The Long View 2006-11-03: Justice Done; Holy Political Ads; The Irony of History

When I first re-read this post, I wondered how John Reilly, an attorney, made it through voir dire. He was obviously surprised too, because he explained how it all went down. Also, apparently he got the “enhanced screening” at the courthouse.

Justice Done; Holy Political Ads; The Irony of History

The federal criminal trial on which I was serving as a juror has ended with a conviction. Trial jurors are not prohibited from describing the details of the case after the trial is over. However, the jurors throughout were identified by numbers rather than their names, no doubt to prevent reprisals, and I see no reason to try to defeat that precaution here by giving the particulars of the case. Still, I have a few general points to make:

(1) This is my first experience with federal service. On this slight evidence, the federal system seems to be much better organized and more comfortable than what goes on in county court. The court house where I served was a splendid modern building that never seemed to have more than 20 people in it at any one time. I was reminded of nothing so much as the mausoleum complex in the Phantasm movies.

(2) The questions at voir dire, when the jury is selected, are designed to weed out prejudices against criminal defendants, but the actual effect is not that intended. The defendant in this case was black, and naturally any defense attorney would want at least some black people on the jury. There were in fact people of all ethnicities in the jury pool, but the question, "Have you or a family member ever been the victim of a crime?" caused all the black ones to be excused. (It had the same effect on Filipinos.) Among white people, the chief disqualifying question was, "Are you or a family member employed in law enforcement?" I seem to belong to the small minority of white people in a five-county area who don't have a nephew on the police force.

(3) Epistemology is not a merely speculative science. Given a plausible scenario for a crime and some credible witnesses, what is the difference between a merely imaginable doubt and reasonable doubt? Is that a real distinction, or just a cultural convention?

A nonsystemic point: All metal detectors hate me. No, I do not have metal in my shoes. No, I do not have a pacemaker. This is personal.

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I have great respect for the Catholic episcopacy, and I know that it is proper for religion to inform public policy, but this stinks to high heaven:

MADISON, WI, November 2, 2006 ( - Bishop Robert C. Morlino is a man of courage. The 59-year-old who has been a bishop for seven years, serving the last three in the diocese of Madison, has taken steps to ensure that his teaching on voting in favour of life and family get transmitted to the faithful...he went to the extraordinary step of ordering all of the priests in his diocese to play a recorded message of his own at weekend Masses on November 4-5 in the place of the homily...The 14-minute recorded message from the bishop addresses three issues two of which are coming up for a vote in Wisconsin on November 7 - the marriage amendment, the death penalty and embryonic stem cell research. On both homosexual 'marriage' question and embryo research the bishop exposes the "baloney" being used to garner support for the practices which are contrary not only to Church teaching but also to reason. On the death penalty the bishop explains that it is not necessary in the US for protection of citizens, and thus serves only to increase the climate of violence.

Let us put aside the fact that capital punishment is a more debatable matter than the other items on the bishop's list of things to do. The fact is that requiring local parishes to play what in effect is a political ad on the Sunday before election day is the sort of behavior that will lose the religious denominations their tax exemptions.

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I am also a great admirer of Peggy Noonan. This is true even though she sometimes delivers herself of reports like this, about the apparently floundering reelection campaign of Republican Senator Rick Santorum:

I end with a story too corny to be true, but it's true. A month ago Mr. Santorum and his wife were in the car driving to Washington for the debate with his [Bob Casey] opponent on "Meet the Press." Their conversation turned to how brutal the campaign was, how hurt they'd both felt at all the attacks. Karen Santorum said it must be the same for Bob Casey and his family; they must be suffering. Rick Santorum said yes, it's hard for them too. Then he said, "Let's say a Rosary for them." So they prayed for the Caseys as they hurtled south.

This much sugar could put a non-diabetic into insulin shock.

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And just in case you were thinking of having a good day, there is more than one way to read these remarks by Elizabeth Powers at the First Things blog:

An academic colleague of mine has carved out considerable expertise for himself in the area of slavery. I roused his ire once by asking if, two centuries from now, people might regard abortion the way we now do slavery. This was at a meeting of Enlightenment-period scholars. There is in all of us a tendency to see the past through the eyes of the present, what is called “provincialism of the present,” and this tendency extends to academics, perhaps especially so. Still, it always surprises me when I encounter it among those in my own discipline of eighteenth-century studies.

Simply for Darwinian reasons, it's a good bet that the future will regard abortion with all the holy horror that Ms. Powers could wish. Perhaps I should not have read all of Poul Anderson's novels, but it seems to me that the cussedness of history would be quite consistent with a world 200 years from now in which people wonder what high modernity's visceral recoil from slavery was all about.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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