Saturday, May 05, 2007

Change Is The Only Constant

Don’t you hate when the real world interferes with what you’re trying to do on the Internet? Already my thoughts wax a tad nostalgic for the days when meatspace responsibilities didn’t encroach upon Quality Time spent with friends online. (This, of course, is my overwrought way of apologizing to the regulars who remain, for neglecting the devil out of this blog. Insert standard excuses here: work responsibilities blah blah social obligations et cetera daily errands blah blah paperwork.)

So I decided, “By God, I’m not only going to write a new blog post, I’m gonna do it Old School — you know, a current-events posting like from the days when I had free time.”

Thus did I go online in search of a Current Event about which to say something (hopefully) pithy. Hmm, here’s a possibility: the House of Representatives has passed a bill expanding hate-crime laws, and Bush has threatened to veto it.

Have I been offline that long? He wants to veto a bill that would penalize not criminal behavior itself (it’s already illegal to commit acts like murder or assault) but the thoughts people have whilst committing it?

I blinked. When the hell did the president start doing things I agree with? I gazed around in suspicion, seeking clues to indicate I’d slipped into a parallel universe where things are almost, but not quite, like my own reality. No: my clip file hasn’t changed and my bookcases hold the same contents. Can’t find any unfamiliar scars or (God forbid) tattoos on me. Bank balance identical and we’re still bogged down in Iraq, more’s the pity.

A few months ago when I went walkabout, I returned to discover a lot of Major News Events happened in my absence. After much ribbing from alleged “friends” for being so out of the loop, I asked for a Cliff’s-Note version of what I’d missed and added “We haven’t lost any cities, I hope?”

This I remembered as I went to a bland mainstream news site only to learn that a half-mile-wide tornado has completely obliterated the town of Greensburg, Kansas.

I’ll have to find a charity where I can donate money to the survivors. Meanwhile, I know I have a lot of catching up to do yet I must go offline again all the same. You know how it is: work responsibilities, social obligations, daily errands blah blah blah.

We haven’t lost any other cities, I hope? Drop me an e-mail if we do.

24 Comments:

Blogger rhhardin said...

The crossroads and former town near me lost this general store to fire, drawing out this news helicopter for a Hicks Lose Old Store shot for the nightly news. The area is rural-suburban now, and adults drive to the Kroger five miles away, but there's no kids any longer on the single street trafficing down with their dogs for an ice cream. They move more aimlessly now.

The town used to have a gas station too, but that closed and disappeared completely in the 70s.

There's still a grange building but no contents, as far as I can see. About three farmers farm all the land, simply moving in with tractors and ammonia or combines at the right day of the year, and disappearing otherwise.

Dog is Annie.

3:47 PM  
Anonymous togolosh said...

Many laws take into account the motives of the criminal. Hence the difference between manslaughter and murder, and the difference between premeditated murder and murder in the heat of the moment.

There are reasonable objections to hate crimes laws but "punishment for thoughts" isn't one of them.

Presumably in Libertopia negligent homicide will be treated exactly the same as premeditated murder, right? And if you pick up someone's dropped wallet to return to them you'd better make sure the cops are nowhere near 'cause if they nab you before you've returned it, you're a thief.

A legal system that ignores motive and intent would be a joke.

7:42 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

There are reasonable objections to hate crimes laws but "punishment for thoughts" isn't one of them.

I disagree. With hate crime laws, if I murder a woman because I think she was trying to steal my boyfriend I'd get a lesser sentence than if I murder a woman because I don't like her skin color. Manslaughter and murder draws a distinction between intentionally and unintentionally killing someone; with hate crimes both killings are intentional but one is considered worse than the other, based solely on who the victim is.

3:53 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

Does anyone here know what's up with Hit & Run today? Everytime I try to visit Reason's site I pick up a virus/trojan infection almost immediately.
Could it have anything to do with that commenter that Radly Balko banned yesterday? I was searching the H&R archives for other postings by this person (they've all been deleted) and when I went back to the main page my anti-virus software hit on it. It cleansed it from my computer, but if I go back there, I pick it up again.

...based solely on who the victim is.

For the record, Jennifer, I completely agree with you about that.

5:48 AM  
Blogger Spot said...

In regards to hate crime laws:
On one level, a mostly emotional one, I support the concept. The idea of violence (or any other crime) motivated by intolerance is repugnant and worthy of specific scorn (and therefore punishment).

On a more logical level I do see the problems with such laws. As it has been pointed out, there is the implication that a criminal act that is not racially motivated is somehow a lesser crime (ideally murder is murder, no matter who the victim is.)

Additional there is the problem of even application of this law. In the hypothetical situation of a Sunni Muslim attacking a Shiite Muslim (assuming both are US citizens), would this result in the application of this law? I sadly suspect in the US such a distinction may fail to be appreciated by our legal system. (Likewise under an intentionally vague interpretation of these laws, would abuse by a health care worker be considered a hate crime because it was committed solely against seniors? Should it?)

It's a legal hodgepodge waiting to happen.

6:31 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

Okay, I just checked Reason again and they seem to have the problem solved; I didn't pick up an infection this time.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Glad to hear it, Smartass. Besides, I couldn't help you anyway because I am a pure and virtuous woman whose life has been such that I have no idea how one goes about picking up trojan infections. Quite the opposite, in fact; the use of trojans can prevent infections. Perhaps you should look into that.

7:14 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

the use of trojans can prevent infections. Perhaps you should look into that.

Actually, I had a thought that Trojan would make an appropiate name for your first-born...that, or Houdini perhaps. ;-)

8:48 AM  
Anonymous togolosh said...

...with hate crimes both killings are intentional but one is considered worse than the other, based solely on who the victim is.

Not so (at least in the case of the ones I'm familiar with). If I kill someone who happens to be gay because he cut me off in traffic, that's not a hate crime. If I kill him because he's gay (or even if he's straight but I believe he's gay), that is a hate crime.

There are appallingly badly written hate crimes laws that do have the effect you criticize, but it's not generic to all hate crimes laws.

This isn't about elevating one group above another based on who they are, it's about punishing criminals based on why the committed their crimes. As I said above, it's all about motive and intent.

There is simply no way to craft a rational justice system that does not take intent into account. Establishing intent is difficult, but not even trying leads to absurdities like the wallet example I gave above.

The oft-repeated canards about privileging one class of victim over another are divorced from reality. Still, like zombies, they keep coming up every time hate crimes are mentioned, kind of like the "libertarians are just Republicans who smoke pot" meme that rightly pisses of real libertarians.

4:02 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

...because I am a pure and virtuous woman whose life has been such that I have no idea how one goes about picking up trojan infections.

Dammit, now I have to clean up the milk I just spewed across the table!!

with hate crimes both killings are intentional but one is considered worse than the other, based solely on who the victim is.

I think the mindset is more like that of a terrorist that kills to try to instill terror in others, vs a person that kills simply because they have a personal misfire with someone. While the victims are both dead, by extension the former is an attack on all of us/a group/whatever, the latter is an attack on an individual.

Not that I agree with it, that's just my understanding.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Stevo Darkly said...

This isn't about elevating one group above another based on who they are, it's about punishing criminals based on why the committed their crimes. As I said above, it's all about motive and intent.

So if I kill a WASPy straight white male because I hate WASPy straight white males, and then I kill a successful black male because I hate successful blacks, do you think the hate crime statutes are likely to apply equally to both crimes?

2:21 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

...do you think the hate crime statutes are likely to apply equally to both crimes?

No, not unless you are a member of some group other than the two that you mentioned.

Hate crime laws are actually thought crime laws. They punish, not so much for one's intention or lack of intention to harm someone, but for the content of one's thought regarding the victim. ( Or, if you prefer, the content of one's heart.)

7:27 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Jennifer: Have I been offline that long? He wants to veto a bill that would penalize not criminal behavior itself (it’s already illegal to commit acts like murder or assault) but the thoughts people have whilst committing it?

Well, that's not actually true. He doesn't want to do anything about existing Hate-Crime laws one way or the other. He just specifically doesn't want something that would be a Hate-Crime if committed against a member of an ethnic or religious group to be as serious if committed against a homosexual person.

In other words, he specifically wants to veto equal treatment under the law.

I'm guessing that, when distilled down to the actual facts, you probably don't agree quite as much with El Presidente. Whether or not you agree with the concept of "extra punishment" for Hate-Crimes, I'm pretty sure you are for equal treatment under the law for all citizens.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

I too, have questions about the "justness" of Hate-Crime legislation. I think our legal system is way too full of "add-on" infringements and corresponding penalties. You don't get convicted for possessing marijuana, you get convicted for that, and for conspiring to do something or other (probably interfering with a police investigation into marijuana sales), and violating smoking ordinances, or somesuch. Many people are in federal prison for being "Drug Kingpins" under very questionable interpretations of poorly-written legislation, when it's clear to anybody with half a brain that they were simply end-users, who may have shared a little with their friends.

On the other hand, I think one could probably make an argument that most "Hate Crimes" are really low-level genocidal behavior (or at least "ethnic cleansing" behavior). We definitely want to discourage both genocide and "ethnic cleansing", in this country and abroad. I'm no legal expert, but I suspect that we actually have explicit laws against this sort of thing. Recodifying them into explicit "Hate Crime" laws probably just makes it easier to explain them to the public (and the jury).

I do think that committing murder for reasons of "ethnic cleansing", genocide, or "Hate Crime" is qualitatively worse than simple premeditated murder. In the latter case, you have some specific beef against a specific person; presumably you're not as likely to go on to murder another random person (Serial Killers excepted). The Hate Crime murder, on the other hand, probably knew nothing about the victim, and had no specific complaint against him/her/it, other than belonging to some arbitrary category over which the victim typically has little or no control. You would have chosen anybody belonging to that group as a victim, and are reasonably likely to do so again for exactly the same reasons.

I guess what I am saying is that if the "motive" is something that a large portion of the citizenry cannot help but be, rather than some specific activity or circumstance unique to the situation, then you are that much more dangerous to society as a whole.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Note that the burden of proof must still be met when charging someone with a "Hate Crime". The prosecution has to prove that not only did the perpetrator commit the crime, but that the perpetrator did it specifically because the victim belonged to some large group (currently, of specific types, like ethnicity or religion).

In Chicago, there was recently a case where three Black hoodlums attacks and savaged a mentally-ill white boy so badly that he will probably never recover. They are on record as saying they chose him "...because he's weird..." However, they are not currently being charged with a Hate Crime, even though this would seem to be a good case for that. The prosecutors just don't think they can meet the extra burden of proof involved.

4:49 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

I'm pretty sure you are for equal treatment under the law for all citizens.

As am I, so if someone murders my straight white self, I want them charged with a hate crime too. Equal protection cuts both ways.

However, they are not currently being charged with a Hate Crime, even though this would seem to be a good case for that. The prosecutors just don't think they can meet the extra burden of proof involved.

Which is that much higher because the victim was lighter in tone.

Not that I'm sarcastic about this crap, but it's as ridiculous as shutting down the entire Navy for three days to learn about "sexual harrassment", when, if the stories were true, they needed to be prosecuting some individuals for assault

7:56 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

@Moose: As am I, so if someone murders my straight white self, I want them charged with a hate crime too. Equal protection cuts both ways.


I agree totally.

(I had a much longer response, but it seems to have been eaten. I'm too tired to retype it.)

Technically, you currently do enjoy equal protection against Hate Crimes based on race. That is why there was so much discussion in the media about the case I mentioned.

As you so cynically (but rightly, I fear) point out, equal application of the Law is not the same as equal coverage by the Law. Sure, it was exactly that particular situation (unequal application) that lead to the development of so many "remedies" that seem to have swung too far "the other way" in some cases. Of course, much of that Jim Crow unequal application stemmed from an earlier period in which there wasn't even the legislative illusion of equality.

None of which makes institutionalized discrimination (whether covert or overt) any more just or justified, much less Constitutional.

9:19 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

None of which makes institutionalized discrimination (whether covert or overt) any more just or justified, much less Constitutional.

Exactly. I listened to Rudy G (the new G Man?) talk about how he used laws as "tools" to clean up NYC. Basically, pass an overreaching law, and it'll be ok because the prosecutor just uses it as a "tool.".

Freaking chilling to me, such arrogance and audacity. There has been and always will be some asshole who enforces these in a manner that nobody could envision, but definitely isn't good for us as a whole. When you object, you get "we wouldn't do THAAAT...", but they do.

Ex: Sodomy laws, before they were struck down. About 12 yrs ago I was living in Charlottesville, VA. This is not so important other than it's a college town. Every year, you'd read in the paper how they would arrest a couple college students for blowjobs in cars at the football stadium. Problems are multiple, and not limited to 1) The act was being punished, though I have much less of a problem as to proscribing certain public areas, 2) The "kids" were legal adults, 3) You only seemed to read about the performer (female, for the most part of what was read), not the subject, 4) even if they weren't prosecuted, which happened more often than not, they get published and enjoy their 15 min of fame.

There was always a response "We don't use this for couples in their bedrooms..." Yet, the law didn't say that, and what about the living room, den, kitchen, etc.

So what constitutes a "hate crime", since it's a subjective judgement if the victim being white/black/red/yellow/homo/straight/bald/vertically challenged /whatdidImiss is a motivator or simple coincidence? Second question, will it be applied against couples in their bedroom? Does it say that in the law?

What we really need is a sunset provision that the entire criminal code dies every 7 years and can only be enacted by individual paragraph by recorded roll call vote (piss on "unanimous consent"), and make that mandatory on States also. Meaning, force them to look at the Frankenstein monster they've created. That would occupy congress and state legislatures with something constructive, and clear out some of these old BS statutes out of the books. My personal hope is that they'd be so busy no further laws would be passed, but that's a pipe dream.

By the way, believe it or not, nobody in the Virginia Legislature, for years, apparantly had the balls to admit they liked a blowjob and the law was silly. Even now it's on the books in case SCOTUS has a backflip attack. Incredible.

5:26 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

Even now it's on the books in case SCOTUS has a backflip attack. Incredible.

Well of course it is - you don't think they would discard one of their "tools", do you? They are not about to relinquish so much as one iota of power voluntarily.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

So what constitutes a "hate crime", since it's a subjective judgement if the victim being white/black/red/yellow/homo/straight/bald/vertically challenged /whatdidImiss is a motivator or simple coincidence?

That, of course is why we have juries (although the "dumnification" of juries, and the deliberate misinformation fed them about their powers and responsibilities is a real problem). After all, whether or not a murder was "premeditated" is usually a totally-subjective decision as well.

Motive is an important consideration in many of our laws (and corresponding punishments). There are lots of crimes in which "premeditated", "aggravated", etc., are applied as fundamentally-subjective adjectives. If we assert that juries can reliably discern motive in some cases, why not in others?

For a "Hate Crime" conviction, it should inherently require even more proof - not only did you do the crime, but you chose your victim specifically because he/she/it was a member of some arbitrary group. The mere fact that your victim was a member of one or more such groups is insufficient; the prosecution must prove that it was a deliberate and deciding factor in your choice. I believe that some legalistically-worded version of this sentiment is explicitly expressed in most hate-crime legislation. Merely being a member of "P.C. Group du jour" does not automatically provide "extra protection", except in the very specific and provable case that one was targeted explicitly because of membership in that group.

Furthermore, charging with the more-serious crime is something of a gamble on the prosecution's part. It (theoretically) always raises the standard of proof required. If you meet the standard for the lesser charge, but fail to meet the higher charge, the perpetrator walks if you were pressing for the higher (typically, it doesn't devolve back into the lesser charge). No double-jeopardy, and all that.

Thus, in theory, I have no inherent problem with "Hate-Crime" legislation. As Yogi Berra once quipped, however: "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is."

7:43 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

What we really need is a sunset provision that the entire criminal code dies every 7 years and can only be enacted by individual paragraph by recorded roll call vote (piss on "unanimous consent"), and make that mandatory on States also.

An interesting idea, although one that flies in the face of Constitutionally defaulting to English Common Law... However, I guess that can be fixed by keeping the Constitution and its legally-enacted Amendments permanent.

My own version of that type of suggestion is that no single Act of Legislation can be more than one printed page (with specific requirements about page-size, font, pitch, and line-spacing, of course), and cannot use redirective cheats like "All the text of HR:1059 is assumed to be inserted here." Especially, no more "Omnibus Bills".

The Law is not only worthless, but is a hindrance to society (providing unfair advantages to "insiders") if people can't understand it. And clearly, the Legislators are not doing their job if they don't read and duly consider every clause of every bit of legislation voted upon. And manifestly, they simply can't be doing that in the time allocated for some of these multi-thousand page Bills.

8:11 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

An interesting idea, although one that flies in the face of Constitutionally defaulting to English Common Law...

No. Read again, I said criminal code, not common law nor civil code nor the constitution. Common law would take them so long we would be in anarchy, not a bad thing but not something that can be sold.

And manifestly, they simply can't be doing that in the time allocated for some of these multi-thousand page Bills.

Which is where the paid lobby comes in handy, and why the law as a whole benefits the few. "We'll do that for you...".

Sidebar note, anything which is titled "Common Sense.." in any way is an immediate indication that whatever follows will be completly devoid of such.

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Thoreau said...

Sorry for showing up late to the party (I do need to come here more often), but my objection to hate crime laws is more practical than principled:

You've got solid evidence that he committed the murder/assault/rape/arson/whatever?

So if you've got that evidence, why waste time trying to do a Vulcan mind meld and figure out if it was motivated by racial or ideological hatred?

Yeah, I know, prosecutors do have to prove intent and malice (because you don't punish a guy who accidentally knocks over a candle and starts a fire the same way you punish a guy who douses the place in gasoline and lights a match on purpose) but that's a less specific task than proving a particular type of hatred.

Really, if you've got enough to send somebody to prison for murder or assault or arson or whatever, isn't that enough? I'll be satisfied if we just stop there and send the criminal to prison.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

@thoreau: ...but that's a less specific task than proving a particular type of hatred.

On the other hand, proving premeditation is pretty much in the same category as proving hate-crime. And it is a significant and serious consideration in homicide cases.

The problem with proving "normal" premeditation in a hate-crime murder, is that the perpetrator may well NOT have engaged in "typical" premeditation: (s)he did not plan to attack any particular victim, so there may not have been stalking, organized planning, etc., that is usually used to prove premeditation. In many ways, it could well have been a "crime of opportunity". However, from a social point of view, it was a "crime of opportunity" that was just waiting to happen - premeditation against a group, rather than an individual.

Our existing first-degree murder laws don't handle this sort of case very well, but it is something we probably want to discourage to about the same degree. Sure, I'd like much better definitions of the term "hate crime", and the conditions that specify such -vs- "other heinous activity" that we already penalize against. And, I agree that the concept is a can of worms which we haven't properly addressed.

Of course, we clearly haven't properly addressed protecting people (mostly women) from stalking-related crimes. A court order of protection does almost nothing; often, it doesn't even increase the penalty when the violator follows up with assault/rape/murder, or whatever. Not generally hate-crime related, but still an example of where we are trying to legislate against (probable) intent, and not doing a very good job.

2:50 PM  

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