Saturday, October 15, 2005

Legal Victims

It amazes me how many laws seem to be designed to hurt the victims. Let’s take a look at three examples.

Medically assisted suicide – Clearly the victim of a suicide is the person who wants to die. Most laws that specifically cover assisted suicide, though, provide punishment to those who assist, in an attempt to keep them from doing so. This takes away the last option from a terminally ill patient. A patient who has no chance for long-term survival and who is in constant pain is told that he must continue to suffer indefinitely. A person who can see his own mind slipping away day by day is told he must continue to the end, so his loved ones can experience the pain of his lack of recognition, so they can see him lose all that makes him a person. We don’t do such things to our pets – when they are beyond hope, when they can no longer live without pain, we end their lives. But we are not allowed to ask for such service for ourselves.

Prostitution – The only reasonable candidate I can find for a victim of prostitution is the prostitute herself. After all, most prostitutes give up all or most of their money to a pimp or madam. They are often the victims of violence from their customers, and cannot pursue legal remedies against them. They risk disease and unwanted pregnancy. Many of them are virtual slaves, kept in line through drug addiction, fear of deportation or abandonment in a foreign country, or simply the threat of violence, a threat that is often carried out. It seems to me, though, that all of these problems are the result of making the act illegal. If prostitution was legal, it could be licensed, inspected, controlled. The prostitute would keep the money she earned. They could receive medical care, and be legally protected from violence. There would be less financial benefit to enslaving women, so it would happen less. I don’t see prostitution becoming a respected profession anytime soon, but if it were legal, they would no longer have to be victims.

Illegal drug use – The victim here is the general public. Drug dealers have made inner-city streets into low-grade war zones. People die because they happened to be walking down the wrong street, or were standing near a window at the wrong time. People are robbed by addicts who need money to support their thousand-dollar-a-day habit – and sometimes killed by the addicted robber. As long as there is a demand for intoxicating drugs, though, there will be someone willing to supply them. Making it illegal makes it much riskier to provide that supply, but that merely causes the price to rise until someone is willing to take the risk. These days, the various criminal organizations have worked out ways to protect themselves – the only people really at risk of prosecution are the low-level distributors. Above that level, the criminals make incredible fortunes, with virtually no risk. I have heard it said, in fact, that these criminal groups provide financial support to candidates who promise to be “tough on drugs”; they keep the prices, and profits, high. If drugs become legal, then legitimate suppliers will enter the market. Production prices are comparatively low, and distribution networks are already in place – every corner drug store can be a supplier, or perhaps we could use liquor stores or tobacco shops. And the Mafia and other criminal groups instantly lose their greatest source of income, cutting back their ability to buy weapons, hire crooked lawyers, bribe police officers and judges, and even to pay their huge bands of low-level criminals. Obviously, there would be problems – but performing dangerous activities (like driving) while intoxicated is ALREADY illegal, so amending the laws to cover new intoxicants should not be difficult. Just as with alcohol, children should not be allowed to use drugs – but right now it is easier for a child to get marijuana than wine. Making marijuana legal allows us to use the same enforcement system already in place for alcohol. And so on…

There is, of course, one common thread among these laws. All of them are the result of translating religious restrictions into law. They were not enacted to protect the public from criminals; they were enacted to “protect” people from their own base urges – to protect people from themselves. As long as we keep legislating morality, we will continue to pay the price.

Thursday, October 6, 2005


Whatever happened to subtlety and discretion in politics? President Bush’s administration seems to have completely lost the ability to camouflage the fact that their policies come straight from their personal prejudices, opinions, and whims. You can find three separate examples just by looking in this week’s papers.

First, of course, the war in Iraq. The war in Afghanistan seems to me to be a clear and appropriate result of Al Qaida’s attack on our nation. There’s really no question that they received substantial support from Afghanistan. It is unfortunate that we haven’t caught Osama, but we’ve clearly damaged that source of support, and we certainly had sufficient cause to do so. The war in Iraq, though, has only the slimmest of theoretical connections to the “War on Terror.” There’s not a lot of solid proof that Saddam was directly supporting Al Qaida, and the whole issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction seems to have been an error. I do feel that we’ve accomplished a good thing over there, and I CERTAINLY believe that we have to finish what we started. But I can easily imagine the real beginnings in a conversation between President Bush and his advisors…”Dick, Don, Condi…Dad left something unfinished over there. It wasn’t his fault; our allies just couldn’t handle us taking that Iraqi nutcase all the way out. But I think we’ve got an opportunity to fix that, now. Get out there and find me the proof that he’s supporting terrorists and making chemical weapons, so we’ll have a reason to stop him. Oh, and Don, while we’re waiting, get your boys to work up some plans and options for us to go in.” And so we did. Not because Saddam was a real threat to us, but because his continued reign was an ongoing insult to the Bush Family.

More recently, the Judith Miller debacle is just beyond my understanding. She didn’t expose Valerie Plame’s status as a CIA agent to the public – that was Robert Novak. She didn’t publish anything about it. She apparently got into the whole Plame issue pretty late in the game. And yet she was bullied into revealing her source through a contempt of court citation. I’m neither a lawyer nor a judge, but that sure seems like a violation of the First Amendment to me. We already knew Karl Rove was one major source for the leak. Now that Ms. Miller has finally given in, we know that Vice-President Cheney’s Chief of Staff Lewis Libby was the second major source. The Administration’s insistence on persecuting Ms. Miller very much seems to be an attempt to shift the blame away from the Administration officials who leaked the information in the first place!

And now, apparently, the Federal Government is trying to take away the right of the people and of the States to make their own decisions. Oregon’s voters have determined that Assisted Suicide should be legal. There are stringent requirements that must be met before the doctor can prescribe the fatal overdose of barbiturates, but if the patient is determined, the doctor will help him take his own life. Apparently, though, that offends the “pro-life” sensibilities of the President and his staff. Again, I can almost hear the conversation…”Gang, we’ve got to put a stop to this. We all know suicide is wrong, we’ve been taught that in Sunday School since we were kids. There’s got to be some way to override this law. Ashcroft, they’re using drugs to do it, so maybe you can come up with something.” And so he did – suicide is apparently not an approved medical use for barbiturates. That argument makes a superficial sort of sense, but is transparently an excuse to override the clearly expressed intent of the people of the State of Oregon in a situation that falls under the powers reserved for the States under the U. S. Constitution. (Those of you who don’t remember your Government classes…the Federal Government was given specific powers in the Constitution. Any power not specifically granted to the Feds was reserved for the States.) Whether you support Oregon’s law or not, I hope you can see the horrible precedent that could be set here.

I realize that it is only to be expected that a President’s personal values will affect his decisions. I just wish he could be subtle enough to let us pretend he’s an objective decision-maker, rather than an emotional hothead ready to do whatever it takes to make his dreams a reality.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Family Business

When I started this blog, I really intended it as a place to update my extended family on the life of my nuclear family. After all, I hate writing letters - I can't even keep up an e-mail correspondence over the long run. It’s even worse when I try to tell several different people the same things. The sheer repetition gets on my nerves, and I end up shortcutting it, or just not writing at all. With this blog, though, I can write everything once, and any of my family who has an interest can check it out at their convenience.

For some reason, though, it has turned into more of an editorial page. Well, that’s been a lot of fun, and I will no doubt continue the same sorts of entries…but I also want to carry out my original purpose from time to time. Even when there’s not all that much to say. For my new friends who have connected based on our blogs and comments, you may want to skip this one and tune in next time.

So anyway, Rita is doing much better. Her incision is pretty completely healed, and she’s walking a little bit farther every day. She’s been able to do more around the house, too. It takes a bit longer, as she has to do a little, then sit a little, but she manages to get it done. Best of all, she’s lost over 110 pounds. We’ll probably have to buy new clothes soon, as even her smallest stuff is looking pretty baggy.

Michael is now officially a theatre critic for Admittedly, he’s one of several dozen throughout the city, and his “beat” is restricted to high school plays, but it is still pretty cool. He is participating in the “Cappies” program, where a few students from each participating high school review and rate several productions at other participating schools. These reviews and scores provide each school an independent evaluation of what they’re doing well or badly. They also provide the reviewers a wider exposure to different theatrical ideas and experiences, as well as training them on what to look for when rating a show. That gives them a better way to judge their own work in the future. And at the end of the year, the best shows receive awards in several categories. Best of all, those awards are presented in a gala at the Kennedy Center.

Michael is very excited about it. He’s really looking forward to seeing all the different plays, especially since one school plans to put on Little Shop of Horrors. He also likes the opportunity to get a review published – the best reviews will appear in the Washington Post. I think what he’s most excited about, though, is the chance to express his opinions and affect the awards. He can’t rate his own school, of course, but he can certainly decide which play he thinks is the best, and root for his choice to come in second behind his school!

David is still enjoying his Creative Writing class. He’s got about two chapters done in a fantasy novel – he plans to complete the novel by the end of the year. They’re both gone a lot visiting friends, or monopolizing the phone for hours at a time. It’s hard for me to say anything, since I remember doing the same thing when I was their age…didn’t I, Dad? And stop laughing!

Me? Pretty much same old, same old. Under the Army Chief of Staff’s guidelines for public web sites, I can’t talk much about work, but nothing much has changed there anyway. It does seem to be wearing me down a bit, but in two more years, I should be able to quit and get a real job…and after 18 years, I’m pretty sure I can manage another two!

Anyway, that’s about it for news from here. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get upset about some other political issue…

Monday, October 3, 2005

Why Can't PVT Johnny Write?

In my current employment, I receive e-mails from a large number of young soldiers. Under current recruiting rules, they either graduated from high school or successfully completed a GED program. They were then screened for aptitude for a highly technical field. They have completed intensive training for that technical specialty to a level that would probably rate at least three separate industry certifications and around 10 semester hours of college credit. These are not stupid people. Why can’t they write?

It is rare for me to go an entire day without receiving an e-mail that completely lacks punctuation, capitalization, spelling and other grammatical rules. I’m not referring to a missing comma and a few misspelled words – I mean no punctuation whatsoever. I mean more than half of the words longer than five letters spelled wrong. They cannot correctly spell the abbreviation for my rank, even though it is shown on the web page where they get my e-mail address. In some cases, they cannot correctly abbreviate their own rank! Lesser examples of such ignorance are even more common, and are not exclusive to the younger soldiers.

We now call it Elementary School, but the first few grades were once called Grammar School. You were expected to learn basic grammar by the time you left the sixth grade. That, in fact, should have been enough to get by and avoid embarrassment throughout adult life. The next six years were supposed to extend the depth and expand the breadth of your knowledge of the English language. So how did these people complete that last six years without being competent? And if they could not manage at least some level of competence in English, what are we to assume about all the other subjects they were supposedly taught?

In the book Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein postulates a society in which the vote is given only to veterans of national service. The theory is that people who have voluntarily risked their lives to support their county will, on average, vote for what is best for the country, rather than what is best for them personally. It worked well in the book. I even agree with the theory behind it. If we tried it in real life, though, there would be a very dangerous transition period, because the people we have in national service right now are not up to the intellectual challenge.

There are three points, though, that make it even more frightening. One, in Starship Troopers, you had to complete your service to earn the vote – these soldiers already have it, and are already affecting our elections. Two, the soldiers are a reflection of our society at large, so you can assume there are other people out there equally ignorant. They still have the vote. Three, there are people out there that were turned down because they fell below our enlistment standards. And they still have the vote.