Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Justice Tempered With Mercy

Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier are my daughters. They are yours too.
Morgan and Anissa are the two twelve year old girls who, a while back, stabbed their friend nineteen times and left her to die in the woods. This was done so that they could “become proxies for Slenderman”, an internet horror meme. Apparently the two thought they were going to live in Slenderman’s mansion in the Wisconsin woods, and the only way to get there was to kill someone.
The details of the crime were pored over, discussed, dissected, and analyzed ad infinitum for a few days until the next big headline made the news. I’m not going to go into the details ... chances are you already know about them, and if you don’t there are plenty of outlets in the media (some more reliable than others) from which you can get this information.
I want to talk about the fact that these are children. Huffington Post has pictures of them being led into court in jailhouse garb and shackles, two smallish girls who are dwarfed by the deputies surrounding them. These are kids. Their faces still have that rounded look that comes from the fact that they are still carrying some baby fat and their skulls have not yet reached their adult dimensions. If you saw a picture of them smiling, their two front teeth would look like they are too big for their mouths. Their elbows still have childlike dimples.
That’s not to say the crime they committed isn’t heinous. It is. It’s absolutely terrifying to think of what the (as yet unnamed) victim endured as she was stabbed nineteen times, then crawled to the nearest road, desperately trying to get help. But I have to wonder what the circumstances that led to this are.
Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier are my daughters. I say this because I have a daughter who is only slightly younger than they are. My daughter is a lovely, wonderful person, who demonstrates incredible empathy for those around her. However, she is still a child, and therefore is liable to believe in things that aren't true and to take things too literally. I don’t think she would ever do anything like this, but I could easily see her wearing the same expression on her face as Morgan and Anissa -- an expression of disbelief, shock, and fear. Disbelief that their plan didn't go as expected, shock that they got caught, and fear stemming from the realization that this is real, and the punishment is not going to be the loss of a cell phone for a week and not being allowed to go to the school dance on Friday night.
Make no mistake. These two girls have committed a horrible, tragic crime. They are currently being charged as adults, and each face up to 65 years in prison. But let’s think about this for a moment.
If they are found guilty and given the maximum sentence, with no parole, this means that they will not see the light of day until they in their late 70s. They will have never held a job, driven a car, voted, bought groceries, paid a bill, had a checking account, signed a lease ... all the mundane aspects of adult life we all take for granted will be completely new and alien.
And they will be senior citizens with no means of support. They will have no savings. They will not be eligible for Social Security because they will not have any salary history whatsoever.
They will have never dealt with society as adults -- they will have entered the prison system as children, not fully formed, and their maturation will be dictated by that harsh, unforgiving environment.
I am all for the sentence being proportional to the crime. But I am also fully supportive of the notion of our criminal justice system being primarily rehabilitative instead of punitive, especially in the case of two who are so young and malleable. Morgan and Anissa are young enough to learn, to become aware of the magnitude of what they have done, and to fully contributing members of society. They can learn from this experience, and more importantly, they can impart this wisdom to other pre-teens.
When an adult perpetrates an act like this, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he or she is hardened to the world, that the act was pathological. Eliot Rodger’s murder spree stemmed from the narcissism that came from viewing women as property that was his due, and his ire was directed not only at the women who spurned him (even if they had never met), but also at the men who supposedly “took” them from him. Rodger, had he survived, maybe could have been rehabilitated to the point of being able to function, but I suspect his misogynistic views were hard as rock and would not have changed one bit ... if anything, time in prison would only have cemented them even further into his psyche.
Morgan and Anissa, however, are still plastic. Nothing is cemented in their psyches yet, simply because their psyches are still works in progress; they are active construction zones. Whereas Rodger’s psyche may have had a road crew here and there, patching a pothole or two, these two girls have entire swaths of psychological real estate undergoing development. Bridges are being built, roads are being laid down, entire cities of emotional maturity are still in the planning stages.
Should they be prosecuted for their crimes? Absolutely. Should they be made to serve penalties? Most definitely. But should they be tried as adults? Absolutely not, because they are NOT. They are children. Not in the legal sense of the word in that they are under eighteen, but in the sense that they have not yet reached physical, intellectual, and emotional maturity. I mean, they probably still have baby teeth. The physical apparatus of their brains have not yet finished growing and forming. For the prosecutor to insist on trying them as adults is nothing more than vindictiveness, little more than an attempt at revenge, with no thought given as to the likelihood that these two young girls can be rehabilitated, and can go on to live full and productive lines, and to make further amends for their crime by teaching others the harsh lessons they have learned from this experience, perhaps to avoid a future incident such as this.
I would not presume to speak for any of the parents involved in this case, having never faced anything like this (the closest I have come was taking my daughter to the emergency room after she suffered an allergic reaction to a guinea pig when she was three years old). I can only dimly imagine what the victim’s parents must be feeling at this moment.
While I do not for an instant condone what these two girls have done, I cannot give up hope that they will someday be able to grow, and learn, and mature, and ideally make amends to all who have been hurt by their actions. They are young enough to still have a chance.
Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier are my daughters. They are yours as well..

Monday, July 14, 2014

Middle-Aged Creepy Guy vs. Teenage Girl: She Won

I was killing time at wor -- I mean, doing productive research one day, and I came across a YouTube video about a girl named Kathryn who is 14 years old and building her own car, a 1986 Pontiac Fiero GT. While I think this is a wonderful story, and I sent a link to my 11 year old daughter as an example of how she shouldn’t let preconceived notions of gender appropriateness get in the way of anything she wants to do, the one that really impressed me was another link I found as a result.

Rachel Parent is 14 years old, and is the founder of Kids Right to Know, an activist group that is promoting mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. She has been speaking publicly on this, which brought her to the attention of Kevin O’Leary, co-host of CBC News Network’s “The Lang and O’Leary Exchange”. She was invited to appear on the show to discuss the topic, which (in my opinion) she did quite eloquently.

Check out the video for yourself. It’s okay, I’ll wait.

Got it?

It’s obvious after watching this clip that Rachel Parent came to Kevin O’Leary’s attention in much the same way that a wounded wildebeest comes to the attention of a hyena. It’s also obvious that, in this case, the hyena needed glasses and ended up face to face with -- well, something much more intimidating than a wounded wildebeest.

Okay, so at one point Mr. O’Leary accuses Miss Parent of being a “shill” for environmental groups. The funny thing is, she deflects that almost effortlessly, and exposes O’Leary as a shill for Big Ag companies like Monsanto and ADM (Archer Daniels Midland). The rest of the segment comes across not as an interview, but an interrogation being conducted by a partisan judge.

Let me tell you what I saw, and you let me know if I’m nuts.

O’Leary and his co-host, Amanda Lang, are obviously not impartial, but for some reason pretend they are.
“The Lang and O’Leary Exchange” is, first and foremost, a business-friendly talk show. That’s fine. There are scads of these things all over the airwaves, and there’s obviously an audience for them. However, for the love o’ Mike, stop pretending they are “impartial”. They are not. They seem to think that, by using an even, reasonable tone, they can make whoever they are trying to belittle seem crazy in comparison.

It was obvious that O’Leary was trying to rattle Parent, trying to get her to collapse into schoolgirl hysterics and scream “Why are you so mean?” before running off the set, sobbing. It was a bit funny to see him getting a bit annoyed when this failed to happen. And it was even funnier when, the more it didn’t happen, the more irritated he became.

Public Relations Lesson #1: Kids Always Win.
Look, it doesn’t matter how right your position is, and how whacked out theirs is. If you are going up against a well-dressed, well-spoken 14 year old girl, for chrissake don’t go on the attack. If you want to have a debate on the topic at hand, do so, but do it respectfully and with a full understanding that beating up a kid on camera, with the exception of the “Scary Movie” franchise, never turns out well for the person doing the beating.

O’Leary made the mistake of going on the attack. So, even if his position made all the sense in the world (which it doesn’t, but more on that little nugget in a bit), by the time it became obvious he was simply pummeling this poor girl nobody gave a damn what he thought. They only saw a creepy, middle-aged bald guy in a suit trying to make a sweet young thing cry.

Suppressing Information = Bad.
Look, Miss Parent’s views on continued experimentation with GMOs might be considered extreme by some. And I’m sure that there will be a day when it will become absolutely necessary to genetically modify pretty much everything we eat in order to feed the 10.8 billion people expected to be wandering around this ball of mud by the end of the century[1]. However, her main focus, of which she reminded O’Leary at least five times during the segment, is that she wanted mandatory labeling so people could make up their own minds.

At one point, Lang chimed in to point out that virtually all corn in the United States is genetically modified, and if she (Lang) stopped eating GM corn she would have to pretty much stop eating all corn products altogether. Parent replied that yes, this was pretty much true, but shouldn’t that decision be left up to the consumer? The hosts weren’t interested in this, preferring instead to worry about the bottom line of Big Ag companies.

Which brings me to my issues with GMOs.

First, I am not against testing of genetically modified organisms. I am not doctrinally opposed to using GMOs in our food supply. I am very much pro-science, and if we can genetically modify food crops in a manner that makes them safe for consumption (which includes long-term safety) while simultaneously placing fewer demands on environmental resources, then by all means, bon appetit.

However, as Rachel Parent pointed out a number of times in the interview, testing is often performed by the very companies who stand to benefit financially from approval of these GMOs. As a result, testing is rudimentary at best (“Subject did not immediately burst into flame after consumption; therefore we deem the product safe for market”).

Science is wonderful. It gave us penicillin, satellites, and “The Big Bang Theory”. It is only through the pioneering work of such luminaries as Newton, Tesla, Einstein and Edison that we are able to shoot a video of a cat eating spaghetti in Pasadena and be able to view it in Helsinki in a matter of seconds (science also gave us nuclear weapons and Joan Rivers, so it’s a double-edged sword).
A cat eating spaghetti. You think I make this stuff up?
If we want to start seriously exploring using GMOs in our food supply, then we need to do so in an intelligent manner. We also need to change the motive behind the modifications being made.

Currently, it’s all about yield. “We need a higher yield.” “We gotta increase the yield.” “Can I have more yield?” “I’d like my Kung Pao chicken to come with a side of higher yield rice, please.” The motivation is to make these crops more profitable for Monsanto, ADM, and other demon-spawned -- I mean, agricultural companies[2].

Instead, we need to focus on things like:
  • Resistance to crop diseases.
  • Increased nutritional value.
  • Longer shelf-life without additives.
  • Drought resistance.
  • Making these crops available in the developing world.

Look, the United Nations says that we’re going to have over 10 billion people wandering around by the end of the century. That is a crap ton of people to feed. This, combined with the effects of man-made climate change[3] (which includes water scarcity, another issue entirely), will make it even more difficult to use purely “natural” crops to sustain human life on this planet.

I say we put Monsanto’s scientists to good use, and see if we can get them to create GMPs, or Genetically Modified Politicians. We give them the specs -- say, resistance to corruption, or the ability to ward off lobbyists -- and in a couple of years, presto! A government that actually has to go out of its way to look like a box full of stupid, instead of the seething tub of dumbassery we currently enjoy. I gotta lie down.

[1]Source: "World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision"(XLS). Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. June 2013. It should be pointed out that this estimate is actually middle-of-the-road; estimates for the population in 2100 range from 3.2 billion (evidently there’s going to be a massive die-off, or something) to over 24 billion. Of course, your mileage may vary. Return to story

[2]I know some mouth-breathing geek out there is going to point out that a big focus is pesticide control but, as is usual with something that goes against my main thesis, I don’t give a shit. Return to story

[3]Still don’t think it’s real? Stay tuned to this channel ... Return to story

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