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Bellies, Smoke and Guns

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You hear it all the time, especially from conservative circles: Public tax dollars should not fund this or that because it is, 1. immoral, 2. offensive, or 3. insults the image or likeness of Ronald Reagan.

The implication is that democracy comes equipped with an a la carte menu that allow voters to pick and choose from a variety of features and settings. Democracy ought to be like television, basically. So we have BYU music professor Lloyd Miller, a crank who doesn’t want Salt Lake County money funding the “perversion” of belly dancing at a West Valley arts function. Would that we all could choose what our tax dollars fund. But we can’t. Democracy, when it happens, is so often a winner-take-all game. And in the 2000 presidential election, we learned that sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. If Miller wants an eyeful of perversion, he should check out the sinful practice of square dancing.

Big news, folks: Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School have found that teenagers who watch movies with smoking actors are three times more likely to reach for a pack of Marlboros. Rubbish! What this really proves is that teenagers are sex-starved maniacs who’ll do anything to look cool. Did anyone tell them that actors, well, act? If the sight of John Hurt sucking up cigarettes in Scandal—or the painfully poised inhalations of Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites—doesn’t prompt kicking the habit, nothing will. The greater danger lies in foreign flicks, such as Jean-Luc Godard’s A bout de souffle (ha!), which makes smoking look friggin’ cool. Then there’s Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet, in which Scandinavian Protestants debate theology while drinking vast amounts of coffee. This film has given birth to more caffeine heads than Starbucks, but only because viewers must quaff a potful to reach its gripping end.

Bachelorettes rejoice! After serving four years in the slammer for poking his 16-year-old niece, the Board of Pardons and Parole decided to make Utah polygamist David Ortell Kingston a free man. Not bad for someone convicted of third-degree felony incest and unlawful sexual contact with a minor. But hey, the model inmate did help fellow inmates finish high school. As you may recall, Kingston’s child bride was beaten by her father after trying to escape her arranged marriage. Who says Utah’s criminal justice system doesn’t harbor a soft spot for polygamists? At the very least, the Board of Pardons could have required that Kingston watch Lukas Moodysson’s brilliant new film, Lilja 4-ever.

Continuing the criminal beat, American criminologist Franklin E. Zimring argues in his new book, The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment, that America’s love affair with lethal injection and such embodies the perpetual national battle between community vengeance and respect for legal processes. That’s the bland part. Zimring’s more provocative thesis is that the death penalty is more frequently practiced in the South and Southwest, where mob justice and lynchings have historically predominated. Hmmm. Do we really need to invoke the Mountain Meadows Massacre again? As the Utah Department of Corrections readies its Winchester rifles for the convicted rapist and murderer Roberto Arguelles, and convicted murderer Troy Kell, it’s something to ponder.

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