L. Neil Smith's
Number 311, March 20, 2005

"This is your government, people."

Uncommon Sense
by Lady Liberty

Special to TLE

You've doubtless heard the old saying that resolves extremes by finding the "happy medium." And we all know about "shades of grey" as opposed to issues or problems of a purely "black and white" nature. But if we understand and acknowledge these things—and we typically do—how is it that so much of what's happening in today's society represents the extreme instead? It seems to me much the result of yet another old saying, or more accurately, the absence of it. You see, common sense apparently isn't.

In California, pop star Michael Jackson is being tried on some dozen charges involving the sexual abuse of children. As the evidence and the arguments are debated inside the courtroom, there are factions on the outside that are disinclined to wait for a jury. On one end of the spectrum is a group that thinks Jackson's self-confessed predilection for sharing his bed platonically with young boys is an indictment in and of itself (frankly, even if the bed-sharing is as innocent as Jackson claims, it's still scary and weird at best, but it doesn't necessarily mean anything but that Jackson is scary and weird), and who discount the many admittedly decent things Jackson has done for kids accordingly. On the other end are the diehard fans that deny any wrongdoing whatsoever on Jackson's part, and who will doubtless continue to do so no matter the eventual verdict.

Also in California (which, I must admit, does seem to deserve its reputation as home to more than its share of "eccentrics") is the ongoing trial of actor Robert Blake (the jury is still out as I write this, though a verdict could come through at any time). Purely by virtue of his fame and the characters he's played, some have already decided that Blake is guilty of shooting and killing his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley. For precisely the same reason, others have said that Blake couldn't have done such a thing. Meanwhile, both sides seem to be taking some sort of perverse delight in the man's legal troubles.

During the last week in February, author Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide (in what is doubtless a surprise to California, the deed was done in Colorado). He put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger because, according to a statement by some family members, he "wanted to die on his own terms." Obviously, there's likely some detail yet to come about the incident, but the question must remain as to what prompted him to take such extreme action with what was apparently little advance warning.

Across the country in Florida, courtroom wranglings continue in the matter of Terri Schindler Schiavo. The woman, who was brain damaged due to a temporary heart stoppage some years ago, is aware of and interested in her surroundings according to her parents. Her husband, on the other hand, says she's already gone and he's fighting to remove a feeding so his wife can finish dying. Both arguments represent an extreme, but the husband's position isn't quite what one might suppose. Her parents love her unconditionally and will certainly fight to save her life unconditionally. Her husband, on the other hand, claims his wife wouldn't want to live via artificial means. The fact that he's lived with another woman for years and has two children by her, and that he plans to marry that woman just as soon as he's widowed, apparently don't enter in to the repeated rulings that the husband has the final say.

Those who are quick to condemn Mr. Jackson should step back for a moment and consider just how really bizarre a character he is. Though 46 years of age, most people say he's never really grown up (he himself claims that's because his childhood was usurped by fame). Maybe the guy really does just enjoy having sleepovers with boys he, in some ways, considers his peers. On the other hand, those who defend Jackson without even acknowledging the severity of the charges against him are even more foolish. Jackson may not be all bad, but neither is he the saint a few would claim. In this case, the happy medium would simply be finding the truth and discarding the hyperbole on both sides; the shades of grey will resolve into black and white once we're made aware of the evidence—or the lack of it—in the trial (and yes, I am all too well aware of the irony of referencing "black" and "white" in connection with the thoroughly bleached Mr. Jackson).

Make no mistake, here. I do consider child sexual abuse to be very black indeed, and if he's guilty, Jackson should be severely punished. But common sense would suggest we have evidence before convicting someone of such serious charges. Disregarding the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments that suggest fair trials and equal treatment for a moment, common sense alone would dictate that Jackson's personal oddities should not condemn him, nor should his fame exonerate him. But extremists on both sides are doing just that.

There's a radio show host (on the Bob & Tom Show) I happen to particularly enjoy who says he thinks that Robert Blake did kill Bonnie Lee Bakley, but that from what he knows she pretty much deserved whatever she got. While Tom Griswold's position may be extreme, the law itself makes allowances for certain provocations. Did Blake pull the trigger? Maybe. Did Bakley ask for what she got? It may be politically incorrect to say so, but the answer here is also a definitive maybe (for the record, my own definition of sufficient provocation for deadly force is the threat of the same).

Tom is a funny guy, and he's really making a morbid joke as much as he is a statement of his own opinion when he says what he says. But his position is little different than that of the media which is supposed to be neither funny nor opinionated. On the one side, reports are that Blake has a temper (don't most of us?) and on the other, offers condemnations of Bakley as a gold-digger and a whore (neither of which are, last time I checked, capital offenses). While common sense would suggest we wait for a jury verdict, extremism is inclined to convict an admittedly unwholesome victim on the one side, or to punish the rich and famous guy on the other.

The only truth immediately obvious in the case of the death of Hunter S. Thompson is that he's dead. Many of his fans seem to consider his actions almost heroic and feel his death was true to his life; others are apparently ready to discount his every act as being the hallmarks of a mentally unbalanced man. There are probably some elements of truth to both positions, but anything that would drive a man to kill himself as Thompson did is almost certainly a little more complicated than that. To jump to conclusions is evidence of both a lack of serious consideration as well as a lack of compassion for his surviving family members.

The matter of Terri Schindler Schiavo is likely both more complicated and much simpler than reports would have us all believe. The issue is further clouded by the fact that each and every one of us have our own opinions and desires where such circumstances are concerned. The one thing I do believe definitive in the case is that most media reports reference the case as one to determine the "right to die." In reality, it's one that will determine the right to live. Michael Schiavo insists his wife wouldn't want to live via artificial means, but the only "artificial" means being used to support her is a feeding tube.

Forget that most definitions of "artificial" means reference things like respirators, and that a feeding tube is, in many ways, comparable to kidney dialysis. (We don't kill the people who need that, do we?) Forget that Michael Schiavo has more than a few selfish reasons he'd like his wife to be dead. All we need to note is the fact that Terri was a practicing Catholic, and that Catholics consider the removal of any life support, no matter how heroic, to be a sin. Common sense would provide that that alone would be more than adequate to show Terri's own wishes in the matter! (Of course, the ACLU has jumped in at this point to wonder why religion is involved at all, showing an utter disregard for common sense and for freedom of worship in one fell swoop.)

It's not just we who are extreme, but also the law. For example, consider the case of an Ohio woman who was arrested in front of her children and hauled off to jail in handcuffs. Why? Because she owed the city of Mansfield 96 cents in taxes from 2001. That's right. 96 cents. And to make matters even worse, she'd contacted the city about the matter some time earlier, and was told not to do anything for such a negligible amount. Now common sense would indicate that the city would write off such a low figure given that it would cost more in postage to collect the fee. At worst, common sense would suggest the city just ask for its money. But instead, the city chose the extreme, and decided to spend who knows how much on law enforcement and court time, and to cause great damage to an undeserving woman's reputation and psyche.

In another legal matter, it seems that some European nations have sued the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for its failure to warn everybody of the tsunami it knew was coming (the nation of Thailand and a hotel in Phuket are also being sued). The plaintiffs have apparently conveniently forgotten that one of the most horrific aspects of the massive death toll in southeast Asia is the fact that there's no tsunami warning system in place there. Despite repeated attempts to telephone various governmental agencies (made by authorities in Hawaii who were all too well aware of what was about to happen), there was no infrastructure in place to handle or relay the warnings. Anyone exhibiting common sense would be working toward helping to establish such a warning system (and word is that one will now be built) rather than blaming people who had no way to issue a warning they're now being blamed for failing to issue!

And just to ensure that common sense remains as uncommon as possible, we're teaching our children lessons of extremism they won't soon forget. A child with a butter knife is kicked out of school for violating a zero tolerance weapons policy; a child who gave a friend a breath mint is disciplined for violating a zero tolerance drug (yes, drug) policy; and now a Florida boy has been accused of assaulting a teacher with a weapon most of us would recognize as a rubber band!

You want to know another old saying? Well, it's not really an old saying. But it comes from a bumper sticker, so I'm going to let it count. The sticker says, "The most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity." I'm beginning to think that hydrogen has some real competition these days.

For more information:

The Bob & Tom Show

ACLU weighs in on Schiavo case

OH woman arrested over 96 cents

European nations sue NOAA

Boy commits "assault" with rubber band


Serenity, the FIREFLY movie
Serenity: The Official Movie Website

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