Monday, September 28, 2009

Snap judgment

A news story came over the wire about a 16-year old black teenager who was beaten to death in Chicago last Thursday by three other teens.

While no motive was mentioned, the story identifies the victim as an honors student. Given this limited information, I unthinkingly decided on a motive for the violent crime and scanned the rest of the story for confirmation.

What motive did I leap to?

Resentment for being an honors student from underachieving black youth.

There's a lot of ways to categorize this type of automatic response. Bias, snap-judgment, thin-slicing, stereotyping and I'm sure someone else will attribute it to some form of racism.

I never thought about a fight that got way out of hand, gang violence, revenge, a dispute over a girl, random violence or drug violence. The perpetrators were not described and that left a blank slate to fill in. Most importantly, I was already of the opinion that there's a problem in black inner city schools where students who try hard are socially stigmatized and accused of "acting white."

I don't know how big this problem is, I don't know how much that factors in to racial differences in test scores. I do know that I don't like the notion that getting good grades is some form of a "betrayal" and the explanation makes sense to me.

So with this mindset, my flawed human brain saw a potential to "prove it" with this tragic event by projecting what I really think is a problem onto this case. After all, assuming the "acting white" explanation for differences in test results is true, that doesn't mean that it was the cause of this violent act. If this turns out to be an example of gang violence, that certainly doesn't disprove the "acting white" story.

My point here is bigger than this story, or this explanation. It's that as much as we try to be rational, we must all struggle with our own biases and recognize them when we can.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Another gold star for Switzerland

Is there anything the Swiss can't do?

The same European country that boasts an amazing GPD and GNI, mandatory gun ownership, right-to-die clinics, low war rate and states rights and gave us the Volvo has done it again and slapped a pair of Zurich-issued handcuffs on film director Roman Polanski.

After being found guilty of getting a 13-year-old drunk and seducing her in 1977, Polanski fled before being sentenced and had been living openly in France - openly enough to win an Oscar for directing The Piano.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Getting away with a terrible crime

CNN has reported the latest undeniably false rape accusation story, and it follows the standard template.

-Male(s) accused of sexual assault have reputation ruined forever.

-Police find glaring problems with accusers story.

-Accuser is unnamed by press, wrongfully accused are named and pictured

-Police or district attorney decline to charge false claim maker.

-Sympathetic line for accuser's emotional well-being.

-All justified by saying real victims might be discouraged from reporting.

To this I ask one question. What value do we place on those potential case reports?

We've all been told that real rapes are under reported. As terrible as that is, we have to compare that to how many false reports are made and what damages that does.

Tawana Brawley to the more recent Duke lacrosse case, false accusers have walked free after creating some pretty big messes that could have put their victims in prison for decades. Once free, those found guilty will have to register as sex offenders and face further social costs for the rest of their lives.

What's unknown is how large a slice of the real reported rapes would go unreported if these criminal cases were pursued. It's just assumed that the damage to society would be more than the benefit of discouraging further false reports.

While the percentage of false reports is hard to measure, there are credible reports of 25 percent and higher. Whatever the exact number is, each one is a tragedy. Each represents the life of the victim - the falsely accused - that is marked with shame for all eternity. Even if found innocent, the accused are still distrusted in some circles.

Forgotten here is the damage from false accusations to real rape victims. They certainly haven't benefited from a watered down definition of rape, a view that rape is a normal, or a society that tolerates false accusers, which leads to legitimate accusers being treated with suspicion.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Newflash: Jimmy Carter says something stupid

In an otherwise dull Associated Press story about Jimmy Carter accusing Obama critics of racism, former president Carter said something completely disturbing, reckless and foolish to say about America.

"The president is not only the head of government, he is the head of state," he said. "And no matter who he is or how much we disagree with his policies, the president should be treated with respect."

Since he used to be one, Carter should know very well that the United States president is head of the Executive Branch - not the entire government. You can say the president is the individual endowed with the most power in the United States government, but with the oh-so-purposeful system of checks and balances, the president is no more the head of government than the lead guppy is in charge of a school of fish.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Left wing: Knock it off too

Perhaps inspired by the Right's recent partisan nonsense, the Left has combined into it's mighty giant robot battle form - the offended offensive.

With a face full of crocodile tears, Democrats passed a foolish "resolution of disapproval" for Republican Joe Wilson of South Carolina this week, which is essentially a piece of hate mail with the official government letterhead.

I've heard of UN resolutions with more teeth than this official government vote.

Wilson sophomorically yelled "You lie!" at President Obama during a joint session of congress. In his defense, he did apologize directly to the president, but then he refused to make a Mel Gibson/Michael Richards style coast-to-coast apology tour.

While Wilson's childish outburst was certainly nothing new in Washington, it has echoed into the sound bites, press releases and money-raising schemes of the nation, in various degrees of plausibility.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Gut reactions tell us how we really think

Last week the Maine State Police announced that the two bodies - a mother and her 12-year-old son - found in the burned out shell of an SUV were the result of a murder-suicide.

The response comments on the Portland Press Herald website reflect a disturbing thought trend; When a man kills, we go looking for the victim. When a woman kills, we try to find a man to blame.

Here's a typical example from the web site

"life musta been really bad at their 'home' for her to do this...makes you wonder about the husband."

A dead wife is the result of an evil man, a dead child from a suicidal wife is the result of an evil man, and a dead husband is the result of... an evil man.

Earlier this year Laureen Rugen, who stabbed her husband to death, was sentenced for manslaughter and the only jail time she received was while she awaited trial. Her defense? She said she was the victim of domestic violence, and the judged believed her without any supporting evidence, and plenty of testimonies that she was the real abuser.

What ever happened to "There's no excuse for domestic violence." When the perpetrator is a woman, it turns out there are plenty of excuses.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Attention fellow right wingers: Knock it off

I thought we agreed a few years ago that the left was suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome; where their response to anything Bush did was an automatic protest. For example, if Bush purchased a pair of wool socks, you'd see college students dressed as sheep with "Bush is Ba-a-ad" signs.

It's like they didn't even have to think about it.

Now Obama is president, and people on the right have learned how to protest. I'm sure most of us can remember looking at the weekly left wing cry-in with a feeling of annoyance. We were better than that, weren't we?

Apparently, not all of us.

I'm throwing my lot in with David Horowitz when I ask my fellow conservatives to take a day off now and then. Specificly, the responce to Obama's message to America's students this week.

There way I understand it, Obama originally planned to ask students to write him and to work together. Up came the placards. So instead, Obama delivered an unremarkable "study hard, stay in school" speech that did encourage kids to face potential failure and take responcibility for their studies.

So why was this controverstial?

It really shouldn't have been. While I don't like the head of the executive branch being presented as the important individual of the political system - that was the point of checks and balances - the office of president does carry some respect. The president has the right to deliever a non-political message to the American youth. Teachers also have the right to put up a framed picture in the their classroom without it turning into 1984.

There are plenty of things Obama is doing to speak out against - the appointment of Czars, the assault on capitalism, his broken promise to not be just another politian and his troubling list of allies. If we waste our time on things like this, we sacrifice our future credibility.

Come on righties - take a hard look at the situation and leave the partisian politics to the other guys.