Three found guilty of murder in Ahmaud Arbery case

November 24, 2021 • 1:38 pm

I hope that those people who beefed about the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse as an instance of white supremacy will mute their cries that there’s no justice for black people, for this afternoon there was a verdict that, as far as I can see, was eminently just.

An innocent black man, Ahmaud Arbery, was shot to death in Georgia by one of three white men who were practicing vigilante justice with no cause other than the Arbery’s race. They said they were attempting a “citizen’s arrest” when Arbery, who had no weapon, tried to grab one of the vigilantes’ guns, and was himself gunned down. But there was video, and it didn’t support their story. All three men were convicted this afternoon. 

The convicted murderers, Travis McMichael, 35; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65; and their neighbor William Bryan, 52, will likely get life in prison. And that’s just the beginning for them, for that was just a trial in state court.  The trio also face federal charges: hate crimes and attempted kidnapping. That trial will begin in February

Not all of them were convicted on all counts though. From the NYT:

The jury has found Travis McMichael, the man who shot Ahmaud Arbery, guilty on all nine counts, including malice murder and felony murder.

The jury has found Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael’s father, not guilty of malice murder, but guilty of all other counts he faces, including felony murder.

The jury has found William Bryan, who filmed the fatal encounter with Ahmaud Arbery, not guilty of malice murder. He was found not guilty of one count of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault, but guilty of three counts of felony murder and three other charges.

I predicted this result, but it wasn’t hard to do. Although the murderers claimed that Arbery was a burglar, pointing to video of him wandering inside a house under construction, he didn’t steal anything. (I used to wander into houses like that when I was a kid.) And the video clearly showed the three men pursuing Arbery, who was running away from them.  It’s fairly clear that he was being pursued because he was black.

Condolences to Arbery’s family, who had to sit through the whole trial, and no pity for the other three. The verdict and sentencing will hopefully be a deterrent to others like them, and perhaps the miscreants will some day reform, but surely now they need to be removed from society.

University of California at Santa Cruz also pronounces on Rittenhouse verdict

November 23, 2021 • 11:15 am

Now that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of California at Irvine has apologized for taking a public and official stand on the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict (he didn’t like it), will the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) be next? For here’s their own statement, posted on the University website and signed by UCSC’s Chancellor and by the Executive Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

This one is even more over the top than the UC Irvine statement, for it makes absolutely no bones about their opposition to the verdict, calling it a “failure of accountability.”

Dear Campus Community,

We are disheartened and dismayed by this morning’s not guilty verdict on all charges in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. The charges included fatally shooting two unarmed men, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz at a Black Lives Matter rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. We join in solidarity with all who are outraged by this failure of accountability.

We also acknowledge that this same week the prosecution and defense concluded their case in the trial of three white men charged with chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old unarmed Black man, in February 2020, south of Brunswick, Georgia.

Trials such as these that have race-related implications can cause our BIPOC communities distress and harm. This is harm that is endured everyday through acts of racism, the pervasiveness of white supremacy and a flawed justice system.

We firmly believe in our Principles of Community and our collective responsibility to continue to disrupt systemic racism. It is important to publicly reaffirm our shared values and to ensure that those who are experiencing distress and impact have access to supportive resources. We reaffirm these values each day through our actions in our own spheres of influence. The Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion is here to help support community members in the work of building a more inclusive climate.

If you are feeling impacted by these events, please do not hesitate to reach out to campus services for support. Staff in our colleges, resource centers, and Counseling and Psychological Services provide assistance for students. Our Employee Assistance Program offers counseling and support to employees. If you need to report discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics, please contact the Office of Equity and Equal Protection.

Sincerely,

Cindy and Judith

Cynthia Larive
Chancellor

Judith Estrada
Executive Director, Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Interim Chief Diversity Officer

Note as well the claim that it is everyone at the university’s responsibility to “continue to disrupt systemic racism.”  I don’t think so. They also say “we affirm these values each day.” Who is “we”? Is it everyone at UCSC on board with this? Did the signers ask everyone if they’re affirming the University’s expressed values? Were they equally outraged when O. J. Simpson was pronounced not guilty for the murder of two people?

This statement should not have been made. Like the UCI one, for which the issuer later apologized, it is an unseemly pronouncement on a jury verdict coupled with a huge dollop of virtue signaling.  It also assumes that the Rittenhouse case was all about white supremacy and race—a proposition of which I’m not yet convinced.

The University of Chicago has (so far) issued no official pronouncements on the verdict. And that’s the way it should be.

UPDATE:  A friend I showed this to wrote me the following:

Here’s one detail about the latest pronouncement: it’s signed “Cindy and Judith.”What does that tell us? The chancellor and vice-chancellor at Santa Cruz appear desperately afraid to be perceived as embodying official authority. In effect, they are masquerading as students––part of the unanimous groundswell against “systemic racism.” Now, how pathetic is that?

ACLU condemns Rittenhouse verdict

November 22, 2021 • 11:15 am

Among the many institutions now taking irrational and woke stands as opposed to principled ones, the American Civil Liberties Union stands out. Once my favorite civil-rights organization, known for enforcing the First Amendment, fighting for racial equality but also the speech rights of Nazis, the ACLU was designed to protect every American’s constitutional rights.

Now it’s become a progressive-Left Social Justice organization. I’ve written about this transformation many times; among its activities is calling for the censoring of Abigail Shrier’s book on poorly considered “affirmative therapy” for gender dysphoric kids, changing a Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote on abortion so that her references to “women” were changed to “persons,” favoring legislation that allows medically and psychologically untreated biological males who identify as women to compete in women’s sports, and opposing Betsy DeVos’s changes in Title IX guidelines for sexual harassment prosecution as “inappropriately favoring the accused.” (Those changes, by the way, were one of the rare instances of the Trump administration creating a change for the better, for they mandates fairer and more just procedures.)

Speaking of “inappropriately favoring the accused,” the ACLU, letting its Wisconsin branch speak for the organization as a whole, has just issued a statement that seems to say that the Rittenhouse verdict was wrong, also inappropriately favoring the accused:

Click on the screenshot to read:

Excerpts:

Shaadie Ali, interim executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, stated:

“Despite Kyle Rittenhouse’s conscious decision to take the lives of two people protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake by police, he was not held responsible for his actions, something that is not surprising. But Kyle Rittenhouse isn’t the only one responsible for the deaths that night. The events in Kenosha stem from the deep roots of white supremacy in our society’s institutions. They underscore that the police do not protect communities of color in the same way they do white people.

. . .“Rittenhouse’s trial highlights an urgent need for reform for both police and the criminal legal system. The system is broken, and it desperately needs to be fixed.”

Brandon Buskey, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, stated:

“Kyle Rittenhouse was a juvenile who traveled across state lines on a vigilante mission, was allowed by police to roam the streets of Kenosha with an assault rifle and ended up shooting three people and killing two. These are the simple, tragic facts. His acquittal comes after an ACLU investigation exposing how Kenosha law enforcement used violence against protesters and drove them toward white militia groups, in ways that escalated tensions and almost certainly led to these shootings.

“This complicity, along with the reason for the protests that Rittenhouse took it upon himself to confront — the police shooting of a Black man outside of a family function — highlights that the violence in Kenosha is not an anomaly, but rather endemic to a system built upon white supremacy.

Many of these statements are contestable, including the notion that Rittenhouse was a white supremacist who killed white demonstrators because they were supporting Black Lives Matter protests. In fact, one of the men he killed was apparently a racist, and he killed, as the jury determined, in self defense.  Rittenhouse is certainly not a saint or someone I’d want to hang around with—why would someone go to a protest with a gun, even (as Rittenhouse maintained, to guard a car dealership?—that’s asking for trouble. He seems to be troubled and confused. But from the outset Rittenhouse had a credible claim of self-defense, and the videos bore that out.

As for his “white supremacy”, this is what the NY Post says (you can check other sources if you don’t like this one):

The FBI scoured Kyle’s phone and found nothing about white supremacy or militias, the court heard. All they saw were pro-police, “Blue Lives Matter” posts from a kid who had been a police and fire department cadet, wanted to be a police officer or paramedic and once sat near the front of a Trump rally. That was enough for the media to brand him a white supremacist.

The media had a narrative it bought into early, and refused to give it up in the face of the videos, the verdict, and the facts. The ACLU statement, from an organization designed to protect the civil rights of the accused from unjust state power, is now refusing to do that for Rittenhouse. The reason they are not defending Rittenhouse despite the verdict is simply because he was white and supposedly killed white men because they were supposedly supporting a Black Lives Matter protest. The jury said he killed because he had credible threats of being killed or harmed.

As Jesse Singal wrote on the preview of his pay-for-view Substack column:

If you know anything about the ACLU’s history or reasons for existing, these are very strange — disturbing, I’d argue — statements. The ACLU of Wisconsin seems to be saying Kyle Rittenhouse should have been convicted. What else could a statement noting that he “was not held responsible for his actions,” issued the day of his full acquittal, possibly mean? If you don’t think he was guilty of the crimes he was accused of, there’s nothing for him to have been “held responsible” for. The ACLU is supposed to stand on the side of vulnerable people facing a justice system that has a chronic tendency to overcharge and to withhold from suspects and defendants their full constitutional rights. Why is the ACLU of Wisconsin siding with that system — especially without any further explanation as to why this was an unjust ruling?

And here’s another one I found, but won’t quote or dissect, on the MSNBC website. Click to access:

Supreme Court goes execution-happy; prisoner suffers horrible death

October 29, 2021 • 12:00 pm

Biden has stated that he wants to end the practice of federal executions, though he can’t stop ones by the states. However, most Americans still favor the death penalty (60% approve, 39% oppose). And so, apparently, does the Supreme Court. As reader Ken emailed me:

SCOTUS lifted the stay of execution on two Oklahoma death-row inmates imposed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The three liberal justices dissented. (Justice Gorsuch took no part in the decision, presumably because he had considered one or both of the cases while he was a 10th Circuit judge, prior to his appointment to the high court.)

One of the inmates was executed tonight within hours of the ruling; the other is scheduled for execution on Nov. 18th. The NYT article reporting SCOTUS’s action recounts Oklahoma’s history of botched executions.
And this one was botched too (cruel and unusual punishment is just one reason to oppose capital punishment).  As KOCO in Oklahoma City reports, the lethal injection did not at all go smoothly. There’s an eyewitness account by AP reporter Sean Murphy:

The Associated Press’ Sean Murphy, who witnessed the execution, described what he saw after Grant was injected with the first of three execution drugs called midazolam.

“He did convulse more than two dozen times, and those were pretty violent convulsions while he was strapped to the gurney,” Murphy said. “Then he began to vomit. The vomit pooled in his mouth and ran down his face. At that point, he was still trying to breathe because you could see bubbles coming out of his mouth as he attempted to breathe.”

Murphy said he’s seen more than a dozen executions, and he’s never seen an inmate vomit like that. He added that the only other time he’s seen violent convulsions like this was during the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, one of the last before Oklahoma stopped executions.

“We have come to the conclusion that for the third time in a row, the Oklahoma lethal injection protocol did not work how it was supposed to work,” said Dale Baich, one of the lawyers challenging Oklahoma’s use of midazolam.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections later released a statement saying the execution was carried out “without complications.” ODOC officials also shared a statement from the daughter of Grant’s victim, saying in part that she prays justice prevails for other victims’ loved ones.

Midazolam, a benzodiazepine normally used as a light anesthetic to calm patients before surgery or during colonoscopies, is now used by seven states as the first drug in the three-drug execution sequence. But it has an uneven history, being part, for example, of one execution where the inmate was given 15 doses and took two hours to die. One problem is that no drug company will sell it for execution purposes, so the states have to get it from secondary sources like “compounding pharmacies” that aren’t subject to FDA standards or approval. This means that drugs could be made in improper ways or be contaminated.  Here’s what the Death Penalty Information Center says of Midazolam:

MIDAZOLAM: Seven states have used midazolam as the first drug in the three-drug protocol: Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Virginia, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Oklahoma used midazolam in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014, and Lockett died after the procedure was halted. Alabama’s use of midazolam in the execution of Ronald Smith in December 2016, resulted in nearly fifteen minutes of Smith heaving and gasping for breath. Arkansas’s use of use midazolam in four executions in April 2017 raised concerns and in the execution of Kenneth Williams, witnesses reported coughing, convulsing, lurching and jerking. In January 2017, Florida abandoned its use of midazolam as the first drug in its three-drug protocol and replaced it with etomidate. Two states have used midazolam in a two-drug protocol consisting of midazolam and hydromorphone: Ohio (Dennis McGuire) and Arizona (Joseph Wood). Both of those executions, which were carried out in 2014, were prolonged and accompanied by the prisoners’ gasping for breath. After its botched execution of McGuire, Ohio abandoned its use of midazolam in a two-drug protocol, but then in October 2016 decided to keep midazolam in a three-drug protocol. In December 2016, Arizona abandoned its use of midazolam in either a two-drug or a three-drug protocol. Three states have, at some point, proposed using midazolam in a two-drug protocol (Louisiana, Kentucky, and Oklahoma) but none of those states has followed through with that formula. Some states have proposed multiple protocols. Missouri administered midazolam to inmates as a sedative before the official execution protocol began.

Regardless, though, I oppose any killing in return for killing; life without parole (or, better, Norway’s system of 21-year sentences with periodic evaluation after that) is sufficient punishment. The Supreme Court apparently disregards this shameful history of botched executions. Biden should commute every federal death sentence to a life sentence, but he can’t do squat about state executions.

Midazolam for proper medical use (not executions)

New Zealand PM exculpates religion in an ISIS-inspired terrorist stabbing attack in New Zealand

September 3, 2021 • 11:30 am

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, like many government officials, can go to great lengths to avoid implicating religion—especially Islam—in any terrorist attack, even if it’s clearly inspired by Islamism.  Take last Friday’s stabbing attack at a supermarket in West Auckland, which wounded six people (the perp was killed by police).

As the New York Times reports, this has every sign of a being terrorist attack: the method, the ideology, and the fact that the suspect had already been under surveillance for five years because of his “ideology”. (Could that be Islam? As HuffPost reports—which for some reason isn’t allowing comments on this story—”Ardern said the attacker, who was not identified, was ‘obviously a supporter of ISIS ideology,’ in reference to the Islamic State terror group.”) It has in fact been officially deemed a “terrorist attack.”

More from the NYT:

The suspect, a Sri Lankan national, was shot and killed by the police, officials said. He had been under constant, active surveillance at the time of the attack at the market in West Auckland, they said. The suspect was not immediately identified.

“A violent extremist undertook a terrorist attack on innocent New Zealanders in the New Lynn Countdown in Auckland,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference, referring to the supermarket.

“What happened today was despicable, it was hateful, it was wrong,” she added. “It was carried out by an individual — not a faith, not a culture, not an ethnicity, but an individual person who is gripped by ideology that is not supported here by anyone or any community. He alone carries the responsibility for these acts; let that be where the judgment falls.”

. . .The prime minister said the suspect, who came to New Zealand in 2011, had been known to security forces since 2016. She described him as a lone actor who had been under constant monitoring because of concerns about his ideology.

“This was a violent attack,” she said. “It was senseless, and I’m so sorry it happened.”

Yes, of course the act was carried out by an individual.  Cultures, faiths, and ethnicities cannot by definition carry out a terrorist attack because humans have to do the deed. But Ardern is thick-headed here, for can she deny that that individual was motivated, at least in part, by a religiously based movement: Islamism? In fact she admits that! 

So what does she mean by her exculpation of faith, culture, or ethnicity?

What she means is apparently this: “Yes, this guy was inspired to stab people because he was gripped by Islamist ideology, but the ideology isn’t to blame.”  It’s similar to the mantra used by American NRA-ites: “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. Except the U.S.statement is milder, because guns don’t incite people to use them in shootings, whereas ISIS ideology promotes the extirpation of nonbelievers.

It’s hard to understand a mentality that argues that an individual can be motivated to attack others because of faith, but then adds that the faith is not at all responsible. I suppose that when ISIS starts raping, oppressing, and beating the women of Afghanistan, Ardern will say, “These odious acts are carried out by individuals—not a faith, not a culture, and not an ethnicity.”

I used to admire Ardern, but sometimes she’s osculates the rump of religion way too arde(r)ntly.

Catholic magazine accepts article exculpating Jerry Sandusky, then rejects it because it didn’t want the Church to deal with accusations of pedophilia

August 16, 2021 • 11:15 am

In January, 2018, I reported how Fred Crews, former chair of English at UC Berkeley, had published an article in Skeptic Magazine that cast strong doubt on the conviction of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky for child abuse. Sandusky has been in prison since 2012, convicted, as Wikipedia notes, of “eight counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, seven counts of indecent assault, one count of criminal intent to commit indecent assault, nine counts of unlawful contact with minors, 10 counts of corruption of minors and 10 counts of endangering the welfare of children.” He was sentenced to 30-60 years in jail, which is a life sentence for a 77-year old man.

The “evidence” as reported in the press convinced nearly everyone (including me) that Sandusky was guilty. But then I read Fred’s article, which itself mirrored a book on the thin evidence by Mark Pendergrast, The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to JudgmentKnowing that Fred was scrupulous in dealing with evidence, and that the evidence against Sandusky was, to put it mildly, very weak or even fabricated, I wrote a post calling for that evidence to be reexamined, which could lead to a new trial. As I recall, readers were mixed in their views, but many of them considered Sandusky absolutely guilty, and some felt that one shouldn’t even bring up the case, as it involved pedophilia and Sandusky must have been guilty to be convicted.

Well, I think that if you feel that way, you should read the piece on Medium below, a longer exposition of the Sandusky case by Fred. I won’t summarize it, as my letter endorsing its publication (also below) points out the weak spots in the case.

Fred then condensed the article for publication in a widely-read venue (“Saint Sandusky”, below) and, as you can imagine, had trouble placing it in any magazine or website. Finally, though, someone decided to publish it, and it does deserve to be published. If you want the short-form defense of Sandusky, read the following:

The place that accepted it, curiously, was the Catholic magazine First Things, and I was glad that these issues were finally going to get a public airing. At the very least, there are serious flaws in the case against Sandusky that need to be heard. Surely we all agree that everyone deserves a fair trial, and if the facts adduced in “Saint Sandusky” be true, Sandusky’s trial wasn’t fair.

After Fred submitted the article above to First Things, I, along with several others, wrote a blurb endorsing “Saint Sandusky”‘s publication.  But then the magazine got cold feet, and First Things bailed. They cancelled the publication of “Saint Sandusky.” That sad story of journalistic cowardice is recounted in a short piece by Fred at Medium, the “2 min read” below:

An excerpt from “The Unspeakable Sandusky”:

. . . Sandusky, now 77 years old, has been imprisoned since 2012, but he still insists on his innocence, and–believe it or not–there isn’t a shred of credible evidence that he ever molested anyone. Indeed, it is now known that he was physically as well as morally incapable of doing so.

Since Sandusky first began to be demonized in the press, 14 months before his trial, no print magazine has published a single word in his defense. Until recently, I hit the same wall myself when trying to place an essay detailing the many troubling aspects of the case. My luck seemed to change, though, in December 2020 when an editor at the conservative religious magazine First Things solicited my essay, provocatively titled “Saint Sandusky?” Although I am neither conservative nor religious, I found a tolerant atmosphere among the staff. The article was scheduled for publication on July 9, 2021, in the magazine’s August/September number.

Anticipating outrage and canceled subscriptions, the editors asked me to gather favorable opinions that could be posted online to cushion the blow. Easily done. In circulating my drafts to friends and acquaintances, I had already accumulated many heartfelt endorsements. First Things intended to post statements submitted by Noam Chomsky, Elizabeth Loftus, Carol Tavris, and Jerry Coyne among others. But those testimonials didn’t appear, because . . . the article didn’t, either.

First Things is a vehicle of the Institute on Religion and Public Life. At the eleventh hour, as the mortified editors informed me, the institute’s Catholic board canceled publication of my article. Perhaps you can guess the reason: the Church has a pedophilia problem, and Jerry Sandusky is assumed to be a pedophile. It was thought best to avoid any association, however remote, between Catholicism and his cause.

Now you may ask yourself “How was Sandusky physically incapable of molesting children”?  This is what the article has to say:

But Jerry had another, even more telling, medical deficit that would have forestalled priapic feats. He had been born with vestigial testicles that left him almost devoid of testosterone and, necessarily, less interested in sex than other men. That is one reason among several that no pornography was found in his possession; he was closer to a eunuch than a satyr. Revealingly, his conspicuous deformity went unremarked by every “victim,” including all thirty-six who would eventually divide Penn State’s settlement pie of $118 million.

It’s unthinkable that the lawyers didn’t make a big deal of this in his trial, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered. If ever there was a rush to judgment, it was the Jerry Sandusky trial. You can’t even get the counterevidence published!

First Things‘s acceptance and then rejection is cowardice, pure and simple, and so Fred had to place “Saint Sandusky” on Medium as well. Fred’s comment on this pusillanimous site:

To my mind, this timidity is sadly ironic. Sweeping sexual abuse under the rug has been routine policy for the Church, and it has only magnified the worldwide scandal of predation and hypocrisy among the anointed. Moreover, we know that some priests have been falsely accused by fortune seekers–an exact parallel to the Sandusky case, as my essay shows. And finally, Jerry Sandusky himself happens to be a devout Methodist. The editors of First Things had supplied their guardians with every reason to believe that a man of faith has been wrongly incarcerated, but that consideration was overruled by image polishing. As I wrote to the editors, “Your board is Catholic, but it isn’t Christian.”

I’ll reproduce below the letter I wrote in support of the publication of “Saint Sandusky” in First Things, which gives some idea of the holes in the case:

Response to “Saint Sandusky”

Jerry Coyne

Although Jerry Sandusky’s conviction for pedophilia is universally accepted, until I read Frederick Crews’s “Saint Sandusky” I had no idea how thin the evidence for that verdict is. The legal conviction, as well  as the public’s firm view of Sandusky’s guilt, now appears to be based on a variety of evidence—all of it questionable. Much of the testimony from accusers is based on the discredited technique of recovered memory therapy, in which psychologists or psychiatrists, whose diagnoses are predetermined, induce people to remember things that didn’t happen by planting suggestions in their mind. Further, the evidence of Sandusky’s accusers was inconsistent, with some even asserting that Sandusky never engaged in a pedophilic act, but later changing their minds under pressure. The inconsistency extends to the timeline itself, with discrepancies of nearly a year in when Sandusky’s acts are said to have occurred. Some testimony was retracted but the retractions were ignored. And there was also an explicit pecuniary motive, with some accusers deciding to testify after a huge payday from Penn State was in view. Further, police questioning of accusers was hardly “neutral,” with the police telling them before questioning that Sandusky had been ascertained to be a pedophile.

Crews’s narrative shows that the conviction of Sandusky was a put-up job, confected by the desire of police, prosecutors, therapists, and Penn State itself to get Sandusky into prison as soon as possible.

While Sandusky may indeed be guilty of the crimes of which he’s accused, it’s clear that the investigation of his alleged pedophilia was motivated not by a desire to find the truth but to convict him.  As for a fair trial, forget it.  While one can’t judge Sandusky’s guilt or innocence from Crews’s article, the article makes a compelling case that Sandusky didn’t receive justice in any sense. Justice can be dispensed only with a retrial or a hard-nosed legal review of the record. Unless that happens, Sandusky will sit in prison until he dies.

But don’t take my word for it, read either of the first two links above and judge for yourself if there was a miscarriage of justice.

Selling term papers

July 16, 2021 • 2:00 pm

I had heard that you can buy term papers online, though I never encountered one in my classes (I didn’t assign term papers in undergraduate evolution classes). But a ping on one of my posts, in particular the one criticizing Agustín Fuentes’s Science op-ed indicting Charles Darwin for sexism and racism, alerted me that one outfit, Grand Term papers, is selling a “adjudicate this issue” term paper.

Click on the screenshot to see the odious offer:

Here’s how you order. Mind you, they aren’t plagiarizing me: this particular form of perfidy involves a student taking credit for the work of a professional (?) writer. In other words, this is arrant cheating.  I have to say, though, that the topic is a good one for a student’s original paper.

And this is how they justify it:

What we Do

A majority of students suffer from demotivation, physical, mental or personal problems that can hurt their studies. In most instances, the source of stress is associated with a bulk of incomplete assignments with demanding turnaround times. Unfortunately, the lack of energy and non-prioritizing academic studies can hurt the results of any coursework. When all these factors accumulate, they can directly impact how an individual learns and put them under unnecessary strain. However, at _.com, we have all the necessary resources to support students learn more deeply, perform better in their coursework and produce high-quality and well-researched academic assignments. We have a large team qualified in diverse subject areas and topics to assist you with all academic writings. To access our services, click here and make the first step towards a successful educational journey.

Note the “at __.com”, suggesting that this is itself boilerplate copied from another source. The English is itself a bit wonky (“a bulk of incomplete assignments,” “make the first step” and so on). Perhaps they’re not written by native English speakers.

Since the writing is supposedly original, you can’t detect this by looking for plagiarism via Google. I’m not sure how one would find out that a student’s paper wasn’t written by the student, but I’m sure there are ways. Has anybody had any experience with this form of cheating? It rankles me a lot because it’s academic cheating.

Japan’s death penalty

June 15, 2021 • 9:15 am

Below are two videos (the first, at 12.5 minutes, is a bit long) showing the difference between the only two First World countries that still have the death penalty: Japan and the U.S.  Here, from Amnesty International via the BBC, is a map of countries that still execute criminals:

Wikipedia is a decent source of information about how capital punishment works in Japan but an even better site is here. First, unlike the U.S., Japan imposes the death penalty almost always for multiple murders, while in the U.S. it’s often imposed for murders of individuals—usually either children or those killed in a gruesome manner. (I have some confidence that Biden will stay all pending federal executions, but he has no power to stay executions of people convicted in state court.)

Japan and the U.S. have about equal per capita rates of execution. In Japan 18 people were executed in 2018-2019 alone, while in the US. 47 people were executed during the same two years. The population of the U.S. is 2.6 times that of Japan, so the rates are almost exactly the same.

There’s only one method of execution in Japan: “long drop” hanging, which breaks the neck. In the U.S., you can still die by firing squad, the electric chair, or lethal injection, though the federal government uses only the last method. All executions in Japan are carried out in Tokyo or Osaka, while in the U.S. federal executions are carried out only in the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana (state executions are carried out in the relevant states).

One difference, shown in the video below, is a big one: in the U.S. you are given an execution date, though it may be put off through legal appeals. But if those appeals fail, you know exactly the day on which you’ll die. In contrast, in Japan you never know when you’ll be executed until the morning of the execution.  You’re simply informed, given a last meal, and summarily hanged (see below). Unlike the U.S., there are no witnesses save government and prison officials, and the prisoner’s lawyers and family are not informed about the execution until it’s over.

To me, the Japanese method seems more cruel than that of the US. Imagine living day to day (and some prisoners have waited about 40 years, while the average is about six years) not knowing whether each day will be your last! To me, that would seem to impose a constant, torturous anxiety on a prisoner.  (As I’ve said, I oppose the death penalty altogether.) If you feel otherwise, and this is an important question to me, weigh in below.

Below is a video with a series of photos of what the condemned Japanese prisoner sees on his way to the noose. First we see the prison, and then the room where the condemned man is allowed to sit and speak with the prison chaplain. On the way to the hanging chamber, he passes a Buddhist icon. Then on to the noose. As an informative page on Japan’s death penalty (worth reading if you can stomach it) describes the process:

After a death row inmate is notified of his fate he is first taken to a prayer room with a Buddhist altar where the condemned is read his last rites, a senior prison official listens to his last words and the inmate is allowed to speak with a prison chaplain, usually a a Buddhist priest or Christian pastor. After leaving the prayer room the inmate walks down the corridor to an anterior chamber where the prison warden officially declare that the execution will be carried out. At the Tokyo facility a gold Buddhist statues stand opposite the room’s door. The anterior chamber is separated from the execution chamber by a bright blue curtains. On the side of the execution chamber is a viewing area, where the prison warden, prosecutors and other officials watch the execution.

There are, as the video below shows, three buttons, one of which controls the trapdoor. At a signal, three men press the buttons, so nobody knows who exactly caused the drop. This is similar to U.S. firing squads, in which one rifleman is given a gun with a blank in it, so each man can think that he didn’t shoot the prisoner.

It’s all a horrible business, and it’s more expensive, at least in the U.S., than a sentence of life without parole. Nor is capital punishment a deterrent.  As far as I’m concerned, the death penalty is simply the state itself committing the killing, and it accomplishes nothing that life without parole could accomplish. Killing someone is retributive punishment, pure and simple. And there’s one huge advantage of the no-execution policy: if a prisoner is later found to be innocent, they can be set free. (This happens surprisingly often.) That can’t occur if you’re dead.

Let’s take a poll, but I do want to hear people’s views in the comments.

If we must have capital punishment, which system do you favor?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

 

 

Should police and the media release the ethnicity of unapprehended criminal suspects?

June 13, 2021 • 12:30 pm

To me the answer to the question above is a no-brainer: “Of course.” If someone who did a crime is on the loose, then anything that might help apprehend him (most criminals are men) could be useful. That includes height, weight, presence of glasses, facial hair, clothing, and ethnicity. In fact, of all of these identifiers, ethnicity is the hardest to change if you’re fleeing the cops.

And yet the media often (as in this case) quails at specifying the ethnicity of perps, as if somehow that would lead to stereotyping. But I don’t see how it could, unless it simply reinforces those bigots who would say, “See, another X did a crime.” But bigots don’t become more bigoted that way, and it seems to me that the advantage of helping police apprehend a criminal outweighs any considerations of reinforcing racism.

In fact, in this case the newspaper at issue refused to report any identifying information (though clearly race was the hot button) even though the cops already had. And they explained that they left out the information because it might “reinforce stereotypes.” Right then and there you know the criminal is black or Hisptanic.

The incident was the mass shooting in Austin Texas on Friday night, a shooting that injured 30 people, two critically. Here’s the first report (now archived) of two suspects on the loose from the Austin American-Statesman (click on screenshot)

Notice that this was published Saturday morning.  At the bottom of the article, however, is this “editor’s note”:

But in fact the description isn’t too vague to help cops apprehend the suspect, or the public to identify him.  Below is the bulletin issued yesterday morning by the Austin Police Department with the “vague description of the suspected shooter” (click on screenshot). It’s not that vague, and says that one suspect is “described as a black male, with dread locks [sic], wearing a black shirt and a skinny build.”  Surely this is of value in helping apprehend somebody. If someone is caught but doesn’t have dreadlocks, it would be easy to find out if he had them right before the shooting.

The paper clearly saw the police report, which came out the same day as the article above, and I strongly suspect that the paper didn’t describe the one suspect (not yet apprehended when the article came out) not because of vagueness, but because the suspect was an African-American. In fact, I know this is the reason because the newspaper says so: publication of the description “could be harmful in perpetuating stereotypes.”  As I said, this is a strong clue that the suspect is either black or Hispanic, so the disclaimer above is doubly ludicrous.

Here’s the police report.

When the suspect was arrested, a later report in the paper (curiously, with the same time of filing) still does not give details of who the suspect is (which is now less relevant except for those who keep track of race). But it has exactly the same disclaimer at the bottom! That makes even less sense.

While there’s no pressing need for a paper to describe someone who’s apprehended, I highly doubt that they’re withholding information because it could “perpetuate harmful stereotypes.” Instead, they’re withholding it because they think the paper will look racist if it identifies an apprehended suspect as an African American.

And their claim that “We will update our reporting” goes up there with “the check is in the mail” as One Big Lie. Remember, we’re talking about a mass shooter here, not a shoplifter or petty burglar.

The updated report:

I’ve seen the unwillingness to identify the ethnicity of unapprehended suspects in other media reports, but that often involves simply omitting identifying details rather than making an explicit statement about why they’re doing it.

We’ve come to a pretty pass when the fear of being called “racist” is so strong that it keeps journalists from giving information that might reduce crime. But sometimes criminal justice must outweigh social justice, particularly when the latter is—as it is here—misguided.