The Sore Spot


Saturday, January 31, 2004

A NOTE ON HUNGER In Germany, Armin Meiwes, the man who killed and ate a computer engineer a few years ago, has been sentenced to about eight years in prison, a far more lenient term than prosecutors in the case had been hoping for. Miewes, after all, fried parts of his victim "with olive oil, garlic, pepper and nutmeg," and ate him with "sprouts, potatoes and a bottle of South African red wine on a festively decorated table." In the minds of many Germans -- a historically law-and-order-loving people -- such a crime merited a stiff penalty.

But I must beg to differ with the kindly German volk. It is not just that, as the judge said, Miewes evidently happened to be "psychologically sick," or that Bernd Jurgen Brandes, Miewes's "victim," had actually answered the cannibal's ad seeking a man to eat and had actively cooperated in his own death. Those facts are mitigating enough. But as homeless man, a man who, I'm not ashamed to say, has felt the wincing pain of hunger, I must question society's very outsized abhorrence of cannibalism.

Of course, cannibalism, if it's not consensual, can have its downsides. Nobody wants to be someone else's dinner, let alone his mid-morning snack. But when two people come together in mutual recognition of their needs, and if these two -- one hungry, one suicidal -- decide, in the fullness of intellectual discourse, that cannibalism is the only logical and practical route to pursue, who are we to stand in their way? We may question the pragmatism of their plan, and we may mind the mess and may quibble with the recipe, and it would not even be too forward of us to criticize their nutritional sagacity -- but we cannot call them evil. And we cannot stop them from having a pleasant dinner.
posted by Robert 4:06 PM

THE BLOODY BOWL Your correspondent from the streets has never been one to indulge in the mindless violence of the sport we know as football. It is not that I lack the appetite for athletics, or that I have some deficiency in my thirst for competition; were you to meet me, sir, you'd find me quite willing to engage my fellows in games of fit and wit, and I daresay that against most men I'd win without a sweat. Games like polo, like croquet, like even baseball or tennis or, my personal favorite of all sports, ice hockey -- such spirited, brainy games, sports in which the administration of violence is not thing that wins the day, such sports I can say I love.

But football -- what is this game? Who invented this barbaric sport, in blood stepped in so far? What wit is there, what skill, what intelligence in a game that calls only for the tackle and the kill, as if all life were a war and to split open a foe's skull, to crush his back into the merciless ground, as if such acts of vengeance were the point of existence.

No, no, I say we ought not give in to such barbarity. We ought to stay away. When the Panthers from Carolina face the so-called Patriots from New England this Sunday, find your solace, friend, in an old text of Shakespeare or Milton, and sharpen your mind rather than your need blood-lust.
posted by Robert 1:09 PM

AN ELECTION ABOUT ITSELF David Brooks, opinion-maker for The New York Times -- which, owing to indignities they visited upon me, I have not read since December 12, 1977 -- quite deftly comes to grips this morning with the chaotic election the Democrats are carrying on.

Brooks, a prolific chronicler of the well-to-do (115 used!), has an idea that Democratic primary voters, faced with a field of candidates whose policy prescriptions are nearly identical (save, I think, for Wesley Clark, who likley believes a uniform trumps a prescription pad), are picking their president almost exclusively on a guess: Who will look better up there on that grand stage besides the current President of the United States? Howard Dean looked good, first, because he used the Internet to find some money and some people to pledge to vote for him, "and New Hampshire voters figured that he was bringing so many new people into the process that he must be electable -- and if he was electable, then they should probably support him because they wanted somebody who could beat George Bush."

So Dean's poll numbers rose, and the news media noticed his momentum, and other voters noticed how much great press he was getting. And that led to a self-reinforcing upward spiral of electability as more people concluded that he was electable because so many other people were concluding he was electable. People around the country saw that Dean was doing so well in New Hampshire they, too, concluded that he must be electable, a perception that led to an impressive rise in the national polls, which only enhanced his electability.

But then Dean began acting strangely, "and since electability is all about Iowa and New Hampshire liberals trying to imagine what Palm Beach County, Fla., independents will want in a presidential candidate nine months from now, this created ripples of concern that Dean might not be so electable after all. The media picked up on the doubts, which created a downward unelectability spiral." So Dean lost Iowa. And John Kerry won Iowa, which convinced voters in New Hampshire that he could win elections, and so he won New Hampshire.

Lost in all this is any semblance of a debate over policy. In my day, lawmakers argued over weighty matters and smiled when they brought forward ingenious ideas with which to improve the commonwealth; now they argue over image, over geography, over electability. What is the difference between John Edwards and John Kerry, two Democratic Senators who agreed over nearly everything in that stately body? It is only a difference of image -- Mr. Edwards is from the South, and so therefore might have a more sporting chance with voters under the old Mason-Dix, and Mr. Kerry fought in a war, and you'd pick him if you'd like to get at the old-folks vote. It is only a difference of perception, of a guess over electability, as fickle as the weather.

One worries sometimes that Democrats don't know precisely why they so fear and loathe George W. Bush; I suspect it has to do with a hodge-podge of policy disagreements over the war in Iraq, over the environment, over corporate coziness, over federal judges -- in short the standard liberal litany -- but that, fundamentally, the rift is deeper. For Democrats who vote in primaries, the disregard for George W. Bush is personal. Here is a man they consider stupid, as clever as a piece of toast. Yet he has confounded them at every political turn. He has done more for the conservative cause than a feckless triangulator like Bill Clinton ever did for the liberals; he has passed record tax cuts, has remade the federal judiciary in Antonin's image, has launched the kind of world-re-ordering war that an ideological set of conservatives had always drooled over. In 2002, he won a majority for his party in Congress. The man is a political wizard, and yet Democrats consider him, still, a moron.

What the Democrats are looking for in the race is their own bit of magic. They do not want an honest debate over policy; they want the president's head on a platter.
posted by Robert 12:13 PM

Friday, January 30, 2004

A RETURN Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, Gods and Goddesses looking from heaven down at these parts, rejoice! Your faithful correspondent from the streets, your friend in the smelly vestibules of left-leaning San Francisco, your companion in truth and wisdom, your conspirator in intelligence -- I, dear Robert Sore, sage survivor of the streets, am back.

You might be wondering where I've been. You might remember my presence here, two years ago now, as a brief bright spot in your life, a time when daily you were wisened by the pearls I threw your way. But then I left -- I was gone, not to be heard from again, despite the dozens of pleas and inquiries from my dedicated base of fans.

So what happened to your correspondent from these too-trammeled parts? Nothing too much, I'm sorry to respond: I grew wary of the Internet, grew too tired of the back-and-forth among people whose only source of daily enjoyment came from these virtual ravings. And so I stayed away.

But now the Internet is back. Not long ago, a veteran friend of mine, an ardent -- though, alas, legless -- supporter of John Kerry, informed me that he was afraid his man was getting killed in the election by a fiery youngster named Howard Dean. This Dean, my warrior pal told me, is a tragically horrific politician; he cannot crack a smile to save his soul, a screamer and a yeller, the sort of man, generally, a sane citizen would not want near the button.

But this Dean had one thing going for him -- he had a virtual following. It turns out that this Dean, despite his ill manners on television (once thought to be the dominant medium of modern politics -- long gone are the days, I'm sorry to report, of Tip-O'Neill style, sandwich-board politicking) is very good on the Internet. On Web-based logs, like mine, he is proclaimed a hero; he is seen as the messiah, the Jedi who will wrest control of the nation from the Bushy hordes come November.

That's what my friend the legless veteran told me. And so, one sunny afternoon not long after, I cleaned myself up and walked back to my familiar perch at the SF library, and -- well, here I am.

Now, of course, it seems that the Internet was quite, quite wrong about Howard Dean. Let us hope that I have a better run with it than the unsmiling former governor. To the Internet.
posted by Robert 6:19 PM

SAPIENTIA.VERITAS.LIBERTAS.

Joe Pesci
This isn't me, but it looks like me.
The library doesn't have those scan machines. And I don't have a camera.

----

My name is Robert Sore. I am a homeless man in San Francisco, scraping out a living from trash cans and odd jobs. But don't think that I need your pity. If you see me on the street, keep walking, buddy. I don't need your money and I don't need you, in fact -- but I'd be willing to wager that you need me.

I have lived a long time, and I spend a lot of time in the library. A lot of time. I know what's wrong with this world. Why the politicians have it wrong, why the fancy professors have it wrong, why the United States has it wrong. Why the liberals are wrong and why the conservatives are wrong.

But I damn sure know what's right, too. And I'm going to tell you what.

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