Archive for March, 2005

If anyone ever needed yet another reason not to get addicted to hardcore drugs, I give you John Evander Couey, et al. Couey is the man recently arrested for abducting, raping, and murdering Jessica Lunsford (age 9). When I first saw pictures of Couey, I made an assumption about his age, as I’m sure you did/will upon seeing similar pictures in the news.

But I ask you to consider the fact that John Couey is 46 years old.

John Evander Couey

The house near Jessica’s where Couey had often been visiting (apparently his sister’s home or somesuch), had four other residents who were also arrested and charged. Below are pictures of three of them, and their ages:

Matthew Dittrich, 31, arrested for obstruction of justice.

Dorothy Marie Dixon, 47, arrested for obstruction of justice.

Madie Dixon Secord, 27, arrested for obstruction of justice.

I am informed by a friend of mine that all of these people have the characteristic look of meth abusers. I have to say, Madie in particular looks really bad. It’s hard to tell if she’s been beat up regularly, or if meth just does that to you after a while.

Also notice the profoundly sad expression on her face. Whether that’s because of their drug addiction, or her guilt at what Couey did, I don’t know. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

Photo Credit: AP/Citrus County Sheriff

A friend of mine directed my attention to the Photo Essay on Fox News about Good Friday celebrations around the world. One of the pictures in the series struck us both as…odd.

Hooded faithful carry crosses and torches during the Good Friday procession in Sorrento, Italy.

The “hooded faithful”? I’ve never heard them called that before.

Before you inundate me (or Fox News) with email, I should point out that this is a legitimate holy tradition in Italy called the Campania Easter, and has nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan.

Along the coast, Sorrento stands out for the perfect organization of two processions on Good Friday, the white and the black ones. The first, with white hooded men, organized by Santa Monica Confraternity, takes place on the night between Thursday and Friday. The procession walks in front of the statue of the Our Lady searching her Son.

Photo credit: AP

I just found this in a news article concerning the most recent failure by Terri Schiavo’s parents to get their way:

Randall Terry, who is acting as a spokesman for Schiavo’s parents, said Bob and Mary Schindler were not giving up, and again slammed Gov. Bush for not strong-arming the court.

“The governor blinked. The governor blinked,” Terry said. “We can only hope the governor is huddling with his attorneys and he is determined with his constitutional authority to enforce the statutes.”

I almost cannot believe I am reading this. This is like a really un-funny Onion satire piece. Jeb Bush personally applied to become Terri’s legal guardian, and was denied by the court. Now Terri’s parents are angry at Bush for failing to (ab)use his power as a State Governor to force the court to give it to him anyway.

I am completely, utterly appalled.

Earlier, [Judge] Greer had also barred the Department of Children & Families in an emergency order from taking custody of Schiavo. The new filings from Gov. Bush and DCF contained allegations that Schiavo’s husband Michael had mistreated her, along with physician testimony that she was not in a persistent vegetative state.

Allegations of abuse by Michael Schiavo are purely speculative. There is no evidence whatsoever that this happened. It comes from hearsay and speculation from a witness nurse who admitted that she never actually saw or heard firsthand any such abuse.

The number of physicians who argue that Terri is not in a PVS is, to my count, 3. At least 2 of those physicians have questionable expertise in the particular field of Terri’s disability (Sen. Bill Frist, for example, was a heart surgeon and a family practitioner). That 3 out of dozens of others who claim otherwise. The woman is missing something like 80% of her brain. She reportedly has a flat EEG. By my layman’s investigation, she meets the criteria for a PVS patient, and there is a lot of misunderstanding about exactly what PVS is and how people in a PVS act.

This is pure madness. Legislative bodies are trying to circumvent courts, and executives are trying to circumvent legislatures. The roles of the three branches of government in the United States are clearly defined and they may not — must not — usurp each other’s powers.

Terri’s wishes to not be kept alive in this manner have been established. The Florida court weighed the issue carefully some years ago, and even noted in their decision that it is standard for the courts to be biased in favor of life. Even so, the evidence that Terri would prefer to die was so overwhelming that it was incontrovertible, and even now courts refuse to review the case. It’s a done deal from a legal perspective, and Terri’s wishes should be respected.

Terri Schiavo has become a lightning rod of the highest order for various political and social groups on all sides. Perhaps from the fallout we will gain new caution regarding the overlapping of the branches of government (national polls suggest that the American public is reacting overwhelmingly negatively to government interference in this, regardless of whose side they are on).

Perhaps most other Americans are, like me, revolted to the core by this shameless political maneuvering, which has become so aggressive that it shocks even people who are jaded to such shenanigans in American politics.

It frightens me, this intensity, and the ease with which it has risen to this level. Only the steadfastness of the judicial branch at the state and Federal level has prevented it from collapsing into true lawlessness.

It seems to me that the fundamental question to ask about Terri Schiavo’s situation is the following: If Terri had left a clear, properly executed living will stating that she did not want to be kept alive artificially under her current medical circumstances, should the feeding tube be removed? Depending on the answer to that question, two very different arguments follow.

If you believe that Terri should be kept on life support even in the face of such a hypothetical living will, then you are denying her the full ownership and control of her own life. You are claiming that the state has the moral authority to force a medical procedure on a person against that person’s wishes, if it’s for that person’s alleged benefit. You are, in effect, reducing that person to a piece of government property; such liberty as remains is by permission, not by right. Whatever that position is, it is not “pro-life”. (The potential derivative consequences of such a principle are pretty scary — for example, if the state can force medical procedures on people against their will then what if anything is fundamentally wrong with forced sterilization of the poor?)

On the other hand, if you think that the existence of a living will would be sufficient basis for removing the feeding tube, what you’re really saying is that the governing principle is respect for Terri’s wishes regarding her own medical care. In that case, the debate should be over the question of what Terri’s actual wishes were in this regard. What evidence is there, in actuality, one way or the other? Can we be certain of her wishes, or only establish some level of probability? How certain do we have to be regarding her wishes? And, if we can’t meet the appropriate standard of certainty, what is the legal default action? (Note that this is distinct from the question of what the legal default action should be; ignoring the way the rules are now because we don’t like the result is a no-no. See the post below.)

Viewed from this perspective, many of the arguments and legal manuvers surrounding Terri Schiavo just look irrelevant. It doesn’t matter, for example, who Terri’s legal guardian is. The decision about what medical care to give her doesn’t belong to the guardian — it belongs/belonged to Terri, and her preferences were whatever they were. There has been some discussion on the epistemological issue of what Terri’s wishes were and how certain we are about them. That’s where investigation and debate should really focus.

The elephant in the room:

Update [Kyle]: The really dangerous thing about the GOP’s behavior here is their abandonment of rule-oriented jurisprudence for results-oriented jurisprudence. The legal system defines a set of procedures and standards which, when followed, should result in justice to the greatest extent possible. Justice isn’t achieved 100% of the time because people are fallible and rules are limited. But if we throw the rules out the window because we don’t like the result we got from them in some specific instance, we’ve moved to a completely different model — one where we decide on the ‘right outcome’ based on some other criteria and then twist the laws until they say what we want. In such a system, it’s impossible for judges to simply apply the law, because the law isn’t meant to be applied. The law becomes a set of excuses or rationalizations deployed to justify previously-existing moral intuitions.

Both the left and the right have now demonstrated that they’re willing to use results-oriented jurisprudence to back up their own moral intuitions about just outcomes. This amounts to a wholesale abandonment of the principle of the rule of law. (This also explains why the judicial nomination issue has become so amazingly contentious. When the law is only a set of excuses for your moral intuitions, it’s vitally important that the judges who deploy the excuses share your moral biases.)

In a situation where the rules are found not to cover some new situation, or where it is decided they are resulting in systematically unjust outcomes, the right response is to update the rules. But that’s not what’s happening here. Bad GOP! No donut!

Open letter to United States Congress:

We don’t care about steroids in baseball. If something illegal occurred, that’s a matter for the courts and nobody has filed a lawsuit. Quit goofing off and get back to work.


The American Public

Update [Kyle]: I can’t resist chiming in with a counterpoint observation. When Congress actually does ‘get to work’, the results are more often bad than good. I believe it was Mark Twain who observed that no man’s property or liberty is safe while the legislature is in session. Given that Congress is full of idiots, isn’t it better that they waste their time on something pointless?

Another episode in the ongoing saga of inappropriate discipline of children in public schools:

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A 5-year-old girl was arrested, cuffed and put in back of a police cruiser after an outburst at school where she threw books and boxes, kicked a teacher in the shins, smashed a candy dish, hit an assistant principal in the stomach and drew on the walls.

The students were counting jelly beans as part of a math exercise at Fairmount Park Elementary School when the little girl began acting silly. That’s when her teacher took away her jelly beans, outraging the child.

Minutes later, the 40-pound girl was in the back of a police cruiser, under arrest for battery. Her hands were bound with plastic ties, her ankles in handcuffs.

Let’s visualize that for a moment, shall we? A 5-year-old girl in the back of a police car with a plastic zip-tie around her wrists, and metal handcuffs like shackles on her ankles.

While police say their actions were proper, school officials were not pleased with the outcome.

“We never want to have 5-year-old children arrested,” said Michael Bessette, the district’s Area III superintendent.

The district’s campus police should have been called to help and not local police, he said.

Now this is refreshing. A school district official who actually has a modicum of common sense and recognizes how inappropriate and ridiculous it is to call the cops on small children acting up in class.

So what happened here? Was it the teacher who called police, or perhaps the school principal? I think somebody at that school is going to get a verbal lashing from the superintendent. I often wonder what the police themselves think of these situations. Do they view it as the stupid waste of time that it is? Why do they not protest their manpower being used in frivolous circumstances?

The girl’s mother, Inda Akins, said she is consulting an attorney.

“She’s never going back to that school,” Akins said. “They set my baby up.”

“Set my baby up”? Like public schools have nothing better to do than plot and scheme how they can get someone’s 5-year-old arrested?

It’s difficult to tell if the article presents us with enough contextual information, but it looks to me like the problem here is twofold:

1. Parents not disciplining their children properly and expecting the schools to handle it.

2. Laws that prevent schools from disciplining children effectively (such as not being allowed to touch them).

The child was misbehaving, and the teacher responded appropriately by taking away her jelly beans as a punitive measure. The child then had a meltdown, as normal 5-year-olds are wont to do, damaging property and assaulting people. If my child had freaked out like that, she’d be in a shitload of trouble. It wouldn’t occur to me to blame the school for “setting her up”.

My response, if something like this happened at home, would be to lock the child in her room for a period of time. I’d make it clear that anything the child destroyed or defaced in her room would be thrown out and not replaced. “You have to take care of your things or you can’t have them.” My own parents upheld this principle in our home, and it took me about 2 seconds to grasp its ramifications.

But police involvement is probably the logical consequence when parents fail to discipline their kids and schools are forbidden to. When you have a kid who’s out of control, what else can the teacher do? They’re not allowed to touch the child, or punish them, sometimes by a district-wide policy that is designed to avoid lawsuits from overly-permissive parents. So the only other source of restraint and punishment is the police department.

That’s dumb, which should be self-evident.

UPDATE: I encourage people to watch both of the videos available here (QuickTime required).

This child is not “emotionally disturbed”, or unusually large physically (she’s not 4’5″ — that has to be a reporter’s error). What I saw on those videos was almost laughable. She’s not thrashing or screaming or running around as the article implies. She strolls casually around the room, taking things apart, breaking items, pulling pictures off the walls, hardly makes a sound the whole time. The teachers just follow her and stand around, saying things like, “No ma’am, that’s not safe, you need to stop that and sit down” because they aren’t allowed to touch the kid! The assistant principal allows her to destroy her office, slowly, over the course of several minutes, and can do nothing but put her arms out like a basketball guard to try to keep the kid away from things.

Insane! If that kid were mine I would have grabbed her by the arm the first moment she started vandalizing the place and physically restrained her and put her in a chair and kept her there. The teachers should be allowed to do the same! There’s no excuse for kids to be permitted to act like this. This girl is nothing more than a spoiled, undisciplined brat who knows she can get away with anything because the teachers literally can’t touch her.

Finally the police show up and tell her to calm down and behave. She refuses, so the cops pull her up out of the chair where she’s sulking and handcuff her. This is the first time the kid begins to whine and howl like she’s being murdered. Typical young child being a drama llama. Wow, actual consequences for her actions! No wonder she’s pissed.

She’s not going to be traumatized from that incident. It’s a good thing the school had the presence of mind to tape it all (there was a video in the first classroom because of a school project that day) as proof that the child was not abused or harmed in any way.

Bah! When I was a kid, if I had acted like that, my teacher would have hauled me down to the principal’s office by my arm and left a bruise, and I would have deserved it!

Bad parents! Dumbass laws that don’t give schools the ability to control kids that parents refuse to control! No wonder we’re raising generations of spoiled, whiny barbarians!

Today is the Third Annual Eat An Animal For PETA Day:

The day that started as a reaction to one of the most offensive PETA ad campaigns ever is now an annual event (joined by many others). Why? Because there are still plenty of offensive PETA campaigns to get annoyed about, whether or not they’re using Jews (and let’s not even talk about their lies regarding the kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa). So, because we’ve had such a good time for the past two years, once again, I urge you all to have a fun, meat-filled day on March 15th, the official International Eat an Animal for PETA Day.

Meryl Yourish is apparently responsible for this idea, originally in response to a particularly offensive PETA ad campaign in which eating meat was compared to the Holocaust.

I wholly approve of Yourish’s response. Kyle and I intend to be having steak tonight. So take a moment today to appreciate whatever meat you have, and consider patronizing your favorite local steakhouse.

Update: Back from the restaurant. Total count was five animals: one filet, one prime rib, two sets of crab legs and a plate of buffalo wings. I love being an omnivore. Thanks, PETA!