Saturday, September 29, 2007

Jena 6: Somebody Else Finally Gets It

Via Steve Sailer, this article by Vanderbilt law professor Carol Swain. Professor Swain seems to think that the Jena 6 may have been the victims of disparate treatment, but for very personal reasons, she understands that a group beat-down can have terrible consequences:

Much sport has been made of the deadly sneaker that the district attorney introduced as a weapon. What is missed is the fact that sneakers and fists can become lethal weapons under the right circumstances.

Almost a year ago, my 41-year-old brother, Kevin Henderson, died from injuries he sustained on his job after he was attacked by a group of teenage boys.

According to a neighbor who witnessed the attack, five teens knocked my brother to the ground, kicking and stomping him until the neighbor intervened. Kevin staggered home, collapsed into a coma and was declared brain-dead within hours of the attack.

My heart goes out to her -- her brother is dead, beaten to death by a gang of cowardly thugs. Since Professor Swain is black herself, her brother is most likely black as well. So here we have an innocent black man, stomped to death by a gang. Where is Jesse Jackson? Where is Al Sharpton? Where are the demonstrators? Where, for that matter, is CNN?

As Professor Swain puts it:

Black crime is a serious problem that stereotypes all black youth. And it must be dealt with by a united black community that stands up and says enough is enough. Unfortunately, too many of our media-appointed leaders have failed to vigorously condemn the attack of the six against the one. This is unfortunate.

Indeed it is. But if they condemn the attack, they have to recognize that maybe, just maybe, the thugs who attacked Justin Barker deserve punishment. And we can't have that, can we?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Jena 6: The Prosecutor Speaks

Via Ann Althouse, this New York Times op-ed by the much-maligned Jena 6 prosecutor, Reed Walters. All-in-all, he gives a pretty good account of himself, emphasizing some points that have been getting lost. Most importantly, he makes short work of something I've taken issue with myself: the characterization of the case as being about a "schoolyard fight."

Conjure the image of schoolboys fighting: they exchange words, clench fists, throw punches, wrestle in the dirt until classmates or teachers pull them apart. Of course that would not be aggravated second-degree battery, which is what the attackers are now charged with. (Five of the defendants were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder.) But that’s not what happened at Jena High School.

The victim in this crime, who has been all but forgotten amid the focus on the defendants, was a young man named Justin Barker, who was not involved in the nooses incident three months earlier. According to all the credible evidence I am aware of, after lunch, he walked to his next class. As he passed through the gymnasium door to the outside, he was blindsided and knocked unconscious by a vicious blow to the head thrown by Mychal Bell. While lying on the ground unaware of what was happening to him, he was brutally kicked by at least six people.

Imagine you were walking down a city street, and someone leapt from behind a tree and hit you so hard that you fell to the sidewalk unconscious. Would you later describe that as a fight?

Only the intervention of an uninvolved student protected Mr. Barker from severe injury or death. There was serious bodily harm inflicted with a dangerous weapon — the definition of aggravated second-degree battery. Mr. Bell’s conviction on that charge as an adult has been overturned, but I considered adult status appropriate because of his role as the instigator of the attack, the seriousness of the charge and his prior criminal record.

Precisely. The defenders of the Jena 6 keep using that term because of the image it creates: two young men engaged in equal combat. I'm actually probably a bit more indulgent of the classic schoolyard fight than most school officials these days. But youthful fisticuffs used to be governed by a code of honor, and the Jena 6 attackers don't know the meaning of the word.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hsut Up Already

Glen Reynolds is having a poll on whether he hsould Hsut up with the Hsu puns.

I vote to ditch 'em. Alas, my fellow Instapundit readers appear to be outvoting me.

I fear a Hsunami of Hsu puns.

"Your Agonizer, Please."

I have a bad feeling about this. Courtesy of Radley Balko, this article about a new weapon with an appropriately Orwellian name: Silent Guardian. Made by Raytheon, it's a ray-gun. Really -- it works by emitting "an invisible, focused beam of radiation - similar to the microwaves in a domestic cooker - that are tuned to a precise frequency to stimulate human nerve endings." And it's supposed to hurt like hell.

Here's the kicker: the beam from the Silent Guardian barely pentrates the skin -- just far enough to cause pain, but not far enough to cause permanent damage. Or leave marks. Silent Guardian is being billed as a humane, non-lethal weapon which can be used to disperse crowds and the like. But as the Daily Mail article points out, it's the perfect torture weapon:

Perhaps the most alarming prospect is that such machines would make efficient torture instruments.

They are quick, clean, cheap, easy to use and, most importantly, leave no marks. What would happen if they fell into the hands of unscrupulous nations where torture is not unknown?

The agony the Raytheon gun inflicts is probably equal to anything in a torture chamber - these waves are tuned to a frequency exactly designed to stimulate the pain nerves.

I couldn't hold my finger next to the device for more than a fraction of a second. I could make the pain stop, but what if my finger had been strapped to the machine?

Dr John Wood, a biologist at UCL and an expert in the way the brain perceives pain, is horrified by the new pain weapons.

"They are so obviously useful as torture instruments," he says.

"It is ethically dubious to say they are useful for crowd control when they will obviously be used by unscrupulous people for torture."

Unscrupulous people? You mean like Bush, Cheney, Yoo, and the whole "enhanced interrogation" crowd? This thing is barbaric, and it's going to be used. This thing is going to cause a lot of pain to a lot of people, and decent people everywhere will curse those who invented it.

Somebody was bound to invent something like this one of these days. Did it really have to be an American company working for the United States military?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A (Different) Mob of Cowardly Thugs

Via Your Lying Eyes, this YouTube video showing a group of black kids beating up a thirteen-year-old white kid in Norfolk, Virginia. In all likelihood, there won't be any blogstorm over this -- just another beat-down, after all. And the poor dears are only being charged with misdemeanor mob assult, so there can be no claims of overzealous prosecution. I wonder if anybody will bother to protest this behavior. Well, I don't actually wonder -- I know the answer.

Cops Complain of Speeding Tickets

Thoreau over at Unqualified Offerings links to this bizarre site, in which, believe it or not, cops complain about getting speeding tickets from other cops.

Now, to be fair, the site claims it's about "officers getting traffic tickets that ANY normal civilian could get a warning on, verbal or written." In fact, I think you could make a case enforcing traffic laws more strictly against off-duty police officers. After all, they don't need "warning," because they are presumably already aware of the law. Moreover, one might argue they should be traffic-code moral exemplars for the rest of us. Still, I don't favor giving anybody -- even cops -- tickets for going three miles per hour over the speed limit. (Speed limits are set way too low anyway.)

But, in fact, if you read the site, it's not about cops griping about getting rinky-dink tickets for stuff that civilians would get off for. Nope -- it's about cops griping about getting any tickets at all. The accounts show this incredible sense of entitlement. An entitlement to not be ticketed out of a sense of professional solidarity with other cops. I'm not naive enough to be surprised that such attitudes exist. What makes me a bit shocked is that the cops who demand this sort of treatment exhibit their demands in such a brazen and public way.

One guy complained because the Illinois State Police ticketed him for going 84.9 miles per hour. Now, I don't want to sound like I'm being holier-than-thou -- I have to admit I've driven 85. But if I were pulled over, I wouldn't gripe that much about getting a ticket.

Or read this complaint:

I am an active police officer in the NYPD and was driving down to Florida on March 4th 2007 which was the first time I have driven to Florida, not realizing in time the sign changed 65 to 45 i was slowing down and was nailed doing 61 in a 45 by Officer Brown 2416 (the summons copy is light) of LAWTEY PD Bradford County FL. I had to pay $185 which I didn't have on this avoidable summons. This officer could have cared less that he was writing another active police officer, I go out of my way to take care of other cops no matter where you may be visiting from.

I suspect that the reason the abrupt change from 65 to 45 is what is known as a "speed trap," and that there's s a reason why cops lurk there. I object, in in principle, to such tactics, but if the rest of us are going to get nailed for this sort of thing, well, I don't see why the NYPD should be immune. Likewise, I think it's abhorent that the NYPD officer admits to going out of his way to "take care of other cops."

Or consider this account:

On June 22, 2007 I was heading up US59 in Houston to go do my quarterly firearms qualification. Unfortunately, I was running late and was pulled over by Officer J.W. Harris, traffic enforcement, with Houston Police Department. I immediately pulled over and gave him my license and insurance. Officer Harris asked why I was speeding and I informed him that I was late for a range day and that I understood he was doing his job. I then showed him my credentials since I had my weapon on me. Officer Harris then checked to make sure that my inspection and registration were up to date and went back to his car.

Officer Harris took approximately ten minutes so I figured he was going show some professional courtesy and only make me “wait” awhile longer instead of stroking me a ticket. That wasn’t the case. Officer Harris ticketed me even after I identified myself as a law enforcement officer. I am currently working under cover in a Federal position and informed him that I too had previously been a police officer in both Houston and Dallas, Texas and had pulled over multitudes of Houston Police officers while working radar and had always shown them professional courtesy and sent them on their way.

What, the rest of us aren't in a hurry, either? If I'm pulled over because I'm late to something, and I explained that as the reason, the cop would be quite justified in responding "you should have left earlier." Apparently, "professional courtesy" is a euphemism for "cops get to break the law. All I can say is, good for you, Officer J.W. Harris.

Nobody tell Balko about this. His head might explode.

UPDATE; Mr. Balko found the site, and he seems to have survived. Just to be clear, this is one instance where I stand in solidarity with Radley Balko and my libertarian friends.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jena 6: The Facts Do Matter

You know, I'd be a lot more inclined to share the outrage in the Jena 6 case if the outraged people were a bit more careful about the facts. Case-in-point: Amina Luqman's Friday Washington Post column. This is Luqman's summary of the facts:

The basic points are these: In the predominantly white town of Jena, La., white students hung three nooses last September after black students sat under a schoolyard tree where white students normally congregated. The white students were suspended for three days. After black students protested peacefully, the LaSalle Parish district attorney threatened them, saying: "I can make your life go away with a stroke of a pen." Eventually there was a schoolyard fight in which a white student was beaten; he was treated for a concussion and multiple bruises. Although the student was well enough to attend a school function the same evening, six black boys between the ages of 15 and 17 were arrested, five of whom were charged as adults with attempted murder and conspiracy.

Where to start? Luqman ignores the beating took place several months after the noose incident. Ignores the fact that the District Attorney's comment was made after there had been several racially-tinged fights on campus, and that there is a factual dispute as to whether the "stroke of a pen" statement was directed toward just the black students or the entire student body.

Likewise, the characterization of the attack on Justin Barker as a "schoolyard fight," while not uncommon, is so misleading as to be tantamount to a lie. The word "fight" implies some degree of mutual combat. Justin Barker appears to have been coldcocked and stomped on by a group of attackers. Mychal Bell, had multiple prior convictions. The "school function" that he attended that night was a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony at a small-town school. This would have taken, what, ten minutes of googling? Or the two minutes it took to read my summary of the facts.

So why didn't Luqman bother? Because actually sitting down and thinking about the facts introduces ambiguity, uncertainty, shades of grey. Because you might not be so sure where you stand after a while. But Luqman prefers righteous indignation:

This language presumes a legitimacy to both sides, a fair fight. Yet there is nothing balanced or fair about what is happening to these boys. Black Americans crave the same outrage the media rained down on Michael Vick for his unjustified abuse of dogs. For mainstream America, Vick's actions were beyond debate. "How could he be so cruel?" we lamented. Whatever the reason, mainstream America said clearly that what Vick did was wrong. Shouldn't America be at least as appalled by how Jena has treated these six black teens?

Maybe America should be more appalled by what these six black teens are accused of doing. And by the fact that many of their defenders don't seem to care.

The Jena Shotgun Incident: I Knew There Might Be More To It Than That

The primary argument made by the "Free the Jena 6" crowd is that there's been racial disparity: the Jena 6 are, they claim, being treated less favorably than whites who committed similar, or even more serious offenses.

The "shotgun" incident inolves a student named Matt Windham, who pulled a shotgun on three black students, including at least one of the Jena 6, Robert Bailey. This incident has received huge play among those who believe the Jena 6 have suffered an injustice. Nearly all of the discussions of this incident state or imply that the white with the shotgun was the agressor. Few give any indication that there is a substantial factual dispute. Over at, for example, they summarize it thusly:

Black students at a convenience store were threatened by a young white man with a shotgun. They wrestled the gun from him and ran away. While no charges were filed against the white man, the students were arrested for the theft of the gun.

Radley Balko, in his e-mail to Glen Reynolds says "In one case, a white kid pulled a shotgun on three black kids." Michael David Murphy, who has been giving this story quite a bit of attention, has a similar characterization:

Three black teens were in the store, including two of the Jena Six, and when they left, they were confronted by a white man with a loaded shotgun. The teens wrestled the gun from him and fled.

NPR has a somewhat more detailed report:

The next day, tensions escalated at a local convenience store. Bailey exchanged words with a white student who had been at the party. The white boy ran back to his truck and pulled out a pistol grip shotgun. Bailey ran after him and wrestled him for the gun.

From these cursory and one-sided reports, you would hardly think that there was any controversy at all regarding the shotgun incident. Yet, when I heard about it, I kept scratching my head, wondering if that was all there was. Lo and behold, Patterico at Patterico's Pontifications linked to this story in the local Jena Times (you have to scroll down a bit to find the story). It turns out that there are two sidies to this shotgun incident, after all:

The victim, Matt Windham, alleges that three black males attacked and robbed him while the three accused are claiming self defense.

Both the victim and those arrested offered different statements to police, however, eye witnesses to the event unrelated to the victim or those arrested gave a report of the incident that corresponded with the victim.

Now, maybe the Jena Times is a racist rag covering up for a corrupt power structure. Maybe they're just sloppy about the facts. Maybe they don't want their town to look bad. I don't know whether this report is accurate. And I sure don't know what happened in that parking lot.

I do know one thing, however. I know that there is a factual dispute as to what happened. I know that both sides are claiming self-defense. Now, the pro-Jena 6 folks are free to believe Bailey's account if they like. But, at a minimum, honesty should compel them to acknowledge that the facts are in serious dispute.

Once it is acknowledged that, indeed, the shotgun might well have been pulled in self-defense, that element of the claim of racial disparity evaporates.

Are UAW Auto Workers Nuts?

Insty links to this report that General Motors workers are now officially on strike.

Are they crazy? Do they want to drive General Motors into bankruptcy? What are they thinking? The American automobile industry is in deep, deep trouble, and the workers go on strike. I am utterly speechless at this lunacy. (See The Hutch Report for similar thoughts.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?

In the past, I have been critical of President George W. Bush, but I do try to be fair. For example, just this morning I went after some people who criticized President Bush in a particularly stupid way. But this latest report is deeply weird, and even a bit creepy. Creepy in the "Oh my God, this man controls nuclear weapons," way.

It's based on something in the book Dead Certain, which I own but have yet to read. According to Hilzoy at Obisidian Wings, Sid Blumenthal's review in Salon takes note a very odd practice: Josh Bolton, White House Chief of Staff, greets President Bush with the phrase "Thank you for the privilege of serving today." Every. Morning.

I honestly have trouble believing this. It has to be another plastic turkey, doesn't it? I am willing to believe that this is a bizarre hoax, or that Draper just made it up. Or even that Blumenthal read it wrong -- maybe he said it once, and that got transmuted into saying it every day. I would suggest it was some kind of ironic inside joke, but somehow I get the feeling that Bush doesn't do irony.

Because the alternative is even worse. The alternative is believing that Bolton really does this every day, and that Bush lets him do it. Likes it, even.

Now if Josh Bolton were really poor, and he had to engage in this kind of obsequious display in order to feed his kids, I would understand. But I'm pretty sure he could find lucrative private sector employment. So, what kind of man is willing to do this sort of belly-crawling on a daily basis? Possibly even thinking it is appropriate to do so. Is that the kind of person we want as one of the President's principal advisors?

That's a rhetorical question, by the way. The answer is "no."

Letting somebody do this us really bad management. One problem in Washington D.C. is that "you are wrong" is not a phrase that powerful people are accustomed to hearing. But, from time to time, it's a phrase they need to hear. One of the worst choices that any political leader can make it to hire flatterers and yes-men. Anybody who greets his boss like that deserves to have his face in the dictionary under the word brown-noser. If I were President (stop laughing) and my Chief of Staff said that to me, I'd bust out laughing and tell him to get a hold of himself. If he did it for three days in a row, I would tell him that the pressure of the job was just too much, and he ought to spend some more time with his family.

Worse: what kind of man accepts that sort of obsequious display on a daily basis? As Hilzoy says:

Stop and think for a moment: if your assistant greeted you every morning with the words "Thank you for the privilege of serving today", how would you respond? I think I'd make light of it the first day, but if it continued, I'd say: I appreciate the compliment, but it's really not necessary. If, God forbid, my assistant went on saying it, I would at some point have to sit him or her down and explain that it made me uncomfortable. The one thing I really can't imagine is letting someone go on saying that day after day. It's just too crazy.

No shit.

The fact -- if it really is a fact -- that President Bush accepts this degrading ritual is most disturbing. What kind of man allows that? Even likes it? It sounds like something a meglomaniac would demand, or a Third World dictator. Not the President of the United States.

This is just psychotic.

UPDATE: Rising Hegemon says something I thought but didn't quite have the guts put into words: "You can literally see Bolten already in the next room masturbating." As one of his commenters says, "Eeeeeeewwwwww."

Jena 6 -- More Fact, More Thoughts

The Jena 6 have hit the big-time, now, with several A-List bloggers chiming in. Instapundit, Megan McArdle, and Orin Kerr over at Volokh have all weighed in, now. I think that all of them share Professor Kerr's sense that it's hard to get a sense of what the real facts are. One of the -- many -- things about the pro Jena 6 activists that rubs me wrong is their absolute certitude about what the facts are, when there is a great deal murk to the whole thing.

As I noted earlier, this case is a situation in which everybody has to be on the lookout for "confirmation bias" -- the natural human tendency to view the facts in the light most favorable to preexisting beliefs. It's quite possible that I myself fell for that, to some degree, when I wrote my Cowardly Thugs post. At the time I wrote that post, I was not aware that some claims of factual innocence had been made. Since then, my position has evolved somewhat. I read one report that, if true, would raise serious questions as to the procedural fairness of Bell's trial.

While I still suspect these are the guys who did the deed, if I were writing my Cowardly Thugs post today, I would clarify that Barker's attackers are cowardly thugs, whoever they might turn out to be. That is, I would admit to at least some uncertainty as to their guilt. I still think that a one-against-many beatdown is cowardly, but I admit of some uncertainty as to whether these guys are the cowards in question.

Since my prior posts on this matter, a couple of interesting factual tidbits have come my way. First, this local article, which I found courtesy of Kevin at Megan McArdle's, as well as this informative writeup bit by a local minister, via Steve Sailer.

The local news article helps to flesh out some of the facts, and also exposes a perspective I've tried to highlight here: that of the victim:

All you hear is, 'Justice for the Jena Six,'" David Barker said of his son's case. "I wouldn't mind justice for the one. It doesn't matter the race -- what matters is what happened to our son."

Absolutely right. The victim is getting lost in all this -- lost or even attacked. While claims of racism need to be addressed, too many people are losing sight of the fact that there was a real-live victim here. Even worse, some people are going so far as to claim that he deserved it. For example, one of my own commenters said, Caps Lock and all, "SOMETHING TELL ME JUSTIN WILL THINK TWICE BEFOR HE GOES CALLIN BLACK PEOPLE NIGGERS. " One of Megan's commenters was equally vile in his sentiments, if more literate: "First, the kid who was beaten was taunting the students. If you taunt someone and you get your ass kicked - it's your own fault."

These constant attempts to claim that Barker wasn't really hurt all that badly, or that he deserved it, or that a tennis shoe isn't a deadly weapon -- as if his attackers took off their shoes and slapped him with them, rather than stomping on him on the ground -- really rub me the wrong way. And it is 100% clear that if the races were reversed in this case -- if a group of white football players stomped on a black kid -- the folks who are trying to minimize the victim's injuries would be howling for blood.

Eddie Thompson, a local minister, has penned a very informative essay about the controversy, which I commend to my readers in full. Interestingly, Thompson admits that Jena has problems with racism and bigotry, and he seems to think that the Jena 6 were overcharged, which is probably reasonable. But he also provides a firsthand perspective not always reflected in media and blogger accounts.

Granted, some of his points are a bit, uh, trivial. For example, he says that there were two nooses, not three, in the infamous tree. Well, OK -- the point is that there were nooses. The exact number isn't critical.

But other factual claims are certainly interesting, if in fact they are true. For example, as I noted in my synopsis of the background facts, it has been widely reported that the students who put up the nooses were given a short in-school suspension. Thompson claims this isn't true, or at least it's not complete:

The actions of the three white students who hung the nooses demonstrate prejudice and bigotry. However, they were not just given “two days suspension” as reported by national news agencies. After first being expelled, then upon appeal, being allowed to re-enter the school system, they were sent to an alternative school, off-campus, for an extended period of time. They underwent investigations by Federal and Sate authorities. They were given psychological evaluations. Even when they were eventually allowed back on campus they were not allowed to be a part of the general population for weeks.

If true, this suggests that the original noose-hangers were not given just given a slap-on-the-wrist. And he adds some disturbing details about the fight itself and its aftermath:

There was no “fight” on December 4, 2006 at Jena High School, as the national media continues to characterize the event in question. Six students attacked a single student who was immediately knocked unconscious. According to sworn testimony, they stomped him, as he lay “lifeless” upon the ground.

Justin Barker, the white student attacked, was not the first white student targeted by these black students. Others had been informed they were going to be beaten, but stayed away from school and out of sight until they felt safe.

CNN reported that there were “obviously no witnesses to the fight.” In fact, over thirty eyewitnesses, students and teachers, were questioned immediately following the attack, all of who implicated one or more of the black students arrested in the case. In fact, some of the accused black students did not stop stomping Barker until they were pulled away from him by some of the teachers, according to testimony given in the trial of Mychal Bell.

The media continues to make the point that Justin Barker “attended a party” later that evening, insinuating that his injuries were not very severe. The Barkers, by no means a wealthy family, face medical bills already over $12,000 from the emergency room visit. Imagine what an overnight visit would have cost. Justin Barker was advised to remain hospitalized but decided he would not let the event keep him from participating in the once-in-a-lifetime, traditional Ring Ceremony at First Baptist Church in Jena, where class rings are presented to the upcoming senior class.

[Formatting altered somewhat because I'm too much of a klutz to duplicate his exact format on Blogger.] All of this, I think, points to the brutality of the attack, and the unfairness of using the fact that Barker attended a ceremony that night against him. Particularly disturbing is the allegation that the attack wasn't some spontaneous outburst brought on by Barker's taunting, but was instead premeditated.

And he supports what those of us night blinkered by our ideology have already figured out. These kids are not a bunch of angels, but are instead a bunch of juvenile delinquents who have been coddled because they're football players:

The “Jena Six” have repeatedly been held up as heroes by much of the race-based community and called “innocent students” by the national media. Some of these students have reputations in Jena for intimidating and sometimes beating other students. They have vandalized and destroyed both school property and community property. Some of the Jena Six have been involved in crimes not only in LaSalle Parish but also in surrounding parishes. For the most part, coaches and other adults have prevented them from being held accountable for the reign of terror they have presided over in Jena. Despite intervention by adults wanting to give them chances due their athletic potential, most of the Jena Six have extensive juvenile records. Yet their parents keep insisting that their children have never been in trouble before. These boys did not receive prejudicial treatment but received preferential treatment until things got out of hand.

This article says it all. Mychal Bell was on probation until his 18th birthday for a battery which occurred on Christmas Day, 2005. In early September of 2006 -- just a few months before the Jena 6 attack -- Bell was "adjudicated" for battery and criminal damage to property. A few days later, he rushed for 108 yards and three touchdowns.

Another Stupid Attack On George W. Bush

I am a frequent and harsh critic of President George W. Bush -- I think he's screwed up in so many ways I won't even try to name them all. Nor is he particularly eloquent.

But Ann Althouse is right -- "you have to will yourself into idiocy not to understand what he means here." The folks at Think Progress are hacking away to George W. Bush for supposedly asserting that Saddam Hussein killed Nelson Mendela, when in fact Mandela remains very much alive.

For the literal-minded, let me explain it. He's saying that people who might play a role in Iraq similar to the role Mandela played in South Africa are dead, because Saddam Hussein killed them. Not Mandela himself, but Iraqis like Mandela. This is what is known as a "metaphor." The tipoff, maybe, was when he "Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas" referring to more than one possible Mandela. If you don't understand he's being metaphorical, the statement makes no sense at all. Unless, that is, you imagine that George W. Bush thinks that South Africa has a clone army of Mandelas, which Saddam Hussein wiped out.

There are all sorts of really good things to criticize George W. Bush about. Why do people waste their time on idiocy like this?

UPDATE: Opinionjournal links to this Reuters article which makes the same dumbass mistake.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Reputation in the Internet Era

Back during the height of the internet boom, lots of folks were talking about how much the internet changes things. That's been tamped down a bit, but it really has been an important innovation, in a lot of ways. Small stuff: I no longer own a phone book, for example. When I want to look up a phone number, I go on the Web to do it.

One area where, I think, businesses may still be behind the curve is in the way that their reputation can take big hits when they do a bad job with customers. It's not just word-of-mouth any more -- it's word-of-mouth plus word-of-blog, review site, etc. I still get hits on my U.S. Airways Customer Service -- SUCKS post, for example. Google "Dell Hell," and Jeff Jarvis's page will be one of your top hits. My view that Charlie Palmer Steak has good food and lousy service is available for viewing.

It used to be that a restaurant could feel pretty safe in serving rotten food, and then making inadequate recompense to the disgruntled diner. Oh, it could be a secret shopper or incognito restaurant critic, but the chances are it's just some guy. You might lose one customer, or get bad word-of-mouth -- and word-of-mouth is important to restaurants. But the scope of the damage will be limited. Now, however, there's a lot more room damage.

Witness this post back in May, by Stephen Dubner at the Freakonomics blog (via Ian Ayres at Balkanization and then this more recent post at Dubner's blog). Sure, Dubner is a real, live journalist, but he's also a blogger. And, like bloggers, he has the freedom to write about what he feels like. In this case, a restaurant called French Roast served him rotten chicken. When he sent it back, they fought him on it. And then they gave him little recompense -- a few measly bucks off. The manager though she'd gotten him out of there, meek and mild-mannered. And she was right -- he didn't put up a fight.

He wrote about it on his blog. And now it's there, fore all to find, whether through search engine or just following some random links, as I did. And the worst part is, most of the other reviews I've read online look pretty positive. It was probably just a fluke, albeit one that really shouldn't have happened. But fixing it right would probably have been less damaging than incurring the reputational cost associated with getting hammered by a reasonably well-read blogger.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

So, Why, Again, Do You Want Government Running Everything?

Over at Kleilman's, Michael O'Hare links to this article about a musician and musicologist named Nalani Ghuman who has had her visa revoked and been excluded from the United States for reasons utterly inexplicable to, well, anybody. Ghuman had been a legal resident of the United States for ten years, and there was no indication whatsoever that she was any sort of threat.

In reading the article, O'Hare's conclusion seems pretty apt: some moron at the State Department decided, for stupid and arbitrary reasons, to exclude her, and no individual is willing to take responsibility for saying "this decision was moronic and she should be allowed back in."

Yes, this decision seems to be both stupid and inexplicable. I suppose it's possible that Ghuman is a terrorist mastermind when she's not playing the violin, but it seems unlikely. Rather, this seems to be an example of one of those "stupid government tricks." Somebody in government does something stupid, and other government people continue the stupidity. Yes, apply pressure and let this poor girl in.

But beyond that, one lesson that might be learned is that government people do stupid things, and getting them to correct them can be a royal pain. Which is one reason I lean libertarian: I think that government in general does things badly, and so I want to limits its functions as much as possible. Now, I suppose it's possible that if the "right people" were put in charge, they wouldn't do stupid things any more, but honestly this seems pretty unlikely.

Mark Kleiman, Soccer, Snark, and "Bush Voters"

Mark Klieman links to these two reports regarding injuries in youth soccer. It turns out that "heading" the ball may result in permanent cognitive impairment. It's nice to see a card-carrying liberal noticing that IQ is actually important. Given the growing popularity of soccer in the United States, this raises important issues.

The real problem is that soccer forces its players to ignore their instincts. When a ball or other object is thrown in the direction of one's head, the natural instinct is to either duck or use one's hands to block the object. The instinctive reaction is not to use one's head to bat the object away. Soccer coaches have to train neophyte players to not put up their hands to stop the oncoming ball. Might I suggest that this instinct evolved for a reason? Maybe our cave-man ancestors who had the instinct to block the oncoming rock with their heads didn't manage to reproduce.

The obvious solution is a simple rule change: ban heading. If one wanted, one could allow players to strike the ball with an open hand. Perhaps if they made the ball oblong rather than round, let players catch it and advance it, tackle the ball-carrier, throw forward passes, and score by crossing the goal line, soccer might evolve into a sport worth watching.

But I digress. If soccer costs youth soccer participants one or two IQ points, it may not have noticeable effect on any one player, but the cumulative impact is costing our country millions of IQ points. And this type of injury is virtually invisible, unless it is really serious. Any sport can result in injury, and I'm certainly not a believer in the quest for the risk-free society. If somebody were bleating on about knee or ankle injuries, I'd probably say it was a known risk that people reasonably assume. But brain injuries are in a different category, and it is reasonable to ask whether the rules of the game couldn't be modified to make them less likely.

Banning heading is a no-brainer.

But, being Mark Kleiman, he couldn't make this point without a bit of gratuitous political snark. He just had to introduce it by saying the soccer moms were "breeding Bush voters." Bush has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with his underlying point, which is well worth addressing. But any chance to bash bush is worth taking, right?

It is this same propensity for self-congratulation that led to the Red-States-are-dumb IQ hoax, and to Howell Raines' confident prediction that Kerry would outscore Bush by a mile when in fact his test scores and grades were slightly worse than Bush's. Now, it could be that this self-congratulation is merely annoying. But it could also have real consequences. Maybe it is was a part of the reason they thought John Kerry was going to be a great challenger to President George W. Bush in 2004. Think about it: he's a thin-skinned liberal from Massachusetts who looks like Lurch. He can't order a hot dog without seeming awkward. He finds it impossible to utter a simple declarative sentence with a noun, a verb, an object, and, most importantly, a period at the end. He spent four months in the damn boat in Vietnam, but he nullified that by talking about it all the time. Not to mention his questionable record as an antiwar activist.

If folks on the left weren't so full of themselves, they might have noticed that this man was not a strong candidate. And 2004 was no throwaway year, like '96 for the Republicans. They had a real shot, and they blew it.

It's also just generally bad political strategy to talk down to people. I mean, Reagan won twice, by pretty comfortable margins, and he did it by getting "Reagan Democrats" to vote for him. Don't the Democrats want the votes of people who voted for Bush? Is it really useful or productive to tell such people "hey, we think you are brain-damaged"?

Monday, September 17, 2007

There You Go Again, Andrew

Alan Keyes is running for President, and somebody actually noticed. Andrew Sullivan, of course. According to Sully, Keyes will "help Americans better see what the base of the GOP believes in."

Now I realize that it pleases Sully to believe that the GOP base is a bunch of Christianist Theo-Fascists, but the last time I looked, Alan Keyes had run for President several times before, and failed miserably each time. If his views actually represented the views of the base, then he would win, or at least make a strong showing. Unless Andrew Sullivan wants to define "the base" as "the tiny fraction of the Republican Party which I wish to make seem more important than it is in order to advance my thesis."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

No Enemies To The Left

Ann Althouse links to this "scary, weird" Jane Hamsher post over at Firedoglake. Hamsher is mad because Elizabeth Edwards criticized over the Petraus/Betrayus advertisement. I mean, Hamsher is really, really, mad. And she lays down the law:

So here’s the rule. You never repeat right wing talking points to attack your own, ever. You never enter that echo chamber as a participant. Ever. You never give them a hammer to beat the left with. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

I can't even begin to catalogue the things that are wrong and creepy, and really off-putting about this statement. And it's not an isolated theme on Hamsher's part -- she links to two of her own prior statements taking the same view. Here's what she said a year ago:

First of all — I don't care if John Kerry was eating live babies on TV, one week out from an election you do not repeat GOP talking points. Ever.

And lest anybody think she didn't mean it, in her most recent post, Hamsher linked to this prior statement and quoted herself at length -- including the "eating babies" part.

Note one thing Hamsher doesn't say -- or at least if she did, I sure missed it. She didn't say to avoid Republican talking points which are wrong, or misguided, or unfair, or stupid. She seems to be saying one shouldn't concede points even if they are true. Granted, the part about "eating babies" is probably exaggeration for rhetorical effect, but we all agree (I think) that baby-eating is a bad thing, worthy of condemnation. The non-exaggerated version of the principle she seems to be articulating is "don't criticize the left, even when they're wrong."

To her, it's not about finding truth or getting the right answer. It's all about tactics, about rhetoric, about PR and fighting the partisan war of words. But mostly it's about getting power, power for its own sake.

I don't want to sound like I'm red-baiting, but isn't this a return to the old communist notion of the "party line"? The idea being that you don't express public disagreement with the party, even if you think the party line is wrong? I seldom see such strident demands for group loyalty among conservatives and libertarians.

Ultimately, this is the collectivist, totalitarian impulse: the desire to crush dissent and stifle debate. The demand for "unity" and group loyalty. It's this sort of Leninist approach to politics that resulted in the deaths of tens, if not hundreds of millions of innocent people in the 20th Century. If the "progressive" movement hopes to form any kind of humane, post-communist left, it is thinking like this that they have to abandon.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Suck It, Jesus. You too, Mohammad

Ann Althouse links to this story and this CNN Video of Kathy Griffin saying "suck it Jesus" after winning the Emmy. Of course, professional offendee Bill Donahue is on TV being offended. I for one thought her comment was hilarious, and the reactions of the people being offended even more so. Anybody who isn't in the business of being offended understands the point of her joke: that it's absurd to think that God cares about who wins an Emmy. My favorite variation of this is the athletes who think God intervenes to change the outcome of sporting events. He couldn't be be bothered to save millions of people in the Holocaust and tens of millions in Communist Holocausts, but he sure cares about that Auburn/Alabama game!

As Professor Althouse observed, quite a few bloggers made the point that if Griffin had said "suck it Mohammad," a lot more would have taken umbrage. As Cassy Fiano over at Wizbang noted:

Let's just pretend for a second. Let's pretend we removed the name "Jesus" from her lovely little speech and let's insert the name "Mohammad".

Now let's imagine what the response would be. Griffin would be chastised as a bigot. CAIR would be calling for public apologies and tolerance seminars, and I'm sure we'd see Muslims rioting and calling for much more than a public apology.

Well, sure. And it's also true that many -- not all, but many -- of the liberal-minded folks who line up with Kathy Griffin now would be less tolerant of her comments if she had gone after Mohammed. This is partly because it's more physically dangerous to insult Muslims. Bill Donahue is an insufferable twit, but he is highly unlikely to actually kill anybody. But it is also also because much of the liberal self-image is about sticking up for victims, and many of our friends on the left stupidly people view Muslims as a victim group.

I am already on record as being in favor of Koran desecration. The freedom to criticize, ridicule, or even insult religion is absolutely central to both free speech and freedom of religion. We shouldn't give in to Christian Censorship Envy and start censoring anti-Christian speech more. Rather, we should all make a concerted effort to insult Mohammad on a regular basis and make Muslims accept it. The way to attack this disparity is by demanding tolerance for "suck it Mohammed" in addition to "suck it, Jesus."

The Griffin thing does serve a useful purpose in this project: it helps to educate Muslims that, while you can remonstrate with somebody who insults your religion, or express disagreement or condemnation, at the end of the day you don't get to kill them. So I applaud Griffin, and I encourage her to invite Mohammed to suck it after Jesus is done sucking.

Of course, not everybody feels the way I do. Some folks are just outraged by the whole thing. Here is my absolutely favorite outraged reaction, by blogger Aurvant. I don't think it's a parody, though of course I could be taken in:

I’m not sure but if it was possible for a person to carve out their own personal niche in Hell I’m pretty certain that Kathy Griffin just build herself a mansion of torment in that Dark Place where the Worn Never Dies and the Fire is Never Quenched.

Seriously, I couldn’t stand to hear it due to the skin crawling effect it sent down my spine. I’m hoping for some kind of divine retribution but her getting her spotlight stolen at the Emmy’s is a start.

Let me get this straight. This guy believes that God has his own personal torture chamber. Which is bad enough. In his torture chamber, God doesn't just torture the folks who really, really, really deserve it: the really evil people who killed millions like Hitler and Marx and Mao and Stalin and Pol Pot. Serial killers. Child molesters, Rapists. He also tortures people like Kathy Griffin, who do nothing other than tell Jesus to suck it. This blogger says he is "pretty certain" he is going to torture Griffin for all eternity for this. Not only that, he's actively "hoping" she gets this "divine retribution." He wants her to be tortured.

I previously blogged about Mother Teresa's fetish for suffering, but at least Mother T presumably thought that the people who were brought cloeser to God by dying wracked with pain would be free of the suffering in the afterlife. Sure, she wanted to increase human pain and misery here on Earth, but I see no reason she was the sort of sadist who relishes other people being tortured for all eternity. But this dude actually relishes the thought.

It is pretty hard to square the whole "God With a Torture Chamber" idea with the notion that this deity is kind and benevolent and loves us. Particularly if he casts people into the torture chamber for such trivial slights. I can imagine a deity who tortures people who insult him for all eternity, and I can see it might behoove one to worship such a powerful and sadistic entity. But such a being isn't an all-loving deity -- it's a supremely powerful deranged psychopath. You would worship such a God for the same reason you might obey an armed bank robber who just killed a guard: terror.

I will say this: any being who tortures Kathy Griffin for all eternity because she made an arguably-offensive comment isn't worthy of my worship. Or yours.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Marxist Bombings Shut Down Mexican Auto Plants

Via Instapundit, this article about a series of bombings in Southern Mexico by the "Popular Revolutionary Army," a rebel group located in Veracruz. The bombings, which targeted natural gas pipelines, have idled GM, Ford, Chrysler, VW, and Honda plants in Mexico. Glen speculates that Hugo Chavez is behind it, and I suppose he might be right. But, noxious as he is, Chavez is a symptom, not an underlying problem. The underlying problem is that hard-core Marxist leftism continues to have an appeal in Mexico and Latin America. Oh, it's not a majority view -- of course -- but there are enough people who sympathize with such views that "leftist guerillas" are still a problem.

So what does that say about the desirability of importing a few million more Mexican and Latin American immigrants?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Vile, Disgusting Crime

Via Steve Sailer, this report of a horrific crime in West Virginia. This is like something out of the movie Deliverance -- A young black woman was allegedly held for a week inside a shed located near a mobile home by a group of degenerate sadists who allegedly sexually assaulted her, forced her to eat dog and rat feces, poured hot water on her as they performed the sexual assault, and undoubtedly performed other evil acts upon her. In addition, the suspects, who are white, are alleged to have used racial slurs during the attack -- from the delicate manner in which the media reports are couching things, I assume they used the "N word." (Additional coverage -- including video of the poor woman and her mother can be found here.)

The AP is now reporting that the alleged perpetrators include two mothers and their grown children. As one report put it, the suspects are "not strangers to the criminal justice system." Since 1991, the six have faced a total of 101 criminal charges, the most serious being a first degree murder charge against Frankie Brewster, the owner of the mobile home where the alleged crime took place. She pled down to manslaughter and wanton endangerment and was released in 2000 after serving five years in prison. Brewster's son, Bobby Brewster, has also been charged in connection with this attack.

The other defendants include Karen Burton, who has faced 33 charges in her life, and her daughter Alisha Burton, who has "only" faced 20. Of course her daughter is only 23, so she can probably catch up with mom. Danny J. Combs and George A. Messer round out the list of defendants.

Words cannot express the sympathy I have toward this poor girl who was brutalized in this manner. Certainly if these charges are proven, the people who did them are vile scumbags who deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. I would have no problem at all if this whole gang ended up dying in prison. And they're being charged with some serious crimes, so let's hope so.

Steve Sailer makes the point that this story will probably get more national attention than it otherwise would. He's probably right about that. If this were an otherwise-identical black-on-white attack, it's likely it would get less national coverage, and it's certain that the race of the attackers would be less prominently mentioned. Likewise if the attackers were illegal aliens. So he's right on the substance.

Maybe I'm having an attack of political correctness -- something I'm not generally prone to -- but I found Sailer's post a bit distasteful. My first reaction was "the poor girl," followed closely by "send these vermin to prison." Fine, make your point. But at least show some human compassion to a woman who appears to have been brutalized in an unspeakable manner. And some recognition that the people who did this are lower than dirt. (Assuming the allegations are borne out, that these people did it, etc.)

Like Steve Sailer, Dave Neiwart had a similar impulse. Not compassion or outrage, but instead the impulse to use the case to ride his favorite hobbyhorse. A different hobbyhorese, but still. For Neiwert, the case is a club for him to beat Michelle Malkin and the "wingnutosphere." He doesn't think she will talk about the case, and so that raises some issue of inconsistency. His very first sentence isn't about how bad the crime is or how he feels for the victim. Nope, it's a link to this post, where he bashes Malkin, at great length.

I'm not even worried about whether he's right, and Malkin has a big enough stage to defend herself. Truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of Malkin, and I think she's wrong about a lot of things. Of course I also think that much criticism of her -- including Neiwert's -- tends to be overwrought and unfair. Untangling the fair criticism from the overwrought criticism requires rather more effort than I want to make at the time, and as I said I'm willing to let Malkin fight her own battles.

But couldn't Neiwert at least at least express some compassion for the poor girl who got raped and forced to eat dog shit? Show some desire that the culprits be punished (after a fair trial, of course)? His first impulse is to use this as a way of attacking his perceived enemies. And the truth is, I don't think that even Michelle Malkin condones this sort of attack. I think Neiwart has a touch of "Malkin Derangement Syndrome."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Back to Jena (Again)

I got an e-mail earlier suggesting that perhaps this post contradicted this earlier post -- the one where I called Justin Barker's attackers cowardly thugs. To some degree my thoughts have been modified as I've read more about the case. Specifically, I read this account, which suggested that the evidence against Mychal Bell was weak, and that there were improprieties during the trial. If proven, I think that these allegations would justify a new trial. That said, I don't know whether these allegations of improprieties are true -- I found them in what is obviously an advocacy pieces, and they may not be borne out. I now think that there's some question as to whether these six guys are the ones who attacked Barker.

Nonetheless, I still stand by the two points I made earlier. It's despicable for the Jena 6 advocates to run around saying that Barker wasn't hurt very much, to try to minimize his injuries or the brutality of the attack. And, I have to add, it's a pretty lousy rhetorical strategy -- if they aren't the guys who did it, why are their partisans attacking the victim. Granted, it's not logically inconsistent to say a) the attack wasn't that serious, and b) our guys didn't do it. But "our guys didn't do it" is such an obviously-superior argument, I have to wonder why it hasn't been given more prominence.

And I continue to believe that the people who did the attack -- whoever they might be -- are cowardly thugs. I admit to some possible doubt as to whether it is these guys, but whoever it is, they're cowardly thugs.


Today is the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

I'm not particularly eloquent about this -- but I suggest you check out Megan McArdle, Ann Althouse, and (eloquent in his own way) Matthew Yglesias.

Megan posts a lovely picture of the late Twin Towers. I know that many family members of the victims of the attack feel the footprints of those towers should never be disturbed, but a part of me wishes that President Bush had, in the initial days after the attack, pushed to have them rebuilt exactly as they were, except taller -- tall enough to make them the tallest buildings in the world. I know it would have been difficult to find people willing to work in those buildings, and I'm sure they wouldn't have made money. But we could have offered space rent free, for all I care.

That would have been a fitting memorial indeed.

Politically Incorrect Quote of the Day

Over at 2Blowhards, Michael Blowhard is interviewing Gregory Cochran:

This goes back a while -- Islam is not the cause. Look at Anabasis, the March of the Ten Thousand. Greek mercenaries were on the losing side in a Persian civil war. When their generals/recruiters tried to negotiate a way out, the Persians killed them all in the middle of the negotiation. So the Greeks elected their own generals that night and fought their way out of the heart of the empire. You've seen "The Warriors," right? In that one night the Greeks showed more talent for self-government than the entire Middle East has in all the twenty-five hundred years since.

Man, I like this guy.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Jena 6 -- Kevin's Comment and a Response

I want to thank Kevin for his polite and respectful comment to my first post on the Jena 6 matter. Kevin points to his own synopsis on his blog, which strongly supports the "Jena 6 are victims of racist treatment" thesis. Kevin says to me: "You should actually look at the facts of the case before you call for skepticism. " With all due respect to Kevin, I thought I did look at the facts -- my second post gives a fairly long recitation of the facts. If nothing else, it gives quite a few links by which readers can evaluate my judgments. Certainly if I have made any factual errors, I would ask Kevin or any of my other readers to correct any specific mistakes. I don't claim to be immune from error, but I would hope that somebody who is claiming I haven't considered all the facts would identify specific salient facts which we could then discuss.

That said, I think that Kevin has one thing exactly backwards. Skeptical inquiry should precede judgment of any claim. That is, one should ask skeptical questions first and then decide whether there is an injustice, rather than holding off on the skepticism because one sees an injustice. In fact, it's situations like this, where emotions run strong, where the risk of confirmation bias is at its peak. As the Skeptics' Dictionary explains, confirmation bias causes one "to notice and to look for what confirms one's beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one's beliefs."

I hasten to add that people don't fall prey to confirmation bias because they are stupid or dishonest. They fall prey to confirmation bias because they're human, and it appears that this is the way the human mind is wired. And, just to be clear, I don't exempt myself from that. So if Kevin or any other reader has a specific example of a fact that I've overlooked or gotten wrong, I will be happy to correct the record.

In this case, though, I think it is at least possible that some of the pro-Jena 6 bloggers are being led astray by confirmation bias -- spinning the facts in a manner that supports their preexisting conclusion. For example, Kevin said in his original post that "A black teenager was jumped at a party and a bottle was broken over his head by a white teenager." In a subsequent comment (made in response to me), he said "Please look at how the white folks were treated for attacking a black youth."

I assume here that he is talking about the incident in which Robert Bailey -- one of the Jena 6 -- was assaulted at a party, and for which a white man was charged with a misdemeanor. Kevin is making a straight-line argument here -- A) Robert Bailey was assaulted in a manner identical to Justin Barker; B) the white-on-black atttack on Bailey was treated as a misdemeanor, while the black-on-white attack was treated as a felony; C) Therefore, an injustice occurred.

In order for that argument to be valid, however, one would have to show that, in fact, the two assaults were identical. And this is where confirmation bias comes into play. I would agree that, if Bailey was struck on the head with a beer bottle, his attacker should have been charged with a more serious offense. A beer bottle certainly qualifies as a dangerous weapon. However, Kevin is repeating as fact a disputed, or at least unproven allegation. This Washington Post article says that Bailey claims to have been hit on the head with a beer bottle, but does not mention corroboration. Newsweek asserts that he was "punched and beaten with beer bottles," but it is so far the only source I have found claiming there was more than one bottle, and given Newsweek's questionable record of accuracy, I'm not sure we can credit this account.

The accounts of the altercation at which Bailey claims to have been hit with the beer bottle differ from source to source. This local publication gives an account of the incident which puts it in a somewhat different light:

On Dec. 1, there was a private, invitation-only birthday party at the Fair Barn. Around 11 p.m., five black students tried to come into the party but were told by a woman that they weren't allowed inside without an invitation. The boys persisted, saying they had friends inside. A white man then jumped in front of the woman, and a fight started.

A group broke the two up, and the woman asked the white man, not a student, and the black students to leave the party. Once outside, another fight started between a group of white men, not students, and the black students. Police were called, and a white man was arrested. He pleaded guilty to simple battery.

Even though there were reports of one of the black students receiving injuries that required medical attention, there is no record of that.

That's a bit different than Kevin's account, no? Confirmation bias at work. Kevin, and those others who rely upon the prior attack on Bailey to demonstrate a claimed disparity," ignore or undervalue contradictory evidence." In this case, they ignore the fact that Bailey's claim to have been hit with a beer bottle is wholly uncorroborated, and that there appears to be no evidence he sought medical attention. They ignore the fact that, at least on this account, the fight appears to have been mutual combat involving approximately evenly-matched groups, not a six-on-one beat-down. And the people who think it is really, really relevant that Justin Barker allegedly engaged in racial taunts prior to being attacked don't seem at all concerned that Bailey and his friends were trespassing and trying to crash a party.

Note that I'm not saying the prior attack on Bailey shouldn't have been treated as a felony, and that there is no possibility of disparate treatment here. I'm saying that Kevin and the folks campaigning for the Jena 6 haven't proven disparate treatement, and that there are legitimate factual disputes.

All that said, of course I find certain aspects of this case to be troubling. For example, one account cited by Kevin suggests there were improprieties involving Mychal Bell's jury:

An all-White jury, which, allegedly, included friends of the District Attorney as well as family members of the victim, found Bell guilty, despite the fact that many of the 17 witnesses the prosecution brought forth stated that they did not see Bell hit Barker, nor could Barker testify with certainty that Bell had assaulted him. Those who did testify against him offered conflicting testimony.

I haven't read any of this any place else, and I'm not familiar with the publication in which the article appeared. It is clearly advocacy article and therefore deserves skepticism. Nonetheless, if these allegations are borne out, then of course Bell deserves at a minimum a new trial. If these claims are true, Mychal Bell's advocates should be raising these points, rather than harping on irrelevancies.

One final note: In this article, Tina Jones, Bryant Purvis's mother, asserts that her son wasn't involved in the incident. Now of course she would say that, but it is at least refreshing to read one the family members asserting actual innocence. It struck me before that almost nobody seemed to be saying "I am innocent of this crime," or "my kid didn't do it," and to the extent there is real factual doubt as to whether any of these kids did it, the government should have to prove its case in a fair trial.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Bell's mother also proclaims his innocence. At this point, I really have no idea how plausible these claims of innocence are, or how strong the case against them was. I'd like to hear more about that, and less "racism, blah, blah, blah." I think that if they did it, these kids deserve to spend a good long time in prison, but I don't yet know enough to form an opinion as to their guilt or innocence.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

CBS -- C STILL Stands For "Cheap"

Last year, I had the unfortunate experience of watching a few NFL football games on CBS, and I have to say that, of all the networks that now broadcast NFL games, CBS is by far the worst. Their studio show is both dull and uninformative, lacking either the substance of ESPN or the entertainment value of Fox. Their announcers ought to be giving play-by-play for the local high school teams -- somebody tell Phil Simms to stop using the word "goes" for "said."

But, even more inexcusably, while Fox, NBC and ESPN air substantially all their games in high definition, CBS only gives us handful of games in high definition. Last year, CBS only bothered to broadcastt three games a week in high definition. They claim that this year they will increase it to five or six.

Fortunately, next year the League will require that all games be broadcast in high definition. But isn't it pathetic that CBS has to be forced into it? And you can bet their studio show will be as lame as ever, and their announcers as bereft of talent.

UPDATE: Apparently my game actually is being broadcast in high definition. I guess they were having technical problems, because one instant it was low-def, and then the high-def just popped in. Every network has some technical problems, but it seems to me that CBS has more than its share. Watching football on CBS is amateur hour.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Jena 6 -- A Mob of Cowardly Thugs

This is the final installment of my three part series on the Jena 6. In Part I, I talked about how, as in the Duke Lacrosse case, an appealing narrative can trump the facts, and I suggested that maybe, just maybe, a bit of skepticism was justified. Since nearly everybody -- even Jonah Goldberg -- has jumped on the "Free the Jena 6" bandwagon, somebody ought to at least raise a few points on the other side. Part II provided the whole ugly background, but I want to emphasize again that I don't think any of that stuff matters. Yes, it adds to that In the Heat of the Night vibe, but what is relevant is what occurred on December 4, 2006, when Robert Bailey, Mychal Bell, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Theo Shaw, and an unnamed minor attacked Justin Barker, stomped on him with their feet, and knocked him unconscious.

It's important to note what they defenders of the Jena 6 are not arguing. They're not proclaiming actual innocence. They're not saying the attack didn't happen, or that it's a case of mistaken identity, or even that Justin Barker attacked them and they were trying to subdue him. Nope -- they do claim he "taunted" Robert Bailey, but that's no excuse.

The defenders of the Jena 6 consistently try to minimize the victim's injuries. Justin Barker had a concussion, and his eye was swollen shut from the beating. A concussion is a head injury, and any head injury can be life threatening. And yet, the word "concussion" is often left out when describing Barker's injuries. For example, this YouTube video -- endorsed by Radley Balko -- fails to mention the word concussion, and it bends over backwards to minimize Barker's injuries. It's true, by the way, that Barker attended a "ring ceremony" at his high school the night after the beating, but I don't think it is fair to characterize it as a mere social event, or to use that fact against him.

This USA Today report waxes eloquent about the grassroots movement to free the Jena 6, but it barely mentions the victim, Justin Barker, and it never uses the word "concussion." Radley Balko over at The Agitator -- whose work I have praised in the past -- has mentioned the Jena 6 case several times, but a search on his site for the name "Justin Barker" turns up -- nothing. To Balko and the other defenders of the Jena 6, the actual victim of the attack becomes invisible. Even worse, one blogger, Laura at "Pursuing Holiness," went so far as to list the more serious injuries that could have been inflicted:

Stomped on badly? Where are the broken ribs, bodywide contusions and abrasions, renal injuries? Stepped on face? Where’s the broken nose, loose and missing teeth?

What's Laura trying to say, that they should have stomped on him harder? They didn't bust his nose and cause renal injuries, so it's OK? In a later post, Laura went so far as to post a picture of the beaten Justin Barker and opine that his injuries weren't really that bad. I wonder how Laura would feel if somebody posted a picture of a female victim of domestic violence and said "he didn't beat her up so badly. What's the big deal?"

Words cannot express how despicable this is.

Which leads me to the most despicable part of all. SIX students -- Robert Bailey, Mychal Bell, Corwin Jones, Bryant Pervis, The Shaw, and an unnamed minor attacked ONE guy. Some of the Jena defenders want to characterize this as a fight -- Laura casually asserts that "Kids in school fight on a regular basis." Garden State Subversive calls the attack a "school yard fight."

It wasn't a fight -- it was a beating. A fight is when two relatively equally matched individuals square off, one-on-one. If Mychal Bell or any single one of his accomplices had fought Barker one-on-one it might still be a crime, but there are those who argue that manly fisticuffs should be tolerated. But a group attack on a single victim violates the code of manly combat. As does stomping on a guy when he's already down and semi-conscious.

Robert Bailey, Mychal Bell, Corwin Jones, Bryant Pervis, The Shaw, and that one unnamed minor are cowards. Six star football players attack one guy and kick him on the ground -- and nobody even mentions that it was a despicable, cowardly act? If you want to argue that they were overcharged, fine, make your argument. I disagree, but that's OK. But at least acknowledge that what they did was wrong, and wrong in a way that shows that there is something rotten to the core about those six. If I could talk to Mychal Bell's parents right now, I'd ask them if they are ashamed to have raised a son who has to fight his fights at six-to-one odds. Maybe if he's released he will beat up a dwarf for an encore. Maybe he can get a couple of his friends to back him up, in case the dwarf is particularly fit.

And let me add just this one final point. If we reverse the races, I very much doubt that people would be posting pictures of a black victim and callously proclaiming he didn't look that badly hurt. I doubt they'd be quibbling about whether shoes can be deadly weapons, when worn by high school football players. (Answer: of course they can.) I suspect that they would at least take note of the fact that the attack wasn't a fair fight, but was instead a six-on-one affair. I suspect that when the attempted murder charge was reduced, there would have been howls of outrage -- not because the remaining charges would be too severe, but because I think that the defenders of the Jena 6 would be more than willing to see six white football players stomping on a lone black victim as attempted murder.

Or, better yet, attempted lynching.

[Update: More thoughts here and here.]

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Jena Six -- Background Facts

This is the second part of a three part series on the Jena 6 case. Part I can be found here. Part III should be up in short order, and when it is I will provide the link. [Update: Part III here.]

The Jena 6 case is about six high school students in Jena Louisiana all of whom have been charged, in connection with an attack on a fellow student named Justin Barker. One of the six, sixteen-year-old Mychal Bell, the only one to go to trial thus far, has been convicted, and he faces serious prison time. The other five still await trial.

In this post, I'm going to review the background events leading up to the attack on Justin Barker. I do so because everybody is talking about this stuff, and such knowledge may be necessary to understand some elements of the case. However, let me be clear that I think all of the background stuff is utterly and completely irrelevant to the question of whether the Jena 6 are being treated unjustly.

Even if it is true that Jena is a horrible, racist town, and that all sorts of bad things happen, this doesn't give them license to stomp their fellow students into the ground. Unless they can show self-defense or the like, the preceding events just don't matter. What matters is what they did on that December day.

But it is important, I guess, to understand the context. Factual background can be found in this Washington Post article, or in the Wikipedia entry. At Jena High School, in Jena Louisiana, there is a shade tree which white students would sit under when they were outside. Black students sat elsewhere. This was not a school-mandated rule, but appeared to be an ingrained custom.

A black student asked permission of a school administrator to sit under that tree. It's not clear to me whether in fact any black students actually sat under the tree, but what is clear is that, shortly thereafter, three nooses were hung from the tree. When it turned out that some white students had placed the nooses in the tree, the school's principal recommended expulsion, but his decision was overturned, and the sentence was reduced to a three-day in-school suspension.

This resulted in a great deal of consternation among the black residents of Jena, who thought the punishment was too leniant. A number of ugly incidents followed. In school, there were fights and verbal conflicts among white and black students. The school was set ablaze, and ultimately had to be gutted and rebuilt. Both blacks and whites blame members of the other group for the arson.

One precipitating incident involved five black students, including one named Robert Bailey. They attempted to enter a private party which included white students, and a fight resulted. As a result of that fight, a white man named Justin Sloan was charged with simple battery. Bailey alleged that Sloan broke a bottle over his head, but there is no indication that he sought medical treatment.

Shortly after the party, there was an incident at a local convenience store. The facts are in some dispute, but one of the whites who had attended that party ran into Bailey and some of his friends. There was an altercation of some sort, during the course of which the white student pulled a shotgun from his truck. Bailey and his friends wrestled it away from him and refused to return when asked to do so.

Following this incident, the white studend who pulled the shotgun was not charged, but Bailey was charged with theft of a firearm, robbery, and disturbing the peace.

The assault on Justin Barker, the event that resulted in the Jena 6 prosecution, occured shortly thereafter. The Wikipedia article describes the assault thusly:

The following Monday, December 4, a white student named Justin Barker, aged 17, loudly discussed - "bragged," as characterized by National Public Radio - how Bailey had been beaten up by a white man that Friday night. When Barker walked out of the school gymnasium into the courtyard later that day, he was assaulted by Bailey and five other black students, and was temporarily knocked unconscious. The concussion he suffered has been described in the media as resulting either from a punch to the face or from hitting his head on concrete when thrown to the ground. While on the ground, Barker was kicked repeatedly. Barker was examined by a doctor at the local hospital. After two hours of treatment and observation for his concussion and an eye that had swollen shut, Barker was discharged in time to go to the school Ring Ceremony that evening.In the meantime the six black students, eventually dubbed the "Jena Six", were arrested.

The six students, including Robert Bailey, Mychal Bell, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Theo Shaw, and an unidentified juvenile, were originally charged with aggravated assault, but that was later riased to attempted to attempted second-degree murder. Mychall Bell, who has been convicted of four prior juvenile offenses, was the first to face trial. At his trial, the charges were reduced to aggravated second-degree battery, and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery, and he was convicted on both counts. The judge recently tossed the conspiracy count, meaning he will face a potential sentence of fifteen years in prison.

So what do I think about all this? Well, I think that the kids who put up the nooses should have been given a punishment more serious than a three-day in-school suspension. I think that the kid who pulled a shotgun should probably have been charged with a crime, and that the people who kept it probably shouldn't have (unless we learn more facts -- that he pulled it in self-defense, for example). And I think that the adults in Jena -- of all races -- have, by the look of things, behaved like children.

But like I said at the beginning, I don't think any of that stuff matters to the issue at hand. The issue at hand is whether we all ought to get up in arms about the punishment these six defendants face. I'll talk about that in part three.

The Jena 6 -- Maybe We Should Show Some Skepticism Here

This is the first of a planned three part series on the so-called Jena 6 case. Part II can be found here. Part III should be up in short order. [UPDATE: Part III here.]

It's now the conventional wisdom -- pretty much conceded -- that the media elites messed up the Duke Lacrosse case, and how. Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson, both of whom have done great work on this case, have an Op-Ed in Today's Washington Post which gives a concise -- and damning -- recapitulation. Their summary dovetails with an article last month by John Leo (via Instapundit). In his article, Leo discusses a number of well-publicized media and academic messups: the Duke Lacrosse case, the New Republic Scott Thomas Beuachamp affair, the coverage of Cindy Sheehan, Rigoberto Menchu' s largely fictional memoir, which helped her pick up a Nobel Prize.

Often, when the facts contradict the media narrative, we get some variation of "fake, but accurate." Leo Quotes Even Thomas of Newsweek as saying "The narrative was right but the facts were wrong." Nor is this the only time we've heard that particular line. As Leo notes, "After the Tawana Brawley hoax was exposed, the Nation magazine ran an article saying that 'in cultural perspective, if not in fact, it doesn't matter whether the crime occurred or not,' since the pattern of whites abusing blacks is true."

In every "big media screwup" case that I can recall, the media found a compelling story that it wanted to believe. The story was so good that nobody bothered to be skeptical about the actual facts. Or at least they didn't bother until pretty late in the game. An earlier example would be the McMartin preschool case, now pretty widely conceded to be an example of sexual abuse hysteria. The whole idea that children were being sexually abused in Satanic rituals was pretty farfetched to start with, but nobody thought of that until quite a few lives were ruined.

So why didn't the media show more skepticism, sooner? I don't think anybody knows, but I suspect that part of it was that really heinous allegations often short-circuit critical judgment. Another part was that they didn't want to be seen as attacking children. There was probably some amount of -- obviously misplaced -- faith in the mental health professionals who pushed such allegations. But I suspect that a big part was that it was just a good story, too good to check.

In the Duke Lacrosse case and the Brawley case, you have a situation in which media and academic elites want desperately to believe a certain thing. They wanted to believe a tale of privileged whites victimizing a black woman because it plays into their liberal presuppositions about how the world works. And inconvenient questions didn't get asked -- at least not initially -- because the story was so appealing.

So what general lessons can be gleaned from Rathergate, the Duke Lacrosse case, the Tawana Brawley case, and the sexual abuse cases of the eighties? Let me suggest that it's not a bad idea to show some healthy skepticism, to ask the hard questions, and to withhold judgment until all the facts are in. This is particularly true when, as in the Duke Lacrosse case, the media narrative conforms closely to the way liberal elites are wont to view the world.

And that leads me to the whole "Jena 6" matter.

I first discovered the whole issue on Radley Balko's blog, where he has mentioned the case a few times. It has started to really get a fair amount of attention -- it's been covered in the Washington Post and now by CNN, and a Google Search for "Jena 6" yields over three million hits, and it goes without saying that they have a Wikipedia Entry. And, so far at least, the views expressed are pretty unanimous -- Radley Balko referred to the case as an example of "racial ugliness;" Jonah Golddberg opined that it sounded like they'd gotten a "raw deal;" other blogs have discussed the case. One blogger characterizes the situation as being "clearly unjust," and most people seem to agree with that sentiment. There's an online petition if you want to sign up!

Now, I'm not ready to say that this is another Duke Lacrosse case, but I do think a bit of skepticism is in order. "Poor innocent black kids railroaded by racist whites" is a position that happens to dovetail quite neatly with the natural inclinations of blogospheric and media elites. So maybe, just maybe, it would be a good idea to show a bit of skepticism here, particularly given the apparent unanimity of opinion.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

I'm Sure Flying THAT Airline

Via Ann Althouse, this story about Nepal Airlines, their state-run carrier. They were having persistent problems with one of their planes, so they sacrificed two goats to appease the Hindu God of Sky Protection, Akash Bhairab.

I wish Ayn Rand were alive, and blogging, because I am sure her howls of outrage would be entertaining. Imagine this -- a jet airplane is a physical embodiment of the power of the reasoning human mind. It works, or doesn't work, according to the laws of nature, not the whim of some deity. And yet some humans still imagine that sacrificing goats can affect whether the plane is fixed. And yet, how different is that from saying a little prayer before a flight, which I have seen people do?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What Arrogance! Part 2

Back at the height of the "comprehensive reform"/amnesty debate, I blogged about an Op-Ed by former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Casteneda about American immigration policy. It was an incredibly arrogant editorial, the thesis of which was that the then-proposed "comprehensive" reform -- the one voted down because American stood up and rejected amnesty in on very loud voice -- was too harsh on illegal immigrants in general and Mexicans in particular. The gall was just amazing -- a former Foreign Minister dictating immigration policy to the United States. As if he gets a vote on that issue.

Now, via Rightwing Nuthouse, I find that that former Foreign Minister Castenada has been one-upped in his arrogance -- by none other than the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon. This Houston Chronicle article reports a recent speech made by none other than the President of Mexico -- a speech that blasted American illegal immigration policies while at the same time challenging American sovereignty:

President Felipe Calderon blasted U.S. immigration policies on Sunday and promised to fight harder to protect the rights of Mexicans in the U.S., saying "Mexico does not end at its borders."

The criticism earned Calderon a standing ovation during his first state-of-the nation address.

"We strongly protest the unilateral measures taken by the U.S. Congress and government that have only persecuted and exacerbated the mistreatment of Mexican undocumented workers," he said. "The insensitivity toward those who support the U.S. economy and society has only served as an impetus to reinforce the battle ... for their rights."

He also reached out to the millions of Mexicans living in the United States, many illegally, saying: "Where there is a Mexican, there is Mexico."

"Where there is a Mexican, there is Mexico."

So let me get this straight. The United States of America isn't free to protect its own physical borders. But Mexico's sovereignty extends to wherever there are Mexicans. What an incredible double standard. I think that the United States ought to have tougher enforcement against illegal aliens, but I don't seek to dictate Mexico's policy toward American illegal aliens in Mexico (if there are any). Cut off their feet and send 'em back in a shipping container, for all I care. If people are in Mexico illegally, do what you want with 'em. But don't seek to dictate American treatment of illegals within our own territory.

Just to be clear, I don't think that a bunch of Mexicans are sitting around in a room cleverly plotting the Reconquista. But here we have the President of Mexico asserting Mexican sovereignty over those portions of the United States which contain Mexicans. I'm flabbergasted -- why does the President of Mexico think he can dictate American immigration policy to America? And why has the President of the United States, George W. Bush, not (to my knowledge) protested this insult to America's sovereignty?

Purely as a Matter of national security, this claim by Mexico makes it imperative for the United States to expell as many ilegal aliens of Mexiican ancestry as possible, and to keep new Mexican illegals from entering. And, further, the US should require any naturalized Americans of Mexican descent to renounce and abjure their Mexican citizenship. To make it abundantly clear that they do not claim the protection of Mexico.

[Editing glitch now fixed.]