You’re Welcome, Part One: The Jury System

The humorist John Hodgman had a bit called “You’re Welcome”, where he proposed elaborate and implausible solutions to fanciful problems, and pompously concluded with “You’re welcome.”

I actually am the kind of pompous tool that Hodges is only pretending to be, so I am going to point out some easy ways to solve various knotty problems currently confounding this republic. We start with the jury system. Continue reading

Criminals and Innocents

Charles Jones had just turned 18 the night he attacked me.  I was 20, and incautiously walking alone after midnight, through a construction tunnel built next to Washington’s M Street.  I had seen him on the corner before I entered the tunnel, a big but harmless-looking black kid listening to a Walkman, and I’d given him a distracted smile.  I heard him walking behind me, coughing intermittently.  About halfway down the one-block length of the tunnel, he jumped in front of me and simultaneously punched me in the face.  I found out later that he was holding a heavy metal jackknife in his fist to give it weight, but he could not have been very strong for his size because the punch itself did not do much damage.  My first thought was that he had confused me with someone else, someone he had a quarrel with.  He punched me again and then kicked me hard in the groin.

It was not, in fact, the first time I had been the victim of a serious crime. For a year or so in my teens, I was molested on a semi-regular basis.

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One more law

The San Francisco Chronicle in a rare burst of actual journalism traced the path of a single weapon, a 9mm Hi-Point semiautomatic pistol that was purchased in Walsenburg, Colorado, by Sanae Quiroz-Jones and Jerry Jones. The Joneses gave the gun to their nephew Travis Price, who was conveniently in the gun-trafficking business. Price mailed the gun to his girlfriend Wendy Gardiner in Fairfield, California. Gardiner sold it to a marijuana grower in Laytonville, Mendocino County, California, who sold it to an casino employee in town. The casino employee traded it to a high-school student named Aaron Campbell, in return for a pit-bull puppy. Several months later, Campbell, distraught over the death of his mother, used the gun to kill himself. Continue reading

Outlawing the New York Times

Before there were bloggers there were essayists and one of the greatest of them was the Sage of Baltimore, H. L. Mencken. My favorite portrait of Mencken is a cartoon of him at his desk, clenching his fists and, according to the caption, trying to think of more things that annoy him. Any annoyance, of course, was a boon: one more thing to write about.

Maybe I’m just more easily annoyed than my choleric fellow Baltimoron, or maybe life has just gotten more vexing in the last 75 years, but I never have to force myself to come up with things that annoy me.
Continue reading

Stupid and counter-stupid

Henry Kissinger famously said about the Iran-Iraq war, “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.”  I feel kind of the same way about this column by MSNBC’s Arthur Caplan, criticizing an AMA suggestion that fat kids be put into foster care.

The underlying suggestion is horrifying.  The geniuses behind it are Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health, and David Ludwig,  an “obesity specialist” at the Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital, two people who have obviously never had to deal with Child Protective Services in their lives.

Is it really necessary to detail what is wrong with taking children away from parents?  To I really have to list all the ways this policy, if enacted, will inevitably go wrong?  Honestly, I don’t think so.  Anyone who has ever tried to get any government agency to do anything will instantly see that letting it steal children to raise as its own is a bad, bad idea.

So MSNBC gave University of Pennsylvania bio-ethicist Arthur Caplan the easy task of pointing out all the reasons Murtagh and Ludwig are wrong.  He does a just-barely-adequate job (you should only take kids away when death is imminent, see, and obesity is a slow killer) before launching into his preferred solution: a huge government program that raises taxes on foods Caplan doesn’t like and that forces food companies to run advertisements blaming food companies and not fat people for fat people being fat.

In summary, since Caplan admits that putting kids in foster care is a bad idea, instead he wants to put the whole country in foster care.

Seriously, what is wrong with these people?  They all have PhDs, so they can’t be total mouth-breathers, right?  Is the contradiction between believing the average person is too stupid to figure out what to eat and believing he’s smart enough to figure out how to vote (and thereby select someone to tell him what to eat) really so obscure?  Is it really so difficult to admit that some individual problems are individual’s problems and are out of the scope of the government’s authority and responsibility?

Bonus innumeracy: Caplan says there are “an estimated 2 million children with body-mass index above the 99th percentile” in the US.  By definition, that would mean there are 200 million children total (out of a population of only 300 million).  No, there about 80 million children and, necessarily, only 800,000 of them are in the top 99th percentile.  Heck, half of them are below average weight!

Linda Beaudoin is mad at me

The bane of any blogger is silence. We write and write and write and … nothing. It’s like dropping a pebble in a well. You don’t get any response. The Internet equivalent of crickets chirping is nothing at all, and nothing at all is very, very common. Sometimes though, you have the opposite problem.

About two weeks ago, I wrote a post about a proposal, in Canada of all places, to make it mandatory that every children’s entertainer undergo a background check. The idea is to somehow protect children from abuse, but I’m a little unclear on how it’s supposed to work. I guess the theory is that a child molester will be caught once, convicted, released, and, solely because he is permanently barred from working as a department-store Santa, decides to give up molestation as an avocation.

What I am perfectly clear about it what will actually happen if this silly bill every becomes law: a bunch of people who would otherwise make perfectly good Easter Bunnies or whatever won’t, either because the cost of the licensing is prohibitive (given the not-extraordinarily-lucrative nature of working children’s birthday presents) or because they have some meaningless offense on their records. What won’t happen is even a single child being saved from abuse.

The champion of this bill is a woman named Linda Beaudoin, and Ms Beaudoin apparently Googles her own name once in a while. She read my post and, let’s say, disagreed. She posted a series of comments — you can read them for yourself but the gist is, she’s mad at me.

Well, okay, if I were busy doing something I thought was important and some snot I’d never heard of said what I was doing was silly, I’d be mad too, but I want to discuss her points in detail.

She writes “nothing in the world is 100%.” The criticism of the bill is not that it isn’t 100% effective, but that it’s 0% effective. Seriously, the proposed law would do absolutely no good, at least in the practical sense, and it would divert time, money, and attentions from other programs that could do some good.

She also points out a factual error in my post — the poster child for bad birthday clowns, John Wayne Gacy, did (contrary to what I wrote) have a previous conviction, he did 18 months of a 10-year sentence for sodomy. The record was sealed so he might still might have qualified for a clown-license, but let’s say for the sake of argument, he couldn’t get the clown card. So the horrific career of John Wayne Gacy would have been nipped in the bud.

Well, his clown career would have been stopped. His career as a serial killer still would have prospered.

I could go on but let me summarize. Ms Beaudoin passionately believes (a) child abuse is a serious problem, (b) something should be done about it, and (c) this is something, therefore we should do it.

She is right about the first two.

“You have the right to remain silent”

“What you lack is the capacity.”

Like almost all well-informed Americans, I get most of my information about the US legal systems from reruns of Law & Order.  If you watch that show enough — and I’ve seen all 456 episodes at least twice — you start to notice, most people on the show who go to jail only go there because they make the mistake of trusting Jerry Orbach’s hangdog face and answering his questions.

It isn’t like there’s a six-year-old child anywhere in American who can’t recite the Miranda warning by heart (the wisecrack from the top of this post comes from that cerebral legal drama Shrek 2).  Everyone can say it but no one, at least on TV, seems to remember it.

There are plenty of videos on the web — from  ACLU’s informative, if mawkish, video “Flex Your Right” to Chris Rock’s even more informative “How not to get your ass kicked by the police!” — warn you again and again, keep your mouth shut.

So I decided to just keep my mouth shut.  If any representative of law enforcement asks me a question, I’ll simply say nothing.

And that’s what I have been doing.  In upcoming posts, I will record my adventures so far.