The power of life and death (and lesser powers)
But profits are up. Halliburton, a company that was on the verge of failure when Dick Cheney was its CEO, is reping windfall returns from the war. Others, such as Bechtel, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin are all doing fine. I dropped my subscription to the local newspaper, so I'm not as up on local happenings anymore.
Here in Madison it's not so obvious who is gaining from our debacle in Iraq. A Hummer dealership started around the time of the war buildup, but there's nothing else that stands out as a war-related business venture. I don't see very many Hummers on the road, so it doesn't appear to be a big money-maker.
I did have a bit of an interchange with one of the local papers in the past couple of weeks. There was a syndicated opinion column in the Wisconsin State Journal a couple of weeks ago (the date on the linked article is false) in which the author, a "researcher" at the Heritage Foundation, defended the hanging of Saddam Hussein. I found the article in the break room at work. The newspaper invited readers to respond to the article (read the responses here), and I responded. As anyone with any experience with newspapers knows, what actually happened, or what you actually wrote will not necessarily be the same as what appears in the paper. Below is a reprint of my email exchanges with the opinion page editor.
Subject: RE: The Saddam hanging
Date: Thu, 18 Jan 2007 12:14:21 -0600
From: "CN WSJ Opinion"
To: "John Hamilton"
Greetings - As letters editor for the Wisconsin State Journal, I both edited your letter and wrote the headline. I'm sorry if neither satisfied you.
The Journal runs a variety of columnists in the Sunday Forum section. The Heritage Foundation columnist we selected for the Jan. 7 issue is Helle Dale - no need to put her name in quotes.
I did graduate from high school, and college, and I've worked at newspapers for 26 years - though never on the midnight shift.
Kris Crary, WSJ letters editor
From: John Hamilton
Sent: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 3:09 PM
To: CN WSJ Opinion
Subject: Fwd: The Saddam hanging
I once knew someone who wrote headlines for the Wisconsin State Journal. It was clear that there were at most two requirements for the job: high school graduation (maybe) and willingness to work the midnight shift.
A good example of this qualification standard is Sunday's paper, in which the letter I sent was given the headline "His death penaly far too lenient." It could be argued that the headline writers don't have time to actually read the material to which they write headlines, but that begs the question of why have a newspaper in the first place if it is going to be a jamble of words. In the era of declining subscriptions, that might be a question you would want to ask yourselves.
Then there was the editing. I felt like John Reed in "Reds," when he bemoaned the rewriting of what he wrote. In his case it was the Communist censors. I didn't refer to "Helle Dale" as a "Sunday forum columnist." I put her name in quotes because it seemed an obvious nom de plume, an alias. Indeed, I didn't realize that the Wisconsin State Journal had a bevy of "Sunday forum columnists." Mr. Big Time.
I also put the word "conservative" in quotes intentionally because it has been my experience that it is a fake ideology, meant to cover real agendas of monopoly capital, police-statism, and scapegoatism. "Conservatism" has little to do with it.
Leaving whole sentences out is certainly an editing prerogative, but if it changes the meaning of what is written, you might as well write your own letter. Below is the URL for the WSJ version for comparison with what I actually wrote.
In order to improve the editing function, the powers that be, such as they are, at the Wisconsin State Journal might want to apply the high school graduate requirement a bit more strictly.
Date: Tue, 9 Jan 2007 10:40:58 -0800 (PST)
From: John Hamilton
Subject: The Saddam hanging
To the editor:
It would be nice to have the income one can get by writing predictable, simplistic doctrine for the Heritage Foundation. Unfortunately, “conservative” doctrine is no help in understanding the folly of Saddam Hussein’s execution.
“Helle Dale” writes “If ever there were a candidate for the death penalty, surely Saddam would be it…” This statement raises two semantic questions. Is there such a thing as candidacy for the death penalty? And how is it that we refer to death as a penalty? If death is a penalty, then it is one that awaits every one of us. Indeed, Saddam Hussein suffered a much milder "penalty" than sufferers from cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, tuberculosis, and any number of other diseases.
Ms. Dale also argues that “Saddam displayed no remorse whatsoever,” enhancing his “candidacy” for the death “penalty.” In other words, Saddam Hussein provided an excuse for intentional, premeditated taking of another person’s life, otherwise known as murder.
The message is clear: killing another person is okay, as long as you have an excuse. There’s just one problem with this reasoning. Everyone who kills another person has an excuse. If the desire is there, an excuse can be found.
This is but a mild example of the arrogance of the established news media. What it bespeaks is an attitude of overseership, of truth-monitoring. "We'll decide what you said. Like it or lump it." The Wisconsin State Journal is the "conservative" newspaper in Madison. I didn't think they would print the letter at all, so in that sense they exceeded my expectations.
Thankfully, we now have the Internet, and the ability to offer our own versions of truth. Many thanks to Google for offering this blog service. I hereby state for the public record that I do not believe that the hanging of Saddam Hussein was a far too lenient punishment. It was a gruesome, sadistic act, done in barbaric fashion. It set a bad example for the people of Iraq, for the American people, and for the rest of the planet. It was nothing to be proud of, though it's safe to say Bush is proud of it. He finally has admitted to watching the video, after denying seeing it. In Bushspeak that means he watches it repeatedly.
As I wrote in the letter, the use of the term "death penalty" gives death a bad name. We all die. If death is a penalty, then life is a penalty, because death is a part of life. The real penalty is the bad Karma that results from assuming the power of life and death. As long as we believe we have that power we will reap the results.