Cruel, but Becoming Less Unusual

sign2For the first time in more than 80 years, Oklahoma would execute two criminals on the same night: the dark and dreary evening of April 29. Due to some appalling incompetence, however, the state executioners only managed to get through one – and that was by accident.

Bad-guy Clayton Lockett was prepped to receive a triple dose of nasty chemicals injected one by one into his groin, as the usual spot on the arm would not yield a worthy vein. The first (midazolam) was meant to sedate him, the second (vecuronium bromide) was designed to paralyze him, and the third (potassium chloride) stops the heart. As lethal drug #2 was coursing its way into Lockett’s bloodstream, he unexpectedly tried to sit up and mumbled some words that suggested he wasn’t feeling no pain. Seems the person who set up the needle in Lockett’s groin didn’t do a quality job and as a result, not enough sedation made it into the condemned’s body. No matter. Lethal drug #3 did the trick, but not in a manner suitable for public viewing, as the executioners quickly lowered the blinds on the gruesome display. They also wisely postponed the second execution – after all, where were they gonna find a better phlebotomist on such short notice?

Consider this. Oklahoma went to the mat to stage this spectacle, and most likely scheduled two on the same day as a thumb in the eye of those bleeding-heart, anti-capital punishment wimps who had made so much noise about the unseemliness of using untested drugs and dosages to kill someone. And after being handed a victory by the State Supreme Court which green-lighted the use of the mystery cocktail of drugs over the objections of the death-row men’s lawyers, Oklahoma went ahead full steam – only to blow the whole thing, thereby handing over a huge club to their adversaries with which to beat them silly. As David Dow, a death penalty appellate lawyer in Texas, put it, “For a state that executes people, they are awfully bad at it.”

I’ve been an opponent of capital punishment mainly on the grounds that irreversible mistakes can get made, but also because its application around the country is uneven, and because it serves no purpose other than to satisfy the desire for revenge. But even pro-capital punishment people have to be shaking their heads at the sheer costs involved: expensive trials and mandatory appeals (which are necessary given the history of prosecutorial corruption, negligent defense and investigative errors), developing execution methods and training the “hangman,” PR issues, and sometimes, remunerating convicts following exoneration.

Oklahoma’s blown two-for-one special might have inadvertently become the incident that brings the death penalty to the beginning of its end in the US.

Geniuses of the Obvious

This past Saturday, Greg Mankiw writing in the New York Times reported on a study out of the University of Chicago that sought to discover the forces that drive political slant in the media. After a few years of research, the results are in! According to Mankiw, “The bottom line is simple: Media owners generally do not try to mold the population to their own brand of politics. Instead, like other business owners, they maximize profit by giving customers what they want.”

That’s it. After conducting extensive surveys, searching through newspaper articles using tailored algorithms, and correlating observations, they concluded that media give their customers what they want.

You only have to listen once to Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, or Ed Schultz, or read a couple editorials by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times to understand intuitively that this is the nature of the news business – one that produces annual reports for hedge fund managers, and is beholden to stockholders who want to see returns. Shocker.

Maybe He’d Have Better Luck Picking His Nose

Required reading for fans of horse-racing from the Wall Street Journal writer Jim Chairusmi: “Why California Chrome Won’t Win the Kentucky Derby.” In his April 29 article, “Carnac” Chairusmi offers “Six Reasons to Look Beyond the Likely Favorite in the Run for the Roses.” The best reason? The favorite rarely wins. Lot’s of solid logic in this article, yet Chairusmi forgot the most significant reason of all: No horse named California Chrome has ever won in the entire 139 year history of the Kentucky Derby. QED.

For those fans looking forward to the Preakness and Belmont Stakes: read this article and do the opposite.

RIP Bob Hoskins

Francis Coppola’s film “The Cotton Club” starring Richard Gere and Gregory Hines received mixed reviews when it screened 30 years ago, but it remains one of my favorite gangster movies. The story is a mixture of real-life players and actual incidents blended with fictional characters – and the music and dancing are top-notch. (Side note: The Broadway hit “After Midnight” captures much of the same Harlem vibe and Duke Ellington swing that Coppola sprinkled so thoroughly throughout the movie.)

Although Richard Gere did a passable job playing Dixie Dwyer, a jazz musician who gets taken under the wing of Dutch Schultz (Gere did his own cornet playing), and Gregory Hines and his brother Maurice deliver some awesome tap-dancing, the most compelling characters are the second-stringers: Fred Gwynne (aka. Herman Munster), Julian Beck and, best of all, Bob Hoskins.

NPG x31047; Bob Hoskins as Owney Madden in 'The Cotton Club' by Adger W. Cowans

Hoskins, who died the other day at age 71 played the role of Owney Madden with appropriate flair and primal viciousness, just like the man he portrayed: an immigrant from England (Leeds) who worked his way up from petty crimes to ownership of the real Cotton Club. Although Hoskins himself is a limey from West Suffolk and has a thick Cockney accent, he manages to speak in the film with an Americanized tongue. Just as he did when playing Eddie Valiant in what I consider a brilliant film, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” According to his obit, Hoskins discovered the role as a human amongst cartoon characters to be more than a bit daunting. In a 2009 interview with The Telegraph of London, he recalled how his doctor advised him to take five months off after finishing the film. “I think I went a bit mad while working on that,” he said. “Lost my mind. The voice of the rabbit was there just behind the camera all the time. You had to know where the rabbit would be at every angle. Then there was Jessica Rabbit and all these weasels. The trouble was, I had learnt how to hallucinate.”

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Hoskins’s highest achievement came a couple years later following his portrayal of driver for a high-priced “escort” in the film “Mona Lisa” in 1986, snagging a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor – which might be enough to get him into next year’s “In Memoriam” segment on the Academy Awards. Then again, he played “Mario” in “Super Mario Bros.” so who knows?

End Note

Regardless of what you think about Don Sterling, owner (for now) of the LA Clippers – does it bother you that he’s going down on the strength of a tape of a private conversation? One that he did not record or release himself?

Had the NSA captured the racist declarations instead of his petulant mistress V., and had an Edward Snowden-type mole leaked the transcripts, would people on the left be as excited to see the old codger taken down?

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