Contradictions

I’m generally opposed to the death penalty, for what I think are pretty good reasons. But in my heart, I’m not completely opposed to it. That’s because there are people I really want killed — people like Osama bin Laden.

Ordinary criminals don’t have that effect on me. Oh, If I read about someone who committed a horrible home invasion murder, at some point I’ll probably wish him dead, but that’s just a passing reaction. And when death penalty proponents ask me what I’d want to happen to someone who killed my wife, I have no problem answering that I’d want blood vengeance. But I also have no problem understanding why I’m not the right person to make that decision.

When it comes to tyrants, however, I really want them to die. Osama bin Laden (a minor tyrant, but still a tyrant) got what he deserved. So did Saddam Hussein. And so did Nicolae Ceaușescu, Benito Mussolini, and every other executed tyrant going back to Caligula. That Josef Stalin died in bed at the age of 74 is a damned shame.

I’m not claiming that killing tyrants should be part of U.S. foreign policy. I’m not even claiming that I have a clear reason for making an exception for tyrants in my opposition to the death penalty. The best I can come up with is that the death penalty debate is about the appropriate policy for governments to follow when dealing with evil people, whereas “Death to Tyrants” is about what to do when the governments themselves are evil.

I can’t pretend to have a good defense for this reaction. If serial killers and wife beaters and gangbangers aren’t deterred by the possibility of execution, it’s hard to imagine that the threat of death would deter people who run their own government.

Yet, in my heart, I still say “Death to Tyrants.”

Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Mark Bennett just put up a post about Harris County’s plans for what they call a “No-Refusal Weekend” over the holiday:

A no-refusal weekend is a weekend in which local law enforcement, prosecutors, and…judges team up to ensure that anyone who is arrested for DUI…who refuses to blow in the breathalyzer (as drivers are entitled to and generally should refuse, despite the legal fiction of “implied consent”) is subjected to a coerced blood draw under a search warrant.

Bennett goes off on a mini-rant about all this, and I suppose I could too, but something else occurred to me: If a Harris County, Texas can have judges available around the clock over the holiday to combat drunk driving, why should we believe the hacks in the Bush administration who insist that it’s too much work to get a wiretap warrant for national security?

Here’s a slightly annoying Chicago Tribune editorial about changes in the rules for teenage drivers here in Illinois. Basically, they’ve increased the restrictions teenagers face. The new rules include:

– Night restrictions for drivers younger than 18 are moved back an hour.

– Passenger limits on 16- and 17-year-old drivers are extended from six months to one year.

These rules would have driven me nuts as a teenager. I used to love to drive around with my friends at night. These rules would have ruined some of the most enjoyable evenings of my teenage years.

I don’t know, these changes may be a good idea, but I get suspicious when people start changing the rules once they no longer apply to themselves. Every lawmaker involved with this is probably old enough to have survived a time when driving rules for beginners were much more lenient. Now that their driving privileges are secure, they’re changing the rules.

Some teens may not like these new limits. Some of their parents may also find them a nuisance at times. But White has an answer for that. “They may not like me now,” he said. “They may not like the legislation, but when they reach the age of 21 and are alive and well, I think they’ll love Jesse White and the members of the General Assembly for our initiative.”

That’s just insane. Even if the new rules are terrific, nobody will say anything like that. When was the last time you heard a 21-year-old who was thankful that he handn’t been allowed to drink when he was 18? People are rarely happy to have their freedom restricted, even when it really is a good idea.

When it comes to teens behind the wheel, there’s no such thing as too safe.

This sort of sentiment is quite popular, but obviously wrong. Even the people behind these rule changes don’t really believe it. If they did, they would have made the rules even stricter. After all, how many teenage lives would be saved if we moved up the night restrictions yet another hour? How many lives would be saved if we made teenagers wait yet another year to get learner’s permits? How about if we require them to be 18 years old to get a permit and 21 to get a solo driver’s license? How many lives would we save then?

Clearly we draw the line somewhere, just as we do for every other dangerous human endeavor.

Rogier van Bakel posts a bit of a horror story about trying to adopt a dog from a shelter. Oddly, the attendant don’t want to let him visit the kennels, instead asking him to look through a binder and pick a dog for her to bring out. Even after he finds a dog, a big friendly Saint Bernard, the people at the shelter give him the run-around, apparently because they don’t want any of their dogs adopted by families with children.

That post attracted dozens of comments, several relating other people’s animal adoption horror stories. What amazes me is that in some cases the shelters don’t want to give animals to people with undesirable home conditions—children, unfenced yards, too many other pets, living at that location less than a year—even though the shelter kills animals that aren’t adopted.

The people who run these shelters love love animals so much, they’d rather kill them than allow them be adopted by people who might not treat them as well as possible.

I can’t really build a one-to-one analogy, but this kind of thinking is familiar. If these people had medical training, they’d be running organ transplant networks and vehemently insisting that organ donation is so precious that no one should ever be paid for doing it.

Here’s a disturbing comparison between a pair of news items:

Jennifer Lea Strange dies from drinking too much at a water drinking contest hosted by KDND, a Sacramento, California radio station. The very next day the station cancels the show and fires everyone involved.

Fairfax, Virginia Police shoot and kill Sal Culosi as he emerges unarmed from his house to meet a friend who is really an undercover cop investigating illegal gambling. A year later, the investigation is concluded, and the officer who pulled the trigger has been suspended for three weeks.

[Update: In an earlier version of this post, I had assumed Ocean City was in Delaware, but as Mike Mahaffie points out, it’s in Maryland. This post has been re-written to reflect that fact.]

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), so I’ve been planning to look in on them to see what sort of trouble they’re causing. However, Radley Balko at Reason has saved me the trouble.

In Maryland on October 29 of last year, officer Douglas A. Smith—described as “OCPD‘s toughest DUI enforcement officer”—and trainee Natalie R. Smolko of the Ocean City Police Department spotted an erratically-driven vehicle and pulled it over. They gave the driver, John Atkins, a preliminary breath test, and he blew a 0.14 blood alcohol content (BAC). Instead of arresting him, however, the officers decided to let him call a friend, who came to the scene and gave Atkins and his wife a ride home.

Officers Smith and Smolko were questioned about this decision later. They said they released Atkins because he spoke clearly and didn’t fumble when giving them his license and stepping out of his car, so they concluded he was unimpaired. (I guess they forgot about the erratic driving which drew him to their attention in the first place.)

The full-time moral panic squad at MADD has a detailed legislative agenda which spells out what they’d like to see happen to people caught driving with a BAC of 0.14:

  • .08 Per Se: MADD wants a 0.08 blood alcohol content (BAC) to be per se indication of Driving Under the Influence (DUI), meaning that operating a vehicle with a BAC that high is in itself the crime of DUI, so Atkins should have been arrested even though he showed no signs of impairment.
  • Administrative License Revocation: Punishment without the bother of a trial. According to MADD, Atkins should lose his license merely for being arrested for DUI, without waiting for a judicial finding of guilt.

If convicted (which would be a slam-dunk under the .08 per se rule), MADD has a few more items on their checklist:

  • Vehicle Impoundment: Atkins’s car would be impounded to prevent him from driving it.
  • Vehicle Sanctions While Suspended: If Atkins drives a car while suspended, police can seize it and sell it off.
  • Ignition Interlock: When Atkins was eventually allowed to drive again, he would have an ignition interlock installed in his car so that he would have to pass a breath test before he could drive anywhere.

Each of those provisions is already a part of Maryland law according to MADD. In addition, MADD wants Maryland to pass a few more laws that would apply to Atkins’s situation:

So, when Atkins was released, you can imagine MADD’s angry response, can’t you?

Actually, no, you probably couldn’t imagine this:

“We feel very confident that the officers followed the proper procedures and protocols,” said Caroline Cash, executive director for the Chesapeake Region of MADD.

…MADD Eastern Shore Victim Advocate David Elzey praised the proper use of the tool.

“He administered the (test) after he had decided not to make an arrest and he made the right call by not letting him continue driving,” Elzey said. “He probably saved lives by not letting him drive home.”

MADD representatives expressed absolute faith in Smith, who lost his mother-in-law to a drunken driver and who was himself struck by one in another incident.

“This is an officer with incredible experience and he decided not to go forward with the decision to make an arrest,” Cash said.

“He’s had a couple hundred DUI arrests in a few years,” Elzey said. “Doug Smith has done so much. We have faith he knows what he’s doing.”

Well, that’s one possible explanation for MADD’s reaction.

I’ve got another one. You see, I’ve left an important fact out of the story. The driver, John C. Atkins, is in the Delaware House of Representatives.

It’s known that Atkins flashed his legislative ID at officer Smith during the encounter, and when I thought all this took place in Delaware, I assumed that’s what got him the unusually friendly treatment. I still think it probably helped.

Now that the media has found the story and people are starting to raise a stink about it, MADD is coming to the defense of an officer who has been helpful to their cause.

In an unrelated note of strangeness, according to the newspaper report by Patrick Gavin, a few hours after Atkins was released by officer Smith, he was re-arrested by police in Millsboro on a charge of “offensive touching” of his wife. He plead guilty.

Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau should be celebrating their wedding night by now.

I think the whole situation is a bit disturbing. After all, they first had sex when he was in sixth grade and she was his teacher. She went to prison for that. I think they’re both a bit crazy.

My opinion doesn’t matter, however, nor should it: Now that they’re both adults they can do whatever they want. Apparently the State of Washington agrees with me, because even though she is convicted of raping him, nothing in the law prevents them from getting married.

Now can someone please explain to me how a same-sex marriage would destroy the sanctity of marriage when a rapist marrying the victim does not?

Over at Reason, Matt Welch is discussing some of the recent history of over-reaching government programs, which brings me to this:

Our current system of military draft registration was created in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Now that we’ve helped kick the Soviets out, and the Soviet Union has crumbled and fallen, and our own invasion of Afghanistan is complete, can we stop making high school kids sign up for this?

I couldn’t help noticing that William Bennett has just admitted that pretty much all the cultural concerns he’s voiced over the last decade have been wrong.

The New York times asked 12 Americans for their views on “the most significant change the country has undergone in the year since Sept. 11.” Bennet’s response was that he had been worried that American culture was in decline, but we all proved ourselves by showing some backbone and going after our attackers.

So I guess that means all his worries were for nothing and he can find something more productive to do with his time.

Also, at first I thought that the former education czar must have misread his assignment. That Americans still have the backbone they’ve always had is not really an example of a “significant change.” Then I realized that he could be saying that the most significant change is that he now realizes that Americans have a backbone. Then I decided that even William Bennett isn’t that egotistical, so he must mean that the significant change is that we went to war against our attackers. This is true, we weren’t at war with them before, and we are now. But that’s probably not the sort of deep analysis the Times was looking for. Finally, I just decided to give up and click POST

Jonah Goldberg Defends Bill Clinton? No, not quite, but Jonah writes in defense of hypocrisy by society’s leaders, advancing the proposition that leaders should lie to hide their unseemly side, lest the masses mistake it for virtue and try to emulate it.

I wonder if he felt that way about Bill Clinton. By this theory, weren’t Clinton’s enemies revealing information that was best kept quiet?

Actually, this is not a bad idea. Every time the cops bust some professional athlete for drug possession, they say it was necessary because he was supposed to be a role model for the kids. They’ve got this exactly backwards. The athlete was being a role model by carefully hiding his vices from the fans. It was the cops who told everyone about the really great athlete who’s been doing all these drugs.