Thursday, June 06, 2002

On other sites:
It's Nice to be (Bearly) Noticed


N. Z. Bear gave me a link in his section on liberal bloggers. The good news: he says that I score “zero on the obnoxious meter” and gives me “high points for good intentions.” The bad news: he doesn’t agree with what I say. Hmm, would he like my blog more if I said that Charles Manson’s followers should be paroled? No, I suppose not.

Anyway, N. Z. Bear has a fascinating “map of the blogosphere” on his site, The Truth Made Bear. It shows who links to whom, in a variety of tabular and graphical forms. Highly recommended.
My Serene Proposal for Peace in the Mideast

Yesterday brought news of another terrorist attack in Israel; a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb next to a bus and killed 17 people. This latest incident is a tragic reminder of the desperate need for a solution to the Arab – Israeli conflict. There is growing agreement among Israelis about what a solution might look like; the majority of Israelis now feel that some sort of separation from the Palestinians is the best chance for peace.

Although separation may be necessary for peace, there is a problem with implementing it. Giving any land to the Palestinians now would reward the suicide bombers and lead to more violence. Consider what happened in South Lebanon, where Palestinian violence prompted an Israeli withdrawal. One might hope that since the Palestinians achieved their goal of an Israeli withdrawal, they would have less reason to be angry and would resort less to violence. But, that’s not how human nature works. When a behavior is rewarded, that behavior tends to recur. So, rather than reducing Palestinians' eagerness to use violence, the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon was followed by even more Palestinian violence.

So, what can Israel do? Some Palestinian supporters might say "Israel should give the Palestinians the Gaza Strip and the whole West Bank. Then, the Palestinians would have all their demands met, and would have no further reason to resort to violence." Unfortunately, that's not true. Many Palestinians are still committed to the destruction of the State of Israel -- Hamas and many of the terrorist groups even say so openly. If all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were turned over to the Palestinians tomorrow, the terrorists would feel that their plan to dismantle the whole State of Israel was working, and the suicide bombings would likely increase.

So, if a permanent solution requires giving land to the Palestinians, but giving land now would encourage more suicide bombings, what's the way out of this impasse? Here's a proposal. Israel should make the following offer to the Palestinian Authority: "If one year passes with no Palestinians attacks on Israeli civilians, Israel will permanently give the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians." With this proposal, land would be a reward for abjuring violence, rather than a reward for resorting to violence. Once the Gaza Strip was transferred to the Palestinians, Israel would then offer part of the West Bank in exchange for another year of no violence, followed by another part of the West Bank for an additional year of no violence, until the separation envisioned by many Israelis was achieved. At that point, Israel could then build a fortified border to try to keep terrorists out. Some Palestinians would no doubt be unsatisfied with the amount of land their side had received. But, by then the cycle of violence would have been broken, and a pattern that peace is rewarded would be established.

Palestinians and their supporters might object that there is no way to be sure that Israel would keep its word to deliver land in exchange for peace. Well, even if Israel went back on its word (which would be very stupid), what would Palestinians have lost? Would-be suicide bombers would have spent a year waiting to become "martyrs" rather than blowing themselves up immediately, that's all. They could always blow themselves up later, if Israel didn't hold up its end of the bargain. The Palestinians have tried violence for 54 years and have overall ended up worse than when they started; they might as well try peace for a year to see if it is more effective.

Supporters of Israel might say this plan would never work because the Palestinians would never give up violence for a year. Well, they may be right. But, if the Palestinians reject a clear offer of land in exchange for peace, that would at least show the world which side is the obstacle.
How to get your blog listed here

I'm interested in helping out other new bloggers. So, rather than linking to the same old group of well-known blogs, or having a huge overwhelming list of every blog I can find, I plan to review blogs upon request. If you would like your blog listed here, please send me an email. I'll check out your blog, and if I like it, I'll link to it.

Is this open only to new, unknown blogs? Nah. Even the biggies can get listed this way, if they will stoop to sending me an email.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Will Killer from “Manson Family” be Paroled?
Judge says life without parole is unauthorized sentence for Van Houten

According to cnn.com, Superior Court Judge Bob Krug has faulted California’s Parole Board for its decision to deny parole to Leslie Van Houten. Van Houten, a follower of Charles Manson, was convicted of the 1969 murder of Rosemary LaBianca and of conspiracy in the 1969 murder of actress Sharon Tate. An additional five people were killed by Manson and his followers in the Tate/LaBianca murders.

Judge Krug gave the parole board 60 days to come up with a justification for refusing parole to Van Houten, and to say what Van Houten must do to earn parole. He said, "To hold that the gravity of the offense outweighs all of the positive factors ... without some supporting reasoned factual basis is arbitrary and capricious.” The judge complained that Van Houten is in effect serving "a sentence of life without parole, a sentence unauthorized by law." In other words, Judge Krug is saying that regardless of the serious of the offense, Van Houten must be eligible for parole if she behaves well while in prison.

I’m no lawyer, so I can’t comment on the judge’s reasoning. However, I hope that Leslie Van Houten doesn’t get paroled, for two reasons. First, Van Houton may still pose a threat to society. The Tate/LaBianca killings were so bizarre, that it’s hard to understand why they were committed. Without a good understanding of the motive, it’s difficult to say whether the Manson “family” members will try to kill again. Manson follower Lynnette Fromme tried to kill President Gerald Ford years after the Tate/La Bianca murders. Second, releasing Van Houton would be traumatic to the families of her victims, and to many other members of society. Past parole reviews of Manson family members have triggered substantial alarm among victims’ families and the general public; actually releasing a Manson follower would no doubt be far more distressing. Manson and his followers have done plenty of emotional damage already, why add to it?

Is it fair to keep Van Houton in prison for life? Well, Van Houton was originally sentenced to death. Her sentence was commuted to life in prison only because California’s death penalty was temporarily overturned. Given that the original sentence was death, life without parole doesn’t seem particularly harsh. While the jury that sentenced her did not specifically say that she should never be eligible for parole, they clearly didn’t want her released; they wanted her dead. Van Houten should just try to make the most of her life in prison. Rosemary LaBianca and the other victims don’t get to have any kind of life at all.

Monday, June 03, 2002

Catholic Journal Objects to Coverage of Sexual Abuse
The Church needs to realize that its failure to protect children is the real scandal

Hard to believe, but true: A prominent Catholic journal, La Civilta Cattolica, has accused the US media of scandalous behavior for daring to report on the sexual abuse of minors by priests. The journal, which has all its content approved by the Vatican before publication, said the media coverage was driven by a ''morbid and scandalistic curiosity,'' and claimed that the real motivation behind the coverage was anti-Catholic prejudice.

So, we have a Church that knows for decades that its priests are molesting children, and doesn't speak out. But, when the Church gets bad press, then it speaks out. The evidence is accumulating that not only doesn't the Catholic hierarchy care about the safety of children, they don't even realize that they are supposed to care about the safety of children. Don't they realize how this article looks? They appear to be saying that sexual abuse of children is no big deal, but criticizing the Church for sexual abuse is a scandal.

The Church also doesn't seem to realize that other people (such as parents) care about the safety of children. If the media are paying a lot of attention to the scandal, it can't possibly be because people are frightened and outraged by the sexual abuse of children. No, it must all be an anti-Catholic plot, the Church thinks. I have news for the College of Cardinals -- many of the people most upset by the sex abuse cases are Catholic.

The original Civilta Cattolica article is in Italian, but translated excerpts have been carried by a number of US papers, including an article in the Boston Globe.

Why Arming the Public Won't Deter Crime
The typical criminal just isn't rational enough to act in his own best interest

Recently, I checked out Armed and Dangerous, a new blog written by Open Source guru Eric Raymond. As you might guess from the name, a lot of it is about guns. More particularly, a lot of it advocates that an armed citizenry deters crime.

I’ve tried to keep an open mind about this possibility, but I just don’t see it. I’m not reflexively anti-gun; in fact, both of my parents belonged to the NRA for many years; my being female has not prevented me from firing a gun; and yes, my husband and I own a gun. But, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t see how giving everyone guns is going to prevent crime.

Now, some of you are probably thinking “You moron! If the criminals get shot to death, they can’t commit any more crimes.” And, this is certainly true. (The part about them being unable to commit more crimes, that is. Not the part about my being a moron.) However, actually shooting a criminal in the act is fairly rare, even in places that have both lots of guns and lots of violent crime, such as Texas. And, most gun advocates recognize this, and aren’t claiming that an armed citizenry will remove a substantial number of criminals from the gene pool. No, the usual argument is that an armed citizenry actually deters crime; that is, it makes would-be criminals decide not to commit crimes in the first place

This is where “arm the citizenry” advocates such as Eric lose me. Yes, if more ordinary citizens had guns, committing a crime would become more dangerous. The problem is, we’re talking about trying to deter violent thugs, not accountants. The typical mugger, or rapist, or murderer, doesn’t sit around calculating risk-benefit ratios. Even if the risks of committing a crime are raised, the average violent criminal may not care, or even notice. This is because most violent criminals have one or more of the following three characteristics: 1) Sociopathy: Sociopaths are people who lack empathy and remorse. Anyone who commits a murder “because it’s fun” is clearly a sociopath. Unfortunately, sociopaths are also characterized by a lack of fear and are notoriously unresponsive to the prospect of future injury or punishment. Some of them would probably think the risk of being shot just makes things more exciting. 2) Rage: A fair amount of violent crimes occur when the perpetrator is enraged. This is a poor state of mind in which to conduct a risk-benefit analysis. 3) Intoxication: Many crimes occur when the perpetrator is drunk or under the influence of other mind-altering substances. Again, a person in this state is unlikely to rationally weigh the pros and cons of committing a crime.

So, even though a rational person would be deterred from crime by an armed citizenry, violent criminals probably won’t be deterred, because they aren’t behaving rationally in the first place.

Now, astute readers may have noticed a disturbing corollary to this argument. If criminals aren’t deterred by the prospect of being shot, how can they be deterred by the prospect of prison, or by the prospect of any other punishment? Well, I do not, in fact, think most potential criminals are deterred by the prospect of future punishment. However, because of operant conditioning, they can be deterred by the experience of having been punished in the past. In other words, criminals who are punished the first time they commit crimes are less likely to commit crimes in the future. Since most criminals start with relatively minor crimes, such as theft, it should be possible to deter many criminals before they progress to more serious offenses. Of course, this would require giving actual punishment for these minor crimes, rather than probation.

By the way, Eric’s latest piece suggests scrapping airline security inspections, so that passengers can bring guns onto planes and defend themselves against any would-be hijackers. I don’t expect that this would reduce the number of hijackings, but it certainly would make cases of “air rage” more exciting!

Sunday, June 02, 2002

Critics of Recovered Memory Ask the Wrong Question
We know that therapy can produce false memories. But what proportion of "recovered memories" were produced by therapy?

Salon.com has a fascinating review of the latest book by Laura Davis, "I Thought We'd Never Speak Again: The Road From Estrangement to Reconciliation." Davis is one of the authors of "The Courage to Heal", a 1988 book that served as the "bible" of the recovered memory movement. This movement used techniques such as hypnosis to "uncover hidden memories" of childhood sexual abuse, in the belief that acknowledging the abuse was essential for healing. "The Courage to Heal" was notorious for rash statements such as "If you think you were abused, and your life shows the symptoms, you were," and for encouraging suspected victims of abuse to cut off relations with their families. Davis' new book backpedals considerably from that view, encouraging reconciliation even when family members disagree on whether abuse occurred.

Salon's article is not so much a review of Davis’ new book as it is an indictment of the recovered memory movement. It says that many people were damaged by the recovered memory movement and that many of the "recovered memories" were false. I agree with these points; in fact, some of the techniques used in the movement were more like brainwashing than therapy and were almost guaranteed to produce false memories if used for long enough. However, the Salon article suffers from a lack of balance. It barely admits the possibility of real recovered memories, ignoring the fact that a number cases of true recovered memories have been documented.

Unfortunately, this lack of balance in the Salon article is typical of writing about the recovered memory movement. Most authors either take the position that essentially all recovered memories are true, or go for the opposite extreme and imply that all recovered memories are false. Lately, there has been tremendous attention paid to documented cases of false memory, and little or no attention to the equally well documented cases of true recovered memories. This unbalanced approach does a disservice to those who wonder if they were abused. The fact is, no one knows what proportion of recovered memories are accurate. Sure, we know that certain techniques such as hypnosis can cloud memory. But, consider cases in which a memory spontaneous emerges -- for example, cases in which a retrieval cue such as visiting a childhood home causes someone to suddenly remember an event that had been forgotten for many years. Are most of these "emerging memories" accurate, or are they misrecollections? We have no way to tell.

Most memories that have proved to be false were induced by hypnosis, repeated asking of leading questions, or other "recovered memory therapy"; most memories that were later shown to be accurate were triggered by naturally occurring retrieval cues. However, we have no idea what proportion of "recovered memories" occur naturally, and what proportion are the result of dubious therapy techniques. We don't even know whether spontaneously emerging memories are common or rare. Whether spontaneously emerging memories are usually accurate or usually false is still an open question – one that few people even seem to be asking.