Demythologizing the Myth-crackers

Demythologizing the demythologized.

Did they really?

The 300 Spartans were accompanied by some 5,000 other Greeks. An indeterminate, smaller number of these Greeks remained behind with the Spartans for a last stand after the Persians surrounded them.

Yes, judges in Medieval Europe, in many instances, believed witches would float, and that they copulated with the devil himself…

They didn’t burn witches in Salem– they hanged them.  In one instance, they “pressed” a witch: put a board on him and loaded it with rocks until he died (one “witch” was  man, Corey).

And after years of see-saw analysis, it looks like most researchers accept that a disproportionate number of rich people made it onto the Titanic’s lifeboats, which is what Walter Lord observed right at the start. They didn’t need to elbow people aside: the stewards simply made sure that the 3rd class passengers did not reach the boat deck until well after the first class had the opportunity to get into the boats.

Al Gore never claimed to have “invented” the internet– he claimed that he took the “initiative” in supporting it’s early development. Gore was in fact an early congressional supporter of the progenitor of the internet, Arpanet. For all practical purposes, that statement is substantially true, though his choice of phrasing was unfortunate.

On the other hand, the statement that he claimed to have invented the internet, while not accurate, does reflect something of the pomposity of the way Gore phrased his statement. It was clumsy. It should have been passed over quickly, but Republicans love to point out that their candidate is the stupid one who would never, in a million years, ever be mistaken for anyone who could have invented anything of any importance, whereas the Democrats nominated someone who arrogantly achieved things.

Marie Antoinette? The quote might well be apocryphal, but the perception that she was indifferent to the suffering of the poor, while leading a ridiculously extravagant lifestyle–even gambling and “playing” at being a milk-maid– is substantially true. I find it somewhat nauseating to now see websites aimed at high school students encouraging them to get to know this remarkable woman, with tie-ins to the movie. This is flat out ridiculous.

Yes, Joseph McCarthy persecuted innocent people.  He persecuted some guilty people too, but he persecuted many innocent people, destroyed their careers and livelihoods unjustly, and behaved like a bully and a pig.

Yes, Eva Duarte slept her way to the top.  Absolutely.  Please, please don’t accept Madonna’s spin on history.

And yes, 38 people were aware (to somewhat varying degree) of the murder of Kitty Genovese in Kew Gardens and did nothing.

The video of Arabs dancing in the street to celebrate 9/11 has long ago been debunked.  The video was of some other event.

How about “Does Donald Trump really have the world’s greatest memory?”  Judge for yourself.  By almost all accounts of individuals who worked with him, he never read any position papers or memorandums that were submitted to him, because he preferred articles with pictures and television.  [2022-05-08]


Kitty Genovese: The Immediate vs the Reimagined Truth — “Of course I heard the screams”.

It is somewhat inevitable that every genuinely sensational and shocking news story will eventually generate hype and exaggeration and distortion. We never seem satisfied with even the most surprising story. So humans rewrite and exaggerate and distort, and, after a time, it becomes difficult to know what really happened. Did 300 Spartans really hold off 5 million Persians all by themselves? Did judges in Medieval Europe really believe that witches float? Did they burn witches at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts in the 17th century? Did the rich really elbow their way into the lifeboats on the Titanic? Did Joseph McCarthy really accuse completely innocent people of being communists in the 1950’s? Did Marie Antoinette really suggest that starving peasants should eat cake?  Answers here.

Did Al Gore really claim to have invented the internet? Did some Arabs really dance in the streets to celebrate 9/11?

Did 38 people really stand by and do nothing while Kitty Genovese was murdered on the streets of New York in March, 1964?

Did Evita Peron “whore” her way to the pinnacle of power in Argentina?

The funny thing is, the core truth of many of these stories, if you can see beyond the ridiculous exaggerations imposed on them by later generations or Hollywood, is often quite remarkable. It is only in comparison to the hype that people sometimes think the gist of the story is not true. Often, that is a mistake. And then you will always find contrarians willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

Public shorthand for shocking events does tend to simplify and distort and exaggerate. At the same time, there is undoubtedly a temptation for a journalist or historian to uncover the exact truth and shout, “eureka– the public has been deceived” when, in fact, the essential truth of the original story is still quite compelling. We know there will always be some exaggeration and distortion in the retelling of human events.  But immediate first-hand accounts are often quite accurate.  They are less likely to be edited in memory by the spin imposed on events by public hysteria.

We also know, for example, that some of the people Senator Joseph McCarthy persecuted really were or had been communists. Anne Coulter, who wrote a book on the subject, would have you believe that this a shocking revelation that changes the meaning of “McCarthyism” and proves that Joseph McCarthy was actually a hero.

But then, someone else will come along and go back to the original story and discover, all over again, that Senator Joseph McCarthy was a repulsive, vainglorious, vindictive alcoholic thug and bully, and that his tactics really did constitute “persecution” and that he really was engaged in a “witch hunt”, in which refusing to answer questions made you just as guilty as a confession, and, of course, that most of his victims were innocent.

And so someone named Joseph De May has made the shocking discovery that 38 people did not actually watch Kitty Genovese’s murder from beginning to end.

De May’s “discovery” is only shocking if you have ever actually believed that 38 people actually saw the killing, with their eyeballs, from beginning to end and clearly saw a knife and saw Kitty Genovese bleeding to death and did nothing. I’m sure some people remember the story that way. I wonder how many reasonable people do.

You first have to appreciate that De May believes that the word “witness” should only apply to people who saw an event, clearly, with their eyes. He believes that that is what everyone else thinks too, and he spends a lot of time trying very hard to prove that 38 people did not see the murder.

My memory of the event is that 38 people heard or saw something of the attack and that not one of them called the police or offered any assistance to the young girl. After all of De May’s convoluted explanations, that information remains essentially accurate.

I don’t remember anyone ever insisting that most or all of the 38 actually saw the attack clearly. I don’t know why that would make a big difference to Joseph De May who admits that at least 12 people saw some part of the attack and at least 20 other people heard part of the attack and knew something was going on on the street below their windows. The New York Times editor, Abe Rosenthal, who wrote a book on the subject, insists that no New York Times reporter ever stated that 38 people saw the attack. The article uses the term “witness” as I would: people who heard or saw.  People who were aware of the incident at the time it happened.

I don’t think it would even have occurred to me to think about whether all 38 people saw the entire attack from the beginning to the end. Why would that make any difference?

De May insists that there were two separate attacks, not three.. Again, I’m not sure why he thinks that makes a big difference. Are we supposed to go, “Oh, well then, I can understand why no one went down to assist the girl. They were waiting for a third attack…” Furthermore, his case on that point is not as air-tight as he seems to think it is. He finds very little evidence in the official court record, but there is some witness evidence that Moseley went away and then came back twice. It’s not clear– and it doesn’t really matter– if he counts that as two attacks or one.

The essential facts as reported in the initial New York Times article remain substantially correct. The one disputed fact that would matter is this: De May claims to know of someone who did phone the police after the first attack. His evidence for this is not very compelling. A former New York City cop claims to have known an unidentified “old-timer” who told him that he had worked at that precinct the night in question and had received the first call. This was reported to De May 30 or 40 years after the events. Remember — the New York Times article was written the same month as the attacks, before people had a chance to “interpret” their memories.

There is as much– no– less!– evidence for this blockbuster claim than there is for the assertion that there were three, not two separate attacks. It’s unaccountable hearsay by someone who would have an interest in proving that his family or friends were not indifferent to human suffering.

Talk about a scoop! And Mr. Michael Hoffman– the retired cop–decided, in the face of all the publicity about this case, to keep this information secret until just recently! That’s is truly astonishing. It is even more astonishing that Mr. De May was not embarrassed to put this into the public record without even being able to supply the name of the police officer who told someone who told someone.

Then he proceeds to report that Andree Picq also called. Why, there was a veritable torrent of phone calls. Except that Andree felt her throat constrict and didn’t actually say anything on the phone before hanging up. So how do we know she called? She says so. The police, who indisputably did respond when they received a real call later, have no record of her call.

De May quotes the Times article about a man who saw the second attack. He told the reporter that he didn’t call the police because he was tired. He went back to bed. De May stunningly excuses this man because the Times reporter did not provide details of what the man thought he saw– only of the fact that he went back to bed right after he claimed he saw it. The man, by the time he talked to the reporter, knew a murder had taken place. He knew that what he was claiming to have witnessed resulted in the death of a young neighbor, and he knew the reporter knew that. Yet he casually dismisses his responsibility with “I was tired”… and De May exonerates him.

The rest of De May’s article consists of a lot of quibbling. It was rather dark. It was cold. It was not unusual for boisterous people to make a lot of noise in the streets nearby. Genovese got up after the first attack and may not have staggered quite as dramatically as some people believe she did. She seemed to walk slowly.

But even De May does not deny that Kitty screamed, “Oh, my God, he stabbed me! Please help me! Please help me!” But he actually quibbles over whether Winston Moseley stabbed her before or after she screamed! If he stabbed her first, then the witnesses who came to their windows could not have actually seen a stabbing. So then… you can’t blame them for ignoring the cries of “he stabbed me! Help me! Help me!”?

De May tries to argue that many of the witnesses would likely have thought that the noise coming from the street was not unusual for a neighborhood with a bar on the corner. But he had already admitted that people came to their windows to try to see what was going on– he argues that they couldn’t see very much. Why would they bother going to the window at 3:00 in the morning if they thought the screaming was coming from just one of many inebriated couples having a quarrel?

De May seems to think that people generally believe that most of the witnesses told police that they didn’t call because they didn’t think it was any of their business. I don’t know why anyone would think everyone would say the same thing.

Rather astoundingly, De May, defending the indifferent bystanders, actually lists five instances of people who testified in court that they heard Kitty screaming but did nothing. He quotes a witness as stating that he heard Kitty say “help me, help me” as proof that he did not hear Kitty say “he stabbed me”, and therefore… therefore what? Therefore had no obligation as a human being to react? To help? To at least call the police? The question is not whether the witnesses had an accurate perception of what was happening. The question is whether what the majority of witnesses heard and saw should have compelled a responsible citizen to at least investigate further. Some witnesses opened their windows. How large of a step is it to the point at which you shout to Kitty Genovese, “Are you okay? Do you want me to call the police?”

De May admits that the reporter whose article he claims to debunk, Martin Gansberg, interviewed virtually all of the same witnesses the police interviewed, immediately after the event. The product of Gansberg’s intimate familiarity with the feelings and attitudes of these witnesses is the conclusion that most of these people did not care enough about what they heard to investigate further, to provide assistance, or even to phone the police. De May admits that at least a dozen people heard something at 3:00 a.m., got out of bed, went to the window, and then went back to bed, or just stayed at the window and watched. Why? Because, he says, they justifiably believed nothing important was happening. And none of them decided to investigate further, even though what they heard was compelling enough to get them out of bed?

We enter into the realm of ridiculousness when De May starts describing how complicated it was to call the police with a telephone in 1964– before 911. A reasonable person could be forgiven for believing that many New Yorkers might actually be familiar with the process, or might have the number near their phones.

Karl Ross, who did finally instigate a phone call to the police– by asking another neighbor to do it– told the police, “I didn’t want to get involved”. Another woman told the police that she told her husband not to get involved.

I can’t find any evidence in De May’s website to prove his rather astounding claim that some people did in fact call immediately after the first attack. He claims that the police might not have recorded such a call. But the police responded immediately to a specific call that was made too late. Why would anyone think they had ignored an earlier call, but not this one? They were at the scene in 3 minutes.

Given the publicity this case generated, if someone had called, why would they not have come forward? Why doesn’t De May identify the person? Such a person would have been received as a hero. But the police, who interviewed everyone who lived in the area, could not locate a single person who claimed to have called them earlier than the neighbor asked by Mr. Ross.

De May argues that some of the witnesses may have been reluctant to call the police because they feared retribution. Well, this has become pathetic. After trying very hard to convince us that the witnesses never saw anything anyway, De May now wants us to believe that these good citizens were simply wisely looking after themselves and that’s why they closed their windows and went back to bed. So now he concedes that a number of people, had they not feared retribution, could have been expected to call the police?

Here he has clearly entered advocacy mode. He is no longer really interested in clearing up some misconceptions about the attack: he wants to restore the reputations of the citizens of Kew Gardens. Amazingly, just before making this argument, he argues that Kew Gardens was so crime free, that most of the witnesses probably didn’t believe they were actually seeing a murder. Or was it that they were so used to drunks leaving a nearby bar that they didn’t see anything remarkable about a woman screaming at 3:00 a.m., though it was remarkable enough to draw them out of bed and to their window, and for some of them to open their windows and try to see what was happening?

As proof that the 38 witnesses were not indifferent, De May quotes this one:

Of course I heard the screams. But there was nothing I could do. I was afraid. My hands were trembling. I couldn’t have dialed for an operator if I’d tried. I never even thought of it. I was too afraid.

That sounds about right. I don’t know why De May thinks this would correct my impression of what happened that night. It is one of what I would expect to be many reasons given by the 38 as to why they chose not to do anything. The “of course I heard the screams” is a ringing indictment: obviously many of the witnesses heard the screams.

What we have is revisionism. Now that the notoriety of Kew Gardens has been established, the people involved have revised their memories.

None of the reasons each individual had for inaction are very good. Each individual excuses, while unfortunate, is not preposterous. But what was compelling about the story of the murder of Kitty Genovese and remains just as compelling today is that a large number of people had good reason to be concerned about what was happening in the street just below them and chose to do nothing.

Joseph De May Fixes History

De May’s “research” [the website is down] into the issue was neither scrupulous nor objective. One of many examples was his complete trust in single-sourced anecdotal evidence that there were earlier calls to the police. The original news story relied on interviews with dozens of residents of Genovese’s apartment building.

[The original website about Kew Gardens is no longer there.]

Update 2011-11: David Brooks in the New York Times casually referred to the “mostly apocryphal” Kitty Genovese case. What shocked me is that only one respondent called him out on it.

More Update: a new angle has emerged with the fact that Kitty Genovese was gay, and living in a relationship with another woman at the time of the murder. Was that a factor in the indifference of her neighbors to what was happening? I’m skeptical.

Wikipedia stumbles: I like Wikipedia and I think that it is generally an extremely reliable source of information. However, it’s entry on Kitty Genovese is a bit strange. On the contentious issue of whether anyone else called the police before Karl Ross, Wikipedia reports, without citation:

Records of the earliest calls to police are unclear and were certainly not given a high priority by the police. One witness said his father called police after the initial attack and reported that a woman was “beat up, but got up and was staggering around.”

There is no objective contemporaneous news source for this claim. It sounds a lot, to me, like someone is hoping to rewrite history.

Furthermore, Wikipedia states flatly:

Moseley also testified at his own trial where he further described the attack, leaving no question that he was the killer.

“No question”? Albert DeSalvo claimed to be the Boston Strangler and provided the police with details of the crime scenes that, supposedly, only the perpetrator could have known. If you read the book by Gerold Frank, you know how convincing this story was. How else could Albert DeSalvo had known, for example, about a notebook hidden under a bed, or what kind of scarf was used to strangle Joann Graff, and so on?

DNA evidence later proved that he was not the man who murdered and raped Mary Sullivan, who was widely regarded as the last victim of the Boston Strangler. For good reason, many now suspect he didn’t commit any of the murders.

Apparently, the police can sometimes carelessly let those details slip into the conversation while trying to build a convincing confession… or not so carelessly. Several persons involved with the investigation later ran for political office: there was enormous pressure to solve the case. According to the Crime Library, top investigator John Bottomly clearly fed DeSalvo information to make the confession look convincing.

These murders occurred in exactly the same time period as Kitty Genovese’s murder. I have never heard anyone question whether Moseley actually did it, but some of the parallels are interesting, including the lack of physical evidence linking him to the crime, the quick voluntary confession, and the lack of eyewitness corroboration.

Here’s the alarming bit: Moseley also confessed to at least one other crime for which he was never charged… because police firmly believed they already had the culprit in custody.  That flashes a big fat red light, considering what we now know about unethical police interrogation methods.

Has anyone ever taken up this case? I don’t believe Moseley himself claims innocence– but then again, what would be the point? I think Moseley probably did do it– I just don’t think anyone should be glib about it given the lack of physical evidence.

Making it More Illegal

I recently read about a murder and rape in Florida, of a young girl, which has led to demands for new laws. They want the new law to be named after the victim.

With all due the respect, this idea of creating new laws every time a sensational crime is committed, is a very bad way to make laws. It is a very, very bad way to make laws.

It was not legal to rape and murder children when the crime was committed, and there really is no way to make it even more illegal than it already was. The shameless politicians behind these laws evade this issue by adding meaningless technicalities. They make it a separate crime to murder someone while drinking a slushy or something. So suspects can be charged with murder and with committing murder while drinking a slushy, and then with willfully committing a murder while drinking a slushy on a Tuesday..

And the idea that sentences need to be tougher than they already are in the most barbaric nation in the industrialized world, is preposterous. Nothing is going to bring back the victim of a murder, and I don’t believe that it really is satisfying to anyone to see someone else suffer as a consequence of the suffering caused to you. It’s just surrendering to the most childish of natural impulses: to hit back.

Allan Bloom & Leo Strauss and Real Political Correctness

The 20th was a century unlike any other.

I am this moment interested in one particular difference– the democratization of knowledge– the massive influx of middle-class and poor students into post-secondary institutions of higher learning that occurred in the 1960’s, and our ever-so-sweet, controversial, apocalyptic moral decline. Here we are. We’ve declined. We have the morality of alley cats. How did we get here?

For all the white noise and rhetorical flashes over the issue, it’s really not all that complicated. Until the 20th century, only the children of very rich, very privileged people could receive a higher education. These were children of people who benefited from the status quo. They were the status quo, either the church or the aristocracy. And all intellectual conversation took place on their terms, in their language, in a manner congenial to their ultimate self-interests, especially when it concerned noblesse oblige.

And then suddenly you have democracy and a prosperous middle class and suddenly children of hard-working middle-class parents get to go to college, and buy records, and go to movies, and read books, and suddenly Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom are whining about the tragic loss of culture and learning when what they really mean is that their privileged little ivory towers no longer command the landscape, and those suckers, those helplessly inane but physically peerless farmer’s boys, were no longer mindlessly willing to go immolate themselves on spears and in trenches in order to preserve Allan Bloom’s right to buy $4,000 dinner jackets, smoke Cuban cigars, and troll the streets of Paris looking for rough trade.

The same elitist attitudes certainly exist today. There has been no decline. If anything, there is probably more elitist achievement and behavior today than there ever was before. But the elitists are outnumbered. And they hate it. They just can’t stand the fact that Bruce Springsteen sells more copies of his songs about seducing New Jersey girls named Sandy with tight unzipped jeans, than the Chicago symphony will ever sell of any work by Beethoven. More people have seen “Blade Runner” than will ever see “Hamlet”. Besides, I’m not all that sure that “Hamlet” really is more important, or more of an indication of sophisticated and developed taste than “Blade Runner” is.

The bottom line is never surprising. Neo-cons like Bloom and Strauss and their disciples (who don’t occupy quite as many positions within the Bush administration as they used to) want to build a world in which their social and political class get to dictate culture to the masses. For all their bitter complaining about the “nanny state”, they are far more authoritarian, and far more willing to over-rule popular taste.

They are and always have been the real advocates of “political correctness”: patriotism, chastity, prurience, and consumerism.


Throw Away the Key II

On the famously liberal TV network, CBS, there is a program called “48 Hours” which recently ran an episode on the efforts of two women to keep a murderer, Wesley Wayne Miller, in jail.

Wesley Miller was a football player. He looked like Tom Cruise. He was a star of the team– or is that just a cliché offered by “48 Hours” to hype the story?– and you know how America treats athletes. You can be a complete moron and a good athlete and everyone will love you. It’s hard to tell if Miller was a moron or not. He doesn’t get to express himself very much in this piece.

Wesley Wayne Miller was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to 25 years in jail. I have no sympathy for Wesley Wayne Miller. He had a parole hearing after two years. That was probably due to some legal technicality and I doubt he had the slightest real chance of getting paroled– this is Texas– but it seemed disturbing.

I do have a lot of respect for the concept of “rule by law”. That means that a society agrees on a way to create and amend laws, creates and amends the laws, passes them, and then insists that they be applied equally and consistently to all citizens. The point of all this is that just because you like someone doesn’t mean you can give him a lighter sentence than someone else you don’t like. Personal bias should not be a factor. There should be clear and objective criteria. We don’t invite the family of the victim to determine what the punishment should be, for good reason: it would lead (as it has in the past) to blood feuds.

All of us, through our votes, determine what kind of justice system we have.

Well, now that I mention it– I don’t think that is true anymore. We do allow families of victims to give impact statements, though they still do not directly determine the sentence given.

The reporter of the piece, Susan Spenser professes astonishment at the “light” sentence Wesley Miller received. I was astonished that she considered the sentence light. That’s a pretty amazing judgment: 25 years locked up in a prison cell is a “light” sentence?  I suppose it is, compared to floggings or torture or slow strangulation.

The program proceeded to ascribe guilt for three or four other rapes to Wesley Wayne Miller, in spite of the fact that he was never charged or convicted of them. One victim now just “knows” it was him. He “probably” committed the others. Why bother with a trial? Who else could it have been?

And now that the viewers “know” (they do not “know” this)  that this man has committed all kinds of other crimes, over and on top of the one murder and rape, don’t you just share the absolute horror of the reporter at the idea that a man could serve his sentence and then be freed?

Miller applied for parole and was turned down several times. He was ordered to attend classes to remediate his sexual deviancy– is this some kind of joke? He refused. A psychologist regularly employed by the state certified that Wesley Miller had no redeeming characteristics whatsoever– a fascinating conclusion based on some kind of amazing insights that only a framed degree can give you.

Rona Stratton is the sister of Miller’s victim, Retha Stratton. She and her best friend, Lisa Gabbert, have made it their life’s mission to ensure that Miller pay forever for murdering Retha Stratton. They made sure that he never got parole by attending all of his hearings and organizing petitions.

They express deep pleasure– almost a sense of taunting– in watching Miller walk by during these hearings, knowing that they are partly responsible for keeping him in jail.

When he was finally released under Texas’ obligatory early release program (designed to reduce over-crowding in their despicably ill-managed prisons), they tried to get every community he could be assigned to to reject him. He ended up living in a county jail instead of a half-way house, where he was locked up for 23 hours a day. That kind of defeats the purpose of a transition home. Miller didn’t get any chance at all to adjust to life on the outside.

Now, I could see how the two women might take some grim satisfaction in seeing that Miller was not released early. But I was fascinated by the pleasure they took in it, their delight in hounding the guy. It’s almost impossible to feel sympathy for a former high school football jock, rapist and murderer, but you almost start to– he was told his sentence was for 25 years. They didn’t tell him that he would be fair game for family and friends of his victims to do whatever they could to increase his suffering as much as possible.

The two women succeeded in lobbying for a new law that created a special category of sexual offenders who could be controlled in various ways indefinitely by the state even after they had served their sentences. Is this constitutional?

More importantly: if a person is so psychotic that he deserves to be held indefinitely by the state, how can he be held to be criminally responsible for his crimes?

If Wesley Miller was criminally responsible, and not “psychotic”, then he would be sentenced to jail time. He wouldn’t get to go to a “cushy” psychiatric hospital, from which suspiciously intellectual and effeminate psychologists would be able to eventually release him as cured. No, no, no.

So he is a criminal. So he is criminally responsible. So, all right: he gets 25 years. I don’t think that’s a light sentence but some do. Well, tough. That’s the jury system. He was tried fair and square. If you don’t like the results, complain to the jury.

But don’t try this: change the laws afterwards so you can get back at him some other way. And that’s what they did. And now they are trying to get the law applied to Wesley Miller even though the law was enacted well after he had committed his crimes and been convicted and sentenced for them. Is that fair?  Is it constitutional?

It is absolutely not constitutional.

These two women are immune to any kind of backlash: they are family and friend of victims. How dare you think they might just might be vindictive or cruel, or that the sense of purpose they have found for their lives, inflicting suffering on another human being, is anything less than righteous, virtuous wrath?

That it might be misguided, narcissistic, and demeaning?

The sheer joy with which America punishes criminals with long, brutal sentences, makes you wonder if this will ever be a civilized society. It’s easy to be civilized if you think it means donating to charities and having award shows. It’s a lot harder if you think the heart of civility is the ability to see beyond personal payback.

2015-11-24 Update: And Just What is “civil commitment” anyway?

After serving his 25 years, and ending up in a county jail, authorities charged him with violations of the terms of his “civil commitment”. What did he do that was so awful? He received visits from his brother and his father. While incarcerated.

What did he receive for allowing his father and brother to visit him? (Presumably, it was his fault, even though you might think the prison authorities were partly responsible for letting them in when they presumably shouldn’t have.) Ten years, on each count.

But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals– in a rare moment of sanity– overturned the sentences because, after all, he was incarcerated at the times of the visit, so the restriction, which applied to a person on parole, did not apply.

So what is “civil commitment”? It’s a way to get around the law to punish people we particularly don’t like. This statement from another report sums it up perfectly: “He was required to live at the jail after his release”. I’m sure Wesley Miller can’t afford the kind of constitutional lawyers who could tear this kind of law to shreds.

I remain baffled at the fact that some states have been allowed to use the results of lie detector tests to determine if a person remains in “civil commitment”. Lie Detectors do not work. Has no lawyer been able to challenge this rule yet?

Anne Coulter’s Outburst

Anne Coulter’s outburst about John Edwards, calling him a “faggot”, like some prissy little schoolyard brat, got more than a little undeserved media attention. And it’s true that it’s fun to watch. Like Borat, singing the national anthem at a Texas Rodeo.

If there is a difference, it might be that no liberal groups, that I know of, would seriously consider inviting Sacha Baron Cohen to give the keynote at a serious gathering on policy or governance. Anne Coulter would be invited, and she is invited. There are conservatives who actually like and respect her and think she is a kind of prophetic figure who, inevitably, will be persecuted for her faith.

Liberals probably shouldn’t take her seriously, but then again, I’m not sure liberals take the Christian Right seriously enough. If you’ve watched the documentary, “Jesus Camp”, you might be somewhat alarmed at the militant dogmatism of this segment of the political spectrum, the absolute conviction that God is telling them exactly what to do, and that anyone who disagrees or opposes them is Satan’s spawn. No, they’re not burning witches at the moment. Probably they won’t soon. But the U.S. is locking up people without trial, sending them off to be tortured overseas, and dismissing the need for evidence or testimony against terrorist suspects.

Anne Coulter, if you’ve forgotten, once urged the U.S. to invade and Christianize hostile Arab states.  The last person on the entire earth that I would believe exemplifies any value you could associate with Christ is Anne Coulter.

She is a pimple on the forehead of American conservatism– a big, ugly, festering red one that just won’t go away.


Now that I’ve seen the movie, I have a one line review: the only things missing are the Nazi arm-bands.

Seriously, this a movie about how wonderful and beautiful and spiritually rewarding it is to die in warfare. We don’t know whether it’s good to die for a cause, because Sparta wasn’t really a “cause”– just a repository of mindless war and oppression.

In real life, the Persians were rather enlightened and well-regarded as far as empires go. They gave Jerusalem back to the Jews and ordered the Babylonians to return all the sacred relics to them.

In real life, Athens was worth fighting for: the prize of culture and learning and philosophy in the Greek world. Can you think of any Spartan philosophers, play-writes, or kings, other than Leonidas?

And it was the Athenians that inflicted the more significant wound on the Persian Empire with their naval victory at Salamis.

Oh, by the way, of course, the Spartans actually had an army of 5,000 other Greeks with them at Thermopylae. Didn’t notice them in the film, did you? There is a core of truth, in that 300 Spartans were a particularly effective force within the over-all effort– oh, what the heck, let’s just go crazy.

Before anyone rushes off to worship at the alter of “300” and rhapsodize about the beautiful, fit Spartans and how courageous they were to give their lives for freedom and liberty and their lovely, sexy wives, it ought to be remembered that Sparta was to freedom and beauty and life what Reverend Jim Jones was to true religion. The Spartans hated freedom, as much as they hated Athens, which did stand for freedom. Every soul in Sparta was expected to sacrifice his or her personal interests for the military good of the state, to the point of death.

If a soldier fled the battle scene, every soldier in his group would be executed for cowardice.

Yes, yes, let us duly note that compared to modern times, the notion of “freedom” in Athens in 400 BC was relatively constrained.

In Sparta, Plutarch tells us, when babies were born, they were tested for toughness and strength. If they failed the test, they would be abandoned on the side of Mount Taygetos.  (This, apparently, is a myth.)

Young boys were sent for military training by the time they were seven, at which time they might also enjoy the privilege of serving as the object of sexual gratification of an adult male.

It wasn’t all bad. Women in Sparta had many rights, including the right to hold property, and to go where-ever they pleased. Divorce laws were the same for women as for men. It seems that Spartan women were allowed to bring lovers into the house if they pleased, and to bear the children for other men– for the benefit of the entire commune. They dressed in short skirts, while the Athenian women wore bulky, long dresses and robes. This was remarkable for it’s day.

Sparta’s women were also educated, and they took part in athletic competitions, and there are accounts of Spartan princesses leading troupes into battle. Really, it’s kind of extraordinary. Why doesn’t someone make a good movie about this?

Sometimes these women would hold a contest to see who could take the most severe flogging. I am not making this up. More movie material.

So the primary benefit of the courage and fortitude of the Spartans is that they help preserve Athens from the potential ravages of the Persians.

In terms of Spartan art and culture, relics are conspicuously absent. It appears that it just didn’t exist.

If you could picture an entire society that operates and functions like an American college football team, complete with token curriculum and cheerleaders, you have Sparta.

Credit Card Debt: the New Indentured Servanthood

One of the most remarkable numbers to catch my attention in the past few years is the dollar figure for the credit card debt carried by the average American– remember, this is “average”: $8,500.

I’ve heard differing sets of numbers. All of them consistently end up between $7,000 and $12,000. That’s the monthly credit card balances of the average American.

To make this number really meaningful, you have to combine it with other information. Take the information that the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress, a few years ago, changed the rules on personal bankruptcy to make it much more difficult for individuals to crawl out from under a massive personal debt. In exchange for this sloppy kiss of a favor to the credit industry, consumers received…. nothing. No reduction in credit rates. No changes in the way interest is calculated on unpaid balances. No additional protection against ruthless or unscrupulous lenders. The attitude is: if you’re stupid enough to borrow money at those interest rates when you can’t pay it off, that’s your tough luck.

Nobody would dare mention the race issue on this question. Uh huh. Not me.

Another piece of information: for the past four months, for the first time in history, the average spending by an American exceeded his average income.

Do you think that George Bush is smart enough to understand that there might be a problem with this state of affairs? I don’t think so. I doubt he has even heard of this state of affairs. I’ll bet it hasn’t even been reported to him, because he is so focused on fixing Iraq that he doesn’t have time to mess with trivial economic issues, no sir.

Update 2022-05: if you thought the Democrats would do any better, remember that Joe Biden was the Senator from Delaware– the state that is home to the credit industry because it alone had no restriction on the “usurious” interest rates permitted on credit accounts.  Throughout his political career, Biden has defended this state of affairs.

Throw Away the Key

I’ve heard people say that you might as well lock sex offenders up forever because almost all of them re-offend.

There are facts available. The link in the left column provides more detail, but here’s a summary. The numbers represent the percentage of offenders who were previously convicted of the same offense.

  • Incest offenders ranged between 4 and 10 percent.
  • Rapists ranged between 7 and 35 percent.
  • Child molesters with female victims ranged between 10 and 29 percent.
  • Child molesters with male victims ranged between 13 and 40 percent.
  • Exhibitionists ranged between 41 and 71 percent.

Do these numbers surprise you?

Since the feminists have joined forces with the Moral Majority on crime issues, I find myself part of a very, very small minority of old-fashioned liberals who don’t believe that locking people up for long sentences accomplishes very much– except for the grim satisfaction of seeing someone else suffer. If that’s what you want. And it is what most people want.

Sorry. Dark moment for me. But it is what most people want.

Some days, doesn’t seem like there is much light on the other side.

On Sex Offender Recidivism