog chase a car?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Roll away the "Stone"?

I don't get the protest over the use of Dzhokar Tsarnaev's picture on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Presumably it calls attention to a story inside the magazine about him and his crimes. Hitler, bin Laden, Charlie Manson, the disgraced Richard Nixon and dozens of other bad guys have been on covers. What makes Tsarnaev different?

This is about journalism, people!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Opined elsewhere

My Chicago Tribune Op-Ed today on the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case:


A wisdom

"Actually, the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day.... We should feed and clothe him gratuitously sometimes, and recruit him with our cordials, before we judge of him. The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly."

--Henry David Thoreau, "Walden"

A wisdom

"Hard, cold and cruel is a man who paid too much for what he got."

--Aretha Franklin, "Ain't No Way"

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rachel Jeantel: She's no dummy

Just watched Rachel Jeantel be interviewed on Piers Morgan's show. That young woman is no dummy. And she made a compelling presentation. That she came off so badly in court is evidence of poor witness preparation by the prosecution or consummate skill by the defense lawyer.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A singularly bad idea

Word at this hour is that the NAACP and various high-profile personages are calling for a federal prosecution of George Zimmerman for violating the civil rights of Trayvon Martin. This is a singularly bad idea and it ought to be dropped before it has a chance to grow legs.

When the practice of trying bad guys federally for civil rights violations became established in the 1960s, it was because the police and judicial systems of southern states were infected root and branch with racial bias and corruption, so that there was no chance of winning convictions in state courts. The Zimmerman case is in no way comparable to the state non-prosecutions of the killers of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964, or the frustrated prosecution of Byron De La Beckwith for killing Medgar Evers.

While the Zimmerman case produced a morally unsatisfying result, the trial cannot be said to have been fundamentally unfair. The problem was not with the conduct of the trial; the problem was with state laws in Florida that are fundamentally wrongheaded.

A federal civil rights prosecution of Zimmerman, while it might be technically allowable, would be seen as as gross overreach by federal authorities. It would diminish respect for the principle upon which such prosecutions were founded, and it would dissipate moral capital that can better be used in other fights.

History repeating itself?

I've been wondering: Will the Supreme Court's recent voting rights decision be seen as this era's equivalent of the Hayes-Tilden compromise of 1877--a signal to bitter-end racists that it's okay to begin rolling back the gains in racial equality of the last few decades?

It certainly begins to look that way, as Texas and other Southern states rush to enact new obstacles to the ballot. That the bitter-enders remain unreconstructed has been evident in the virulence of the most extreme opposition to Barack Obama over the length of his presidency. There's principled opposition, and then there's fearmongering and simple hatred.

It will be important to watch these developments over the months and years ahead, to see where the high court's decision leads us.