Righteous Anger Made Easy

This past Saturday, the National Post broke a story that said that female prisoners at a federal prison in Kitchener had been treated to a “Spa Day” at taxpayers’ expense. A spate of righteous anger followed. The Toronto Sun did its predictable schtick of prisoners being coddled and headline-hugging Toronto police chief Julian Fantino came out before the cameras to express his outrage.

Just one problem: the story was false. Corrections Canada set the record straight saying that the women prisoners were “involved in an annual activity day where volunteers teach them about basic personal hygiene”. Working with the moderately mentally ill, Erin has seen these classes in action. They teach many individuals common sense techniques that substantially improve their appearance and self-esteem, not to mention their health.

If this course on “basic personal hygiene” mirrored the courses offered where Erin once worked, there is no question that it did a lot of good. In terms to the cost to taxpayers, it was little more than what it would cost to allow family members to visit convicted relatives. Moreover, when the National Post reported that two convicted murderers were in attendance (including one cop killer), it was wrong. The women were not let out of their cells.

So, the National Post, the Toronto Sun and Julian Fantino have been caught out in an embarrassing rush to judgement. But even if the Post story had been true, I would have little respect for all of the righteous anger that flew around on the issue. There was nothing difficult or virtuous about getting angry at treating criminals as human beings. It is very easy to get all righteous and angry when it comes to our convicted criminals, and there is no moral benefit in expressing that anger.

For many of us, these convicts have forfeited their right to any of the privileges of civil society. For many of us, there is a failure of imagination; we too easily see our own coddled life as a struggle, and we bridle when a jail looks little different than a hotel. We fail to imagine the horror of having one’s liberties taken away, and how effective that revocation actually is. For many of us, we are desperate to deny the common humanity that links us with the worst terrorists; there is a great temptation to separate those we can, and feel smug and morally superior. And, frankly, for some “Law and Order” politicians and media outlets, it is just too tempting to feed upon this easy anger and self-righteousness for their own political benefit.

It is a shame that so many take the easy (and, in my opinion, somewhat unChristian) way out. An integral part of being human is being compassionate, even and especially to those who least deserve our compassion. If compassion is to mean anything, it must be offered to everyone, regardless of who they are. If salvation is to mean anything, then it belongs to nobody; only God can give it out, and no one can claim it. And, likewise, if our human rights are to mean anything at all, and if their revocation is to be something that we truly deplore, we must be very, very reluctant to take human rights away, especially to those who most deserve to have them taken away.

The top priority of our criminal justice system is the protection of society, over the short and long term. When a criminal commits a crime, the way to protect society is to isolate the criminal from society. We can do this by ending their life, or we can do this by removing their liberty. Removing their liberty is the more compassionate response, and it achieves the desired result of protecting society. Similarly, we could lock these people behind bars for the rest of their life or, in some cases, we could attempt to rehabilitate the offenders, releasing them back into society when they are ready to live within society’s rules. Again, compassion demands the less invasive route. And once behind bars, we could feed our convicts bread and water, deny them basic hygiene and force them to go to bathroom in a bucket — but how exactly does that protect society now that these individuals are behind bars?

On a practical level, failing to teach these individuals how to behave like human beings makes their rehabilitation that much harder. On a Christian level, or the level of any individual who values life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of justice has come to an end, and we are now playing in the territory of revenge.

Christ never said that compassion was easy. But even as he forgave us for our imperfections, Christ was clear that every individual deserves our compassion and respect. No exceptions. Reacting to terrible crimes with horror and sorrow is natural. Locking criminals away after due process is necessary. Anything beyond that is a surrender to the baser beings of our nature — tapping into the same hatred and anger that caused the original crimes in the first place.

The Scourge of Comment Spam

Here’s something else it’s easy to get all righteous and angry about.

I spent a fair amount of time helping my good friend at the People’s Republic of Seabrook upgrade to Movable Type 3.11. I did it primarily to help him deal with the problem of comment spam on his blog (that and I also enjoy reading his blog).

Northstar will tell you that he isn’t very technically minded when it comes to blog setups. He just wants to get down and write. So he’s spent a lot of time using MT 2.63 without MTBlacklist protection. Moreover, once he’s written something, he tends to move onto the next thing, so he hasn’t really taken a good long look at his archive (neither have I for my archive, for that matter). So, after about four hours of figuring out how to migrate him to 3.11 with MySQL support (made all the more complicated by my forgetting one line of code and thinking for a few hours that I’d lost his database entirely), I suddenly found just how innundated with comment spam he is.

Thus far, I have removed a little over ten-thousand pieces of comment spam, all of which were deposited within the last six months, and I only just put a small dent in it. Reams upon reams upon reams of false comments peddling drugs and worse stuff. In the hour it took me to install MTBlacklist properly, fifty-five spam comments arrived. So far today, MTBlacklist has stopped over 900 pieces of comment spam. It’s almost like a Denial of Service attack.

What sort of idiot spends his or her time vandalizing blogs? What sort of gain could possibly justify rendering something positive nearly unusable?

But this could just as easily be an ad for MTBlacklist. Think of it: stopping almost a thousand comment-spams in one day without a false positive, or a single bad post slipping through the net? That’s the sort of performance I’d expect from a professional virus scanner, and MTBlacklist is a free (donations welcome) service. Wow!

I have also used MTCloseComments to shut down a large number of the attacks, closing posts that are more than three weeks old. Between the two, comment spam has been stopped dead in its tracks. If nothing else, the People’s Republic of Seabrook shows just how important and effective a program MTBlacklist is.

Thanks, MTBlacklist creator Jay Allen! And congratulations on the upgraded digs, Northstar!

One other comment on comment spam: I’ve just despammed a mind-whopping 3271 spams, on a variety of spam subjects, all traced to the IP address of — in other words, 3271 spams from the exact same computer.

It may be vengeance to want to look for that computer and drop it in a lake somewhere, but right now it sure doesn’t feel like it!

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