The Lensman Blog
Thursday, September 11, 2003
Fewer Flags and More Firepower
Today is the second anniversary of 9/11. Flags are being flown at half-mast. Millions of people will look for some way to publicly express how they feel about the attack and its effect. Christopher Hitchens hits the nail on the head:

In my small way, I tried to anticipate this two years ago. I didn't at all mind what some critics loftily dismissed as "flag-waving." Indeed I was surprised that there wasn't more of it than there was. But I never displayed a flag myself and argued quietly against putting one up over the entrance to the building where I live. This was for a simple reason: How will it look when the effort tapers off? There's nothing more dispiriting than a drooping and neglected flag and nothing more lame than the sudden realization that the number of them so proudly flourished has somehow diminished. (The one over my building went away, nobody can quite remember how or when, and it hasn't been restored.) In the meantime, I refused to accept an invitation to a memorial service for the many murdered British citizens, which seemed to me to miss the same point in the same way.

There were other reasons to oppose flagification. (Very many of the immediate victims were not American, for example, and most of those murdered and enslaved by Islamic fascists have themselves been Muslims.) I was glad for similar reasons when the order was announced that "coalition" flags would not be flown in Iraq. What is required is a steady, unostentatious stoicism, made up out of absolute, cold hatred and contempt for the aggressors, and complete determination that their defeat will be utter and shameful. This doesn't require drum rolls or bagpipes or banners. The French had a saying during the period when the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were lost to them: "Always think of it. Never speak of it." (Yes, Virginia, we can learn things from the French, even if not from Monsieur Chirac.)

This steely injunction is diluted by Ground Zero kitsch or by yellow-ribbon type events, which make the huge mistake of marking the event as a "tribute" of some sort to those who happened to die that day. One must be firm in insisting that these unfortunates, or rather their survivors, have no claim to ownership. They stand symbolically, as making the point that theocratic terrorism murders without distinction. But that's it. The time to commemorate the fallen is, or always has been, after the war is over. This war has barely begun. The printing of crayon daubs by upset schoolchildren and the tussle over who gets what from the compensation slush fund are strictly irrelevant and possibly distracting. Dry your eyes, sister. You, too, brother. Stiffen up.

Read the whole thing. Never speak of it but think of it always. Dry your eyes and stiffen up. Less therapy, more grit.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Sweet Home Alabama!
There are three major things I love about the State of Alabama - the song by Lynyrd Skynyrd which encapsulates a spirit of rebellion and pride against the "sensibilities" of the PC crowd, their Attorney General William Pryor who has been a consistent and principled defender of the rule of law (which naturally disqualifies him from serving on the federal bench), and this recent bit of good news that the good guys won
one yesterday

Alabama voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly defeated the largest proposed tax increase in state history, in effect rejecting Gov. Bob Riley's plea that it was their Christian duty to help the poor and reform a tax system he called ''immoral.''

The $1.2 billion package was the most ambitious sought by any governor in a year in which state governments have struggled with record budget shortfalls. With nearly all precincts reporting, 67% of voters had rejected the tax proposal.

Gregg Easterbrook (who sometimes writes insightful pieces on environmental issues) is
upset with the media's coverage
of Governor Riley's attempt to shame voters into hiking taxes with a false plea to Christianity:

There is a second outrage, which is how the national media ignore the religious impetus of Riley's attempt. Not many Republican leaders lay it on the line for a tax increase--the Alabama proposal would raise taxes on the affluent in order to cover the funds lost by exempting the poor and working poor, black or white. Why isn't this effort being lavished with praise by the national media? Because the reason Riley is pushing the initiative is that his Christian faith compels him to do so. Riley has openly promoted the tax reform to Alabamans as justified by religion, saying, "According to our Christian ethics, we're supposed to love God, love each other and help take care of the poor." Have you heard much about how a Republican leader is using a Christian appeal to advocate taxing the rich to help the poor? Of course not.

Probably because Governor Riley (who deserves credit for earlier vetoing a ridiculous bill that would have let felons vote) attempt to use the Bible to justify raising taxes for social spending (the proposed tax increase was about twice what would have been needed to balance the State's budget) is nonsense. The Bible (for those of you who subscribe to Christianity as a belief system) doesn't call on people to send their money to government to "help take care of the poor" it calls on people to do that themselves voluntarily. Paying taxes isn't voluntary, especially when you're voting for somebody else to pay them.

If I had to hazard a guess though as to why the religious angle (false though it was) might not have received more coverage then it did, I can think of a couple of reasons. First the story that a lot of people probably wanted to have run was that of a "conservative" Republican governor pushing through a tax increase on the wealthy in order to remove lower-income people from the roles. The problem though, is that story was overshadowed by the election results in which nearly two-thirds of the voters yesterday voted against it. Unless someone wants to claim that two out of three Alabama voters are "rich" then it appears that most Alabamians just don't want higher taxes (especially not when the tax increase is nearly twice the size of their State government's deficit).

The other reason is that in order to cover the story in a "balanced or "fair" manner, the media would have to present both sides of the argument. If the governor of Alabama is going to try and claim that it is "Christian" to raise taxes on the wealthy, a "balanced" report would probably include a Christian on the other side pointing out that nowhere in the Bible does it call for people to forcibly take more money from other people via government to redistribute it amongst the "needy." Charity isn't welfare or any other form of theft.

Finally, IMNHO the major national media outlets probably tend to be a bit more secular in their outlook and more left-leaning especially on social issues. If a tax increase on the "wealthy" were enacted on the basis that it is the "Christian" thing to do, well that puts a nasty monkey-wrench in red herring arguments about the "separation of church and State". After all if you can force people to pay higher taxes in the name of religion, why can't you let a private citizen use their own money to display the Ten Commandments in front of the courthouse? Questions of federal court orders aside - which is more coercive to individual rights - to have a religious monument on public property paid for with private funds or to have the government forcibly confiscate more of someone's wealth in order to placate someone else's religious values?

As someone who tends to take a libertarian and secular view of government, neither is appealing but while the Ten Commandments monument might be offensive to some, it is not a coercive encroachment on individual rights as a tax increase would be. For those who are truly concerned about the use of government to forcibly impose one person's beliefs on another, I'm a lot more concerned about the politician who wants to raise taxes and spending to redistribute wealth (whether for religious or "social justice" concerns) then the one who just wants to post the Ten Commandments in front of the courthouse at his own expense.

Monday, September 08, 2003
DNA Evidence and the Wrongfully Convicted

Mark Kleinman has an interesting piece on DNA evidence on its impact on the criminal justice system. On the whole, it’s a very balanced and well-though piece but I do take some exception at the following with regards to why a prosecutor might oppose using DNA evidence to possibly exonerate a wrongfully convicted person:

While I thought the defense bar's earlier position outrageous, the prosecution's current position is incalculably worse. It should go without saying that keeping innocent people in prison is not a means of crime control. Of course, any organization hates to admit error, but this reflects something uglier: the degeneration of the traditional prosecutor's ethic, which held that "the government wins its case whenever justice is done," into a merely adversarial, notches-on-the-belt mentality. No doubt the rightward swing on criminal justice issues, combined with the fact that District Attorneys are elected, has something to do with it. But that doesn't make it one whit less disgraceful. No self-respecting prosecutor should ever tell a court, "We think it's not quite certain that this person is innocent, so we propose to keep him in prison." (What's really amazing is that the victims and their families as often as not want to keep the matter "closed," as if having the wrong person punished were a pretty good substitute for having the right person punished.)

Most reasonable people would probably agree that it is a good thing for an innocent person to serve a sentence for a crime that they did not commit (although there are probably exceptions where this might be a good thing). And certainly District Attorneys are no less adversarial in their roles then members of the defense bar (and the former invariably have to meet a far greater burden of proof having to convince twelve people beyond a reasonable doubt while the defense attorney only needs one). That being said, there is probably another explanation why a DA might oppose reopening a case and Mark Kleinman hints at it:

What most non-participants don't understand about the criminal law is that an appeal isn't supposed to be a fresh review of the evidence: it's almost exclusively about errors made at trial. As a matter of law, the fact that someone convicted in due form is factually innocent of the charge is not, in general, a reason to let him out of prison. (Justices Scalia and Thomas have argued [*] that the execution of a factually innocent person would not constitute a Constitutional violation.) So the ability of demonstrably innocent people behind bars to have their cases reopened depends on state law and state rules of criminal procedure, and the prosecutors have had considerable success in opposing such attempts both in the legislatures and in the courts. (Most horribly, some states explicitly allow police to destroy the evidence after some period; the proof of innocence in some case may be literally going down the drain as I write.) (emphasis added)

Something to keep in mind is that our legal system based on the English common law operates on precedent. What happens or is decided before can go a long way to determining what might happen before in a similar set of circumstance. Knowing this, it seems perfectly reasonable to me that a prosecutor would as a matter of policy oppose reopening a closed case (barring knowledge of reversible error or presecutorial misconduct) in order to prevent frivolous claims from being filed. If every convicted person (they are no longer the accused but the convicted and hence no longer entitled to a presumption of innocence under the law) were able to demand a new trial or to have their case reexamined everything a new technological or forensics investigation, there would be no finality in the legal system. That’s probably why the State legislatures set the bar as high as they do for reexamining cases.

Also with regards to allowing police to destroy the evidence after some period, this also does not seem that outrageous (although Mark Kleinman seems to be concerned more with possible ramifications of this action rather than motives behind them). If one considers that there is only so much space for storage and the expense of keeping some kinds of evidence (especially if it requires special storage such as freezing or refrigeration) and it’s easy to see why a legislature may not want to spend finite resources on storing evidence from a closed case after the appeals have been exhausted. Granted, there is always the possibility (beyond a reasonable doubt) that an innocent person was convicted of crime they did not commit, but destroying evidence after some period after a person has received their due process is not necessarily as ominous as Mark Kleinman seems to suggest.

Saturday, September 06, 2003
Why Paul Hill's Death will not change the abortion debate

This week the good people in the State of Florida via their elected representatives executed Paul Hill for murder. Tim Graham of the Corner asks:

Am I the only one to find it disturbing that NBC/MSNBC is routinely referring to abortionist-killer Paul Hill today as an "anti-abortion activist," as if he's comparable to Chris Smith or Phyllis Schlafly?

Tim Graham is probably not the only one to find it disturbing, but frankly I don’t find it all objectionable. Since Hill’s views on abortion were the motivation behind his murdering of two people, it isn’t at all “disturbing” to me that the media would mention this in their coverage of him.

I’ll grant that it will probably tarnish the Pro Life movement somewhat no matter that most Pro Lifers have denounced this sort of terrorism as being inconsistent with their cause and message but even though I have no doubt that many in the media who are covering this story are probably more on the Left of the issue, it’s not that at all uncommon for someone whose politics are the motive behind an act of terrorism to have those motives mentioned in the coverage. See Ted “Unabomber” Kadinsky, the Animal Liberation Front, anti-globalism nutters, etc.

Motives matter to a crime and they are a legitimate part of the story. Violence committed by Pro Lifers is frankly so rare, that I doubt it will have any lasting impact on the issue. Polls show that people are becoming more likely to support some restrictions on abortion

In addition, the study confirmed an increase in the number of women supporting severe restrictions on abortion. Fifty-one percent (51%) support abortion only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman, or not at all.

I doubt this momentum will change over the rare incident of terrorism. Besides which, most politicians who favor abortion “rights” are unwilling to say the word “abortion” and use the bland and misleading vernacular of “support of a woman’s right to chose” as if they were talking about school choice, tax cuts, shall issue concealed carry, personal retirement accounts, or a whole host of other issues in which one person’s “choice” in no way infringes on the rights of another.

Britney for Bush? (Don’t count on it)

The World’s Most Widely Googled Name supposedly "came out swinging" for our Fearless Leader in a recent interview on CNN’s Crossfire while discussing her infamous kiss with the World’s Most Overrated Skank:

Britney Spears came out swinging for President Bush on Wednesday during an interview with CNN's Tucker Carlson.

CARLSON: A lot of entertainers have come out against the war in Iraq. Have you?

SPEARS: Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes and we should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens.

CARLSON: Do you trust this president?

SPEARS: Yes, I do.

CARLSON: Excellent. Do you think he's going to win again?

SPEARS: I don't know. I don't know that.

I’m of two minds on the meaning of this remark. First, I don’t think it is at all uncommon on issues of national security for someone to take an “I don’t have all the facts and they know a lot more than we ever will, so let’s trust them” attitude. Most people simply do not have the time or inclination to read up on something as broad as Iraq and rely on the tidbits they get from the evening news (suckers!). Heck even those of us who do live for this sort of thing ought to be under no delusions that we’re only getting a miniscule part of the story. So someone saying that they “trust the President” isn’t that unremarkable of a thing and does not necessarily mean that they (a) agree with his other positions or even (b) know what they are. I think we saw that during the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom when Bush’s approval ratings were in the 70s and no one seriously believed that it meant that 70% of the electorate will be voting for him. Saying that “Britney Spears came out swinging for President Bush” is an overstatement to put it mildly.

Moreover, while I have nothing against Britney Spears (don’t listen to her music and could care less about a “kiss” which was rather obviously staged to get media attention), I do have a problem with the worship of celebrity in the greater American pop culture. What has Britney Spears done that people ought to care about her opinion? She doesn’t strike me as particularly educated or informed about the issue (which isn’t to say that she’s a dummy but rather that there is no evidence why a rational person would give her opinion more weight then your average layperson)? She does get a lot of media attention because she’s attractive, knows how to market herself as an entertainer (which itself is a sign of intelligence but not particularly transferable to commenting on world affairs), and the media gives her a lot of coverage. Heck, I’m even writing about her because her comments received so much attention and even though I don’t think they ought to affect other people’s opinions, I’m not naive enough to believe they won’t.

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