Caring for Criminals

12 January, 1999
I have sympathy for people who do cruel, selfish and destructive things – in many cases these correspond to committing crimes – because I think these people would be happier if they did not do these things, and this quite apart from the punishment often inflicted on them by their societies. I do not sympathize with the sick culture of much American music, film, and television that romanticizes crime. I do not fail to sympathize with the victims of crimes, read more

Reply to Neal Gabler

11 January, 1999
Various newspapers, beginning with the L.A. Times, have recently been running an editorial by Neal Gabler explaining the sexual inquisition in Washington, DC, as a struggle between proponents and opponents of religion, and taking the side of the religious. I think Gabler is right about the struggle, and would like to comment from the opposing camp.

Of course, beliefs can be put together in any combination. Many people oppose the impeachment of Clinton and attend church. Many read more

The Last Word on Sodomy

When I read Newsweek, I generally skim it, and even then seem to grasp it all without having to really pay attention. But sometimes I hit the George Will column, “The Last Word,” like a brick wall. I have to go back over it carefully three times, and even then can only at best guess what he’s saying. His thinking is so far removed from mine, and he is so convinced that everybody already shares his views, that I often have a hard time grasping his message.

This was the case read more

Thoughts on Criminal Justice

December 1998
My first encounter with the idea that prisons might be a bad idea was in reading Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1975). He spoke of alternatives or substitutes for prisons, and also for factories, schools, barracks, and hospitals, all of which he said resembled prisons. But he said not one word about what such alternatives might be, and his style struck me as pretentious. So I didn’t pay much attention.

I believed, of course, that we ought to have been devoting read more

The Utopia of Zero Wishful Thinking

What is a history of thought? We are often told tales of the progress of thought from one mode to another over the centuries (say, magical – religious – rational – pragmatist – ), and yet no one has ever encountered a society in which any of the supposedly past modes of thought does not remain significantly present; nor are many past or primitive societies not known to have contained, or to contain, at least a few thinkers well ahead of their times. Many individuals come read more

FDR's Memorial

There’s a green cross in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Monument at the juncture (or just below it), the Capitol (or RFK Stadium, may it rest in peace) at the Eastern foot, the Lincoln Memorial at the Western head, the White House at the Northern hand, and the Jefferson Memorial at the Southern hand. Three of the blocks of space formed by the cross are largely filled by city. The one between the Lincoln and the Jefferson is water and grass. And now it contains a new memorial which read more

Palmyra Courthouse

A referendum will be voted on in Fluvanna County, Virginia, early in 1997. Technically it is to be a referendum on the building of a new courthouse. In a looser sense, it will be a referendum on the value of history. The referendum asks whether an attractive town with a tradition of nearly two centuries should, as has happened to other towns nearby, be abandoned and allowed to decay, or whether we should continue to live in it. In his early essay “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History read more

Confidentiality

I recently had a discussion with the editors of a student newspaper at the University of Virginia called the Cavalier Daily. The paper is currently performing an admirable service in its coverage of some questionable judicial proceedings at the university. But the paper printed information which its source had been instructed by the university to keep confidential. I asked the editors whether they opposed the rule that made University Judiciary Committee proceedings confidential. They said they read more

Deconstruction

On April 18th the Washington Post ran a book review by Jonathan Yardley lamenting the damage done to our society by deconstruction and pointing out for the umpteenth time that Paul De Man had sympathized with Nazism in his youth.

If you don’t have a very good idea what deconstruction is, don’t worry about it. Neither does Yardley. The idea found in the writings labeled deconstruction, pragmatism, postmodernism, and so on, which draws the most fire is the notion that humans have to read more

Right to Work

My state, Virginia, is doing pretty well in the great grand scheme of things. Sure, we’re only in second place in importing trash and in killing convicts. Several states are outpacing us in both incarceration rates and growth of sprawl. But we’re cutting down forests, defunding education, and selling cigarettes as fast as anybody in the area, and we can stand proud as Virginians with the knowledge that our Commonwealth is the home not only of Oliver North, Ken Starr, Pat Robertson, read more