Maybe Hitler Should Have Tried A Sequined Glove

While the world waits for Michael Jackson’s autopsy toxicology results, all of this still dwelling on this has got me thinking: given all of the praise and eulogies (all that is expected when someone of note dies) I wonder is it possible to think of Michael Jackson without thinking about or bringing up the allegations of molestation? I remember in the days that followed Jackson’s death, when I listened to (former MTV VJ) Kennedy’s radio show, a caller said that it was too early to start in on all of the talk about what Michael “supposedly” did — that it was too early for all that negativity. He said that we have all the time in the world to talk about whether or not Michael molested kids, and that we should, at least for a time, try to remember the good things. Engaging in talk of well-rounded profiles can come later. Kennedy’s response was that, in order to get a well-rounded picture of the person, we have to discuss both the good and the bad. The fact that Michael Jackson died shouldn’t automatically wipe away any of the bad that he may have done. That makes sense. But, (and despite the fact that a logician would most certainly say that this is not possible) they’re both right. If we ignore the bad stuff we’re doing a disservice. If we dwell on it, we’re no better than a pack of circling buzzards. Look, for what it’s worth, I don’t think that we’ll get the definitive word on exactly what Michael Jackson did any time soon. What he did with Corey Feldman or Emmanuel Lewis is up for speculation as long as no one says anything or offers something like video of Michael feeling up some kid. I suppose, like thinking about the identity of Jack the Ripper, we won’t really ever know. But in the meanwhile, damn, it’s hard not to think that he did. But damn, the guy made some really good music. I’m listening to an one of our finer urban music radio stations right now, and “Never Can Say Goodbye” is on. Damn, it’s good. (for the record, “Never Can Say Goodbye” is one of the few songs that I can think of that both the original and the remake are good. I’d also put on this list, “Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “Proud Mary”, Led Zepplin’s “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Dancing Days” — covered by 4 Non Blondes and STP, respectively, Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” as covered by Alien Ant Farm, and the nine inch nails cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” … wait, actually I liked that remake better than the original). Where was I? Was I anywhere? Anyway, thinking about Michael has got me thinking, of course, about how all of this fits into philosophy. I heard it said that, if there is no God then all is permitted. Meaning, what’s the point of being moral if there is no one to punish you for the evil that you do — assuming that the fear of eternal damnation is what will keep you from doing bad things. I thought of a twiat on that sentiment when it comes to celebrities. If there is no famous person, feel free to say anything that you want about ’em. This came to my mind when I listened to a guest on Coast to Coast “channeling” Michael Jackson! The guy had been dead for less than 72 hours and he was already appearing on a late-night talk show!?! I’m not saying that there is no need to say anything bad, we should if there is something to say. But, it seems that when a famous person dies, it’s the ultimate talking behind your back, except there is nothing you can say to dispute whatever anyone says about you. Someone can say that Michael Jackson was a ringleader in an Illuminati child sex/murder ring — there’s absolutely nothing the guy can say. So what’s my point? My point is is that people are right when they say that we should look at both the good and the bad about anybody, living or dead. And we shouldn’t praise a person for molesting children. But, can we praise a child molester? I mean, Michael Jackson was a stellar artist, that is undeniable. But do the allegations of child abuse outweigh what he did musically? Is it possible to do something so horrendous that no matter what good you do is cancelled out by the bad that you did? (Like how I feel whenever I watch a Woody Allen movie or a Lakers game). Or we capable of doing something that is so brilliant that no matter what we have done (it doesn’t make things ok, but) it mitigates what we did so that people will look fondly on us? I’m not talking about forgiving someone for doing harm to other people. What I’m saying is that we think of the bad as truly bad, even unforgivable, but we also bestow praise (for the good things) when we speak about the person as well. When I was thinking about whether we actually do this, a couple of people immediately sprung to my mind: filmmaker Elia Kazan and Founding Father (and 3rd president of the United States) Thomas Jefferson. Elia Kazan, director of cinema classics such as, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront and East of Eden, ratted out his fellow Hollywoodians (and suspected Communists) to the government during the HUAC days of good old Senator Joe McCarthy. Careers of Communists, communist sympathizers and suspected Reds were destroyed by suspicions or allegations of being un-American. There are plenty of tales of suicides and all-around bad lives of those who were blacklisted. So when Kazan was awarded (sometime later) the Oscar’s lifetime achievement award, there were some in the entertainment industry who were not pleased the a traitor and a ratfink was to be given an honor. They didn’t think of Kazan as an esteemed director who deserved the lifetime achievement award, instead they saw a man who was willing to aid in the stiffling of freedom in America. That, according to those who saw Kazan as nothing more than a traitor, was unforgivable. To them, the man could have written the Bible — it wouldn’t have erased what he did. On the other hand, try this out for kicks — on any 4th of July, around any random crowd of patriotic Americans, declare your unflinching hatred of Thomas Jefferson and all that he stands for. Carry plenty of ice and band-aids ’cause you’re gonna need ’em. In Jefferson’s Notes On the State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote that Native Americans (then affectionately refered to as “savages”), are “feeble” and that they “have no ardor for his female” and “he has no vivacity, no activity of the mind”. On blacks, Jefferson wrote, ( this is where the fun begins) ” their existence appears to participate more in sensation than reflection”, and “that in memory they are equal to whites; [at least he gives us that — author’s comment] in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid.” First, there are plenty of white people who are incapable of tracing the investigations of Euclid! Second, it’s pretty hard to read Locke or study the pre-socratics when you’re busy doing things like, let’s see…. picking cotton and/or being raped by your master!!! But I digress. Let’s not forget the fact that Jefferson did own slaves, and due to confirmation by way of DNA evidence, fathered at least one child with an under age slave (since sexual activity between masters and slaves was often non-consentual — it didn’t matter whether it was or not — either Jefferson was a rapist or a child molester as Sally Hemmings was in her teens when she had her first child. Think about that). But we do not say that Jefferson deserves no praise. He, afterall, is why we are here, living in these United States instead of living as subjects of the British crown (although if we were, we’d have unversal health care, but that’s another issue for another writer to handle). Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and he increased the nation’s size with the Louisianna Purchase. The fact that he owned slaves, or was for lack of a better word, a racist ( not in the way that Glenn Beck says that Barack Obama is a racist, but a real, deep down negroes-are-stupid kind of racist) is overshadowed by the fact that Jefferson was an essential element to the founding of a nation and to the spread of democratic principles both here and abroad. So, for Jefferson, his moral wrongs did not cross pollenate. The wrongs he did did not infect the good he did. Ok, that works for writers of the Declaration of Independence, but Michael Jackson was an entertainer. He may have made us happy, but he didn’t make us a nation. Plus, he was accused of committing about the worst crime that a person can be accused of, child molestation. ( I guess the only one that is worse is genocide). Pederasts even rank low among criminals. But I’m listening to Michael Jackson and I feel that doing so, and enjoying it, and praising him for his music isn’t wrong. I’m not really hung up on the possibility that he may have touched some kid’s privates. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why. Is it that the good that Michael did outweighs the bad that he accused of doing (and most likely did do)? How bad does a bad act have to be before we say that a person’s evils cancel out whatever good that the do? Ok, let’s think up a thought experiment. Let’s say that Michael Jackson did molest children. First point: as far as criminals go, a molester is a hands-on kind of pervert. He can’t say that his act was unintentional of that he accidentally put his mouth and hands (and possibly his penis) where it shouldn’t go on a person under the age of consent. We’ll all agree that this is super-inappropriate. But, we say, Michael brought us joy. He contributed to more charities than any other musical performer, he did “Thriller” for goodness sakes! (fun fact: So-called “shock rocker” Marilyn Manson says that he stole all of his moves from Michael Jackson. He says if you don’t believe him, watch the video for “Thriller” and then watch his moves. Exactly the same!) Can we say that Michael’s talent and spreading of joy to the world mitigates what he did to a handfull of kids? If we say (as one very mixed up utilitarian might) that the answer is yes, then let’s take someone else and see if we still feel the same. How about Hitler? One, philosophers, although they are reluctant to admit to this fact, love Hitler. He’s the ultimate go-to guy for any thought experiment. A friend and I thought that it would be a good idea to set up a shrine for good old A since philosophers rely on him so much. In hindsight that would have been a really bad idea. Ok, let’s say that Hitler was a really good artist. Really good. (he wasn’t but that’s besides the point. He was better than I am anyway). But let’s pump him up a little. Let’s add that he was a totally awsome woodworksman and cabinetmaker. Good old A could build a chifforobe that can withstand a hurricane. And let’s say, since he loved animals so much, that he was working on a parvo vaccine. And since his own childhood was so dreadfully unhappy, let’s say that he devoted his spare time (when he wasn’t plotting the final solution) to advancing what we now call child advocacy. Given such a people-oriented Hitler, is it possible that the fact that he invented World War II be overlooked? Kant says that when we perform an act, our intent determines the rightness or wrongness of the act. So, for example, if I give to poor people, but I do it, not out of my duty to serve the needs of others, but out of my need to serve my own narcissistic desires (pats on the back, being told that I’m such a great humanitarian, civic awards that I’ll brag about, guest spot on Oprah), no matter how many homeless people benefit, my act was never morally right. But the intent behind my act to be judged pertains to that act. I know that for Kant, what motivates my actions is GOOD WILL. For Kant, having a good will inclines a person to perform morally right acts. The logic is, is that if my will is good, I will do right things, as my actions are a reflection of my character. Kant would say that if the intent behind my act was ill, no matter the consequence, my act was morally wrong. But if the moral value of an act is tied to intent, if our intent behnd the act is good, then a watercolor cityscape by Hitler, or his creating the first effective parvo vaccine is good — they stand apart from Hitler himself. Still, if we speculate that Michael Jackson did not intend to do harm to any child, but by having sexual contact with them, wanted to show them how much he loved and cared for them, how are we to judge the rightness or wrongness of an act if the intent was to show genuine love for another person? But somehow this still sounds strange to us. Because our feeling is still that someone like Hitler, even if he did do good, deserves condemnation, and that we’d have a difficulty separating the acts from the man ( or that we won’t take his actions in total, as opposed to individually). But, does this mean that we cannot appreciate Michael Jackson’s music in light of the molestation allegations? Does the bad extend to taint something that is unrelated to his sexual behavior? Wait, he grabbed his crotch when he sang, right? What was up with that? Do we, as they say, throw the baby out with the bathwater? If we do, does than mean that Jackson’s music (and the fact that so many people were positively affected by his music) is morally unpraiseworthy? Would it be morally wrong for me to own a gate-leg table made by Hitler or to own a copy of Blood On the Dancefloor? Are our all of actions all morally connected? If I say that it is ok to own Michael Jackson cds even though he is a child molester, yet say that someone who owns a painting by Hitler is morally wrong for doing so, how do I defend myself against charges of inconsistency? Honestly, I don’t know how this works out. All I know is that so long as I don’t know, I’ll still feel a little odd listening to Off the Wall. So I’ll have to do it with headphones on.
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"We don’t want people wandering in when we’re bopping perverts": On Kant’s Theory of Retributive Justice As Demonstrated In Paul Bartel’s Eating Raoul

A, if not THE big question in Plato’s Republic is “what is justice?”. This is one of those easily asked, but not so easily answered questions. Kind of like asking which one is better, Alien or Aliens? In Republic, Thrasymachus says justice is might makes right. When I was doing the Christian thing, justice is saved for God, who doles it out on the Day of Judgment — each is saved or condemned according to his faith. Still others, like John Rawls, say that justice is a matter of fairness. Of course when we think about justice, what we’re thinking about is punishment. what is the proper punishment for wrongdoing? Moreover, are there people who have certain kinds of punishment coming to them? A punishment like, say, the death penalty? One objection to the death penalty is that death as a method of punishment is not justice, but vengeance. Justice, the objectors say,has nothing to do with revenge. Those who support punishment by death may say, it is not mere vengence than plays a role in the punishment (although it is a part), but to punish someone by taking their life is merely returning the favor. This is what, I think we’re getting at when we demand an eye for an eye. It’s not revenge, it’s retribution. Ok, semantics alert: I realize that the words ‘revenge’ and ‘retribution’ are synonyms. I argue that, in everyday usage, we tend to treat them as two differing concepts. Revenge, as we use it, is more connected to the notion of a vigilante or someone who exacts vengeance without regard for the legality of their actions. For instance, a man whose daughter is raped may exact revenge on the man accused by removing his manhood, shooting him several times with a high calibre firearm, and then dumping his body in a shallow grave. He does not care that he has committed murder (among several other crimes). He wants to inflict as much — if not more pain on the rapist as was inflicted on his daughter. To many, revenge suggests arbitrariness. Whether we inflict pain or how much depends entirely on the person doing the revenging. The person committing the revenge is willing to do anything to anyone in pursuit of exacting their pound of flesh. On the other hand, when we think of retribution, we tend to think of something like vengeance on the part of some higher judge or authority, as in the idea of divine retribution. God tells you exactly what is going to happen to you if you do bad. For any unrepentant sin, you burn in Hell. It’s not personal or arbitrary, it’s just what the punishment is. So back to our story. Retribution, according to Random House Dictionary, is (def 1) “requittal according to merits or deserts, esp. for evil”. So, on this point of view, punishment is not excessive or arbitrary — it’s not done to inflict pain — we do it because the wrongdoer deserves it. This is exactly what Immanuel Kant suggests in his theory of retributive justice. Kant says that a rational individual who commits a crime that harms another individual ought to be harmed in return. Kant’s reasoning is based on the notion that a rational individual who chooses their actions deserves to be respected (as a rational moral agent — individuals who possess a free mind and are capable of deciding their actions according to their own free will) and that punishment for their harmful deeds is, in actuality, a means of respecting the freely, rationally-chosen actions of the individual who is punished. We must respect the choices of other rational actors, Kant tells us. According to Kant 1) people should be punished for no other reasons than the fact that they have committed a crime, and 2) punishments must be in proportion to their crime — small punishments for small crimes, big punishments for big crimes. Oftentimes, satire offers us an opportunity to see philosophy at work ( I guess I’d give a plug to Orwell’s Animal Farm, Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”, and the films of Monty Python. Watch and read). Given this opportunity, I ask this question: is cannibalism an adequate punishment for murder? Before anyone answers no, what if I add that the cannibalee is a murdering thief? This thief, in addition to murder, steals another man’s wife, tries to kill that man, and supplies a local dog food factory with the bodies of murdered perverts, would that change anyone’s mind? The thief in question is Raoul Mendoza, played by Robert Beltran (who is probably better known for his role on Star Trek: Voyager. Well, better known by Star Trek geeks, anyway) in the late Paul Bartel’s 1982 comedy Eating Raoul (Bartel also directed Death Race 2000, which I highly recommend. Not only is it a damn fine movie, you also get to see a pre-Love Boat, and future Republican congressman Fred Grandy’s ass, which may be a bonus for some folks out there). Described by the tagline as a “Comedy of bad manners”, the plot goes something like this: Paul and Mary Bland (played by Bartel and Mary Woronov) want to open a restaurant , but don’t have enough money to do so. After clubbing a swinger on the head with a frying pan (while he attempts to rape Mary), the couple discover that the swinger has a large amount of cash in his wallet. The couple soon discover that alot of swingers are loaded. The couple decided that they can not only rid the world of “horrible, sex-crazed maniacs”, but also make enough money to open their dream restaurant (which they want to call “Paul and Mary’s Country Kitchen) — if they lure perverts to their apartment, kill them, and take their money. After he breaks in and discovers the bodies of dead perverts, the thief Raoul makes a deal with the Blands where he agrees to get rid of the bodies (by dropping them off at the local dog food manufacturing plant) in exchange for a cut of the profits. Long story short (too late), Raoul makes a move on Mary, tries to kill Paul, and ultimately ends with Raoul getting his just deserts (pun intended) as a main course served at a dinner with the Blands and their real estate agent, James. Ok, first off, we admit that it is the Blands who kill the perverts. We can say that two wrongs don’t make a right, and that they are all guilty of wrongdoing. Despite their best motives, there is really no way that the Blands can excuse bopping perverts. That point is taken. The Blands are not innocents in this situation. But this fact does not mitigate the fact that Raoul’s fate was an appropriate punishment for what he did. We can attempt, however, to argue in the Blands favor. Let’s look at who they kill. First off, the people that they kill are perverts. They all respond to ads the Blands place in the local press that cater to perverts (unusual then, Craig’s List now). At least 4 of the “sex-crazed maniacs” are maniacs. There are at least 4 attempted rapes on Mary Bland during the course of the movie. One client, played by Ed Begley,jr., is a crazed Vietnam vet who tries to rape Mary and seems quite abusive. It’s easy to see that his intentions are truly malevolent. When Raoul strangles him with his love beads, it’s not only ironic ( a hippy getting strangled by love beads), but the creep gets what he deserves. We can argue for Paul and Mary, but it’s a bit harder to do the same for Raoul. He’s really not such a nice guy. When we first see Raoul, he’s leaving an apartment carrying a hi-fi system. We know that when he’s passing himself off as a locksmith in the Bland’s apartment, he’s relly casing the place to break in later. As we get to know Raoul, we discover that he’s fully capable od blackmail, and strangling a man with his own necklace. In addition, he seduces Mary and wants to kill her husband. The Blands also discover that Raoul has been keeping the profits from selling the perverts’ cars from the Blands while getting a cut from what the Blands find in the perverts’ wallets. Last but not least, he’s selling the bodies of the perverts to be used for dog food! One could argue that this is a pretty extensive list of some pretty big crimes. And, as Kant says, big crimes call for big punishments. So, given Raoul’s list of no-nos and Kant’s theory, one could also argue (could being the operative word) that, by killing Raoul, the Blands are doing some version of Kant’s retributive justice. If Raoul is a bad guy who is guilty of big crimes, was his death (in the manner in which he eventually ends up a meal himself) coming to him? I think that it was. Of course, one may object that revenge is never good, and that, the person doing the revenge (in this case the Blands) are in the end no better than Raoul. In Sam Raimi’s Darkman, Dr. Peyton Westlake asks himself, after he’s dished out some revenge killing, ” what have I become?” suggesting that he has become exactly what he sought to destroy. In fighting the evil that harmed him, he had become corrupted. This is a common sentiment that many anti-heroes such as Batman or The Crow’s Eric Draven wonder after they start on a path of get evenism. And, of course, when the credits roll, and we see a very happy Paul and Mary standing outside of their Country Kitchen (home of the Bland enchillada), we wonder what is in store for the couple. There is a darkness to their happiness. Afterall, they did more than kill Raoul, they ate him. But unlike Draven or Westlake or even that nutty-ass Bruce Wayne, Paul and Mary seem completely unaffected by their moral crimes. They see no wrong in what they’ve done. In a way, it makes the couple even more monstrous than Raoul. When Mary expresses some regret for killing Raoul, Paul quickly reminds her that Raoul got exactly what he deserved. Which is exactly, I think, what Kant would say. I believe that Kant would tell us that we are completely justified in being horrified by what the Blands have done. And the Blands should be punished appropriately. But, the fact that Raoul associated with people that were more evil than he does not mean that we should think that Raoul deserved less than what he got. Paul is right. Raoul got exactly what he deserved to get. Raoul was a pervert himself, but a pervert of a different type. Raoul had a perverted sense of morality. He stole, he committed adultery, he killed a hippie, he (gasp) smoked reefer. He was totally willing to involve himself in the business of feeding perverts to dogs. Unfortunately for Raoul, dogs aren’t limited to animals who walk on all fours. Sometimes, the most fiersome dogs are ones that walk on two legs — and occasionally, they eat us before we can eat them.

Who Else Would Be Following You On Twitter?

Strange thing about technology. Before you know it, everyone is doing it and you’re woefully behind the ball. A few years ago, it might have even been last year — I can’t remember a damn thing — the supposed burning question that I was sopposed to be asking myself when I woke up every morning was for what good reason I was not on YouTube? Now, I’m, if what everybody else is telling me is correct, supposed to be asking myself why don’t I tweet? That is, why am I not on Twitter? I could have sworn that as late as three weeks ago, neither I or anyone else that I knew knew what a “Twitter” was. But now it’s like Twitter is everywhere. I had, until I got technologically caught up, operated under the impression that one twittered when one giggled and trembled uncontrollably. But, my life it seems is incomplete if I am not giving the world updates about myself and exactly what I am doing and thinking in 140 characters of less. Well, I don’t … tweet. For awhile, or at least that’s what they will let you believe, I thought that I was the only person who doesn’t… tweet. Stephen King doesn’t tweet. Neither does Kid Rock. Trent Reznor did but quit. By the way, Kid Rock said this about tweeting, ” I don’t have anything to say, and what I have to say isn’t relevant”. I thought that was pretty thoughtful. But then, he backed up his comment with “Twitter this dick, motherfucker”. You decide. Like with YouTube, Facebook, and that internet dark alley, MySpace, there are stories aplenty about people ruining or semi-screwing up their lives with things that they posted online. It seems like these social gathering places have become modern-day slambooks (if that reference doesn’t date me, I don’t know what will). It seems like every one of these ‘I got fired because my boss saw my Cancun pictures on my MySpace’ became instantly overnight like Harriet in Harriet the Spy, when she lost her book of trash talk and everyone she knew got to see what and how she really thought about them. But it isn’t just the people that you know who get to see you slutting it up in Mexico — the whole world gets to see you. Twitter, launched in 2006 (why am I only hearing about this now?) co-created by Evan Williams, who is responsible for blogger.com, according to Nielsen, has 13 million users (well, I guess minus one). That’s a number that’s somewhere between alot and not alot. If you look at the fact that there are roughly 6 billion people on this island earth, 13 million is barely the number of people who simultaneously farted just now. But, if you think about things from the point of view of trends, 13 million is a pretty sizable number. You only have to sell a million records to go platnium. It’s not that I’m down on the social networks. I slum the internet from time to time and I blog. But I’m not on Facebook, nor do I have a MySpace account. At my age, having either seems a little … odd. Although I am well aware that the fastest growing segment of new Facebook users are women over 50. When I tell people that I don’t do Facebook or MySpace, they find this fact rather incredulous. I am told that there is a world of friends and followers that I am not updating or communicating with, and that this fact is supposed to make me feel bad. It doesn’t. Strange, with all the hubub about Ashton Kutcher, who, according to Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris, is “someone who is, if nothing else, expert at staying famous” making it his life’s mission to get more Twitter followers than CNN, it seems that the ordeal about Twitter is only about how popular you are or can become. And for folks like me, who won’t even use their real name on their blogs, that strikes us as a little arrogant and a tad creepy. There’s something more than unimpressive about Ashton Kutcher accumulating a million “followers”. What we should be asking it how many people have to participate in something so incredibly inane before we can call it a bonafide mental illness? The bonus, they say, about Twitter is that my “tweets”, unlike other forms of communication, like actually talking to people, takes place right now. Like the bank employee who tweeted when the bank where she worked was robbed, or when that plane crashed into the Hudson, they say that the news hit Twitter before it made the TV news. Plus, they say, on Twitter you get what really matters: sage advice from Dr. Drew, music listening tips from John Mayer, health tips from Ellen DeGeneres, celebrities musing about… whatever, or declaring that they’re ditching Twitter because there are too many crappy-looking, fat chicks (who fantasize about banging rock stars) following them. We know tweets are full of self-importance (see previous comment), but the bigger question we naturally are inclined to ask is is there really important being said on Twitter? Afterall, how much can a person say in 140 characters (assuming, of course, that the point is to say anything important at all)? Maybe Kid Rock’s observation about himself isn’t limited to himself, but also spot-on about every other Tweeter out there. All of this, of course, begs for someone to examine it with the philosophic eye. (even if it doesn’t, philosophers are in the business of relating anything, whether it is “philosophic” or not, to some philosophic theory). It doesn’t take too much deep thinking to come up with a few philosophy-like questions. Since Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc, are collectively known as “social networks” our philosophic sense leads us to ask about the “social” gathering places that these sites claim that they are. We all know, whether we like it or not, that humans are social animals. We want to find and look for people who are like ourselves. This is how these networks are marketed — you may not know anyone who is like you where you live, but rest assured that there is some dude in Sweden who likes fresh blueberry pancakes, hard-core Japanese Animation porn, Chuck Norris flicks and Grizzlybear just like you do. Anyone can find their brethren in cyberspace. No longer are we the lonely beegirls looking for our hive like that adorable bee kid in that Blind Melon video. All I have to do is post a profile, and people will want to be my friend. That sounds good. But is it? Is it really better for us? There’s a saying that you can spend so much time looking elsewhere for what you want that you miss it right where you are. There’s a fear that we might be sacrificing potential local relationships with people relatively near to us for “relationships” with people who aren’t anywhere near us (or who might never be — and that’s not always a bad thing). We might be giving up actual connectivity for what seems like real relationships, which in turn, leaves us actually disconnected from other people (it seems that plenty of people have experienced this one: you’re having an actual physical conversation with someone. they tell you to send them an email. but, you’re right in front of them! it’s not that they’re pressed for time, it’s just that they’re so used to not speaking to people face to face that they can’t actually speak to people when they’re in the same room with them). The question is, who are we connecting to? The idea of the internet and sites like Twitter is that there we are free to be who we really are. The lure, for some, is authenticity. We’re not bound by social conventions or even by distance — I can discuss how cool Forced Vengeance is with a pal in Sweden as readily as he can discuss the merits of the new S&M comics stuff put out by the dude that co-created Superman with his buddy in Clairmont. We may never admit to our predilections among our philosopher friends, but on the internet, we are free to discuss whatever we choose — to be who we are. But are we? Of course, this issue relates back to the question “who am I?” And, asking “who am I?” relates to our own questions about the meaning of life and existence. There is a tremendous amout of pressure to be online. Local news stations tell us to follow up their news broadcasts by looking up the stories online. We are told that we can get the best deals on restaurants, cars, stereos, plane tickets or whatever we might want by looking up bargains on the internet. We’re told that the printed book is dead and that what we need is kindle. It goes on and on. For those who aren’t hooked up to the world wide web, we might begin to think that we’re being left behind. By not joining the bandwagon, we become relics, as useless and outdated as a dog-eared copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (do you know how many people haven’t read this book?!? It’s amazing!). It’s almost like, if I’m not online somehow, I don’t count. I might find myself thinking that I’m like a tree in the forest. If I’m not on MySpace, do I exist? If I’m not telling the world exactly how I feel at every minute of the day, what other purpose is there to serve? I might think that being online — Tweeting, being on MySpace or Facebook, somehow varifies who I am, not just that I “exist”. But the problem is, is that I may be so caught up in the zeitgeist that I forget that posting my whatnot online isn’t just a matter of what I reveal online but about what I reveal online reveals about me. I think this is why people often post things that they shouldn’t. They gey so swept up in the idea that they lose who they are. We become profiles. We become 140 characters. That enevitably leads to a kind of detachment and (to use a term) alienation from others and I think also from ourselves. I heard somewhere that 60% of Twitter’s users drop out after a month. Maybe they find that relating to people who aren’t really there isn’t really relating to people. The problem isn’t so much a matter of corpulent followers, as it is a matter that the experience isn’t very satisfying for alot of people. It doesn’t replace actual human to human interaction. It leaves us wanting. Maybe Kid Rock had it right. He said that Twitter is gay. His words, not mine, folks.

Deep Philosophy

I like porn. No, really I do. I know, that as a chick and a philospher, I shouldn’t. And I’m not just saying it because it sounds cool. I like nasty movies. Of people doing it. I could try to make this seem all highbrow and say that I appreciate (i.e. I only watch) “classic” adult cinema, when pornographers were still trying to make “art” films, or that I only watch smut that’s shot on film, or that what I watch isn’t porn at all, but “erotica”. But if I did say all of that I’d be lying. Just short of poop porn, with me, pretty much anything goes. Hey, has anyone else out there noticed that the music in porn flicks sounds alot like the music in exercise videos? weird. Given the ultimate purpose (or telos, if you are so inclined), of the whole dog and pony show (I’m not into that kind either), I’d much rather drop the pretense and admit that I’d watch Deep Inside Ginger Lynn, The Osporns, or Ben Dover’s Booty Duty before picking up the Bertrand Russell companion for a mid-afternoon’s lay about. Some may say that the genre is nothing more than exploitation of the worse degree, but I say — well, first off, yes it is. But secondly, it’s the perfect way to unwind after spending too many hours reading and thinking about Frege. Although I find Girls Gone Wild offensive. again, weird. That said, the pornographic cinema isn’t exactly the genre that lends itself to philosophic inquiry (I hear a resounding that’s not true. I say that porn tends to be the topic of much more philosophic criticism than it does to actual debate. For some strange reason people tend to shy away from the pro-porn position in deep philosophical discussion. Go figure. Or better yet, they say that pornography as a medium is subject to philosophical scrutiny, but the films themselves are not worthy of philosophical examination. This is said only so that those philosophers who watch porn can hide the fact that they enjoy watching two or more of their fellow homo sapiens copulating). But, that claim, porn isn’t philosophic — especially that the movies themselves are not philosophic– is exactly what you would hear from someone who doesn’t watch porn! Nudie movies are a virtual treasure trail of philosophic questions (and answers!). Ask yourself these questions: does a man who is banging his sister and his mother really “have it all”? if you win the lottery, would it change what you consider to be important in life? what would happen if every hot chick suddenly found herself in a “no man’s land”? Despite what may seem to be mere crappy plots to excuse various acts of sexual congress, there are genuine questions about life, sexuality, and morality (among other topics) to be found in adult films. I know when I think Sasha Grey, I think of Randian Objectivism and the possibility that Ms. Grey may in fact be living as a real-life, female embodiment of Rand’s Howard Roark. We all know that pornography, by definition, appeals to the “prurient interests of the viewer and that there is a line of thought that goes, any sick and twisted thing you can think of, somebody’s already done it. And filmed it. And posted it online. Former adult star Sharon Mitchell has noticed this as well. There is no situation that anyone can think of that someone hasn’t done before. It’s kind of like thinking up perversions is like trying to be more original than the Simpsons. You can think of a plot that you think is totally original and has never been done before, just to realize that the Simpsons already did it in season five. Porn is kind of like The Simpsons. If you can think of it and it involves people humping, you’re bound to find that someone has filmed it and is selling it out there, somewhere. Well, the idea of any imaginable situation should sound familiar to philosophers. Philosophers make it their business to think of situations where any number of events or worlds are possible. We call them “thought experiments”. The purpose of the thought experiment, according to the philosopher, is to mimic the methods of scientific experiments to test philosophic theories. Given a set of factors and a given situation, we can see what will happen. However, unlike the scientist, the philosophical thought experiment takes place within the confines of the mind. A famous thought experiment was created by Hillary Putnam called “twin earth”. According to the experiment, we are supposed to imagine that we have been transported to a planet where, instead of calling what we call “water” H2OP, they call it ‘xyz’. The question that we are to ponder is, ” are xyz and H2O the same thing?” ( I swear I will learn how to do subscript on this laptop!). Whether we say that they are or are not the same thing depends on our theory. (There’s alot to go into to answer the question. I will not go into any of that other than to say that our answer is “no”). Thought experiments are like philosophic porn. Not convinced? Think about it this way: porn has it’s own kind of thought experiments (usually found venues like Penthouse Forum, usually starting with the phrase “I never thought this would happen to me…” ) Or better yet, think of this one: extremely horny hot chick pleasures herself near open window, hot chick sees peeping Tom and decides — instead of calling the cops — to invite him in for some unlawful carnal knowledge. For a moment, we don’t know why she does. We may speculate as to why she would invite some dude that’s been whacking it while leering at her through her window into her apartment. We might even say something like, “if I were that shick, I would beat that guy’s ass so hard” — and then procede to explain exactly what moral rules the peeping Tom broke that would merit a beat-down. We can apply pornography to real-life situations. Likewise, philosophers use thought experiments to do the same thing — to create situations where we can apply philosophical theories to see how the theory might be applied (or misapplied) in the real world. Porn and philosophical thought experiments are alike in that each deals with a given situation where there are possibly any number of possible outcomes. In the situation where our hot chick finds a peeping Tom, she may have invited him in, or brought in an even hotter roomate for a threesome, or she may have simply called him a pervert and closed her window. (NOTE: the “rules”, if you will, of porn are not as clear-cut as those in philosophy. if we are dealing with a thought experiment that involves some moral dilemma, our “rules” may be any number of ethical systems– Kantian, utilitarian, egoism, relativism, etc. Oftentimes, our “rules” in pornography are determined by sub-genre — fetish flicks, S&M, German poop flicks, and the like. To determine how we would apply porn plots to real-life events, we use the sub-genre as a guide, or rulebook). The real difference is that pornography deals with fucking of the corporeal variety, whereas with philosophy, the fuck is of a different sort — the mind fuck. But as fanciful as the circumstances of our thought experiments may be, unlike your basic porn plot, philosophic thought experiments have to make sense. We are bound by rules (logic, theories, etc.). If I create a possible world it can’t be a world where people are both alive and dead, or where there exists round squares. Pornography, on the other hand, seems to have no rules whatsoever. For instance, women, despite what the real world may tell you, actually enjoy having sex with any quantity or quality of men. This does not make sense. Between the two, you would think that porn is the more demented medium. Amazingly enough, the more demented is the thought experiment! With your garden variety porn flick, you get a formula guy/girl, some chick-on-chick action, denouement, roll credits. In mainstream (and I do emphasize mainstream) porn usually isn’t violent. But that’s all that thought experiments seem to come down to — excuses to fuck other people up. Violently. If you spend any time reading philosophy, you’d notice that much of it is pretty devoid of sex (although I heard that Bertrand Russell was a bit of a playa). But, thought experiments are littered with all sorts of ending-with-violence scenerios. Philosophers are obsessed with killing people! You know, FBI profilers say that some serial killers use murder to substitute for something else. This isn’t so far-fetched since the roots of philosophy valued reason over the passions. The philosophic life is one where the desires are ruled by the rational mind. We can be reasonable killers, that bis, we can always find some rational excuse for killing someone. Aside from it’s mere biological usage, sex is always a matter of the senses (and therefore a bit difficult to control). I have noticed, however, that in plenty of thought experiments, people seem to get killed. For instance: 1) some fat bastard has managed to get his gianormity wedged in the only exit of a cave that is filling up with xyz (I mean water). Ten people will drown if we do not find a way to move the fat guy from the cave’s entrance. Our only solution (or maybe the best solution, if you’re a utilitarian) is to blast that fat ass dude to kingdom come, thus clearing the hole where the ten can escape from the rising water (why we can’t use the explosives to blast another hole that we can escape through, I don’t know). The point here seems to be it that someone has to die. And that is so, why not the fattest guy in the cave? He’s probably the reason why everybody’s insurance premiums went up, eh? 2) I’m on vacation in some unnnamed South American country. I am visiting a quaint and primative jungle village ( that is miles away from any legitimate authorities). For reasons resembling a 70s exploitation flick, I find myself in a situation wherein some sadistic general demands that I kill some villagers to save myself and the rest of the villagers. Besides this one being a total wtf, I’m thinking that if this were a movie, the general would be played by David Hess ( if you don’t know who he is, and I hope you do, see the original Last House On the Left or House On the Edge of the Park. They’re pretty much the same movie so it really doesn’t matter which one you see, except the acting in Last House On the Left is slighly better. Slightly). 3) some dude has the unfortunate fate of being suspected of murder. the problem is is that he’s innocent. but there is a growing mob outside and they’re reving for blood. if we let the crowd have him, it will settle them down. Do we throw the innocent to the bloddthirsty crowd? If we do, letting him die might actually calm things down. 4) some minority group really pisses off some majority group. it’s not because of anything that they do, it’s because they exist. since the minority is so small and since they’re causing some distress to the larger group (by taking up valuable land, resources, etc.), it would be better if we let the larger group eliminate the smaller group. according to this feel-good scenerio, my utilitarian calculus suggests that killing the minority is not just morally permissible, but morally obligatory. 5) i see some dude drowning. I can: a) save him, or b) let him drown. if i save him, i have just saved Hitler and I will be, in some round-about way, responsible for the deaths of over 50 million of my fellow human beings. if i let him drown, i’m more directly responsible for neglecting my duty to help others in need. which act do I perform? either way, people die, right? Talking about appealing to morbid interests! I can’t think of any thought experiment where someone doesn’t end up dead! Thought experiments ain’t just “to mimic the method of scientific experiments”. It’s philosophical snuff porn!

Where the HELL Is Mark Goodman?!?

Try as anyone might, this Michael Jackson stuff isn’t going away anytime soon. I think there’s a reason. A host on radio show that I won’t name (other than to say that it’s an affiliate of a network that I badmouth from time to time), said that all this Michael Jackson stuff is a “distraction”. Well, clutch the pearls! Duh! Is anyone really saying that it isn’t? BESIDES AL SHARPTON. What I think is this: all of this hoopla isn’t so meaningless as it’s been dismissed by those who insist that we discuss “serious” topics. I’ve found that behind every act of seeming stupidity, there is an earnest attempt to make sense of something. For some people, I’ve observed, especially the masses collectively referred to as “fans”, they aren’t so much mourning the loss of a beloved cultural icon, as what they are mourning is the loss of themselves. Listening to a lot of talk radio, listening to callers led me to this conclusion. There was something that I realized that all of the callers had in common: There’s an age range for whom Michael Jackson was (is) a pretty big deal — so-called Generation X (those folks, like me, that were born between 1965 and 1981). We were the MTV Generation. The first to experience the magic and majesty of the 24-hour video channel. It was pretty awsome back then. It’s especially more awsome to remember when MTV actually played music videos. The deal is, is that with many of my generation, we can relate nearly every moment of our early childhood to something we saw on MTV. A first kiss to a Duran Duran video, learning that Milton Berle had a career before he was in those Ratt videos, the value of a great pair of Hammer pants… Really. Try this one out: ask your local Gen-X’er what was the first video they saw on MTV. Make sure that you have plenty of time to spare, because the answer is bound to include such non-interesting details as rememberances of grade school dodgeball misshaps, and the halloween that I, I mean, they dressed up as Prince, and when music videos were actually filmed on video (this is kind of like those old farts who call themselves film purists who say that the only good porn was when porn was shot on film. Apparently, these people have never seen the fantastic work of Ben Dover). Anyway. For the record, the first video I saw on MTV was Bryan Adams’ “Cuts Like A Knife”. I’ve hated him ever since. For my generation, so much of our childhood memories are dominated by memories of Michael Jackson — watching the video “Thriller”, watching the Motown 25 special and seeing the Moonwalk for the first time, the Pepsi commercial, seeing Captain EO at Disneyland, that episode of The Simpsons with Michael as that fat dude who says he’s Michael Jackson and sings that really sweeet birthday song to Lisa… Weird Al. I remember the first movie that ever really creeped me out as a kid was The Wiz — co-starring Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow. The second, by the way, was The Dark Crystal. I don’t know what kids Jim Henson had in mind when he made this movie, but I think that he didn’t like them very much, because the only kids I would show a movie that disturbing to would be to a bunch of kids that I didn’t like. I swear that’s not a kids’ movie. It’s freakin creepy! What I think is, and why so much of our memorializing if Michael Jackson is so focused on the pre-molestation allegation Michael is because, nostalgia, in general, tends to set the past as clearer than it was. we only see the good. Back before all that he-touched-those-kids-and-we-all-know-it business, Michael was good. He was clean. You can trust your grandma and your dog with the guy (as opposed to say, someone like Prince, who you know would do any warm-blooded, breathing, female within fifty miles, if given the chance). The Michael that we grew up with is symbolic of a simpler time. Death, fortunately or unfortunately, amplifies the symbolism. Death washes away the bad, the things that we don’t want to remember. I remember when Richard Nixon died. Sure, there was a lot of thank god he’s dead, but there was also quite a bit of ‘now that we look at it, he wasn’t such a bad president’ going on. The same with Reagan. I remember hearing people that hated Reagan giving him a prop or two after his death. It’s because when we die, it’s all over. We can forget (or at least temporarily ignore) that Michael Jackson was a more than mildly creepy guy, who looked frighteningly like Japanime (Ash from Pokemon gets my vote). We’ll forget that the guy had become a joke, a punchline. He was the target of a running joke in at least two Scary Movie movies. Michael Jackson was Carrie at the prom. We’d dumped the pig’s blood on his head and now we were having a good belly laugh at the freak. I figure now, when Paul Rubens dies, that we’ll elevate him to the greatest commedian ever platform — totally ignoring all that pulling his pud in a porn theater stuff. Death washes away the brutalities and unpleasantness, which is exactly what we’re bombarded with every day on the internet, on the radio, and on TV. Things are so damned unpleasant out there, who wants to focus on the now? Over the past six years or so (and I’m not blaming Bush exclusively), the world has become a much more unpleasant place to live. It’s really gotten much more Hobbsianesque. Life, for many people is nasty, brutish and short. When I was a kid, the Soviets were the bad guys. We were always in danger of being obliterated at any moment. Living near a military base made that possibility much more probable. There were movies like Red Dawn, Wargames, Russkies and Moscow On the Hudson, that made the point of scaring the ever-loving poop out of people as to what war with Mother Russia might be like. Sting asked if the Russians love their children, too. Frankie Goes to Hollywood told us what will happen whent two tribes go to war, Falco warned us about “Der Kommissar”. But as long as war with the Reds meant mutually assured destruction, we could count that a real war was unlikely. The Russians may have been crazy, but they weren’t stupid. Attack would mean suicide. (if you kill a planet, is it geocide?) But with our present-day enemies, killing themselves seems to be a part of the plan. Our enemies are everywhere, we don’t know where they are. And they’re always plotting against us, we’re told. Dirty bombs, terrorist sleeper cells, bio weapons, IEDs, suicide bombings, religious extremism — all a part of the daily who-hates-us-now update. This kind of everyday bad tidings makes one kind of nostalgic for a past when all we had to fear was being vaporized by crazy Ivan. We had the luxury of knowing where the Russians lived, what the looked like, and that they could be reasoned with. Today, we have enemies that jsut don’t seem to be in the mood to accept the fact that we exist, let alone be open to any sort of reasoning. It’s quite easy to understand why people would drown themselves in the mythos of a man who represents a good and simple past. And who better to symbolize that blissfully simple past than blissfully simple Michael Jackson? Michael liked climbing trees, for goodness sakes! Since we tie Michael Jackson to our own childhood memories, we see his end as an end of our childhood. Like Michael, our childhood is gone permanently. I’d heard the same thing go down about focusing on the trivial at the expense of the important some time ago when we weren’t paying attention to what was going on in Somalia. I can’t remember who said it, but who did said it on that aformentioned unnamed network. The person said that Americans were suffering from a bad case of Mogadishu-itis. All the coverage of the war and destruction was sensory overload. I think the same is going on now. I mean, think about it: we’ve got wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan (neither going as well as they should), Pakistan is on the brink of collapse every other week, Iran’s no better, North Korea seems determined to start something, let’s not forget the Israelis and the Palestinians, the economy is in the shitter, there’s H1N1 (that always looks a little like the nine inch nails logo to me at first glance), global warming is worse than we ever dreamed of, not to mention all the everyday shit that goes on — it’s too much. I used to watch the same movie alot. Every day. It sucked, but I watched it. For years. I’d get home, and pop it in the DVD player (if it wasn’t there already). I realized that watching that movie, as stupid as it was, was kind of like a blankey. It was a nice, warm place where I could snuggle up and not worry about the world. It made me feel good. It made me feel happy. There were days when I would watch it more than once — just to feel better. I think that’s what’s going on here. Michael Jackson, however strange or distracting it may be, has become our collective blankey. Even though what we’re doing is snuggling up to death. But, it’s not about Michael at all. It’s about how we feel. I heard Ted Koppel lamenting on NPR that all this Michael Jackson coverage (and other sensational “news”) takes away from what we should be paying attention to. Does anyone know what Obama and Putin talked about? Does anyone notice that the economy is collapsing? Yes. They do. It’s called multitasking. It’s not that people are stupid (because people aren’t), or that people don’t care about what really matters. It’s that we can focus on more than one thing at one time. For some people, thinking is dichotomous — it’s an either/or. You’re either with the president or you’re with the terrorists. You’re either a lover of freedom of a lover of the New World Order. (I suppose you can guess which side they’d say that Michael Jackson fans are on). Maybe some people are incapable of of doinf this, but I know that I can appreciate the music and influence (and cultural significance) of Michael Jackson and worry about instability in the world’s financial markets at the same time with the same brain. Besides, I don’t see all of this as such a unnewsworthy or trivial thing as other people do. There is much to be learned from all of this. Why do we care or seem to care more about Michael Jackson than we care about what’s going on in Islamabad? What does all this say about what kind of people we are? I’d say it shows that we are thoughtful. Roseanne Barr said that this Michael Jackson stuff (she probably wanted to say something a little harsher, but she was on radio and there’s a FCC out there) is like an OCD. She said that it has nothing to do with reality (I’ll quibble with what “reality” is later), and that the people who are upset by Michael’s death and following all the coverage should “get a life”. I don’t doubt that there are some people who are simply lookie-loos who are enraptured by the celebrity. But I also say that, when someone offhandedly dismisses an event like this as unworthy of attention and calls those who are genuinely heartstruck “stupid”, that they are the ones who are missing the point. A little bit of thinking would inform those who do not see any purpose to any of this(the haters) that this has very much to do with life. I know that watching these past two weeks, I have thought a great deal about race, gender and sexual roles (in particular as those roles relates to the representation of African-American men in popular culture), what is justice and was it served during the Jackson molestation trial?, the significance of music and celebrity and how each plays a part in what we think is the meaning of life (mine in particular), was Martin Bashir the true moral fiend (in his interview with Jackson) and did he set Michael up?… I’d say that’s quite a bit of thinking squeezed from such a trivial event. So now that I’m in such a nostalgic mood, what I’m wondering about more than anything, is where the hell is Mark Goodman?

OMG! I’m White!

I’ve held, until this point, the idea that my blog posts would not become some sort of online diary. I didn’t want my posts to end up sounding like Go Ask Alice. It is. The very nature of a blog makes it so. The fact that I choose to write about stuff that, in reality, matters to no one but me makes it the kind of self-indulgence that people like me complain about whenever we (I) look at other people’s blogs. There’s something a little funny about self-indulgence. The funny thing is, is that those who are prone to doing it often think that they’re not self-indulgent at all. We tend to say that we’re “reflective”, or dare I say, “philosophic”. Claptrap. Since I think I’m the only person that I know that will openly admit that some steroetypes are true, I was looking some time ago at the blog “Stuff White People Like”. I realized, while I was looking (and laughing quite loudly, or LOLling), that alot of the stuff on the blog described me perfectly. I came to the horrific realization — OH MY GOD, I’M WHITE! The fact that I am here, writing this blog post only serves to confirm the fact that I am indeed a white person ( #149 self-importance, which is just the same as self-indulgence). The problem is, though — I’m not white. I had a conversation with a professor (who, if this list is anywhere near correct, may be the whitest person that I’ve ever met) about a year ago about “stuff white people like”, and he maintained that the blog is more indicative of class than of race. Meaning, that if a person makes a certain amount of money and has a particular level of education, they are more likely to be a certain way, no matter the race. I actually expected him to answer the way that he did. You see, as the list suggests, white people like diversity. They also like the idea (and they will tell you at the drop of a hat) that all humans belong to the same race (i.e. the “human” race), so I expected that he would say that the list was about something other than race. Of course, given the fact that I was talking to a professor, if not race, then class. (What that meant is, that there is, as I see, an unwilingness among the “educated” to not tie any social problem to economy. This is a result of listening to too much Pacifica, I think). But, really, I am white. I mean, I like tea, I sport a “save Darfur” bracelet and a bracelet of coffee beans supporting free-trade coffee, I own 4 David Sedaris books, I like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (and yes, in some strange way, Stephen Colbert is my ideal man), I listen to public radio and love “This American Life” (for the record, “Wiretap” is pretty good, too). I have a Liberal Arts degree (political science) and I have a degree in that Liberal Arts degree in disguise, philosophy. I’m crazy about recycling (I rinse, too). The only reason why I want to move to Canada is for the universal health care. Most disturbing is that I know who Noam Chomsky is. I’ve heard that there is something out there called gender dysmorphic disorder. If I’m not wrong on the name, as I am often wrong about a great many things –I know it’s when a person feels that they were born the wrong gender. It’s the classis Glenn or Glenda — a man trapped in a woman’s body (or as we’ve seen recently, a Chaz Bono trapped in a Chastity Bono’s body). I wonder, could it be that it’s possible for someone to be a white person trapped in a black person’s body? I don’t mean those kids who hang out at the mall with the sagging pants listening to Asher Roth. I’m talking about something that, if race is more than a social construct, and is (at least to some degree) biologically rooted, is it possible that nature, as in the case of gender, got something wrong? I was really trying not to bring Michael Jackson into this, but maybe instead of jesting at his becomming white, we should have recognized that he may have been sufferring from a real disorder. It may be possible that he was merely correcting a mistake — he really was white. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe I should send a letter to David Duke and ask him what he thinks about it. LOL.