6:34 PM|W|P|Nathan|W|P|

Goodbye for now

I will be out of town for the next few weeks. I will resume blogging again on the 18th.

I might be able to blog from China, but I doubt it. I suspect anything with "blog" in the title might be blocked. We'll see, and we'll see how much time I have.
|W|P|85140158|W|P||W|P|6:28 PM|W|P|Nathan|W|P|

Crime and Punishment

I don't remember if I've done this one before or not, and I'm too lazy to look through my own archives to find out.

I'm really not sure how to phrase this thought: I am growing to dislike the term "cruel and unusual punishment".

Sure, I understand the idea behind it. You don't want to pull out all the finger- and toenails of someone who shoplifted a Milky Way candy bar. And so forth.

But what is punishment, after all? Is it some arbitrary act designed to provide some comfort to the victim (or family) through ritualized atonement? Or should it actually be about punishing someone (thereby implying it will reduce negative behavior in both the convicted and any observer)?

From the way I've skewed the question, I obviously believe the latter, while remaining utterly convinced our current system only does the former.

Look, there really is no objective standard that renders any punishment cruel. Unusual is fairly easily defined by trends, I admit. But a society with the power to enforce punishment against members or residents of that society can actually impose any punishment it wishes. And should impose punishments harsh enough to deter criminal behavior.

So while it would seem ridiculous to me to impose the death penalty for a parking violation, if there were some problem with parking violations that became severe enough, perhaps the death penalty would be justified. Say, perhaps, that double parking had reached epidemic proportions, to the point that 50 people were dying every month because ambulances couldn't negotiate the ever-more crowded streets...

Our penal code was established during a time that the greatest restriction on criminal behavior came from societal norms. The increase in privacy and isolation in our culture has rendered many of these societal restrictions moot. (See? I can use it correctly...) There is certainly a correlation (not a causation) with this in the rise of criminal behavior (and convictions).

It just ain't working.

I am no Libertarian, but I feel a government's two main jobs are to protect its citizenry from foreign aggression and to protect its citizenry from itself. The average citizen can do nothing about French tariffs or Russian imperialism, but can feed the hungry person next door. In the same manner, there is little I can do to punish a murderer or burglar, since I don't have the authority. Therefore, I think social supports are less important than keeping the peace between citizens.

(Not that social supports are unimportant...people actually don't feed the starving next door...but maybe because they expect the government to do so now that they pay so much in taxes)

I think the death penalty should be standard punishment for criminal rape (see why I argue so vehemently against better/clearer standards for "date" rape?). I actually like the Three Strikes rule; I don't care if you get put away for 30 years for only stealing a bicycle, because you obviously hadn't learned to not steal from your first two convictions. Refusal to change your ways, or to seek help to change your ways, seems to me to equate to a lack of repentence; the best thing for society is to make sure you never threaten society again. Excessive violations of civil code should constitute a misdemeanor; excessive misemeanors should constitute a felony; excessive felonies should constitute a capital crime.

On the other hand, nothing enfuriates me more than "laws" passed with the unstated but clear purpose of revenue gathering. Most parking and speeding laws do little to maintain peace or resolve problems among the populace, but are enforced more consistently than more serious laws...partly because there is no "innocent until proven guilty" for speeding violations (interesting, isn't it, that burden of proof goes out the window if it's "only" $100 or so...), but also partly because it's a great source of revenue for a city or county. In fact, most jurisdictions rely on the fact that it is easier to just pay the fine than to go to the hassle to pay it. Justice should not be based on the hassle factor.

And what if a crime is truly heinous? Is there any punishment worthy of the cold-blooded and purposeful killing of five children by drowning? What is the appropriate punishment for someone who rapes, mutilates, tortures, maims, then slowly suffocates several girls who are under the age of 14? Depriving him of freedom for the rest of his life really doesn't do much to deter someone else who may feel the urge to do the same. But if you chose a particularly painful method of execution...? I don't know, that's probably not the answer, either. After all, who would carry out the sentence, and what effect would it have on the executioner?

I also find it interesting (as well as annoying), that the same people who want to prevent the government from protecting us (through advocating relaxing our penal system) are often the same ones who want to prevent us from protecting ourselves (through advocating tougher gun control laws). Sure the overlap isn't total, but... My government should protect me. It doesn't. Since it doesn't, I should at least have the right to protect myself. But I don't. Thank goodness we aren't as bad off as those in England and the rest of Europe, where the person defending himself with a gun is ALWAYS wrong, regardless of circumstance.

Sure, I'm no legal expert. I'm just a layperson with an opinion. But doesn't that have some legitimacy in and of itself? If the common man cannot understand the legal system (and they can't, believe me), then it seems increasingly clear the legal system exists only for the benefit of the lawyers and the legal system, not the people. This needs to be addressed. Of course, so does Tort Reform, but we've seen on that issue how much the needs of the people matter when compared to rich prosecuting attorneys, haven't we?

I'm feeling more and more cynical all the time.
|W|P|85139941|W|P||W|P|6:23 PM|W|P|Nathan|W|P|

This speaks for itself

From National Review Online Rod Dreher:

Mary Stachowicz, the middle-aged Chicago churchgoer allegedly killed by coworker Nicholas Gutierrez, a 19-year-old homosexual who reportedly snapped when the Catholic woman told him he should quit sleeping with men. According to Chicago police, Gutierrez confessed to killing Stachowicz in his apartment after arguing with her about his lifestyle. According to Chicago authorities, Gutierrez confessed that he set upon Stachowicz when she asked — are you ready for this? — "Why do you [have sex with] boys instead of girls?"

Obviously, this woman was a Nazi. As a state's attorney told the Chicago Tribune, "He got upset with her. The defendant punched and kicked and stabbed the victim until he was tired. He then placed a plastic garbage bag over her head and strangled her."

He reportedly then jammed her body into a crawlspace under his floor. A 19-year-old man allegedly did this to a 51-year-old woman, who came to visit him after receiving communion at a nearby Catholic Church, not because of anything she did to him, but of what she supposedly said to him. He didn't say, "Ma'am, my private life is none of your business, now please leave," or even, "Begone, bigot!" — both of which are understandable and defensible responses. No, he allegedly tortured the poor thing to death.

Where have we heard of this sort of thing before? Why, when three redneck men killed Matthew Shepard a few years ago, after the homosexual young man propositioned them in a bar. Understandably, the men found Shepard's words offensive. They should have told him to get lost. Instead, they tortured and killed him.

There is no moral difference between these acts. Both were heinous, and both deserve publicity. Yet the American media made Matthew Shepard an overnight cause célèbre, and have so far said very little about Mary Stachowicz — just as the media said very little about Jesse Dirkhising, the 13-year-old Arkansas boy raped, tortured, and strangled by homosexuals in 1999.
|W|P|85139693|W|P||W|P|6:22 PM|W|P|Nathan|W|P|

Quote of the Day

Friedrich Hayek: "We all declare for liberty: but in using the same word, we do not mean the same thing."
|W|P|85139655|W|P||W|P|6:20 PM|W|P|Nathan|W|P|

The Inflation of Poverty

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation crunched the numbers in the 2001 Census last year and found that, "Today, the typical American defined by the government as poor has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a VCR, a microwave, a stereo, and a color TV. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not over-crowded . . ." Meanwhile, 41 percent of "poor" people in America own their own homes. And, today, adjusted for inflation, expenditures per person among the poorest fifth of households equal those of the average household in the early 1970s.
|W|P|85139585|W|P||W|P|6:19 PM|W|P|Nathan|W|P|

Two things I'm tired of

Actually, it's two different manifestations of the same thing: poor knowledge and use of English.

Both would be solved if people were better readers, I wager.

Please, please PLEASE, people! It's a moot point, not a mute point.

Furthermore, if you do as you are supposed to, you are toeing the line, not towing the line. It comes from boxing in English, when you were supposed to step up and place your toe on the line before the match started, rather than dragging a rope.

Got it?

I doubt any of the guilty will ever read this. Please pass it on when you see someone make the mistake.

Thank you for your time and patience.
|W|P|85085564|W|P||W|P|6:13 PM|W|P|Nathan|W|P|

Have I made a difference at all?

In a moment of self-doubt and indecision, I wonder if keeping up with this blog is worth it. Yes, this is a shameless ruse to elicit fan mail. Okay, it's not, really. But in all seriousness, I know most people don't really listen much. Most people have their views set, and only someone they respect and trust can affect their opinion. I'm just as guilty, I'm sure. In the earlier debates about my faith and atheism, I think we both got in some good shots that had zero effect on the other's thinking. End result: we both realized we are starting from different assumptions, and nothing was changed or solved.

I'm sure it's the same thing with most of the topics I put out. If you agree with what I say, you cheer and think I'm smart. If you disagree with what I say, you consider me an idiot and may never come back. Or if you know me, you might just smile condescendingly and ignore the current diatribe you find so misguided.

So what's the point?

Well, I learn things from this. Jo has helped me narrow down what I dislike about the legal system (more on that later). If the only thing that happens from writing this blog is I learn from embarassing myself too many times, it is worth it. But I think I've already learned more than that.

As far as fan mail is concerned, is there anything any of you want to see me revisit? Is there any topic you'd like to hear my opinion on? I've got a million of 'em, I assure you.

About the legal system: one of the things that irritates me is what happened to Jo's friend. He was clapped in jail (I like that phrase) until the story finally started to unravel. He lost his job. But no harm done, right? After all, he was always assumed to be innocent until proven guilty, right? Nuts. The "Innocent until proven guilty" is a legal fiction; it doesn't actually exist. As a result, people's lives are ruined, or affected adversely at the very least. And we can carry out these smears and attacks because we (as a society) maintain that the suspect is still somehow unbesmirched.

If we could actually assume some people, in some crimes, are guilty until proven innocent, maybe it would be a bigger deal to make an accusation. Making an accusation could actually carry some legal ramifications for the accuser. Even if not, then there could be some consistent remuneration for being placed under suspicion. This should particularly be applied to the IRS. Please note, however, that I don't think legal ramifications should be applied to those who make accusations of rape or sexual harassment (although perhaps there should be some restitution made to those falsely accused...), because I do feel too many women are silenced out of societal pressure; we don't need to add more fear of reprisals.

Maybe the best example I can think of that underscores what I hate about our legal system is Susan Smith. I don't know all the details (who ever does?), but here's what I remember:

She killed her boys in a particularly heinous fashion: she drowned them in a lake by leaving them strapped in their carseats as she pushed the car into the lake. To avoid persecution, she said a black man had carjacked her vehicle. Think how many resources were wasted following up her statements. Think how many young black males were unlawfully detained or harassed. She finally confessed she did it. This should constitute as much of a slam dunk as possible. She should be assumed guilty and have to prove her innocence. The trial should only determine if she were somehow blackmailed or forced into a confession. Please note that if she were really blackmailed into the confession, our system of "innocent until proven guilty", combined with the probability the blackmail would also cause her to lie to her lawyer, would NOT discover the fact of the blackmail. Further, since her false testimony wasted time, money, and affected other innocent citizens unfairly, her sentence should have been bumped up to a near slam dunk for the death penalty.

There are other cases that would emphasize my complaints, I'm sure.

Look at what's been done to Steven Hatfill, the scientist accused of being behind the anthrax mailings. He is most emphatically NOT being treated as "innocent until proven guilty", but because our system does not recognize the way he is actually being treated, he has no recourse to recoup any losses associated with being a suspect. If we eventually find the perpetrator and it is not him, he will be owed more than the apology he won't get. On the other hand, if it is determined that he is actually the perpetrator, his crimes in avoiding prosecution would add to his crimes in the initial anthrax mailings. Yet our legal system does not, will not, and can not address these issues.

Let me sum up.

I want to actually quantify exactly HOW MANY guilty people can go free to prevent the conviction of an innocent...and then a discussion regarding the innocent being convicted already and the adverse effects on falsely accused innocent citizens with an aim toward attempting to address these problems.

I want to look at under what specific circumstances which safeguards can be removed with the advent of DNA testing.

I want some obvious cases to dispense with the "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" farce, if only to acknowledge that it is a farce, and to address the problems and costs associated with being a suspect, or being arrested, or being put on trial.

I want to remove the client-lawyer privilege. The lawyer should be held accountable for the person he defends and the type of defense he provides. The defense lawyer should be a mechanism of justice, not an escape from it. If someone obviously guilty can thereby not find a lawyer and has to represent him/herself, so be it. If there are people who appear irrefutably guilty even if they are innocent, well, no system is perfect, and the innocent are already being convicted under our current system. I still think if my ideas were implemented (after being refined and improved by those smarter than me, of course), fewer innocent people would be convicted.

We should not soften sentences for someone pleading guilty, we should increase sentence severity if someone pleads innocent but is found to have deliberately committed the crime and unrepentently attempted to avoid punishment (repentence after being proven guilty shouldn't count for anything).

Did I miss anything?
|W|P|85085265|W|P||W|P|6:12 PM|W|P|Nathan|W|P|

From She Thinks website

1. Myth: One in four women in college has been the victim of rape or attempted rape.
Fact: This mother of all factoids is based on a fallacious feminist study commissioned by Ms. magazine. The researcher, Mary Koss, hand-picked by hard-line feminist Gloria Steinem, acknowledges that 73 percent of the young women she counted as rape victims were not aware they had been raped. Forty-three percent of them were dating their "attacker" again.

Rape is a uniquely horrible crime. That is why we need sober and responsible research. Women will not be helped by hyperbole and hysteria. Truth is no enemy of compassion, and falsehood is no friend.

(Nara Schoenberg and Sam Roe, "The Making of an Epidemic," Toledo Blade, October 10, 1993; and Neil Gilbert, "Examining the Facts: Advocacy Research Overstates the Incidence of Date and Acquaintance Rape," Current Controversies in Family Violence eds. Richard Gelles and Donileen Loseke, Newbury Park, CA.: Sage Publications, 1993, pp.120-132; Robin Warshaw (with Ms. Foundation) I Never Called It Rape: The Ms. Report -- With afterward by Mary Koss, New York: Harper Perennial, 1988; Mary Koss, et al "The Scope of Rape," Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1987, Vol.55, pp.162-170; Mary Koss, et al "Stranger and Acquaintance Rape," Psychology of Women Quarterly, 1988, Vol.12, pp.1/24.Campus Crime and Security, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1997. *According to this study, campus police reported 1,310 forcible sex offenses on U.S. campuses in one year. That works out to an average of fewer than one rape per campus.)

2. Myth: Women earn 75 cents for every dollar a man earns.
Fact: The 75 cent figure is terribly misleading. This statistic is a snapshot of all current full-time workers. It does not consider relevant factors like length of time in the workplace, education, occupation, and number of hours worked per week. (The experience gap is particularly large between older men and women in the workplace.) When economists do the proper controls, the so-called gender wage gap narrows to the point of vanishing.

(Essential reading: Women's Figures: An Illustrated Guide to the Economic Progress of Women in America, by Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Christine Stolba, published by the Independent Women's Forum and the American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C. 2000.)

3. Myth: 30 percent of emergency room visits by women each year are the result of injuries from domestic violence.
Fact: This incendiary statistic is promoted by gender feminists whose primary goal seems to be to impugn men. Two responsible government studies report that the nationwide figure is closer to one percent. While these studies may have missed some cases of domestic violence, the 30% figure is a wild exaggeration.

(National Center for Health Statistics, National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 1992 Emergency Department Summary , Hyattsville, Maryland, March 1997; and U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Violence-Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments: Washington, D.C., August 1997.)

4. Myth: The phrase "rule of thumb" originated in a man's right to beat his wife provided the stick was no wider than his thumb.

Fact: This is an urban legend that is still taken seriously by activist law professors and harassment workshoppers. The Oxford English Dictionary has more than twenty citations for phrase "rule of thumb" (the earliest from 1692), but not a single mention of beatings, sticks, or husbands and wives.

(For a definitive debunking of the hoax see Henry Ansgar Kelly, "Rule of Thumb and the Folklaw of the Husband's Stick," The Journal of Legal Education, September 1994.)

5. Myth: Women have been shortchanged in medical research.
Fact: The National Institutes of Health and drug companies routinely include women in clinical trials that test for effectiveness of medications. By 1979, over 90% of all NIH-funded trials included women. Beginning in 1985, when the NIH's National Cancer Center began keeping track of specific cancer funding, it has annually spent more money on breast cancer than any other type of cancer. Currently, women represent over 60% of all subjects in NIH-funded clinical trials.

(Essential reading: Cathy Young and Sally Satel, "The Myth of Gender Bias in Medicine," Washington, D.C.: The Women's Freedom Network, 1997.)

6. Myth: Girls have been shortchanged in our gender-biased schools
Fact: No fair-minded person can review the education data and conclude that girls are the have-nots in our schools. Boys are slightly ahead of girls in math and science; girls are dramatically ahead in reading and writing. (The writing skills of 17-year-old boys are at the same level as 14-year- old girls.) Girls get better grades, they have higher aspirations, and they are more likely to go to college.

(See: Trends in Educational Equity of Girls & Women, Washington, D. C.: U.S. Department of Education, June 2000.)
7. Myth: "Our schools are training grounds for sexual harassment... boys are rarely punished, while girls are taught that it is their role to tolerate this humiliating conduct."

(National Organization of Women, "Issue Report: Sexual Harassment," April 1998.)
Fact: "Hostile Hallways," is the best-known study of harassment in grades 8-11. It was commissioned by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in 1993, and is a favorite of many harassment experts. But this survey revealed that girls are doing almost as much harassing as the boys. According to the study, "85 percent of girls and 76 percent of boys surveyed say they have experienced unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that interferes with their lives."

(Four scholars at the University of Michigan did a careful follow-up study of the AAUW data and concluded: "The majority of both genders (53%) described themselves as having been both victim and perpetrator of harassment -- that is most students had been harassed and had harassed others." And these researchers draw the right conclusion: "Our results led us to question the simple perpetrator-victim model...".) (See: American Education Research Journal, Summer 1996.)

8. Myth: Girls suffer a dramatic loss of self-esteem during adolescence.
Fact: This myth of the incredible shrinking girls was started by Carol Gilligan, professor of gender studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Gilligan has always enjoyed higher standing among feminist activists and journalists than among academic research psychologists. Scholars who follow the protocols of social science do not accept the reality of an adolescent "crisis" of confidence and "loss of voice." In 1993, American Psychologist reported the new consensus among researchers in adolescent development: "It is now known that the majority of adolescents of both genders successfully negotiate this developmental period without any major psychological or emotional disorder [and] develop a positive sense of personal identity. …"

(Anne C. Petersen et al. "Depression in Adolescence," American Psychologist February 1993; see also, Daniel Offer, and Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, "Debunking the Myths of Adolescence: Findings from Recent Research," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, November 1992.)

9. Myth: Gender is a social construction.
Fact: While environment and socialization do play a significant role in human life, a growing body of research in neuroscience, endocrinology, and psychology over the past 40 years suggests there is a biological basis for many sex differences in aptitudes and preferences. In general, males have better spatial reasoning skills; females better verbal skills. Males are greater risk takers; females are more nurturing.

Of course, this does not mean that women should be prevented from pursuing their goals in any field they choose; what it does suggest is that we should not expect parity in all fields. More women than men will continue to want to stay at home with small children and pursue careers in fields like early childhood education or psychology; men will continue to be over-represented in fields like helicopter mechanics and hydraulic engineering.

Warning: Most gender scholars in our universities have degrees in fields like English or comparative literature--not biology or neuroscience. These self-appointed experts on sexuality are scientifically illiterate. They substitute dogma and propaganda for reasoned scholarship.

(For a review of recent findings on sex differences see a special issue of The Scientific American [Special Quarterly Issue] "Men: The Scientific Truth," Summer 1999.)

10. Myth: Women's Studies Departments empowered women and gave them a voice in the academy.
Fact: Women's Studies empowered a small group of like-minded careerists. They have created an old-girl network that is far more elitist, narrow and closed than any of the old-boy networks they rail against. Vast numbers of moderate or dissident women scholars have been marginalized, excluded and silenced.

(Essential reading: everything by Camille Paglia; Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge--Professing Feminism: Cautionary Tales from the Strange World of Women's Studies; and Christina Hoff Sommers--Who Stole Feminism? How Women have Betrayed Women.)