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Monday, November 20, 2017

Helter Skelter


"Charlie's got a long reach, man."

That's a line from the chilling made-for-TV movie "Helter Skelter", the account of the Manson Family murders and the prosecution of those who carried them out, including Charles Miles Manson, who died today. The person was explaining his reticence to say anything about Manson, even though he was locked up by that time.

As conveyed brilliantly by actor Steve Railsback, who literally took possession of the lead character, Charlie did indeed have a long reach.

Culturally, that has also proven to be true. I first heard that name when I was a little kid, when the older neighbor kid told me all about it. (This is also how I learned about the Vietnam War.) I remember "Barracuda", by Heart, was playing on the radio as he explained all the gory details.

When his death sentence was converted to a life sentence by the Supreme Court, the closure was ripped away for a terrified nation. To put in context the fear and dread that everyone felt, consider that Manson was responsible for more deaths on US soil than was the Soviet Union. The exposure to uncertainty, about a matter which had already been so painfully adjudicated, was just not fair.

By that time, though, America had grown used to just not fair. A president had been murdered, and then his brother, literally wiping out the icons of our last idealistic era. Our disillusionment, the fading of our nation's colors, would go on long after Manson - the war spilled on endlessly, amidst Watergate and inflation and energy crises.

In commuting Manson's capital punishment, essentially undoing the hard work of prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi (played perfectly by George DiCenzo in the movie), the Supreme Court cheated us all. The very system that was supposed to be our final backstop somehow opened up a hole for a ball of evil to roll through. To add insult to injury, taxpayers had to foot the bill to keep Manson alive for five decades.

This, the penalty for a dozen lives, brutal killings that put the whole country in shock. The American people rightly felt like they were the ones who had been sentenced. The last chapter of that penny dreadful has finally been written, but by now, not many people really notice. We are numb.

In 2016, there were 40,200 traffic fatalities in the United States. There were around 64,000 fatal opioid overdoses. And there were more than 10,000 firearm fatalities. 114,000 deaths combined - not the work of a madman on a hippie ranch in sunny Southern California. These are matters that could be managed, regulated, legislated, controlled, but they aren't. Not well enough, obviously.

A maniac in Vegas gunned down a whole concert full of people; we went on with our day. Bodies are falling all around us. We've lost half a million people in the last five years due to just those three categories I mentioned. It's just not fair. And we just don't care.

I have to care. My best friend died of an overdose in 2016. Throw him on the statistical pile if you want to, I can't do that. Now consider how many people die of heart attacks, who die of cancer, who die in accidents. It all changed over time with context, it did, I'm telling you...

Charlie's got a long reach.

pH 11.2o.17

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