The Price of Hostages

Of course, our sages were aware that ransoming prisoners can also lead to other dangers. If a community is too quick to pay ransom, then it risks incentivizing kidnappers. One therefore needs to calculate the dangers of overpaying. But this stipulation does not negate the ethos, only contextualizes it.  NYTimes

I was surprised to find this in the New York Times.

A history of Israel’s Negotiations with Hostage Takers

“Does not negate the ethos” is a piece of rogue logic that doesn’t follow anything previously stated.  In fact, it directly negates the ethos: your action (paying hostage-takers) may cause other people to be taken hostage and  cause other families to experience the grief you experienced.   The writer, Mikhael Manekin, is telling you: I can make the illogical logical with my magic word “contextualize”.

What does this mean:  “Contextualizes it”?  Other than, let’s introduce some really fuzzy logic here– the context is my emotions.  I feel devastatingly awful for the families of hostages so lets compel the government to do everything it can to get them back, even if the success of the hostage-taking leads to more hostages.

That is what the writer has admitted in the article.  “It risks incentivizing kidnappers” stated as if, oh well, it might not happen.  It absolutely happens.  She gives us the glories of compassion and capitulation: pay them, pay them, pay them!

Paying the kidnappers provides one with cheap virtue.  You congratulate yourself for your act of kindness and disregard the consequences for others.

In 2011, it [Israel] released more than 1,000 prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was kidnapped in 2006 by Hamas.

Wow.  And does anyone publicly ask whether any of those 1,000 prisoners were involved in the slaughter in Israel last weekend, or in the hostage-taking?  Would anyone be surprised if they were?  [In fact, the current leader of Hamas was one of the 1,000!]

The PBS News Hour, which I normally am very fond of, did a series a while ago in which Amna Nawaz interviewed families of hostages held in Iran or Russia.  The stories were given extraordinary length for a situation that only involves one person each, and I think Amna had tears in her eyes.  The story screamed at the viewer:  do something!  Anything!  [This continued for several episodes with further interviews with relatives of hostages, again, with extraordinary length for a national news story.]

[Update, yesterday (2023-11-21), Amna again interviewed a pair of American women whose children or grand-children are being held as hostages.  Again, the interview was granted a large chunk of national news time and space.  How many viewers consider the fact that there are dozens of other stories, equally compelling, involving as much or more suffering, that are selectively not covered most media outlets because the Israel story is, for the moment, the world’s rage.

The one question she did not ask: is it possible that paying the ransom of a prisoner held previously led to your loved one being held for ransom?

I thought I had heard once that Israel’s stated policy was to never pay ransoms.  Obviously, either my memory is mistaken or their policy has changed.  I thought then, as I think now, that that policy was the right one, as heart-breaking as it may seem to the families of hostages.   You won’t share my view unless reporters like Amna Nawaz ask the question: did negotiating with the last hostage-takers cause this hostage-taking?  Are your children (or husband or father etc.) at risk because the tears of the last families of the hostages persuaded the government to give in and negotiate even though it was bad policy to do so.  For obvious reasons.

I suspect it may have changed for the same wrong reason the stated policy of the U.S. (also to not pay ransoms) is frequently ignored: families of the hostages take to the TV screens, sometimes complaining bitterly that the President won’t meet with them, soaking up the tears of compassionate viewers and the outrage: why don’t they do something?  It’s bullying, really.   I resent them.  I resent them because they don’t seem to care that the government action they want will endanger the lives of others.  They implicitly insist that others can suffer as long as their loved ones are saved.  But that doesn’t sound nice, does it?  That’s why reporters like Amna Nawaz don’t bring it.

No family is going to go on TV and complain about the family of a former hostage forcing the government to negotiate that ransom thereby incentivizing the kidnappers who hold their son or daughter or husband.

I know some people will think I’m heartless.  Heartless to who?  The current victim or the next one?  I believe those who readily pay ransoms are the heartless ones: they know– they surely know– that they have just confirmed to the world the value of taking hostages.  They have insisted on rewarding a criminal.  They threaten to smear any politician who resists their entreaties as callous, heartless, and monstrous,  and politicians know that the general public will buy it.  Why don’t they pay the ransom this one time?  How can they be so cruel?  Even the reporter is crying.

I believe the U.S. and Canada should make it clear –as they generally do– to people who visit Iran and Russia and other nations that are not ruled by law that they risk being taken hostage, arbitrarily imprisoned, or kidnapped, and that the government– having warned them not to go there– will not pay any ransom for their release.

Brittney Yevette Griner chose to play for a professional basketball team in Russian and was caught bringing hash oil into the country in February, 2022.  She was sentenced to 9 years labor in one of Russia’s brutal prisons.  Yes, that is absolutely awful, and Russia has a repugnant lawless regime.  That’s why you don’t go there if you have any sense.  That’s why you don’t put your government and families in a terrible position in the selfish pursuit of your own interests.

And that’s why, as heartless as it seems, the U.S. should have refused to offer anything in exchange for her release.

And if you are an American in Russia right now– are you kidding me?

But of course they did pay the ransom.

“On December 8, Griner was released in a prisoner exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.”  (Wiki)  

Bout was charged and convicted of supplying weapons to terrorists that could or would be used against American soldiers.  After release, he returned to Russia and entered politics.

The people who were or will be victimized by Viktor Bout will remain anonymous, faceless, invisible.  They won’t be on PBS News Hour pleading for the lives of their loved ones who died in a conflagration somewhere fueled by weapons sold to insurgents or terrorists by Viktor Bout.  It’s not as personal as Brittney’s mom pleading with President Biden on TV.  And Amna Nawaz won’t be tearing up as she reports on the deaths of civilians in a terrorist attack that was enabled by Viktor Bout.

For any individual case, a non-negotiation policy is heart-breaking.  In the long-term, if  potential hostage-takers know that the government they wish to blackmail has a strictly-observed policy of not negotiating, it seems reasonable to believe that they would be less likely to take a hostage.  Even better, follow your own government’s advice and don’t go there.

The next time America captures, tries, and convicts a Russian criminal, if I were an America, I would stay as far away from Russia as possible.

Because Russia knows that a TV interview with the family of a hostage will be enough to push the government into bad policy.





“I Don’t Give a Fuck if You’re Innocent: The Perverse Judicial Philosophy of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas”

A man is convicted of rape and murder of a child.  He is sentenced to death.  He appeals and appeals, and the execution is delayed.  He ends up sitting in prison for 30 years.

But he has always maintained his innocence.  Many people believe him.  After considerable efforts by outside groups, his case is re-examined by the same District Attorney’s office that convicted him and they discover that the evidence used to convict him was false, was presented to the jury inaccurately, and that in all probability he did not commit the crime.   They find that he had a remarkably incompetent lawyer and they assert that a reasonably competent attorney could, with some assurance, have persuaded a jury of their client’s innocence.

The key evidence against him consisted of an “expert’s” conclusion that internal injuries suffered by the child could only have occurred during a window of opportunity when the man had exclusive custody of the child and, presumably, may have been caused by rape.  A reexamination of that evidence by competent experts concluded, with certainty, that the injuries had, in fact, occurred before that window of opportunity.  The other charges against him all depended on that original medical evidence.

The man was innocent though it was believed he should have sought medical care for the child sooner than he did.

Quiz question:  would the legal system in the United States then do the right thing and release the man, and expunge his record?

I bet you think so.  I bet any decent, rational human being would think so.  But you are not Clarence Thomas.  Here is Clarence Thomas’ judgement:

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said that a federal court considering a habeas corpus petition, or a petition challenging the validity of a prisoner’s conviction or sentence, “may not conduct an evidentiary hearing or otherwise consider evidence beyond the state-court record based on ineffective assistance of state post-conviction counsel.”

In other words, nah nah nah nah.  In other words, we don’t give a damn if he’s innocent: lock him up.  This is a Supreme Court Justice speaking.  He has god-like powers of the judicial system in the United States.  He openly declared that even if a man can be proven innocent, once a court has found him guilty, he stays guilty.

We made a huge mistake, a massive judicial error, but because you didn’t catch us, you have to die.  (Barry Jones was sentenced to death: I’m not sure why it was not carried out.)

“The idea that Mr. Jones had committed the fatal injury — the evidence was no longer there,” she concluded, adding, “The original theory of the state was flawed.”  Laura Conover

Laura Conover is the country attorney for Pima County which prosecuted the original case in 1995.  It is quite unusual for officials in the same office that prosecuted an innocent man to man up and admit they made a mistake.  It is rare.  Bravo for Laura Conover.  One wishes she was on the Supreme Court instead of Clarence fucking Thomas.

Thomas isn’t alone on this: the other five Republican appointees think it’s perfectly swell to not want to hear anything that contradicts a guilty conviction once the sucker has been convicted.   This is a legal system that knowingly denies poor litigants adequate counsel.  Public Defenders, as every knows, are almost all overwhelmed with the volume of cases they handle, which is also why so many plea deals are made.  This is why many, many innocent people plead guilty to reduced charges– because they know that their chances of being convicted no matter what the evidence is very high.

I use the word “fuck” in my title because this attitude by fucking Clarence Thomas and his asshole colleagues is utterly, monstrously, categorically evil.  There are those who agree with my conclusion but feel it is counterproductive to resort to name-calling and invective.  I’m not involved in U.S. politics so I feel free to say what I think about Clarence Fucking Thomas.  He should be impeached.  And all of the Republican Senators who voted to confirm him should resign their seats in craven remorse because they all declare loudly and vociferously how much they love freedom and liberty and justice for all.




False Statements and Superfluous Details

It is always fascinating to read about a very old mystery that is finally solved.

In 1984, a twelve-year-old girl, Jonelle Matthews, disappeared from her home in Greely, Colorado.  Police say they have been “haunted” by the case since then.  Last week, the mystery was “solved”.  A man named Steve Pankey was convicted of her kidnapping and murder.

Wow!  DNA evidence, right?  Fingerprints?  A witness?  A confession?

Well, we now know better than to trust confessions.

The evidence, as far as can be determined from the news article in the New York Times and Wiki, consists mostly of Pankey making “odd” comments about the case, showing an “unusual” interest in it, and …  well, read about it.   It’s get weirder and weirder.  Apparently, Pankey, who is divorced, and whose wife seems to have provided police with some of the evidence of Pankey’s “odd” interest in the case, admits to being a celibate homosexual, even while he served as an assistant pastor at his church.

His wife, apparently, does not remember that his alibi– that he was with her the night of the kidnapping– was a lie.  She was there with him, just a few nights before they left for a trip to California.  The car was already partly packed.  Would she not remember if he had been out that evening, if she remembers that he listened to radio accounts with suspiciously strong curiosity, or that he asked her to read newspaper accounts of the story aloud to him after they arrived home?

Jonelle’s body was found in 2019 by a construction crew working on a pipeline.  There is no DNA evidence, no finger-prints, no photos, no witnesses.  There is, in short, nothing but a rather bizarre interpretation of some odd but not really strange verbal expressions by the suspect.

This is not the first time some odd person has made curious statements about an unsolved murder.  We should know better by now: it’s a psychological condition, a personality quirk, a bizarre compulsion.  If a person behaves “oddly”, by all means, check it out.  But if there is no supporting evidence, you probably have something similar to this case.

Ask yourself this: would the police have ever excluded a possible suspect because he didn’t provide “superfluous details” when discussing the case with them?

But to bring a case like that to court, based sole on the “superfluous” detail or “excessive” interest is worse than inadequate.  It borders on criminal abuse.  Close enough!  Hang him!  Great police work!  Medals for everybody.

And Jonelle’s family is glad to have “closure”.  If I were in Jonelle’s family, I would tell the police, “are you fucking kidding me?”  Get back to work.

This is all absurd.  It’s idiotic.  And, as if we don’t already know from election-deniers,  it is further evidence that a lot of people are, frankly, stupid: a jury voted unanimously that, by golly, if the police think he’s guilty, he must be guilty.  They convicted him.

Pankey insists he is innocent.  He says he is being persecuted because of his homosexuality.  He might be right.

I love the “superfluous details”.  The police felt that the “superfluous details” implicated him.  Because there is some kind of magical police science that tells you that men who provide “superfluous details” likely committed a crime.  Just as, when I was little, my mother believed that giggling if someone stared at you and asked if you were lying meant that you were lying.

I know people who put on a grave, serious expression when talking about police who were killed or injured on duty, as if there is something solemn or sacred about them.   It is very hard, especially recently, especially after the numerous incidents in which police behaved very, very badly (even to the point of homicide) and not one of the officers who saw or heard of the incident reported it, to not believe that most police don’t deserve our respect.

Interesting side-note: Jonelle was born to a 13-year-old girl, and then adopted.

“A chokecherry tree was planted in front of Franklin Middle School in memory of Jonelle. The tree died after a few years and a plaque inscribed with Jonelle’s name disappeared.[18]”  (Wiki)  So much for that solemn commitment to commemorate and honor her memory.  I guess it was a superfluous detail.


The Implications

Today it was revealed that the Supreme Court is likely to rule to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Everyone is hopefully clear on the fact that overturning “Roe vs Wade” does not make abortion illegal.  It throws the problem back to the states which now may either ban it, partially ban it, or allow it, depending on the whims of state legislators.

States will now be allowed to compel women to carry a pregnancy to full term whether they wish to or not, even in the case of incest or rape.

If this indeed is going to be the ruling (which will be handed down in June), there are some enormous implications.  Off hand, I can think of these:

  • The Democratic base will be energized going into the fall congressional elections.  This is Mitch McConnell’s nightmare.  Mid-term elections generally favor the opposition party at least partly because the government doesn’t have a burning issue to run against– it is the government many people like to vote against no matter what stripe.  But overturning Roe vs Wade may light a fire under the Democrats.
  • The issue should play well for the Democrats.  About 60-65% of Americans support the general right to abortion, though they also think limits should apply.  Democrats can cite the government telling women what they may or may not do with their bodies.  Republican state governments are going to “compel” women to carry pregnancies to term which can be spun as intrusive or egregious or over-reach or patriarchal.  Republicans cannot really run on “life begins at conception”– at least, I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • Further to that — evangelical Christians will not be satisfied with overturning Roe vs. Wade.  They want the Supreme Court to go further and ban all abortions.  Life, to them, begins at conception.  They may begin to demand that their Republican trolls reflect that in their legislation, which may be a bridge too far for independents and moderate Republican women.
  • Why stop at Roe vs Wade?  There are host of privacy rights implied in the principle that the Constitution does not protect them.  Strip searches?  Infrared scans of homes?  Drones?  Cell phone messages?  Library records?  Who says we (the FBI, Homeland Security) can’t look?   Who says those records are private (unless the police have a warrant)?
  • So when really does life begin?  If state governments begin debating this issue, and pass legislation, and this legislation is appealed to the Supreme Court, we will have an even bigger can of worms.
  • State Senate races in close states could swing.  Susan Collins is safe for now– she has five years left in her term.  Lisa Murkowski– lucky for her– voted against Kavanaugh, so she is probably safe.  But many other Republicans running in purple states will have to answer the question of who they would confirm to Supreme Court given that they might make another really stupid decision.  (Is “stupid” a blunt instrument?  I mean, Alito and Thomas are obviously not fools, but I stand by my conclusion of the fundamental soundness of their reasoning behind their votes on Roe vs Wade.  In the totality of their disregard for history, culture, justice, and just plain common sense: stupid.  Just plain stupid.  It can stand with the Dred Scott decision– that negroes are not “persons”.)

As you would think is obvious, the ruling is at odds with conservative ideals about government being restrained from intruding into areas of personal freedom.  The government should not be able to require you to wear a mask  around vulnerable people even if you could be infected with Covid 19, but it should be allowed to compel you to carry a pregnancy to full term.


“Because of the Thoroughness With Which the Accuser Was Discredited”

Paul Takakjian, a criminal defense lawyer who is not involved in Bauer’s case but previously served as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, said he saw Thursday’s ruling as “a harbinger of maybe good news” for [Trevor] Bauer in his criminal investigation “because of the thoroughness with which the accuser was discredited in the judge’s eyes.”  NY Times [2022-04-30]

I post this link with no pleasure, but because we are all continually confronted with advocates for women insisting that women never lie about sexual assault.

It appears that the woman let slip that she hoped to extract a large sum of money from Bauer as a result of her allegations, and in spite of lavish evidence that she consented to his actions in the bedroom.  In fact, the woman initiated contact with Bauer and requested “rough sex” and, apparently, even specifically asked for actions by Bauer that she later alleged were abusive.

I am disappointed– but not surprised– that Major League Baseball suspended Bauer for 2 years regardless of the facts.  It is not logical.  Either the woman has been discredited or she has not.  If she was discredited– and she certainly was after a “thorough” investigation– then Bauer’s behavior may have been distasteful and offensive to the more mainstream (public) preferences of Commissioner Rob Manfred and his colleagues, but it should not be grounds for a suspension, and I would not be surprised if Bauer wins his appeal.

I repeat that– it was a thorough investigation.  No judge would be eager to dismiss charges in an explosive case like this but the judge,  Dianna Gould-Saltman — yes, a woman– had no choice.  The evidence was clear and convincing.

This reminds me of the Jian Ghomeshi case in which several women also lied about the incident– to the police and in court– and then coordinated their stories.  Ghomeshi’s lawyer provided the court with convincing proof that the women had lied and the case was dismissed.  Yet the feminist establishment continued to behave as if he had been found guilty.

They will behave the same way in the case of Trevor Bauer and that is why MLB suspended him in spite of the court case collapse.  If they had let him resume his career, they would have been relentlessly savaged in the media and nobody wants to have defend someone whose taste runs to rough sex, and nobody wants to even mention the fact that the woman requested it because feminist orthodoxy is that the woman never asks for it.

Another case of a woman lying about sexual assault.


Ketanji Brown Jackson

I really wish Biden had not announced, during his campaign for the presidency, that he would appoint the first black woman justice to the Supreme Court.

There was no need.  He should have said nothing and then gone ahead and appointed Ketanji Brown Jackson out of the blue, as his choice as the most qualified candidate.

Not because he was wrong.  But because it fed into the false far-right narrative that deliberately choosing a black woman and excluding all white men or women is a form of racial discrimination.

So if a black person is charged with a crime and appeals his verdict all the way to the Supreme Court and is a confronted with 9 old white men who will arbitrate his fate, there is no problem.  They are the best.  They are the most qualified.  And there could not possibly be the slightest racial bias embedded in their judgements.

That’s what the far-right would have you believe because, to be blunt, they are too stupid to see a problem.

What they ignore, of course, is, first of all, that there very likely is a racist element to the selection of those judges.  Every single Senator who voted to confirm those justices could openly, sincerely declare that race did not play a role in their choice to confirm.  But that would imply the belief that racism played no role in the establishment that created the network of personal connections, criteria, cultural institutions, inflections, language, and so on that provided them with the nominees from which they chose the members of the Supreme Court.  They might even sincerely believe that these old white male justices would have enough amazing insights into all of the issues and conditions that black people experience to render an objective and fair verdict on each case.  They might believe that black people experience the same law and the same enforcement strategies as white people and that, therefore, there could not possibly be any discriminations or injustice in the way the police and prosecutors conduct their prosecutions.  The police are just as likely to stop or pull over a white citizen for a “random” check as a black citizen.  They are just as like to respect his rights and assume innocence as a they would for a white suspect.  They are just as likely to use physical force.

That is a fantasy.

I don’t think they really believe it themselves.  They know they cannot openly declare that only white people (or black conservatives) should be on the Supreme Court because they are white.  They can’t openly declare that black people are trying to steal the material benefits created by hard-working white people.

They can’t admit that Clarence Thomas was chosen because he was a black conservative and they relished the idea of liberals having to consider rejecting a black nominee just because he was a lousy ideologically driven judge.

Death Juries

It is a peculiarity of the American justice system that the prosecution is allowed to exclude jurors who say they would never vote for the death penalty.  [2022-04-12:  I discovered recently that not all judges agree with this and in some cases have allowed jurors who do not subscribe to murder as a remedy.]

On what basis is this done? We are given to understand that it would be unfair for the prosecution to have to convince someone who didn’t believe in the death penalty to vote for the death penalty? But why is that unfair? A suspect is entitled to a jury of his peers. If, say, 30 or 40% of the general population is opposed to the death penalty, why is that view excluded from the jury?

I am very confident that a simple study would show that death penalty enthusiasts would also be more likely to vote guilty just because they are sure than any person accused of any crime probably committed the crime. So doesn’t this process actually stack the jury?

Well, because then we would never get the death penalty, because there would always be one or two jurors who would not vote for it. And that is wrong because…? Because the people in favor of the death penalty demand the right to prevail! It’s not fair that people who disagree with me get to have even one member of the jury who doesn’t share my desire to kill someone.

Turns out the courts have considered exactly that point. And responded with a somewhat bizarre ruling:

“In Lockhart v. McCree, the results of the empirical research on the effects of death-qualification came before the Supreme Court. The court held that the process of death-qualification does not unconstitutionally bias juries towards a verdict of guilt. Justice Rehnquist criticized the research, but ultimately the Court held that general empirical research could not decide the issue; instead, a defendant would have to demonstrate that his or her own jury was biased.” So proof would consist of being found innocent.

Nicely parried Rehnquist! Scatalogical reasoning worthy of a Scalia, along the lines of: you have to prove that your specific all-white jury was biased against you, not just that the principle of excluding all blacks from juries is unconstitutional. Therefore, you Alabama prosecutors just go right ahead and continue to empanel whites only juries!

If you think that sounds like another 5-4 ruling along partisan political lines, you’re correct. Did anyone, while arguments were presented, ask Clarence Thomas why he was allowed on the Supreme Court? After all, no one would ever be able to show that a perpetually white Supreme Court was ever biased in any particular decision.

The smell around the issue has become a bit more pungent with the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the Boston Marathon bombing.

The latest poll shows that less than 20% of Massachusetts citizens believe Tsarnaev should be executed. In a country that positively adores punishing people and killing them when given the opportunity to excuse their wish to kill people, that number is astonishing: less than 20% of the population of Massachusetts are barbarians.

So why are they even talking about the death penalty? Because certain government officials in Massachusetts, in the State Attorney’s office, decided that they needed to transfer the case to the Federal Government precisely so that Tsarnaev could be executed, in spite of the fact that Massachusetts does not have the death penalty.

And… is that not possible grounds for a future appeal?

If they are going to have the death penalty, it should absolutely be public. If the public can’t stand watching, then vote to abolish it. Nobody should be allowed to support the death penalty and then go cower in a little box in the corner of the basement and pretend not to know that someone, on their behalf, is going to murder someone else, in the coldest blood possible, because this is an execution, not a bar fight. It is pure cold blood. The executioner should never wear a mask: what do you have to be ashamed of? What is it? Why don’t you want us to know that you are willing to kill people, as long as it’s dressed up with symbolism and ceremony and piety.

My position on the death penalty can be simply summed up thusly: the logic of “we think the taking of a human life is so terrible, so shocking, so monstrous, that we will take a human life in retribution” is patently absurd.

“…spoke from his cloak/ so deep and distinguished’ Bob Dylan


* * *

Some questions they ask potential jurors:

  • I am strongly in favor of the death penalty, and would have a difficult time voting against it, regardless of the facts of the case. (true or false)
  • I generally favor the death penalty, but I would base a decision to impose it on the facts and the law in the case. (true or false)
  • I am generally opposed to the death penalty, but I believe I can put aside my feelings against the death penalty and impose it if it is called for by the facts and law in the case. (true or false)

The last one is bizarre:  Okay. So I could put away my “feelings” against the death penalty and impose it if “it is called for by the facts and the law in this case”. I thought that the whole point of the abolitionist’s position is that the death penalty is never rightly called for by any facts or law? 

Crackpot Justice: the FBI Lies

Just what kind of crackpot justice system is this?

It is now reported in the Washington Post that the celebrated FBI laboratory has acknowledged– not “discovered”– acknowledged– that the evidence it has given in respect of matching hairs– usually those found on the victim to those of the suspect– was not based on real science.

Not only will many court cases (at least 268) have to be reviewed carefully, but a lot of Hollywood movies and TV Dramas might want to revisit their plot points.

What is striking is that the faulty evidence given by the FBI almost always favored the prosecution– up to 95%, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project.

Thirty-two of the defendants had been sentenced to death.

Can’t wait to see that dramatized in the TV series.

The Grass Grows Under My Feet

They said the psychiatrist told them he didn’t believe their son had a substance abuse problem. But by then, the boy had other problems. After the disciplinary hearing, “he just broke down and said his life was over. He would never be able to get into college; he would never be able to get a job,” Linda Bays said.   Roanoke Times, 2015-03-15

On March 14th, the Roanoke Times posted a story–a true story– about a school district which suspended an 11-year-old boy for possession of marijuana.

The “marijuana” was not marijuana, but here’s what happened– and it’s a profound story that authorities far and wide should study carefully, because it’s the story of the most wicked and stupid actions of authorities everywhere.

A snitch told the principal at Bedford Middle School that a boy– known as R. M. B.– had some marijuana in his possession that he was showing around, on the bus, or maybe it was in the bathroom, or, wait a minute, I think it was in the classroom.

The boy was apprehended and searched and a leaf of something was found. The expert pedagogue consulted google and concluded that it was a marijuana leaf and summoned the police and suspended the boy from the school for 364 days.

First detail of note: it was a leaf, not a bud. It does not appear to have occurred to the authorities that this detail mattered in the least.

Second detail of note: the boy was 11 and both of his parents were, or had been, teachers in the public schools in this area. No matter: zero tolerance. Authority must be respected.

The leaf was sent away to be tested.  Take note: the authorities did not wait to see if it really was marijuana– they acted before any real evidence existed.   They acted based on disinformation.  Do I need to say something like “lord help us if authorities can punish us for something someone said that might or might not be true before doing the due diligence to determine if it is or is not true”?

Months went by. The suspension had a profound effect on the boy’s self-esteem, feeling of community, trust in authority figures, and happiness. The leaf was tested: it was not marijuana. But authorities must be respected and respected authorities do not make mistakes that have unpleasant, destructive consequences on innocent people. Test again! Still not marijuana. Test again!!

I’ll bet that the authorities were “disappointed”.

Think about that.

Do you think they were elated to discover that the young lad was not a hardened criminal drug addict?  I have no doubt that they were disappointed. At this stage, the story is about authority that refuses to admit that it makes consequential mistakes. No: that refuses to admit that it is stupid.

That is what they know, and we know, they must admit to, if they are to honor the truth: we were stupid. We were not worthy of your trust and respect. We are more concerned with our personal status and comfort and authority than we are with the welfare of a young, innocent if slightly mischievous 11-year-old boy. Screw the boy: authority must be respected.

The parents rightly– well, too late, for my taste, but eventually– launched a lawsuit. Here we see how far the authorities will go: they announced that it wouldn’t have mattered if it was real marijuana or not because the school system’s policy states that possession of anything that is an “imitation” of a prohibited substance can have the same consequences as possession of the real thing.

Are there any criminal laws that state that a person can be convicted for doing something that looks illegal to an idiot regardless of whether or not they actually did something illegal? Maybe there is– but it still seems stupid. It is stupid.  I refuse to sound moderate and temperate and diplomatic about this:  the school board, and their lawyer Jim Guynn, are stupid: they didn’t care if he really had marijuana; they wanted to punish him for having something that  morons in the administration of a school might mistake for marijuana.

What they are obviously, manifestly angry about is having been made fools of.  And only a genuine fool would be this spiteful about that.

The truly moronic thing about it, though, is that anyone ever thought it was a good idea to have a one-year suspension for possession of real marijuana. This is a policy that only a psychotic person could believe in. But we are, unfortunately, a psychotic society. We approve. We elected the fools that appointed the fools who implemented this idiotic policy.

What happened is that the authorities become vested in their own actions and judgments. They have to continue the charade because the moment they drop it, it they confess that they are inadequate human beings without common sense or decency.

The drug war is the most obvious misguided policy of the United States government, but listen and learn: there are a host of other candidates. Homeland Security, the War in Iraq, the War in Viet Nam, oil subsidies, sports stadium subsidies, non-negotiable pharmaceutical rates, and countless others that are clung to because the authorities have become invested in them and can’t bear to admit they were stupid to implement them.

What could President Johnson do in 1968? Admit that he made a mistake that cost thousands of American lives or continue the war until something could be tarted up to look like victory “with honor” and then walk away and hope it all doesn’t collapse until the helicopters have been dumped into the ocean?

What could Bush do once he — perhaps– realized what an egregious error the war on Iraq was?

What can Obama do now that he has doubled down in Afghanistan?

The Unjust and Jian Ghomeshi (II)

Some of the women who declined to go public with their charges against Ghomeshi cited the case of Carla Ciccone. Ciccone wrote a thinly disguised account of her date with a C-List Canadian celebrity radio host whom she had always assumed was gay. As she described it, he was rude, inappropriate, creepy, and annoying. Most people deduced immediately that “Keith” was Jian Ghomeshi, and apparently, she received a torrent of abusive e-mails and blog-posts defending “Keith”.

Nobody deserves that kind of abuse, but nor does she deserve to be held up as an example. As she herself described it, in spite of endless opportunities to end the date and go home, she ended up spending the entire evening with him at a concert, and even accepting a ride home from him after deciding to call a taxi. After all, she “couldn’t just leave”, no matter how over-whelming the stench of his cologne. Why? She didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his friends? She herself suggests that she was still hoping to take advantage of his celebrity status for purposes of self-promotion.

I was concerned that he would somehow ruin my fledgling career in Canadian media forever if I bailed on him, as stupid as that sounds.

Now, we readily condemn a man who uses the leverage of his power and influence to extract sex from an unwilling woman.  Is there anything wrong with the idea of using sex to extract a favor from a man with power and influence?

In other words, there was an offer on the table and I didn’t want to withdraw it just yet.

One also has the impression that she kept throwing herself at him in order to see if he would at least kindly provide her with more ammunition for her blog, if he wasn’t going to be nice enough to promote her career.

A student from the University of Western Ontario related that Ghomeshi lost interest in her as soon as she suggested he help her land a job at “Q”. She made this suggestion, apparently, after he had hugged her twice from behind, “inappropriately”.

Has everyone completely lost their minds here? She doesn’t allege anything illegal or abusive in this story. What she does do is smear somebody, publicly, for having bad taste, while making sure we all get the message that she was so desirable that he just couldn’t help himself. Yes, ick.

And let’s be clear: this has nothing to do with excusing “Keith’s” behavior– obviously, he’s a jerk. But not that much of a jerk, in this story. He’s interested in sex, obviously, and he’s into the chase, and he presses on for too long, but we’ll never know if Ciconne really gave him the clear signal that she wasn’t interested or if she was playing him. She certainly did play him in one respect: blogging about the date is an invasion of his privacy. If the shoe were on the other foot, who would be up in arms about it? Nothing that Ghomeshi allegedly did on this “date”– by her own account– was so transgressive as to deserve to be slimed like this.

And this is the narrative that justifies several other women making anonymous accusations? Because they make their case one with Ciccone’s claim that the contempt she received was unearned?

Why does Ciccone get to turn into a narrative the fact that she is ostensibly clueless– if she really is that clueless? She doesn’t mind you thinking she is clueless? It’s preferable to you thinking she’s a tease? And why is she so careful to clue you in that “Keith” pursued her…. well… why would he, if she really felt the way she says she felt after first meeting him? Because she didn’t say so? Or because she pretended to be interested in him just to tease out more of a pursuit?

Like I said, the abuse directed at her is repellent, but criticism of a public posting is not. It’s fair game.

I have a strong suspicion that if Ciconne had said, right at the start of the evening, “I am not interested in a romantic relationship with you– is that clear?– but I would sure appreciate it if you would advance my career” there would have been no material for her to blog about.

We now hear that a former fellow at York University, student, Jim Hounslow, has come forward with allegations that Ghomeshi touched his genitals. Once. That would be more than 25 years ago. This is breathlessly reported at Yahoo as if students never made any moves on each other and if they did they now need to be shamed. It’s piling on and it’s as ugly if not uglier than the other allegations against Ghomeshi.

The Unjust and Jian Ghomeshi Part I