But is it wrong when we do it?

nojustice

The recent release, on compassionate grounds,  of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan agent convicted of planting the bomb on Pan AM flight 103 that claimed the lives of 270 innocent men, women and children has created something of a diplomatic furor, with U.S. commentators and public officials loudly decrying the Scottish government’s decision. FBI director Robert Muller sums up much of that criticism in a letter to Scottish Justice minister Kenny McAskill published on the website of the Federal Bureau of Investigations that notes:

Over the years I have been a prosecutor, and recently as the Director of the FBI, I have made it a practice not to comment on the actions of other prosecutors, since only the prosecutor handling the case has all the facts and the law before him in reaching the appropriate decision.

Your decision to release Megrahi causes me to abandon that practice in this case. I do so because I am familiar with the facts, and the law, having been the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the investigation and indictment of Megrahi in 1991. And I do so because I am outraged at your decision, blithely defended on the grounds of “compassion.”

Your action in releasing Megrahi is as inexplicable as it is detrimental to the cause of justice. Indeed your action makes a mockery of the rule of law. Your action gives comfort to terrorists around the world who now believe that regardless of the quality of the investigation, the conviction by jury after the defendant is given all due process, and sentence appropriate to the crime, the terrorist will be freed by one man’s exercise of “compassion.” Your action rewards a terrorist even though he never admitted to his role in this act of mass murder and even though neither he nor the government of Libya ever disclosed the names and roles of others who were responsible.

In a curious irony, the same day that Mueller wrote the above letter, one of the men who was most directly responsible for the murder of between 347 to 504 innocent men, women and children, in a separate incident some thirty years ago,  offered up an apology for his actions:

William Calley, the former Army lieutenant convicted on 22 counts of murder in the infamous My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, publicly apologized for the first time this week while speaking in Columbus.

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai,” Calley told members of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus on Wednesday. His voice started to break when he added, “I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.”

Lt. William Calley was the leader of Charlie Company, the group of soldiers that spearheaded the assault on the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968, and which carried out the massacre of some 347 to 504 innocent civilians in that village. The exact number of civilians killed will probably never be known, but the conservative U.S. Army estimate is the lower of the two figures, while the memorial at the site lists the names of 504 killed.

It is worth noting the curious juxtaposition of Calley’s recent expression of remorse with the furor surrounding the al-Megrahi release, if for no other reason than to note the similarity in legal punishment that both ultimately received. Calley was sentenced to life in prison, but wound up serving only 3 1/2 years of house arrest. al-Megrahi was also sentenced to life in prison, but served only eight years for his crime.

Both these cases present troubling examples of men who committed mass murder in their country’s name. Calley did so in war time, though it is hard to see that as an excuse for the murder of hundreds of men, women and children. And indeed, a review of the events that led up to the Pan AM 103 bombing shows that the U.S. was engaged in what could easily be termed a low-intensity war with Libya, with a series of military tit for tats, including a U.S. bombing raid of Libya that killed 40 people, among them the 15 month old adopted daughter of Mohmamr Kaddafi, and wounded scores including two the Libyan leader’s  sons.

Despite the similarity in judicial outcomes, one stark difference remains between these two cases: Calley has thus far spent over 30 years a free man. al-Megrahi is expected to die of his cancer within a few weeks or months. It is very likely that had al-Megrahi not been taken ill with cancer, that he would have served several decades more in prison.

So what do we take away from all this? There is a clear lesson here: al-Megrahi’s crimes are execrable and unforgivable. The taking of innocent life can never be justified, and the anger of the families of his victims is quite understandable. However, as a nation with a history of slapping our own war criminals on the wrist for similar acts, our cries of “injustice” once again, have a hollow, hypocritical ring to them.

Serolf Divad spends his time thinking about how the past is so very much different from today… except when it isn’t.

68 comments:

2:11 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

Come to think of it, Bobby Mac also had a long run as a free (if repentant) man.

3:18 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

The ability to see that it isn’t different when we do it seems to be a a strong indicator of liberal/progressive leanings, along with the (reverse? converse? obverse? obtuse?)
I don’t remember when I first noticed this, or that it could be used to turn a certain variety of conservative into a spitting, sputtering, head-exploding pile of angry.

3:52 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

The US is the 1970’s Oakland Raiders of the world, “Just win, baby.”

Brilliant work Serolf Divad. If newspapers and television news consistently had this kind of reporting maybe somebody would still be willing to pay for it. This entire “Do as I say and not as I do” meme has become so ingrained in the US that we’re shocked when anyone actually tries to do the right thing. We expect to be lied to and screwed over.

By any chance did either Calley or Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi use the defense that he was killing them all and letting God sort them out? That might have resonated in certain parts of this great land.

3:53 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

Do any of you in CA know about the Bobby J. Blythe tape of the murder of the homeless man in his dojo in 1984? Know anything about investigation of case?
I have only seen one news item.

http://www.kmph.com/Global/story.asp?S=10973483

GRAPHIC! http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=e55_1250787987

4:04 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@Jebediah: Wasn’t Barry forced to affirm recently that he believes in “American exceptionalism”? Not that we should be surprised, since we already know he believes in Administration Exceptionalism.

4:13 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

Sorry for the above digression.

You can find an interesting podcast : My Lai Tapes parts One and Two
on BBC World Service’s DOCUMENTARIES on iTunes.
The dates are 04/22/08 and 04/29/08 # 240 and # 235

4:25 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@nojo:
I think, unhappily, that anyone who fails to admit to American Exceptionalism could not get elected. I seem to vaguely remember a past in which the idea of Administration Exceptionalism (nice!) might make it harder to get elected, but it seems those days are gone.
I keep thinking that one way out of our moran morass is improved education, specifically critical thinking. If more people would simply ask themselves “Why does this person want me to believe X?” we might be better off. Instead, exceptionalism is patriotism, end of discussion.
Argh! maybe if I get some work done I will feel better…

4:33 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@texrednface: No apologies — threadjacks are a way of life here.

No clue about Blythe, either. But then I’m not a real Californian, just an Oregonian on extended leave.

4:39 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@nojo:
Thank you. Here’s a better link to the My Lai Tapes:
My Lai Tapes

6:03 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

As a Scot I don’t know what to think about this. But for some reason I must admit that I feel unaccountably proud. I’m not a Christian and have no patience with the cant that has swamped belief in the US but isn’t this what Christians are supposed to do? Though the Church of Scotland has revised its more peculiarly Calvinistic teachings it can still be dour and unforgiving. Maybe they did something good here. And of course the Libyans celebrated and declared victory. What else could they do?

I’ve read that there is a large body of opinion reckons this man was railroaded. Also that Scotland is trying to make some kind of alliance with Lybia. I have no idea what’s true. But I would hope that compassion figured somewhere in the equation.

And if we say he showed no compassion so we shouldn’t either, aren’t we allowing the enemy to dictate the terms of our own lives? And as you say, if he were one of ours he’d get a hero’s welcome too.

6:10 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

And considering the contextual stupidity of the current US America HC debate, the Scot taxpayer would be more than happy that Libya will be footing the bill for the bomber’s cancer treatment/hospice not Scotland.

9:08 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@Benedick:

“And if we say he showed no compassion so we shouldn’t either, aren’t we allowing the enemy to dictate the terms of our own lives?”

Yes. This. Over and over again. Now Barry needs to realize that when it comes to military tribunals and torture.

9:12 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

In fact, Megrahi’s conviction may not really be all it’s cracked up to be by US gov’t officials. Read this:

http://www.rumproast.com/index.php/site/comments/megrahi_oh_what_a_tangled_web/

9:42 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

Great post, Serolf. However, here’s what I captured on first read (best done in Peanuts ™ adult/teacher voice):

wha wha, wha wha wha, wha military tits wha wha, wha wha wha….

10:28 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

The culture of the US is pathologically vindictive. Too eager to scapegoat, addicted to the feeling of moral superiority which comes with judging and condemning. We want our convicts to die lonely deaths in prison, we have no such thing as compassionate release. Instead we have prison graveyards, so we can keep them in prison after death.

Keeping people in prison, geriatrics, dying cancer patients, its just another, slower, version of the death penalty.

Last week, the Brits released that dude, Biggs, is it, who lived on the lam in brazil, after the Sex Pistols broke up, that asshole manager of the Pistols recruited him and had him sing on some shitty post-Johnny Rotten sex pistols songs. But anyway, in Brit society, which seems to still have some mercy in it, they routinely let go dying convicts.

They are not crazed with the US’s vindictive cruelty and moral judgmental bent.

I have to say, that I am a christian, with a small c. I don’t think jesus was God. But, the moral teachings, and it boils down to, don’t judge, because in the grand scheme, the best of us just isn’t that that much better than the worst of us, thats a valid way to live life.

Seeking revenge, retribution, is like seeking material wealth, no amount of it will ever satisfy, you need more and more. And you still will never be satisfied.

I know some sociopaths, I have a sibling, who is that. I know this, sociopaths do not feel that they are doing evil, they feel that they are wreaking vindictive justice against a world that has unjustly treated them.

The empowerment of feeling morally justified to condemn and judge, its a dangerous emotion, it becomes addictive.

We all wonder why there are people who hang around abortion clinics screaming and foaming at the mouth, its because of the addictive feeling of moral superiority that it gives them.

Buddha, christ, some others, taught a code that recognized that only humility can lead to happiness and contentment. True humility does not allow for the aggressive statement of superiority inherent in all absolute moral condemnations, judgments.

99% of all professed christians profess that faith for the very opposite purpose that the faith professes, they loudly proclaim themselves christians for the feeling of moral superiority it gives them. Totally missing the point.

I am sorry, I feel I must apologize, I don’t know why, for believing, that in the end, all people are just imperfect beings blundering through a cruel world trying to get along and find happiness and meaning. Some are stupid, some are weak, some are strong, some are fortunate, some are cursed, but all just poor souls adrift in an uncaring universe.

The more depressed I am, the more compassion I have. Its not that I identify, as JNOV cruelly suggested, with criminals. Its just that I am acutely aware of the forces and feelings and situations that drive some to crime, even though I have never been susceptible to that.

We are all bozos on this bus.

10:37 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@Promnight:

Its not that I identify, as JNOV cruelly suggested, with criminals. Its just that I am acutely aware of the forces and feelings and situations that drive some to crime, even though I have never been susceptible to that.

I cruelly submit that you identify with his motives, socio-economic status or some such. On some level, you know that man’s desperation.

I cruelly submit that you think you can call me stupid and get away with it.

I cruelly submit that you’re not as smart as you think you are nor as compassionate as you’d like to believe.

11:23 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@Promnight: I’m not sure my empathy obligates my forgiveness.

If you want to write a novel about Our Imperfect Vessels, go for it. If you want to shed light on our All Too Human weakness by focusing on the weakest among us, the point is yours to make.

But we do judge, and must, even if our habit is to judge far beyond the necessary caseload. We judge the strong who prey upon the weak; we judge the wealthy who prey upon the poor; we judge the advantaged who prey upon the disadvantaged. We judge those whose choices cause harm to others, when they had other choices available.

You mention humility, and so I must mention Iris Murdoch, whose statement on the matter I once posted on my grad-school office door: “Humility is selfless respect for reality.” I am more than happy to aggressively condemn, if the facts call for it, including the facts of human nature. I am not going to go nihilistic into that good night.

I am also more than happy to forgive, if the facts call for that as well. But being human, I’m not always in a hurry to do so. And that doesn’t bother me in the least.

11:29 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@Promnight: @JNOV:

I humbly suggest that we not make personal remarks, good friends, or cast aspersions at each other. There is so much that stands againt us in this world right now…can we be each other’s advocates here, and give each other the benifit of the doubt?

11:30 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

Shorter version: Who am I to judge? Me. That’s who.

11:31 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@JNOV: I cruelly submit that your response is not based on a complete understanding of what I am saying, and not because you are stupid, you are smarter than I am, but because you now have a personal stake in the discussion, and feel you have been attacked and are striking back. This response says nothing to the substance of what I am saying, its just personal attack.

The greatest pressures in any person’s life are the social pressures from the small circle that makes up their subgroup in society. If your small subgroup consists of the small town country-club set off in some podunk town, your desperation as you see yourself losing your status in that group is real to you. I am not in any way a part of any such group, nor do I wish to be. But I can understand that for the vast majority of people, their reality is dependant on their social standing in a small group, and their perception of their situation, is real to them.

And you accused me of playing the race card, when what I was trying to say was that I also understand that the mindset of an inner city black youth is also formed by and measured, in his or her mind by, the small social subgroup of which they are a part. And that if that subculture of which they are a part regards conformity and acheiving in school as selling out, and instead, the small group surrounding them values rebellion, and instead encourages and values gang membership and success as a drug dealer, I also understand that they are caught up in something bigger than themselves and ought to be judged with all that taken into account.

So what I was saying is that my general predisposition is not to judge, from a moral standpoint, with exceptions for the worst and most irredeemable.

You accused me of playing the race card, when all I was trying to make plain was that my sympathy was NOT based on the fact that I identify with desperate middle class burghers who are spiralling down the drain. I had exactly the same sympathy for the black drug dealers I represented as an appellate public defender, people who your average middle class burgher like this poor schmuck would think the devil incarnate.

Its all there in the simple statement “walk a mile in my shoes.” Or the song I loved from 10 years ago, “Maybe then you would know what its like.” “before you accuse, criticize, and abuse, walk a mile in my shoes.” And in my mind, I am able to imagine, walking a mile in their shoes, whether they are a small town republican apparatchnik, or a kid raised by his grandmom in Camden who started dealing, and I am not stupid enough to think that my imagination can come close to the reality of either person’s life, but that knowledge, that as hard as I try, I cannot really imagine what their life is like, either one of them, thats why I err on the side of sympathy and mercy, always, for everyone, precisely because I can never know their reality, though I do know that everyone has a reality that noone else can ever really know.

I refuse to judge because I am acutely aware of my ignorance, not because I think I am smarter than I am.

I rubbed you the wrong way with something I said and I think you are now, not because you are stupid, but because emotions color everyone’s judgments at times, simply not willing to understand me, you like the understanding you have, and don’t want to change it. I hope you will stop and consider that even if you disagree with me, at worst, I am just an idiot, and even if I say something you take as offensive, maybe its just because I am stupid and wrong, and not because I am engaged in some effort to insult you on purpose. You know what I mean?

Because I did not mean to insult, hurt, or criticize you. Nor to claim intellectual superiority. I just wanted to explain my apparently unacceptable view on the general topic of moralistic judgments of people for commonplace sins.

11:33 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@Tommmcatt Floats: You’re a good egg, Noonan.

11:36 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@Promnight: The greatest pressures in any person’s life are the social pressures from the small circle that makes up their subgroup in society.

Really? And you take that subgroup for granted? How do you recognize those pressures? Do you accede to all of them? Do those pressures relieve you of the responsibility of your own decisions?

I’ll grant that peer pressure is a fact of life. I won’t grant that we’re stuck with our peers.

11:39 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@nojo: Good for you.

I enjoy rightious indignation as much as anyone. It feels good. But then, I get into a dark mood, and hate myself, too, because I see that I suck as well as, or better than, anyone else. And then sometimes I even start to hate myself for my hypocritical righteous indignation. Given that I suck and all. And thats when I lose the ability to judge anyone.

And yet, as dark as those times are, thats when I feel I am closest to being at peace with the world.

You must lose the ego-driven desire to feel yourself better than the universe of which you are a part in order to come to any kind of peace with the shitstorm that is existence.

11:44 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@Promnight:

Example 1:

If your small subgroup consists of the small town country-club set off in some podunk town

Example 2:

if that subculture of which they are a part regards conformity and acheiving in school as selling out, and instead, the small group surrounding them values rebellion, and instead encourages and values gang membership and success as a drug dealer

Let me suggest that there are profound and fundamental differences between those examples.

For starters, one example involves adults making choices; the other involves children dealing with a situation over which they have little, if any, control.

Unless the children you mention have country-club membership among their menu of options. In which case they’re trustafarians, which really isn’t the point you want to make.

11:49 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@nojo: No, Nojo, I did say at length, that everyone is born with varying makeups, and some are able to resist social pressures, and some are not, and its innate makeup, and the majority go with their group, but some do not, and I was fortunate not to be born into a social milieu that encouraged criminality, nor was I born into a social milieu in which I had enough status that losing status would make me desperate enough to turn to crime to sustain status.

I said that some weak people succumb to pressures others can resist, some are born into situations even a strong person would succumb to.

Now hear this, I think that most everyone here is a very independant person, more immune than most to social pressures. Most everyone here is highly, highly intelligent, and free from most of the unthinking automatic reactions that guide the lives of so many others in our society.

I will say it, you all are superior people. The smartest, and in most cases the most moral. Yeah, me too, I think I am an elite, this is an elite group, I am not as smart as most, not as moral as most, but average among this group is a very high standard.

But I am also very aware that the intellectual discernment, the moral clarity and strength, that most everyone here has, is not the average for the vast run of people, and I just will not judge them for not acheiving my standards, when they might simply be incapable of my standards. Thats all.

The poor fucks don’t know any better, most often.

11:50 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@Promnight: You must lose the ego-driven desire to feel yourself better than the universe of which you are a part in order to come to any kind of peace with the shitstorm that is existence.

My good sir, I am one with the universe, not just part of it, and I made my peace with my critterdom long ago. I am large, I contain multitudes.

11:53 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@nojo: I simply disagree, everyone deserves a break. Mostly. The rich who have true power, who abuse the poor, they are evil. But most everyone else is powerless, and the differences are not so great as you would have them. All pawns in a larger society that defined their roles.

11:57 pm • Sunday • August 23, 2009

@Promnight: I will say it, you all are superior people.

Thank you, but no. We are all run of the mill. We all have our unique and special weaknesses. We have all accepted them or haven’t, conquered them or let them slide.

What some of us recognize is that no life is perfect, and there’s no point envying your strength when mine lies elsewhere, or boasting about my strength when yours differs. What I do, I do well. But I don’t do everything. And my dad has a treasured slide of me wildly swinging at a pitch to prove it.

12:07 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

You know, I must, I am going off the rails here, but I must say this, to anyone who says that my sympathies are misplaced if they are for anyone but the most downtrodden. I come from shit. My father died penniless and my siblings all put in for the funeral, and I took my mom into my home to take care of her, they had nothing, never did, they did work all their lives that only immigrants do now, worked like dogs all their lives and had nothing, have nothing.

Thats why I am so fucking painfully aware that I am so fucking lucky. I am not doing better because of any virtue, or merit, just the accident of opportunity and the accident of inborn abilities that some do not have.

I am so fucking lucky. I know it. And that makes me very aware of the fact that some people are very unlucky. Some people are born hopeless, at least in this society, which has adopted this “devil take the hindmost” attitude that says the poor deserve their lot. I know for a fact they don’t, that most of the poor work way harder than the rich.

There is no justice, and everyone sees hardship and misfortune, and for some, in every walk of life, it drives them to illegality.

I am lucky, and I will never feel anything but gratitude that I am lucky, and conversely, I simply won’t condemn the unlucky.

But I do believe in and support and desire political and social change which will make society more just, and by making society more just, remove those pressures which overwhelm some and drive them to criminality, whether its the desperate middle class losing their livelihoods to economic forces beyond their control, or the desperately poor denied any honest livelihood at all. Both are victims of an “eat or be eaten” society.”

12:07 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Promnight: All pawns in a larger society that defined their roles.

Penn Jillette, before he became an asshole: “Freedom is low overhead.”

Those “roles” are not dictates of existence — they can be rejected, or just ignored. I had a fun evening a few weeks back with some Wealthy People who were trying to impress me about a gig they wanted me to do for them. But waving a roll of Benjamins doesn’t impress me, although it does amuse me. Clearly they impressed each other, but I was just enjoying the adventure. My personal fulfillment doesn’t require a five-bedroom house with a 5 mpg car.

12:11 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

@nojo: You are not run of the mill, Nojo, you and all the stinquers here, are the most intelligent, moral, decent, people I have ever known. I am not blowing smoke up your ass, to the extent I know you, through this medium, your intelligence, above all, you and everyone here, shines through, your social conscience, commitment to social morality, its all way way way above the run of american society, and don’t deny it. Everyone has failings, sure, but some are gifted, and there is noone here who is not gifted, and should not feel grateful, lucky, for what they have that so many do not.

12:14 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

@nojo: Some are born strong, some are born weak, you were born strong, you can resist, some cannot. The instinct to go with the heard, its an innate aspect of our evolution, its the rare person who can resist it, rather than condemn those who cannot resist it, I think you should appreciate that you are fortunate that you can.

12:16 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

Noj’, PN, can we all just agree that in any life, all of us must strive to be Al DiMeola in some way?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cadbYIzhqQ

12:25 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Promnight: Of course I’m gifted. Everyone’s gifted. My stroke of luck was to recognize my gift early, and stick to it fiercely — but that’s the Taurus in me. I’m still run of the mill, and to fancy myself otherwise is the height of hubris.

I also wasn’t born strong, although I was born weird. I have some amazing weaknesses, and another stroke of luck was to learn somewhat early how not to get myself into situations where they inevitably emerge. (And, by the same token, look for situations that manifest serendipity. Bliss happens.)

But the herd? Please. We weren’t cattle, even when we were cattle. Our innate social instincts were a bit more sophisticated, even from the start. We’ve always been clever bastards.

12:27 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

@FlyingChainSaw: Not with my fingers. But I’ll settle for fifth-rate Mingus or Trane.

12:30 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

@FlyingChainSaw: I have an geetar-playing acquaintance who spent some time with the (let’s say this right) Romani. He knows grace.

12:54 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

ok, NOW i can go off to my dentist appointment.
i was waiting and waiting for someone to write those 2 words.
thank you nojo.
PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.

2:10 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

Photos from stinque-up in the clubhouse.

3:13 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

prommie, you know i love you, but i don’t always agree with you.
you wrote on the mommy dearest thread that lefty was “lucky” she didn’t end up working the streets with that kind of abusive background, and you can say the same about me. lucky, prom? no. we made choices. i pondered this while under the influence of 3 bong hits, 2 ativan, and head full of nitrous oxide, which is the only way to ponder things. first i wondered if our perceptions were colored by the fact that in former professional capacities you needed to understand, empathize, and defend the “poor shmucks” and i had to put them in time outs at gratersford. but no. we were drawn to those positions.

karen marie posted an interesting article. it seems they are hanging their doubts on Mishandled Evidence,
which immediately brought to mind a keyboard banging chat session i had not long ago with our very own dodgerblue re the OJ verdict.
he sees reasonable doubt. i do not.

/opens new can of worms.

9:35 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Promnight: You like to pull that “I come from shit” stuff and parade it as some sort of street cred when you go all elitist. For someone who engages in almost as much navel gazing as I do, you don’t seem to see the disconnect between proclaiming your humble origins and complaining about your five grand yacht motor.

We are not elite. This is not an elite club. We are just like everyone else, but we all have different talents. Sorry to be paraphrasing Nojo, but his observations are spot on.

Life isn’t something that happens to you; it’s something you live. You can be born with overwhelming odds against you, yet you can still try to create the life you want within or outside of those parameters. Whether it’s a life where you live in comic books or actually travel the world, you can find your bliss within your own mind, if that’s the only safe playground. There is no need to molest the happiness and sanctity of others unless you’re operating in survival mode.

I didn’t misunderstand you — I understand you too well. And I’m not all that smart. Some things I do well, and I’m lucky that those things tend to make me happy. Again, I thank Nojo for pretty much explaining what I think.

9:38 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

@baked:

i pondered this while under the influence of 3 bong hits, 2 ativan, and head full of nitrous oxide, which is the only way to ponder things.

Indeed.

We all can swim upstream, even if our strokes are weak.

10:22 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

I see. Its all about personal responsibility, and making the right choices.

I really feel the fool. Because my progressive political beliefs are all based on my belief that most people have less control than everyone here seems to think over their situation.

But now that I have been corrected, and understand that these lazy poors all just need to be responsible and make the right choices, I realize that by supporting social programs and redistributive taxation and universal health care, I am just ennabling people who would be just fine if they would all just get off their asses and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, make that decision to go to Harvard or Yale or Penn or Stanford, gosh darn it, because there is nothing elite about those schools, anyone who makes the right decision and is responsible can just pluck up, go get a JD or an MBA, and buy their own damn health insurance.

Personal responsibility. Making the right choices. Got it. I’m gonna go listen to Rush now, he has lots to say about these virtues, and how progressive policies, social programs, welfare, and this idea of giving people health care, all just inhibit personal responsibility and encourage people to make the wrong choices. And the same would happen if our criminal justice system were any less retributive, hell, we are still too easy on them criminals.

10:58 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Prommie: I’m sorry. What? You’re conflating having a robust social safety net with autonomy. These are two different things.

People need help of all sorts, be it financial, educational or emotional. We all have these needs, and most of us go without having them met at some time in our lives. That doesn’t obviate the fact that we also make choices.

Based on your reasoning, I should be cackling with glee as I dice and slice your ass raw or over a spit.

We’re not talking about self-made people in the rugged individualist sense — we’re talking about the fact that unless we have some organic impulse control problems, we are capable of making decisions. We are capable of learning from mistakes. We are capable of growth.

You infantilize people and take away their, oh let’s use one of your little c christian buzz phrases, free will, when you act like they are victims of their circumstances in such a way that they are unable to control their actions.

Wrong.

Again, unless you are struggling to survive, and even in that case, you have a choice to die, you have no excuse for being an asshat. Sure, you have reasons that explain how you learned your douchtastic behavior, but these behaviors can be unlearned.

AND if people are willing and able to help those who need to learn skills, who need to have at least the basics met, who need to and desire to change their lives, that’s a good thing.

BUT I’m not willing to give people who do shitty things a free pass. You might call it little c christian turning the other cheek, but I call it evasion and elitism.

When you infantilize folks, you no longer see them as human. You no longer see them as capable of making choices, and you doom them to vicitimhood. Victims do exist, like the poor folks who pre-paid for their funeral arrangements. All they did was try to make life easier for their families when they die. The dude that stole from them, for whatever fucking reason, is a fucker. No excuses. No sympathy.

11:22 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Prommie:

i’m thinking about all the filthy rich people i know who blame their privilege for their undoing/lack of motivation, and any and all sociopathic behaviors they exhibit.
prommie, a rat, a dog, a horse, and a dimwitted 3 year old figure out in a matter of days certain behaviors result in certain conse*uences.
we have the same political views, prom, isn’t supporting progressive programs giving people the knowledge they can transcend their circumstances? knowedge that they have choices?

11:41 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

@JNOV: I’m staying out of this.

11:44 am • Monday • August 24, 2009

@SanFranLefty: Yes, sorry.

ADD: Fixed and fixed.

1:06 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

There is a certain disconnect between sociology, criminology, and the idea of free will. If everyone is truly completely free to create their life, then the many observed corelations between deviance and an array of internal and external factors and circumstances should not exist, no?

In part here I think we are seeing the topic in completely different ways. You are idealists, applying a very black and white, it is or it isn’t, if one person can overcome difficulty or personal weakness without resort to crime, than everyone can, view. I have long been fascinated with the sociology of crime, and the data in the form of statistics associated with the study of crime. And there is a fundamental disconnect between ordinary views of causation, and statistical causation. The best example I can think of, is in the area of cigarrettes and lung cancer. Statistically, its a mathematical certainty that cigarrettes cause lung cancer. But for decades, it could not be proven, in court, that any specific individual’s specific lung cancer was in fact caused by cigarrettes. After all, even people who don’t smoke get it.

So yes, any single individual can always choose not to deviate from formal norms. And yet, specific and identified external factors and internal traits have been shown to have dramatic impacts on the rates, the percentages of people within those groups or possessing those traits, who make that decision.

But whatever. We all do decide what makes us happy and we do that, and if angry moral condemnation makes you happy, condemn away.

Baked, to me, you cannot look at poverty as purely a tragic occurrence and criminality, deviance, as purely a moral choice, and extend your charity to the blameless poor, and save your condemnation and punishment for the evil lawbreaker. Both things are caused by many of the same factors. “Just say no” (that pretty much means make the responsible choice, doesn’t it?) has never worked with either.

1:25 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Prommie: No, what you’re saying is that if you don’t conform to what you consider inevitable outcomes, you’re gifted, lucky or blessed. What I’m saying is that no outcome is inevitable, and the final outcome won’t be determined until death. Until then we have countless choices to make and many opportunities for growth and change.

It’s not like we’re idealists and you’re rooted in reality. If anything, you’re holding fast to ideas that people are incapable of rising above when people do it every. fucking. day. Just going to work is an act of will and tremendous courage for some people. For some folks, it might be brushing their teeth today. I think you define success in a way that we have been conditioned to and others don’t accept that same definition.

Success doesn’t have to mean material possessions. By that definition, I am unsuccessful. Success can mean something as simple as looking yourself in the mental mirror and liking what you see. By that definition, I am unsuccessful. Success could be staying out of jail. By that definition, I am successful, but I fail in many other ways.

You often harp on degrees and other worldly milestones that don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. It’s all superficial bullshit.

And you strip people of their ability to change. If you don’t call people out on their asshatery, they often don’t think anything is wrong with their behavior, and the behavior continues.

You are not being condemned; you are being challenged, non?

1:56 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@JNOV: I am not saying that predispositions or circumstances make anyt individual person’s outcome inevitable. I am not “stripping people of their ability to change,” nor am I stating that there is no such thing as free will. Those are your characterizations of what I am saying.

I am saying that my awareness of the myriad of factors that combine to produce any one individual’s specific response to a specific situation makes me less prone to judge people harshly.

Go yell at Gandhi, he is the one who said “all crime is an illness, and should be treated as such.”

2:00 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Prommie: Uh, huh. And I’m saying that your predisposition to let people off the hook is detrimental to yourself and society. I have no desire to reconstitute Gandhi (assuming he was cremated) and yell at his mud, and I honestly don’t care what “great thinkers” say or think. I’m addressing you. Please to not introduce other thoughts than your own unless falling back on the arguments of others makes you feel emboldened.

2:19 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Prommie: If everyone is truly completely free to create their life

You’re using an extreme to argue the common. Didn’t work for the Jesuits, either.

Of course we’re not completely free. If we’re born into a post-industrial consumer society, some options will be more available than others. And, growing up, we’re more likely to consider what’s on the menu, rather than inventing our own dishes. Plenty of Standard World to explore before you go off-road.

That said, you also engage in reification: “formal norms.” They don’t exist, at least not universally. Some do, of course: Bowling has rules, as does catechism, as does school, as does work.

Try to live a life off the 40-hour-week plan, and things get interesting. I enjoy it, but it’s not for everyone, nor do I use myself as example by which to judge others in that respect. Works for me, is all I can say about it.

Speaking of idealism, I submit the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. It’s bullshit, and everyone knows it. Complete fabrication. Wouldn’t withstand the merest factual investigation. And yet it’s a necessary fiction, a standard by which we measure a just society. Without that standard, we might as well just hand everything over to the plutocrats, because what’s the point? Or do you prefer living a lie?

And there, if you’d like, I’ll stuff Personal Responsibility. It may well also be a pretense that can’t stand up to scientific study — although I’ll leave open the question to what degree sociology is a science. (My cupboard is full of cans of worms.) If you want to press the point, I’ll duck and call that a necessary fiction as well, an arbitrary standard that we willfully enforce despite the demonstrable facts of human nature — of animal nature, since that’s where you’re going.

You may well have outed me as a closet Hobbesian — that without these arbitrary rules of society, we’re fucked in a nasty state of nature. Only our ethics are as much a product of evolution as our minds, serving the ensure the survival of our species long before language. If you pee in my hut, I’m coming after you.

2:25 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

Oy, gevalt! Time to take this outside, no?

2:28 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@mellbell: I know you’re trying to diffuse what might seem to be a nasty situation, but we are outside, non? We’re adults, and we can choose to follow this or not.

2:31 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@mellbell: Best argument I ever had was an all-nighter with an astrologer. We disagreed on every point imaginable, yet we also agreed that those were the points worth arguing. And we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, even if we did frighten the natives.

So don’t mistake our shouting for rancor. None of us would expend the effort on trolls.

2:33 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@JNOV: @nojo: It’s not nastiness or rancor that concerns me. Y’all are just, IMHO, beating a dead horse, that’s all.

2:35 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@mellbell: Okay. We’ll let you know when we’re ready to dispose of the carcass.

2:41 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@mellbell: Y’all are just, IMHO, beating a dead horse, that’s all.

Welcome to Nojo’s Grad-School Philosophy Seminars. They were my substitute for Sport. When I say I have a master’s in bullshitting, I ain’t kidding.

2:51 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@JNOV: Maybe I should make it a bit plainer that just because I am sympathetic and forgiving does not mean that I “let people off the hook.” He should go to jail, no question. Its necessary. Punishment should be engaged in from a rational, utilitarian vantage point, how much punishment is necessary to deter this man, maintain respect for the system, and generally deter others from doing the same. but no more. I have a problem with “moral blame” entering too highly into these equations. The law does not enforce morality, morality is a matter of conscience. The law enforces the absolute minimum bounds of conduct, prohibiting that which disrupts society.

3:02 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Prommie: The law has enforced morality for centuries, and still does — punishment-as-deterrence is a very recent concept. But yes, “morality” these days is a much more constrained idea than it has been — we don’t usually categorize murder an “immoral” act, as opposed to a “criminal” one. Yet that’s exactly what it is.

3:03 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Prommie: When I write, “let him off the hook,” I mean morally. You started off by making excuses for this guy. Didn’t you call him a “poor bastard” or some such? And you went the extra mile of trying to get inside his head to try to figure out why he stole from those people and said something to the effect that he probably intended to return the embezzled funds. Those mental gymnastics not only gave me pause but amazed me. We’re not talking law here; we’re talking about contorting our brains so that the insane makes sense. I questioned your motivations for doing so, and I still do. And you deflect and introduce new arguments and facts and thoughts that don’t change the issue I have and expressed. It’s not about what the court does with him. It’s about how quickly you defended him based on whatever was going on inside your brain at the time.

3:31 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@nojo: Actually, the historic philosophy of the law was less idealistically moral and more practical than you seem to be aware.

@JNOV: Please expand on your thoughts. The fact that I am sympathetic to the situation of garden-variety small time embezzlers is amazing to you? My motivations are that I think our society is excessively vindictive and punitive in its general approach to crime, and I make similar remarks all the time when the subject of criminal justice comes up. I have been a criminal defense attorney and I have seen prosecutorial misconduct and police lies and piling on charges and inflating the damage caused, hundreds of times.

What do you think are my motivations? You just about came out and said I must be embezzling, myself, because I have sympathy for an embezzler. Is that it, is that what amazes you? You think I am so addicted to the shallow materialism of my conventional middle class life that I steal to buy $5,000 boat motors?

You think trying to understand the motivations and forces involved in a crime is “contorting our brains so that the insane makes sense?” I don’t know the exact percentage, but I know that this is the theme of an awful lot of all literature and drama through all history.

Mr. Smith is in a position of trust. He has control over money that does not belong to him. He either has a bad habit, or he is in a desperate situation, or he is just a greedy bastard, so he takes the money.

Happens every day. Ho fucking hum. Little league coaches, PTA treasurers, church pastors, lawyers, bank tellers, bank presidents, it happens every day. The stories often follow one of a couple of common patterns. I mentioned gambling, more than drugs, alcohol, womanizing, or any other vice, gambling has the power to drive people to “making this wrong choice.” Thats fascinating to me, I wonder why. But I have observed that the typical gambler is detached from reality and always expects that he will strike it big next time, and thats why, in their mind, these particular embezzlers think they are just borrowing, to return it after they hit it big.

And the next biggest category I have seen, yes, its people who fear loss of social status, their family business is failing, and yes, thats what happened here.

You think I am harming the world because I don’t feel inclined to get morally outraged over this shit?

3:36 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

Hey, look over there! (attempt to divert attention). Lets go look at the crazy foods at “thisiswhyyourefat.com,” its hilarious (distraction from the evidence I am a stone cold embezzler, always stealing to support my yacht habit).

3:41 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

You have to get to the “double bypass burger” on the second page, or the “hurler” on the third page. “The Hurler,” sounds like a lame superhero whose power is projectile vomiting.

3:50 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Prommie: I never said you were an embezzler — I said you identified with the guy on some level. It could be anything. Identification with someone in some way shape or form is necessary for empathy. Not sympathy. Empathy.

So, you decide whether I’m right or wrong, and I don’t expect you to explain yourself just on my say so. You were asked to explain by another commenter, and you started waxing philosophic about crime rates and AAs and Gawd knows what else.

Dude was the pick of the day for asshattery. We have them here all day long. You trotted out the “Victimizers are just. like. us.” nonsense, and you were called on it.

You don’t empathize with the man who stole from people at the end stages of their lives? Okay. Looks different to me based on what you wrote. But I could be wrong.

At the end of the day, if you’re cool with concocting excuses and reasons for dude’s actions, yes it harms society, but chances are you’ll never be in a position for it to make some huge difference.

3:51 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Prommie: That stuff is obscene. Although the “bacon tempura” doesn’t look half bad.

Motion to open a new thread for the Prom/JNOV/Nojo morality cage match! Or maybe Benedick can get it scored and you can take it on the road?

4:13 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@JNOV: There’s more important doings a transpirin’ than this, lets give it a rest. Seems Obama is gonna send us all to refugee camps when the swine flu hits, so he can complete the process of turning the country into a communist nazi democratic dictatorship.

4:16 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@The Nabisco Quiver: Mel Brooks already covered it. Dom DeLuise is rehearsing a dance number, and an ongoing fight breaks through the wall.

4:25 pm • Monday • August 24, 2009

@Prommie: Happens every day.

Man Bites Dog. It’s the novelty of the embezzlement that makes it news.

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