Princess Diana: 10 Years of the Grief-Cult

 

Isn’t this all a bit much?

 She was very pretty. People say she was nice. Her sons remember her as a kind and loving mother. She used some of her celebrity to highlight poverty and worthy causes. She died much too young.

I don’t want to seem callous, but does that  justify  the worldwide orgy of grief we’re seeing this weekend? Candles, vigils, wreath-layings, prayers?

What’s happened to Diana is related to what  happened to Elvis, John F. Kennedy,  the Beatles, Michael Jackson, and so many other famous people, but goes beyond that,  I think.  Her millions of fans and mourners have enlarged her into something embarrassing. Her modest talents, chief among them looking pretty in photos, simply won’t bear the weight of all this collective anguish.

Being pretty and nice and not getting along with some stuffy old Royals shouldn’t mean a ticket to immortality. Immortality should require more sacrifice, struggle, substance, achievement, genius. What great crises or world problems did she help to solve? What did she do better than anyone has done it? What did she say or write that will give us courage or guide our way?

To ask those questions is to realize that the grief of her still-wounded public is far out of proportion to what the world lost the day she died. I say “the world” as opposed to her family, whose proper grief may well be endless. But then, they knew her as a mother and daughter and sister and wife, not a tear-stained photo from People magazine.

The Diana grief-cult has proved  W. H. Auden was wrong when he wrote that Time “is indifferent in a week/To a beautiful physique.”  Her worshippers have done for her what Shakespeare hoped to do for his lover in “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day.”

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

 So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

 So long as commemorative editions of People appear, this gives life to thee.

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Texas Governor Was Right to Spare Kenneth Foster

I think Texas Gov. Rick Perry was right to spare Kenneth Foster’s life last night and commute his sentence to life in prison.  Foster deserves harsh punishment for  his role in a murder, but as his trial revealed, there was no premeditation, Foster did not pull the trigger, and he did not even know that the killer was going to shoot the victim until it was done. As I noted earlier in the week, the ultimate penalty must be used sparingly and must be aimed at the true perpetrators.

 As I’ve made clear in previous posts, I’m not a staunch opponent of the death penalty. I think it’s warranted for the most awful premeditated murders, if not as a deterrent then as a justifiable act that defends society.

But all that assumes that we can assess the penalty fairly. The increasing use of DNA evidence has cast doubt on our ability to do that, and  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the death penalty outlawed by the Supreme Court if these DNA exculpations continue.

The Carnivore’s Dilemma

 Six months ago I wrote a piece outlining three solid, evidence-based reasons why I should quit eating meat.

One had to do with diet, another with animal welfare, and another with exploitation of illegal immigrant labor by some large meat purveyors.

These are persuasive reasons. I still like them. I was thinking about them just the other night while grilling some hamburgers.

Half a dozen times this summer, I’ve thought about those reasons while buying chicken, pork or beef at the grocery store. Pascal said the heart has reasons that reason itself does not know. So does the stomach, it appears.

A few reflections on this stomach vs. reason dilemma:

1. I still believe the three reasons are correct as a guide for behavior (my behavior, I stress; I’m in no position to preach to anyone else here). But so far, they have not moved me in the direction I still think I should go.

2. It’s certainly possible that I’ve overestimated the motive power of reason and reasonableness. Our species and meat go back a long way together; thousands of years of history are on the side of ribs, hot links and porterhouse steaks, the thought of which is making me hungry right now. (I really like stuff like tomatoes and eggplant, too, but I’m not sure I’ve ever drooled over them.)

3. This seems to be connected with what I’ve called the Core/Veneer problem. Carnivorousness is a Core reality for human beings, while the concerns raised in the Three Reasons are later Veneers. N.B.: Veneers are not fake; they’re real, but may lack the deep motivational power of the Core.

4. It’s not as if I’m trying to climb Mt. Everest or play shortstop for the Yankees by October. Millions of  people lead happy lives as vegetarians or vegans. They’re not lying miserable in some hovel clutching a wilted hunk of lettuce. Bookstores abound with books filled with delicious non-meat recipes. It would take a bit of effort to make the change, but I’d probably like it once I crossed over.

5. There’s a Comfort Zone thing going on here. Suburban Ritual, I guess.  I enjoy standing around the grill on warm evenings, cooking something and sipping a beer, tossing a morsel to the pup now and then. I don’t know how she’d take to asparagus bits.

6. Without universalizing my problem, I do think there are implications here for the Bigger Picture about change. It’s hard. It’s hard to drop a bad habit and pick up a good one. It’s easy to go with the momentum, the thing you know.  I say this with respect for reformers who try to make us better: If you love coffee, or wine, or CSI Miami, or cursing a blue streak, try cutting it out for a month. Seeing how hard that is to do, you may understand us poor intransigent creatures a bit better.

 7. Finally, for now, here’s a meta-reason why I feel bad about the failure of reason in this case. I’m certain that if I spent an hour in a slaughterhouse, seeing and hearing and smelling the actual process by which those hamburgers come to my grill, I’d probably quit meat cold that day and never make eyes at  another brisket. 

 My point: I’m maintaining my current lifestyle thanks to ignorance–deliberate ignorance, actually. I may as well have a bumper sticker that reads: “Thanks, But I Don’t Want to Know How the Sausage is Made!”

 That’s not something to feel proud about, and I don’t. The question is, what will I do about it? More to come on this.  

Dogfighting Shows Need for “Spiritual Transformation”

I got a thoughtful response to a recent post in which I discussed the problems brought on themselves by former president Bill Clinton and ex-Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick. I wondered what led two such highly successful, highly public men to take such risks–arrogance, naivete, or something else?

The writer is Chaplain Nancy Cronk, founder of AnimalChaplains.com, an organization  devoted to animal welfare  and the spiritual connection between people and other animals.   Here’s some of what she wrote:

If there is anything good about the Michael Vick story, it is that there is an emerging increased awareness about animal cruelty and animal fighting. There is so much anger about this issue. If we channel it into a positive direction, hopefully, something good can come of it.  . . .

Dogfighting is one more piece of evidence our country is in need of a spiritual transformation (please note I said spiritual and not necessarily religious). Animals are sentient beings – they feel pain, and they suffer, just like we do.

She makes an excellent point there, one I touched on some weeks ago when I was discussing several good reasons to stop eating meat. I’ll take that a bit further in tomorrow’s post. Meanwhile, if you’d like to read her whole comment, it’s appended to this post

Consumer Choice: Satellite Radio Gets It

I’ve complained several times about the Our Way Only business model of cable TV–you take the package of channels they sell you whether you want them or not. It’s the kind of thing we’ll look back on five years hence and say, “What, if anything, were they thinking?”

Thankfully, not every media outfit is so dense and high-handed as the Cable Kings. XM satellite radio and its rival/merger partner, Sirius, seem to have no problem offering a sensible a la carte package whereby you can subscribe to what you want and not be forced to pay for what you don’t want. Check it out here .

Clinton and Michael Vick: Naive or Arrogant?

Something’s been playing around in my head in the backwash from the Michael Vick guilty plea:

Did he think this whole rotten business would go undetected forever? Did he so trust in his “associates” that he believed they would take his secrets to the grave?

Did it ever occur to him that sometime down the road, one of these guys, or one of the dogfighters, or someone they might tell about the whole thing might sit down and say, “Hmm, y’know, this Vick has a lot of money. Lot of money. And I think I know how we can get us a cut.”

If he never thought about the possibility of later exposure, or blackmail, he’s either too dumb to master an NFL playbook or the most trusting, naive dude who ever came down the path.

The incident made me think once again of the riddle of Bill Clinton and his Oval Office DNA-spillings. Did the Leader of the Free World truly believe “that woman” would keep his secrets for the next five decades? That she would never be down on her luck and need money or favors? That she would never tell any third party who might see some kind of political or financial advantage in either blackmailing him or calling The Washington Times with a little news flash?

In both cases, two highly successful men handed other people–some of whom they barely knew– sweeping power over their lives. Is that  naivete or arrogance? Whatever, it’s unfathomable.

Kenneth Foster Should Not Be Executed

As I’ve made clear before, I’m not against the death penalty for the most heinous crimes. I’ve read many accounts of criminals executed for terrible crimes, and I shed no tears for the  killers. In many cases, my only regret is that the murderers so long outlive their victims.

But the ultimate penalty should be used with the ultimate caution and care. That’s why I’ve got to join with the Dallas Morning News editorial board and others in trying to halt the execution of Kenneth Foster for a 1996 murder. 

 Foster, who was 19 at the time,  didn’t pull the trigger–the prosecutors agree on that–but he’s about to be executed thanks to the “law of parties,” which Texas alone observes. He was about 90 feet away in a car when one of his associates shot the victim. The killer testified that Foster and the others present had no idea what he was about to do. But according to the law of parties, he was there when the deed was done, so he’s guilty too.

There’s a longer explanation of the case here. Foster was absolutely no saint and he deserves some kind of punishment for his role. But not the death penalty.

His execution is scheduled for Thursday, August 30. If you agree that he should not die for another man’s crime,  contact Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s office. Here’s the info.

Write the governor:
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428

E-mail the governor through his Web site:
http://www.governor.state.tx.us/contact

Call the governor’s opinion hotline:
1-800-252-9600