Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Some disorganized chatter

Yesterday I was in Boston all day for meetings, slept in my old house for what I hope will be the last time -- it's under agreement, just waiting to close -- then drove back to CT, didn't have a chance to blog. So . . .

The main point of my last post is really that we don't know what the consequences will be of technological developments. They often have huge effects that no-one foresees. The automobile wasn't just a faster horse that didn't need farmland to feed it -- it created the suburbs and a whole lot else, including becoming one of the leading causes of death, particularly for young people, and making the world warmer and stormier. We can try to imagine a world with on-the-spot manufacturing and driverless cars, but we'll probably get it wrong. Whatever happens, almost nobody will spend any time worrying about possible bad effects, however. If it's possible, we'll do it, pretty much mindlessly, because it is by definition progress.

Another completely unrelated issue that is on my mind is the prevalence of insane lawyers. To be sure, I'm not one, and I don't know what I would do if I were handed the assignment of defending somebody who doesn't have a chance in hell and probably doesn't deserve one. However, when I was a kid I read Clarence Darrow's "Attorney for the Damned," and he managed to find a way.

I have commented before -- not here I think -- about the lawyer for Joshua Komisarjevsky, whose particular acts of depravity we don't need to mention again. The guy's pretrial strategy was to relentless attack the sole surviving victim, whose family his client murdered; and along the way to hold a press conference on the courthouse steps in which he recited specific details of how his client had raped an 11 year old girl, which he apparently considered somehow exculpatory. Komisarjevsky has now been convicted of 6 capital offenses and his trial is in the penalty phase. The lawyer is trying to convince the judge to allow him to call his client's daughter, who is about the same age as the girl his client raped and murdered. I'm sure that will engage the jury's sympathy. Sheesh.

Now we have the almost equally popular Jerry Sandusky, whose lawyer let's him give a prime time interview to the sportscaster Bob Costas. Mr. Costas is not to be underestimated just because he covers fun and games. He's a smart guy, which Sandusky and his lawyer clearly are not. In the process of denying the allegations against him, Sandusky proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he is El Creepo, and should never be allowed within sight or sound of any boys. All prospective jurors will have a pretty good idea of the most effective way to achieve that.

There is a substantive point to take from this. If our culture did not view the criminal justice system principally as an instrument of retribution, we wouldn't be subjecting the public to these repulsive sideshows. Komisarjevsky was not allowed to plead guilty to a capital offense, so we had to endure a trial, and now this. If the deal had been life in prison to begin with, his lawyer would have haggled over the terms of his confinement and that would have been all there was to it. As for Sandusky, he probably would have been dealt with more appropriately a long time ago, but he wouldn't be resorting to such preposterous and desperate tactics if he wasn't looking at spending the rest of his life in so-called administrative segregation, which is the only place he's headed with a guilty verdict. He wouldn't last ten minutes in a prison population, obviously.

Most people probably think that's just fine, and I know I'm not going to talk anybody out of it. But in both of these cases, subjecting the public, the victims, and the jurors to trials is a major evil. By the way, the TV news stations in Connecticut and the Hartford Courant posted Komisarjevsky's confession on their web sites, accompanied by disclaimers to the effect that you really don't want to hear this. No, you don't.

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