Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gresham’s Law, with a side of grilled onions

July 15, 2009

Another day, another lockdown. This time around, I’m actually embracing the experience. There has been so much going on lately that a few weeks of quiet-time seems to be exactly what I needed. I’ve been feeling rushed and crazy and like all of my decisions of late have been bad ones, and I seem to be always ending my days with one of two thoughts: “I didn’t finish half of what I wanted to,” or “Why did I think doing things this way would work?” How do I always run out of time? I mean, I have nothing but time, and yet this is precisely the one thing I need more of. (Well, ok, maybe that is not the ONE thing I need more of, but you get my point.) I suppose that this must mean that some species of re-prioritizing of my responsibilities and goals must be in order, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what to jettison in order to save the ship. Sound familiar to anyone?

So, lockdown. I have to admit, TDCJ did a fairly nice thing for us recently. This does happen. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. I always mean to write about such events, but for some reason other things take priority, and I forget about them. I suppose this says a lot about how my head works – or doesn’t work, to say it more correctly – but I think we all got enough of that nonsense with my last entry, so I will leave it alone. On the Fourth of July they made us a pretty good tray for lunch, consisting of a hamburger patty (maybe soy, maybe beef, we haven’t confirmed that yet), with grilled onions (a TDCJ first) and a slice of peach cobbler. Not bad, especially if you had some squeeze cheese and ketchup laying about from commissary. My old cell on C-Pod had a view towards Livingston, and you could watch the fireworks display they put on way in the distance. My new cell looks out on a wall. They often store trash out there, and you sometimes can watch the stray cats waging war on each other for grazing rights. Not quite as entertaining as fireworks, but I suppose that it is better than anything that goes on inside the cell, so cheers to the cats. My favorite is the little gray one with white paws that stays off to the side until the bigger cats have gorged themselves. He just sits there watching the blackbirds waiting patiently for their turn to eat, and tenses up whenever one swoops down to pick off some errant morsel. Keep hope alive, little guy. One of them is going to get greedy at some point, and screw up.

Anyways. Now that I have actually said something decent about this place, I can more comfortable go back to being the whiny little curmudgeon that we all love or hate. I have often lamented about a certain propensity for pen-pals to up and vanish on me at the oddest of times. Some times I even slip in a little subtle dig against these people, which is always in poor taste and an affront to my dignity, but I am a triple-degree black-belt at destroying my own dignity, so whatever. I have a long-standing policy in place which states that I will write two additional letters after the Vanishing, as an attempt to keep the relationship alive, and as a safeguard against the USPS having hi-jacked the correspondence. I figure, after those two letters, if I don’t receive a response, then the person in question is truly done with me and it is time to move on.

What can one say? I get it. I really do. Most people would never understand why anyone of sane mind would bother writing to someone in my position. Most of those who do, don’t really have the slightest idea what to expect. It can be a painful evolution to finally call someone a friend, and then realize in the next second that this friend is about to die. Most people simply don’t know what to say, and leave in order to minimize their own pain. It’s cool; like I said: I get it. On top of that some people are just sorry, uncultured human mammals, looking for a taste of the surreal or the scandalous or even just something mildly entertaining, and when they finally figure out that I do not sip puppies blood out of a human skull for fun or have any desire to exchange sordid pornographic fantasies, they vamoose.

I have been vaguely aware that there exist certain rules about correspondence that, when violated, can prevent someone from writing to you. I never really expected anyone to be confronted by these regulations, as most of the people I write to are pretty normal, and the rules are obvious. I truly never considered that, just perhaps, some of the disappearing pen-pals might have fallen victim to the dreaded /rule Monster. Why? Because even if they did, I am to be informed by the mailroom personnel that I am being denied a letter, and I have never-not once-been told this. I should have known that they don’t follow their own rules.

I was being escorted to the visitation room last week when one of the officers told me that he used to work as a reader in the mail room. He informed me that someone could be “negative-mail” listed for purely subjective reasons, without notice to the inmate. In fact, he said they generally just throw this mail out. He seemed totally unaware that this policy was, in fact, a federal crime. Going to be doing something about this in the near future, too. I know I’ve been saying that a lot lately, but I have another policy in place which states that I will not discuss matters of active or potential litigation in an open forum. Patience is a virtue, grasshopper, so they say. (Whoever “they” may be.)

Basically, I think I own an apology to some people. I have had some pretty ugly thoughts about quite a few ex-pen-pals over the years for ditching me without so much as an adios. Perhaps this is the reason why, and I’m sorry for flaying some of you alive in my head. I wonder how many people have had the same thoughts about ME abandoning THEM, and this makes my blood boil. (But don’t tell anyone, as I would hate to contradict all of the worthy journalists who claim that my blood is actually cold.) I don’t know what I can do about this problem in the short term, save publicly rebooting all crashed and frozen friendships. I’m caught up with my mail from my trip to Galveston, so if you sent me a letter in late May or June, and haven’t received a response from me yet, it probably got boosted. Try again, if you would. All I can do for now.

From bad news to worse. Most of you will already be aware by now that the CCA shot down my direct appeal. This is what that psycho-nut job was referencing in her little love letter that I posted in my last entry. Not much of a surprise, and I in fact predicted this not too long ago. There is a certain rhythm and flow to the courts, and I have soaked myself in the cancerous waters of the law long enough now to be able to predict when things are going to happen. The Direct brief constitutes only issues available from the trial transcript, so if your trial was a media circus noted by many for its shoddiness and by how sorry your attorney was, then you will not be able to address these issues until the next phase of your appeal, called the Writ of Habeas Corpus. I submitted this several months ago, and will be posting it up here soon so you can read for yourself what I am talking about. My writ is certainly better formulated than my direct grief: and I have some modest hopes for the thing, though I would counsel the few of you who like me, not to hold your breath. The CCA has proven they really couldn’t care less about most issues, so long as they tow the Republican line and maintain DP sentences. (Yep, judges in Texas are elected politicians.) To see the types of people that make up the Texas CCA, here are some interesting sites to peruse:
The Judgement of Sharon Keller
Justice Center Chair Facing Removal in Texas CCA
Killer Keller and the Twinkie Defense

I would like to clarify a point made by the afore-mentioned lunatic carbon mass. I do sometimes “bitch” about some things, as she so eloquently worded it. I think most of you are intelligent enough to understand why I do this, but since the word hasn’t reached the back of the bus yet, I will explain myself more clearly. Perhaps I am just a little bit tougher than I let on. When I talk about conditions, my style is usually to mock the current state of things, which sometimes paints me as conceited, but I will take conceited over whiny. I do not do this to show up my “wounded-ness” or to run some sort of game built around you feeling pity for me. (If I weren’t trying to stop cursing I would tell you exactly what you can do with your pity.) I do this because I am trying to make you mad at the things done in your name, and they have designed this system specifically so that you cannot know. I know I have succeeded in enraging some of you, and I am proud of this. Information can be a good thing or a bad thing, and I leave that decision mainly up to you. This is pretty much the only reason that I still write this site, because I surely don’t do it for fun or personal enjoyment. I am more than willing to admit that my wording is often clumsy and my thought progressions totally illogical, but when you take “me” out of this site, there is still good, useful, truthful data contained here, some of which you will simply not find anywhere else. I am also willing to admit that any grandiose ideas about changing the prison system from within that I possess are mainly a defense mechanism to insanity. Any notions I was entertaining about making a real difference were pretty much annihilated when I found out that out of more than 100,000 views to this site, I had only managed to convince around 140 of you to sign the petition to save my life. Those odds are, shall we say, f-ing terrible, and firmly inform me of my effectiveness. But it is what it is. Perhaps if I had more training in journalism, I would make a better go of it, but this is the best I’ve got.

Believe me, I often question whether this site passes my own tests for worthiness of existence. I can’t count the times I stumbled over something online and thought to myself, “Well, that was totally unnecessary.” I am going to be attempting to move towards a broader set of social goals, and away from just blabbing about me in the coming months. I have some good stuff planned, but it always takes me a really long time to get things organized from back here. This is part of the reason that I opened the site up to comments. I will freely admit that I did have a more personal ulterior motive for this, also. One of the mechanisms that we humans have to measure how badly we are making a mess of life is other people. If you let slip an f-bomb at the family Christmas gathering, you are going to find out pretty quick that such things are unacceptable when somebody smacks you over the back of the head. This social feedback loop works for both positive and negative behaviors, and without it you quickly come to feel…lost. Lost is pretty much the best description for how most of us in solitary feel, when we are honest. So, I thought that allowing comments might provide me with a few broken pieces of mirror by which I might learn something about myself. Maybe that is giving total strangers a little too much credit or power, but for the most part it has been a successful proof of concept. (I should note, however, that I do not see all of the comments, and that even when I do see one, many weeks have passed since it was posted. There is simply no way for me to be interactive from back here, so I hope you will forgive me if I only make general reference to some of them from time to time.) I will be going into some of these comments in depth over the next few months, but I want to start with a general thought, which sort of ties in with my question about whether this site should be relegated to the digital graveyard. This thought is really just a reiteration of an old one: the blogosphere is a really, really stupid place. I had hoped that there were more bright people out there, but apparently the vast majority of the blog landmass is little more than a cretinous bowing down to the throne of the 1st amendment. I mean, free speech is great, and all of that. Yay, free speech. The idea that everyone’s opinion is so great (or even valid) and so incredibly important that they need to describe every moment of their lives or their love for begonias in excruciating detail – not so much. That’s not fair. I’m sure there are some very nice people who enjoy reading about begonias. I guess I am simply a little worried that this exaltation of the ego is going o swamp out and overcome those bloggers who are dealing with real issues, and trying to move along our species to a better understanding of who we are and what our place is in the world. For every scientist trying to simplify some complicated idea so that you or I can understand the stars or our genes, there are 50 sites about the Jonas Brothers or about some freakishly tall drooling proletariat hack who happens to have the amazing gift of being able to bounce a ball really fast. The result of this? We have a million times more data at our fingertips than humans did even 50 years ago, and yet we are no smarter, and we may actually be far, far stupider. Proof? I bet you can name a long list of celebrity jackasses who have cheated on their spouse this year or a sports icon who has been caught doping, but can’t tell me who Stephen Jay Gould is or knew that he actually already answered with great finality the age old question of “Why do humans exist?” (The answer, my friends, is highly elucidating and I encourage you to go look it up. See his “Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, page 323.)

In economics, there is a principle known as Greshams Law. It states that there is a tendency for money of lower intrinsic value to circulate more freely than money of higher intrinsic and equal nominal value. Simply: bad money drives out the good. Greshams Law is alive and well in the blogosphere. Say I write an article on why Houston is a better city than Dallas. (I know, I know, such knowledge is commonplace and it would be totally unnecessary to have to spend any time listing the reasons why. Immediately, you are going to see a backlash of voyeuristic delight and middle class outrage. David Runciman put it fairly well when writing about Julie Myerson (the novelist who wrote about her drug-addicted son) in the May 28th edition of the LRB: “What was striking was not just the anger of all those who wanted to see the Myersons suffer horribly for their crimes, but the equivalent anger of all those who were disgusted by such vindictiveness, and the anger of the people who were appalled by the prissiness of that response, and the anger of the people who couldn’t believe anyone would waste their time caring about this rubbish, and on, and on. Everyone was furious with everyone else, and determined not to be shouted down. No one with a reasonable point of view would bother wasting it on a site like this.” When tempers are frayed, and time horizons short, the bad drives out the good.

You can see this right here on this site: great cycles of opinion spinning around and around, propelled mostly by insults, as far as I can tell. Someone makes a point, someone else calls them a …wait, let me look this up…”a nOOb”, and off we go. (I suppose it is a testament to the appalling state of discourse in this nation that someone would actually think calling someone else a “nOOb” a successful verbal assault. I won’t even bother wasting any time on the fact that this persons response totally missed the point of the original commenter, and seemed to rest on the idea that morality is defined by the concept of vox populi, vox dei, which is infamous and imbecilic, and infamous and imbecilic simultaneously.) And wouldn’t you know it: the “victor” in this conversation was enabled by his “triumph”, and will no doubt feel even less hesitation to give his two (thousand) cents the next time he reads something he doesn’t like. The humanist in me wants to believe that there is enough innate nobility in all of us to be able to have an issues-based discussion of social matters without resulting to name calling, even while anonymous. But the realist in me knows that this will never happen, because even I can’t help myself when it comes to responding to some of these people.

My neighbor never attended school after the 4th grade. His weltanschauung is a little too close to that of Calvin for comfort, but he did say something interesting when I was discussing this with him. His conclusion was that you simply can’t please all the people all of the time. Then he said something really interesting: “There is no such a thing as truth, only opinion man. You say ‘yes’, I say ‘no’, and we fight and the winner gets to say what is truth.” Not bad, for a guy who said he would have voted for Palin, and not too far off of what Hegel talked about in his process of dialectical reasoning almost 200 years ago.

I don’t know if my neighbor is right. There is a side of me that recognizes that truth is almost certainly relative. Maybe good and evil really are defined by the victors, but if you have ever seen true evil, its hard to argue the fact that such things are only based on perspective. I know. I’ve been there, and back. All I can say to my own questioning of whether this site deserves to live is that I still think the idea of state sanctioned murder is incredibly unethical, regardless of what I may have done in the past. As long as I see evil, I am going to do what I can to fight it, and this is the best way that I have come up with to do so. After a life without a rudder, I finally have a cause worthy of my attention. I guess its either victory, or maybe I will just start to write about begonias.

Well I looked my demons in the eyes
laid bare my chest
said do your best
to destroy me.

I’ve been to hell and back
so many times
I must admit
you kinda bore me

There’s a lot of things that can kill a man
There’s a lot of ways to die
yes, and some already did and
walk beside me.

Ray LaMontagne “Empty”

© Copyright 2009 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.


George said...

I have been reading your blog since the beginning of this year and am constantly amazed at your writing skills. You are an absolutely amazing writer, able to present your thoughts and ideas clearly and with language that is, for the most part, lost in many generations.
I am not a pen pal type of person but if I was I would definitely be writing to you. Your thoughts and ideas are very profound and inspiring.
You impress the hell out of me Thomas and it is most unfortunate that you live where you do. I firmly believe that you would be an asset to society and I do hope that you are freed to enjoy life as you should be enjoying it.

Corrine said...

I've been following your diary for quite a while and it has certainly given me more insight into what goes on. I for one do not agree with the death penalty and that is mainly due to what I have learned from your writings. How can you teach that it's wrong to kill by killing? I live for the day when it's abolished. Please don't give up writing.

Silent Observer said...

As I have read through this journal I found the psych report explained a lot. If anyone is interested there is a report about the death penalty and mental illness at this website Murder Victims' Families For Human Rights

Scroll down and read the Double Tragedies report. Powerful reading.

Stacey said...

I've only been following Thomas's blogs for a short period of time. My future husband is a "guest" of TDCJ though he isn't on DR. (30 yr sentence only six ad seg.) I was poking around a site with links to prisoner's blogs and whatnot, and came upon MBS...and I must say, that in my opinion, the writing is excellent, and the subject matter is one that people should serious THINK about prior to putting their two cents in. It saddens me to know people are so quick to judge, to place blame. But I'm not here to start a flinging of words war with "righteous" folk. Just stating my support and appreciation. I do hope Thomas decides to carry on the writing. For his sake, as well as those of us out here who look beyond our own selves..and limited point of perspectives.