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Monday, February 25, 2013

The Day The Government Stood Still

The argument about the sequester may be solved by the President using a little Hollywood magic.

In The Day The Earth Stood Still, Klaatu, the benign visitor provided a demonstration of his power by causing all movement in the world to stop temporarily at noon. 

The sequester may be the medicine we need to do see why we need to fund our government.

Unfortunately, Klaatu's demonstration failed to convince the conservatives of his era. He had to unleash Gort.

Oh, Gort, where are you now?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The newspaper funnies

The demise of newspapers may impact a part of pop culture not thought of. Mort Sahl was famous for using a newspaper as a prop in his stand-up act that relied on topical political humor. Late night talk show monologue writers fill time with reference to news items. Blogs and online newspapers just don’t have the same feel. Here’s two examples from today’s L.A. Times that I read while sitting on the john.

Front page of the “LATE EXTRA’ section, underneath a provocative headline: “Woman’s body found in hotel’s water tank.” 

The body (of the article, not the woman) reports that residents of the Cecil, a rather seedy skid row downtown L.A. hotel, had been complaining of low water pressure. A check of the water tank turned up the decomposing body of a 21 year old visitor from Canada, who has been missing since mid-January. 

The hotel had been notorious as a haunt of Richard Ramirez, serial killer of the 1990's. Even since its renovation it has been a source of police calls for occasional violence of the domestic and drug induced varieties. 

Other elements of a t.v. cop show plot are introduced. 

A surveillance camera in an elevator showed the woman frantically pushing buttons and waving her arms, then she disappears. 

And “a locked door equipped with an alarm that only employees have access to and a fire escape are the only ways to get to the roof.

Here’s the funny part: “‘We’re not ruling out foul play,’ said LAPD spokesman Sgt. Rudy Lopez, noting that the location of the remains ‘makes it suspicious.’” [!!!

To Jimmy Kimmel, et al., I submit a second article for your consideration. 

“A federal appeals court revived a lawsuit by female prisoners in California prisons for violating their rights by refusing to hire a Wiccan chaplain. . .  Wicca is a pagan religion that involves witchcraft.”

Friday, February 08, 2013


Recent news has exposed a truth about religion that we sometimes forget. Churches act like any organic institution. They deem the most important goal as the survival of the institution. Expedience overcomes ethical considerations if the threat is perceived to be to the institution. In this, churches are no different than dictatorships, police departments, armies, corporations, or any other bureaucracy. 

Cover-ups of misdeeds are justified by institutional logic. The church is needed and therefore is good. If someone within the organization, especially acting under the color of organizational authority, does wrong, the impulse of the hierarchy is to protect the image of the organization. If that goal is perceived to be best served by concealment of the wrongdoing, so be it.  

This was the motivation of the French army’s deceit in the Dreyfuss Affair, Chevrolet’s concealment of the Corvair’s defects, tobacco companies denial of medical evidence, and the Nixon administration’s crimes in Watergate, among innumerable examples throughout history.  

In New York, the Hasidic community recently has been shaken by exposure of the practice of deterrence and punishment of those who complain of abuses by rabbis and other men upon girls and women. Claiming the right to self-correction which all religious institutions have defended, the organization has protected the culprits and harassed accusers, contrary to secular law. “Abuse Verdict Topples a Hasidic Wall of Secrecy” New York Times, December 10, 2012.

The ongoing saga of sexual abuse cases by Catholic priests is marked by the long time policy of concealment of the abuses by church officials which compounded the crimes. The asserted rationale given for the cover-ups is interesting, if not completely credible, given the self-serving nature of the reasoning. Priest pedophiles were provided counseling and treatment in the belief that religious re-education and prayer could “cure” the moral failing perceived as inherent in “conditions” such as homosexuality. The claim was undercut by the frequent practice of repeated re-assignments of offending priests to different parishes despite reports of continuing abuses.  

California’s law mandating reporting of child sexual abuse claims by clergy as well as psychotherapists and school officials went into effect in 1974, forty years ago. Churches were thus on notice that their cover-ups were serious criminal acts. Because it is accepted that recidivism among pederasts is very high, knowingly risking exposure of children to known abusers is considered as serious a crime as child molestation itself. 

Statutes of limitations may have run on many of the abuses revealed recently because they go back even beyond forty years. (However, recent laws have extended the statute to certain abuse cases.) The Catholic Church seems more concerned with the financial ramifications of the scandals. Several dioceses in the United States have declared bankruptcy in efforts to limit their liability for law suits arising from claims by victims.  

Like many of my criminal clients, Cardinal Mahoney’s defense is to mitigate by pointing to his many good works. Fine, I am all for considering mitigation, which does not excuse or justify or even explain, but puts a whole life of a wrongdoer in perspective. 

Unlike the Church, I would not condemn, excommunicate, torture, or burn at the stake a sinner or deviant from the faith. However, nor would I excuse the sins merely because the sinner confessed or repented or claimed to have “found religion” after his crimes.