Monday, November 29, 2010

No, we're not better than that

Today's letter from Philip Gates referring to W's enthusiasm for torture and stating that we should never do it has drawn some predictably bloodthirsty responses in the comments. "Sheesh Deluxe" responds, "Yes our enemies torture, but we are better than they are, and we do not." I think the tone of the comments shows that this is an ideal, not a fact.

A former President not just admits to it, but brags about prosecuting war crimes, and his partisans, all of whom I'm sure believe that they are morally superior beings, defend both the man and the practice with every infantile argument they can muster. Starla Ryer (aka Ryder) asks, "Shall we just sit idle and allow the current atrocities to continue or shall we retaliate and fight fire with their sort of fire?," apparently blind to the inevitability of this sort of behavior not only extending the atrocities, but escalating them.

There is of course no real intellectual debate about this. Military, intelligence and lawnforcement professionals agree categorically that torture does not produce useful intelligence, it impedes investigations and prosecutions, and it aggravates conflicts, creating more enemies than it eliminates. It's both morally and tactically indefensible. We know it's not just wrong, it's stupid. Yet a large body of us, including a recent President and Vice-President, continue to encourage the use of torture, evidently (from the comments) because it satisfies their lust for revenge.

Every religion and philosopher warns against this sort of passion. It is utterly destructive, and leads inevitably to terrible results. To the extent that we give in to it, regardless of the power of our cities, we are uncivilized.

This sort of thinking is a growing cancer in America, and we have to resist it everywhere. The tinpot Teapublican "patriots" who wrap themselves in flags even as they trample American values in the dirt would enthusiastically turn this country into a fascist, imperialist dictatorship on a scale that even Mussolini could not have imagined. Wherever reasonable, moral people fail to respond and maintain control, they win a little ground.

No, we're not better than this, and that's why we have to work harder to control our animal passions and defend our better values. Maybe one day we will be better, and this debate will be an antique curiosity. For now, it's an active threat to all Americans, and the world.

Comments jump the shark

Wednesday's awfully headlined "Man who used his cashier girlfriend to steal from store sentenced to probation" has attracted a bunch of comments from the girlfriend and the boy's father debating the relative goodness of people who "made a mistake" with the hang-'em-high crowd. It's a laff riot, and I think it bodes where our media may be headed.

Just around the corner, we may start to see perps, witnesses, neighbors and friends on teevee and in the papers, not responding to reporters' questions, but volunteering their points of view unedited and having their conflicts out in public, using their computers, cellphones, whatever.

This would be a new iteration of a phenomenon that's lately been out of style, the "open letter," in which people would use local papers to express themselves. I have copies of open-letter correspondence written by my great-grandfather and great-grandmother as they hashed out the grounds and defense for their impending divorce on the news page of the Kankakee Daily Gazette in 1920. It was ugly.

Like "reality teevee," I'm not sure that direct access to media like this will do much to edify society. But it will be "entertaining," so it will sell advertising.

Attention to detail

A couple of things caught my eye in today's edition that lead me to think someone left the controls on autopilot over the holiday weekend.

In the editorial highlighting local charities, the unnamed editor writes, "Two women are renovating, room by room, an old hotel for displaced veterans, which they have named the Downtown Prescott Inn." He's referring of course to what oldtimers remember as the AJ Head Hotel on North Cortez, renamed Downtown Prescott Inn years ago by some new owners who hoped to gentrify it. It resisted. The new people are just reusing the old name and signage. So the sentence is wrong in fact, and anyone who's been in town as long as the editor ought to know that backward and would not refer to the Head, the last historic, working residence hotel in town, as "an old hotel."

Over on the news side, "Elk's raffle under way" glares with an excess apostrophe, as if no one writing or editing the piece knows what the Elks Theatre is or understands basic punctuation. There's another one in the body of the piece ("Elk's building") right among better-punctuated references, so it's not just the hapless headline writer.

Roll your eyes at my pedantry if you like, but editors are supposed above all to be careful readers. These slips aren't small. So did the Courier staff farm out the weekend paper to a pasteup house in India, or what?