The Unrepentant Individual

...just hanging around until Dec 21, 2012


April 29, 2005


The answer to failed government…

…as usual, it must be more government.

Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek presents his thoughts on a recent survey showing that in an economic sense, Americans are a bunch of functional illiterates. I can’t really state a case anywhere near as well as he has done, so I highly recommend you read his thoughts before mine.

He is discussing a NY Times story (registration required) discussing a recent poll by Harris Interactive. The story does paint a dim picture of our economic knowledge as a whole, and is (presumably) concluding that we’re simply not smart enough to handle such weighty decisions without the guidance of benevolent government:

The survey of 3,512 adults and 2,242 high school students also suggested that the intense attention Americans have paid to the pronouncements of the Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, in the last few years had done little to help people grasp the role of interest rates. One-third of adults were unable to explain how falling interest rates would affect business.

Young people – those the current Social Security proposals are intended to help the most – performed more poorly on the survey’s questions than adults. Barely half of the high school students polled could correctly state the role of the stock market in the economy, with a few choosing the option that it makes stock prices rise.

Fewer than half the students could accurately define the term “budget deficit.” And there was confusion about the purpose of mutual funds, with some students stating that they provided higher returns than individual stocks, and others stating that they guaranteed a steadier income. Only 15 percent of students understood that the purpose of mutual funds was to provide
diversification.

“It is abundantly clear that there are a large number of Americans who are completely unprepared to make these decisions,” said Steve Blakely, the institute’s editor and communications director.

Up to this point, the facts are the facts. It’s quite obvious that most Americans don’t know squat about economics, and that most high-school students are now barely capable of tying their own shoes, much less handling money. The question, then, is who is at fault for this, and what needs to be done to change it.

Scott Scheule has brought up the point that when you see a problem, usually referring to a failure of the market, you need to satisfy two conditions to advocate a government solution:

1) That the problem you are seeing is a failure of market conditions.
2) That the proposed government solutions can and will fix the failure.

Typically, the test fails part 2. The government solution creates more problems than it fixes, and frequently doesn’t fix the original problem it was intended to.

What I think we see here, on the other hand, is the culmination of several times that part 2 was completely ignored, and now we such a distorted market in both education and economics that the failure not a market failure, but a government failure.

The first is with our educational system. According to the Junior Achievement web site, the most recent data from 1994, only 44% of graduating high school seniors had taken an economics course. How do we expect these people to have any understanding of economics, whether micro or macro, if they’ve never even learned the basics? Considering where the purse strings and control levers of our educational system reside, I think we need to place this blame squarely on government.

The second problem is with our welfare and entitlement mentality. I’ve mentioned previously the theory of rational ignorance, and in this case it applies. For so many people, they have taken as fact that it is the government’s job to educate them, care for them, and provide for them in the case of unemployment, disability, or retirement. Especially for those on the margins, who have so much of their money (which could be used for investment) taken away for Social Security, what purpose is there to learn about economics? What impact does it have on their lives? What are the consequences of poor economic planning? The question for all these people, is if the government is taking care of it, why should they take the time to learn it?

So the problem we have here is not that the market has failed, it is that the government has failed to let the market work. The answer to this problem is not more government, or continuing our failed programs. It is time for radical reform. Whatever shape that reform might take, we need to look at how government interference has caused the current situation, and look at ways to reverse that trend. Whether you think Social Security privatization is a good thing or not is only part of the equation. The realization that government interference, through misguided and anti-market policies, has given people incentives to be stupid should make us all realize what the effect of more government interference will be.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 11:48 am || Permalink || Comments (2) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


April 28, 2005


Indiana: Behind the times (but only half the year)

Spending my time at Purdue, in the great (sic) state of Indiana, I was regularly having to ask people one question: “Are we on Eastern or Central time right now?” To most of my readers, that seems like a daft question, because one should typically know what time zone one is residing in.

Indiana, however, is one of only two states in the contiguous US that does not observe Daylight Savings Time. The other state is Arizona. Now, I don’t really have anything against Indiana. Indiana just makes for a good whipping boy when you grow up in Chicago. The only people there that I have a problem with are the ones from “the region”, who happen to think they’re somehow associated with Chicago, even though all Chicagoans know they’re not worthy of that distinction. Indiana is, of course, a state whose tourism board would advertise to neighboring states with the slogan “There’s more than corn in Indiana”**. Hoosiers compensate for being laughed at by Chicagoans by in turn picking on Kentuckians, who make fun of West Virginians, who I believe can only look down on apes (at least the dumber apes). But I digress.

Indiana had the chance to make it all better, join the industrialized world, and adopt Daylight Savings Time. A bill was before the state legislature, as has happened before, to mandate changing the clocks. And as usual, they voted against it.

A bill to mandate daylight-saving time across Indiana failed to win final legislative approval Thursday despite a push by Gov. Mitch Daniels, who says the change would eliminate confusion and attract business.

Proponents could still seek another vote on the bill after its 49-48 defeat in the House because a 51-vote majority is required to pass or kill a bill outright.

To make it even more confusing, different parts of the state associate themselves with different time zones, and some time zones do follow Daylight Savings Time:

Most of Indiana now remains on Eastern Standard Time all year, but five counties in the southeastern part of the state ignore state and federal law and change their clocks with most of the rest of the nation. Five counties each in the northwest and southwest pockets of the state are in the Central zone and observe daylight-saving time.

So this all means that national TV schedules, communication with neighboring states, and anything else that requires schedules, will all be one hour different between two halves of the year. When I was in college, it was a mere annoyance, as the only thing to keep track of is whether I was an hour ahead of my parents, and what time Law & Order came on. But for businesses, schedule changes like this are more than just annoying.

**Oddly, despite the slogan, I failed to find whatever they were speaking of.

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Hello to all

Just wanted to say hello and introduce myself to the faithful following of this thought provoking page. I’m Jim, the new addition our fearless leader alluded to yesterday. I’ll try not to rehash much of what has been said about me but here goes:

Born in Abilene, Texas in 1978, moved to Ohio in 1980. Two sets of wonderful loving parents, one here in Columbus, one in Austin. Majored in Industrial Engineering at Purdue University long enough that it became a running joke among my friends. Seriously.

I am temporarily employed by the Ohio Hospital Association’s Education department while I search for something in my field, and what an education it has been.

I am a flat out College Football FANATIC who once settled on a wedding date because the Boilers had a bye. I enjoy the Longhorns, cheer for Ohio State, but my heart lies with Purdue.

I have an evolving political ideology as I am exposed to a variety of opinions. I have close friends in virtually every political camp possible, many of whom enjoy debating their ideas with me.

I am currently shaping my first post, which will be a nonpolitcal piece with a solution to the BCS mess. I originally volunteered to be Brad’s sports editor, though hopefully as I get more comfortable with this whole “blog” thing I will branch out and share my feelings on other matters as well. With the webmaster’s permission of course.

Born Texan. Raised Buckeye. Boiler by the grace of God.

Posted By: jrj @ 9:31 am || Permalink || Comments (3) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


April 27, 2005


If it weren’t for those meddling octogenarians

Okay, I just love the word octogenarian. I’m always looking for ways to work it into conversation. A blogger I just found, Gold In the Mine, has taken it upon himself to lambast these sneaky individuals, and their militant wing (the AARP), for voting and the entitlement mentality.

His post, Old People Are Greedy, seems like a joke. Either that or I’ve stumbled across a really weird individual (who also reads Dada Head, if that tells you anything).

Either way, here’s the money quote. You’ll never look at Granny the same way again:

I know you don’t want to believe that grand mom has been plotting against you this entire time but it is an unfortunate fact. How many times have you arrived at her house to find her “just taking the cookies out of the oven”? How many cookies can she possibly bake? Grand mom isn’t baking cookies, she’s formulating detailed issue papers, calling congressmen and congresswomen, and perpetuating the myth that older Americans are somehow in special need of society’s largess.

I never knew.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 12:53 pm || Permalink || Comments (1) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized



Another addition

All,

I have just convinced another friend to post here from time to time. Welcome to Jim. He’s an old friend who recently escaped from Purdue University, and is now mucking up health care systems all through the great state of Ohio.

Where I’m a libertarian with Republican leanings, I think he’s best described as a Republican with libertarian leanings. Odd, then that I voted Republican in ‘04 and he voted Libertarian, no?

So please give him a warm welcome.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 8:10 am || Permalink || Comments (1) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


April 26, 2005


Whew! Back from vacation

After a much deserved two week hiatus, I am back to the grind.
And by “hiatus”, I mean “too lazy to post”.
After a threat of bodily harm by Mr. Unrepentant, I’m back on the clock.

I heard a song yesterday, courtesy of my boy DJ S.Dwyer2000.
Remember that band “Soul Coughing”? You know, the “walk around in circles, walk around circles” song. As is a requirement these days, the lead singer has attempted a solo career. Now, he’s no J. T-Lake, but who is? I digress, back to my original thought process…

So the song by Captain Solo Career is called “Move On”. A reference to moveon.org?
He makes his little jabs about the war in Iraq, but still makes a point to state that “I love my country”. The reason that I mention this song at all is because of one line where he says “what about those boys that you signed up”, referring to the soldiers in our military.

My issue is that people complain and say “what about all the young men in the military, they don’t want to be in Iraq”, and so on.
My question is – was there a draft for this war in Iraq? Did I sleep through it?
Oh…there wasn’t a draft?
So all of the people over in Iraq are in the military because they VOLUNTEERED. Yes, that’s right, every single one of them is there because they wanted to serve their country. And guess what else? We pay them to be there. In many cases, it is their one and only JOB. So I have a hard time with people making it appear as though our military personnel have been forced into service.

People sign up for military service with the expectation that one day, they may be called upon to serve during wartime. I doubt that when some 18 year old fresh out of high school shows up to sign up for the Army, the recruiter sits there and tells him that he’s going to be sent abroad to plant trees and frolic in fields of flowers.

And as far as whether or not they agree with what their mission is…
They chose to join the military. They don’t get to choose their responsibilities.

Posted By: Wilson @ 3:41 pm || Permalink || Comments (7) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized



Tech Support Credo

Demotivators!

Apathy

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 3:16 pm || Permalink || Comments (1) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


April 25, 2005


Is the sentence over before the season starts?

Stop the presses! Alert the ACLU! A cheesehead judge up in the dairyland has just sent down a very cruel and unusual punishment. It seems that he gave a woman convicted of felony theft two choices. 90 days in jail or give up your season tickets:

Sharon E. Rosenthal, 59, took more than $3,000 from labor union accounts before she left the organization, according to a criminal complaint. She was sentenced Friday in Winnebago County Circuit Court on one felony count of theft.

Judge Scott Woldt offered her the decision to either serve the jail time or donate her family’s four seats in the Packers’ three-game season package to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

That’s harsh. The real question, though, is how good her tickets are? It’s more than 90 days from now until the time the season starts. If those tickets are good, might she just take the 90 days? And with Favre in his last years, this could be a strong year for the Packers.

And how much is her family going to impact the decision? “C’mon Mom, we want to go to the games! It’s just three months!” Does her husband have the stones to threaten divorce if she doesn’t take 3 months in the pen? After all, I know how seriously those Pack fans take their football.

Tough choices.

Update: She has decided to give up the tickets.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 4:21 pm || Permalink || Comments (3) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized



The “Protectors of the Weak” fallacy

If you look at the conventional wisdom about the right and left, the left is the party of the weak and powerless, and the right is the party of the corporations and well-connected. I’ve always thought that this is nothing more than a big, steaming pile of BS. I personally believe that everyone, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Socialists, wants to set up a world that helps everyone as much as possible. In my post about wealth creation, I laid out my reasons for believing that free-market economics will bring that world about. And I’ve often mentioned that libertarians are not against helping others with charity, it is that we are against being coerced to do so.

But Scott Scheule posted, in a gripe about one of his leftist law professors, about how the idea that the left is the party of the weak assumes that the right is a bunch of cold-heartless bastards. And that is as insulting as it is untrue:

2. Liberals as the guardians of the weak.

I resent Peller’s implication that liberals are the only ones who care about the poor. Granted, he never stated as much, but phrases like: “If you’re a liberal or progressive and want to protect the powerless then…” clearly imply it, indirectly or no. Why qualify the statement? Why not the simple: “If you want to protect the powerless…”?

So fuck you.

Friday, Rush Limbaugh, the most heartless of the conservatives, held his annual telethon for leukemia. He personally donated $300,000 to leukemia research, and solicited God knows how much more.

Perhaps the reason conservatives constantly rebut: “If you instate a minimum wage, you’ll hurt the very people you mean to help.” is not because we are evil people, willing to do whatever possible to bolster the rich, but rather because it’s true. You will hurt the people you mean to protect (taking full note of Kennedy’s assertion to the contrary: the elasticities of the supply and demand curves only predict how much you will hurt the buyers and how much you will hurt the sellers; it remains inescapable that a minimum wage will create unemployment amongst the most destitute. The only question is how much.)

And maybe conservatives care about those people, too. I certainly do.

Conservatives protest outside of abortion clinics–leaving to the side whether or not the act is murder–conservatives believe it is (and I freely admit I agree). And they sit out there protesting, protecting those they see as the most innocent and helpless amongst us.

The libertarian public interest group, the Equal Justice Foundation, is funding an attack on this country’s eminent domain jurisprudence. They are trying to protect the most powerless from the State.

So fuck you. The leftists have no monopoly on kindness and charity, and damn whoever implies otherwise. You think my heart doesn’t ache when I pass homeless shelters? You blame capitalism, and I blame federal regulation. One of us is wrong–but we both care.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 12:19 pm || Permalink || Comments (4) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


April 24, 2005


An unforeseen benefit to TiVo

I’ve blogged previously about how much I loved having TiVo. One of the downsides to my move, however, is that my temporary housing gives me access to nothing but basic cable. No DirecTV and no TiVo.

It’s been the best couple of weeks I can think of!

TiVo is a godsend to any TV junkie. The problem with most of what’s on TV is that at any given time, there might be a few programs mildly worth watching, and if you’re really lucky, one program that you actually want to see. TiVo, on the other hand, gives you access to programs you really want to see, whenever you want to see them.

It was especially helpful to me, since several of the things I like to watch (motorcycle racing) will be midday on Sundays, or during the work day, when I have better things to do than watch TV. All of a sudden, having TiVo made me able to watch the programs I wanted to watch without ever having to worry about missing those programs if I had other plans. It gave me both the ability to watch TV that I liked, without being a slave to the programming schedule provided by others.

But it came at a price. Since I had the ability to watch all the programs I liked, and they were recorded and waiting for me, I felt obligated to actually watch them. I had a difficult time ever deleting anything I’d recorded without watching it, because it seemed like such a waste. I don’t know if I was truly watching more or less TV, but I had more of a stake in watching TV, because I had the ability to watch something I liked.

Then the bottom dropped out. I moved out of the apartment, into a temporary situation without TiVo. Due to the trees at my new house, I won’t be able to hook up my dish and TiVo there either. But I’m no longer worried that I’m going to miss it. Since I was so spoiled by TiVo, I am now forced to make a choice. Watch bad TV, or no TV at all?

I can’t stand to channel surf anymore. I can’t stand to sit through (ugh) commercials anymore. If I’m forced to make that choice, I choose no TV at all.

And that’s how it should be. I have more time to play with my dogs. I have more time to spend blogging. I have more time to read. No longer do I care what’s on TV, because it has just ceased to be important to me. Since so much of what’s on is utter crap anyway, I don’t see any reason to subject myself to it.

The true benefit of TiVo for me has not been how much better it made the TV watching experience while I had it. It has been the realization that I no longer need to spend my time watching TV at all, now that I don’t. Now, if only I could summon the willpower to use that extra time for exercise, I’d be set!

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 10:25 pm || Permalink || Comments (5) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized



Quiz…

You scored as Anarchism.

Anarchism

100%

Republican

42%

Socialist

42%

Communism

33%

Fascism

25%

Democrat

17%

Green

17%

Nazi

0%

What Political Party Do Your Beliefs Put You In?
created with QuizFarm.com

This is far too simple, in that somehow I scored 100% Anarchist but at the same time, 25% Fascist. It seems like those would be logical opposites. But it’s a way to waste 4 minutes on a Sunday afternoon…

Hat Tip: Eric

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 12:06 pm || Permalink || Comments (3) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


April 22, 2005


Quick Hitter

Woman in Wendy’s Finger Case Arrested

The woman who claimed she found a finger in her bowl of Wendy’s chili last month has been arrested, the latest twist in a bizarre case about how the 1 1/2-inch finger tip ended up in a bowl of fast food.

Anna Ayala was taken into custody late Thursday at her Las Vegas home, police said.

Authorities would not provide details until a news conference Friday in San Jose, Calif. — the city where Ayala claimed she bit down on the finger in a mouthful of her steamy stew.

I guess fraud and extortion have penalties, huh?

Update: The press has revealed that the woman is going to be charged with attempted grand larceny, as well as another warrant alleging grand larceny in a different case:

Police investigating how a human finger ended up in a woman’s bowl of Wendy’s chili declared the claim a hoax Friday and arrested her on charges of attempted grand larceny.

Ayala also was arrested on a warrant alleging grand larceny — a charge not related to the discovery of the fingertip. The police chief said the grand larceny allegation stemmed from a 2002 incident in which Ayala allegedly tried to sell a mobile home in San Jose that she did not own. The victim lost $11,000.

I guess you can’t blame her for trying. (Although you can still send her up the river for it.)

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 10:14 am || Permalink || Comments Off || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


April 21, 2005


Was Jesus a liberal?

Disclaimer: I do not consider myself to be a Christian, nor do I consider myself to be a theist. I am an atheist/agnostic, who, while open to the idea of a supreme being, feels that there is something within ones heart that makes one have faith. As I do not have that in my heart at this time, I have not found that faith. But being raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, I feel that I can at least offer some thought on the matter.

We often hear the thought from the secular left, that “Jesus was a liberal”. They base this assertion on the fact that Jesus was a champion of the poor, downtrodden, and quotes such as “the meek shall inherit the earth”, and “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. The thought is that someone like Jesus would be a proud supporter of our tax-supported welfare state, because Jesus would believe that the rich owe the poor restitution for their condition. As an example, I quote dadahead, quoting John Kerry, in the Boston Herald:

Kerry: I am sick and tired of a bunch of people trying to tell me that God wants a bunch of conservative judges on the court and that’s why we have to change the rules of the United States Senate. I am sick and tired of (them saying) they somehow have a better understanding of Christianity, of the Judeo-Christian ethic, of values. We’re talking about values? You show me where in the New Testament Jesus ever talked about the value of having taxes and taking money from poor people to give to the rich people in this country.

Dada: Apparently, Jesus didn’t endorse top-bracket tax cuts in the Sermon on the Mount.

Now, I wonder where they get this idea. Yes, Jesus was a champion of the poor and downtrodden. Yes, Jesus would have fully supported individuals giving great sacrifices of themselves to support the less fortunate. Yes, Jesus understood that in many circumstances, giving the government its tribute and accepting ones place in the world might be a better option than aiming for the glory of armed revolution.

While Dada didn’t quote it, Kerry went one step further. Rather that simply saying that the Republicans had the wrong values, he said that Republicans, because they didn’t support his liberal programs for helping the poor, were hypocrites:

Quoting the Biblical line that “faith without works is dead,” Kerry cited budget cuts to schools, literacy programs and Medicaid as distorted values.

In that quote, there is one thing I see that I don’t believe my liberal friends understand. While Jesus would be a major supporter of those people who gave of their own free volition, and gave to the point where it hurt, I don’t think Jesus believed that coercion could force virtue.

Jesus would have been a liberal, in one sense of the word. Jesus would have given (and did) everything he had, even his life, to help others. He expects very little less from us, in that his view of the world is one in which people’s kindness and godliness ensure the well-being of all. He pushed people, endlessly, to understand that you must help all those you see, to live in God’s (his) image, and to put into practice the Christian values he preached.

But I see no reason to believe that Jesus supported coercive institutions to achieve such a world. In fact, I would think that Jesus would see that coerced virtue is no virtue at all. And one of Jesus’ overlying message to the poor and downtrodden was to accept their place, and that belief in the Lord would ensure their eternal bounty, even if such bounty wasn’t available here on earth. Jesus saw that some people in our world would be trampled and bruised. His answer was to turn the other cheek, and that those doing the trampling and bruising would reap what they had sown in the afterlife.

Jesus was a radical man. Even though I don’t agree with his religion, I believe that the values he was pushing are more than admirable. If we could live as he desired, the world would be a beautiful place. But for those out there on the left who criticize the right for not supporting your socialist agenda, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree. There is a criticism out there for those on the right, and that is that they are not living up to Jesus’ example of sacrifice for those less fortunate. But from what I know of the left, any contribution not made through government-approved handlers does not count. So that criticism will never arise, even though in the long run it would help those poor, downtrodden people the left claims to care so much about.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 11:16 pm || Permalink || Comments (13) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized



New watchdog of identity theft

I don’t know what’s worse. The fact that the IRS is so woefully incompetent that it can’t protect our identities, or the fact that it is legal in Ohio to steal someone’s identity for undercover investigations?

Identity theft is a crime, but what if the person stealing the identify is using it for “good?”

This is what Miami County prosecutor Gary Nasal said he and state liquor control agents were doing when they gave a college intern, Michelle Szuhay, the driver’s license and social security number of another woman named Haley Dawson.

Szuhay assumed Dawson’s identity to pose as a stripper for an undercover investigation of Total Xposure a strip club in Troy, Ohio, according to an article in Sunday’s Columbus Dispatch. Undercover agents also assumed the identity of a dead man to gain access to Internet footage of Szuhay stripping.

Thanks to the police Dawson potentially faces have to investigate and fix any negative effects Szuhay’s and the Miami County police’s actions have done to her public image and record. Even worse, an accidental leak of Dawson’s identity could have resulted in Dawson’s credit and legal records being ruined.

Hmm. So they take a person who had no history of working for a strip club, no history of any of this sort of behavior. They use her name, possibly interviewed past references to obtain work history, probably entered her address and social security number onto the work forms for tax purposes, and opened her up to harassment and stalking from anyone who might have obtained the “stripper’s” personal records. In addition, had the owners of this club known that one Haley Dawson was actually working for the cops, they might have sent their own goons to pay a little visit.

All this for what? I’m the first to admit that there are some times, for example when national security is at stake, that the rules change a little. But I don’t really think the ends justify the means. But this guy does.

Even less amusing is the claim by the county prosecutor, Gary Nasal, that the sting operation was legal under a state law he says allows authorities to assume the identity of anyone during an investigation.

While Mr. Nasal pointedly refuses to apologize – shutting down the strip club justified the means, he says; the rest was just “a screw-up”.

Yep. That’s the icing on the cake. Fire that guy.

The police are supposed to be protecting and serving. But instead, they have exposed an innocent woman to all sorts of legal hazards, not to mention personal harm. In order to do what? Make sure that a few strippers don’t get a little too friendly, and that a few druggies need to find a different dealer (which I’m sure is tough in Detroit). They go after the world’s oldest profession, and the world’s oldest recreational activity, all at once!

It’s high time we muster up one of those blogswarm thingies. This kind of thing can’t be allowed to continue. And Gary Nasal no longer deserves to earn public tax dollars by endangering the public.

If you’d like to make your displeasure known on this one, I can’t find any email addresses offhand. But the phone numbers for all three county commissioners can be found here.

County Commissioners Office: (937) 440-5910
Prosecutor Gary Nasal: (937) 440-5960

Hat Tip: reader/commentor/Ohioan/(future contributor?) – JRJ

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 8:45 am || Permalink || Comments (1) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


April 19, 2005


Do the crime, do the time

Caltech Student Gets Prison for SUV Arson

I don’t know if this made the national news about a year and a half ago, but it was big out here in California. In the land of fruits, flakes, and nuts, one of the nuts decided it was about time to take a more active anti-SUV stance. That stance resulted in him and his friends visiting some personal houses, some dealerships, and torching several SUV’s. Well, the long arm of the law has decided to rein him in.

A Caltech graduate student convicted of helping to firebomb scores of sport utility vehicles was sentenced to more than eight years in federal prison and ordered to pay $3.5 million in restitution.

Cottrell, 24, was convicted in November of conspiracy to commit arson and seven counts of arson for an August 2003 vandalism spree that damaged and destroyed about 125 SUVs at dealerships and homes in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles.

Cottrell was acquitted of using a destructive device — Molotov cocktails — in a crime of violence. That was the most serious charge he faced and it carried a sentence of at least 30 years in prison.

Normally, this would be the end of the story. Especially when you hear that this was a Caltech grad student, who had scored high math and physics honors in his undergrad work at the University of Chicago. Sounds like a Ted Kaczynski type to me: evil genius.

But the LA Times Magazine paints a different picture of this poor, troubled soul. It appears that he had Asperger’s Syndrome. This incredibly bright individual apparently didn’t understand what was going on, and thus shouldn’t be held responsible for what he did.

Asperger’s syndrome—a neurologically based developmental disorder named after the Austrian pediatrician who first recognized it in 1944—often is a strange sort of double-edged sword. It impairs a person’s ability to interact with others, but often comes coupled with powerful, if narrowly focused, intellectual gifts. People who are born with it generally just seem odd, not obviously impaired. As a result, it often goes undiagnosed. Estimates of its prevalence in America range from two in every 10,000 people to one in 250.

Its most obvious symptoms crop up in social interactions. People with Asperger’s tend to not understand facial expressions, body language and other nonverbal communications, and thus take statements literally, missing implied meanings and subtexts. They often lack empathy, blurting out truthful but unvarnished statements. Once set in a course of action, they are slow to process new information that suggests they should change what they are doing.

In his diagnostic report, Mesibov wrote that Cottrell’s condition “makes it hard for him to accurately gauge others’ intentions and makes him very slow to react if he does eventually figure out that this understanding of a social situation was in error. [He] also has much more difficulty than the average young adult of his age and ability in changing directions in a situation involving others, even if he is eventually able to figure out he is following the wrong course or that the consequences of what he is doing would be detrimental.”

In short: Because of his disorder, it is possible that Cottrell believed Johnson when he said he wasn’t going to lob any more Molotovs, and processed the information suggesting otherwise too slowly to realize he should leave.

So let me get this all straight. Cottrell is a defiant, extremely intelligent individual. He finds a certain sense of excitement and exhilaration in doing things that are socially unacceptable. In fact, he went out that night with the specific intent to destroy and vandalize private property, because he believes that the use of that property is inherently bad. These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed. Where the divergence comes is that the prosecution argues that he took an active role in the planning or carrying out of the arson. The defense argues that yes, he went out that night to be a bad boy, but he had no intent to be that bad.

You know what I think? I think this is a criminal example of the Peter Principle. That is the principle that in any organization, an individual rises to the level of his incompetence. I.e. you keep doing a job well, and you’ll get promoted until you no longer can handle doing your job well. Then, rather than get fired, or demoted, you’ll simply be stuck. Billy Cottrell wanted danger. He wanted excitement. He wanted to break the rules. And he did so, continuously for most of his life, until one night he bit off more than he could chew.

Billy Cottrell is a dangerous person. He doesn’t accept the restraints and the rules of the world around him. And he’s smart enough to cause some real damage if let free. But it seems that the LA Times finds his “syndrome” responsible for his actions, even though everything else in his history points to similar behavior. Ausperger’s Syndrome or not, Billy Cottrell has proved to the world that he doesn’t deserve his freedom. He is more than capable of understanding the implications of his actions, and those actions brought him 8 years in prison. Justice is served.

Update: Daily read and venerable opponent Dada Head has posted on this case. He seems to think that 8 years for causing several million dollars in damage is overkill. Furthermore, it’s excusable, because the dealership had insurance to pay for the damage. I wonder if he’d feel the same way if it was a religious nut-job who torched an abortion clinic?

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 9:24 pm || Permalink || Comments (15) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized

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