THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 380, August 13, 2006
"When you let people do whatever they want, you get Woodstock.
When you let governments do whatever they want, you get Auschwitz."
Calling Mr. Obvious
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
Every weekday morning, I listen to my favorite morning radio program. The Bob and Tom Show amuses me, and at that time of day I need all the amusement I can get. Although I appreciate the news, interviews, and other regular facets of the show, one of my favorite bits involves a recurring character named Mr. Obvious.
Mr. Obvious hosts a little radio show of his own, and his listeners call in with problems for him to solve. On one episode, a homeowner was terrified that a wild animal had gotten into his house and taken up residence under his kitchen sink. Thanks to Mr. Obvious, he was relieved to learn the growling and chewing noises were caused not by an animal who got upset every time someone flipped a light switch, but by his garbage disposal. On another episode, an incredulous Mr. Obvious had to tell an accident-prone driver that sun screens were great to keep cars cool, but that it was important the screens be removed before actually driving anywhere.
At the end of every edition of the Mr. Obvious Show, the caller always says, "Huh. I never made the connection!" The connection, of course, is almost always obvious to everyone except the caller. It's not only the circumstances but the caller's utter obliviousness that makes the Mr. Obvious Show as funny as it is. But such obvious answers in the face of such incredible ignorance, however amiable or well-intentioned it may be, is a whole lot less funny when it happens in the real world.
I confess to being utterly at a loss as to how a man can imagine that the little Minnesota cabin he bought in January has been stolen when he returns in July only to find the site occupied by a lake (Mr. Obvious figured out that what the man apparently thought was a little cabin was really an ice-fishing house). In much the same way, I don't understand how it is that other obvious solutions aren't employed when the answers are so clearly at hand. For example:
Various death row prisoners as well as activist groups say that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. They base their claims in no small part on a study published by a British medical journal, The Lancet. The study alleged that more than 40 per cent of executed inmates were probably conscious when a fatal heart attack was induced, but that nobody could tell because one of the three chemicals used during a lethal injection paralyzes the inmate.
I agree that that would be cruel. So do many officials who want medical personnel to administer the anesthesia so that we can be sure inmates are unconscious when they die. But most states aren't going to find medical personnel to help them out in their death chambers because causing death is pretty much the exact opposite of what doctors are sworn to do.
A real conundrum? Well, no. There's an answer so obvious that nobody I've heard is bothering to say it, so I will: Give the prisoner too much anesthetic. While some have pointed out that using only an anesthetic overdose as the execution method would take too long or prove less certain, that problem doesn't exist if the overdose is given first and the heart-stopping chemical second. Seriously, what are officials concerned about? That too much anesthetic might kill somebody?
Then there are those who worry less about the punishment for a crime than they do the commission of it.
Gun crime is rampant in some parts of the country. Perhaps the most notable at the moment is Washington DC where authorities recently actually went so far as to declare a crime emergency. Obviously, the crime rate is a problem. Just as obviously, there's an easy answer. The bad guys already have guns. Why aren't the good guys able to protect themselves on an equal footing? Because Washington DC has what may be the most draconian gun control laws in the country. Gun ownership in Washington is all but impossible for anyone who isn't either a cop or a criminal.
In many other parts of the country, crime rates are down. Why? Well, the answer at least in part shows a remarkable correlation between gun ownership and falling crime rates. Despite years of statistics proving otherwise, gun control activists continue to blame guns for the problem. It's their policies that have turned DC into a danger zone. What's worse, it isn't their ignorance that keeps the obvious solution from being employed but rather their unfounded fear. That doesn't make the solution any less obvious: let the good guys who choose to do so exercise their Second Amendment rights.
If there's one thing some people fear even more than firearms, it's an attack on a loved oneespecially if that loved one is a childby a sexual predator. I agree that such criminals are fearful, and I have no problem at all with punishing them harshly when they're caught. What I don't like is what happens when those who've been caught are let go.
Most people believe that the rate of recidivism among sex offenders is very high. Despite studies showing otherwise, most people are inclined to believe the worst of sex offenders. Perhaps that's as much because of the nature of their crimes as anything else. Whatever the reasoning, sex offenders typically continue to be punished long after they've been released from prison.
In what The Christian Science Monitor calls an "overreach," many communities prohibit convicted sex offenders from living within a certain distance of schools, from working with or anywhere near children, and the like; almost all are required to register their whereabouts with local authorities. DNA databases have been established. Oftentimes, when information about sex offenders is publicized, they're driven from their new jobs and homes by terrified area residents. In at least one case, a public database of sex offenders was linked directly to the murder of a pair of offenders.
The answer here is a simple one: If we're afraid of what they'll do when we let them go, why are we letting them go? In theory, people are released from prison after they've done their time, in essence after we think they've been punished enough for whatever it was they did. But if we intend to keep punishing them, and if we're fearful ourselves to boot, why aren't the sentences for sex offenders longer?
I suppose that some people think that jails are overcrowded and we need to let people go whenever we can so as to have room for the next prisoners entering the system. People who think jails are overcrowded are right. They are. Some prisons have actually had to let criminals go before their time was served to make room for newly convicted prisoners. We can only hope those rewarded with an early release were vetted carefully enough that they're unlikely to pose a real threat to the public at large.
I'll give the authorities due credit on this one: clearing out jail cells is half of the obvious solution. The half they're missing? Clearing out the cells of those who've committed no real (read "victimless") crime.
The poor guy who smoked a little marijuana after work to relax and who had a couple of plants in his basement for his personal use should never have been arrested in the first place let alone jailed. Ditto the prostitute. And speaking of sex offenders, perhaps the cruelest injustice our legal system is currently engaged in involves the prosecution of those convicted of sex with a child who really only made consensual love to a girlfriend who happened to be a year or two younger than a now branded-for-life 17 or 18 year-old boy. We should be releasing those boys now and keeping the real child molesters behind bars instead!
The price of energy is, of course, the topic du jour. Gas prices are just about as high as they've ever been. Home heating costs are likely to break the bank this coming winter. Nothing is going to turn this problem around on a dime, but you know what would help? Building new housing in a far more efficient manner. By that, I don't mean more insulation or solar panels on the roof.
Remember learning about caves when you were a kid, and how the books and the filmstrips all made much of the fact that the temperature inside deep caves remained constant no matter the time of year? So why aren't we building down instead of up? Sure, you're limited by the water table in some places, but on balance, building underground would make perfect sense.
A few years ago, Japanese scientists developed a way to "transmit" sunlight from above ground to well below ground level using fiber optics (the technology is now within the reach of most of us); we already have widely available light bulbs that mimic the sun's beneficial rays. Flat screen technology is good enough to substitute for "windows" should we feel a psychological need for them (that's something with which I have some sympathy myself). And imagine the savings in both heating and cooling! It's merely an added bonus that the "green" activists would also love the idea even beyond the decrease in energy consumption because much of the land above such housing could be used for everything from wildlife habitat, to parks and meadows, to agriculture.
It's doubtless tempting to get the government involved despite the fact that these solutions are not only obvious but relatively simple. But we might also remember, then, another problem: Politics as usual, which can disrupt and destroy almost anything, no matter how simple. But there's an obvious solution to politics as usual, too, and that's to stop electing the usual politicians.
I'm beginning to think that The Mr. Obvious Show is more than just a little good humor, and that it might actually provide a whole philosophy of life along with the folksy words of wisdom! Okay, maybe not, but that doesn't mean that the country couldn't benefit from a little of the same good sense Mr. Obvious displays with regularity on The Bob and Tom Show. God knows too many of those currently in charge display just about the same amount of insensibility as does the typical show caller. Hey, do you think there's any chance that President Bush might call in on a future episode?