If I Was Rich and Bored

Airport Security -- New Rules

As I was standing in line for security screening at a flight, I began to think about how ridiculous so much of airport security is.

I decided that if I were rich and bored it would be fun to buy thousands of nail clippers and stuff them into my suitcase. I suppose it would look like solid metal when the machine scanned it, and so a physical inspection would be required.

I imagine the TSA agents unzipping the suitcase and gazing upon countless nail clippers. At first they would be puzzled. Then, slowly, comprehension would dawn. I would wait one heartbeat after that moment of awareness, then yell to the passengers behind me, “Operation nail clippers is a no go. Repeat, no go. Run for it!”

And then as I rush off into the distance, I would cackle back over my shoulder, “This isn’t over. We’ll be back. Next time we’re bringing bottles of water! Your planes will never survive against our schemes! Bwahahahah!”

And then I would use my rich person magic to make the charges against me go away.

That’s what I would do if I was rich and bored. As things stand, I was bored but not rich, so I left my nail clippers at home and disposed of my deadly beverage and all you get is this meditation upon the security farce we endure when we fly.

Are You Kidding Me, Vanderbilt?

/dohA while ago I went off on the Supreme Court’s horrendous decision in CLS vs Martinez.

This morning’s news reveals the logical outworking of that silly ruling: Vanderbilt, apparently following the same train of thought, has put several Christian groups on probation for violating the university’s non-discrimination policy.

Among the groups threatened with shut down is the Christian Legal Society. It ran afoul with this language from its constitution. “Each officer is expected to lead Bible studies, prayer and worship at chapter meetings.” CLS President Justin Gunter told me, “We come together to do things that Christians do together. Pray, and have Bible studies.” To that, Rev. Gretchen Person – interim director of the Office of Religious Life at Vanderbilt – responded “Vanderbilt policies do not allow this expectation/qualification for officers.” (source)

Seriously, Vanderbilt? A Christian group cannot require that its leaders lead Christian activities? One wonders what, precisely, Vanderbilt envisions the leaders of Christian groups doing.


Chinese Punishment, Whipping A Lawbreaker [c1900] Attribution Unk [RESTORED]I recently read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education called “In Defense of Flogging” by Peter Moskos, a former police officer and now a criminologist at the City University of New York (specifically at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice).

The article seems to have been written to gin up interest in a book he has coming out in June called, well, In Defense of Flogging.

Without further ado, an excerpt:

For most of the past two centuries, at least in so-called civilized societies, the ideal of punishment has been replaced by the hope of rehabilitation. The American penitentiary system was invented to replace punishment with “cure.” Prisons were built around the noble ideas of rehabilitation. In society, at least in liberal society, we’re supposed to be above punishment, as if punishment were somehow beneath us. The fact that prisons proved both inhumane and miserably ineffective did little to deter the utopian enthusiasm of those reformers who wished to abolish punishment.

Incarceration, for adults as well as children, does little but make people more criminal. Alas, so successful were the “progressive” reformers of the past two centuries that today we don’t have a system designed for punishment. Certainly released prisoners need help with life—jobs, housing, health care—but what they don’t need is a failed concept of “rehabilitation.” Prisons today have all but abandoned rehabilitative ideals—which isn’t such a bad thing if one sees the notion as nothing more than paternalistic hogwash. All that is left is punishment, and we certainly could punish in a way that is much cheaper, honest, and even more humane. We could flog.

Yes. He just argued for flogging as a more enlightened view than imprisonment.

Pause for a moment to let your brain adjust to that.

Troubled? Get ready – he’s about to own you.

The opening gambit of the book is surprisingly simple: If you were sentenced to five years in prison but had the option of receiving lashes instead, what would you choose? You would probably pick flogging. Wouldn’t we all?

I propose we give convicts the choice of the lash at the rate of two lashes per year of incarceration. One cannot reasonably argue that merely offering this choice is somehow cruel, especially when the status quo of incarceration remains an option. Prison means losing a part of your life and everything you care for. Compared with this, flogging is just a few very painful strokes on the backside. And it’s over in a few minutes. Often, and often very quickly, those who said flogging is too cruel to even consider suddenly say that flogging isn’t cruel enough.

I found the article fascinating and have been telling people about it since I read it. And I’ve asked them if they would personally prefer flogging to prison. Everyone I have posed the question to has opted for excruciating physical pain.

I’ve long been fascinated by the different notions of justice. I remember hearing Jim Railey argue quite convincingly in seminary that the proper Christian notion of justice is primarily retributive (punishment-oriented) rather than rehabilitative. Not that Christians are opposed to rehabilitation – but we ought to think of rehabilitation as a function of mercy and not of justice. Perhaps sometimes we should pursue mercy instead of justice, and other times we should offer mercy following justice. But we shouldn’t pretend that they are identical.

Incidentally, if you conceive of justice in purely rehabilitative terms then you probably can’t believe in hell or in capital punishment. If, on the other hand, you believe that justice is essentially retributive then both are viable intellectual options for you.

Agree with Dr. Moskos or not, you should at least read the whole article. There’s way more than I’ve quoted here. I should also note that he doesn’t seem to be seriously arguing for flogging itself so much as he is arguing for fixing our broken criminal justice system. Consider his conclusion:

…how can offering criminals the choice of the lash in lieu of incarceration be so bad? If flogging were really worse than prison, nobody would choose it. Of course most people would choose the rattan cane over the prison cell. And that’s my point. Faced with the choice between hard time and the lash, the lash is better. What does that say about prison?

All in all, a phenomenal essay.

On a related note, you should read my thoughts on the pervasive insanity of professors.

Poisonous Rat-Duck Day

PlatypusToday is Groundhog Day, which is hilarious to me. How did they outmaneuver the other animals and get their own holiday?

I personally would prefer Platypus Day. There’s an animal that deserves to be celebrated. It’s a furry, poisonous rat-duck. A platypus is practically a living Pokémon.

But somehow the groundhogs won out. I suspect bribery.

For the record, today I will honor platypi in my heart. Although Wikipedia tells me that platypi is incorrect and I should say platypuses or platypodes. Also, they are venomous and not poisonous (venom is injected, poison is consumed).

To which I say: poisonous rat-duck sounds better than venomous rat-duck, and platypi has a satisfying faux-intellectual ring to it. Let rhetoric prevail, and let the poisonous rat-ducks have their day on the calendar!

I Am Now Twice The Age Of A Freshman

Today I am twice the age of an incoming college freshman. My students are in trouble now, because age and treachery always trump youth and exuberance.1

The scales are tilted even more in my favor than you might suppose. It’s not just that I’m twice their age – I’m far older in terms of adult experience. Let’s say that you begin experiencing the world as an adult at the age of 16 (ignore the howls of laughter you hear in the background). Then most freshmen have experienced life as a grown up for two years. I, on the other hand, have spent twenty years in that same state.

Twenty is ten times two. So although I am merely twice the biological age of freshmen, I am TEN TIMES as experienced at thinking like an adult. Advantage: me.

And if you think about it from a purely legal perspective, the freshmen have mere months of experience as an eighteen-year-old. I’ve been a legal adult for something like 50 times longer than them.

So there. Happy birthday to me.


1That’s sort of a quote. There are a lot of variants of it online.

The Best Paragraph I’ve Read In Weeks

Orange smileI stumbled upon this little gem today:

Yesterday I spoke ill of Glenn Beck on my Twitter feed. It kinda ruffled some people, I think. I will not be issuing a “What I really meant” tweet. 🙂 What I meant when I said Beck is an “idolatrous fearmonger” is that he worships idols and mongers fear. (source: the excellent Jared Wilson)

I laughed out loud for a good thirty seconds when I read that. It’s refreshing to see someone stand by their words even when they annoy people. It’s a rare form of courage in our culture.

Plus I love the phrase “he worships idols and mongers fear.” Brilliant. Glenn Beck fans and foes alike should admire such wit.