Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Scarlet S

Why doesn't the U.S. just start branding sex offenders?

Branding wouldn't be any more medieval than the current roster of punishments. If a seventeen-year-old boy and a sixteen-year-old girl swap naked digital photos, they're both guilty of "exploiting" themselves, or each other. In Ohio, you can now be placed on a sex offender registry without ever having been convicted of a sex crime. Rapists are no more likely to be recidivists than any other criminal, but they're required to identify themselves for the rest of their lives as such. And now vigilante groups collaborate simultaneously with local police departments and national TV shows to convict accused sex offenders in the court of public opinion before they're ever brought to trial.

To sum up: if you're accused of a sex crime, you are no longer considered innocent until proven guilty. You are not entitled to be punished under a reasonable standard of law. And you are not considered rehabilitated once released back into the real world. Modern standards of jurisprudence do not apply to you, you filthy perv.

So why doesn't the U.S. brand them? The courts would be saved a great deal of trouble, as no trial or incarceration would be needed. Just hold the struggling victim down, ignoring his pleas of innocence, and apply a white-hot iron S to his forehead. And then give him an hour on the rack, just to be thorough.

What's that? Branding someone for a crime is inhumane, you say? Is it any less humane than any of the above?

Free speech means free speech for people you disagree with, or else the concept is meaningless. Similarly, due process means due process for people you loathe, or else it's not due process at all. It's injustice and cruelty.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Why We Disagree With Charles Murray

Though we're fans of evolutionary psychology, there's one pretty big region where we part company with the likes of Steve Sailer and Charles Murray. That's on the issue of race.

Race is a completely arbitrary biological concept when it comes to the human species. There are certain differences in the genetic code, depending on where you look (varying susceptibility to anemia, for instance), but nothing that prevents any two humans from producing viable offspring.

Charles Murray (in The Bell Curve) made a lot of noise about differences in IQ distribution among various races. Steve Sailer seems to have taken up that trumpet after him. One of the subjects that frequently comes up is how blacks tend to (tend to, Sailer always stresses) have lower IQs than whites.

Even if the history of IQ tests weren't already fraught with questionable academic standards (independent of the racial controversy) - and even if the scary "yeah, so?" implications were lingering unanswered behind every such assertion - and even if testing of this sort hadn't historically been used to deny black people access to liberties that white people take for granted (i.e., voting), there'd be one obvious test that this theory fails. Ockham's Razor.

Is there a simpler explanation for why black people might score lower on IQ tests than white people? Well, if you asked us to name the ten worst U.S. institutions of the last two centuries, slavery, public schools, housing projects and the War on Drugs would be among them.

War on Drugs: More than ten percent of all black men in their twenties are in prison - most of them for drug-related crimes.

Housing projects: Do we really need to go into the failure of welfare in the U.S.?

Public Schools: Education spending per pupil has doubled in the last thirty years, but graduation rates have not changed. Massive federal mandates to save schools turn into graft and cushy contracts to corporate cronies. Public schools put your child's mind in the hands of bureaucrats accountable to no one. And public schools are overwhelmingly filled by ethnic minorities - particularly black children.

Slavery: A net loss for black people, we can safely say.

Of course, none of these problems can be solved by more spending, more regulation or more state control. The answer to all of these save the lattermost is for the government to back off (whether quickly or slowly we can debate later).

But if forced to choose which sounds more plausible - the idea that black people are inherently less smart than white people, or that maybe the U.S. gave them a bad rap for their first three and a half centuries on the continent - we have to side with the second explanation. The one that we know is true.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

The Green Lantern Theory of Full Employment

Oh, Matt. Matty, Matty, Matty, Matt.

Just when we'd started thinking that common cause could be made with the Left - on ending the war, halting America's overseas adventures - Matthew Yglesias waxes enthusiastic over Barack Obama's vagueness:
"Let's be the generation that ends poverty in America. Every single person willing to work should be able to get job training that leads to a job, and earn a living wage that can pay the bills, and afford child care so their kids have a safe place to go when they work. Let's do this." [Ed. - section in quotes is Obama's Feb 10th speech]

That's the way to go, isn't? To be frank, nobody can be quite sure precisely what combination of policies can get this done. The thing to do, even in the absence of political constraints, would be to try some stuff. You'd need to make some existing things more generous, you'd need to try some reforms here and there, you'd need to start some new initiatives and . . . you'd need to be prepared for the fact that some of it probably wouldn't work and you'd need to try something else. Goals are good.
Matt! If Bill Kristol made such an airy, pointless speech about the War in Iraq - declaring the need for victory but leaving blank the means to reach it - you'd excoriate him. And rightly so. But Obama gets a pass on domestic policy because ... because why, exactly?

Let's see: a theory of political action based on the notion that it doesn't take empirical knowledge or reasonable warrant or credibility in the field, but WILL - pure and untarnished WILL - to make good things happen. The idea that you don't need a concrete policy or a realistic plan of action or an exit strategy so long as you have good intentions. That sounds pretty ludicrous, doesn't it? Where have we heard that before?

Oh, right: from Matt Yglesias himself:
As you may know, the Green Lantern Corps is a sort of interstellar peacekeeping force set up by the Guardians of Oa to maintain the peace and defend justice. It recruits members from all sorts of different species and equips them with the most powerful weapon in the universe, the power ring.

Suffice it to say that I think all this makes an okay premise for a comic book. But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.
People who think that America can accomplish anything through military force - if only America has the willpower - are WRONG. People who think that America can accomplish anything through domestic policy - if only America has the willpower - are NO LESS WRONG.

For shame, Matt. You used to be cool.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Aqua Teen Boston Force

On the same day as several terror arrests are made in Britain, police discover a "suspicious device" at the Sullivan Square subway station in Boston, MA. They wisely shut down all of Interstate 93 Northbound until the device is harmlessly destroyed.

Four additional packages are found throughout the day, some affixed to bridges and some near hospitals. The Longfellow Bridge, Storrow Drive and river traffic on the Charles River are shut down.

By the late afternoon, we discover that the devices are Mooninites, cartoon characters from the TV show Aqua Teen Hunger Force. They were placed by local artists at the behest of Turner Broadcasting, as a "guerilla marketing" scheme for the show's forthcoming movie.

The two artists are formally charged the next day with causing a hoax (unlikely, since there was no intent to terrorize) and causing a disturbance.

More here and here.

To the Howie Carrs and John Gibsons of the world, who call these two hipsters "criminals," we ask the following:

(1) If you don't believe that shutting the city down over devices that were known at the time to be non-threatening is an overreaction, then what would be? The first "package" found at Sullivan Square was destroyed by water cannon. Whoops - false alarm. It's at that point that rational people would stop panicking, not panic further.

Does a rash of fire alarms suggest a city ablaze? Does a rash of people calling 911 and hanging up indicate a crime spree? Then how do a rash of false bomb scares demand shutting the city down?

(2) If you don't believe that charging these two kids with formal hoaxing (which, again, requires deliberate malicious intent) is an overreaction, then how come Boston is the only city doing it? Why didn't Atlanta, New York or any of the other cities where these packages were known to be located - before January 31st, by the way - flip out and start shutting down roadways?

(3) Remember the Mission: Impossible 3 bomb scare? Promo companies put devices inside paper boxes that played a little commercial, in the style of an IMF briefing, when the box was opened. However, these devices weren't always mounted very well, leading several civilians to open vending machines and see boxes with wires fall out and start ticking.

We don't recall Howie Carr or John Gibson being very outraged then.

(4) Several defenders of paranoia have said that "not all bombs look like bombs." So is it the job of the citizenry to report anything that has wires sticking out of it? Any piece of mechanical equipment that they don't recognize? Anything that ticks and buzzes?

The Boston Police who responded to these reports and examined the devices were just doing their job. The bureaucrats who ordered the city of Boston paralyzed - literally, by shutting down roads, and figuratively, with fear - get no such pass.