About This Blog

Entries beginning with a number are a continuation of the old Judging Crimes blog, which was long focused on the two meanings of its name: the way crimes are judged in America, and the, uh... occasional defalcations and derelictions of the berobed.

Judging Crimes took a long hiatus for some of the reasons explained here.

Entries beginning with Book 'em! are book reviews and commentaries. No attention is paid to the imperatives of book marketing. As Calvin Trillin once pointed out, the average shelf life of a book in a bookstore falls somewhere between milk and yogurt, but in these days of long-tail online marketing that matters less to everyone, and I don't see why it should matter at all to reviewers. Most posts will be about books that have been around long past the time when yogurt would have solidified.

Other entries will be... well, I'm curious to find out what the others will be.

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« 363. We deserve better | Main | 361. Normalization »
Monday
Sep292008

362. Mere reality

On Monday morning in Tijuana, 12 bodies were found piled up on the street.  


The grisly discovery capped four days of violence that has shaken the sprawling Tijuana metropolitan area and forced Baja California state officials to plead for more federal police to help control the city. Police on Monday also discovered four bodies in a vacant lot in eastern Tijuana. They had been carefully arranged in a circle and, like other such scenes, carried a narco-message.
That's from the LA Times, which adds that "[a]t least 380 people have been killed this year in Tijuana, most of them victims of organized crime, according to Baja California Atty. Gen. Rommel Moreno Manjarrez's office."

(Excuse me.  Rommel?)

All of them, of course, were victims of America's war on drugs.  It's longstanding U.S. policy to maintain a lucrative black market in untaxed goods.  As Misha Glenny shows in his entertaining, disturbing, altogether brilliant McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld, the one thing the worst thugs around the world have in common is their dependence on  government.

Of course, governments (well, most governments) don't intend to subsidize their thugs.  It's typical of the American way of looking at the world to focus exclusively on the intention and ignore the result.  Anyone who works in the criminal justice system sees it every day. 

The exclusionary rule is intended to deter police misconduct, so it does. It's not intended to encourage criminal misconduct, so it doesn't.  For most judges and lawyers, that's enough.  More than enough.

But it's not a failing unique to our little courtroom corner of solemn make-believe.  I was reminded of it when my local newspaper republished a different LA Times piece, this one having to do with the drinking age.

Scanning the article, I was struck by arguments that proceeded from the premise that a drinking age of 21 prevents people younger than that age from drinking.  Proponents of the current drinking age cite evidence - or pseudo-evidence - that 18-20 year olds shouldn't drink, and consider their point made.  The fact that the drinking age doesn't actually stop younger people from drinking seems to be beside the point.

(Among the pseudo-evidence is the claim that raising the drinking age in 1984 is responsible for a 13-percent drop in traffic fatalities.  Air bags didn't contribute?  Improved medical care didn't contribute?  Crackdowns on DWI, and the invention of cell phones with which those sharing the road might call 911, didn't contribute?  Thirteen percent is pretty pathetic, really.  Just imagine how much greater the drop would have been if their parents hadn't bought SUVs for them...)

Binge drinking on campuses is an expression of the weird neuroses Americans have about alcohol, and have had at least since Prohibition seemed like a good idea.  The annual deaths of college students who overdose on alcohol is also due to their lack of awareness that marijuana's suppression of the vomit reflex has its downside, too. 

There are times when it's actually a good thing to throw up.  Tainted fish and an entire bottle of tequila are the two that jump immediately to my mind, although I'm sure you have your own memories of near-death experiences.

The war on drugs is, at least ostensibly, intended to put drug lords out of business.  In practice it creates a business for them.  Also, many millions of incentives for enforcing it with mass violence. 

But then, which is more important?  Good intentions, or mere reality?

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