Thursday, July 29, 2004

On The Importance of Averting A Crisis
I don't know how many Americans are following it, but there is a serious crisis brewing in the relations between Canada and Iran. Canadian citizen and journalist Zahra Kazemi was arrested for taking pictures during a protest in Iran in July, 2003. She was (apparently) beaten to death in prison. Now the Canadian government is demanding that the government of Iran see to it that the people responsible for this murder are brought to justice.

Fortunately I happen to have a book of interesting front pages of the New York Times, and I came across an article describing a very similar situation. That situation was resolved peacefully, and hopefully we can learn from it so as to resolve the current one equally well.

The situation I am referring to was described in the Times on October 15, 1933. A short time earlier -- in separate incidents -- an American citizen, a Swiss citizen and a British citizen had been beaten in Germany for not giving the Hitler salute. There followed outraged responses by the respective governments. Happily, everything worked out okay. The persons guilty of attacking the American were arrested in Berlin and are "facing prompt sentence by a special court attached to the Berlin Landgericht". In fact, we are told that the trial is supposed to take place on Monday. (The article appeared on Sunday.) The other incidents were resolved more quickly. The Germans stated that "the political police arrested today four storm troopers who had taken part in the outrage on [the Swiss and British citizens.] The storm troopers were taken to the Oranienburg concentration camp."

The article (at least on the front page) doesn't explain what a concentration camp is, and I for one have no idea, but at least the crisis was averted and peace restored. I'm sure everyone in the Canadian government is hoping that things will work out just as well with Iran.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Hodding Carter, advocating wetlands restoration in a New York Times op-ed, has unintentionally written one of the funniest sentences I've ever seen in a newspaper column:
The Everglades, once an awe-inspiring, slow-moving river rife with screaming birds, saw grass and alligators, is now just a big swamp.
Singing the praises of a mosquito-ridden, alligator-infested bog--while keeping a straight face--can't be easy. But doing so while dismissing today's slightly smaller version of the exact same mosquito-ridden, alligator-infested bog as "just a big swamp" is quite a trick.

Then again, Hodding Carter, once an awe-inspiring, slow-moving press secretary....

(For more ruthless ridicule of the "save the Everglades" movement, see my comments at the bottom of this old Slate article on the subject.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Slate seems these days to be on a one-publication crusade to gut the criminal justice system. First, Stanford law professor Robert Weisberg, whom I've ridiculed in the past, published a bizarre, incoherent anti-death-penalty article with the apparent theme that because the death penalty makes many people feel uneasy, it will therefore always....uh....make many people feel uneasy. (The occasion for this article, incidentally, was the recent declaration by the governor of Maryland that his approval of an execution didn't make him feel uneasy.)

Five days later came defense lawyer Gerald Shargel, who had only a month earlier decried Ronald Reagan's "pernicious impact on the federal judicial system", in the form of the "unforgiving legislation" with which he "sought to smite what he perceived as the criminal menace." This time, Shragel was crowing victoriously about the "unprecedented chaos and procedural paralysis" created by the US Supreme Court's recent Blakely decision, which struck down one of Shargel's least favorite Reagan-era initiatives, the federal sentencing guidelines. To anyone other than a defense lawyer, the prospect of chaos in the criminal justice system might seem a trifle alarming, but apparently the editors at Slate find the defense bar's naked enthusiasm for mayhem to be far more compelling fare.

In between Weisberg and Shargel--that's three pro-leniency articles in a five-day span--came law student Dana Mulhauser, who echoed the standard complaint about the now-stricken-down federal sentencing guidelines: "the results have been Draconian", because "legislatures....tend to be punishment-happy". One of his examples: "[f]or legal immigrants, convictions for offenses as minor as writing a forged check result in mandatory detention and deportation."

Now, as a matter of fact, I happen to be a legal immigrant to the US, and in the highly unlikely event that I were to be convicted of check fraud, I could hardly blame the INS for deporting me. If I can't even justify greater leniency towards people in my own exact circumstances, then why on earth is (presumed American citizen) Dana Mulhauser--or the rest of Slate's stable of anti-punishment activists--complaining on my behalf?