Saturday, February 27, 2010
The earthquake occurred 6 1/2 hours ago in the same area as the most powerful quake ever recorded, a magnitude 9.5 in 1960. This morning's quake was felt as far away as Japan and was 1,000 times stronger than the one that hit Haiti. A tsunami warning is in effect across the entire Pacific. Seventy-eight people reported killed at this time.
Posted by Benjamin Harris at 8:38 AM
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Exactly one week ago on two separate cases Katherine Fernandez-Rundle's office failed to prove that the person charged had committed any crime. Two murder cases. On the same day.
"We got a bad jury." "The cops screwed up." "The witnesses got killed on cross."
The latter are the reactions to the former when cases, including murder cases, are lost in Ms. Rundle's office.
It is a culture of failure.
Some judges say to prospective jurors during the jury selection process, "A not guilty verdict is justice as much as a guilty verdict is." The closest accurate statement to what the judge means when (s)he says that is the double negative, "a not guilty verdict is not an injustice," but a double negative is not the same as a positive.
A not guilty verdict can mean that the last chance to keep an innocent person from being convicted has occurred. It does not mean that justice occurred when the case was filed, or when the prosecution continued through the deposition and pretrial preparation stages. Much more frequently a not guilty verdict means that the person charged committed the crime but that Ms. Rundle's office failed to prove it.
"We got a bad jury," or "the cops screwed up," or "the witnesses got killed on cross" are the mindset of the culture of failure and that culture of failure is created by Ms. Rundle's political interests. She cannot be tainted by failure or incompetence, that would reflect badly on her politically. So not guilty verdicts are explained as not her fault, but the fault of others and therefore there's no cause for scrutiny, improvement, or accountability.
This politics creates injustice. It is the prosecutor's ethical obligation only to bring charges in court when (1) there is a legal basis, (2) there is a factual basis, and (3) a reasonable jury could convict on the evidence that would be presented at trial. It is at the stage of filing a case, at the deposition stage, at the pretrial preparation stage--it is at those stages where the prosecutor must stop a flawed prosecution. Not take it to trial and let a jury decide. A criminal trial brought by the prosecutor's ethical standards--and those are the standards--should not result in an acquittal.
Any not guilty verdict should be scrutinized for the cause or causes. Ms. Rundle and the supervisors of the trial lawyers in her office do not do that either. Two not guilty verdicts in two murder cases on the same day is systemic failure, it is politics creating injustice.
Posted by Benjamin Harris at 3:55 PM
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
"There are some people who say, it is true, that Communism is an evil system, but it allows us to make economic progress. LET THEM COME TO BERLIN!"
-President John F. Kennedy, West Berlin, June 26, 1963.
Photo: the Korean peninsula, North Korea at top, South Korea at bottom.
Posted by Benjamin Harris at 1:29 PM
Sunday, February 07, 2010
Today is an unofficial holiday in America. It does not memorialize a deceased notable nor an historic military victory. It commemorates fun and was created by the American people themselves.
The pursuit of happiness is right there in the American Declaration of Independence alongside life and liberty in the trinity of American desiderata. Happiness is part of America's soul.
It seems to me that happiness forms a larger part of America's soul than that of the rest of the west but it is part of the western soul generally too. "Ode to Joy," by a German, Beethoven, is the official anthem of the European Union.
It is my impression that happiness does not form as large a part of China's soul. My experience is limited and limited to the serious in China but I cannot recall a single instance of the kind of thing one can't avoid in the west: someone telling a joke, or relating a humorous anecdote, play (except the kids on the playground of the school where Teacher Bian was murdered, that is organized play), couples holding hands, friends involved in light-hearted repartee on the street, in restaurants or cafes. I can say that I never recall seeing anyone in Beijing "having fun."
The Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics brought much joy to western viewers. My younger lawyer colleagues, knowing of my interest in China, excitedly asked, "Did you see? Did you see?" I hadn't, and didn't until October 2009 in a hotel room in Providence Rhode Island, and when I did I was creeped out.* The Opening Ceremony didn't look to me to be an authentic expression by Chinese of something essentially Chinese. To me it looked like something Chinese did for foreigners, to impress them, or to make them happy.
Was it authentic? No. Geremie R. Barme wrote in The China Quarterly** that the vast majority of the performers were P.L.A. soldiers, not common Chinese from all walks of life. They were the military arm of the state. They were also trained that it was their political duty to smile and wave while performing.
The subject of this post was brought to mind last Saturday evening as I was thinking about how to respond to XYZ' last email. She has written about a "spiritual situation," I am writing about "seeking the soul." Though similar, those two ideas are different as used by each of us and I can't just ask XYZ, "What is the soul of China?" That's an inane question unless two people are clearly thinking about the same thing, and she and I are not yet.
My girlfriend and I were on our way to dinner at a fancy restaurant but there was an hour's wait so we walked around looking for a substitute. We settled on an eatery categorized in American restaurant nomenclature as "casual dining." "Characteristics" came to mind as a less-flaky substitute for soul, and since I am American and was in America I was thinking of American characteristics and American characteristics were suggested by the visual imagery in the casual dining establishment: casual...obese...silly; this last by the omnipresence of televisions in the restaurant. They were, and are, everywhere in America, even at the gas pumps! Television, like Song Yaowu and China's blocking of this blog, annoys me beyond all reason. It "pushes my buttons" in the American patois. In more clinical psychological terms it is a "known stressor." I glanced about for a hammer.
When we were seated at our table I began thinking about American television more dispassionately. All of the reasons it pushes my buttons seem, to me, legitimate: it is silly, it is dumb, it is a narcotic, it bores worm holes in your brain. An American football game, the "Pro Bowl," which is the National Football League's all-star game, was showing on the tvs (tvs, plural) in the restaurant. And I thought forward to today's Super Bowl and mentally added "excess" to silly, dumb, narcotic, and wormhole-bored. Television, especially televised sports, especially the Super Bowl, is a guide marker to a part of the American soul. For Americans, television is fun, it makes them happy, and happiness is a big part of the American soul.
*Public Occurrences, October 18, 2009.
**China's Flat Earth. History and 8 August 2008, vol. 197, March 2009.
Posted by Benjamin Harris at 8:19 AM
Saturday, February 06, 2010
The West contacted China; China did not contact the West.
"Why climb Everest? Because it is there."
"The Conquistador mentality."
Those are all western concepts for better and for worse, the first American, the second English, the third Spanish. All are manifestations of the same part of the western soul.
The golden age of Chinese exploration ended in the first third of the fifteenth century and never extended farther than the Indian Ocean because, according to Wikipedia, Chinese,
"...were content trading with already existing tributary states nearby and abroad. To them, traveling far east into the Pacific Ocean represented entering a broad wasteland of water with uncertain benefits of trade."
The part of the western soul captured by the examples above can be fairly characterized as ambitious, curious, and violent. But not content.
The same part of the Chinese soul is not fairly characterized with the opposite of each of the three terms applied to the west. However I would argue that the souls are most near opposite on the component described here as "ambitious" as applied to the west and as "content" as applied to China by Wikipedia.
There is a confidence behind the west's ambition that it seems to me is not as prevalent in China's soul. And something else too is suggested by the Wikipedia entry. China was content not to explore the Pacific because of the "uncertain benefits of trade." That's confidence's twin opposite: fear.
Posted by Benjamin Harris at 9:45 PM
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
A couple of weeks ago Nobel economics laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote in his column that the Obama administration had missed the only opportunity it would get to right the economy. The stimulus package had been too small to accomplish the task, wrote Krugman, and the president had spent his political capital on it and now had no more to spend on a needed supplement.
Last Friday the Commerce Department released its quarterly report on the economy. For the fourth quarter growth was at a yearly rate of 5.7%. That is very, very good news for Americans and credit should go to the president and his economic plan.
Posted by Benjamin Harris at 9:58 AM