Monthly Archives: September 2007

The Gentleman in the Back

One last question from the gentleman in the back.

Jena Six

Reed Walters, prosecutor in the “Jena Six” case, argues persuasively in defense of his actions.

An excerpt from his op-ed piece in the New York Times:

…I cannot overemphasize how abhorrent and stupid I find the placing of the nooses on the schoolyard tree in late August 2006. If those who committed that act considered it a prank, their sense of humor is seriously distorted. It was mean-spirited and deserves the condemnation of all decent people.

But it broke no law. I searched the Louisiana criminal code for a crime that I could prosecute. There is none.

Similarly, the United States attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, who is African-American, found no federal law against what was done.

A district attorney cannot take people to trial for acts not covered in the statutes. Imagine the trampling of individual rights that would occur if prosecutors were allowed to pursue every person whose behavior they disapproved of.

The “hate crime” the protesters wish me to prosecute does not exist as a stand-alone offense in Louisiana law. It’s not that our Legislature has turned a blind eye to crimes motivated by race or other personal characteristics, but it has addressed the problem in a way that does not cover what happened in Jena. The hate crime statute is used to enhance the sentences of defendants found guilty of specific crimes, like murder or rape, who chose their victims based on race, religion, sexual orientation or other factors.

Last week, a reporter asked me whether, if I had it to do over, I would do anything differently. I didn’t think of it at the time, but the answer is yes. I would have done a better job of explaining that the offenses of Dec. 4, 2006, did not stem from a “schoolyard fight” as it has been commonly described in the news media and by critics.

Conjure the image of schoolboys fighting: they exchange words, clench fists, throw punches, wrestle in the dirt until classmates or teachers pull them apart. Of course that would not be aggravated second-degree battery, which is what the attackers are now charged with. (Five of the defendants were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder.) But that’s not what happened at Jena High School.

The victim in this crime, who has been all but forgotten amid the focus on the defendants, was a young man named Justin Barker, who was not involved in the nooses incident three months earlier. According to all the credible evidence I am aware of, after lunch, he walked to his next class. As he passed through the gymnasium door to the outside, he was blindsided and knocked unconscious by a vicious blow to the head thrown by Mychal Bell. While lying on the ground unaware of what was happening to him, he was brutally kicked by at least six people.

Imagine you were walking down a city street, and someone leapt from behind a tree and hit you so hard that you fell to the sidewalk unconscious. Would you later describe that as a fight?

Only the intervention of an uninvolved student protected Mr. Barker from severe injury or death. There was serious bodily harm inflicted with a dangerous weapon — the definition of aggravated second-degree battery. Mr. Bell’s conviction on that charge as an adult has been overturned, but I considered adult status appropriate because of his role as the instigator of the attack, the seriousness of the charge and his prior criminal record.

I can understand the emotions generated by the juxtaposition of the noose incident with the attack on Mr. Barker and the outcomes for the perpetrators of each. In the final analysis, though, I am bound to enforce the laws of Louisiana as they exist today, not as they might in someone’s vision of a perfect world.

Abject, Squalid, Shameless

British writer Melanie Phillips on Ahmadinejad’s turn at Columbia.

Historian Arthur Herman on Columbia’s “squalid mistake.”

Give One Piece a Chance

Mark Steyn on the latest celebrity enviro-lunacy:

…The other day, an admiring profile of Cate Blanchett (“Green before it was hip, she cites Al Gore and David de Rothschild as heroes and believes that leaf blowers ‘sum up everything that is wrong with the human race,’ ” etc.) revealed that, in order to give her new mansion as small an environmental footprint as possible, she requested that the plumbing be constructed to “allow them to drink their own waste water.” Miss Blanchett isn’t some dippy loopy… fringe goofball. She’s the most acclaimed actress of her time. She’s the star of The Golden Age — no, no, silly; nothing to do with micturition, it’s about Elizabeth I.

… Miss Blanchett and her husband have paid their architect thousands of dollars to design a system whereby the bodily waste goes down the toilet, gets whisked by pipeline through the walk-in closet, over the balcony, down the wall, back in through the rec room, and up into the wet bar directly into the soda siphon. As her fellow Antipodean, the Aussie wag Tim Blair, observed: “Not exactly Pickfair, is it?” — Pickfair being the legendary mansion of Douglas Fairbanks and Canada’s own Mary Pickford. But who’s to say Pissfair won’t become the norm in the new Hollywood?

Sheryl Crow, meanwhile, recently proposed that when it comes to, ah, other waste products, her environmentally conscious fans should only use a single sheet of bathroom tissue per visit. I fell asleep three minutes into Al Gore’s Live Earth extravaganza, so I don’t know whether she turned up to perform some new consciousness-raising song on the theme — sheet music, as they say in Mexico — but a celebrity fundraising cover of “All We Are Saying is Give One Piece a Chance” is surely a project all Hollywood can get behind. As it turns out, Miss Crow is a bit of a paper tiger on the eco-bathroom front. In 2005, MTV got Cameron Diaz to host a series called Trippin’, in which she and her A-list chums went to Tanzania, Honduras, Nepal and whatnot and praised the environmental friendliness of village life. “I aspire to be like them,” Drew Barrymore told viewers after spending a few days in a remote Chilean community unburdened by electricity or indoor plumbing. “I took a poo in the woods hunched over like an animal. It was awesome.” Does a Barrymore crap in the woods? Not in John, Ethel and Lionel’s day. You can understand why Cate Blanchett’s so anti-leaf blowers if they’re blowing any leaves from round Drew’s stomping grounds.

By now, you’re probably wondering: oh, come on, Steyn, you’re not going to do lame jokes about modish celebrities’ latest obsession for the rest of the column, are you? Well, I just might. But let me slip in a serious point first: a big chunk of so-called “progress” is, in fact, just a matter of simple sanitation and hygiene. Take, for example, America’s quartet of murdered presidents: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy. You could reduce that mortality rate by 25 per cent just by washing and rinsing. James Garfield was shot at the Baltimore and Potomac Railway Station on July 2, 1881, and took 2½ months to expire, which is almost as long as he’d been in office before he set off to catch the train. It’s now accepted that he died not from the bullet wound but from the various medical personnel poking around inside him looking for the bullet with dirty hands and unsterilized instruments. Joseph Lister’s ideas on antisepsis had become standard in Britain but not yet in the United States. Within three years of the president’s death, Dr. William S. Halsted opened America’s first modern operating room at Bellevue. So, if Garfield was shot today, he’d be home in three days.

But you don’t have to be targeted for assassination to reap the benefits of hygiene. Do you know the expression “getting hold of the wrong end of the stick”? It comes from the public latrines of ancient Rome. They were very agreeable design-wise — marble benches and so forth. And at the end of the bench was a bucket of salt water with a stick in it. On the end of the stick was a sponge. The patron would use the stick to sponge his person in the relevant areas, then put it back in the bucket for the next customer. It doesn’t really matter whether you get the wrong end of the stick: the right end was good enough to spread all manner of diseases. Almost every setback suffered by man in the next couple of millennia has some connection to human fecal matter: more crusaders were done in by dysentery than by the enemies’ scimitars; America’s Civil War soldiers were twice as likely to die in camp racked by disease as in combat. Today, what Drew Barrymore regards as an “awesome” experience is one reason the teeming shantytowns of west Africa have infant mortality rates approaching one in three. Male life expectancy in Côte d’Ivoire: 42. Liberia: 41. Sierra Leone: 37. And the Sheryl Crow one-piece rule would do a lot to help the developed world’s statistics head in the same direction.

But, beyond the data, there’s something very curious about a culture whose most beautiful women, the beneficiaries of every blessing this bountiful society can shower upon them, are so eager to flaunt their bodily waste in the public prints. And even more bizarre is their conviction that one of the most basic building blocks of modern life — hygiene — is now an example of Western consumerist excess. Perhaps it will catch on. Perhaps 10 years from now there will be a Peebucks on every corner selling entirely recycled beverages: a venti urinatte for $6.29, but only “fair trade urine,” in which the peasant has been paid a living wage for his specimen, a guarantee symbolized by a logo — a new Golden Arches, say. And after that who knows where we’ll go? As George Monbiot, the bestselling doom-monger from Britain’s Guardian, writes: “It is impossible not to notice that, in some of the poorest parts of the world, most people, most of the time, appear to be happier than we are. In southern Ethiopia, for example, the poorest half of the poorest nation on earth, the streets and fields crackle with laughter. In homes constructed from packing cases and palm leaves, people engage more freely, smile more often, express more affection than we do behind our double glazing, surrounded by remote controls.” In Ethiopia, male life expectancy is 42.88 years. George was born in 1963. If the streets and fields are crackling with laughter, maybe it’s because the happy peasants are reading his syndicated column in the Gamo Gofa Times-Herald. No wonder they’re doubled up and clutching their sides. It’s not just the dysentery from the communal latrine.

Stonewall Sulzberger

Do we need to have Patrick Fitzgerald on the case in the New York Times’ coverup of Betrayusgate?

Thomas Lifson writes in the American Thinker:

Once again, the Watergate maxim that “the cover-up is worse than the crime” is proving valid. And Clark Hoyt, “public editor” (ombudsman) of the New York Times is playing the part of John Dean in what could be titled “All the Publisher’s Men.”

The revelations about the MoveOn “betray us” ad contained in Hoyt’s column today raise serious questions about the integrity of the company’s management. Members of the Sulzberger/Ochs family who control the Times have even more reason to be gravely concerned the very survival of their patrimony is being jeopardized by incompetence or worse on the part of Pinch Sulzberger and the management team he has installed.

The New York Times made a severe error when it violated its own policies in allowing a scurrilous personal attack on General Petraeus to be published in a full page ad and in providing a deeply discounted rate to MoveOn.org. Hoyt properly describes the discount as a “mistake.” But that term is inoperable (to use another Watergate era expression) when it comes to the cover-up. When the paper’s management was challenged and the company learned of the errors, it continued to maintain otherwise for almost two weeks.

There is no pleasant way to state this, but Rick Moran put it very well in the American Thinker blog section when he wrote: “… all the lies told by spokesmen for the New York Times have all been shown to be an effort to hide the truth from the American people.”

Shock Waves From Syria

The Washington Post on the question: Did Israel bomb a secret nuclear facility equipped by North Korea?

Arrest Him!

The New York Sun editorializes on Ahmadinnerjacket’s visit to New York.

Noting that Columbia University is planning to host Ahmadinnerjacket, the Sun proposes:

Next week, Columbia University is planning to host on its campus the Iranian leader who denies the Holocaust, is pursuing a nuclear weapon, and calls for Israel to be destroyed.

The person who could prevent this entire farce from taking place is the district attorney of Queens County, Richard Brown. When Mr. Ahmadinejad flies into John F. Kennedy International Airport, he’ll be in Queens. That is the borough of Specialist Jonathan Rivadeneira of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, who was killed on Friday in Iraq by an improvised explosive device of the sort that American officials say are supplied and crafted by Iran. Rivadeneira’s death left his mother, Martha Clark of Jackson Heights, Queens, childless. Let Mr. Brown seek a warrant for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s arrest and give him a true civics lesson in an American dock. Let’s just say we have no doubt that, were a warrant issued, Mr. Kelly and New York’s Finest would be delighted to enforce it.

Ignorant and More Ignorant

A new report finds that students at elite universities know even less about American history, government, and economics than they did when they entered.

An excerpt:

Students at many of the country’s most prestigious colleges and universities are graduating with less knowledge of American history, government, and economics than they had as incoming freshmen, with Harvard University seniors scoring a “D+” average on a 60-question multiple-choice exam about civic literacy.

According to a report released yesterday by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the average college senior at the 50 colleges and universities polled did not earn a passing grade.

“At the most expensive colleges, they actually graduate knowing less,” the executive director of the Jack Miller Center at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Michael Ratliff, said. “Colleges and universities are not directing students to the courses that would educate them. We want to know whether after getting $300 billion to do their work, universities are actually educating their students.”

At universities such as Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Berkeley, seniors scored lower on the test, available here, than freshmen, living proof of the broadening relevancy of the old Harvard adage that the university is a storehouse of knowledge because “the freshmen bring so much and the seniors take away so little.”

Tall But Over His Head

Dick Morris provides many reasons why Fred Thompson is a lousy candidate who’s “over his head.”

Morris also makes a good point with which I wholeheartedly agree:

Hillary is probably the next president anyway. But there is only one way to defeat her — to nominate a candidate whose anti-terrorism credentials are so deep that if Americans return to their senses and grasp the nature of the dire and continuing threat we face, he can prevail in November. There are two candidates who fill that bill: Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. Neither Thompson nor Romney approach it.

Osirak II?

Did Israel attack Syria’s North Korean supplied stockpile of nuclear material? And if so, what does it say about how Israel will react to a similar threat from Iran? The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens weighs in.