Friday, May 22, 2015

A beautiful law in France

I live in the country, Navajo land where people spread out and yet turn empty spaces into flea markets and sell food by the side of the road. There are two supermarkets near me, both part of large chain store operations. One of them stocks food items exactly as you would expect to see in Phoenix or Albuquerque. The other is more strictly Navajo oriented. A "traditional" Navajo meal would include mutton, fry bread cooked in lard, corn and squash. Spam is big here. Potatoes and chile peppers, too.
When I go to the other store I find these items, but there are also massive displays of mushrooms, bok choy, expensive steaks, and so many items that are unknown to many Navajos or are too expensive. I've often felt that that chain was sending items to the Rez (reservation) as a last step before dumping them and writing off the loss on their taxes. That's the American way, right, tax breaks for the large corporations?
But now France has a law in place to force food stores to give away old-but-edible foods to charity. Read about it here. Such a simple and elegant law. If such a law were to be proposed in the US we'd hear why it would ruin the supermarket economy, why the poor don't deserve free food, and on and on with the Greed and Hatred that, increasingly, is becoming the definition of American culture.
We hear that France is a rigidly secular society, that church attendance is down, wayyyy down. We hear that America is a Christian nation, that Christian charity is "a thousand points of light." Yet we have hungry children, homeless children, and precious little Christian charity. Things necessary for decent society do not spring forth, at least not in great numbers; they must become mandated by law. Perhaps some of our more forward-looking states will pass laws similar to this French law. Feeding the poor will not bring down the empire.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

It's one thing to wish Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in hell; quite another to build that hell.

That Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers are using the conditions of America's supermax prison in Florence, Colorado as a plea to avoid the death penalty for their client interests me. What is done to men there is worse than death. I think that's the point and it speaks volumes about America.
Once upon a time death was the punishment for the unspeakable crime. Now, the punishment is hell. We do not assume the role of God only when we kill. No, we now claim the right to consign souls to hell. The hell of this facility, and other, American prisons is not only in the design of incarceration, it's also in the hell what prison guards, acting the role of minor devils, can get away with doing. Who is going to say the inmates don't deserve it? They are bad people. Well, except for the reality that innocent men are punished all the time. 
If the only goals of incarceration for the normal inmate were penitence and successful reintroduction to society then we would not laugh about prison rape and other prison violence. If the only goal of a supermax prison was to avoid escape it could be achieved without solitary confinement and mental torture. What is behind the desire to inflict pain and suffering to no good end? Isn't it rooted in these two extremes of human nature: barbarous tribalism and religion? The savage human wants revenge beyond what the law allows. The religious human wants to play God. 
We are not so different from a Kabul mob beating or stoning a woman to death for a crime we don't even know she committed. The inner barbarian is happy and the religious feel their bloody hands are closer to God.
The fact of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's guilt of a heinous crime does not change my argument. I am not at this moment editorializing against the death penalty. I'm asking why do we dream up fates worse than death? And why is it that mercy in America is not being preached by the Christians? I think the inexcusable death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police is directly tied to the very existence of a prison system which does not allow mercy to exist, even unto the least of these. "Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these ye have done unto me," said Jesus.