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The Good News Is The Bad News Is–Never Mind, That’s Too Confusing

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So, what can I say?  I’ve been having a very unusual week.

Some of it has been very good, really, in spite of Irene–but then, I was one of the luckier people with Irene, because we didn’t lose power.  I did have to go without a phone for about three days, but that’s back now too.  As of yesterday, there were still lots of people without power, and lots of people without phone or cell phone service.  So that’s been okay.

But school has started, sort of–the bad stuff doesn’t kick in until next week.   This week.  You know what I mean.  I’ve got lots of adults this time, and they’re always a good time.  I’ve also got an upper level course, which is a crap shoot.   It depends on why students signed up for it and what they expect out of it. 

On the other hand, it’s something that I really love to blather about–mass media and society–so I’ve been having a good time putting together they syllabus.

Things on the writing front are good, although they would have been better if it had been possible to get in touch with people last week.   Irene flooded lower Manhattan and everybody just seemed to go crazy for a while.  I think they’ve come out of it, knock wood.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading my way through Hemingway’s short stories again, going t hrough them systematically for the first time in decades.  I used to read them over and over again when I was in high school and college.

And I still see what it was that caught me about them.  For what it’s worth, I recommend “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,”  a story about become a man (not just an adult male) and what a woman will do to stop that from happening.

Eck.  That was really a bad way to put it, and it makes the story sound like something it’s not.

But I’ve had a long-term interest in what usually is called the “feminization” of the culture–I put the word in scare quotes because I’m not sure “feminine” is the right word for what I’m thinking of.  Hemingway did think it was the right word, so there’s that.

I’m back to the Nurse Ratchett/Delores Umbrage thing again–the drive in some people to control everybody around them by undermining their wills, their minds, their emotions, everything.  

And I do think there’s a lot of it in contemporary life–a lot of the system around us operates on the principle that what we need to do is not simply to set rules and punish people if they violate them, but to convince people that those rules are right and true. 

And the convincing is not to be done honorable, by presenting arguments and persuading a rational mind, but manipulatively.

And, in the end, no outcome is acceptable except that the rulebreaker should become completely convinced of the rightness of the rules and the wrongness of ever challenging them.

No wonder I can’t write a Nurse Ratchett character.  I can’t even articulate what she is.

And yet I can see it, and I have met it face to face. And I’ll give Hemingway this–every example of it I have ever met has in fact been female.  I think, though, that that’s a sampling error.  I have found these people in schools, and schools in America are overwhelming run by women.

You see what I’m talking about, however, in other places besides schools. There is the Amriault case in Massachusetts, where a woman and her son and daughter ran a day care center where parents brought charges of sexual abuse.

It was the middle of the sex abuse hysteria of the Eighties and the charges were literally ludicrous–claims that people had committed acts on days when they weren’t even in the state, claims of bizarre rituals (murdered babies in Satanic sacrifices, for instance) uncorroberated by any physical evidence), the whole schlemiel.

The Amriaults were convicted and sent away for decades, and over time it became more and more obvious that not only were they innocent of all charges, but that no crimes had ever been committed in the first place. The children had all been seen by a specific psychotherapist who had kept them away from their parents and in closed rooms for hours at a time, refusing to allow them to go to the bathroom or see their families until they “disclosed.”  These were three and four year olds.  After a while, they said whatever the woman wanted to hear.

But when the injustice of the charges became too apparent for anybody to deny, the State of Massachusetts said they’d let the Amriaults go–once they had admitted their guilt.  The mother, who was dying of cancer, caved in and did it.  The daughter also did it, in order to be able to take care of her mother.   One of the conditions the state insisted on was that neither was allowed to claim they were really innocent and had been forced to “confess” in order to get out–in other words, they were not allowed to tell the truth about what had happened, on pain of being sent right back to prison.

The son, Gerald Amriault, adamantly refused.  And he stayed in jail for many more years.  He may even be there now.

The scary thing about this case is that the approach is not particularly unusual any more.  The underlying technique has become the backbone of the parole system, where prisoners who are honestly innocent and insist on saying so stay in jail for years longer than actual criminals rightly convicted. 

The stated rationale of all this is that by “taking responsibility” for the crime, the criminal is less likely to reoffend–but the reoffense rate is huge, even with people on parole, and I keep getting the feeling that the real point is to force utter and complete capitualtion, to get people to give up their status as human beings.  Human beings have minds of their own.

This is, I think, what K-12 education, public and private, has largely come to be–the point is not to educate, or even to teach skills, but to mold creatures who are always dependent and always conform to what the people they are dependent on think is “healthy.” 

Boys fail more than girls at school because boys seem to have less patience with all of this, and less willingness to be pulled along.

Ack agian.

I don’t even know what I’m talking about any more.

Well, I do, but you know what I mean.

I’m going to go off and do something.

Written by janeh

September 4th, 2011 at 10:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to 'The Good News Is The Bad News Is–Never Mind, That’s Too Confusing'

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  1. Well, of course the Amiraults have to admit to wrong-doing. If there were no wrong-doing than the state would have unjustly imprisoned innocent people on the basis of the coerced testimony of children, and if the state can be wrong, that has serious implications–of the sort state employees like prosecutors, judges and governors don’t want to think about. There’s another such case in Florida last I heard.

    Contemplate briefly what speeches will be given at the retirement ceremonies for the psychotherapist and the prosecutor–because they will retire after decades of “public service” without suffering any consequences decent people would notice. And all the perpetrators will go off to performances of THE CRUCIBLE and congratulate themselves on being so much more enlightened than those horrible old religous bigots.

    I want to say it’s a “caring profession” thing, but all the worst examples I know were women. Certainly it’s a leftist “nanny state” thing. A few central Europeans managed to be imprisoned by both the Nazis and the communists and to survive both. The comment aftewards was that while both would beat you and starve you, at least the Nazis didn’t say it was for your own good and demand that you thank them for it.

    But how you put an end to it, I do not know. Whenever possible, I recommend point-blank rude refusal to concede either facts at issue or Nurse Ratched’s good intentions.

    But we can’t win as long as she still gets to rule the loony bin.


    4 Sep 11 at 1:10 pm

  2. Nice to see you back, Jane.

    I’ve been a bit frazzled lately, and I can’t blame a bit of it on a hurricane, but at least I don’t have to go back teaching next week! And stuff is getting done.

    I’ve been reading – I’m still working my way through some Barzun, whipped through the Scruton book on pessimism which must have been suggested here, but by the time the library found a copy I’d forgotten I requested it. I sometimes wonder just how much my reaction to some books is an emotional one of ‘Yes! THAT’S what I think, but I couldn’t come up with the right words’ rather than a logical response to the ideas!

    But Nurse Ratched. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a real one. I’ve met lots of people who want their own way and some who will resort to anything from bullying to manipulation to get it. Most of them are sure they’re right. People like being right, generally speaking. Some care if you, their target, agrees that they’re right, some don’t. I’ve never known or cared very much why someone who has just railroaded me into something I didn’t want to do cares if I agree it was the right thing. I must admit that the railroading happens more rarely the older I get. I suppose I mind less what they think of me! When I was, say, 15-20 or so, I was far more deferential than I am now!

    Maybe they’ve read a management manual that tells them that a worker who agrees with the project in question is a good worker. Maybe they’ve got their own doubts, and want support – even support created by bullying or manipulation – to keep their own doubts down. Maybe they need control over others to feel good themselves.

    The admitting wrong before the parole board seems a reasonable requirement before release, but it sure screws the innocent. One of the famous recent Canadian wrongful convictions involved a man who spent years longer in prison because he absolutely refused to admit guilt – and he was later exonerated.


    4 Sep 11 at 6:21 pm

  3. Its good to see Jane back again. I was beginning to woorry!

    I’m no longer familiar with US law. Can a person who admits guilt later sue for wrongful imprisonment?

    That could be a factor inthe parole problem.

    I’m reading “The Most Powerful Idea in the World” by William Rosen. Its a history of the steam engine but covers a lot more ground. Really a history of the industrial revolution.


    4 Sep 11 at 7:02 pm

  4. The infamous Canadian wrongful convictions resulted in both release from prison and large sums of money in compensation – and I don’t think the wrongfully convicted generally had to sue to get the money, although other victims (eg those of sexual assault) can and do sue in the civil courts both those who were guilty and those who might be negligent in oversight of the guilty, and who are far more likely to have money, like the provincial or federal governments, or a church.

    I seem to recall reading that there are at least some US jurisdictions in which evidence of wrongful conviction doesn’t even get a hearing, much less a release, but you can’t always believe what you read, and maybe the evidence wasn’t always convincing. It certainly sounded convincing in the satanism case, and I’m astonished the decision hasn’t been reversed.

    In one of the local murder cases, you could quite see how the police at the time thought that the accused, who had a long criminal record and came from a notorious family, was guilty more or less on general principles and because they didn’t believe the alibi. DNA was eventually used to prove someone else – a blood relative – had been present; that person was never charged because someone murdered him, and there was insufficient evidence to charge the prime suspect, yet another relative. But the man who’d been wrongfully convicted was let out and given compensation. Eventually. If you put some of this stuff in a novel, no one would find it credible.

    Talking about wanting to be right – there are a number of Ontario cases in which the convictions have been questioned or set aside. They all involve parents, usually the mother, convicted of murdering small children or infants (in one, the mother allegedly faked a fatal dog attack, kind of like the Australian case, but they had a child’s body). They were all based on the testimony of a pathologist who appears to have seen himself as a crusader for abused children, possibly because of his own background as a child. He appears to have, ummm, come to conclusions stronger than those justified by the physical evidence, and convinced the jury of them, because he himself was convinced those children were murdered.


    5 Sep 11 at 7:26 am

  5. A lot of states have some sort of formula by which persons unjustly imprisoned are compensated, but not all. Of course, we have two other problems:

    First is what the appeals courts get to consider is limited–rightly–and that means “the jury never should have convicted” won’t get you a new trial, let alone a release. The Governor’s ability to pardon or parole a convicted felon is also generally limited, so even if the chief executive of a state is convinced that Joe Smith is innocent, he often can’t just release the man. It keeps the guilty from buying pardons, but it’s a real mess for the innocent convict.

    Second is the problem of innocence. Appeals processes can drag on so long that someone convicted 20 years ago on an open and shut case gets awarded a retrial on some technical basis–jury selection, perhaps–and low and behold three witnesses have died of old age, two are senile, and some time in the past two decades, the police lost the murder weapon from the evidence locker. Chummy now goes free, but it’s a long way from an innocent man unjustly imprisoned, and I can’t fault a state which finds some way not to write him a million dollar check.

    All of which is to say procedure is not justice, and even as procedure it’s engineering–compromises and rules of thumb rather than a single shining thing.


    5 Sep 11 at 12:20 pm

  6. “But when the injustice of the charges became too apparent for anybody to deny, the State of Massachusetts said they’d let the Amriaults go–once they had admitted their guilt. The mother, who was dying of cancer, caved in and did it.”

    Are you sure?

    “They would spend eight long years behind bars. Then, in 1995, after years of legal wrangling, their convictions were overturned on a technicality.

    It was after The Wall Street Journal had taken a provocative look at the case, calling it a “miscarriage of justice.” Violet died two years after her release. But prosecutors would not give up. They fought to reinstate Cheryl’s conviction and they won.

    Cheryl received a new hearing, but this time, it was focused not on technicalities, but on the very evidence that was so key to her conviction – the children’s testimony. Were their stories really reliable?

    As for Gerald:
    Parole refused

    In 2000, the Massachusetts Governor’s Board of Pardons and Paroles met to consider a commutation of Amirault’s sentence. After nine months of investigation, the board voted 5-0, with one abstention, to commute his sentence, although no exculpatory evidence was presented. Still more newsworthy was an added statement, signed by a majority of the board, which pointed to the lack of evidence against the Amiraults, and the “extraordinary if not bizarre allegations” on which they had been convicted.[3]

    In 2002, then-Acting Governor of Massachusetts Jane Swift refused to commute Amirault’s sentence, despite a unanimous vote in favor of his release by the state’s parole board. Amirault’s case had previously been upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.[5] Martha Coakley, then Middlesex district attorney and subsequently State Attorney General, lobbied Swift to keep him in prison[6][7] and Swift denied Amirault’s clemency.[8]

    Amirault was released from the Bay State Correctional Center on April 30, 2004, 18 years after his conviction.[9][10]


    5 Sep 11 at 6:53 pm

  7. I thought confessions under duress went out with the Middle Ages… oh well, there’s no progress like backwards progress.

    Most states can’t be sued for wrongful imprisonment (or anything else) because they have Sovereign Immunity (so does the U.S. government). Many states have some statutes theoretically allowing some claims against them, but in practice they have total control over what they choose to pay and they are not going to pay any real damages. Accountability is for chumps.

    On the other topic of the original post, I’ve always believed that schools exist for “socialization” (i.e., indoctrination), to the extent that they aren’t just babysitters. Few people retain anything beyond fifth or sixth grade level anyway, and most of them could have learned that by third grade if they weren’t so busy being in school.


    6 Sep 11 at 9:14 pm

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