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Friday, March 31, 2006

Argument For The Right To Lie

The recent fuss about the exaggerations discovered in a best-selling “memoir” annoys me. It is not only hypocritical for “journalists,” bloggers and talk show hosts to decry a lack of integrity or adherence to Truth, it is downright un-American.

No, I’m serious. If America stands for anything, it is the right and ability to re-invent yourself as often as you wish. The Founding Fathers did it. Every immigrant and pioneer took advantage of it. “Upward mobility,” the process of overcoming the deficiencies of birth status, is the goal of every right thinking American. Every sinner, including our current president, who insists he is “born again” relies on this right. Bush isn't the only politician whose image was manipulated. Abe Lincoln, a wealthy railroad lawyer, ran for president as "The Rail Splitter."

Our very economic survival depends on every teenager's right to tailor her image: she shops, adopts cool lingo, drives a hip car, listens to pop music, gravitates to a clique of friends.

When defendants testify in their own defense, denying guilt in the face of more credible contrary evidence, most judges will punish them more severely than if they had remained mute. One of my favorite judges was in other respects not a very admirable person. He was irascible even nasty to some lawyers, often so drunk by mid-afternoon that he needed sleep. But he never punished a defendant who testified, recognizing what he called “our constitutional right to lie in our own defense.”

Historical fiction, whether in books or movies, has always been controversial. Distorting facts to make a point is a time-honored practice (Oliver Stone) justified by the demands of asserted “license” and "poetic truth." Whether required for dramatic effect or to underscore the theme, altering the reality is accepted. The familiar claim “based on” or “inspired by true events” is meant to explain the variances and usually it satisfies as a warning that what we are seeing or reading is not meant to be exactly the way it happened.

Biographies of course are notorious for this kind of editing. Real lives are far too complex to be accurately portrayed on screen. Autobiographies are the least reliable sources.

The problem is muddled by works which claim to be “non-fiction.” Documentaries have been reemed when they resorted to “re-creations,” and spawned a sub-genre called “docudrama,” which is frowned upon by serious journalists and historians. Of course those noble professions have also taken hits when fabrications are uncoverd, notably The New York Times and New Republic. Michael Moore’s kind of comical polemic has other problems.

The impulse to alter reality is a most human trait. The need to create "Drama" in our lives is overpowering. It drives our deepest yearning: self-fulfilment. It easily trumps lessons about ethics. Fear of exposure as fraudulent is a nightmare we willingly accept. The risk, after all, is thrilling. We can't help it; we will continue to be "wannabes." It is our nature, our right, our duty.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I Need Help!

It is time for me to admit that I need help. I see the world differently than "normal people" do; therefore, I must be the one who is sick or evil. Here are some of my problems.

I watched a news item about a very sexy woman who was being prosecuted for having sex with her 14 year old male student. I was shocked and awed, but not for the "right" reasons.

This sort of thing seems to happen more often now than when I was 14. I remember leering at a few teachers and indulging in similar fantasies. That's all they were, fantasies. I doubt that if one of them had "abused" her position of authority and "forced" me into sexual slavery with her, it would have ruined my life.

I probably would not have come home that night and answered my mother's casual question: "How was school today?" with a confession. I might have told my pals about it, but of course they wouldn't have believed it because we all lied about things like that all the time.

Item 2: The Supreme Court heard argument in two cases involving "domestic violence" raising the legal issue of whether the defendant could be convicted by the hearsay statement of the victim who failed to testify in the trial. Would the tape of the 911 call violate the Sixth Amendment right to confront and cross examine witnesses?

Spokespeople for battered spouses point out that victims are often too intimidated to testify or are misled into forgiving their offending spouses who always promise never to do it again and too often continue the practice. So, the normal person would certainly answer that correction of rampant injustices to thousands of victimized women trapped in abusive relationships, a major social problem, should trump the legal technicalities that allow guilty men to go free.

Maybe you can guess which side I come down on: yup, I admit that the adherence to the Bill Of Rights is the slim thread I cling to and is a sign of my depravity and social insensitivity.

Certainly not the Liberal, but the "Libertarian," view, though I blush at the term, which has come to mean something more like laissez-faire, which is not exactly what I had in mind, and not the so-called "strict constructionist" view Conservatives like to trot out when it suits them.

On another related subject I am also in the mentally deranged minority. I am not particularly offended by the Bush super secret taping of phone calls to and from Afghanistan. It's not that I like the specter of the government listening in on my calls to Kabul, but I am not impressed by the Liberals' outrage about it. Their position seems tepid at best. They're not opposed to the practice, IF ONLY the taping is ratified by a super super secret judge, who, by the way, always lets it happen anyway.

Kind of like the Liberal opposition to the Iraq War: A fine mess you've gotten us into, but I don't have the foggiest notion whether or how to get out.

These are the sorts of twisted thoughts I've been having. Please stop me before I think again!