Crime and Irrevocable Punishments

To a certain extent all punishments are irrevocable.  There’s no time machine where you can go back and give a person the time they spent in jail back.  Even in the case of a fine you can’t give a person the use of the money they would have had (basic economics:  wealth now is almost always more valuable than the same wealth later).  But for most of them, at least some form of recovery can be made if the punishment is invoked in error.  In some cases, however, they cannot.

On social media there was a post going around about a lawyer advocating that certain sexual offenders, specifically sexual assault of a minor, be castrated.  Sorry, I don’t have the link to hand now and can’t find it readily.  Doesn’t matter.  This is an idea that comes up from time to time.  Some people tend to cheer these kind of proposals on the grounds of “they’ll never commit that crime again!”  (Erroneously in this case–after all, it doesn’t take a penis to sexually assault someone.)

But there are further problems.  A big one is the imperfection of the justice system.  If you invoke an irrevocable penalty–castration in this case; death in others–then sooner or later you’re going to apply that punishment to someone who did not commit the crime for which the punishment was imposed.  And when (if) you find that out, well, it’s too late to do anything about it.  You can’t restore the unjustly punished’s genitals or bring the dead back to life.

Flip side, of course, is if you don’t invoke irrevocable penalties then sooner or later a mistake will be made the other way–a person who was actually guilty will later be deemed to have been unjustly punished, freed, and then go on to commit the crime again, victimizing someone else.

In either case the justice system will sometimes fail leading to someone being unjustly victimized, either by the state or by criminals erroneously returned to society.

There is no perfection this side of Gold Thatched Gimle (and I have my doubts about it even there).

That said, there is an old cliche about “it’s better that 100 guilty go free than one innocent man be convicted.” Frankly, I’m not sure that ratio goes far enough.  While the guilty getting away with their crimes does its part to erode confidence in rule of law and the societal trust necessary for civilization, far more important to that trust is the belief that innocence protects one.  The innocent in society need to be able to say, and believe “as long as I obey the law, I’m safe from the law.”  Nothing erodes trust in law, in the very fabric of civilization itself, than the belief that innocence is no protection from the law.

All the more so when the protection is from something irrevocable, something where you can’t say “whoops” later and make the unjustly punished feel better with a cash settlement.

And so, the first class of error on the case of irrevocable punishments is of far greater concern than the second.  I might not go so far as to say they should never be imposed because the second class of error is also valid, but the bar needs to be extremely high and extraordinary care needs to be taken to ensure that everything is correct, not just as to form but as to content, before such punishments are imposed.

In the case of that suggestion on social media, that sexual assault of a minor?   You might want to consider what that entails.  It could entail a person who legitimately thought the person then had sexual relationships with was of age.  Permanent, irrevocable punishment because the person failed to identify a fake ID?  In most US states age of consent is 16 (people think 18 because that’s what California has and so that’s what they see in movies and TV shoes).  And while you might think that a 16 year old having sex with a 15 year old girlfriend is wrong, do you really think it calls for castrating the stupid teen for life?  Yet that, too, is “sexual assault of a minor”.

Before invoking something from which there is no going back, be sure.  Be really, really sure.  And recognize that no matter how sure you are in this case, sooner or later someone will be equally sure…and be wrong.

Sometimes you don’t have any choice but to make the best decision you can on short or incomplete information, with no time for careful consideration.  The operation of the legal system is not one of those times.

Take the time.  Take the care.  And if you must err, then err on the side of “better 100 guilty go free than one be unjustly punished.”

Civilization and rule of law depend on it.


On This Day 1846: James K. Polk Asks for a Declaration of War.

It started 25 years earlier.  Mexico wins independence from Spain in 1821 and after a brief period as a monarchy becomes a Republic in 1824.

The northern region in the then extant republic of Mexico was subject to Native American raids.  In an effort to try to stem this the Mexican government sponsored immigration from the United States to the Mexican province of Texas.  So far, so good.

Starting in 1834, several things happened in fairly rapid succession. Santa Anna eliminated the state legislature and gave himself dictatorial power.  The US offered to purchase Texas from Mexico.  The settlers in Texas, claiming that they were receiving none of the benefits of government were refusing to pay taxes to that government.  Santa Anna repealed the agreement, refusing to allow additional settlers to Texas.  By late 1835 Texas rebelled from Mexico.

In the end, Texas won de-facto independence of Mexico following the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836.  However, Mexico never formally recognized its independence, still considering Texas to be a part of Mexico.

This continued until Texas agreed to annexation by the United States, becoming the 28th State in 1845.  Newly elected President Polk, during this period, made an offer to buy disputed land between the Rio Grande and the Nueces rivers from Mexico.  The offer was rejected.  In early 1846 the new Mexican President Paredes included in his inaugural address a claim to land all the way to the Sabine river which marked the border between Texas and Louisianna.  Polk then ordered Major General Zachary Taylor into the disputed territories, where a portion of Taylor’s forces, a scouting detail of 80 men led by Seth Thornton, were attacked and defeated in an ambush by an overwhelming force (1600 strong) of Mexican troops.

Word of this attack on and defeat of American troops in the disputed territories made its way back to Washington where, on May 11, 1846 President James K. Polk asked Congress for a declaration of war.

Two days later, the declaration was granted, officially beginning the Mexican War.  The end result of that war won for the US the territory that would eventually become California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, and parts of Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.  (The Later Gadsden Purchase would obtain for the US the rest of Arizona and New Mexico–thus finalizing the outline of the Continental United States, which is a funny nomenclature considering that Alaska is part of the same continent.)


Feeding the Active Writer: Another Beef Stew

The problem for me, with my low carb diet, of traditional beef stews is the heavy used of potatoes.  The flour used as a thickener is secondary to that.  This recipe uses non-starchy vegetables that don’t go so much to mush like the broccoli and cauliflower I’ve used in earlier recipes.


  • 4 lbs beef (whatever’s cheap–sales are your friend) cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • 2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 parsnips, likewise cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tbsp xantham gum.
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tbsp thyme leaves
  • 1 tbsp crushed rosmary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 32 oz beef broth
  • 1/2-1 lb of carrots, sliced.
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat a skillet and brown the beef in stages–don’t crowd the pan with too much at a time or the liquid cooked out of the meat will end up boiling rather than browning the beef.

Add the beef, turnips, parsnips and onion to a 5 quart slow cooker.  At stages while you’re adding these, sprinkle the xantham gum over what’s in the cooker.  This keeps the xantham gum from being one big clump and helps make for an evenly thickened stock in the end result. (Note, if you use frozen carrots, add them after the cooking, just let the residual heat of the stew soften them slightly.)

Add the remaining ingredients.

Cook on low 6-8 hours.  Stir the ingredients together. (If you find the bay leaf, you can remove it.)



The Spaewife, a Novella Blast from the Past

Always $0.99 in Kindle Store, Free to read on Kindle Unlimited

The Norns speak to me.  Not the great Norns, not Verthandi, Urd, and Skuld.  No, I have never been to Urd’s Well, not even in vision.  The lesser Norns speak to me, the Norns that follow each man, woman, and child and dictate their fate.

The Norns speak to me and they tell me terrible things.  I give thanks to the gods that I do not understand most of the things they tell me, for what I do understand is awful enough.

The Foul One, Ulfarr, wanting my power to serve him, had murdered my husband, imprisoned me, and spirited my children away to who knew where.  And now he returned with his men.

“You!” The Foul One’s voice rang clear across the hall, bringing sudden silence.

I looked back to see him pointing at me.

“Come here.”

I shook my head.

“You will come here!”

I shook my head again.

He gestured and two of his men strode across the hall toward me. I huddled back against the bench on which I had slept. Hopeless, I knew. The men grabbed me by the arms and half led, half dragged me to stand before the Foul One.

“I brought you here,” the Foul One said, “to tell your futures for me.”

“Where are my children?” I said.

The Foul One’s Norn stood impassive behind him. Although having the form of a woman, as all Norns do, she also resembled the man who was her charge.

The Foul One grinned. “They are safe. I have given them to the keeping of a family that owes homage to me. They will remain safe so long as you do as I bid.”

I drew myself upright. “They will remain safe? As you claimed my husband Sveinna would remain safe if I came with you? You lied.”

The Foul One spread his hands. “Your man–Sveinna you said–would have come for you. And he would have died. The end result would be the same.”

“Sveinna was not a liar,” I said to him. “You are. And now you say my children will be safe? How do I know you do not lie now?”

The Foul One chuckled. “You do not. But you do know this. If you do not do as I bid, I will most certainly kill them. And they shall be three days dying. Or perhaps they are already dead. You would…” He paused. “You do not know. You would not fear so if you did. You have not foreseen their future.”

I sighed. My children’s Norns had not told me of their fate. And I thanked the gods that they had not. For while I had fear, I also had hope. “The Norns speak to me as they will,” I said. “I cannot command them.”

“For your sake,” the Foul One’s voice was soft, almost mild, “and for the sake of your children, you will find a way.” His voice returned to a normal level. “Now tell me, what is the manner of my eventual death?”

I looked past him to his Norn. She laughed but said nothing. I could not direct my anger at her. Frustrated at my true target, I instead spat in the Foul One’s face.

He reached up with his right hand to wipe away the spittle. Then his hand moved in a blur. Pain burst against my right cheek and the next thing I knew I lay face down on the floor. More pain as the toe of the Foul One’s boot collided with my side, just below the ribs. The next kick hit me in the hip. The Foul One reached down and twisted his left hand in my hair, hauling me bodily back to my feet.

He rammed his right fist into my stomach and released my hair. I fell to my hand and knees retching. I spat bile, mixed with blood from where my teeth had cut lips and cheek.

My blood marked the floor.

Again, the Foul One twisted his hand in my hair and hauled me upright. But no more blows fell. “You will answer the question.”

I shifted my eyes from him to his Norn and prepared to endure whatever torments he offered if she did not speak.

“Seventy summers he will see,” the Norn said, “And yet, with a blade in hand will he die.”

I repeated the Norn’s words. The Foul One released me and I fell, to huddle on the floor.

“Behold!” he said. “Seventy summers, then death in battle. A long, full life followed by Valhalla! It is prophesied!”

I wept. Vengeance forever denied me. He would live and I, and my children, what of us?


Recently, on Facebook the subject of Cinderella came up.  The context was a joke about the Prince meeting the love of his life but forgets what she looked like. (As someone who is somewhat “face blind” I can actually accept that.)

Many, many years ago (as in more than 40) I saw on television a live-action version of Cinderella.  Despite the years that had passed, I distinctly remembered.  The first was at the beginning.  The prince, having returned from doing various prince-type activities, is thirsty and stops at a cottage for a drink of water.  A young lady (spoilers:  it’s Cinderella) gives him a dipper of water from the well.

The second scene that stuck with me vividly is near the end.  After the stepsisters had failed to get their feet into the shoes (clearly Cinderella had the smallest feet of any marriageable girl in the kingdom), from which effort Cinderella had been ordered into hiding, Cinderella is impelled to run out and once more offer him a dipper of water.

That’s all I remembered from it, but they were very vivid memories.  It inspired me to take a look and I managed to identify the version as the Rogers and Hammerstein version, made in 1965.  Not 40, but 53 years ago.  I didn’t see it then, of course (or maybe I had, but I was only four years old and don’t remember), but at some later broadcast.

Curious, I looked over on Amazon and saw that not only did Amazon have it on Instant Video, but on Prime video:  free to watch for Amazon Prime members (which I am).

I settled in to watch it and, oh, my.  Yes, the scenes were as I remembered them.  And everything else.



Without doubt this is my absolute favorite screen adaptation of the Cinderella story.  I’m not a big fan of “love at first sight”.  I mean, I have enough trouble with the concept of love at all–that it really exists and isn’t just something made up so Elvis Presley would have something to sing about.  But I’ll go with it for the story.

From the first meeting of Prince and Cinderella (where we find out that the Prince is actually a nice guy) to Cinderella’s heartbreak at not going to the ball, to the Prince dealing with the many women competing for the Prince’s attention (and the way he deals shows, again, that he’s a nice guy), to his finally recognizing Cinderella (and it’s not when he puts the slipper on her foot, that’s just to show everyone else what he’d already figured out–can it be a spoiler in a 53 year old movie?) it’s one heartfelt scene after another.

I spend a lot of time thinking dark thoughts and looking at a world that convinces me that darkness is generally the way to bet.  I can even enjoy darkness in my arts–the interplay of light and dark is where interest and passion lie.  Nevertheless, the occasional shining beacon of light, of the unequivocally happy ending.  Hey, even the “by midnight” thing was probably part of the Fairy Godmother’s scheme to make Cinderella happy–whet the Prince’s appetite, then make him work for it. 😉

Like I said, it’s free on Amazon prime.  If you don’t have Amazon Prime, you can buy it for $8, rent it for $4.  Well worth it.



Teaching the Active Writer’s Daughter to Feed Herself.

Since my little girl is growing up, I have instituted a new policy here at home.  Each week, she is to cook one meal.  We’ll get ingredients she needs that we don’t have on hand.  If it’s something that’s too expensive, we’ll talk about alternative. (No, we’re not doing sauteed humingbird tongues.) Today, she decided to do steak and potatoes.  But she didn’t want just steak (I generally go light on the seasoning–let the flavor of the meat dominate) but to really spice it up.  Not my thing normally, but okay.  The point is for her to learn to fend for herself when she’s out on her own and that can mean experimenting and seeing what happens.

So we go shopping.  The local supermarket has sirloin on special.  Reasonable price and about the bottom end of what I consider acceptable for pan-frying or grilling.   The cheaper cuts tend to be too tough when cooked in those conditions.  So we’ve got the meat.  At home, we’ve got a fairly extensive collection of spices and other seasonings but she wants to get some peppers.  She selects several serennos (I’m not sure I spelled that right) and a few habaneros.

Okay.  This should be…interesting.

She asks me to do the pre-salting of the steaks (rub kosher salt into both sides of the steaks and let them sit for about half an hour, then rinse off–this makes the steak more tender and improves the flavor) and I’m fine with that.  When it’s done I call her in to begin cooking.

I leave her to it.  Sometimes when I’m having her cook I give her instruction.  Sometimes I leave her to her own devices to see what she can do on her own.  This is one of the latter cases.

She starts by briefly pan frying the steaks in olive oil.  She then sets them aside and adds chopped peppers, soy sauce, and some other seasonings (I don’t think these others really mattered given how strong the peppers were).  The cooked the peppers and other seasonings together for a few minutes then returned the steaks to the pan.  Cooked them to about medium (more than I generally like, but okay).

Took them out, let them rest for a few minutes, and served.  The result was surprisingly good.  The “heat” wasn’t too bad, at least by my standards these days, and the flavor didn’t completely overwhelm the taste of the meat.  All in all, not a bad effort.