So I dragged the wonderful wife off to the theater to see King Kong finally. We both liked the movie, and we understand why it is a box office hit. TPK says there are parts that seemed to drag, but I think she is crazy. I don’t know what part I would trim, but the bug scene certainly gave me the jibblies. So two thumbs up from both of us for the movie.

The movie experience gets thumbs down. Is it just me, or are more people talking in movies? I was tempted to turn around and say, “Would you please be quiet? If I wanted a movie commentary, I’d turn on the director’s audio track.” To make matters worse, there were three batches of wanna-be commentators seated around us. Now don’t get me wrong, I love talking back at the movies we watch. It’s a bad habit I picked up from Mystery Science Theater 3000. But I don’t do that in the theater. TPK says that if she must comment, she will whisper to me. I asked her how often I whisper stuff to her, and the quick answer is I don’t.

Why should I shell out money to go see a movie with Chatty Cathys, crying babies, and kids saying loudly, “Daddy, why is she dead?” I don’t mind seeing movie previews, but I object to commercials. And I really object when there are more commercials than previews. With TV and audio technology the way it is, I can get movie-quality entertainment at home without JuJuBes stuck to the floor and popcorn scattered around. And if someone is chatting loudly behind me, I can pause the show and tell TPK to take the phone into the other room.

Yes, there are some benefits of seeing a movie in a large theater with a bunch of people you know and like. But I have to ask myself if going to the theater is really worth it when I can rent as much as I want with the Hollywood MVP program (and Blockbusters still sucks).

I don’t think it will be too long before I skip the theater altogether and do just DVDs.

If you got $1,000 for every apple you ate, would it affect the number of apples you ate in a year? Conversely, if the first bite of an apple might kill you, would you jump at the chance to chomp into a Fuji or Honeycrisp? Normal people will choose more of that which provides a good reward, and avoid that which provides punishment. That’s just basic human nature.

The government knows about this quality of human nature. Tax breaks attract businesses, while heavy tax burdens will drive them away. Some people join the Reserves because the government offers them school benefits for doing so, and the fear of harsh punishment is sufficient to make some people think twice before breaking the law.

I say fear of harsh punishment is sufficient, because wimpy punishments are useless when it comes to deterring crime. The Constitution protects us from “cruel and unusual punishment,” but that phrase meant something different in the 18th century than it does today. In the late 1700s, ‘”cruel and unusual” punishments included being broken on the wheel, or being drawn and quartered. Today, prisoners sue claiming “cruel and unusual punishment” if they don’t get cable TV with premium channels, or if they don’t like the three square meals provided by the prison kitchens.

Legal semantics aside, I believe that a punishment must be both cruel and unusual to be effective. Since I’m not using “cruel and unusual” in the Constitutional sense, let me explain. I’m not suggesting you brand your misbehaving kid with a red-hot poker. When I say a punishment needs to be cruel, I mean it needs to be effective — it must be something that the person would rather not go through. A punishment that doesn’t cause at least minor grief to the person being punished is no punishment at all. Once when my wife was a little hellion [yeah right. --TPK], she was sent to her room as a punishment. Hours later, her mother remembered that she’d sent her child to her room. She was afraid she’d find her little girl sobbing uncontrollably in solitary confinement, but my wife had completely forgotten she was being punished. You see, there were plenty of books in her room to keep her happy and occupied. That wasn’t an effective punishment for her. Likewise, forbidding pickled beets when your kid hates pickled beets anyway is not an effective punishment. They are not effective because they do not make the punished person suffer.

If you have ever heard a teenager whinge, “But that’s not fair!” when his parents lay down the law, you know he is probably receiving a punishment that is at least effective enough to get his attention. Being grounded or losing access to the computer, TV, or video games is a cruel punishment–just ask the teenager who can’t play his Xbox games, or the teenager who has to miss the school dance because she’s grounded. They will give you an earful about how unreasonable their parents are and how cruel the punishment is.

Likewise, a good punishment needs to be unusual. An extra spoonful of pickled beets added to a nightly serving is far from unusual, and being perpetually grounded for every infraction just becomes the status quo after a while. But if a kid is used to playing his Xbox for hours after school, removing it as a punishment is effective precisely because the punishment is a shock.

An effective punishment is meant both to remind the punished person that he or she has done something wrong, and to provide a strong incentive not to do it again. But not all punishments handed down in the U.S. are this effective. Judge Edward Cashman of Vermont sentenced Mark Hulett to a 60-day sentence for the crime of raping a 7-year-old girl over a four-year period. His punishment is far from cruel and does not serve as a deterrent to him or others. Sadly, this type of lenient sentence is far from atypical. Too often, minor offenders are given a slap on the wrist, a finger shaken in their face, and are released back into society to repeat their crimes until they hit the age of 18 and get the book thrown at them.

Author Robert Heinlein compared our justice system to raising puppies. The following quote comes from chapter 8 of Starship Troopers, as the protagonist is asked a question by his History and Moral Philosophy teacher, Mr. Dubois, in high school. Punctuation and emphasis are the author’s.

“Suppose you merely scolded your puppy, never punished him, let him go on making messes in the house . . . and occasionally locked him up in an outbuilding but soon let him back into the house with a warning not to do it again. Then one day you notice that he is now a grown dog and still not housebroken — whereupon you whip out your gun and shoot him dead. Comment, please?”

“Why . . . that’s the craziest way to raise a dog I ever heard of!”

“I agree. Or a child. Whose fault would it be?”

“Uh . . . why, mine, I guess.”

“Again I agree. But I’m not guessing.”

So for a punishment to be effective, it needs to be both uncomfortable and unusual. And an effective punishment should provide a strong deterrent against the unwanted action. If you don’t want to encourage people to change their ways, why even bother to punish them? OK, so 800+ words later, let me get back to the original premise — you get more of that which you reward, and less of that which you punish.

With that firmly in mind, let’s visit the current debate about illegal aliens in the U.S. In the past 20 years, there have been seven amnesties allowing for about 5.7 million illegal aliens to stay in the States. So that solved all our illegal immigrant issues, right? Hah! So what did the amnesties do? They rewarded the people who had broken laws to get here. And as we all know, when you reward a behavior, you get more of it. It’s no wonder that there are some 11+ million illegal aliens in the U.S., when they have seen persistence in lawbreaking rewarded by amnesty.

So how can we stop the flow of illegals into the U.S.? Well, we could shoot every illegal we find crossing our border. With such a draconian assault, the flow of illegal border crossings would dry up quickly. But such a tactic is morally reprehensible, regardless of its effectiveness, and Americans would not stand for it. Then how can we provide a disincentive which is both morally acceptable and effective in keeping people from entering the country illegally? I have several ideas, none of which involve maintaining the status quo, providing blanket amnesty, or becoming a police state demanding, “Your papers, please” to everyone in a fake German accent.

I’ll type up these ideas shortly, and update this post when they are done. Stay tuned.

UPDATE (4/3/2006 10:55:42 PM): It took longer than I thought as things interrupted me, but I have typed up the promised steps here.

The fine gentlemen at Power Line Blog have spotted an interesting pair of news stories about the FISA court meeting yesterday. Five former judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) met with the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 28th. The brouhaha came about when it was revealed that President Bush had ordered the NSA to listen in on calls entering or leaving the U.S. going to suspected (or known) al-Qaeda members. As President Bush put it, “If al Qaeda is calling into the United States, we want to know.” Seems to make sense to me.

Anyway, John points out two different news stories. The Washington Times has a post titled, “FISA judges say Bush within law.” On the same day, the New York Times has printed an article titled “Judges on Secretive Panel Speak Out on Spy Program.”

These two articles have two very different slants on the same meeting. As I see it, there are two options: first, one of the articles got the information wrong as it spun out according to the writer’s biases, or two, the five judges came down squarely on both sides of the issue, granting the two newspapers enough leeway to write both articles. Power Line is going to track down the transcripts of the meeting, so we’ll find out just what was said.

UPDATE (3/29/2006 8:15:28 PM): John of Power Line Blog has looked at the transcripts and, based on what was really said at the meeting, the New York Times article is out of line.

It’s sad, but is it really unexpected?

The case against Abdul Rahman was dropped. He was accused of apostasy for leaving Islam and converting to Christianity, and for that, many Muslim clerics called for his death. Michelle Malkin reports that Rahman has left Afghanistan and has arrived in Italy. The question remains whether a worldwide fatwa will be issued calling for his death.

But maybe I’m just being pessimistic.

More people are talking about the illegal immigration problem. I like being able to simplify things. So here’s my question:

Do you lock the door to your house, and if not, would you mind if anyone off the street just walked right in?

I feel pretty safe to guess that the vast majority of people would be very uncomfortable finding some stranger camping out in their living room. A liberal radio host was saying we need to allow those people who have been here in the U.S. so long to have a method to become legal residents. My response is pretty simple: at what point does the stranger camping in your living room become a part of the household, or is he forever going to be persona non grata?

OK, quick link to an American Dialect test. Answer the questions and see what kind of American English you speak. I scored the following:

Your Linguistic Profile:

80% General American English
15% Upper Midwestern
5% Midwestern
0% Dixie
0% Yankee

I guess the six years in North Dakota were a bigger influence than the year each in Alabama and Florida. How do you score?

I read an AP news story today linked from the Drudge Report. The Afghan court has dropped the case against Abdul Rahman for his crime of becoming a Christian for lack of evidence. It is expected that he will be released soon. This is good news, but he’s not completely out of the woods yet.

An official closely involved with the case told The Associated Press that it had been returned to the prosecutors for more investigation, but that in the meantime, Rahman would be released.

Unless he leaves the country quickly, he will live under the threat of the case being reopened. It is also worth noting the many Muslim clerics who have threatened to have him killed even if he is released. As one cleric said, “We must set an example… He must be hanged.” Or others might think it’s OK to leave Islam.

When I realized that leaving Islam is an act punishable by death, it reminded me of the Iron Curtain thrown up by the Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe countries. They claimed that the wall was to keep the West out, but the truth is it was created to keep their people in. And people who were willing to challenge their edict that they couldn’t leave were sometimes killed as they attempted the crossing. I remember visiting the museum at Checkpoint Charlie in West Berlin in the mid-80s. In the museum was a large map showing the wall around West Berlin, and hundreds of little black crosses circled the city, showing where people had died trying to leave the East.

I don’t want to see Abdul Rahman become a little black cross showing that he died trying to leave Islam.

Los Angeles saw 500,000 people march down its streets chanting “Sí, se puede,” “Mexico!,” and “USA!” What was the big draw? Here’s the first paragraph of the AP story that explains why they gathered:

Immigration rights advocates more than 500,000 strong marched in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, demanding that Congress abandon attempts to make illegal immigration a felony and to build more walls along the border.

There’s a problem with that paragraph — it is missing a word: ILLEGAL. As in “Illegal immigration rights advocates…” I support the idea of making illegal immigration a felony, and were I the one to make the rules, I would make violators ineligible for later entry to the U.S., even if they try legally. I have written about illegal immigration multiple times, and it is one of the few subjects where I disagree with President Bush.

It appears that Afghan President Karzai is intervening into the case of Abdul Rahman. Afghani clerics are demanding that Rahman be killed for the horrible crime of converting to Christianity. All together now, “Ooo! The horror!” Nicely done.

While still vowing to incite the people to kill Rahman if he is set free, the Afghani clerics also reacted to President Karzai, and one is wanting to get down to the root cause of all this:

Another cleric, Ayatullah Asife Muhseni, told a gathering of preachers and intellectuals at a Kabul hotel that the Afghan president had no right to overturn the punishment of an apostate.

He also demanded that clerics be able to question Rahman in jail to discover why he had converted to Christianity. He suggested it could have been the result of a conspiracy by Western nations or Jews.

Hat tip to Little Green Footballs.