[x]Blackmoor Vituperative

Friday, 2017-12-29

Star Wars and what it means

Filed under: Movies — bblackmoor @ 14:05

This guy says a number of insightful things. I don’t agree with everything he says, and I think he’s much too kind to “Star Wars 8: Rogue One”, but no one’s perfect.

Tuesday, 2017-12-26

Humans live too long

Filed under: History,Philosophy — bblackmoor @ 13:48

I think a large part of what’s wrong with the world is that humans live too long. In 14th century England, most people were married by 16, dead by 50, and every so often you’d have a plague that killed a huge chunk of the population. Yet even then, they’d already hunted boars and wolves to extinction by the mid-1300s.

Sunday, 2017-12-24

Star Wars movies rated

Filed under: Movies — bblackmoor @ 22:47

My opinion of the Star Wars movies so far, ranked from best to worst. The ranking is not exact: any two adjacent movies could be swapped, depending on my mood.

The Force Awakens

2nd Best
Star Wars 7: Episode 7 The Force Awakens (2015)

The Empire Strikes Back

3rd Best
Star Wars 2: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Return Of The Jedi

4th Best
Star Wars 3: Return Of The Jedi (1983)

Revenge Of The Sith

5th Best
Star Wars 6: Episode 3 Revenge Of The Sith (2005)

Everything Wrong With Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Attack Of The Clones

4th Worst
Star Wars 5: Episode 2 Attack Of The Clones (2002)

Everything Wrong With Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

The Phantom Menace

Worst
Star Wars 4: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Review

Star Wars: The Lost Jedi

Filed under: Movies — bblackmoor @ 17:38

So… “Star Wars 9: Episode 8 The Last Jedi” (2017). I thought it was slow and dull and pointless. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s the abomination that some people seem to think it is. I’d put this movie about on par with “Star Wars 5: Episode 2 Attack Of The Clones” (2002): not “good”, by any measure, but middle of the road as far as Star Wars sequels go. Okay, it’s worse than average, but not as bad as “Star Wars 8: Rogue One” (2016), and quite a bit better than “Star Wars 4: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace” (1999). More than anything, it’s disappointing. “Star Wars 7: Episode 7 The Force Awakens” (2015) was so much fun, with great pacing and appealing characters, and then to follow it with this long, dull, pointless… thing.

To save myself the effort of having to type this up more than once, I will list here the various things I disliked about “Star Wars 9: Episode 8 The Last Jedi” (2017):

  1. Slapstick pratfalls and out-of-place comedy (I get it, comedy is hard).
  2. Endless stultifying exposition.
  3. Slow, awkward pacing: it’s like three or four slow, dull movies were shuffled together to make one longer, slower, duller movie.
  4. Pod racing — I mean space horse racing.
  5. Stuttering Benicio Del Toro.
  6. Super Leia flying through space (I was literally stifling laughter in the theater during the Super Leia scene: I didn’t want to laugh out loud, I’m not a jerk, but that was just ridiculous).
  7. Space hamsters.
  8. Space manatee breast milk.
  9. The Slowest Spaceship Chase In The UniverseTM.
  10. A completely unnecessary and pointless Rose Teacup subplot. Was she supposed to be a romantic interest for Finn? She just doesn’t fit into the movie at all. If this were fan-fiction, she’d be the obvious “Mary Sue” character. Perhaps she is.
  11. A completely unnecessary and pointless Laura Dern subplot. She was even more glaringly out of place than Rose Teacup.
  12. Abrupt and meaningless Snoke death, tossing into the trash any tension or interest built up about him.
  13. Abrupt and meaningless revelation about Rey’s parents, tossing into the trash any tension or interest built up about them.
  14. Everything the good guys tried to do during the movie … every. single. thing. … failed. They succeeded at nothing.

That final criticism is the most damning one. Rey’s trip to find Luke Skywalker? Pointless. The Slowest Spaceship Chase In The UniverseTM? Pointless. The entire side trip to Planet Vegas? Pointless. The entire “take out the sensor” caper? Pointless. The fight against the Imperial walkers on Red Salt Planet? Pointless. It’s a three hour movie in which nothing happens, and we have no reason to care about any of it or anyone in it.

Luke tells Rey to get out while she can

There is actually one character I care about: Rey. You can feel her frustration as she goes from scene to scene, trying to find a story arc or any purpose to this exercise, but never finding it. By the end of the movie, I felt great sympathy for her.

I suppose I should point out three things that I did not dislike.

  1. I do not mind that Luke Skywalker made a tragic error in judgement, and that his error became the motivation for Ben Solo becoming a villain. That was probably the most interesting thing in the movie. I think it was handled badly — Luke would not stand over Ben with a lit lightsaber, that’s just stupid. But the core idea is interesting
  2. I do not mind that the cast was a mixture of ethnicities and included both men and women. I have a hard time fathoming the mental state of someone who would object to that.
  3. I do not mind that Rey has miraculously become an Ultimate Force MasterTM without any real training. Yes, it contradicts pretty much the entirety of what we have seen and been told about the Force and the Jedi… but who cares? We didn’t know about laser swords and mind tricks before we met Ben Kenobi. There’s a first time for everything.

Incidentally, I think I may be the only person who doesn’t like Phasma (the chrome storm trooper). It irks me that we are supposed to think she’s interesting even though she does nothing interesting. She’s like the Boba Fett of this, dropped into scenes for no apparent reason. The difference, of course, is that Boba Fett was used because he had developed a fan following, while Phasma is just a “collectable chrome variant” storm trooper. Just having a name and a different outfit doesn’t make her interesting. There are at least a dozen nameless characters throughout the Star Wars films who say and do more interesting things than what Phasma has said and done. I also think there’s something wrong with Phasma’s armor itself. I’m not sure if it doesn’t fit right, or if the actor has weird posture, or what, but it just looks …. weirdly “off”, like a jacket that has been buttoned up wrong. As far as I can tell, the only reason the character exists is to sell an action figure.

P.S. Do you like that gif? I made it. 🙂

P.P.S. I think people are trying way too hard to reinterpret this terrible movie in a way that makes it laudable. Yes, it’s lovely that the cast is a mixture of ethnicities and men and women: it’s still a long, dull movie in which nothing happens, no one matters, and all the good will and story potential generated by “The Force Awakens” is wasted.

But wait, there’s more…

This won’t make a huge amount of sense to you unless you have seen the “The Last Jedi” video Jenny Nicholson made, but I spent a long time writing it, so I want to preserve it. (Also, if you aren’t her patron, you should be: she’s brilliant and funny.)

10) Snoke was wasted. That he died is not the problem: the problem is that the audience’s time and investment in the character was thrown away. It wasn’t a clever misdirection — it was bad filmmaking.

9) I don’t care much about Kylo Ren one way or the other. He’s underwhelming as an antagonist, but he’s got some depth as a character, so it balances out.

8) The movie was pointless because nothing was accomplished. Everything the protagonists attempted failed, utterly. In fact, the protagonists would be better off if Poe Dameron and Finn had slept through the movie.

7) Again, that Rey’s parents are no one special is not the problem: the problem is that the audience’s time and investment in the character’s backstory was thrown away. There are probably dozens of ways a competent filmmaker could have revealed that and made the revelation mean something to the audience — this was not one of them. It was bad filmmaking.

6) I have no problem with Luke making a catastrophic mistake that winds up creating the next Dark Lord. That was probably one of the more interesting things in the movie. The execution was handled badly (Luke standing over Ben Solo with a lit lightsaber is just stupid), but in comparison with the rest of the movie, it almost looks competent in comparison.

5) Super Leia was laughable. I literally laughed in the theater. Let’s ignore the fact that it made Carrie Fisher’s final appearance (as a living person — I wouldn’t be surprised if she shows up later as a grotesque CGI mannequin) into a joke (the filmmakers didn’t know she had months left to live, after all). It makes what should have been a tragic, character-building moment for the protagonists into a pointless digression. She should have been given the hero’s death that her character has earned over the past 40 years. Instead, that was given to the utterly superfluous Laura Dern character. Again, this is just bad filmmaking.

4) As for Holdo, the Laura Dern character … her existence and everything she does undermines the arc of the movie and the importance of the protagonists: that character shouldn’t have even been in the movie. Again, this is just bad filmmaking.

3) Broom kid is irrelevant. The entire pointless trip to Planet Vegas accomplished nothing for the story arc or the characters. Again, this is just bad filmmaking.

2) “The theme of ‘The Last Jedi’ was failure”. The theme of failure is part of a good movie if the characters return from that failure and then succeed. (There is a literary term for this, but it slips my mind at the moment.) The problem (again) is not that characters failed. The problem is that those failures were meaningless — there was no follow-up where the characters come back and succeed. They don’t even learn anything. What did Finn learn: to never take risks to help anyone else, because it’s doomed to failure and will, at best, get a lot of people killed who wouldn’t have otherwise been killed? What did Poe learn: to follow orders without question? What did Rey learn: that nothing matters, no one can be trusted, and even the people who ought to know better will just disappoint you, so why even try? They all just fail, the end. Whether that was intentional or not (I rather think it was), this is just bad filmmaking. I will direct you to Jenny Nicholson’s brilliant criticism of Rogue One, where she says that intentionally making a movie bad does not make it a good movie: it’s still bad.

1) The movie didn’t “challenge” me. It bored me. I started looking at my watch during the pod race — I mean space horse race. To be clear, I didn’t hate the movie. I thought it was marginally better than Rogue One (rather than caring nothing about the characters and what they were doing, I cared very little about the characters and what they were doing). But it’s no “Phantom Menace”. It’s not the worst Star Wars movie ever made (so far).

P.P.P.S. The Last Jedi is a Star Wars movie for people who don’t like Star Wars. Handful of individuals strike a decisive blow against a massive organization? Nope: the characters fail, utterly. Lightsaber fight? Nope: no lightsaber touches another lightsaber in the whole movie. Likeable characters? Nope: the movie goes out of its way to make the protagonists we loved in The Force Awakens into losers and incompetents. Dramatic death of a beloved character that ignites the resolve of the protagonists? Nope: Leia becomes a joke, a flying clown, an absurdity that will always be remembered as Carrie Fisher’s embarrassing final role. A character who made a tragic choice gets redemption? Nope: Luke betrays his student, does nothing useful, and then fades away.

Thursday, 2017-12-14

Fantasy characters vs superheroes

Filed under: Gaming — bblackmoor @ 10:41

Thinking about characters and games, and how my favourite long-term characters are mainly superheroes. Why is that? I have had fantasy characters I’ve loved, but they don’t have the longevity that superheroes do. I think there are a couple of reasons for that.

medieval Avengers (thedurrrrian)

First, fantasy characters are almost always tied to a specific fantasy world. More than that, even: a specific fantasy world being GMd by a specific person. You can make up the same character more than once for different settings or different GMs, but they really aren’t the same character.

For superheroes, it’s not like that. If the game system is the same (and in my experience, most people stick with one superhero game system for years and very rarely change it), you can drop a superhero from one game into another with minimal fuss. The genre makes that a trivial exercise: the hero moves from their old campaign city to a new one, or gets recruited by a new team, or at worst, gets sucked into a vortex and arrives in a new version of Earth. For a superhero, that’s just a typical Tuesday.

Second, fantasy characters almost always exist on a “level” spectrum. A typical fantasy character changes a LOT from Day 1 to Day 100, with new powers, more potent abilities, better equipment, and so on. There are fantasy game systems that don’t have this continual power inflation, but in most cases, a fantasy character that’s been played for a year is virtually unrecognizable from how they started out.

For superheroes, it’s not like that. In most game systems, a superhero starts out more or less fully-formed. A speedster, a vigilante detective, a flying armored alcoholic… they don’t change that much, even after a decade of play. Sure, they get a bigger base, they fly a little faster, maybe pick up a new power or two, but the core of the character doesn’t really change.

That’s why I have superhero characters that I have played for *decades*, and could easily play again. Could I do that with any of my most beloved fantasy characters? No, not really. They are tied to a specific time and place in a way that superhero characters really aren’t.

Wednesday, 2017-12-13

If I could fly

Filed under: Music — bblackmoor @ 16:19

I’ve always loved this song. I always imagined that the protagonist of the song was the same age as, or at most a couple of years older than, the girl he’s singing to/about (because that’s how old I was when I first heard it). The lyrics perfectly encapsulate that feeling of being hopelessly in love with someone for the first time, when you are young and inexperienced, and everything seems like the Most Important Thing That Has Ever Happened In The History Of The World.

Of course, nowadays, everyone wants to imagine the worst, the most despicable thing they can. Oh, well. As for the video… as someone wiser than I am once said, “Why ruin a great song by having to look at the person who sings it?”

She’s just sixteen years old
Leave her alone, they say
Separated by fools
Who don’t know what love is yet
But I want you to know

If I could fly, I’d pick you up
I’d take you into the night
And show you a love
Like you’ve never seen, ever seen

It’s like having a dream
Where nobody has a heart
It’s like having it all
And watching it fall apart
And I would wait till the end of time for you
And do it again, it’s true
I can’t measure my love
There’s nothing to compare it to
But I want you to know

If I could fly, I’d pick you up
I’d take you into the night
And show you a love
Oh, if I could fly, I’d pick you up
I’d take you into the night
And show you a love
Like you’ve never seen, ever seen
Yeah, ooh

If I could fly, I’d pick you up
I’d take you into the night
And show you a love
Oh, if I could fly, I’d pick you up
And take you into the night

(Into the night, fly) if I could fly
I’d pick you up
Oh into the night
I’d pick you up

Tuesday, 2017-12-05

Armistead Spotswood impression

Filed under: Humour,Television — bblackmoor @ 01:39

Armistead Spotswood impression

Monday, 2017-12-04

But her emails!

Filed under: Humour,Politics — bblackmoor @ 17:03

Friday, 2017-12-01

Philosophies Of Punishment

Filed under: Philosophy,Society — bblackmoor @ 10:19

Demands for the punishment of wrongdoers have been in the news and in my social media newsfeeds quite a bit recently. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful if people gave some thought to what “punishment” means, and what we hope to accomplish by it. The following summary is from Punishment: A Comparative Historical Perspective, by Terance Miethe and Hong Lu.

Philosophies Of Punishment

Punishment serves numerous social-control functions, but it is usually justified on the principles of retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, and/or restoration. The specific principles that underlie these dominant philosophies for punishment are summarized below.

Retribution

One of the oldest and most basic justifications for punishment involves the principles of revenge and retribution. This equation of punishment with the gravity of the offense is embedded in the Judeo–Christian tradition in the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament that emphasize the idea of “an eye for an eye.” Neither constrained by questions of offender culpability nor directed at preventing future wrongdoing, offenders under a retributive philosophy simply get what they deserve. Punishment is justified on its own grounds, a general principle that has remained popular throughout Western history in both law and widespread public beliefs about how justice should be dispensed in democratic societies.

The classical retributive principle of “let the punishment fit the crime” was the primary basis for criminal sentencing practices in much of Western Europe in the nineteenth century. This principle of punishment was subsequently modified in neoclassical thought to recognize that some offenders who commit similar offenses may be less blameworthy or culpable due to factors outside of their control (e.g., diminished capacity, mental disease or defect, immaturity). Under this revised retributive theory of just deserts, punishment should fit primarily the moral gravity of the crime and, to a lesser extent, the characteristics of the offender.

A current example of retributive principles being used as the basis for punishment involves mandatory sentencing policies and sentencing guidelines systems in the United States. Mandatory sentences dictate uniform sanctions for persons who commit particular types of offenses (e.g., enhanced penalties for crimes committed with firearms), whereas determinate sentencing guidelines prescribe specific punishments based on the severity of the criminal offense and the extensiveness of the offender’s prior criminal record. Consistent with a retributive philosophy, punishment under these sentencing systems focuses primarily on the seriousness and characteristics of the criminal act rather than the offender.

Although retribution is often linked to criminal sanctions, it is equally applicable to other types of legal sanctions and informal sanctions. For example, civil litigation that is based on the principle of strict liability is similar to retributive philosophy in that compensatory and punitive damages focus on the gravity of the prohibited act rather than characteristics of the offender. Lethal and nonlethal sanctions that derive from blood feuds between rival families, range wars in agrarian communities, terrorist attacks on civilian and government targets, and acts of “street justice” by vigilante groups and other extrajudicial bodies are often fueled by the twin motives of revenge and retribution. Various economic punishments and sanctions that restrict business practices (e.g., asset forfeitures, injunctions, product boycotts, worker strikes and slowdowns, revocation of licenses, decertification of programs, cease-and-desist orders, denial of benefits) may be justified on various utilitarian grounds like protecting society or deterring wrongdoing, but they may ultimately reflect the widespread belief in letting the punishment fit the crime.

Retribution as a penal philosophy has been criticized on several fronts when it is actually applied in practice. First, strict retributive sanctions based solely on the nature of the offense (e.g., mandatory sentences for drug trafficking, the use of firearms in the commission of crimes) are often criticized as being overly rigid, especially in societies that recognize degrees of individual culpability and blameworthiness. Second, the principle of lex talionis (i.e., the “eye for an eye” dictum that punishment should correspond in degree and kind to the offense) has limited applicability. For example, how do you sanction in kind acts of drunkenness, drug abuse, adultery, prostitution, and/or traffic violations like speeding? Third, the assumption of proportionality of punishments (i.e., that punishment should be commensurate or proportional to the moral gravity of the offense) is untenable in most pluralistic societies because there is often widespread public disagreement on the severity of particular offenses. Under these conditions, a retributive sentencing system that espouses proportional sanctions would be based on the erroneous assumption that there is public consensus in the rankings of the moral gravity of particular types of crime.

Even with these criticisms, however, the retributive principle of lex talionis and proportionality of sanctions remains a dominant justification of punishment in most Western cultures. Retribution under a Judeo–Christian religious tradition offers a divine justification for strict sanctions and it clearly fits popular notions of justice (e.g., “he got what was coming to him”). The dictum of “let the punishment fit the crime” also has some appeal as a principled, proportional, and commensurate form of societal revenge for various types of misconduct.

Incapacitation

A primary utilitarian purpose for punishment involves various actions designed to decrease the physical capacity of a person to commit criminal or deviant acts. This principle of incapacitation focuses on the elimination of individuals’ opportunity for crime and deviance through different types of physical restraints on their actions. The conditions of confinement may be so deplorable that they reduce the offender’s subsequent desire to engage in misconduct, but such a deterrent effect is not a necessary component of incapacitation in its pure and earliest form. In other words, a night in the “drunk tank,” confinement in the military stockade, or the “grounding” of a wayward adolescent are often considered useful incapacitative strategies even when these practices do not lead to subsequent reform in one’s behavior.

A plethora of devices, techniques, and structures have been used throughout history as means for incapacitation. The early tribal practices of banishment to the wilderness, the English system of “transportation” of convicts to other colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the exile of citizens in ancient Greek society, and political exile in more modern times are examples of incapacitative sanctions because they involve the physical removal of persons from their former communities, thereby restricting their physical opportunity for misconduct in the original setting. The stocks and pillory in English history and Colonial America were devices used for both public ridicule and incapacitation. Other types of incapacitating hardware are as diverse as electronic shackles for monitoring offenders in open spaces, Breathalysers that prevent drunk drivers from starting their cars, “kiddie harnesses” to restrict the movement of young children in public places, and chastity belts for limiting sexual promiscuity.

The function of incapacitation may also be served by other types of legal and extralegal restrictions on one’s behavior. Other legal forms of incapacitation involving civil or administrative decrees include court-ordered injunctions, federal boycotts and restraint-of-trade agreements, restraining orders in domestic violence cases, cease-and-desist orders, revocations of licenses, foreclosures, and the passage of certification requirements to perform particular tasks (e.g., college degree requirements for teaching, passing medical board and bar exams for practicing medicine or law). Many of these actions are economic sanctions in that they carry financial consequences for those involved, but these civil and administrative rules can also be seen as incapacitative in that they place physical restrictions on one’s possible actions. Ostracism, the spreading of adverse publicity, “lumping” (i.e., doing nothing and not responding to one’s inquiries), and censorship are some of the extralegal and informal means of physically restricting one’s behavioral opportunities.

The most widely known type of incapacitation involves some form of incarceration, or what others have termed “penal bondage.” Aside from their incapacitative effect on restricting immediate criminal opportunities, penal bondage of criminals, vagrants, debtors, social misfits, and other disadvantaged groups across time periods and geographical contexts has often included a component of forced labor (e.g., public works projects, forced servitude in military campaigns) as a condition of confinement.

Physical structures for incapacitation may have different purposes or functions besides the physical restraint of the body. These places of confinement are described across time and space in context-specific terms like dungeons, towers, workhouses, gulags, jails, prisons, labor camps, “readjustment” centers, correctional or treatment facilities, cottages, sanitariums, and mental institutions. The specific language used for descriptive purposes also signifies their functions beyond physical incapacitation.

During the last half century, several new forms of incapacitation have emerged. For example, shock incarceration programs involve short-term incarceration of juvenile offenders to show them the pains of imprisonment and scare them into a future life of conformity. Work release programs and placement in halfway houses are temporary incapacitation programs designed to maintain community ties and ease the adjustment from prison to conventional life. Another variant of incapacitation, intensive-supervision probation (ISP), leaves adjudicated criminals in their community but under the watchful eye of probation officers or other legal authorities.

The recent model of selective incapacitation in the United States is designed to target criminal offenders thought to have the greatest probability of repeat offending and place greater restraints on the nature and conditions of confinement for these “high-risk” offenders. Although research suggests that a small pool of people commits the predominant share of violent and property crime, efforts to successfully predict these high-risk offenders suffer from numerous ethical and practical problems, including high rates of both “false positives” (i.e., falsely labeling someone as a high-risk offender) and “false negatives” (i.e., releasing high-risk offenders because they were erroneously characterized as low-risk).

Contrary to early historical patterns of incapacitation that emphasized the reduction of the physical opportunity for crime and deviance, modern versions of this philosophy are more “forward-looking” in terms of focusing on the utility of punishments for changing offenders’ criminal motivations once they are no longer physically restrained from committing deviance. In this way, incapacitation is united with other utilitarian philosophies for punishment. Different types of incapacitative sanctions may serve as the initial framework for establishing successful programs of deterrence and rehabilitation.

Deterrence

The doctrine of deterrence asks a fundamental question about the relationship between sanctions and human behavior: Are legal and extralegal sanctions effective in reducing deviance and achieving conformity? Punishment is said to have a deterrent effect when the fear or actual imposition of punishment leads to conformity. The deterrent value of punishments is directly linked to the characteristics of those punishments. Specifically, punishments have the greatest potential for deterring misconduct when they are severe, certain, and swift in their application. Punishments are also widely assumed to be most effective for instrumental conduct (i.e., deliberate actions directed at the achievement of some explicit goal) and for potential offenders who have low commitment to deviance as a livelihood (e.g., the person is not a professional criminal).

Deterrence is based on a rational conception of human behavior in which individuals freely choose between alternative courses of action to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. From this classical perspective on crime and punishment, criminal solutions to problems become an unattractive option when the costs of this conduct exceed its expected benefit. Swift, certain, and severe sanctions are costs that are assumed to impede the likelihood of engaging in deviant behavior. From a deterrence standpoint, any type of punishment (e.g., monetary, informal, incapacitative, corporal) has a potential deterrent effect as long as it is perceived as a severe, certain, and swift sanction.

The research literature on the effectiveness of criminal punishments outlines the four major types of deterrence, which include the following:

  • Specific deterrence involves the effectiveness of punishment on that particular individual’s future behavior. Recidivism rates (e.g., rates of repeat offending among prior offenders) are often used to measure the specific deterrent value of punishments.
  • General deterrence asks whether the punishment of particular offenders deters other people from committing deviance. A comparison of crime rates over time or across jurisdictions is typically used to ascertain the general deterrent value of punishment.
  • Marginal deterrence focuses on the relative effectiveness of different types of punishments as either general or specific deterrents. For example, if recidivism rates for drunk drivers are higher for those who receive monetary fines than those who received jail time, jail time would be rated higher in its marginal deterrent value as a specific deterrent for drunk driving. Similarly, debates about capital punishment often focus on the marginal deterrent value of life imprisonment compared to the death penalty as a general deterrent for murder.
  • Partial deterrence refers to situations in which the threat of sanction has some deterrent value even when the sanction threats do not lead to law-abiding behavior. For example, if a thief picked or “lifted” someone’s wallet rather than robbing them at gunpoint (because the thief was fearful of the more serious penalty for committing an armed robbery), the thief would be treated as a “successful” case of partial deterrence. Similarly, tougher fines for speeding passed in a jurisdiction would serve as a partial deterrent under these two conditions: (1) the average motorist under the new law exceeded the speed limit by 5 miles an hour and (2) the average motorist under the old law exceeded the speed limit by 10 miles an hour. The average motorist is still exceeding the speed limit but he or she nonetheless is driving slower.

When the philosophy of deterrence is used in the context of penal reform, it is often as a justification for increasing the severity of sanctions, particularly in Western developed countries. Legislative responses to terrorist attacks, drug trafficking, child abductions, and violent crimes on school property have been directed primarily at increasing the severity and/or duration of punishments (e.g., being a drug “kingpin” and participation in lethal terrorist attacks are now capital crimes under U.S. federal law). Although these greater punitive measures may serve to pacify widespread public demands to “get tough” on crime, the specific and general deterrent effect of such efforts is probably limited without attention to the other necessary conditions for effective deterrence (i.e., high certainty and high celerity of punishments).

Empirical efforts to assess the effectiveness of deterrence are limited by several basic factors. First, persons may abide by laws or desist in deviant behavior for a variety of reasons other than the looming threat or fear of legal sanctions. Some of these nondeterrence constraints on behavior include one’s moral/ethical principles, religious beliefs, physical inability to commit the deviant act, and lack of opportunity. Second, neither swift nor certain punishment exists in most legal systems in the contemporary world. The majority of criminal offenses are typically unknown to the legal authorities and, even among the known offenses, only a small proportion result in an arrest and conviction. The typical criminal penalty and civil suits are often imposed or resolved months, if not years, after the initial violation. Third, the severity of punishment actually received by offenders is often far less than mandated by law, due to the operation of such factors as plea bargaining, charge reductions, jury nullifications, executive clemency and pardons, and “good time” provisions. Under these conditions, it is unsurprising that the deterrent effect of criminal and civil sanctions has not been clearly demonstrated across a variety of contexts.

Rehabilitation

Although it may seem contradictory or at least somewhat odd to assert that we punish for the treatment and reform of offenders, this basic principle underlies the rehabilitation purpose of punishment. The ultimate goal of rehabilitation is to restore a convicted offender to a constructive place in society through some combination of treatment, education, and training. The salience of rehabilitation as a punishment philosophy is indicated by the contemporary jargon of “correctional facilities,” “reformatories,” and “therapeutic community” now used to describe jails, prisons, and other institutions of incapacitation.

The link between places of incapacitation and reform is established throughout much of written history. The earliest forms of penal confinement in dungeons, towers, caves, and other dark and dreary places were largely incapacitative in their primary function, but some degree of moral and spiritual enlightenment was expected of those condemned to long periods of solitary confinement. This idea of restraint to reform is evident within the context of religious penance in Judeo–Christian practices in Western Europe and the British colonies in North America and elsewhere. It is also manifested in U.S. history in the early development of reformatories and penitentiaries. These large-scale incarceration structures punished misguided youth and criminals by isolating them so they could reflect on their deviant actions, repent, and subsequently reform their behavior. Confinement and reflection for spiritual reform are also of central importance in the religious principles found in Hinduism and Buddhism.

In contrast to retribution that emphasizes uniform punishments based on the gravity of the misconduct, rehabilitation focuses on the particular characteristics of individual offenders that require treatment and intervention. This individualized treatment approach is logically consistent with indeterminate sentencing structures that give judges enormous discretion to tailor punishments for the greatest good to the individual offender and provide parole boards with equally high discretion to release or retain offenders for future treatment. Through the application of current theories of human behavior and the latest therapeutic techniques for behavioral modification, rehabilitation experienced growing acceptance in many countries throughout much of the twentieth century.

Even though “correctional” institutions continue to espouse the benefits of rehabilitation and specific treatment programs (e.g., drug treatment, anger management, job training), support for rehabilitation in the United States was dealt a major blow in the mid-1970s with publication of a report that concluded that rehabilitation efforts had no appreciable effect on recidivism. National fiscal restraints, declines in correctional budgets for program development, high public outcry for more severe and longer prison sentences, and a growing crime-control political ideology that focuses on suppression of criminal behavior rather than its early prevention are current conditions in Western societies that are largely antithetical to the ideas of treatment and rehabilitation.

Restoration

One of the most recent goals of punishment derives from the principles of restoration. As an alternative to other punishment philosophies (e.g., retribution, incapacitation, rehabilitation), restorative justice fundamentally challenges our way of thinking about crime and justice. The global victims’ rights movement is a relatively new phenomenon, but, the general roots of restorative justice can be traced back to the early legal systems of Western Europe, ancient Hebrew justice, and precolonial African societies.

Restorative justice literally involves the process of returning to their previous condition all parties involved in or affected by the original misconduct, including victims, offenders, the community, and even possibly the government. Under this punishment philosophy, the offender takes full responsibility for the wrongdoing and initiates restitution to the victim. The victim and offender are brought together to develop a mutually beneficial program that helps the victim in the recovery process and provides the offender a means of reducing their risks of re-offending.

The theory of reintegrative shaming developed by John Braithwaite is based on the principles of restorative justice. Offenders take personal responsibility for their actions and condemnation is focused on the deviant act, rather than the offender, and its impact on the victim and the community. Both the offender and the community need to be reintegrated as a result of the harm caused by the criminal behavior. Community mediation groups, neighborhood councils, local support groups, and victim–offender conferences are the primary means of achieving these restorative efforts.

The principles of restorative justice have been applied to the study of both criminal and civil sanctions. For example, the institutionalized practice of “written apology” and “letter of forgiveness” in the Japanese criminal justice system is designed to express remorse and make restitution. By accepting the apology, the victim forgives the offender. In all cases of restorative justice, the goal is to restore both the individual parties and their community’s sense of wholeness.

(Miethe, T. D., & Lu, H. (2005). Punishment: a comparative historical perspective. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.)

Thursday, 2017-11-30

It’s good to want things

Filed under: Humour — bblackmoor @ 18:50

It's good to want things

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