Friday, April 8, 2011

My Back Pages: A Defense Of A Washington Scoundrel

Everything requires careful consideration if one is to understand it. In ancient times, as I recollect, people often ate human beings, but I am rather hazy about it. I tried to look this up, but my history has no chronology, and scrawled all over each page are the words: 'virtue' and 'morality.' Since I could not sleep anyway, I read intently half the night, until I began to see words between the lines, the whole book being filled with the two words --'eat people.'
--Lu Hsun, "Diary of a Madman"
One of the unusual features of Hangzhou of that period (the Song Dynasty) is that there were establishments that served human flesh. That of woman, old men, young girls, and children was served in separate dishes, since each had its own distinctive taste. The food in general was referred to as 'two-legged mutton.' 
--Alasdair Clarke, The Heart of the Dragon
None of the tribes of West Africa eat human flesh, but the interior tribes eat any corpse regardless of the cause of death. Families hesitate to eat their own dead, but they sell or exchange them for the dead of other families. 
       --William Graham Sumner, Folkways 
It is not my intention to stand before you today and attempt to deny that my client did, in fact, cook children and eat them. The preponderance of evidence on this point is clear and overwhelming, and though the prosecution has chosen --for what I would maintain are purely the purposes of pandering to public outrage-- to emphasize the cooking and eating of children, it should be noted that my client has also acknowledged that he cooked and ate many others as well --many, many others, as you have heard.

He has cooked and eaten adults --primarily the elderly, the poor, and the infirm-- as well as children, many of them, as the evidence has shown, also poor and infirm. And while I cannot defend my client's actions, I will nonetheless attempt to show that, offensive as his behavior may well be, and perhaps rightfully should be, to modern sensibilities, it was not, in fact, all that long ago that the appetite for human flesh was common in many parts of the world.

Indeed, there are reports from the field of anthropology that indicate that this practice is still being carried out in some parts of the globe even today.

As such I would maintain that my client's behavior is an atavistic kink, if you will, and purely genetic; you have heard testimony that the practice of the cooking and eating of children was a long tradition in my client's family. For many generations his otherwise respectable --and respected-- family has largely subsisted on human flesh.

That said, we make no excuses in pleading for leniency. My client takes full responsibility for behavior that doubtless strikes many of you as wholly reprehensible, yet given his status as a duly elected official and his otherwise exemplary conduct --he has raised three productive children of his own that he did not cook and eat, and who do not themselves cook and eat children-- and his years of devoted political service to his country, I would ask that, in considering his sentence today, you recognize his potential for full reform.

It is my belief that a moderate prison term, during which my client would be subjected to a strenuous program of dietary reeducation, is in society's best interest, and will ensure that he is eventually and successfully reintroduced in full standing to the human community, where his leadership skills and proven, winning charisma may once again be utilized for the benefit of his many wealthy constituents.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Regarding The Photograph That The Young Woman Did Not Want The Blind Rabbit To See

The blind rabbit, of course, had never seen the photograph that so disturbed the young woman who stopped by twice a week to read to him.

The young woman refused to describe the photograph, and said repeatedly that she wished she had never mentioned the subject. She said, "If I were to describe the photograph to you, you might have the idea that you have seen the world, but this photograph is not the world. This photograph is not at all what life looks like."

The blind rabbit asked the young woman to describe for him a photograph that depicted what life did look like, a photograph that would look like the world.

The young woman thought about this request and then asked the rabbit to tell her what he imagined when he thought about the world.

"The world is what I smell and what I hear," the rabbit said. The young woman asked if, based on the things he smelled and the things he heard and the words she read to him, he had any notions that might correspond to a visual conception of the world.

"You are asking me if I see?" the rabbit said.

"Yes," the young woman said. "I guess that I am."

"I cannot be certain," the rabbit said. "I know only that I feel things, that the smells and sounds affect me as feelings."

The young woman asked if these feelings could be described in a way she might understand; as happy or sad, for instance. The rabbit said that, yes, he believed this to be true, although he tended to think of what he felt as either "good feelings" or "bad feelings."

"What sounds or smells like a bad feeling?" the young woman asked.

"Noise that I do not understand is a bad feeling," the rabbit said. "Or smells that ask unfamiliar questions."

"Well," the young woman said. "The photograph in question is most certainly a bad feeling. The questions it asks are not necessarily unfamiliar, but they have no answers."

"And that is not the world?" the rabbit said.

"It is not what life looks like," the young woman said. She asked the blind rabbit what good feelings smelled and sounded like.

The blind rabbit sniffed the air and pondered for a moment. "Like the good day," he said. "Like the things that give me pleasure and that I can trust and depend on. The warm and soft things, the tenderness underfoot and the tender things that come to me as smells and sounds and caresses of one sort or another. The things from which I need not run or hide. The sound of your voice reading Don Quixote. The music of your amusement, which I do not understand but which is nonetheless like a sound from the trees on a morning when all the sounds and smells are bright and there is promise afoot in the world."

"That is what a photograph of life would look like," the young woman said. "You would take such a photograph, and keep it forever, because it captured something in the world that you wished to always remember."

The blind rabbit paused again, and then said, "I'm not so sure about that. Surely without some permanent evidence or memories of the bad feelings I would unwittingly find myself in situations of great peril. I must respectfully argue that the photograph of which you refuse to speak serves some purpose in the world, and therefore depicts in some way the world whose purpose it serves."

"Surely no one needs a photograph to remind them of the existence of ugliness and evil," the young woman said.

The rabbit shrugged. He did not wish to argue with the young woman. "Perhaps you are right," he said. "But I feel I must point out that you are neither blind, nor a rabbit. And I am quite certain that I would not long survive without all of the photographs."